help! my new job is unprepared for me, and I don’t have any work

A reader writes:

I’m two weeks into my new job, and I still don’t have a computer. Or a desk. Or even a corner that I can call my own. My company created a position for me as an assistant in a new department and they admitted they are going through growing pains, so I’ll be shuffling around for a bit. But after 80 hours of sitting quietly beside my boss’s desk and watching her work, I’m annoyed. They offered me the job a month ago!

My boss is trying to at least order a computer for me (that has to be cleared through a couple people) but I seem to be at the very bottom of the company’s priority list. It’s their busy season and everyone runs around in a state of panic most of the day, including my boss. No one has time to train me and they seem content to keep me in the corner, out of the way.

I suppose I shouldn’t complain about sitting around twiddling my thumbs (and getting paid to do it) but what would you do in this situation? I jump in and help when I can, but there’s only so much I can do without a computer. Should I be more assertive and demand a work station? Be patient and wait it out?


This is surprisingly common — although you’re getting it especially badly. And there’s never any excuse for it — no matter how busy an organization is. It speaks volumes about their culture, and none of what it says is good. So keep your eyes open for other signs of problems.

In any case, no, don’t demand a work station. That’s unlikely to go over well. However, try any or all of the following:

* Are you willing to bring in your own laptop from home to use temporarily? You’re certainly under no obligation to do this, but it might make your life easier while you wait for your computer.

* Ask people if there’s anything you can do to help them. If they’re all running around in a state of panic, someone will probably appreciate the offer of help.

* Say to your boss, “I’m really eager to get started, but I can tell this is a really busy period for you. Is it realistic to get a couple of meetings with me on your calendar to start talking through my role, or is there someone else I could be helping meanwhile?”

* Think back to what was discussed when you were being hired — what specific responsibilities or projects were talked about? Pick the simplest of those, and say, “I’d love to jump in on X if it would help. I was thinking I could do A, B, and C to get started — does that sound okay to you?” (The key here is that you’re not giving your boss yet another thing to figure out while she’s already harried; you’re giving her a proposal that she can say yes or no to, or which she can modify.)

And if none of this produces any changes, it’s entirely reasonable to ask your boss for her sense of how long this will last.

{ 55 comments… read them below }

  1. Good_Intentions*

    Letter Writer:

    I’m so sorry to learn that a month into your new position that you remain without training, tasks to complete, or even a basic place to call your own at the office.

    Alison’s advice is correct that the great delay in securing a computer and work station for you could be interpreted as a sign of other problems within the organization’s culture. However, I disagree on some of the options she gives.

    I am specifically opposed to you offering to bring in your personal laptop computer to any professional work. This, I firmly believe, sets you up for a series of privacy issues, accusations of taking too much personal time at work (checking private e-mails from your computer while on the clock), and establishes you as a sort of “doormat.” Please DO NOT bring any personal computer items to your work place. As Alison has stated in the past, certain things are just part of the cost of business, including securing a working computer and adequate work space for each employee who requires it as part of his/her position.

    Alison’s second and third points are inoffensive ways to take initiative without being annoying or demanding. In particular, option three– helping with different points discussed in the interview process- is a fantastic way to springboard into a newly crafted position and assert your desire to be a team player.

    Another possibility is that you could offer to do community outreach or professional training of sorts outside of the office. While you are new to the position, your colleagues’ business and your lack of training or resources means that by staying out of the way, you’ll avoid being bored and feeling disengaged and your co-workers will not resent you for having too much time as they struggle to complete their daily work. This is entirely predicated on your supervisor’s idea of outside actions and training and their effectiveness.

    In my experience, free and low-cost training (open classes at the local library, speakers, professional association meetings, college campus activities, etc.) prove to be a solid skill-building exercise and show that you are willing to grow as an employee. They’re also great at getting you out of an office that obviously is ill-prepared to fully engage and use your skills.

    1. Anon*

      I’ve worked at my organization for 2 1/2 years and always have my personal laptop. Of course I work at a non profit and I’m a massive computer geek – any of my personal stuff is way better than what the company would offer me to use.

      Everyone knows I have much nicer software on my computer that the organization just can’t afford. This is the case with a lot of people I know – especially graphic artists who use very expensive software – software that they much prefer working with but the company doesn’t see as necessary.

      I honestly would be a bit put off by a company that didn’t let me use my personal laptop unless they were willing to offer me a top notch machine to work on.

      At least at my organization, it’s common to encourage people to bring their personal laptops if we’ll be doing off site events. We only have so many laptops that can be checked out at once – there simply aren’t enough for each employee.

      Should an employee be required to have a personal laptop? Of course not. But if you have one, I see nothing wrong with using it at work as long as IT okays you using it. Heck, they may be slightly uncomfortable with it for security reasons and it’s a good chance for you to bring up the issue: “I would love to start working but I’ve been two weeks without a computer. My laptop can hold me over but I just wanted to check that it’s okay for me to use it.” If they have an issue, they’ll bump you up in the list.

      1. Jamie*

        “But if you have one, I see nothing wrong with using it at work as long as IT okays you using it. Heck, they may be slightly uncomfortable with it for security reasons and it’s a good chance for you to bring up the issue: “I would love to start working but I’ve been two weeks without a computer. My laptop can hold me over but I just wanted to check that it’s okay for me to use it.” If they have an issue, they’ll bump you up in the list.”

        I appreciate you putting in the caveat about checking with IT – but IT may be more than slightly uncomfortable with this.

        There is no way someone would be allowed to bring their personal laptop to use on any network I managed – and that’s how every IT in my industry, that I know, manages it as well.

        And just to be fair, the hang up with the computer may not be IT. The letter said other people had to approve the purchase. Now why a company large enough to have multiple approval layers for a routine IT purchase wouldn’t have a couple of loaners laying around for her to use in the meantime is another question.

        I just gave a new employee who started 11 days ago his computer today. The delay was because no one told me he was coming until he was here, and engineering workstations are custom builds which needed to be ordered – it’s not a question of stopping by CompUSA on the way home and buying a new PC. Oh, and I had him in a loaner in the meantime.

        But seriously if people would just get their ducks in a row when they know people are starting it would save all of this chaos.

        1. Anon*

          You make a good point. To clarify, IT has set up guest wifi and we have the ability to remotely reach public drives through an internet browser so I’m never actually on the company network with my personal laptop. I’m so used to it, I didn’t think that there are probably a lot of companies without guest wifi.

          We have a lot of guests and field staff. :p

          1. Jamie*

            Ahh…totally different animal guest wifi.

            For me I wouldn’t care if they do, but it wouldn’t do them much good. My users need network access (shared drives at the minimum) to get anything done.

            That makes a lot more sense – but I do have to say I’m bothered when anyone feels they need to use their own computer or software for work. You are entitled to have an employer provide you with adequate tools for the job.

            I had someone doing some photo design stuff for something…because she loved doing it and volunteered and I’d rather drive into a pole than attempt anything arty. Trust me, I know where my lack of talent lies.

            Well, turns out she was doing stuff at home because she had Photoshop at home and it was easier for her than whatever generic crappy software I found laying around my office. It really bothered me that she felt that she needed to take up her own time and use her own resources rather than ask for what she needed.

            Now, I don’t make a practice of handing out expensive software to trick or treaters, but if there is a business case to be made for it and it’s the best option – well, that’s why there is room for unforeseen software needs in a budget.

            I will not replace all our PCs with Macs (and thankfully people have stopped asking) but I will always make sure my users have what they need to do their jobs.

            Although both you and Marie are in non-profits. This, like academia, is a world I’m unfamiliar with. Maybe it’s different there.

            1. NicoleW*

              “I don’t make a practice of handing out expensive software to trick or treaters…”
              Darn, Jamie – I was hoping to send my daughter to your house for a copy of Photoshop CS6!

                1. Anon*

                  Yea… in a non-profit I really don’t expect the company to shell out thousands of dollars so I can have the newest Adobe suite and Office software on my work machine.

                  I happen to have those on my laptop and home computer and prefer to use them. But I can use older versions of Office, skip on my beloved OneNote, and even use whatever awful photo editing software the company already has.

                2. ThomasT*

                  This is getting pretty far afield, but if your non-profit organization is not getting its major-name software through for pennies on the dollar of retail cost, they are Doing It Wrong.

                1. cf*

                  That’s good to know. I’m just relieved there’s toilet paper. I had to take my own to work when I was a Peace Corps volunteer. That office did supply coffee, btw.

            2. Anonymouse*

              I think this could work if the employee at least got access to an email account (not the network) to start gaining familiarity. I had a new report start this week and I was totally embarrassed that he had not been set-up in the time sheet system, nor sent a PC, not given access to the proper software. I have taken to showing him my daily routine and printing things out for him – suggesting he go over to one of our testing machines and see what he can’t break! At least with email access and a list of 50 names, he can start creating groups and getting them in to his personal distribution lists.

              It might also help to start outlining some good on-boarding plans as you see people, in similar roles, come after you? As long as they weren’t designed to make the “powers that be” feel inadequate, the could be quite helpful!

            3. Anonymous*

              Ironically, the last two small-budget nonprofits I worked at were all-Mac offices.

              At one nonprofit job, I routinely logged into the VPN and accessed the shared drives from my personal home laptop, since I was only issued a desktop machine by the organization. My job didn’t require remote work, but I often got so absorbed in a project that I wanted to keep working on it once I got home and had some dinner. Another funny thing about nonprofits…

        2. Marie*

          I would sometimes bring my laptop at my old word (non profit), but I would not connect it to the network, I never even think of doing that (and I would have had to go through my boss and IT to get access).

          I would use it since the program I needed were not available on the spare computers and I was sharing a computer with someone else… it just made things easier.

        3. fposte*

          I assume we’re not counting academia as an industry there. We’re awash in personal tech. IT reserves the right to tell us to go pound sand if the items are outside of department specs, but in general they’re still willing to help.

          1. Jamie*

            Academia is a foreign land to me. I believe it exists because I read posts from so many of your native people…but your customs confuse and amaze me.

            All kidding aside if you have IT people willing to look at personal computers, someone should be dropping off some brownies. Just saying.

            1. Natalie*

              I think academia IT people are probably more used to it because all of the students living on campus come with their own computers and need to be given internet access at a minimum. Although I doubt they would turn down brownies.

              1. Rana*

                Plus every academic I’ve ever known spends a huge amount of non-campus time doing scholarly work, grading, etc. You pretty need to have access to a computer 24-7 just to do the work, and it’s easier to have your own.

                Also, given that an academic’s value rests in their research and portfolio, it’s vital to be in control of that data should you have to move to a new employer.

                Now, when it comes to things like student files and email, it’s convenient to have that somewhere controlled by the campus, not the professor, (plus there are FERPA privacy issues to consider) but that’s what online course management software is for.

                As teachers, academics can get by with a work computer; as scholars, they need their own. In practice, there’s a lot of overlap.

        4. Catherine*

          The hang-up may be getting the computer from the manufacturer/distributor as well – I recently got a new laptop for work, part of a larger order from my department (about 15 laptops total), and the order was on back-order from the distributor for several months. And it was a joyous day when I chunked the crappy old laptop out the window (not literally, as I would have liked).

          About a year ago we hired a new person on my team and ran into the same issue – we ordered several new desktops and they were put on back-order, so she didn’t have a computer for an entire month. And yes, she should have had a loaner. And yes, it is an indication of larger problems with the company. :)

          As for why IT was not handling our computer orders, it’s because I work at a large university and each department is responsible for their own hardware – we buy it, then it goes to IT and they image it and put it on the network.

          1. Jamie*

            This! And IMO there is a special place in hell for a company which will take your computer order in November, and assure you over and over that the quick ship date is possible – even though you remind them that the holidays are coming up which usually means delays…so they tell you again that everything will ship on schedule….

            Then two weeks past the due date you’ve called them, as you have each day, they get snippy with you because “it’s the holidays – you should have known to expect delays.” Yes, I did, which is why I asked 900 times before placing the order.

            I honestly believe that transaction took several years off my life – and I’m sure it wasn’t pleasant for the new person waiting for their computer.

            Lesson learned – 1. I always have a couple of loaners now and 2. no matter how good they are about most things, or how much I beg, no one will ever tell me someone is starting until they are standing in my office already on the payroll.

        5. The Other Dawn*

          “Now why a company large enough to have multiple approval layers for a routine IT purchase wouldn’t have a couple of loaners laying around for her to use in the meantime is another question.”

          I agree. My company has less than 15 people and even we have a laptop in the closet and an extra tower. I can see why a small company that’s on a very tight budget and has barely one IT person doesn’t usually have a loaner, but a large company should definitely have a loaner computer on-hand.

  2. Jamie*

    Wow. I’m surprised they aren’t at least trying to mitigate their disorganization by having you shadow different people in various departments. It may not make you any more productive now, but can help you gain a global view of the company.

    If I were your boss I’d make this a priority, no matter how busy I was, because the thought of someone (no matter how awesome) staring at me for 8 hours a day watching me work would make me want to jump out a window.

  3. Emily*

    I was in a similar situation when I started my job at the end of January. The company was in the middle of a reshuffle and office moves were happening left, right and centre so I ended up playing musical desks for the better part of six months. A large office was split into two and the smaller one given to me–as a graduate assistant this was pretty cool! My boss didn’t even have his own office, but it was just a convenient corner to pop me in–and I made myself pretty comfy, but sadly my neighbour (someone much MUCH higher up in the company than myself) and I came in one Monday to find the wall between our offices had mysteriously disappeared so we were stuck being awkward roomies until I could be moved elsewhere.

    Good luck, OP! You’re certainly not alone…

    1. Jamie*

      I understand that no everyone can have walls because of the open plan architecture thing…but to take walls away from people who have them? That’s just cruel.

      You deserve a hug – and some walls.

      1. Anna*

        Taking the wall back out may well have been for something totally unrelated to the work being done, like fire codes. I don’t think I’ve heard of this in relation to offices, but every so often there will be a house/apartment fire that killed people it shouldn’t have simply because someone had put in walls that weren’t on the plans the fire department had. (Whether the people killed were residents not found because nobody knew where to look or firefighters who got lost will vary, but every so often something like this makes the news.)

        1. Emily*

          It’s a nice idea, but the office being split in two had been in planning for a long time/had been approved/all the network connections had been put in, and they just decided that they preferred to have a big office and wanted to give it back to the original occupant (an even higher higher up). They just didn’t mention it to us. At all. We had no clue our offices were going to be merged again and were just left to deal with it come Monday morning. It was certainly an interesting experience!

  4. Anonymous*

    lol. What on earth do you all do all day without at least a computer to pretend you are doing work while entertaining your mind with Freecell…. That sounds awful!

  5. cheryl*

    Yikes. Sadly, this is all too common. I’ve started jobs where the person who hired me is so happy to have filled the position they take a vacation–and left me to flounder.

    I will say, that in the Personnel Management course I teach I tell my students to NEVER do this, and that hiring is just the beginning! But I know it happens too much. Folks have given you lots of good advice. Good luck!

    (And you know what you will never do to a new employee when you’re the boss!)

    1. The Other Dawn*

      “I’ve started jobs where the person who hired me is so happy to have filled the position they take a vacation–and left me to flounder.”

      UGH. That must have been really tough. That happened to me when I first moved from being a teller supervisor at our branch into deposit operations in the back office (different location). My new boss took a two week vacation the week after I arrived. She gave me some training that week. Her style of training lacked a lot detail and there were big gaping holes; however, I didn’t actually realize that until the internal auditors arrived WHILE SHE WAS GONE and started asking me for all sorts of things I was supposed to know about. Needless to say, they had to do a lot of follow-up with her when she got back so they could close their audit.

      Whenever I have a new person, I wait a minimum of four months before I take a vacation. There’s so much to learn and we’re a two-person department. I would never want someone to be in that position. Not to mention all the things that could go wrong at a bank if processes are done incorrectly.

  6. Anonymous*

    This happened to me in my first job out of college. I went without a desk, phone or computer for 11 months, and then I quit.

    Unfortunately, I also believed that this was how my chosen profession in general was like, so I left the profession. I regret that decision now.

      1. Anonymous*

        Not much. I asked to help people, offered to job shadow, visited other departments to learn what they do. Eventually, my boss suggested I bring in a book to read.

            1. Jamie*

              That sounds like something out of The Twilight Zone or Alfred Hitchcock Presents.

              No one knew why Company X had to keep someone on the books with no phone, no equipment…no purpose. But it was only by having this position occupied that allowed the business to thrive, yet to explain would have broken the enchantment.

              Alas, once the position was vacated the company held on as long as they could before shutting their doors for good. Anonymous poster had no idea how crucial their act of sitting, just sitting, was to the company and all of it’s employees.

              Okay – I am punchy and need to go home. I started off channeling Rod Serling and ended up the narrator from Beauty and the Beast.

              1. Katie*

                Just FYI, all of the original Twilight Zone episodes are currently streaming on Netflix (can’t say the same for Beauty and the Beast).

  7. Chocolate Teapot*

    I started a new job in the January for a company which was setting up an office. I had relocated, and my first day I was given a big bunch of keys and shown where the new office was.

    It was a very nice, spacious office, right in the city centre. There were desks, chairs, and that was about it. A phone line and number had been ordered, but it took a couple of weeks to be installed. In the meantime, I was liaising with the people in the Head Office (in another country), who needed to take several weeks to inform me how to purchase pencils and teabags.

    It took over 3 months to install the computer network and server.

  8. Ali*

    I kind of had this happen to me at one of my first jobs out of school. I had a computer, desk and phone, but barely got any training and was left on my own with nothing to do the majority of the day. There were two of us in my position, and the other girl who had the same title as me was getting all the work to do, all the interesting projects, etc. while I was basically ignored. I would ask people if they needed help, but was told no in the majority of my cases. I ended up getting fired seven months later and am pretty sure this has ruined my career. Yes, this was three years ago, and yes, I’m still bitter. I’ve moved on a lot but still feel mad that I can’t seem to get a job with better growth potential and pay.

    1. Gallerina*

      Same EXACT thing happened to me. It’s miserable isn’t it? Also confidence destroying. I was technically Laid Off not fired (I’m in the EU, firing is hard), but it was still awful.

  9. Anonymous*

    This just happened to me today, but I’m on the IT side. As usual, a manager walked into my office and said she has a new employee starting (this is NOT the correct procedure). When I asked her when she said he was sitting in her office waiting to get started. I don’t even waste my time anymore trying to help them out. I pointed her to the account request forms on our Intranet and said to call Procurement for a computer. She didn’t hire this person yesterday so why is she just requesting this stuff today? My day will not ruined by her poor planning.

    On the flipside, the longest I ever waited for a computer and network access was 3 weeks. It was a secure facility so I couldn’t even look over someone else’s shoulder to be trained until I had my own access. I bought a couple of books and read them each a couple times those 3 weeks. I figure they paid me about $4K to read books I was going to read in my own time anyway. I eventually left that job because everything else was run with about the same level of planning.

  10. Aja*

    I feel your pain. My current company is horrendous at on-boarding. So much bureacracy to wade thtough to get not only the actual equipment (phone, computer) but all of the permissions and network access and stuff. It’s considered a minor miracle when somone has a work station, phone (with working extension and voice mail) and a computer with all the necessary access levels and a working email address. We are a 3000+ person company and I think (I could be wrong) that these things might be easier in smaller organizations – there’s just so much red tape and so many people involved here. We all know it’s a terrible way to introduce people to the company, but progress on it is glacial.

    The tough spot you’re in is that as Alison pointed out, you don’t want to be yet another “problem” for your manager to have to worry about but at the same time, you’re uncomfortable and annoyed. All the advice you’ve gotten here sounds good, I added my experience to say this is not uncommon at all (sad to say) and definitely do not take it personally.

    1. Piper*

      Yeah, I agree that the larger the organization, the worse this problem is. I’ve never had a problem at small companies with having everything I needed from day one, but at the bigger ones (think: Fortune 500 and up), it’s been horrendous. At my last company, I didn’t have a computer, e-mail address, desk, phone, office supplies, an e-mail address, or really, anything I needed to do my job for the first month. It was awful.

    2. The Other Dawn*

      I work at a small company (less than 15 people) and if I know when the person is starting (BIG “if” here), that person is generally up and running on their first day. If I’m surprised by a new hire (which I usually am) then I’m usually ready by the third day.

      You mentioned red tape, which made me think of my friend’s last job. She has since left because of the senseless crap that went on there. She told me that she created a new folder on the network for the new month and was yelled at because “only IT does those things”. So if she wanted to create a new folder, any folder, on the network, she has to make a request to IT. And wait for them to handle it. Seriously ridiculous.

      1. Jamie*

        I guarantee you there are IT people at that company right now trying to figure out how to kill themselves with their red staplers.

        1. The Other Dawn*

          I just about fell off my chair when she told me that one. Could you imagine trying to get any work done?? The company is run by my former boss so it somehow makes sense.

  11. Anon1*

    Beware companies with poor on-boarding. If they can’t give you support in the first few weeks, it may be a sign that they won’t ever. It’s one thing for a PC order to be late; I get that. But watch out for a company where that’s just the first hint that it doesn’t care what its people are doing or whether they’re succeeding or failing.

  12. Lanya*

    I started a new job at a company that was going to be moving within 5 months, and the owner didn’t want to pay for a new phone line to be put into the office…so they asked me if I would use my cell phone until we moved. They said they would pay for any overages I might incur.

    Not wanting to rock the boat, I agreed…but after 5 months of using my own minutes (and using up my cache of like 5 billion rollover minutes, which I will never get back) I was angry at myself and resentful, and I wished I had not agreed to that arrangement so quickly. Maybe a laptop is a different story, but I know how I felt about my phone.

    And after several months of being there I realized other things were organized…or, not organized…in the same fashion. Poor planning.

  13. Amy*

    If OP works in the govenrment sector she should absolutely NOT use her personal computer for work stuff. Records of government entities are subject to public records laws and it would be possible for her personal computer to be supboenaed if she has public/work records on it!

    I would advise OP to ride out this busy period and see what happens. Me, I’m going on 4 years of doing “other duties as assigned”. Which would be fine if I was an assistant/secretary. But I’m a high level administrator! If OP gets what I’ve gotten – four years of “someday” and “soon” and “once X happens we’ll revisit your duties”….take the hint that things are not going to get better. Needless to say, I’m job hunting.

  14. Nichole*

    I could have written this letter a few years ago. I was in a brand new position that no one really knew what to do with, I was SO EXCITED (imagine me jumping up and down and offering fist bumps to anyone who will take one) to be offered the job… then I sat, and sat, and sat for weeks. Eventually they decided that since they were paying me, they should probably get me a phone and put me to work. The weeks I spent memorizing the website, asking everyone who walked past what they do, cleaning and organizing stuff, and reading the entire Infonet (I know, hard without a computer, but maybe some old procedure manuals are stashed in a storeroom somewhere?) served me well eventually, so try to use the downtime as an opportunity to get to know the company and the culture and to find where you fit in to it. My downtime let me figure out a few neglected areas where I could step in and shine, and I was promoted within a year.

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