I’m not doing any of the work I was hired to do — and my boss doesn’t care

A reader writes:

I was hired four months ago at a large nonprofit to be a trainer and writer. I got to ask a lot of questions about the role, which fit what I wanted to do perfectly. My would-be boss pushed hard to bring me on and insisted to the team that this role was necessary, despite budget issues.

Fast forward four months later, and my immediate boss loves me. The problem? I’ve hardly done any of the work I was brought on to do. She has piled work on my plate that was previously hers and fills my schedule with very long work meetings where I provide damage control to different teams about shoddy work she completed before I was hired because I’m better with people.

Although I’m using my project management skills and getting a lot of things done, no one is noticing except her, and the work I’ve been doing was not part of the job description when I was hired. I am a total team player and am happy to lend a hand, but part of the role I was hired to do involved working within certain timelines, which I’m now not meeting.

She doesn’t seem concerned about this, and there doesn’t look to be any end to this on the horizon. Our weekly one-on-ones where I bring up the need for time to develop my programs always fall on deaf ears in favor of immediate priorities.

A coworker who also works under her had the same thing happen to him – for two years! He’s complained to our boss’ manager and asked for a reorg several times and is encouraging me to do the same. I’m wary of this since I’m just settling in and I don’t want to cause problems, although I’m starting to get resentful. My boss also tends to be sneaky and hold grudges, so I can see her getting really upset if she hears I did this.

I’m concerned because my role is to work with most of the people in the organization, so not doing the job I was hired to do is starting to become very obvious. A lot of people are currently waiting for training, and I keep promising that it’ll happen soon. Should I just accept the the role has changed? Is this going to be detrimental to me in the long run, or should I just continue since she loves me?

You need to have a serious heart-to-heart with her.

You note that you’ve pointed out in your one-on-ones that you need time to work on your programs and it’s falling on deaf ears — but that’s probably because she’s perfectly happy with the way your time is currently being used and doesn’t see a real need to change that. So you need to explain that you see a problem with it — that you signed on to do X, that X is what you want to be doing, and that you’re concerned that the job has turned out to be Y.

This is a reasonable conversation to have. You were promised a particular role and you accepted the job under those terms. She’s now changed the terms, and it’s entirely reasonable to point that out, explain that you’d like to do what you were hired for, and discuss whether that’s still possible (and, if she says it’s possible, what the timeline is for making that happen and what specific steps need to be taken to make it happen).

Say something like this: “I want to talk to you about my role. My understanding when I was hired was that I’d be doing primarily training and writing, and I was excited to come on board because those are the areas I want to work in. I’ve been glad to help out in other areas since there was a need, but at this point I’m becoming concerned about the fact that I’m not doing much of what I was brought on for. Training and writing are really what I want to spend my time on professionally, so I’d like to get a sense from you of whether the role is likely to go back to what we originally talked about.”

That said, if she has a pattern of doing this to others, it’s possible that this conversation won’t change things. But if nothing else, it will bring the issue to the surface and you’ll get much better information about whether you’re likely to see the change you want. If it’s not going to happen, it’s better for you to know that so that you can figure out if you want the job under these new terms.

{ 34 comments… read them below }

  1. Helka

    I think you could even be a little more pointed, and bring up the people who are waiting for training. It isn’t just that the job description has changed, it’s that the job you were hired to do still needs doing and is at least ostensibly still your responsibility.

    1. Adonday Veeah

      This is what I came here to say. If she intends to keep you in your current role, she needs to make it clear to the others that they will not be receiving the training they expect from you, and it’s because of her and not because you aren’t doing your job.

    2. Mephyle

      I agree that it would be good to talk about the people waiting for training, and the possible effects of this on the organization.
      Framing it as being about how concerned OP is, and that OP isn’t doing what she was excited to do is unlikely to make an impression on the boss. OP is concerned? OP isn’t getting to do what she likes best? So what, Boss is getting her unpleasant jobs done by someone else and she’s happy.

  2. Meg Murry

    Alison’s advice is great. Can I also suggest you CYA in writing? As in, after your one-on-ones, write back to your boss and say something like “you told me to prioritize A, B and C over training and writing, so I will not be able to complete training XYZ this month”. I’m suggesting this just in case you have a review at some point where you are judged on your ability to complete the tasks for your job description – you don’t want to be fired for not doing training and writing when your boss is telling you to back burner those things.

    1. Ivy

      Yes, do consider what you will be evaluated on and who will evaluate you. If it’s just your boss’ say so it’s one thing, but if you have a formal evaluation process you may be in trouble.
      I am currently struggling with an employee I am evaluating (in our company you are never evaluated by your own boss) – he was hired for a specific role for which we have evaluation criteria based on the core responsibilities. However, he had a strong IT background and got immediately pulled into streamlining the unit operations – recoding databases, building new tools, etc. Huge impact on their efficiency by the way, but nothing to do with the criteria and now it’s a struggle to explain why he is still ramping up on basic skills almost a year later.

      1. Mister Pickle™

        Yes, this * 1000. If you are going to be appraised according to a job description that varies significantly from the actual job you’ve been doing, you really need to address this, and soon. Make sure you get it in writing, too. Maybe you can get your boss to give you an official interim appraisal? This would be good if – as I sense might be the case – you really aren’t sure what criteria will be used to measure your work.

  3. A Non

    I’m worried about the part where you say you’re doing a lot of cleanup after your boss’s failed work. If she’s using you as a human sponge to clean up her messes, I suggest you start the process of moving on sooner rather than later. I’ve been in that role, it is soul-killing.

    1. Shep

      This.

      Luckily, I got along really well with the my old boss personally, but in the work environment, yes, A Non: “soul-killing” hits the proverbial nail on the head.

      She was always late (ALWAYS, to the point where I’d have panic attacks before opening or before a big meeting she was supposed to attend, and I am never one to bandy about absolutes like “ALWAYS” lightly), would have me organize an entire weeks’ worth of client meetings, only to have me call everyone back and cancel/reschedule. Repeat ad nauseam.

      She’d give unequivocal assurances she’d done X, Y, and Z each time I asked her, in the same breath assuring her I could help and/or do the projects myself if she wasn’t finished (because that also tended to happen with alarming regularity, and I’d rather it happen when I had the time to deal with it).

      Then she’d gasp in abject terror right before X, Y, and Z’s respective presences were required, and tell me to drop everything (all time- and client-sensitive; in fact, client-FACING) and do whatever she hadn’t done. So I’d have to apologize profusely to whomever was in my office at the moment, and run to do her project she’d sworn several times was already complete.

      There were also a lot of worrying financial practices at this establishment to the point where I politely declined to take part in payment processing anymore. My boss and I had a good personal relationship, as I said, so I got very little resistance and I think a bit of pity, since she knew what she and HER bosses were asking me to do wasn’t exactly ethical, even if it was legal.

      It could’ve been SO much worse, but by the time I left, I felt I was nothing more than a glorified personal assistant, whose job was to apologize to everyone, make up excuses, and cover her ass.

      Which is all to say that if this even comes close to the kind of working relationship your supervisor is fostering, OP, I concur wildly with A Non. Don’t panic, but definitely start looking for other things.

    2. neverjaunty

      Yes, this. OP, it sounds like your boss is using you to hide her own incompetence – and of course you’re being punished for that by everyone else, who expect you to do your own job. Run.

  4. Martin VAN Nostrand

    Sadly, it sounds like this person is just inept at her job and I doubt having that heart-to-heart will do anything. I can’t imagine her response being anything other than “Yes, I agree. Thank you for bringing it up. I promise I really want you to focus on ABC just as soon as we’re caught up with X, Y, and Z.” And that day will never come. But I like Helka’s suggestion of pointing out that other people have asked for training. I really hope you can get through to her!

    1. Dasha

      I agree. This has happened to me in the past before and it was incredibly frustrating. I had talks and talks with my boss but in the end I just had to leave.

    1. Sara M

      I agree. I think it’s worth trying the conversation, but my gut feeling is that you’ll need to look for another job. Sorry. :( This sucks.

  5. Kemi

    OMG, this is my life at the moment. I can’t believe it. I was hired to do one thing instead I am firefighting for the majority of the time on the behalf of my boss. I am at a loss what to do and just want to jump.

  6. HQB

    I agree that you should probably find a new job, unfortunately. In the meantime, though, when people ask you about training it seems perfectly appropriate to explain that your boss has delayed your work in that area indefinitely, and that they’ll need to bring it to her attention.

    1. Judy

      That’s what I’d say also.

      At this point my priorities from my boss have been X, Y & Z. Please talk with her if you need A to be one of my priorities.

  7. Suzanne

    Pretty sure talking will accomplish nothing. In the broader picture, this is the 4th or 5th story I’ve heard in the past year or so in which someone was hired for a job that turned out not to be the job they did. One former co-worker was told by her manager that they flat out lied to her. What gives? Is this a new trend?

    1. Decimus

      I’ve wondered about this myself. In my last job during the interview I specifically asked and was told it was a new position created by expansion – it turned out I was being hired to replace somebody and that the organization had about 80%+ turnover in the last year. Something that was NOT standard for the industry, I should add. I left after three months. At least the work was essentially the stuff I was supposed to do. But the goals were utterly unrealistic, being generated by an HQ office in another state that apparently had no idea what our jobs involved, and management was inept. They couldn’t understand why I left…

    2. Jeanne

      This is what I was thinking about. I suspect these people aren’t just taking jobs willy-nilly. They do research, ask questions. Then they get the job and everything was a lie. Why does this keep happening? How do we prevent it from happening to us?

      1. Janet

        Happened to me at my last position. Job turned out to be manual grunt work. Outright lie. Hated the job (what it turned out to be). If I had been told the truth, I would never have taken the position.

        I ended up getting laid off. And putting a dent in my career.

        Run! It is not worth it to stick around. Things will not change and if they do, it will not be for the better.

  8. DM

    I have nothing to say except good luck, and I’d recommend that you CYA, so it’s clear when it comes time for evaluations, why you’ve been unable to meet goals. I’m in a similar situation (though I was here before my boss). He delegates everything, where I think most in my office would believe he deals with funders & the gov’t, I deal with clients to implement the programs. Reality is that he finds more programs for us to join, and I have to keep up with the administrative requirements and reporting, fitting in clients when I can.

    I’ve also made sure his supervisor is aware of the situation. If the funders aren’t satisfied, we don’t have the resources to do any of the work I’m supposed to do full time, so until he actually starts doing his job, there’s not much I can do but do my best to juggle everything, knowing a few balls will be dropped along the way.

  9. C Average

    A follow-up question: When the OP is interviewing for a new job because things haven’t changed, how should she respond to questions about why she’s leaving this role after just four months? Is there a good way to spin “it wasn’t what I signed up for” into an acceptable reason to be a short-timer?

    1. MsM

      I think that’s pretty much exactly how you spin it: “I took the job because I was excited about having the opportunity to do X, Y, and Z, and instead I found the bulk of my time being taken up with A, B, and C. I’ve adjusted accordingly, but I’d be really excited to get back to focusing on my primary skillset with you because…”

    2. AvonLady Barksdale

      I did a version of that, though I’ve been in my current role for a little over a year. “Why are you looking?” “I left because I wanted to be on this side of the business and do more teapot designing; initially I was supposed to do some of that, but it didn’t work out that way.” Said with a smile and enthusiasm about the company I’m interviewing with, it was very well received.

  10. JuniorMinion

    Ugh. This. I am here right now except 2 months in. The group head promised me that this would be different than my previous place of business and that I would get to do X, Y, Z. Turns out he is the root of the ineptness here and creator of the types of problems he specifically said didn’t exist. My saving grace is a middle person who is really great and can probably teach me a lot but I am still putting my feelers out there so I can try to leave after a year or so.

  11. Anthony

    Thank you, thank you, thank you for writing this post. I’ve been in the same situation for almost 9 months and I’m waiting out my 1 year time period. It has been horrible. I wanted to leave in the beginning, when I realized I had been “bamboozled” if you will, as the job was nothing as it was promised. But, I was too chicken to move on with today’s job market. Looking back, I wish I had left earlier. My boss is a cretin (not anything like the interview – same as the job!). It has taken it’s toll on me in just 9 months. Leave now. There are some days where I want to leave, but the 1 year mark is so close. I’m in technology and could probably find another job, but it’s scary as I’d probably have to be a contractor instead of a full-time employee (which I am now). Hang in there and know you’re not alone. It’s a terrible thing that companies do this to hardworking people who just want to have a job that they enjoy and come home to their families.

  12. Artemesia

    I know someone hired to do an important job and assured that the physical resources would be ready to go who is now stuck working with a martinet who refuses (and probably sexistly) to take her needs seriously and has a new reason each day why he can’t get it done and a new hoop for her to jump through. Her superiors have no control over the facilities guy and yet when evaluation time comes she will be evaluated by achieving what she was hired to do. It is soul sucking.

    The only time I had to deal with a martinet who passively aggressively impeded progress I was able to fire him; I don’t know how to advise her to deal. If she pushes and complains to her superiors SHE becomes the annoying problem they can’t solve. And when a boss can’t solve your problem they project onto you and hurt you. And yet she has no power at all to deal with the guy who controls what she needs.

    1. Chriama

      I think a reasonable boss would find some way to intervene, talk to that guy’s supervisor or put in the requests on her behalf. If they’re not willing to do that, or they’re knowingly holding her responsible for objectives she doesn’t have the resources to achieve, I think she has terrible bosses. That really sucks and I’m sorry for her :'(

  13. MR

    I wish that when people realized that they were in these types of situations, that they would start hunting for a new job.

    Absolutely nothing is going to change. Nothing. Zero. Nada. Zilch. Why? Because the horrible manager isn’t being managed by their superior and these shenanigans have likely been going on for quite some time. That manager has shown that they won’t manage their people, so why would they listen to you and make changes?

    The only option for you is to suck it up while you are there, look for a new job and leave as soon as you can. If you don’t, you will be miserable until the horrible boss leaves. Good luck!

  14. BJ

    Unfortunately, this happens a lot in nonprofits. This happened at my last job. Your boss won’t care. I ultimately ended up getting fired after calling out my manager on everything. Get out now because it just gets worse.

    1. GenericGen

      It seems to be happening in all sectors. It happened at my last job. I was told it was a new position, when two people had worked it in the previous six months (one fired, one moved laterally). I was lied to from the start, from the interview to the day I was let go. I was lied to about pay, working conditions, duties, and coworkers. After I left, they went through one new person in two weeks and hired another shortly after. So five people worked the job in about a years’ time.

      The really crazy thing is I recently got an email from ExBoss offering me a chance to interview for a position at an equally dysfunctional vendor of theirs. He assumed I was still unemployed (and probably desperate for another bad job). Yeah, no. I would really like to know how people avoid this. I had heard good things about this company and no one was around to warn me about the dysfunction until I had started my job.

  15. Leah

    It sounds like this boss never intended to have you do the work that was discussed in the interview, she hired you to fix her sloppy work.
    I think, like others have mentioned, it’s worth a heart-to-heart in which you explain how other employees are not getting their training, but ultimately don’t expect too much to come from the conversation. I can imagine her “suggesting” that you just do the training during your lunch for free, because aren’t you a team player?

  16. Nina

    Is it possible to have this conversation over email? I’ve been here a 1.5 years, and while I was completely against the switch into a new role…I haven’t had a title, salary, or job description change even though I brought it up a year ago (and had long conversations at least 2 other times). Shame on me, I know.

    My manager is 100% remote from the office – would it be alright to email her about this? Or is it better as a phone call?

    Thanks!

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