update: my creative role has turned into drudgery for the foreseeable future

Remember the letter-writer whose creative role had turned into the very drudgery she was trying to get away from when she took the job? Here’s the update — and it’s the last in our 2014 update series..

As you suggested, I explained to my manager that I wished to be taken off Project Tedious and that I had taken this job in hopes of moving away from that sort of work entirely. He was surprised and was apparently under the impression that Tedious Skill was part of my job description. He admitted that they took the project in part because they had a team member ready do that work. I am not sure how he got this impression, aside from my work history of course, but this was certainly not in my job description and was not my understanding of my role. I used your wording about “I deliberately came here to stop doing that work…” in this conversation, and he seemed receptive, if a bit unhappy.

They had been considering hiring someone to help me out with the project — turns out my long hours did not go unnoticed — so they accelerated that process and he joined about a month later. We agreed that I would train the new hire, who would take over the bulk of Project Tedious. Although my manager and I agreed that I would spend about 25-30% of my time on Project Tedious, it’s closer to 50%. It’s not ideal, but my hours are back to normal and I do feel like my manager is trying to keep me on projects that make me happy. I understand he has to make sure Project Tedious still gets done.

I still have not gotten the corresponding salary bump for doing this higher-paying work, but my year-end review is coming up and I have a strong case for a raise.

Thank you for your advice, which gave me confidence, and to the commenters who pointed out that I was resentful and bitter in my letter. In the end, this mostly came down to me feeling unappreciated and demoralized. With my own attitude adjustment and my manager’s response to my complaints, I’m feeling much happier now. If my time spent on Project Tedious continues to decline, I’ll consider this matter solved!

{ 22 comments… read them below }

  1. Sarah Nicole

    Sounds like you have a pretty good manager! It’s nice to hear that you’re in a place where you can be taken seriously when you’re not happy. I wanted to mention that when you ask for your raise, it’s of course possible that you may not get what you want. However, pointing out that you put in lots of extra work for this project could be enough fodder for you to request a bonus of some type. That’s a one time payment and doesn’t commit them to paying you a much higher salary moving forward.

    Although I know it would be awesome to have a higher salary, if your involvement in the project does continue to decrease, your employer may not agree to a significant salary jump. I’d go in prepared with a couple of different requests for negotiation: a bonus, maybe a few extra days of vacation time, something like that. That way you still get something for you hard work, even if it isn’t a salary bump!

    I suggest this because my boyfriend works at a well-known huge organization and has a stressful job for them. They started working on a project that he really enjoyed, but he was spending so much time on it and working late and having to travel. He would like a salary increase, but it seems they took him a lot more seriously when he instead negotiated a better bonus this year.

    Good luck!

  2. Artemesia

    This is a classic case where being assertive paid off; it is pretty grim when you take a pay cut not to do project tedious and then the new place says ‘oh great, we have someone we can stick with this tedious work.’ There is no way they would know you joined them to avoid this without being assertive about it.

  3. Adam V

    > There is no way they would know you joined them to avoid this without being assertive about it.

    They would if the OP said something like “I’ve been doing Project Tedious-type work for the last few years, and I’m looking for more creative-type work” in their interview (in response to the standard “why are you on the market” question). From the initial post, it sounded to me like the OP had made it clear that that’s why they were willing to take a significant pay cut.

    1. Artemesia

      No one cares about you as much as you do. That conversation seemed very clear to the OP but I’ll bet was never conveyed to the manager or never really was noticed and remembered by the manager. Thus the need to be assertive rather than bitter. They don’t remember or don’t see it as a big deal.

      1. AdAgencyChick

        +1.

        I also think OP should be proactive in bringing this up at raise time — and I would make the business case for getting paid more alongside the “this isn’t what I signed up for” case (which is relevant, since OP was willing to walk over it). That is, remind the boss that this is work that typically pays more than the creative work that the company had been taking on in the past, and the company wouldn’t even have been able to take on this client but for OP’s expertise. Implication: feed the goose that lays the golden eggs (both with money and with projects she likes!).

      2. AnonyMouse

        Also, in the original post it sounds like the OP has been in this job for about three years. Even managers who really do care about their employees aren’t likely to remember everything they talked about in their initial interview three years down the road – and it sounds like her reminder helped, even if she’s still not entirely happy with the situation.

  4. Thebe

    I know where this person is coming from. I had a job that was 30% Projects Tedious, but then the dullest projects expanded until they took up 90% of my time. I stuck it out for three years, until I was out of debt, then I quit. The company brought me back as a part-time temp, but I made it clear that I would not do Projects Tedious. Management swore they were fine with that, but there’s always subtle pressure to take on those dull projects because “I’m so good at them.” I sometimes feel guilty for not doing them because it’s hard on my coworkers, but I’m just a part-timer anyway and don’t really have the time.

    1. Vicki

      This sort of thing is the reason that I don’t, for example, have “Excel scripting” or “Visual Basic”, or “MS Word”, on my resume. I’ve done those and hated it.

      My resume also doesn’t mention that I type very fast and take excellent notes. There are some things you just don’t want to tell people about, lest they get the wrong idea.

      Nevertheless, sometimes, you can’t avoid it. I took a writing job because I was tired of doing programming (at the time). A year in, a new manager decided that I should become their “anti spam rule creator” because it used the programming language I had experience in. (It wasn’t a programming position, it wasn’t a writing experience and it would very much have been Project Tedious.)

      I left.

  5. Biff

    This is in no way intended to diminish the OP’s success, but I do feel like this is an unusually lucky outcome and that should be acknowledged. I think most people that did this WOULD have to leave to get away, and would probably end up in a cycle of taking a job, landing in this work after a while, and then getting fed up. I’m really glad the OP didn’t get stuck in this — but they seem awfully lucky to me.

    1. LQ

      I think a lot of people assume that without ever trying to be assertive. I think you may be right, but you’ll never find out if you’re one of the people who is valuable enough to keep and your boss will work with that unless you speak up.

      Don’t get into a cycle of it, speakup, clearly, and often.

      Yes it stinks if your boss says, well that’s your job. But if you just assume that’s your job and that’s the only way you’ll never know if your boss thinks you like that kind of work or if Jane in accounting would rather do it, or anything.

    2. Ask a Manager Post author

      I actually don’t think it’s unusually lucky. If you’re working with halfway reasonable people, saying “I took this job specifically to get away from the work you’re now asking me to do, which is different than the work I signed on for” will get results. I can’t think of a single decent manager I know who wouldn’t respond to that.

      1. Biff

        You know, I’d like say that it could simply be the industry of which I am part being particularly hardnosed, or the lower-level job I occupy, but every time I’ve seen someone actually do this, they’ve been out the door or sitting, stewing at their desk until they could be. That said, it seems that everyone I know is either in creative advertising or tech, which is a VERY narrow band from which to derive data. I wonder if this sort of thing is taken very differently by other industries.

        1. Ruffingit

          That’s been my experience overall as well in a few different industries. Most people I know who did this were either shown the door or told their job depended on their doing Project Tedious so they better suck it up or get the hell out. Sad, but true.

          1. Jennifer

            Yeah, usually Project Tedious has a much higher priority so it boils down to “well, it’s this or you have no job, we really need this and we can’t move you somewhere else.”

        2. AnonyMouse

          I think it also depends on how hard a line you take on it. The OP here didn’t flat out refuse to help out with Project Tedious at all (which I agree would probably not have gone over well), she agreed to keep working on it ~30% of the time as long as she could also do the type of work she was hired to do. Most managers I’ve had would definitely be receptive to that kind of solution to this problem. It also probably didn’t hurt that they were already thinking about hiring someone else to help out on Project Tedious.

            1. AnonyMouse

              I’m in a pretty niche industry now but it’s public policy related. I’m also not based in the US, if that’s helpful to know (though I have worked there in the past).

              1. Biff

                Oh — that makes more sense. I can imagine that culture can make a major impact on the ability to speak frankly to a boss.

    3. MsTedious

      Person from the letter checking in. I do feel lucky. When I told a co-worker friend of mine what I had done, he was shocked and said he’d never ask to be taken off a project. I guess I was being more brash than I realized, but it worked, so… lucky for me!

      Maybe it makes more sense if I add that I work in one of those hip creative type places where you can wear shorts to work and drink beer at your desk and so on. So speaking frankly isn’t as much of a risk as it would be in a more formal environment.

      1. AdAgencyChick

        I think it depends on your level of seniority and value to the team, even in creative-world. My guess is you do your work well enough that your employer realizes that even though they’d love to make money off you spending 100% of your time on Project Tedious, having you spend 50% of your time on it — or none at all — is still a better deal to them than you spending none of your time on it because you’ve chosen to leave the company.

        The reason I say level of seniority matters is that I was able to get off some shit-show accounts in the past by asking — but only when I was low enough on the totem pole that someone new could be switched in and they would have somewhere else to put me, even though there would be squawking on the old team about the inconvenience. At my current job title and salary level, it’s much harder to say no to a terrible account, because there are fewer places to move those billable hours. But, it’s also easier to manage the terrible account so that I’m sharing the terribleness with any direct reports. (And yes, I pay attention to how they feel about it!)

        I also think your experience — having “30%” turn into “50%” — is very (sadly) normal. In my experience, unless you’re at a fairly senior title, teams HATE sharing copywriters, and they think 50% means 100%. Which means a lot of junior writers end up having to do what their managers should be doing — that is, figure out what their reasonable distribution of work is. Instead, they end up working way too much overtime because they don’t know what it’s reasonable to say no to. It’s sad, and it wasn’t always this way :(

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