I’m doing my boss’s job for him

A reader writes:

To put it bluntly, I need some help figuring out how much of my boss’ job I should do for him.

I work as one of two staff that run a particular program, within a larger department at a nonprofit. We also work with two administrative assistants who provide support to all of our department’s programs and several consultants who provide some of our direct services. My boss is the director of the program; I have a variety of responsibilities that could be summarized as outreach.

My boss is great at some parts of his job, but fundamentally lacks management skills – both in terms of managing his own to-do list (he has, and I’m not kidding, 10,000+ unread emails in his inbox, going back over five years) and managing his staff. He just… doesn’t do things that are basic parts of his job: short-term to-dos like responding to requests from other departments who need information about our program or writing thank you notes to donors, but also bigger-picture things like signing off on a fundraising strategy or managing a problematic relationship between two other staff members.

Because he just doesn’t do this stuff, the responsibility for getting it done falls to me (or, I suppose, I could let it just not get done, but that would be a road to ruin for the program). On the day-to-day to-dos, he seems to have an unstated expectation that it’s my responsibility to catch the balls he drops. On the bigger-picture issues, I bring him proposals for how to handle the situation (sometimes he asks for this, sometimes I just do it as a strategy to get something moving when I know it’s off track).

I am not his assistant and it is not my job (unless it is, and he just hasn’t formalized that) to track his workload and help make sure that he’s getting done the things he needs to get done. I am also explicitly not responsible for overall program management (were I classified as a program manager, I would be paid significantly more).

I’m increasingly frustrated with all of this. So my question is this: do I need to recalibrate my understanding of the kind of support I should be providing my boss? Or, if my boss is acting unreasonably, what other actions should I take?

Well, it’s hard to say for sure from the outside, but it sounds likely both are true — that you do need to readjust your expectations of what you should handle versus what your boss should handle, and that your boss is failing on at least a few fronts.

First things first: It’s very, very common for the logistical work of running a program to fall to staff members who are below director-level. It would be pretty normal for you to be the one who handles things like responding to information requests from other departments or sending thank-you notes to donors. In fact, in most cases, that should be you, since that’s work that doesn’t generally require a director to handle it.

That’s actually the principle that good managers use for figuring out what should and shouldn’t be delegated: If someone more junior is able to handle the work reasonably well, it usually makes sense for that lower-level person to do it, so that the manager’s time is freed up for things that only he can do. It sounds like a lot of the tasks you’re wondering about are ones that it likely does make sense to delegate to you.

But not all of them. Unless you’re in a pretty senior role, your boss should probably be the one signing off on big strategic decisions. And he should certainly be the one handling actual people-management issues, like intervening in a problematic relationship between two employees.

So it sounds like you’ve got a boss who’s hands-off to the point of negligence, at least in some areas. (His 10,000 unread emails fit that pattern, too.)

And what’s happening to you sounds like a thing that happens very often when you’re working in a job with some dysfunction: You start not being able to tell what’s normal and what isn’t, and you can end up overreacting to things that aren’t that big of a deal or even things that are fairly standard. You can also end up under-reacting to things that are a huge deal, because your norms are all thrown off. This is one of the biggest long-term problems with working for a bad boss, and it can make things tough when you move to a more functional employer and are still calibrated for the dysfunctional one.

But there also can be a real advantage to working for a negligent boss who lets significant pieces of his job fall to you: It can give you the opportunity to do the type of higher-level work that you otherwise wouldn’t have access to, and which you eventually can parlay into a better job with a better boss. For example, in order to keep things moving, you bring your boss proposals for the bigger-picture strategy work that would normally fall to him. That can go on your résumé as “created and pitched proposal to do X, which resulted in Y and Z successes.” That’s a big deal when it lets you significantly raise the level of work that you can show you’ve done, and done well. There’s probably a lot more like that that you can use to pitch yourself in the future, like “kept the day-to-day workflow of a busy department running smoothly” and “became the go-to staff person for information about X and Y” (if those things are true).

In fact, there might even be an opportunity to formalize those responsibilities, if you want them. It’s possible that you could pitch yourself to your boss as a sort of deputy director for the department, pointing out the things that you’re already doing and asking that your title — and your salary — be updated to reflect what your role has evolved into. (And note that “what the role has evolved into” is the way to frame it to him, even though you secretly mean “I’m cleaning up after you.”)

Of course, you might not want that. You might want to focus on the job that you were hired for, and not have to pick up extra responsibilities just because your boss is letting them drop. If that’s the case, one option is to see what happens if you go back to just doing your own job and leave your boss to deal with the consequences of, say, not coming up with a fundraising strategy for the year. It’s possible that this approach will either (a) make him realize he needs to get his act together, because suddenly his safety net (you) is gone, or (b) make his negligence more visible to his own boss, something that probably isn’t the case now because you’ve been stepping in. (Note that if you take this approach, you’d want to make sure that it’s not going to look like you’re the one who’s dropping balls; you don’t say how long you’ve been covering for your boss, but if it’s been a while, he may now believe those things are actually your responsibilities, not his. So think carefully about how you’d navigate that.)

But if you’re a certain kind of person, you might be constitutionally unable to do that. When you’re highly conscientious, it can be really hard to sit on your hands and watch things fail, especially when it’s work that you care about. If that’s the case for you, and if you won’t be happy taking this stuff on as a launch pad to something better down the road, then it might be time to start thinking about an exit plan for the job.

But there really is an opportunity here if you want it.

Originally published at New York Magazine.

{ 84 comments… read them below }

  1. Charlie*

    Why not ask for a promotion? “Boss, I’ve been taking on a lot of additional responsibility, beyond my current job description and pay rate – for example, signing off on a fundraising strategy, managing the department’s workflow, and managing conflicts between your direct reports. I’ve also been taking the lead on solving problems like last week, when I developed proposals to handle XYZ. I feel that my role has evolved into that of a deputy to your position, and I wondered if you would be open to creating a new role that includes those duties?”

  2. Student*

    You should leverage the experience into a new job somewhere else, doing your boss’s level of work at your boss’s pay rate.

    Your boss has no incentive to change the current arrangement, and you can’t give him one. If you stop cleaning up after him, he’ll blame you, not reward you. He’ll only change his ways when something big happens that forces him to do so, and the only big thing you can control that won’t also hurt you professionally is to leave for a better job.

    1. Stranger than fiction*

      Just curious, does that ever work? In other words, say I’m an individual contributor but doing a lot of an absentee mamager’s work. Would I be able to pull of getting manager level interviews?

      1. Koko*

        Absolutely! My career got kickstarted because 3 months into my first (entry-level) marketing job, my department director and two of my four coworkers all quit within a month or each other, leaving just two of us where once a department of five stood. It took them a few months to staff back up, so in the meantime they shelved some high level projects to wait for a new director to take over, pushed some unimportant things to the backburner, and divided the remaining critical work between the two of us.

        So for a couple months I did a little bit of every job/type of work in my field, including seeing the way all of the individual contributor work came together into a cohesive package, which I hadn’t been able to see from the trenches. After only a year in that job I leveraged my experience into a marketing director position at another employer, because I understood how every part of a marketing department worked, how the pieces fit together, and how it should look from 10,000 feet. And I was able to show that in my resume.

    2. Important Moi*

      Does this ever work?

      What language do you use to explain you’re doing your boss’s job without speaking badly of the boss?

      1. Ask a Manager* Post author

        You don’t say “did my boss’s job.” You say “achieved X, Y, and Z,” being specific about the work you did and leaving out that it should have been done by him.

        1. Important Moi*

          Thank you. I need to write scripts and rehearse them. I can’t do what you’ve described off the top of my head.

          1. Not So NewReader*

            That makes sense because you are in the thick of it. Negative thoughts can stop this process and the sheer busyness can confuse what is actually going on. Lots of clutter all around the thinking process. In a calm moment make lists of what you do regularly and what you have achieved. I could only work on my resume on weekends, my brain was fried on week days. There was just too much stuff going on.

          2. jb*

            “Because of the small size of the team, I took on responsibilities beyond what you’d expect from a [my title]. Some of these were…”

            In my current role, there’s no one between me and the head of my department, so my day-to-day includes work from entry-level to Manager-level, by design. Surprisingly little of my job involves work you’d usually expect someone at my exact level to do.

      1. Sherm*

        This stock photo truly matches the scenario. I can imagine the woman in red thinking “You get the praise, you jerk, but I do all the work!”

  3. AnotherAlison*

    This reminds me of a friend’s situation in her first job out of college. She started out as an administrative assistant for a 3-person nonprofit. By the time she left (8 yrs later), she was running everything while her boss literally did nothing and never came to the office. He fired her to give her job to his girlfriend, though. (Neither of them are there now). Problem is the board couldn’t pay her and her boss to do HIS job. She was never going to get the pay she deserved there. Now she’s exec director somewhere else, so it is true that the skills acquired are valuable, but the OP will probably need to move to get paid for those skills.

    1. Bwmn*

      I was just coming here to bemoan how versions of this problem are really common at nonprofits. Perhaps not always quite as bad as your friend’s experience – but unfortunately a reality of many nonprofit staff is that they learn management on the job and if they’re learning from bad managers……

      Unless this is an organization that has an actual history of promoting from within or giving merit based promotions (as opposed to saying “this department needs a director and officer and no matter how good or accomplished the officer becomes we will never promote or pay the officer above an officer level”) – the best position is to strongly build this manager as a reference who will speak highly of you.

      A huge reason for nonprofit turnover isn’t because staff leave for jobs in a different sector but rather it’s the only opportunity for true promotion and/or raises. What often happens is that someone hits a ceiling at a small organization, moves to a larger organization/department and hits another ceiling, and then before you know it they’re managing a very large department/organization without ever really having had management experience.

      1. Artemesia*

        I know a couple of cases also where when the person was given a good offer outside, suddenly there was enough money to double and in one case nearly triple the salary to keep them. It isn’t that they don’t have the money, it is that they don’t want to reward their current staff who agree to work for peanuts.

        1. Bwmn*


          Not to mention when that person leaves, they suddenly discover that the job needs someone at a higher pay grade/title to do the work needed.

          1. Not the Droid You Are Looking For*

            This…so many of my friends have stories about how when they finally left their NP, they position was reworked to be a higher title/salary or split into multiple positions.

          2. Jess*

            That’s what happened to me. I made a case for a raise and reclassification to a higher grade for two years before I finally realized they’d never do it and left. The person they hired to replace me is two grades higher and paid commensurately more. Thanks, guys.

  4. Ayla K*

    I just want to say to the OP that it is TOTALLY OKAY if you don’t want this to be your job! You were hired for a certain job and you ostensibly took that job because it was a job you wanted to do/were good at/trained for. If the role has ‘evolved’ into something you’re not interested in (and in this case, into what appears to be a different job completely) that’s okay. You absolutely can turn this into leadership/growth/promotion opportunities, but you do not have to.

    1. rawr*

      I’m seconding this. I’m in a very similar situation right now and it’s getting old, quickly. I’m already in a senior-level position and have a big enough workload on my own. There is no promotion to be had. We’re a small enough team that the director really cannot be slacking and expecting the de facto deputy (me) to clean up every mess. Particularly since he’s not great at communicating what he expects my role to be. I like my work and don’t want to leave, but this situation has me completely stressed out. I’m getting the experience I need and want, and then I’ll probably be gone. :(

    2. Not the Droid You Are Looking For*

      This. I quit my last job because my boss did not understand the basics of what we did, so she would have to schedule an hour meeting with me ahead of all her meetings, so that I could coach and prep her.

      There was no growth potential and no getting away from this situation if I stayed, so I got out as quickly as I could.

  5. oldfashionedlovesong*

    My boss could have written this letter. I’d estimate she takes on 65% of our director’s work in a given year. What this means for me, her supervisee (and I can’t tell from the letter if LW supervises anyone) is that my workload and needs routinely fall by the wayside because my boss is too busy doing her boss’s work. I’ve worked here three years and have only had one performance review because the meetings we’ve scheduled to do them keep getting preempted by the director’s emergencies – rather, emergencies she can’t be bothered to handle herself. Meetings for projects also often get rescheduled and/or cancelled. When my boss does have time to meet with me, it’s clear she hasn’t had the time to review the documents sent to her well in advance and so our discussion is superficial at best. I really like her and she does the best she can to be my boss, but given the position the director has put her in, it’s basically impossible. And this is public service, so the director will never be fired (people have tried) and my boss will never quit or be given a promotion. Believe me, I’m browsing Indeed most evenings after work, because my leaving is the only thing that’s ever going to change. As Alison said in her advice, if the factors external to you can’t be changed, you do have to start considering that exit plan.

  6. Wendy Darling*

    At one of my jobs we occasionally had people declare Email Bankruptcy, in which they just threw in the towel and deleted all unread emails over a few days old. The thought was that if any of the emails were important the person would email again, and this radical step made it possible for them to actually get current.

    Also I just like the phrase Email Bankruptcy.

    1. Emi.*

      OH MY GOSH. I kind of want to do this. Did they announce Email Bankruptcy, so that people would know to re-email them, or did they just do it?

      1. Calallily*

        I am picturing full on bankruptcy proceedings… like an application for Email Bankruptcy to your boss, a hearing where you must provide a list of emails to be included in Email Bankruptcy, an imposed list of critical emails excluded from Email Bankruptcy, followed by a mass outgoing email announcing the Email Bankruptcy with protocols for re-submission of emails included in the Email Bankruptcy.

        You would also need to setup automatic replies for a period of 4 weeks warning all email senders that you recently declared Email Bankruptcy along with a 7 year long disclosure in your email signature.

        I illegally declared Email Bankruptcy in my backup personal email last weekend…

        1. AnotherAlison*

          Lol. I like it. When you get the autoresponder, you know right away that the emailee is a high risk recipient who will likely never reply to your email. That is so much better than being left to wonder all the possibilities about what could have happened to cause them not to reply.

      2. Wendy Darling*

        The one person I talked to a bunch about it just did it, and let people know she’d done it as needed. As in,

        “Hey Felicia did you get that email I sent you last week?”
        “Oh, I had 7000 unread emails so I declared email bankruptcy, it probably got purged. Would you mind sending it again?”

        People generally didn’t mind resending mail since they were now reasonably certain the email would actually get read.

    2. paul*

      My previous boss could have used that. She called me once to go find an email in her folder to forward to her personal email….30k+ unread. Holy mother of god how how how. I had to hunt for half a damn hour to find that one email. All of *2* folders to organize her emails too. It was horrible.

    3. Less anonymous than before*

      I’ve done this before. USE IT SPARINGLY and in a case of an ACTUAL emergency need to start over. Like real Bankruptcy. It’s not to be used at the end of every week or month, lol. But I had a serious backlog because job was understaffed and I was doing 2.5 roles and it didn’t leave me a lot of time to handle what I was actually hired to do. Finally, me and other staff member (there were 2 of us running the business from the main office, while BOSS/VP were in and out and leaving everything to us to handle operations and the large staff that we had spread out all over the country at small satellite locations) sat down with big boss and laid out what the problems were and what we could no longer do. A week later he had the budget in place for a full time support staff member and budget oom for temps during busy seasons. We declared backlog bankruptcy *we didn’t use this term, but I love it* and purged any work/email that wasn’t vital (which really were only the state forms that we needed to send in) and started fresh.

      What a relief!! We both got title upgrades when we got the new support staffer and raises for putting up with the dumpster fire for so long, and things really turned around in a few months time.

      Getting that monkey off our backs FELT SO GOOD tho. We really had a great boss and I really like that job, even more so when we got a support staffer in and during busy season when we had temps in. But I moved on after a few years. I still wonder how business is doing (I have seen they are growing) since that time and how much staff he’s kept on/added and how roles have grown or changed since my departure. He really was one of my most favorite bosses ever.

      1. Kelly L.*

        I just remembered that I accidentally committed Voicemail Bankruptcy when I started my previous job. This was over 10 years ago now. I was new, obviously, and I was also starting up after the office had been closed for part of the summer (it was academic), and there were about a billion voicemails on the phone. I was trying to figure out the phone, which was always a cantankerous beast even after I got used to it, and somehow accidentally hit a button that deleted every single one.

        My boss and I agreed that if it was really important, we’d hear from them again! :D

        1. Kelly L.*

          And I suppose the queen of backlog bankruptcy might be that poster who set the timeshare agreements on fire in a ditch :D

          1. Less anonymous than before*

            Wait!? lolol. I never read this… any link? was it a letter or a comment on a free post?

              1. Kelly L.*

                That’s the one!

                And I guess I should have said “king.” I was sure I remembered the poster as a woman!

      2. Wendy Darling*

        Definitely. Like regular bankruptcy, email bankruptcy is only for use when your situation has gotten so out of control that you cannot feasibly get out from under it (like you have many thousands of unread emails and it would take one or more full work weeks to get your inbox sorted out and while you were doing that more emails would be piling up).

        At the point where you have 10k+ unread messages, though, there’s just no way you’re ever going to get caught up with it so you may as well wipe the slate clean and start over.

        1. Less anonymous than before*

          yes! and honestly, the relief that you get and the ability to focus again is amazing. and if it’s super pressing they will get in touch again or figure out an alternative, I suppose.

    4. Email surfer*

      In defense of those of us with high unread email balances, I was on a listserv that circulated new legal opinions and commentary. Rather than read every single one, I would read those that were germaine, based on the subject line, then leave the rest as unopened mail. My high balance was not dysfunction, it was surfing the tidal wave of incoming email while unsubscribing and using folders and other functions to manage. I work in a legal area, have had the same work email for 15 years, and actually felt bad about this until the topic came up when at lunch with 3 attorneys, who were tens of thousands of unread emails ahead of me. For some, it’s a red herring.

    5. Partly Cloudy*

      When my co-worker returned from maternity leave, I convinced her that it was okay to declare Email Bankruptcy (and by “declare” I mean just do it, not announce it or anything). She was hesitant at first but I told her not to waste her time slogging through months-old emails where the issues have almost certainly already been resolved by someone else anyway. I said “If it’s that important, they’ll reach out to you again, especially now that you’re back.” Everything worked out fine.

    6. Marillenbaum*

      I would really like my professor to do this. He has over 8,000 emails in his inbox, which means that important stuff gets left out. For instance: a 60-page reading for class isn’t on the course reserves website. I e-mail him about it the day after class. No response. I go to his office hours about it to follow up on the email; he tells me he’ll upload the reading today. Great! Weekend goes by, still no reading. Finally, he uploads it on Monday for a class on Tuesday, fully expecting us all to drop everything and read it.

  7. Anna*

    I could have written this letter 7 years ago. Right down to the unanswered emails (see also unanswered/unopened physical mail).

    For me, the right answer was moving on from that job. I did what Alison suggests–parlayed the experience I got into a better job. For me, that job was someplace else, but if you otherwise want to stay there, and this dysfunction isn’t a symptom of even greater dysfunctions and difficulties, parlaying this into a promotion/raise seems like the way to go.

    One thing that helped me was thinking about what skills and experience I WANTED on my resume. When asked to do work “above my pay grade” in those areas, I agreed, but sometimes the work fell outside of that into areas that didn’t interest me, and so in those cases, I did push back with “I’m going to need a promotion/pay raise to do this kind of work.” (They refused a promotion or pay raise, so I didn’t do the work.) I felt like I could do that because I could list all of the times I did indeed take on work that was outside of my work description.

    Incidentally, when I left, they were forced to hire my replacement at a higher pay grade in order to get the job description of what my role had “evolved into” approved with HR. That did burn!

  8. Ask a Manager* Post author

    For the person who sent me the typo report asking if I really mean to put “constitutionally” in this sentence of the answer: “But if you’re a certain kind of person, you might be constitutionally unable to do that. When you’re highly conscientious, it can be really hard to sit on your hands and watch things fail, especially when it’s work that you care about.”

    … yes! Constitutionally isn’t just about a government constitution. It’s also refers to a person’s fundamental makeup.

    (I had no way to reply to this person other than here. Apparently I need to add an email address field to the “report typo” form.)

    1. Sue Wilson*

      It helps if you think of “constitution” the way people use it to refer to their healthiness, i.e. he must have a great constitution to eat 20 pies in one sitting.

    2. NoMoreMrFixit*

      I took it as referring to a basic aspect of one’s personality/work ethos. And in cases like this with such a backlog of unread messages, the nuclear option really is the only sane way to get things under control.

    3. Not So NewReader*

      It is interesting to ponder the US Constitution not allowing us to our bosses jobs for them. I had never thought of that before. What a different world we would have.

  9. Government Worker*

    Alison is right that in many places things like thank you notes to donors get handled at a staff level. The problem comes in when the boss thinks it’s his responsibility, says he’ll do it, and then doesn’t, or is very late, or sometimes passes them of to OP but sometimes doesn’t.

    OP, your boss is unlikely to change in any fundamental ways. If dealing with this level of disorganization and haphazard planning drives you nuts, the only solution is to get out. If your boss is willing to hand off total responsibility for some of these tasks that are driving you nuts, and you’re willing to take them on, then you may be able to salvage the job and take advantage of the opportunities here in the way that Alison describes. If your boss is disorganized but doesn’t recognize that fact and isn’t willing to let go of some of these tasks, then you’ll be banging your head against this same wall over and over.

    1. Smithy*

      When the acknowledgement process gets held up because each letter needs to be approved by X person/team or worse, every letter needs to be signed by person at Y pay grade – it’s tragically possible for something potentially this routine to become a real “issue”.

      I worked somewhere that did an experiment of having board members give donors above a certain pay level a personal call. It was this weird disaster that complicated and heavily burdened the process and then was dropped unceremoniously after a very junior level staff put a lot of work into trying to streamline the process.

  10. Seal*

    Do consider Alison’s advice of looking at your situation as an opportunity. I could have written this letter a decade ago. At the time, I was working for a mostly absentee, burnt-out boss whose chief talent was covering his own backside. I had spent almost 5 years taking on increasingly significant responsibilities that should have been well beyond my pay grade because he couldn’t be bothered. When he inexplicably got promoted and I was told that I wouldn’t be considered for his job, I found a job nearly identical to my boss’s at another institution and left. I got my new job in large part due to the experience I had gained covering for my now-former boss. Within 2 years, I got promoted and my former boss as well as the person who was hired instead of me got fired. As it turned out, I was the only person who knew what was going on and actually doing anything; once I left, stuff stopped getting done and people noticed and finally complained.

    1. paul*

      How do you prove you had that experience if it was never in your job description or obvious from your title? I’ve taken stuff outside of my job duties a time or two, or ten, but how do you show an employer that? Particularly when most of the data and information I have from it is confidential.

      1. Artemesia*

        You just put it as an accomplishment on your resume. Most people’s work is not fully described in their job description if they even have one and no one puts their job description on a resume. Of course if you really don’t do the work and are puffing you are likely to eventually be smoked.

        1. Seal*

          In my case, I was going from a paraprofessional to a professional (academic librarian) position and had just finished library school. Because of my job situation I had demonstrable experience in an academic library on my resume and was able to speak to it with a certain degree of authority in my interview; I am told that’s what made me stand out amongst the other candidates. I also chose references who knew me and my work well, interestingly enough including my boss at the time. For reasons I still don’t quite understand, he was well aware that I was that one keeping the place running and thought well enough of me to provide a good reference, yet despite being in a position to do so refused to endorse me for a promotion internally. That was ultimately his undoing, though – not taking care of the people who made him look good. Had I stayed, I’m certain he would not have been fired. On the other hand, I would have undoubtedly remained frustrated by his ongoing lack of effort.

      2. Not a Real Giraffe*

        I’m not sure what you mean by “prove” here. I would include it on my resume in a measurable way, then talk about it during the interview, just as I would with any other task/skill that was part of my actual job description.

      3. Bwmn*

        To use the OP’s letter as an example – while creating a fundraising strategy may not be on the job description – on a resume or in an interview, the OP can say “I created or gave input on the creation of a fundraising strategy”. And in any follow up discussion, the OP would talk about their thinking and design in creation of that strategy.

      4. Trout 'Waver*

        Put it on your resume and be able to intelligently discuss it in a phone screen or interview. To someone who’s good at interviewing, it is pretty easy to tell if a person can back up what’s on their resume.

        Also, roles vary so much between companies in most fields that you can never really pin down someone’s responsibilities by title alone.

      5. Koko*

        I have never had to show my job description to a prospective employer. I just described my work on my resume.

      6. Not So NewReader*

        You show an employer by being able to talk about the specifics of what you did.

        A stupid example but let’s say you supervised a factory work floor. Your interview wants to know if you are forklift certified. You forgot to the bring the certificate. So say yes and you talk about the specifics of what your certification was like, you talk about the brand of forklift you drove, if you trained someone else you talk about that and so on. There is a point where the specifics of what you say give you away. Only a person actually doing the work would know about x or y or z.

        My husband applied for a job where basic knowledge of wiring was necessary. My husband did not have the exact knowledge they were talking about. So he talked about wiring a new build house, he talked about wiring a large train layout and then he talked about rewiring his family member’s car for him. When he got done with all this talking, the interviewer had NO doubt my husband would figure out what he needed to learn at this new job. Sure enough the first day on the my husband was helping and teaching others. The boss kind of knew that would happen.

  11. anonomust*

    This letter was actually slightly anxiety triggering for me, because I spent the worst year of my life doing my boss’s job for him and it almost made me burn out and nearly destroyed my marriage in the process. I can’t go into detail without outing my workplace and boss, but suffice to say it was not worth it. The only satisfaction I got was that even now, 18 months later, when my role in that branch of our workplace comes up, people literally do not know that he was there and thought I was managing everything alone – because I WAS.

  12. Artemesia*

    I watched a business fail with a boss like this. It is one thing to delegate; it is another to then not pick up the pieces that the boss really must do while still drawing huge pay. In the case I am thinking of, it was the boss’s job to network, rainmake, etc and instead he did nothing and the person who stepped up and answered RFPs and got business on top of everything else ALMOST saved the company with her success but eventually — no work plus big salary took the small company down with cashflow problems.

    I’d be documenting your successes and responsibilities as a strategy for working elsewhere — begin to prepare for a concentrated job search.

    1. Artemesia*

      Let me just say though that the person who ended up almost saving the company got great experience and got a new job paying 20% more than she was making as the top person (besides the owner) at the old failing business

  13. One Handed Typist*

    Allison’s advice is spot on. You have a genuine opportunity to build up a promotion, but if that is not something you want, it is time to look for a new job. It’s just fine saying you don’t want a Deputy Director or higher level job.

    I’d like to see a way for the email situation to get cleaned up. At this point I would ask boss for a date – one week prior, one month prior – and every email sent before that gets moved to an Archive folder (and marked as read). It’s still available if needed, but it’s out of sight. I bet your boss has given up on those old emails and it is affecting him to see it there, and it’s changing how he interacts with email period.

  14. Schmooples and the Binkie-Boo*

    “short-term to-dos like responding to requests from other departments who need information about our program or writing thank you notes to donors”

    These don’t sound like jobs for a manager or director to be doing at all.

    1. Bwmn*

      If those aren’t the tasks that the Director needs to do, then the Director does ultimately need to assign Program Officer #1 to take care requests from other departments and Program Officer #2 writes thank you notes.

      Additionally, for a number of nonprofits that can’t necessarily offer a salary at a certain level – they can give titles – regardless of duties or even if there are reports. Having a Director in a Department of one, easily puts all sorts of “not jobs for a director” tasks on their plate. Then when they do get staff, if they’re not good managers then the distribution of those tasks in a sensible and structured manner doesn’t always happen.

        1. Z*

          My older brother once has 20,000 some unread emails and most of them were things like expired J. Crew coupons and it blew my mind that he wouldn’t just delete those and unsubscribe from the lists.

          Anyways email is very YMMV but I can’t imagine you wouldn’t feel some mental relief if you tackled those unread emails whether deleting (and unsubscribing) or mass archiving or whatever.

      1. Wendy Darling*

        As an Inbox Zero person… yikes.

        My SO has 20k unread emails in his work email but most of them are automated mails that are immediately filtered into a folder and that he never needs to look at unless something has gone horribly wrong. (Personally I set up my filter to mark all of those as read.)

        The way I run my inbox if I have more than a handful of unread emails either something is at this moment actually on fire or for some reason creating an email storm, or I’m not filtering something correctly. But I know a lot of people who are not me and who can actually cope with having an unread count.

        1. Evan Þ*

          Yep. I’ve got… about 34,000 unread emails divided among six subfolders. One folder has 19,000 emails from several non-work-related distribution lists that I automatically filter there; the others are for notifications that I periodically file away based on subject line. Actually important stuff, I make sure to leave in my inbox or put elsewhere.

        2. Princess Consuela Banana Hammock*

          Yeah, this was my reaction, as well, but I’m also an inbox zero person. One of my bff’s has 10K unread emails (mostly junk), and I’m constantly floored that it doesn’t drive her insane… because it would drive me out of my mind.

      2. Emi.*

        If a lot of them are things like expired J. Crew coupons, as Z mentions, you should be able to search “J. Crew,” select all of the results, and delete them. Then repeat for the Morbidity and Mortality Weekly Report, AccuWeather, Folger Shakespeare Theatre, what have you. It might make a dent, at least.

        1. Not So NewReader*

          My personal email was hoovering around 10k. I did what you describe here, it worked so well. The main problem was one person who had around 5k in FB posts. Once I searched that person, my number dropped in half. Much easier after that. I got motivated because a friend has 20k. I was scared it would happen to me.

          1. Partly Cloudy*

            My boyfriend had 8,000+ in his personal email and while he didn’t purge everything, he went on a spring cleaning mission and cut it in half in about a day. Still didn’t unsubscribe to stuff though so it’s back up to around 5k again. Luckily, he only hoards emails and not actual things. :)

            For me, seeing a notification of unread emails (personal or work) gives me anxiety.

    1. NonProfit Nancy*

      There can be context involved here! My job requires me to be on a ton of listservs – all of which send at least 5-10 emails a day that don’t relate to my work. I filter them, but they still show up against me in my Unread Emails total. I’m also sadly coworkers with some compulsive CC-ers and Reply All-ers, meaning I get probably 20 emails a day (that is a conservative guess) that have nothing to do with me – folks debating approaches to projects I’m only tangentially involved with, but might have to jump into at some point. Yes, I could, perhaps should, spend at least an hour a day deleting these emails – but somehow that feels like I should review them each first. Instead, they just sit there in my box – I scan the headline / note that it’s a reply to a conversation I’m ignoring / see that it’s from the list serv and it’s not necessary to read. I’m not saying this is a good habit or recommending it to others, but with the amount of travel that I do, it definitely happens and definitely adds up quickly.

  15. Coffee Owl*

    LW, I think it might be time for a long think about whether you want THIS job specifically. You are definitely developing great skills for management on another project or for another employer, but if the work and workplace are otherwise agreeable to you, maybe this isn’t the right time to switch.

    If you are committed to this project and this role, I think parlaying an “update to the position manual” might be some great ammunition here. If a position manual for your role doesn’t actually exist, can you write one? Either option gives you the opportunity to maybe get some of the answers you’re looking for from the horse’s mouth. See if you can schedule a sit-down with your boss to discuss what goes in the manual and what doesn’t, and in the course of the conversation, you can bring up XYZ items that you weren’t hired to do but are doing anyway. Should those things be included in the manual? Oh, XYZ isn’t actually part of your role? Play innocent. Then you have all the evidence right in front of both of you for the next level conversation – Boss, my job description is for a Teapot Delivery Support, but what I actually do on a day-to-day basis is Teapot Project Manager. Can we talk about a possible change in title and compensation?

    1. Important Moi*

      What if boss is unpleasant about the conversation?

      What if boss says “So you’re accusing me of not doing my job and now you’ve documented it? I hope you don’t expect to rewarded?”

      1. Jean*

        IMHO if the boss responds in this style, the deputy-in-all-but-name employee has enough information to justify either looking for the next job (in another organization) or doing whatever it takes to remain in the present position without working to the point of burnout (may be easier said than done). It may not be the answer the employee wants, but it will be a definite answer.

      2. Not So NewReader*

        It doesn’t have to be her first card. She could start with, “I have taken on a lot of tasks here and I would like to talk about a raise/promotion.”
        Boss hems and haws.
        “Actually, I made a list of all that I have been doing and I think the company gets substantial value and benefit from my efforts.” Then pull out the list.
        Be sure to have a copy of it at home, OP.
        But the boss may agree that OP saves his butt.
        I think that the worst problem would be he shelves the suggestion like he does everything else.

  16. TeflonMom*

    I agree with the other posters – if you’re feeling ambitious for future roles a job like this is really a great opportunity.

    My experience so far has taught me that most growth occurs in some sort of a vacuum: a boss who doesn’t do their own work, an absentee co-worker, restructuring, etc. There are very few jobs that allow you to come in at entry level and then groom you to advance. For whatever reason, there is a need for someone to step up, step in and get things moving. Don’t ignore that kind of initiative – take advantage of it. Stepping up like that can be stressful, and there’s always a refrain in the back of your mind asking you why you’re doing this work if you’re not getting paid for it.

    I spent almost a decade at an agency, and by year 5 I had pretty much maxed out my promotion potential but the work and the challenges just kept coming. I went from being front line customer support to building out the phone systems, customer tracking database, developing and implementing policies, training entire departments, etc. The increasingly challenging work did a lot to keep me occupied and satisfied, but I also wanted more pay and a promotion. When my boss left I applied for her job and was denied. This wasn’t a big blow since her job involved some elements that I didn’t want to take on, but it also gave me a chance to really take a look at my resume. One thing led to another and I’m now in a senior role at a different company. But if I had just stuck to my job description I’d never have been able to achieve that.

  17. Overeducated*

    Oh man, this is the opposite of my problem. Boss has to sit in on most of my meetings, approve everything I send out to basically anyone in the org and any external communications, and has me doing a lot of scheduling and proposing tasks for other staff (or interns, even!) but for some reason I don’t understand, not doing any of it myself.

    This sounds normal for an entry level job, I know…but mine requires a phd in a subject matter field, as well as my 4 years of experience, so I was really not expecting this. I WISH my boss would delegate some stuff to me besides admin tasks.

    So OP, to make it about you and not me, try moving to a…lesS nimble organization.

  18. Not So NewReader*

    I have seen too many times where a slacking boss grew fine employees for other companies. Alison’s absolutely right about this being a resume builder. While some people have to beg and grovel for opportunity, you have to beg for relief. If you don’t want a new position then ask the boss what items on your list are important and what items should you stop doing. Maybe he can delegate some of it to other people.

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