my job changed … and now I hate it

A reader writes:

Three years ago I had a job that paid well, but was tedious and unfulfilling. I left that job for a similar but much more creative position at a significant pay cut. It was worth it because I loved my new job… until recently.

For the last 4+ months, I’ve been doing the same work I was doing at my previous tedious job. It’s expected that everyone on the team eventually has to work on a boring project for awhile. But this time the drudgery is showing no sign of letting up, it’s my only project (unusual), and it often requires me to work late nights. I am miserable and feel am I past due to be put back on the kind of projects I was hired to do.

This week I found out that this project will be going on for the next three months at least, and then will continue indefinitely, and they don’t have any plans to take me off it. I feel like they’ve pulled a bait-and-switch on me, knowing my past experience, and that I’m being used to keep their cash-cow client so the rest of the team can pursue more creatively fulfilling projects.

What’s the best way to approach my manager about this? I’m not willing to continue doing this project, especially not at my current salary, although I would be willing to split my time between this project and others for a modest pay raise. I’d also be willing to stay at my current salary if I knew I’d be taken off the project permanently after the next three-month cycle. However, I don’t think anyone else on my team is skilled enough in this kind of work to keep up with the project’s demanding timelines.

I answer this question over at Inc. today, where I’m revisiting letters that have been buried in the archives here from years ago (and sometimes updating/expanding my answers to them). You can read it here.

{ 51 comments… read them below }

  1. MLB*

    I’ve been in your shoes (kind of). I was hired at my last job as a Business Analyst. After working on implementing a new application, I was asked if I wanted to move into an App Support role since I had so much experience with the implementation. I asked for more info about the position, but instead was told a few weeks later that my manager had the paperwork for me to sign. Thankfully it was a lateral move, but the work was not something I wanted to do. Unfortunately I was stuck in that job for 4 1/2 years before I escaped. Follow Alison’s advice, and start looking for a new job, because odds are nothing is going to change.

    1. Karen from Finance*

      4 1/2 wow, that sucks. Good for you for finally getting away!

      Agreed: follow Alison’s advice, and start looking.

  2. Employment Lawyer*

    AAM is solid here.

    You have less bargaining power now, since you’re already working there. But you have the most bargaining power at this point, since they need you to do the project. SO you need to nip this in the bud.

    If you feel you could move elsewhere (or make more money elsewhere) then I would be even more firm than AAM states. Something more like this:

    “When you hired me, you knew that I was working as a teapot assembler. You also knew I didn’t like that work and that I was willing to take a pay cut in order to change careers and become a chocolate teapot designer. We discussed those things in detail in my interview, and you offered me a pay cut to do chocolate teapot design work.

    However, for the past few months you have assigned me to assemble teapots. I can’t continue to do this any more. As you know, I literally left my last job to avoid this task–and they were paying me much more than I am getting now!

    So, I need to know how we are going to handle this. I won’t be able to continue assembling teapots and I would like to return to designing chocolate teapots, pretty much right away. How can that happen?”

    1. AshK434*

      You’re wording sounds overly confrontational and would probably not lead to a productive conversation. I would only use your last paragraph

      1. Slickums*

        Fully agree with ASK434. This is way too confrontational. We don’t even know that OP told her new manager that “you knew I didn’t like that work” when the company hired her.

        1. Czhorat*

          Start gently, and only escalate if you need to.

          That’s almost always the correct approach – especially if you aren’t being treated with actual malice.

    2. MK*

      This would be overly confrontational, even if the scenario described in your script was accurate. As it is, it is guaranteed to come across as unreasonable at best and lunatic at worst.

    3. Ms Cappuccino*

      That’s very direct and clear. It can sound confrontational to some people but sometimes confrontation is what is needed. However, I would have a more diplomatic approach first before speaking like that to my manager.

  3. JB*

    Have to agree with Alison on this one. I’ve wasted most of my life assuming that people are angry, unreasonable, and vindictive, and that I didn’t have the right to ask for what I want. So when I’m in a situation that is unpleasant or unfair, I just sit there and suffer and resent them, where if I had just told them about the problem they might have actually fixed it.

    Some people ARE jerks, and sometimes the situation can’t be helped, but if you don’t ask about it they won’t read your mind and you will get nowhere.

    1. Enough*

      Amen to this. And no one is a mind reader. My uncle worked for a company who brought someone in to discuss individually with employees about their goals. When asked he said he’d like to be made president. He was asked if he had ever told them that. He said no. Was told tell them. He became the first non-family president. And this was at least 30 years ago.

  4. Hiring Mgr*

    From the OP’s letter, it doesn’t sound like you have explicitly told anyone how much you hate working on this project.. That’s got to be the first step–talk to your boss and explain. She may have no idea! It could very well be that she will move you off of it, but there’s only one way to find out

  5. Tasha*

    I have a similar problem, except I’m well-paid. We recently had a reorg at work, and my reporting relationship changed. The interesting parts of my job have gone to others, and I’m left with the boring parts, which frankly aren’t even a full time job. I feel my new boss resents my high salary. He promises the job will be reformulated to include new stuff, but I don’t see it. Meanwhile he is rewriting job descriptions (with no input from others). Salary reviews are coming soon, and I’m sure he’s going to say that based on my current responsibilities, I don’t qualify for an increase for next year.

    1. MissDisplaced*

      I had a new boss start rewriting job descriptions without input as well, and he went and made himself a vice president to boot! It caused a big stink.
      But I’ve been where you are Tasha, I had a job change to the point were I was no long doing what I was hired to do and instead stuck with much lower-level duties because company would not hire anyone to do those. It became so frustrating and I became more and more unhappy. Eventually I left.

      1. PSB*

        I’m in this position right now. It’s been about six months and things continue to deteriorate. I’m very reluctant to leave because I find the work my organization does very meaningful but I can’t stand my new role or my new bosses. Misery is widespread and turnover is so high my new team has lost half its staff in the last couple of months, which gives those of us left twice as much tedious work to do. Until this happened, I’d planned to stay here indefinitely – possibly until retirement. Now I’m dragging my heels about job hunting. I’ve updated my resume but haven’t brought myself to apply for anything yet.

    2. Reorgs!*

      I was recently in a similar situation. Not with the rewriting job descriptions, but with a reorganization. After nearly 4 years, and building up my responsibilities and trust with my coworkers enough to have complete autonomy and decision making power over the execution of all my work, I was suddenly slotted under a new manager in a different part of the organization. My role was supposed to stay the same but the kind of work I was being given had me going back 4 years to the stuff I did when I first started with the company. I felt I lost all my footing. I recently got laid off, not considered important enough to keep, likely because of the reorganization and how little I had left to do that was impactful.

      1. Daisy*

        Never, ever believe when they say “Your work will remain the same and you will retain your autonomy”, it literally NEVER happens, and the ones that promise it are not the ones that have power (or interest) in making sure it happens. Sadly, this is regardless of the quality of your work.

        It is not necessarily maliciousness, is just that is not their priority, and very rarely something that is not a priority will get done well (or done at all).

        1. Reorgs!*

          Yeah, I didn’t believe it. I actually raised it before I was moved under the new manager and my old manager’s manager assured me he would back me up. I believe he would have had layoffs not sprung up. I figured it wasn’t worth rocking the boat so I just dealt with it.

    3. Unregretful Black Sheep*

      I’m in the same boat, but 7 months after I originally put in my notice because I could not stand the tedious data entry (I’m a senior data analyst) that I got stuck with after reorg. I was convinced to stay with promises that changes would be made; I have a new manager, but it’s actually gotten worse. So my husband has agreed that we’ll cut back on expenses & I’ll quit, possibly as soon as tomorrow or Monday. I haven’t had much luck applying elsewhere because my spirit is broken & my motivation was the first thing to go. I’m looking forward to my first enjoyable holidays in 2018. :)

      1. JulieCanCan*

        Good luck Black sheep! That sounds like a nice relief and I’m glad you and hubby worked out a plan.

  6. Bigintodogs*

    Ugh I feel for you LW. I don’t have long hours, but I have an extremely tedious job where I get treated like an intern. I hope things work out for you.

  7. AnonyMouse*

    I’ve had this happen to me before too, so I feel for the OP. I agree with Alison to see what room for flexibility there is and use the bargaining power that you have now to try to fix your situation. But I hate to be a pessimist, odds are it won’t. There’s probably something happening behind the scenes that is resulting in you staying on the project. It could be that they are taking advantage of your experience (and paying you less for it unfortunately). In my case I suspect that a higher up was not happy that I (a mid-to-late twenty something) was working with non-traditional students, and therefore my work assignment changed. It’s been a rough transition, mostly because I lost a lot of the autonomy that I had in my previous role. As others have mentioned, you might end up having to leave to get what you want.

  8. SheLooksFamiliar*

    I once took a job because I was promised very specialized, strategic work – something my current role couldn’t give me. It was great for 6 weeks, and then they told me they were firing someone, and I would now handle her entry-level work – less engaging than what I’d just left. I felt like I’d taken 5 steps back in my career.

    Of course, I asked how long this would last, and they said, ‘indefinitely.’ I spent 2 months on work that made my heart cry, and asked again when I could expect to be reassigned to my original work. They told me, ‘In our interview with you, we told you things change quickly around here. Your job changed, and we’re not moving you back.’ I gave my notice a week later and they were genuinely surprised I was leaving ‘all the great work’ they had for me.

    Lessons learned? I am my best advocate, and I have the right to decide what work I want to do. I took a contract role soon after I left, and kept at it for a couple of years…OP, could contract work be an option for you, too? Regardless, I’m sorry you have to deal with this. Please keep us posted.

    1. henrietta*

      Co-signed. At my last gig, I was on vacation overseas, and when I came back, my entire division was reorganized. I was reassigned to a position with less visibility, no opportunity for bonuses, basically cleaning up after colleagues unable to handle their own departments. When I explained to them that this was not work I was interested in doing, and justified with my own below-budget/above-productivity-goals performance up to that point, they countered that my performance was exactly why they wanted me to do the cleanup work. To bring everybody else up! (Which of course would mean they would get the credit when I succeeded.) I gave notice the following day.

      1. ThisIsNotWhoYouThinkItIs*

        What happened then? Did they try to reconfigure things back to how they had been before, or did you just walk away?

        It seems so short-sighted to do things this way sometimes–it’s as if they don’t realize people have options. Not everyone will (or has to) tolerate nonsense.

        1. Alienor*

          I had a colleague not long ago who disliked the way they were being treated, determined that it wasn’t going to change, and quit–they did it professionally and worked out their notice, but it seemed to come as a shock to management. They were a fairly short-term employee (a couple of years in), and it was really interesting to see how their attitude was different to the people who have been here a long time and are trained to accept whatever treatment they get.

        2. henrietta*

          No, they had me train my replacement — for a job I’d never done! I was exploring in-company transfers, but while that was going on, the company was bought by A Foreign Concern, and everything changed for them anyway. ::shrug:: Byeeee!

  9. Aggretsuko*

    Yeah, I’ve had my job changed on me too and I’m really not thrilled that they keep insisting that I do what I am bad at. I have no leverage on it though because they need phone answerers more than anything else and I cannot get another job–all other jobs want phone answerers. I was straight up told I was not allowed to object either.

    1. GreenDoor*

      If management won’t agree to the switchback….and if OP is not in a position to take a new job elsewhere…I still think there’s leverage here, especially if OP is really the only one that cna do the work. OP can still set some firm boundaries such as “I will no longer be able to work overtime on this project” At least then maybe OP can keep their evenings/weekends?

      1. Daisy*

        That honestly sounds a good cause to follow in any scenario that is not “We didn’t know, we are moving you to your old project next week/month”.

        It would have been different if the OP was already doing lots of overtime, but she stated differently so this should be part if the conversation.

    2. TardyTardis*

      Same here. I have analytical skills which I used fairly well in the past, but somehow I was supposed to use them along with a full time (and then some, seasonal variation) of wrestling invoices for accounts payable (so not going to be able to come up with assert reports at the same time I’m processing 1k vouchers per day. Um, nope). And then I was told I would be given time and whatnot to do special reports, so not happened. Very glad to have retired.

  10. Hitori*

    The same thing happened to me several years ago. I ramped up the jobsearch, and the day I quit, they laid off half the company.

    Point being, they already demonstrated they will promise one thing and deliver another. Don’t trust them to do the right thing, get out ASAP. You have a golden excuse to give future employers: “the work wasn’t what I was promised”.

  11. ThisIsNotWhoYouThinkItIs*

    I remember this one and now I feel like I’ve lived something similar!

    I thought it had an update, and I’m pretty sure it’s the one linked in my name. Alison, have you had any further updates from this poster? I’m hoping everything continued to work out.

      1. ThisIsNotWhoYouThinkItIs*

        I would think it’s fine (it’s the same one in the hyperlink for my name I mentioned before). I’m hoping that the OP might have a postmortem for us, now that it’s been a few years (and hopefully that project is done!).

  12. Annie's Mom*

    I had this happen to me at my first job. Was hired to do accounting, got moved into a little accounting and a lot of customer service, within my first 6 months of the job. I hated it. Within a week, I was looking for a new job. I live in a rural area, so it took 4-6 months of looking, but I got out of there. And then they were surprised that I was leaving. I was young & fresh out of college– so I probably didn’t speak up as much as I should have, but I honestly don’t think it would have made a difference. The funny part was, they called me up 3 months after I left, and tried to get me to come back, promising that I could strictly do accounting now. I told them thanks, but no thanks.

  13. Pay no attention to the man behind the curtain*

    Business owners and managers are not going to do what’s best for you — they’ll only do what’s best for the business otherwise there won’t be a business. It’s not necessarily a bait-and-switch in that they might not have planned it all along, but business needs change. OP should expect to need to look for a new job if she really wants to get out of the project permanently because, as she pointed out, it’s expected that everyone on the team eventually has to work on a boring project for awhile — and that’s pretty typical of all jobs.

    Before OP goes all in on “I left my last job because of projects like this and they even paid me more, so read between the lines people,” she should strongly push for cross training the coworkers who don’t have the skills to take on the project, you know, in the event that she’s hit by that proverbial bus and might have to be out for a significant amount of time. The more she frames this as good for the business that others can take over, or at the very least pitch in, and not “I hate this task and I’m willing to walk so that I never have to do it again ever” the more likely that the manager and coworkers might be receptive. Maybe start making noises about taking a big vacation too so they have incentive.

    1. BluntBunny*

      Its extremely short sighted for managers and business to do this though, happy people work harder. They aren’t going to spend time and money training someone else if they think op will continue doing it some employers don’t care if you are muttering under you breath as long as the work gets done. Which is why they need to say I’m doing this but I’m not happy doing this. Because in reality you couldn’t pay them anymore to continue doing it.

  14. Midwest writer*

    I agree with the advice that the letter writer should be upfront about her concerns (and if you look for the update from a few years ago, you’ll see she was, with a decent result). I do wish more employers responded like hers — that is, find ways to keep high performers on. The newspaper company I’m leaving in two weeks is going through some restructuring and I repeatedly told upper management that they needed to figure out a plan, get it in place and be ready for some employee exodus, because good employees have options, and if they’re stressed out by work, they’ll look for those options. Or, like in my case, they don’t even have to look. Someone just hears there’s restructuring and comes in and makes a better offer that puts me in control of the changes. (That is, I choose to change jobs and accept the changes and stress that come with it, rather than sit here in limbo and wait as change arrives piecemeal.)

  15. Workfromhome*

    While I do agree that its always best to explicitly state your concerns in case the company really doesn’t know or realize that the change is negatively impacting you really should at least begin a job search. Its possible that the boss simply forgot about or wasn’t really engaged in the initial hiring and your feelings about this type of work. After all its really important to YOU but if you manage 10s or even 100s of people its hard to remember what’s important to every one of them if its not necessarily important to you. Its possible if you speak up they say “Wow we didn’t realize this was making you so unhappy we really value your work and will make a plan to transition you to a differ job so we don’t lose you.

    Its possible ju7st not very likely. In a role like this its a lot of work to find someone to do the work (maybe having to hire outside at considerable cost) and justify that when you have a employee who is already trained and doing the work for a bargain price. Yes the long term costs of OP leaving will likely be greater but most of the time they just don’t look at it that way.

    I went through something similar. I worked remotely and was “asked” to cover off a position at HQ while they filled a role. It was supposed to require 1 week a month at HQ for 6 months. After filing the role twice failed I was told how much the clients loved my work and it makes sense to just keep things the way they are. 6 months of 1 week a month turned into 3 years. After looking at my hotel statements and realizing I was spending 25% of my nights away from home I found another job because this would have continued basically as long as I let it.

    1. marmalade*

      This is good advice. I’d advise OP to start a job search, since the odds of the preferred work being restored are iffy.

  16. Anon nonprofit worker*

    This same situation happens a lot at my nonprofit and I’ve seen a lot of people leave because they were unhappy with the way their work shifted. I think the best thing to do is to speak up and use Alison’s wording or some of the wording from commentors above and if the situation does not seem like it’ll change it would be a good idea to start looking elsewhere.

  17. Falling Diphthong*

    I’m interested by the timelines (four months down, could tolerate for three months) because a bit of Psych I ran across years ago really has held true–you can tolerate anything for three months. Longer than three months, though, and it stops being an assignment you can grind through and starts being your life.

    1. Daphne*

      Interesting. I’m currently in a maternity cover position. Was told “this is fixed term” and put on a 4 month contract that was renewed once but now I’m just expected to still show up with no confirmed return date (if at all) of my predecessor. I’d like to know so I can plan my future life and move away from town!

  18. short'n'stout*

    Alison, I’m curious to know how old some of these revisited letters are – can you maybe put the year in your intro? Seems like a lot of people are commenting under the assumption that the question is fresh and the OP will be reading. I don’t want to stifle discussion – and it might be helpful reading for others – I just wonder when the question was first posted, and if there were ever any updates :)

    1. TassieTiger*

      There is an update to this letter, and the OP posted once in the comments under the name ‘MsTedious’.

  19. ..Kat..*

    If she has to continue with this work, I think she should tell her boss that she can no longer do the late nights. And then stick to that while looking for a better job.

Comments are closed.