I don’t have any work to do at my new job

A reader writes:

I am a recent graduate who has just started my first job. When I started on my first day, the company gave me a bunch of self-study materials and a self-training schedule for a month that I must adhere to (which I happily obliged).

But now a month has passed, I have finished all of the self-study materials, and I still have not been given any task to do. I have asked my supervisor about this three times (through internal messaging software, email and verbally), but the answer is vague (“I need to find simple tasks for you first” or “study this first for now”). What should I do? Any advice on this? I don’t want to be too pushy, but I don’t want to be seen as “that lazy new employee” either.

I answer this question — and four others — over at Inc. today, where I’m revisiting letters that have been buried in the archives here from years ago. You can read it here.

Other questions I’m answering there today include:

  • My manager shares people’s personal medical info
  • When job applicants don’t respond to interview invitations
  • When I list off my work, my manager always asks, “Anything else?”
  • Interviewing when covered in skateboarding scrapes

{ 96 comments… read them below }

  1. AngelicGamer, the Visually Impaired Peep

    I read #4 in the tone of “what’s next” from West Wing. It might just mean he’s ready to go onto the next thing rather than anything bad about the OP’s list.

      1. 2horseygirls

        Is there such a thing as not a West Wing fan?

        **asking for a friend who has the WW them as her ringtone

        1. NotAnotherManager!

          I didn’t watch it when it was on TV (appointment television never worked well with my line of work), but I binged it a few years ago on Netflix and have been rebinging it ever since. I had no idea what I was missing out on! I’m cycling through the last few episodes of season 7 now. :)

          I asked for an “OK OK What’s Next?” t-shirt from The West Wing Weekly for Christmas but didn’t get it.

    1. Blue

      Yeah, if he’s saying it to everyone, every time, just assume it’s his way of to wrap up and segue to the next thing. I’ve had a couple of bosses partial to “anything else?” or “what else?” to make sure everything has been covered before moving on to something new. I’m guessing the LW’s boss is generally has a fairly disdainful or patronizing tone, so it feels more judgmental than it’s probably meant to be.

      1. Lily Rowan

        Yeah, I’m sitting here really hoping people are hearing my tone properly when I say “what else?”

    2. Natalie

      My boss often concludes meetings by asking the room at large, “Anything else for the good of the group?”
      I thought it was really cheesy at first, but it actually makes for a nice closer.

      1. TardyTardis

        Especially when even the non-telepaths are hearing the mental cries of “Noooo, let us go!”

  2. SubjectAvocado

    I was in a situation so similar to LW1’s it makes me wonder if we work for the same organization. I basically did what Alison advised– expressed my eagerness to work to my manager and asked for guidance to make sure I was on the right track. My manager basically told me that there wasn’t much substantive work beyond self-study that I could do, but I could help my coworkers. He referred me to a couple of people in particular, so I reached out to them. It helped me a lot down the road because it gave me contact to topics and processes that I wouldn’t have dealt with until further down, and gave me a leg up on some of the other people who had started around the same time. It also helped me develop a reputation for being a fast learner and helpful. Ultimately, I still had a lot of down time during the first six months or so…but I was able to learn more about my position beyond the self-study modules, which has helped later. Good luck!

    1. Bigglesworth

      I had the same thing happen to me last summer during my 1L internship. I worked before going to law school and hate sitting around doing nothing (and have a reputation of taking on additional project as my old jobs). However, my supervisors were busy and generally unavailable. I let them know via email and in-person that I would love to pitch in and help and got a few projects that way. Other than that, I basically completed all of the agency training available for staff. Not the best exeperience, but I wasn’t sure what else I could do.

    2. Bulbasaur

      The right answer to #1 depends to a large degree on why it’s happening, so figuring that out is the first step (if the manager isn’t giving clear guidance then talking to other employees about it would be a good start).

      One reason why this can happen is if your new company is what I’ll euphemistically call a self-organizing workplace. This is one where managers don’t actually handle work assignments, but project leaders or others who need things done simply assemble a team using whatever means they have to hand – typically contact networks or people they have relationships with. Nominally managers are still responsible but in practice it takes the form of rubber-stamping these decisions (“by the way, it seemed like X wasn’t busy so I’m planning on bringing them in to work on project Y for the next six months, is that OK?”)

      This is annoying because it means your job security can quite literally depend on who you know. But you can turn it to your advantage if you plan, and the skills you’ll develop in the process will be useful in future. Your goal is to identify the key people in the organization who need resources and get one or more of them to ask your manager for your time. Be curious and talk to people every chance you get. Ask to sit in on meetings or workshops. Offer an extra pair of hands if you spot something you think you could contribute to. If you hear complaints that there is nobody around who knows a particular skill or field, do some searching or private study and see what you can pick up. Sooner or later there will be a sudden need for extra hands in the widget adjustment department, a list of available names will be made, the chief widget adjuster will remember how interested and enthusiastic you were when they talked to you last week and the efforts you made to learn more about widgets afterward, and you’ll be off.

      Naturally you should keep your manager abreast of all this and make sure you have their approval. But if it’s this kind of workplace, they’ll probably be fine with it because it’s how things actually work day to day anyway,

      1. Bulbasaur

        Also: figure out what the boring stuff is that nobody wants to do, and offer to help with it. Take notes/minutes in meetings and write them up afterward. Turn whiteboard diagrams into electronic ones using the company tool of choice (Visio or whatever). Proofread documents. That kind of thing. You’d be surprised how much you can learn from mundane tasks like that if you’re new to the field.

        1. Seeking Second Childhood

          Someone who is lucky enough to be bilingual will earn brownie points with marketing & engineering if they make themselves available to review translations. It’s a great way to be productive while “familiarizing yourself with the product line” –bonus, you’d know the new product before some of the old-timers.

      2. Justin

        I was in a situation like this once, with one department and one boss, and I hated it. I need some direction.

    3. Karen from Finance

      I’ve had this happen to me too, in a very large organization. OP is right that they don’t want to earn a reputation of being lazy, as that’s exactly what happened to me – I started to complain so much about having nothing to do that people eventually associated me permanently to always being the one doing nothing. Nevermind the fact they even realized I was doing nothing is that I was bothered by it. But the mind puts labels in this ways, so yeah. OP might earn this reputation even unfairly if this goes on.

      I agree with Alison’s suggestions, she needs to adress this more directly with her boss. And yes, sometimes helping coworkers helps a lot too as you get to learn a lot too, but this option isn’t always available. Ideally OP would be able to snoop around through the materials they were provided and try to proactively work on something, but this is not always possible and is not subsitute for being assigned tasks, specially for someone who just joined.

    4. Anonymous Penguin

      Also, see if there is anyone you can shadow for a while. Even if you won’t be doing the same things as them, learning what everyone else’s jobs are can give you a good idea of how company policies are put into practice, what the workplace culture is, and who to turn to when you have questions about X,Y, and Z. And that sort of insider knowledge can be very useful.

      1. Lynn Whitehat

        And the person you shadow will be ~highly~ motivated to give you something, anything to do.

    5. NotAnotherManager!

      It’s a problem for new paralegals, too. If there’s no work, there’s no work – study up, spend quality time with your Bluebook, take some professional development classes, shadow the people I’ve arranged to show you the ropes. If there’s work, please be here until it’s done, even if that’s midnight.

  3. From the High Tower on the Hill

    I showed up to a job interview in a sling because a drunk guy tackled me and I bruised my scapula. Of course it was my dominant arm. I have never had a more awkward or limp handshake in my life. Try not to worry too much about the scrapes, just maybe make a joke about it and move on. If anything at least you will be memorable.

    1. Cat wrangler

      I went for a job interview the Monday after I’d taken part in a charity obstacle race. My legs were covered in bruises which I didn’t explain but I sensed the interviewer looking at. I’m not sure why I didn’t wear trousers to the interview but it wasn’t really done so much then. They probably thought that I was in an abusive relationship.

      1. Grand Mouse

        FWIW, I would assume a tumble from bruises on the legs. Or like my physical job where I’m always bumping into something!

        Without going into too much detail, I wouldn’t really think of leg bruises from an abusive relationship. Of course, abuse can happen any way, but injuries to the legs isn’t really what people think of.

      2. Sally

        Or not… I interviewed for my new job in the summer, and it was hot so I took my jacket off. I have psoriasis on my elbows and a tattoo on my wrist. It really felt like the interviewer stared at both places on my arms, but I really think he just noticed and then moved on to focus on our conversation. I guess we can’t ever know, but when I have asked people later about something I thought for sure they were focusing on, they almost always don’t remember the thing I’m asking about. Or they’re being polite and pretending they didn’t notice, but that’s ok too!

    2. Indigo Jo

      Yeah I have a friend who turned up at an interview with a black eye. She explained to the interviewers that the black eye had been caused by an accident when she was training with her cheerleading team, segued into talking about her ability to work in a team, and ended up acing the interview!

  4. Destroyer of Worlds, Empress of Awesome

    #1. No advice, just commiseration. I am going through the same exact thing. Boss is too scattered…I ask for more work on Monday and it finally comes on Wednesday. And it only takes me 1/2 an hour to complete. It’s so frustrating and the day moves soooooo slowly.

    #3. I have had email interview offers simply….disappear. I have been on the phone with a company that wanted to interview me. They called when I didn’t respond to their email and then they sent their email while on the phone with me. We both confirmed the email address they were sending to and the email just didn’t make it. I found out later that my ISP had their domain on some kind of a black list so none of their emails got through to anyone ever.

    While email is easy and allows one to maintain some semblance of separation, if you really want to connect and/or confirm the person’s interest, pick up the phone and call.

    1. Amelia Pond

      Oh wow. An ISP blocking an entire company like that could seriously mess with the businesses survival. I bet the company was not at all happy to find out they’d been blacklisted like that.

      1. That Girl From Quinn's House

        I was warned at my last work to be very careful of sending emails with multiple non-company emails (which was hard to do, because we had a lot of volunteers, part-time line staff, and people paying to take classes through us.)

        Apparently, if you sent an email with multiple non-company recipients, some of the major email providers (Google, Yahoo, Microsoft) would flag it and block the entire company’s email domain as a spammer. It would usually take a day or two for IT to figure out what happened, and then a few more days for IT to get through the company’s “we’re not spammers I promise!” appeals process.

        Someone in IT said it had happened based on emails with as few as three outside recipients.

        1. MassMatt

          My business requires a lot of emails to clients. When sending a mass email the system will automatically space them out in 2 second intervals to avoid exactly this problem.

          It might seem as though the network providers are going overboard with blocking addresses but it’s really hard to filter out spam without catching some legit messages also.

          People looking for jobs (or conducting anything important or time sensitive) need to check their email settings, and spam folders. And for the love of all that is holy, make sure your phone is capable of taking messages! It surprises me how many people have full voice mailboxes.

          1. Karen from Finance

            If your company has a software that can space them out in 2 second intervals and that is a workaround through the spam filters, I can assume spammers have this software also. Which makes the original filter by the providers useless at best.

      2. PlainJane

        Sometimes this happens to large organizations like an entire university domain. Someone with an account there (or someone spoofing an account there) does something naughty, and commercial spam filter companies blacklist the whole domain. Usually the block is just temporary, but if it’s in effect when your email goes out, it won’t get delivered to any company using a spam filter that’s blocked it. All of this to say: pick up the phone before giving up.

  5. Rebecca

    #2 – honestly I don’t see why some managers feel the need to share medical information or obtain it from employees. If I need to be off work for a day or two for a medical issue, why is it necessary for everyone to know the reason? Personally, I’ve had 2 breast biopsies after questionable mammograms. I missed a bit of work, but I kept the exact reason to myself. “I have a follow up medical appointment” is a sufficient explanation. It’s stressful enough wondering whether you have cancer or not without fielding other questions from coworkers, as well meaning as they are.

    1. medical issues

      So. Much. This. It’s really uncomfortable for those of us to don’t want to have that kind of conversation.

    2. PlainJane

      Agreed. I’ve had the occasional nosy boss or co-worker, so I have a go-to list of semi-specific-yet-still-privacy-preserving euphemisms: minor medical procedure, respiratory thing, stomach thing–those all work if the person doesn’t push too hard. If they do, I’m in the make-it-more-graphic-than-Stephen-King-on-acid camp so they never ask again (and preferably lose their lunch).

    3. Karen from Finance

      Exactly. After my cancer screenings my coworkers knew I had taken time off for tests, and knew I didn’t have the results yet, but they didn’t know (necessarily) that it was a biopsy. My bosses knew because they needed a bit more context, but they didn’t say anything. When my coworkers would ask “did they at least tell you what they think it might be?” I would say “Yes, they did :) ” and nothing else. The conversation died. People get the hint.

      Managers have no business telling this information with no permission.

    4. NotAnotherManager!

      I honestly do not want to know. I have several younger employees who feel the need to share the details of their medical maladies. I now cover it in orientation – “I’m not feeling well and will not be in today” is fine, thanks.

    5. anon24

      Extremely Toxic Job did one thing right. They would instruct employees during orientation to not give a reason why we were calling out. We just called, said we were taking a personal day, and that was it. Policy was that management could not ask and they flat out said that they did not want to know.

    6. thankful for AAM.

      If I had a boss who shared medical I do, every medical day off for me would be due to a problem with my vagina.

      1. Marion Ravenwood

        That might not necessarily work if you have my old grandboss, who announced not one but two colleagues’ pregnancies in team meetings. (Not that I’m implying being pregnant is a problem I hasten to add! But that didn’t sit right with me, especially given in one case it was very early days and my colleague looked visibly uncomfortable when it was announced, so I’m not entirely sure she was OK with it.) It actually made me really nervous when I left the organisation because I didn’t want her telling everyone ‘oh Marion’s leaving’ before I’d had the chance to do it in my own time – if she was willing to tell the team about people’s pregnancies without them asking then I’m pretty sure she’d have had no qualms saying that I was going.

  6. FirstTimeHere

    Ha, I came here because I don’t have any work to do right now. But I’ve been in my job a year and a half and nothing much has changed for me.

  7. Essess

    When I am in a team status meeting, the organizer usually asks “anything else” before moving on to the next person. The intention is to be polite to make sure that the speaker didn’t stop to gather thoughts or look at their list of items to discuss, or to remember any last questions that they wanted to ask while it was their turn. This way they didn’t get cut off accidentally if they were doing a quick scan of their notes to make sure they covered everything. None of us have ever taken it as a criticism that we didn’t do enough.

  8. Triplestep

    LW#3 says “I sent four emails out to potential applicants requesting an interview …” but the advice seems to be geared towards someone who posted a job and is contacting people who already applied. “Potential applicants” implies cold contacts made to people who may have no interest.

    Welcome to the strong economy, LW#3!

      1. Pay no attention to the man behind the curtain

        It could be, but I recently read a WaPo article about the increase in employees just ghosting their jobs (and it isn’t just young people, entry level, or minimum wage jobs — it’s all across the spectrum), so I wouldn’t be surprised that in the strong job market that applicants are also just ghosting at any point in the application process. I guess business practices that employers have inflicted on job seekers have come back to bite them.

        1. Destroyer of Worlds, Empress of Awesome

          I read that same exact article and had the same takeaway. Employers want to be the only ones who don’t respond and they really don’t like it when the applicant does the same thing the employer does. Show more respect to your applicants (and employees) and it will be repaid in time.

    1. ArtK

      If LW#3 is sending out unsolicited “let’s schedule and confirm an interview time,” that would certainly explain the non-responses. Personally, I think that the LW just misused the word and that these are people who have applied.

    2. Whoa

      I applied for an executive level job recently, before applying I did a search to see where the office was- it came up as being just a suburb over, but when the recruiter emailed me and said the location was in the downtown area. I emailed back “Hi recruiter, thank you so much for contacting me. I didn’t realize the job was located in downtown area, which is outside my commuting radius, when I did an initial search I thought it was in suburb. If there is flexibility for location or a remote opportunity, I would like to connect with you. Good luck in your search for the right candidate! ”
      Her response was “Thanks. If you want a job you might have to commute.”
      LOL!

  9. Stikks-N-String

    Good response from Alison, as usual! Something I’ve also done in similar situations, while you wait for your manager to find work for you, is to ask your coworkers what you can help them with. They probably have stuff on their plates they wouldn’t mind pawning off on the new guy (lol), plus you can learn a little more about how things work that way. And, as someone said upthread, it gives the impression to your coworkers that you’re helpful, willing, and eager to learn.

  10. Legal Rugby

    #5 – I had to interview for a large firm two days after seperating my shoulder on the rugby field, and well before I was able to get real medical treatment. I explained that due to a sporting accident, I was unable to sit with it unsopported, and at one point ended up with my arm tucked behind my chair, which looked alarmingly informal for people just walking into the interview. I did have to explain it repeatedly, but most folks thought it was funny, and it gave me a conversation starter during the interviews.

    1. Frozen Ginger

      Always fun to explain rugby injuries! “Frozen, how’d you get that weird bruise on your eye?” “Oh, somebody stepped on my face with cleats.”

      1. Legal Rugby

        I never realized how much I talked about it until I was in an interview and the lead asked me what I would do if there was a scheduling conflict between the two. It kind of threw me because I was like “…rugby is a game…and this would be my job? so….”

        First of so many red flags for that job.

      2. Legal Rugby

        Actually, even better – my first weekend ever, I broke my nose at a tournament, and of course, kept playing. I had major racoon eyes by monday, and had to teach combatives. The move I was teaching ended in a palm to the face but I asked the student I was working with to grab my neck instead.

        By the time I got to my TA job (in the criminal justice department) I had two black eyes, and multiple visible finger prints on my throat. Many many conversations about domestic violence and how I wasn’t in a relationship, nor experiencing it, that day.

      3. Joielle

        I have the same problem but with pole dance! I get a ton of bruises on my legs from pole fitness classes, and I wear mostly skirts with bare legs in the summer. For a formal event I’ll do a spray tan to cover them up a bit, but otherwise I just ignore them. My coworkers barely bother asking anymore unless there’s a particularly gnarly one, but there was some concern at first.

  11. Wintermute

    #1– My job is like that sort of. I have a few tasks but not many. It’s possible that’s all your job IS, at least right now. For context though I’m a contractor being paid way too much to simply keep the lights on networking-wise while they go through a merger, they’re paying a premium for someone willing to accept a two-month contract with no future at a company that’s going to be merged as soon as the government approves it. That said the guys that were paid significantly less but still a damn good wage (talking 16-17 an hour or more) did this job before and had the same, low workload. Some jobs are about having someone around to handle an emergency, if you haven’t had any emergencies, there may not be a ton of work. Hard to say without knowing your field and what they have you studying.

    2– You’re a worker in america, your LEGAL rights are to work if they want you to, or leave if you want to, you have no other rights (some small exceptions do apply)– going the legal route is rarely the answer. What they say if you come at it from an ethical direction will tell you whether this is fixable.

    3– because employers have seen fit to simply ghost hundreds of applicants per position, applicants have wisely decided to give employers the same level of courtesy they’re given. They’re probably telling you they’re not interested. That said if you have a phone number for them call, don’t e-mail. It’s harder for your phone call to end up in the spam folder and it shows you’re not just mass e-mailing. Also worth paying attention to is if your e-mail sounds like you’re spamming invitations to everyone deceptively (I’ve been rooked into a few interviews for “mass marketing” positions that were really commission sales or cutco knives or something, now any e-mail that’s vague or sounds like a deceptive offer gets canned immediately).

    4– I disagree on this one. Chuck Palahniuk got the idea for Fight Club when he noticed how NO ONE in a professional office he worked in noticed or commented on having visible injuries when he came to work after having gotten in a fight while camping. They actively AVOIDED asking him, in fact. Thus the idea for Fight Club was born. You don’t have to explain yourself, and they will probably make their own assumptions anyway, which are probably innocent. They will also, like Chuck’s co-workers, probably be uncomfortable discussing it at all.

    1. fposte

      Your #4 is a situation with an existing co-worker, though, which is very different even before we get to the possible gender component. The concern isn’t the discussion, the concern is that it will affect her candidacy; when you don’t know somebody, controlling the impression matters a lot more.

    2. TypityTypeType

      A job interview is different from co-workers one runs into throughout the day, though. People are expected to put on their best appearance for an interview, which doesn’t generally include a scratched-up face and hands, so it does seem to require at least a brief explanation. “I fell off my skateboard” doesn’t seem likely to make anyone uncomfortable, though some may find it amusing.

    3. The Man, Becky Lynch

      Calling for an interview when they submitted via an electronic platform is off putting. There are tons of people who don’t answer calls they don’t know and never check voicemail. Also lots of people are still working, calling is invasive.

      I’m not even mad about people ignoring invitations. It’s part of the business world. You’ll never get 100% return. But please, don’t call anyone unless you’ve had an initial interview and they’ve expressed continued interest.

      Interest changes. You apply to 5 jobs, 3 get back to you, 1 is just super “meh” so you focus on the others instead. Been there a few times. I’m a perpetual responder, I respond to creeper recruiters on Linkedin too. But I’m well aware that’s the outlier and just understand it’s on the other person to choose to continue dialog or not.

      1. Destroyer of Worlds, Empress of Awesome

        How about in my situation where my ISP blocked the sender’s domain? If they hadn’t called, I never would have known. Ultimately, I’m very glad they *did* call because I never received their email and I was interested in working for them. I don’t have access to my email 24/7 but my phone is *always* right here with me. Not everyone has an email account (hard to believe but true, two of my co-workers only have email here at work) but pretty much everyone has a phone.

        Who *never* checks their voicemail? I would think if someone is looking for a job, they may not be able to take the call right then and there, but I’m pretty sure they would check their voicemail every night, if not immediately after being notified that they have a voicemail.

      2. MassMatt

        “But please, don’t call anyone unless you’ve had an initial interview and they’ve expressed continued interest.”

        Every job I have applied to or hired for (excluding internal candidates) has a phone element before an interview, if only to make the appointment to speak in-person. For larger employers especially the initial interview is usually over the phone. Is it your experience that employers contact applicants via email, and set up in-person interviews, and only afterwards contact them by phone? Not my experience at all.

      3. Ask a Manager Post author

        Maybe that’s a convention in your field, but it’s not typical. Most applications these days are submitted online, and a ton of employers set up interviews by calling. It’s normal. If you’re job searching, you should be checking your voicemail.

      4. LJay

        If you’re job hunting, you need to either answer calls from unfamiliar numbers or check voicemail, or you’ll be missing out on potential jobs. Not everywhere will email, and most people who are job hunting know this.

      5. NotAnotherManager!

        What is the purpose of providing a phone number if you will neither answer the phone nor check voicemail? Just get a device and a data plan or don’t provide a number, if you are unwilling to be contacted that way. I get not answering the phone (I don’t pick up numbers I don’t recognize), but describing having one’s phone ring and possibly having to hit the “decline call” button as “invasive” is a bit dramatic. They’re not showing up at your house.

        If someone is job searching and elects not to check their voicemail at all, they’re going to miss opportunities. Might as well just say, “If you’re so out of touch that you use a telephone, I’m not interested in working for you.” and spare everyone the hassle.

    4. Kate R

      If Chuck’s coworkers were actively avoiding asking him about his injuries, then they were most certainly noticing. You never know what people might assume. It could be anything from she injured herself playing sports to she’s a victim of domestic violence., so I don’t think OP #4 has anything to lose by a quick, “I fell off my skateboard.” Injuring yourself while participating in a hobby is unlikely to make people uncomfortable whereas injuring yourself in a fist fight might make people think you have problems controlling your temper. On top of that, since she’s interviewing, the prospective employer will absolutely be paying attention to her. It’s different from just walking into to work where everyone is going about doing their own thing.

    5. No 1 Cat Parent

      Sorry about the scrapes, I started a fight club with the sidewalk. It… Is not going well…

  12. Amelia Pond

    #1 I just want to point out the LW said they had asked through email and verbally, not just through instant messaging. The answer given to the LW makes it sound as if they’ve only asked through IMing, though.

    1. Jana

      Yes, I wondered about that as well. LW1 writes that they requested assignments in three ways, including email as Allison advises. It seems like LW1 needs to go to the next step of getting this issue resolved.

      1. Someone Else

        It sort of depends, I think. If the basic message of the ask was the same in all three mediums (ie an IM-style request, but once via IM, once in an email, and once in-person) then even though, sure, they did email, they may not have been getting the right question across. Alison’s suggested script for the email is very clearly saying “let’s set up a time to have a discussion” and really work out what next steps are supposed to be for this job. That’s different than if they IMed “hey I’m done with the self-study, what should I do next?” got the deflecty answer, then emailed roughly the same question, got another deflecty answer, and had the same conversation outloud.

  13. puppies

    LW#1 – Agree with Allison’s advice. I recommend also asking your manager if there’s anyone there who could use some of your help? That makes it a little easier for them to give you an answer and point you in a direction if they are too busy to delegate things to you right now.

  14. Amber Rose

    I have a job where my level of work depends on the time of year, among other things. As soon as March rolls around I’ll be busy until September, and then I’ll have two weeks of desperation in October, but every other time I’m more or less dead in the water.

    I know it drives my boss crazy that I have days or weeks where I do very little, but there’s not much that can be done about it. When I started I volunteered for everything, and eventually had to give stuff away because it was just not sustainable.

    Anyways my point is, tasks are sometimes time of year dependent, or project dependent, or whatever. Lots of jobs have slow time or down time, so this is a good time to independently study up on things you’re interested in.

    1. irene adler

      Very true. Work load can be cyclic.
      But shouldn’t one’s supervisor be able to communicate this notion to their employee (the OP)? It won’t create work for the OP, but does bring understanding as to why they are idle for the time being.

      1. That Girl From Quinn's House

        Yes! I supervised a bunch of teens in a “Summer Youth Employment Program” and this was a huge problem I struggled with. We really didn’t have enough work to have more than 1 teen helper, and I often had 4, and they’d get frustrated. They all felt they were supposed to be working every minute they were at work, and would get upset and frustrated when they had to wait for work, like their time was being wasted because there was no work to do, or they were going to be in trouble for not working hard enough.

        Finally, I explained to them that their job was to wait for work to be done, it was totally fine if there was downtime, and they could entertain themselves quietly (music, reading, etc.,) until I had work to give them. Then, I would expect them to put down whatever they were doing, and do their work. Clearing the air like that helped a lot with morale.

      2. Amber Rose

        Should they be able? Yes.
        But if there’s one thing I’ve learned from AAM, not all supervisors are the greatest communicators.

    2. AnotherAlison

      Agreed. I work in a client project-based environment. We have a steady workload of estimates/proposals, new projects, peaking projects, and closing projects. We hire knowing we have a shortage of 5 of a particular type of employee given our forecast, but projects don’t always hit exactly as forecasted and hiring takes time. You might not get put on something the first couple months simply due to timing. You also likely can’t fill in your time by working on standards and processes when you’re brand new, which is often what we have our other employees doing in between projects.

    3. Joielle

      My office is the same way and we’ve struggled with interns in the slow part of the year. For us, it’s a welcome reprieve and a chance to catch up on back burner projects, but for them, it’s just plain boring. There aren’t a lot of meetings, people are on vacation, and the pace is generally quite slow. We’ve just stopped hosting interns during that time of year rather than try to dredge up projects for them.

  15. The Man, Becky Lynch

    #3 Welcome to hiring for small business. You’re going to get a lot of no responses or ghosted interviews. I’ve had it for every position we’ve ever hired for.

    Are you using a platform like Indeed? A lot of that is resume spammers I’ve learned. Your return rate is pretty low, ours is closer to 50%

    What are you paying? What are your benefits?

    Check your competition.

    We needed a CSR and there were 24,000 postings. We got a good return when we upped our starting wage. Others were at minimum wage, so when a former employer posted at that low end, we had 7 out if 7 interviews ghost a couple years ago. No joke. Then we finally hired and ghosted day 1.

    I agree to look at your communication style. Be warm and engaging, it tends to make people more interested in meeting you, needless to say.

  16. AnotherAlison

    #4 – I still may not say it was a skateboarding accident (or football, boxing, etc). Seems like a “know the culture” thing. I work with a woman who does (did?) roller derby and was out from work for several weeks due to a concussion in a match. I’m not sure I want to let my potential employer know that I enjoy high risk action sports at our first meeting. I might laugh it off as “I took a little spill” and move on. Or, if the culture is the right fit and “no fear” is rewarded, maybe you lead with that. Are we talking about a job as a police officer or an actuary?

    1. Seeking Second Childhood

      I agree… especially because skateboarding is still seen by many as a weird thing that teenagers do.
      Maybe leave it as “I had a run-in with a curb” and only mention that wheels were involved if they ask follow-up questions. That would let a job candidate set it up with something about “sports competition” or “low-impact transportation” … and now that I’m thinking about it, it would be a *positive* for me if a candidate told me she’s been teaching her nieces & nephews some skateboarding tricks — and gave them an unexpected lesson on why I insist they wear helmets & elbow protection every time they get on their wheels.”

      1. NDC

        I think I’d rather convey the impression “enthusiastically participates in contact sports on personal time” than “might be a klutz who could cause workplace accidents” :D

  17. BelleMorte

    #2 if they end up sharing information pertaining to a disability, as some do tend to be symptomatic, and inadvertently leads to people behaving towards the employee differently they could end up in a lawsuit.

    For example, I know someone who was diagnosed as having MS, and she didn’t want to share this with her co-workers, but she did have to share this with her supervisor to disclose for accessibility and medical appointments and when she did it was shared far and wide. People started treating her like she was made of glass, avoided giving her projects or work in favour of her co-workers, it seriously affected her career long before MS should have. People get weird when you have serious illnesses.

    1. Karen from Finance

      Arghhhhh at that whole situation. I’m so mad and saddened on her behalf. It’s particularly an issue with illnesses like MS, “invisible illnesses”, where the disability is not as apparent. So people tend to either over or under estimate how bad the person is feeling which is stigmatizing one way or the other. Terrible situation.

      I hope she’s doing ok. Luckily there’s a few treatment options for MS now that weren’t a few decades ago.

  18. LaDeeDa

    If you are a meeting leader and asking “anything else” change your question to “any roadblocks?”

    1. fposte

      But I don’t just want to know about roadblocks. I want to know if there’s anything else in any of the regular categories.

      Honestly, unless there’s a tone to this that makes it upsetting, I think it’s a pretty reasonable concluding line, and it’s not something a manager really needs to change.

  19. That One Person

    LW1: I’d be curious what was said in her requests since she did mention using email and verbal requests

    LW3: There’s a possibility there’s something mildly wrong with their email too. I could not tell you WHY my aol ones act so weird, but as I made them primarily for aim usage it seems like they usually work when I do @aim rather than @aol. Couldn’t tell you why it is, but most sites and things have less issue emailing that. Exceeeeeept of course my recent job where I finished out the temp portion and was being made permanent as for whatever reason it became reversed which one worked. I didn’t receive an important email and after inquiry (cause it showed as being delivered but was never in my inbox no matter how many times I went through the handfuls I received from their module sites) it turned out it’d been sent to the variation that wasn’t working for them. I don’t imagine this is generally a problem for things like yahoo, gmail, and so on but if they’re using aol I’d consider it at least a possibility?

    Or another opportunity reached out/offered them something and they took it. Who knows?

    1. The Man, Becky Lynch

      It’s intriguing that we are thinking in terms of direct emailing! When you use platforms they wire it for you as a 3rd party.

      But I think a lot of folks are thinking about applying through an online portal that large firms have? I’m thinking in terms of hitting reply on a craigslist or Indeed ad.

  20. Wantonseedstitch

    That “I’m not being given any work to do” thing made me feel a little manager-guilt. I’ve never been THAT bad, but there have been times when a new employee is all ready to go, but the only assignments I have to give out are ones that require some special skills and knowledge that they don’t have yet, or are highly sensitive, or in some other way aren’t really something I feel comfortable giving a brand new employee. What I’ve done at those times is assigned the new employee to shadow a more experienced employee as they worked on the complex assignment so they can watch the new things they’ve learned put into practice, ask questions, and start learning a little bit about the special skills, tools, etc. that are needed beyond the basics.

  21. nnn

    For the LW whose manager always asks “Anything else?” I wonder if that pattern could be disarmed by proactively ending your list with “…and that’s everything!”

    (Not that that would have an impact either way, I’m just pondering whether it would work.)

    1. Sleepless

      I guess so. It reminds me of my high school fast food job. We were supposed to ask “what else?” until the customer said “nothing.” You could NOT say “is that all?” (and if a secret shopper caught you, you could be FIRED). A few regulars caught on to that, so they’d rattle off their order and then say “and that’s ALL.”

  22. Persephone Mulberry

    Prior to being hired at a previous job, the hiring manager and I had been exchanging emails, she said they wanted me to come in for an interview and she’d confirm the date and time and then….nothing. Fortunately I followed up and the interview proceeded (and I got hired), but I eventually figured out that her Outlook calendar invites weren’t compatible with my email service.

  23. Indigo Jo

    Re LW #1: I am in the same situation! Six weeks into my new job and I’m still hoping for some substantial workload! My manager is on another continent so we touch base via slack and team meetings, she has been aware of how little I have to do but she’s been busy. I sent her an email basically saying ‘thank you for giving me x and y to work on, it was interesting but I still have plenty of capacity, please let me know if there is anything else I could help with, and if there isn’t, please advise if there is anyone I can shadow or any training I could focus on’. We skyped today about future projects so fingers crossed! It is frustrating to me having moved from a 50 person company to a huge global corporation that there doesn’t seem to be much room to help people outside your team :/ I’d much rather go help another team, build relationships and learn some more skills but apparently it’s really Not Appropriate here.

  24. pcake

    Regarding job applicants who don’t respond to the interview scheduling email, consider this: if your first email is going into their spam boxes, chances are your second one will, as well. Testing via gmail may not be effective as free email services, paid email services and third-party spam services each have their own algos.

    A phone call, however, can be very effective, and if three out of four candidates aren’t responding, calling them is what I’d suggest if they’re strong candidates.

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