I’m not getting opportunities at work – should I move on?

A reader writes:

I’ve been at my job for almost two years now, and in the industry for a while. During the time that I’ve been here, the team I’m on has undergone a lot of changes, including two re-orgs, several upper-level leadership changes, and I have personally switched managers. Throughout this time, I’ve heard many times that we’re going to be working on great things, and that we’re just in the middle of a transitional period. I’ve been patient and keep trying to be optimistic about my work.

I consistently receive very positive performance reviews, and I am trusted to get my work done and establish positive relationships with my teammates and clients. But over the last nine or so months, the work that I wanted to be doing (and was hired to do) hasn’t materialized, and I’ve been pulled onto projects with other managers in areas that aren’t my desired focus. Meanwhile, my teammates and junior teammates are put on the projects that I’ve been asking for all along.

In some ways, this could be a positive — it means that I’m trusted beyond my manager’s team and have a good reputation. It could also mean that my manager doesn’t feel like I’m a good fit for my job, although that hasn’t been stated in any performance review. Mainly, it means that I’ve been doing work I am not especially invested in, and I don’t feel like my career is gaining much by doing these projects.

I’ve spoken to my manager, and she knows the kind of work I’d like to be on, and has agreed that I should be doing. But time after time, I see other colleagues being put on projects that are in line with my own career goals, and I am pulled onto work that doesn’t move me forward. There’s no clear path to promotion, and due to the way that work is handled on my team, I don’t know what projects I’m slated to be on later in the year.

I have started to feel that if I don’t start to see changes in the work I’m doing, or gain a sense of what it would take to move me forward, I need to move on. What’s the best way to approach this with my manager? I don’t want to walk into the room and start with “Give me better work or I’m outta here,” even if that is how I’m starting to feel.

It’s one thing to be flexible while the organization is working through changes; sometimes that’s just how things go. But nine months of doing work you don’t want to do and weren’t hired to do? That’s an awfully long time to be waiting.

It would be one thing if those projects just didn’t exist. That would be something your manager should raise with you proactively so you could both figure out how to proceed, but it would at least be understandable. But it sounds like that work does exist. It’s just getting assigned to other people.

You’re absolutely right to be thinking about whether you need to move on. Everyone goes through bumpy periods at work, and you don’t want to jump ship over a short period of unfulfilling work, but this has gone on long enough. It’s reasonable to think the situation might not change anytime soon, and that going somewhere else to do the work you really like is the best option.

For what it’s worth, a few different things could be going on here:

1. Your boss thinks you’re valuable right where you are, and doesn’t want to lose your work on the projects she’s put you on. Or she thinks you’re generally reliable and accommodating, and she knows she can move you where she needs you most without you pushing back too much. If this is what’s happening, it’s short-sighted; people who are treated like this will eventually leave over their dissatisfaction and the manager will lose the person they were trying to hold onto.

2. Your manager doesn’t think you’re well-suited for the work you’ve asked to do, but is too much of a wimp to tell you that. From what you’ve seen of her, is she a straight shooter who’s comfortable with having hard conversations? Or have you seen signs she’s not always straight with people, especially when it comes to messages people might not be thrilled to hear?

3. You haven’t been as clear with your manager as you think. Sometimes people really soft-pedal a message, and then they get frustrated when things don’t work out. How clear and direct have you been with your boss? Did you say something like, “It’s important to me to do work on XYZ, and that’s what I came on board to do. Could we talk about a timeline for moving me to those projects?” Or was it closer to, “I’m really interested in XYZ, if there’s ever an opportunity to take that on.” The second example will sometimes get filed away in a manager’s head as “If I ever need Jane to take on XYZ, she can do it” — rather than as “This is really important to Jane and it’s something we need to address.”

Similarly, how recently did you speak with her about it? It you had one conversation with her a year ago and haven’t brought it up since then, it might not be on her mind.

Whatever is happening behind-the-scenes, it’s worth going back and talking to your manager again. Make sure you’re being clear and direct and not hiding or couching your message — be direct and say what you really want! That doesn’t mean saying, “Give me different work or I’m out of here” verbatim — but you can communicate that sentiment indirectly, in a way where any decent manager will understand that’s the subtext.

Say something like this: “I know we’ve talked in the past about my desire to focus on XYZ. I’ve of course been willing to help out in other areas while the organization has gone through so many changes, but I’d like to make my way back to XYZ in the near future. That’s the work I came here to do, and it’s really where I want to focus my career. Could you give me a sense of whether that’s something we’ll be able to make happen?”

If she tells you that yes, it’s going to happen, then you’ll want to be ready to talk specifics: “What is the process for getting that to happen, and what do you think is a realistic timeline?”

If you get answers that are vague or non-committal, then say this: “It’s really important to me to have a clear plan for this. Is there a way to make that happen, or is that just not practical right now?”

The tone you want here isn’t “Do what I say or else!” It’s “I want to understand what is and isn’t likely, so that I have a realistic understanding of the situation.”

If your manager is paying attention at all, she’s going to understand the subtext here is “I need to understand the situation so that I can decide if I can meet my career goals here, or whether I’ll need to leave in order to do that.”

It might be that this conversation nudges your boss into realizing that you’re serious about working for her, and she needs to act if she wants to keep you. Or it might be that you do need to leave in order to do the work you like. That wouldn’t be ideal, but it’s so much better to know that, so you can proceed accordingly. Hopefully, this conversation will help you figure that out.

Originally published at New York Magazine.

{ 82 comments… read them below }

  1. CatCat*

    Such great advice.

    On the process and realistic timeline piece, if the boss is able to provide it, great! Just beware of hanging in there too long if the boss starts kicking the can down the road though. Delays sometimes do happen (and are not always in the boss’s control), but you don’t want to get stuck with delays for another two years. So consider setting a specific date in your own mind of when you are going to start looking in earnest for a new job if the assurances do not actually materialize into action. Certainly, follow up with boss about the process and timeline if they are delayed, but work an alternative plan of finding a new job so you have options.

    1. Jadelyn*

      This is great advice as well, re setting your own internal deadline. Just be really realistic with yourself about how long you can continue to do your current stuff without resentment building up too badly.

    2. the_scientist*

      Yes, this is GREAT advice! I have been in this exact situation myself, and I ultimately had to move on because the work I was interested in simply wasn’t materializing. I left on great terms with my former boss and organization and moved on to a new role and new workplace that suited me much better. I think this is something that will come up at least once in most people’s career!

    3. Original LW*

      I think the timeline is the crucial part. It’s been a little while since I wrote in, and since then I’ve gotten some of the projects I’m interested in– but they’re mixed in with the other work. So now I’m working on deciding whether I want to stay where I’m at and accept things as they are, or try for a more fulfilling opportunity somewhere else within the next year.

      1. valentine*

        Go with the latter. Even if there were no one who could do what you do, they could’ve given you the projects they hired you for or the projects you want instead of this (still glacial?) trickle.

    4. Artemesia*

      This. Unless the answer is — ‘oh I didn’t realize how important this was to you, we will meet on Monday to explore some options’ and then follow through with options, then regardless of what they say short of this, start that job search in high gear.

      I would assume since they HAVE the work you want and signed on for and yet won’t give it to you that they are either find it convenient for you to do drudge work no one else wants or they lack confidence in your abilities. Either of these means ‘Run’ —-

  2. Heat's Kitchen*

    I could’ve written this. Interestingly, I’ve had some conversations around this today. Here’s my background and suggestion:
    – Q1 2018 I was told by our department head they were looking at re-orging the department and I was possibly up for a role. I went on maternity leave in Q2, so make sure to let him know I was very interested and still wanted to be considered while on leave.
    – Our company was sold in July, so any plans on the re-org were put on hold.
    – Started talking about this again. But then an announcement came in November we’re being sold. again.

    There’s no other career path for me in my current department unless we do this reorg. I’ve talked to bosses boss about this and he’s made it clear he wants to keep me (“I don’t want to lose you,” “You’d be a shoe in for the position I want to create”). I’ve been in the same position for 3 years and they know I’m ready for another challenge.

    Coincidentally, I’ve had two companies contact me in the last month about job opportunities that would be big promotions for me. I’ve continued discussions with them even though I’m happy in my current job. Just this morning, this kind of came up in conversation with my bosses boss and I told him, “I’m happy here, but these other companies are willing to give me something I don’t have a timeframe on here.”

    He was candid and said there probably wouldn’t be anything for at least the next 3-6 months. BUT he also said that he wanted to take this to our HR team to share how this turmoil is negatively affecting the company and their employees.

    I’m not sure what will happen with either opportunity. I do (and had always) planned on talking with my department head prior to accepting an offer. I am genuinely happy here, but if there’s no upward mobility in the nearish future, what am I doing when I’m in a place in my life I want to focus on my career???

    All this being said. If you trust your boss (or your bosses boss), maybe be candid with them. It’s a bit of an awkward conversation at first, but it’s been beneficial to me.

    1. Jadelyn*

      I had to have that awkward conversation with my boss (who was my grandboss at the time) because I had been told numerous times that they were updating my job description since I’d taken on a huge number of higher-level things that needed doing that were well outside my existing job description, and they wanted to make it possible to have me keep doing them. But nothing happened…nothing happened…any time I asked about it, oh, it’s with so-and-so to review, or we’re waiting on this that or the other thing…and I finally told my department head “Look, I love working here. I really do. But the kind of work I’m doing, I could be doing it at another company with a better title and much higher pay. And I’m at the point where I’m going to start looking at those other options since it doesn’t seem to be happening here.” He was a bit miffed, I think, but about two months later they finished redoing my job description, repriced the role, and I got the title and raise we’d been talking about, retroactive like 10 months back.

      Sometimes you gotta push through the awkwardness and draw a line. It’s not comfortable, but (assuming you have management you trust to do the right thing, and assuming they value you enough to want to keep you) it works.

  3. epi*

    I’ve been in a similar situation before. In my case the explanation was pretty much that I was being taken for granted– Alison’s first suggestion– and conversations with my boss really made that clear.

    A big factor in that job was, I got known for being good at things I really didn’t care to be doing. It sounds like that may be part of the OP’s problem too if they are consistently being put on projects that overlap with other departments or managers. It was impossible for me to shed those little tasks (that added up to a lot) because those skills were just so handy for others to have access to, yet not quite time-consuming or valued enough to just hire someone to do them. I never did get rid of those tasks while I worked there, limiting the time I had available for better assignments even when I did get them.

    I ended up just leaving those skills off my resume and never mentioning them unless directly asked. By that time, I was doing my preferred work at my new job and felt I could honestly downplay that stuff. The truthful message was, yes I know how to do X and can help out if needed, but it won’t be the same standard of work you expect from me in main job Y.

    1. GermanGirl*

      Yes, I also have a skill that I’m good at but don’t care to be doing, but I kept getting lots of recruiter messages for positions doing that (even though it was just a tiny part of my skill list) until I finally took it off my LinkedIn resume.

      Then I started to get recruiter messages about another skill that I don’t currently want to focus on, so I deleted everything except my most favorite stuff.

      Since then, about half the recruiter messages I get are fairly well matched with what I want to be doing, which – given my previous experience – seems to be a pretty decent rate.

  4. Cassandra*

    Ah, yes, good old Jam Tomorrow jobs. Jam tomorrow, jam tomorrow, jam tomorrow, but never jam today.

    Can’t add much to Alison’s advice or your perceptive take on your situation, OP. But if a random commenter’s “it’s okay for you to move on” would help you, you absolutely have mine.

      1. Been There, Done That*

        Better that than letting it get to the point of taking a beer out of the galley as you launch the emergency chute!

    1. Artemesia*

      And in my experience, it is often jam tomorrow for hard working women doing a great job and being passed over, but new guy with less experience gets hired and he is rocketing up the organization into precisely the roles and salaries you request for years. I have watched this play out several times. We just can’t give YOU a raise or this or that, but junior inexperienced newguy — well that was what it took to hire him.

      1. Been There, Done That*

        With my current employer, it’s not necessarily a guy, but a gal with a pushy personality and a big mouth (read “go-getter”) who’s smart enough not to look dumb, but not so smart that she’s a threat to the boss.

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

    Would it be out of line to mention the work going to other, especially junior, colleagues? Something like, “I want my career path to move in X direction with XYZ projects. I see that those projects have been assigned to Felix and Jordan. Are there skills that I need to develop or demonstrate before I can be considered for those projects? I don’t feel like projects QRS are developing my skills in the direction I would like to go.”

    1. Not a Real Giraffe*

      This is what I came to ask! Is there value in asking the boss, “I see Joe was assigned X Project that I know we talked about my interest in. Can you help me understand why he got this project instead of me, and what I need to do to be given the chance at a similar project next time?”

      1. CeeDee*

        Yes, Ask that question! It has helped me tremendously. I might take out the first part about “why he got it instead..” but leave the second.

        1. Frozen Ginger*

          I’d also leave out the “Why did Joe get it instead of me?” For lack of a better term it sounds like whining (which is totally justified but doesn’t generally help in a professional setting).

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

        Hmmm…I’m of two minds on this because I think tone is so tricky and it could backfire. I think you might be able to ask about why another person got the project, but be prepared to advocate for yourself on why you think you should get it instead, because status quo is hard to overcome. This may be too direct for some bosses, but something like, “I see Joe was assigned ProjectX that I know we talked about my interest in. Since he is a junior teapot designer with 3 years experience, and I am a senior teapot designer with 8 years experience, can you help me understand why he was chosen? I want to advocate for myself here; because of the reorg in the last 2 years, I’m not sure if it’s known that at (previous job) I accomplished ABC and DEF…” If you haven’t already, it may be time to “interview” with your boss like you were applying for the job.

    2. Mr. Bob Dobalina*

      I do think that this aspect of the situation must be mentioned, but in a way that stays focused on OP and OP’s desire to do those projects. I’m a blunt person, so I would ask directly… “Project type-X has been going to my teammates. The next project type-X that comes up, I would like to work on it. Is this possible? Do you have any concerns in giving me that next project, or are there barriers that we can discuss?”

    3. Original LW*

      It’s something I’ve mentioned to my manager. She told me it was down to an issue of timing and workload, not any skill related issue. Even though it wasn’t something that could be changed, it did seem she was aware that the project distribution felt uneven.

      1. TardyTardis*

        And if nothing is done about it, you have your answer. Walk away, get more money doing what you love somewhere else. I would have done it in a heartbeat if I hadn’t lived in a smallish town where any job *with benefits* made you aristocracy.

  6. Hey-Eh*

    Just a few weeks ago I left my job because this was the exact situation I was in. Interestingly, I had become SO good at the very basic parts of my job that they didn’t trust anyone else to do it. So while junior employees were being given the more difficult projects as a “learning experience” I was overwhelmed with basic entry level tasks to do, and being promised that they would be moved off my plate soon. A year of this and I handed in my notice. You’re not alone LW.

    1. Ali G*

      This is pretty much the exact same reason I left my first real job after 8+ years. I had a nice title and good pay, but never actually did the work they were paying me to do, and when I would point that out the answer I got was “but we need YOU to do it.” No you don’t, you just don’t want to take the time for someone else to learn it.
      Fun fact: When I left they replaced me with 2 FTE’s + splitting some of my other work to other current employees.

      1. Rachel*

        I waited similar amount of time (2.5 years) to get a promotion that others at level and junior were getting over me. I stayed and finally got my promotion. While I was waiting the boss kept saying it will happen and I just about gave up but kept pushing myself to do great work and get noticed for new ideas. I’m happy to have stuck it out. But I think for your own inner peace you have to decide the length of time you will put up with before you decide to look for another job. Good luck!

  7. CeeDee*

    OMG. I could almost be this LW, too, Heat’s Kitchen. One slight difference, is I have spoken with my direct boss, his boss, and other executive team members about my long terms goals. But I still feel stuck. I’m female, in a male dominated engineering field. I have good rapport with my bosses and their bosses and oftentimes my career goals for my company are aligned with working and learning to be a better manager. Even though I have had conversations (in the last 3 months) about my long terms goals and asked point-blank, how can I achieve them and can you help me, I still don’t get straightforward answers. I’ve thought about writing in to Alison with more depth than this response, but its always encouraging to re-read “be direct and have a plan, and help your bosses make that plan with you.”

    1. Queen of the File*

      Hands up here too.

      It is also really hard for me to not see it as partly a gender issue in my case as well–all my work ends up consisting of coordination, meetings and correspondence while my 3 (male) colleagues make technical decisions & get assigned the meaty work “because they’re not as good with people and organization as you are”.

      I’ve also had conversations with my boss about it and she says she totally understands, but project after project seems to be a ‘special circumstance’ where they apparently can’t afford to put someone else on it. Hrmph.

      1. CeeDee*

        So much sympathy here. I did some research on people in my company that have the same titles and reporting structure within their department. There are three women, including myself, all with the lowest position title. There are at least 2 male coworkers, with whom I get along great with, AND HAVE ACTUALLY MENTORED, who are 2 title positions above me. My coworkers all say “title doesn’t mean anything.” Uh, yes, it is actually part of what they use to determine pay scale, competency, and quite honestly, my title means one thing in one industry and something completely different in others so I always have to explain what I do and my seniority. But its cool. blah.

      2. They can be organized too*

        When did “not good at it as you are” mean “they don’t need to learn to be good at it, you can just do it?” =\

        Would it have helped to have said “Thank you for the compliment. I would love to help John and Mike be better at this. What can we do to improve their organizational skills and how can I assist?”

    2. The New Wanderer*

      The struggle is real. I know someone who got a degree in a specific engineering field and came to work expecting to work as an engineer but um, they needed a project manager so just do that for a little while. 8 years later, she was still a project manager watching newer hires and interns (predominantly male) get the engineering projects, so she left to change careers altogether. “Good with people and organization” is absolutely something I’d expect our (all-male) management to use as justification for not giving her engineering work because when it’s used to explain why the woman is assigned those tasks but not ever the men, it’s just sexist code.

      1. CeeDee*

        The best part about my conundrum, is I WANT to be more of a project manager. I got my engineering degree and found out really quick I DO NOT LIKE TO DO ENGINEERING. I like to problem solve though and I like to be around people. But I’ve been specifically asked to help the “moved-to-my-PM-adjacent-titled” coworkers with certain aspects of the tasks that we are assigned that they are unfamiliar with. And I just sit here confused with the “if you didn’t know how to do the task, and you aren’t adept at it, why are you paid and titled like you have those competencies?” It is obviously very frustrating. And something I have NO IDEA how to address with ANYONE senior in my organization.

    3. Raises hand*

      Yep, btdt. I’m the go to person for taking over various projects and functions when we have turnover and/or the project/function was not well done. Most of those are things I don’t want to do although I do them extremely well; some of them are things I do want to do (and do extremely well) but “Griselda needs development in that area so we’re giving it to her after you rescue it” (Griselda of course also leaves after a year flailing at the project I wanted).

      Yes, I’m looking!

    4. TardyTardis*

      The only answer that’s honest is that ‘you should have been born male’ in an outfit like that.

  8. Murphy*

    IT ME (not literally, not OP)

    My job is entirely managing X and Y and my boss sees no problem with having X and Y planning meetings without me, or letting people who do Z manage Y events and doesn’t seem to get why I’m not happy about it.

  9. ragazza*

    In a similar situation. I always say I’m being punished for my competence. It’s also because the company does not want to invest in creative resources (I’m a writer) despite the demand for content and editing going up about tenfold in the last year. So I get to hire freelancers to do work I want to do while I’m stuck with the shit jobs. I’m looking elsewhere.

    1. Autumnheart*

      Would it be possible to hire freelancers to do the shit jobs while you do the work you want to do?

    2. Been There, Done That*

      Do you also find that the people evaluating the writers don’t know good writing from bad?

      This is why I quit “stepping up” and taking on creative projects. My original manager was behind me moving in that direction, then he got reassigned and my new managers pushed me back to the bottom-rung jobs. That’s fine for someone just starting in the field, but I’m past that. I also got past giving them the benefit of my best skills for nothin’ and just stopped. Still burns, as that’s what I want to do. But it ain’t gonna happen here.

  10. Mockingjay*

    The OP has become the office “fixer” and they like her in that role – available to solve problems and pinch hit on different teams as needed.

    Career goals and company needs don’t always align. Alison’s script is stellar, but I wouldn’t be surprised to hear that the company finds ways to put off any role changes. The OP will likely have to look elsewhere.

    1. Falling Diphthong*

      Throughout the letter, I kept envisioning “OP is the only person who can fix the copier.”

      The company convinced of this is not going to let you move anywhere else. If you’re okay with that, and they give you buckets of money and benefits to incentivize you to stay put and guard the copiers, that’s fine. But the more common path seems to be for management to figure that someone who was reasonable and accommodating twice will be that way forever about everything, no matter what they say when having these odd little spurts of rebellion.

    2. Original LW*

      It definitely does feel like I’m pinch-hitting on a lot of things. It’s been some time since I initially wrote in about this, and in the meantime I’ve had more work that is in line with my career goals. It’s still a mixed bag though, and I’m still doing some of the projects I’m not interested in. So I’m currently evaluating what I need to do going forward.

    3. Lynn Whitehat*

      This was me 10 years ago. Leaving that company was the best thing I ever did. Oh, and the team lead role that I was totally going to get promoted to, because the current team lead was going to move on to bigger and better things? FIVE YEARS LATER, she was still in the exact same place. I really think this is common, you have ambition but for whatever reason the company doesn’t want to move you up. So they keep pinky-swearing that they will totally move you up! Just as soon as you do one more thing… and one more… and one more…

  11. LQ*

    Like many others I feel this letter!
    I suspect what I need to do is sit down and come up with a plan of what that would look like for the next year and while I’ve been kind of working on that plan I’m also not quite sure. Mine would include hiring people and making me a manager. But it feels really presumptuous to go into my director and say. “Listen, I need 3 people for the next year, 1 from another person’s team and 2 outsiders. This is what they’ll do (subtext of other person’s team didn’t do it) and how we’ll accomplish it. But by the way I have no clue what I’m doing as far as actually being a manager goes. I’m essentially managing several staff today, but essentially and actually are different.”

    Ugh. Which means I’m just doing more and more myself because I can’t figure out how to talk about that without being super presumptuous.

    1. Frozen Ginger*

      It might help to re-frame it as you “getting help on X” or “leading a team to do X” and less “I’m going to be a manager.” Let your director know that you can’t continue to handle X on your own, and having someone else (possibly from Team A) do tasks BCD would greatly help make the process more efficient/smooth/productive/etc. Note how you’re already essentially managing persons EFG to show that you’re already demonstrating leadership ability.

      1. Frozen Ginger*

        Re-reading this, scratch the “would greatly help” part, sounds too wishy-washy. Say “you can’t continue to handle X on your own, and you NEED to have someone else do tasks BCD.”

      2. LQ*

        Yeah, you’re right. Part of it is absolutely in my own head. I’m pretty sure that once I push this really hard he’ll do this, and I’m fairly sure I can.

        Quite frankly, I have no idea what the hold up for me is. But I need to get over whatever my own personal hang up is and move forward on presenting something to him to say, “I need help to get X and Y projects that will save millions of dollars and do the Giant Thing You Care about and that help needs to look like this to accomplish that.” I think in part I’m not entirely sure what the help looks like. Right now I’m drowing in work and I need to not be but I’m not sure which are the parts I can reasonably hand off to someone else. Maybe that’s what I need to do. Document the stuff and think about if I’m the one who has to do it.

    2. PJs of Steven Tyler*

      It’s SO hard to do! But I found out purely through doing this type of thing that my boss really appreciates when I take charge. It’s great to finally be able to let my bossy side out at work (I was a very bossy child but tamped it down). I think your rough outline sounds great and I think it’d be neat if you were able to give that to them. I know it’s so scary but maybe just take the first step of scheduling a meeting with your supervisor to discuss possible team restructuring to maximize productivity?

  12. J.E.*

    I also agree that is sounds like OP is viewed as being the best person for task X, even though they really want to do task Y. Bosses often keep someone pigeonholed because they don’t want to lose someone they trust to get certain things done. It’s the pitfall of being good at something you don’t really like and the boss thinking that there is absolutely no one else they can trust to get that thing(s) done.

  13. Falling Diphthong*

    Let’s break this down:

    a) The work that I wanted to be doing (and was hired to do) hasn’t materialized.
    This could be the reorg. Maybe that work is now going to be handled elsewhere.

    b) My teammates and junior teammates are put on the projects that I’ve been asking for all along.
    Okay, (a) is out. They are keeping you off this work.

    c) I’ve spoken to my manager.
    Good, that would be everyone’s first advice.

    d) I am pulled onto work that doesn’t move me forward. There’s no clear path to promotion.
    And this is the result of (c)–nothing is changing.

    I think Alison has good advice, and I would start with 3–talk to your manager, avoid softening language, be crystal clear that you aren’t asking for some vague background about why your assignment changed. My experience of head-desky people suggests 1–We can’t ask Fergus, because Fergus is unreasonable, but OP is so reasonable! She’ll do it!

    2-she doesn’t think you’re good at the work but hates to directly say this–is also on the table. Where I’d caution you here is it doesn’t matter where the universal truth of the matter lies. Early in the letter I was going to advise that you check whether the divergence in career path and goals was a negative, or a result of more information and new opportunities. But it seems like you’ve thought it through and what you are doing and what you want to be doing are at odds. If one more come-to-Jesus talk with your manager doesn’t quickly change things, then I’d start looking elsewhere–because at this company you will not be moved to working on those projects. Whether that’s because they have a flattering or unflattering view of your skill set, they aren’t going to give you this work.

    Also: Sometimes hanging on, in any situation, turns out okay. No one can guarantee you that patiently waiting a little longer won’t be the key. If you knew that in another 9 months, or 3 years, you’d be right where you are now, would you stay and hope it got better?

  14. Jadelyn*

    “We can’t ask Fergus, because Fergus is unreasonable, but OP is so reasonable! She’ll do it!” I’ve seen this play out so many times and it’s unbelievably frustrating. No good deed goes unpunished. Be reasonable and willing to pitch in and help, and suddenly you’re typecast as The Universal Backup, and now instead of doing work you enjoy, you’re supporting and being backup to everyone else’s work.

    1. Been There, Done That*

      And yet there’ve been plenty of posts here about how the willing employee who “pitches in” is viewed as valuable asset who will get opportunities because of the favorable impression the boss has of them. Maybe it works for some people and doesn’t for others.

    2. Doctor Schmoctor*

      This is why I disagree with the whole “don’t say it’s not your job” thing. If I keep agreeing to do things that are not my job, it will become my job. So I have to say something.

  15. Name Required*

    Sympathies, OP. Been there, done that in my first job. I wish I had been as mature as you and able to see the issue as clearly — I had a lot of resentment that wouldn’t have existed if I had just realized that the opportunities were not going to materialize, and I shouldn’t bank on them becoming reality. Good luck in your job search.

  16. Quiltrrrr*

    This could have been written by me a year ago. Manager who sucked at delegating, and didn’t really want to deal with his direct reports who were not physically in the same office as him. Multiple conversations didn’t help, and I ended up leaving.

  17. the other side of the road*

    Playing devil’s advocate here (and this is obviously not what OP wants; it is clear that he/she wants the more challenging projects either at the current company or elsewhere) What if you were being paid very good money to do the “basic” tasks, let’s say above industry standard for your title? What if you truly enjoyed working with your coworkers and got along with them? Enjoyed the company culture? Great benefits etc. Got wonderful performance reviews?

    Would you still want to leave for something more challenging?

    1. Mockingjay*

      I did. I left ExToxic Job for Current Job at a lower salary. ExToxic Job paid very well, but my role had been reduced to doing reassigned rote work instead of holding the under-performers accountable. Easier to make me the “fixer” than manage poor-performing employees.

      I was bored out of my skull. I have decades of experience in my field and my brain was…idle. Each day dragged. It took me a year to find another job. I followed Alison’s advice to the letter to find the right job before I jumped ship, but during that time, I found it excruciatingly difficult to keep coming to work, let alone perform at a professional standard. That year was soul-killing.

      I am now at a company in which I can thrive, which has given me opportunities to shine, and generous raises and bonuses (to the point where I am at nearly the same salary as the ex-job). I am never bored and I look forward to work each day.

    2. The New Wanderer*

      When I was in that situation, I absolutely stayed. I was sometimes bored and sometimes frustrated, but I did find some value in the work I had and I believed it was just a waiting game until the more interesting work that I had started out doing finally came back. (It took ~5 years but I am finally doing exclusively cool stuff!)

      But, no one strung me along with promises that I’d get the next good project while other people got assigned to good stuff while I watched. So I didn’t have that feeling of being brushed aside and thus no building resentment about my situation. Whether or not the OP is being left behind or being reserved for other things, OP is being led on just like anyone who’s ever been told their promotion or raise is imminent, just keep working hard. OP’s boss has to be forced to tell OP either “I’m not giving you that type of work ever” or “Sorry you’ve been overlooked, I will give you the next project by March.”

    3. The Man, Becky Lynch*

      If I’m underutilized and bored, I have to go. My happiness at work isn’t only driven by pay and decent people, if that’s the case, I wouldn’t have left a lot of places. I love that there are plenty of people who enjoy a basic routine, my dad is one of them, he liked his job being shift work and pay/benefits were great. He had outside hobbies and lives the “work to live” mentality

      I’m a monster who dies inside if I’m not working. I had two 5 day holidays last month. So bored. I moved and came to work the same day.

      I’m constantly taking on left behind tasks that fit into nobody else’s job description because I’m dying inside without a challenging 40+hrs

    4. Original LW*

      I think it’s great to think about that. Part of the reason I’ve stayed so long is that the pay is good! But I’m also not feeling any career growth. I do have some better work now, but it’s still mixed in with the work I don’t like. So I’m now re-evaluating what my next steps are.

    5. Been There, Done That*

      I’m *partly* in that situation. I make a very nice paycheck and have terrific benefits. If that’s all that mattered, I’d stay.

      However, it’s a toxic place that’s had a hell of a lot of turnover since I’ve been there and a couple of the meanest people it’s ever been my misfortune to know in any aspect of my life. I’ve held on because I took a huge hit during the great recession and still recovering, but I’m bored out of my skull and my boss is clearly not interested in seeing me grow and develop.

  18. ThatGirl*

    I definitely relate to this; I need to have a come-to-Jesus talk with my manager by review time to determine if my role is going to be the role it was meant to be, or if I’m just being forced into a role that’s honestly meant for someone with less experience and lower pay because I’m reliable.

    I know the why: we’re short-staffed and the needs I’m filling are more pressing, plus I am actually pretty good at it, but it’s definitely not what I was hired to do, and not what I’m interested in doing. What I need is a plan to get out of it – or I’m considering getting out of here.

    1. TardyTardis*

      Being overworked is a very good way to keep you from realizing you’re being totally screwed, too. Or too tired to job hunt.

  19. Mr. Bob Dobalina*

    OP: The timeline that AAM writes about is important, because ideally you want some commitment from your boss to give you the type of work that you want within a reasonable time frame, even if it’s only part of your workload. In other words, you want a demonstration of good faith from your boss that she is actively trying to give you the professional development that you want. If your boss doesn’t give you acceptable evidence within the time frame, start looking for a new job.

    1. Guitar Gal*

      “even if it’s only part of your workload.”

      This is definitely a thing that people should push for. I’m at this point now and have found the chance to do what I want to ideally be doing, even just a small part of the time, to be great. It’s also a huge encouragement for me. I hate doing Y (which is what I mostly do), so I am probably not as productive as I’d like to be. But if I am productive and have capacity, I can do some of X (which is what I want to do). I’m definitely a better employee when I have the chance to do some of the type of work I aim to be doing.

  20. Adhara*

    Oh dear oh dear, I’m not the OP either but wow I feel ya.

    That is my main reason why I left my job: although I was originally hired to do super junior role A and was still doing it a few years later, it personally ticked me off that more junior coworkers had moved onto higher roles because “I was just so good where I was!”
    And yeah, I would have been fine if these coworkers were great at their roles, but seeing they weren’t (and all managers covering it up and the rest of us had to help them do their job) and knowing other managers had put me forward for higher roles but grand management said no, it ultimately pushed me out the door.

    Definitely do the frank conversation! I did a few of them, getting franker about my situation each time, but each time it definitely allowed me to re-assess my own internal deadlines. Unfortunately, my manager heard me, made sympathetic noises and that’s all that happened.

    The internal deadline is a fantastic idea to incorporate in your daily work life, because you have to manage your life the right way for you. You can go “ok, 6 months of this and I’ll start my job search” or “ok, by x date I’ll go back to my manager about this.”

    I personally wish I was more proactive about my internal deadline: if I had to it all again, actually job searching while I waited out my 6 months would have kickstarted it all and given me the determination to survive my last job by knowing I’ve applied for x jobs.

    But I feel you, and I hope it works out with clarity.

  21. The_artist_formerly_known_as_Anon-2*

    As people said –

    1) Make it known that you want those opportunities
    2) give yourself a time frame
    3) if nothing happens, move on – but – when you do resign, be explicit as to why you’re going.

    Then see what happens.

  22. Doctor Schmoctor*

    I have been in your situation for the last 7 years. They’re always making promises, but when we do get a project that is exactly what I was hired to do in the first place, it goes to someone else. This went on for about a year, and my manager basically told me I’m imagining thing.
    This triggered a severe depression, which made me pretty much give up. I started looking for another job a few months ago, but I’m 40 with very little practical experience, so I think I’m pretty much screwed.

    Don’t be like me. Get out before it’s too late.

    1. TardyTardis*

      I live in an area where getting a job *with benefits* makes you aristocracy, one of the reasons I was glad to take early retirement.

  23. Guitar Gal*

    In a similar position, though for me I feel like the reasoning is because the project I’m on keeps dragging out. I was initially told I would be on the project for only a few months, and had a few periods from as early as June where I was told it wouldn’t be for much longer… we’re at 10.5 months now. For me, it is simply a case of me being needed as the project is close to a conclusion, but I’m growing more and more weary of waiting (which I’ve been open and honest about and all around completely understand). We’re at a point where we are starting to split things a little, and I wish I had this article and comments earlier so I could have pushed for it before now!

    1. Guitar Gal*

      Also, I’ve found it helpful to talk about this sort of thing with people in my team at different levels. Someone slightly below has given great advice at times because in her role, she does have to be more assertive and push for types of work. People above have given great advice too, and they’re often very willing to be a bit of a mentor (I’m relatively junior). It’s also a way to get considered for the type of projects you want. Ie, you mention to Susan that you want to be doing x. Susan has a project come up that relates to X and she thinks of you, and you end up working on it. Or Susan doesn’t have anything to do with X, but Jack does have a project come up to do with X, discusses it with Susan (because we all chat about these sorts of things), and Susan encourages Jack to consider you.

  24. azvlr*

    “Generally reliable and accommodating”. This is me. My boss commends me for being flexible, but it plays out like you described. I am doing lots of dreary, mundane work and my colleagues are put on large and creative projects. Oh, and her other advice is that I need to advocate for myself more. So yeah, I’m job searching.

    1. Is it Friday yet?*

      But, have you actually followed Alison’s advice and told your boss and expressed your interest in doing X or Y?

      1. azvlr*

        To be fair, no. But this is just one of several factors that is causing me to me on. I have definitely resolved to be more assertive in new situations.

  25. MaureenSmith*

    I had a job like this. 3 years, no evaluation or raise. I’d found ways to make my job more interesting and do work that I was trained for (female engineer here). Then my boss took all the interesting stuff away to give to a new employee and said I could only sort and distribute paperwork. I’d started job hunting and I ended up with an interesting job offer. So I left, didn’t look back. I’ve heard through the grapevine that after I left things became even more disorganized than usual.

    OP, you’ve been there long enough it won’t look like job hopping. And when asked in a future job interview why you are leaving / have left, a response of “Over time the job requirements changed and I’m looking forward to working on (projects) in the future” is fine. Leave on your schedule, start looking now and have something lined up. You’ve got some valuable skills and experience now, time to focus on the projects or type of work that you enjoy.

    As a manager with hiring authority now, I appreciate that people will move jobs as their family needs, professional development and/or situation changes. I’d rather hire someone with some varied experience as they bring many skills with them and can also keep our group from getting stuck in the “but we’ve always done it this way” rut.

  26. Oaktree*

    I’m in a similar position. I’ve spoken to my supervisor and boss about compensation and title. I’m doing a lot of things that aren’t in my job description, and I’m way underpaid relative to the norm for my education and experience in the field- they got away with lowballing me when I was hired because I was right out of school and didn’t negotiate, and since then they’ve given me a raise that didn’t even keep pace with inflation. But I have low confidence that this will result in major changes to my day to day and my pay. I might have the opportunity to go to another place and do work that sounds interesting, with a lot more creative control, but Glassdoor’s review of the company are… pretty bad. Don’t know what to do.

    1. TardyTardis*

      Keep looking. If you aren’t nailed down fast where you are by other factors (family, house etc.), there are lots of companies in other places which are better.

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