should I stay in my well-paid job even though I have nothing to do?

A reader writes:

I work at a government agency, which means I have a new agency head/boss every four years. This latest agency head has a drastically different management style and one of the first things he did was completely reorganize the office structure, which means I no longer report to him. Instead, I report to Jane.

Before the new agency head, Jane’s job was 100% dependent on the last agency head’s special projects that no longer exist. When the new agency head came in, she finagled it so she got me and two new departments she created. I’d known Jane from before, and she swore not much would change Except…

Jane took about 90% of my job. She structured it such that I do one or two tasks related to a project, she gives me full glowing credit on my performance evaluation, and then she takes credit everywhere else. The last part makes sense because she is the one who does the work. I used to organize and attend high-level executive meetings, but she took that over. I used to oversee major public-facing projects, but now I mostly do admin work. I used to get invited to meetings, but now I have to ask for permission, and 95% of the time I’m not allowed to go even when Jane can’t. Jane directed all communications that used to go to me to go to her. If you want a sense of how much my job has gone away, my email activity is a good indication. I used to send almost 100 emails a day; now it’s around ten.

There’s no point in talking to Jane. When I’ve asked about my diluted job duties, she tells me I have more “leadership” and “autonomy” than I ever did before. She tells me I’m working on plenty of things, and she’ll list projects that have minimal contributions from me. Once she tripped up and told me that a week-long training would be good for me because “it would take up a lot of [my] time.” The worst part is that Jane’s to do list is overloaded with tasks I used to do, as well new ones. Whenever she complains about having so much to do and working nights and weekends, I remind her I’m here. She backpedals with “it’s not THAT much” and she can handle it.

But here are the big advantages: Jane makes sure to give me the highest raise increases possible EVERY year; she lets me leave work whenever I need to for childcare emergencies; she approves all my expense requests no question; and she let’s me work from home whenever I want. (This arrangement is very rare at my agency.)

Here’s my question to you. I know my job isn’t coming back, and I have no recourse. (Jane’s boss, the agency head, will not interact with anyone on business-related matters unless that person reports directly to him.) When I started looking for a new job, my husband stopped me. Why leave a job where you make a lot of money, have tons of perks, and don’t have to work that much? Even better, my husband said this is the time to finish my personal goals – finishing my book, doing more martial arts classes, etc. – while getting paid. He also pointed out that my butt is technically covered with all my glowing performance evaluations and maximum raises. If I find a job somewhere else, I risk losing all of those perks. Plus Jane is signing me up for all this paid professional development, which is great…but I don’t have much to apply it to. My husband also said things could change after the next election, and we should take advantage of what I’ve been given. (Right now, it does make sense for me to handle the middle-of-the-workday childcare stuff because I don’t have a lot to do and my husband does. I’m not going to make him trade off just to make a point.) At the same time, my brain is getting stale. I spend most of my days reading the newspaper, answering the occasional email, and catching up with coworkers I haven’t seen in awhile. What do I do?

You can read my answer to this letter at New York Magazine today. Head over there to read it.

{ 217 comments… read them below }

  1. voyager1*

    Oh this a pickle. The only thing I would add is, what happens if the job changes at the next election and folks look at you and see you just as dead weight. Sure it isn’t your fault but sitting around and doing “not much” could be bad for appearances later on. And with that someone sees no reason of keeping you around.

    I feel for you LW. I hope something can be changed.

    1. Lady J*

      Exactly my thoughts as well. As someone who has worked for and with government agencies that job could be gone in an instant. My advice OP polish your resume and explain to spouse the reality you could become redundant because of the lack of work.

      1. Hapless Bureaucrat*

        It sounds like OP used to work directly for the agency head– those are often at-will positions, even in unionized government offices. Depending on the level of protection she has, no one might need to prove anything. Even if she is unionized, well… that’s what departmental re-organizations are for. Eliminate the position, let the person decide to bounce someone else or leave.

        Depending on the new administration, they might regard anyone who has a glowing review from Jane with extra suspicion. And OP hasn’t been able to attend the public-facing meetings she used to attend, or the executive ones, so her network is growing stale. And it’s your network that protects you during administration changes.

        1. Genny*

          If she’s a civil servant in the federal government, she can’t just be let go, even if her position reports to the agency head. She can be moved to a different job, but that job has to be in line with her job series and grade otherwise she can bring the union in to contest it. Also, reorgs typically have to approved by Congress, which takes forever and opens things up to a lot of scrutiny. Agencies have some power to realign themselves, so OP could find herself in an even more irrelevant position later, but they still can’t fire her without going through due process.

          1. Quickbeam*

            I was a union protected, permanent (10 years) government employee with the highest possible reviews …and my job was eliminated in one pen stroke. They can and will do that. I did have rights to transfer which I did. Finally ended up back in the private sector. It can be done and is done all the time.

          2. Hapless Bureaucrat*

            Yeah, it varies greatly depending on the government– even governments of the same type can have very different policies. An quite a few have potential administration changes coming up in two years. Without knowing what level of government she’s in, it’s hard to know how safe she is.

          3. Genny*

            Right, they can eliminate the position, but they have to move you somewhere else in line with your job series and grade. It may not be your dream job and the transfer process can get ugly (have definitely seen that happen), but it’s not like she’s going to be out of a job as soon as a new political appointee comes in. By all means she should think long-term about what she wants professionally, I just don’t think the considerations brought up in this thread are so pressing that they need to have much weight in her decision to keep this job or find a different one.

            My biggest concerns would be my corridor reputation and keeping my network in shape. I wouldn’t want to become known as that person who’s retired in place, because that reputation combined with a stale network could make it hard for her to transfer jobs.

            1. Jules the 3rd*

              And that network is exactly what the ‘taken over’ jobs remove.

              I think I’d ask my boss to share exec updates – maybe let OP do every other one? And then fill time with that big backlog of internal projects that no one ever has time for. Hunt for one that could become important if done well.

              But if OP can’t get some network face time, it is probably time to start looking. Find a different solution for the childcare problems, either way. If they’re happening enough that they’re a factor for work, there’s a structural gap to address.

    2. RosieC*

      Even if no one sees her as particularly “dead weight” getting cut out of all those meetings and opportunities to interact with bigwigs/the public will put her behind in career growth. Seeing and being seen (to do good work) is so important for future opportunities, especially in government.

      1. Atrophy was fun for the first year*

        This. Also, I’m in a somewhat similar but not quite as dire situation (I have things to do, but they’re largely unseen and unused) and am feeling like my soft skills are atrophying, in addition to not really being able to flex my professional muscles much. While there are certainly MUCH worse situations to be in, in OP’s shoes where transfers are maybe possible, I would follow both her husband’s advice (bask in bandwidth for personal projects at home) but also start investigating possible openings elsewhere.

    3. kittymommy*

      I’m actually thinking it’s possible the opposite might happen. it sounds like Jane found herself as irrelevant in the last change over and is trying to rectify that by inserting herself in everything. If there’s another changeover in 4 years (or 2, not sure which election this in reference to), then what will probably happen and sounds like what has happened, they’ll clean house of the top people, and need someone to help transition – hence the LW might come in handy. I’ve seen this type of thing happen ALOT in the others government/elected offices I work with. It’s why I haven’t moved to them even though I would earn a lot more, I’d be eliminated in a changeover.

    4. dramalama*

      This is where my paranoid brain went too. Without any clue why Jane would be doing what she’s doing, my first thought was OP is getting fattened for the slaughter.

  2. Hey Karma, Over here.*

    Ahh, the conundrum of the golden handcuffs. I’ve felt like that in my job over the years. When the next election comes around, is there a real chance that the new head will restructure again? Or that you will be given a chance to discuss your role and how it’s changed and where you’d like it to change back? Especially because your outstanding reviews. You might been seen as a force in the department. If so, four years is not a lot of time, and you can use it to really think about and create a new plan for your career.

    1. Hills to Die on*

      Speaking as someone who is very busy in 2 separate jobs, I would kill to get in on this. I get the point, and I love challenging and engaging work. But Holy Shirt! Get a 2nd freelance job and do it during your downtime at this job. What a gift!

      1. CheeryO*

        I’d be surprised if OP’s agency allowed that. I’m in state government, not federal, but that kind of thing is a big no-no.

        1. Hapless Bureaucrat*

          Huge. HUGE no-no. We fire people for that.

          Looking for work while on the job, however… no code of ethics violation there.

          1. Yikes Dude*

            LW has mentioned that the boss has supported them with professional development opportunities. Spending her time training on every possible relevant skill on Skillshare or Lynda.com is also not a code of ethics violation.

        2. Not always*

          I’ve heard that in fed gov, if you do get another job (you are allowed), you must show the agency every single contract you sign and they have to approve it. But they generally approve it from my understanding.

          1. Hapless Bureaucrat*

            It’s not having a second job that’s the problem (although my agency does occasionally deny specific jobs for conflict-of-interest reasons). It’s doing it using government resources: on your paid work hours, with your work computer, etc, etc.

          2. Huh?*

            No, I’ve been in Federal contracting for over thirty years. You must obtain approval by the office of counsel before taking outside employment. You also cannot work on any contract or procurement where you may have a conflict of interest. We are completing the annual financial disclosure exercise right now.

            1. LizM*

              It must vary by agency. We do not have to get permission before taking a second job, unless that job is from a prohibited source. If it’s a prohibited source, we do need explicit, written permission from our ethics counselor. (Just helped an employee navigate this when he sought employment during the shut down).

      2. Washi*

        I understand this response, and would have felt the same in my last job, but now that I have a good bit of downtime in my current job (maybe 5-10 free hours/week, even with the projects I make up for myself) I see what the letter writer is talking about. It’s one thing if you have your own office, but out in my cubicle, I have appear to be working the majority of the time. So I’m spending my day staring at my screen, fiddling around with stuff, always keeping excel open on the side, clicking away from the Atlantic or whatever if someone approaches my desk…it’s the same sort of sensation as like, the 6 hours you might spend in an airport waiting for your next flight. Yeah, you’re not working, but you’re also not exactly relaxing.

        So I’d rather be underworked than overworked, but my #1 preference is to have about the right amount of work!

    2. Holly*

      Oh, I thought the same thing when I was in the same situation a job ago, when I was hoping everyday that the rumors about a change-over of our directors were true and going to happen soon.
      Except that never materialized, and I spent close to three years (!!!) pretending to work, but the truth was most of my days were spent reading most of the Crime section on Longform, Cracked and Buzzfeed listicles, and manga. It was virtually stress-less, sure, and made for an easy paycheck, but it just wasn’t fulfilling professionally. I only had the prestige of my institution to brag about but not the accomplishments and experience that should have come from working there.
      I quit that job when a better offer came along, and as Alison said, it isn’t easy transitioning from a slow-paced office to a proper, corporate environment. I am still adjusting, but it’s a whole lot better already.

  3. Sally*

    I feel you, OP. I am also in a cushy job where my brain is atrophying, but I keep turning down every chance to leave because I have a toddler and am trying to conceive another human. It just seems foolish to voluntarily put myself in a more stressful, potentially less-paid position right now. Even if it were something I would enjoy more and would advance my career more. At the same time, I don’t love this feeling of stagnancy. It’s hard being a working parent with young kids.

    1. First Time Caller*

      Yup. I have stayed in a job I should have left because I am well-paid and was just about to have to go through IVF and now I am pregnant and about to give birth (yay!). I know intellectually my reasons for staying are sound, but emotionally it feels like every day I’m going backwards. My boss, like OP’s Jane, has taken over most of my projects in the name of being “collaborative” and I mostly sit in the office and do admin work and read AAM.

    2. Sleepless*

      I had this same situation at the same stage of my life. I was bored silly at work, my boss wasn’t letting me do anything, but I had a ton of downtime and flexibility. I stayed for quite awhile, until suddenly a job opportunity just appeared, with just as much flexibility and a ton more to do. I took it and it was great! But it was really hard to get back up to speed. I’m glad I didn’t stay in that job for one more minute.

    3. Smia*

      Yup. I had this job when my son was in elementary and stuck with it. Got my master’s degree (mostly online) during that time. Once he was in middle school and more self sufficient, I got a better job.

    4. oh so very anon*

      This. What phase of your life are you in? You say you are given time off for child emergencies. Is this a big factor in your life right now? Who would take this over if you couldn’t? Is your husband’s schedule flexible enough to do this? If not, what backup plans do you have?

      Not saying you shouldn’t look elsewhere. Just that a job figures in as part of an entire life, and sometimes you have to suck it up in one area because other areas need you more.

      Just consider that in your decisions, is all I’m saying.

    5. wandering_beagle*

      I am in a similar cushy job situation and want to leave so badly to make a career change. I even tried to leave this place 1.5 years ago — took a different contract at different company for a year, which was really rough (my little ones were 1 and 3 at the time). Now I’m back at the same place I was originally. I’ve decided that I’m just going to have to tough it out here until at least one or both kids start elementary school — a career change just isn’t possible for me while I’m paying for child care. As someone who enjoys learning and being challenged, being in this situation is so, so frustrating. But I’m trying to keep it in perspective… I have a 20+ years of career left, so there will be time.

    6. Forrest*

      I was in this situation until two weeks ago, and may be in it again in two weeks! Right now there’s a possibility of a secondment to a management role for six months, so cross fingers for me! If I don’t get it, I will carry on in my well-paid but frustrating part-time and I’m going to politely and proactively get on with everything that I haven’t been strictly forbidden from doing, even if my manager thinks it’s something he should be leading on.

      LW, I know nothing about American government work, but are there no opportunities for internal transfers where you’d keep your pay grade and at least some of your perks? In the Irish or British civil service, you seem to be constantly expected to apply for the next grade or move to new projects and teams. Are there any internal opportunities to look out for?

      Alternatively, what about looking for higher-level voluntary work like trusteeships or governorships? Obviously this doesn’t combine perfectly with small-childness, but if you’ve got free time during the day then being involved in higher-level and strategic work in a voluntary capacity might keep your brain warmed up.

    7. audenc*

      I know Sheryl Sandberg got some flack for “Lean In”, but as part of the book’s target demographic (basically, an upwardly mobile, career-oriented white woman at the start of my professional career at the time), I found some of its advice useful.

      But the one thing that rang false then and even more so now that I’m in my early 30s was her idea of “don’t leave before you leave” – basically telling women not to try to take on more flexible jobs or roles in *anticipation* of having kids. Finding a job that will accommodate the schedules of working parents who can’t afford (or don’t want) a nanny is not easy to do, and the few friends I’ve had who’ve left the workforce after having kids often were in higher-pressure roles that did not allow them the needed flexibility.

  4. Clorinda*

    At the very least, this is an opportunity for an absolutely luxurious job search. You can afford to be picky right now. I do think you should start looking, though, because boredom can become torture.

    1. NW Mossy*

      YES – think of it like browsing in a store full of antiques. Many things won’t be to your taste, some will come with unacceptable downsides (priced too high, poor condition, etc.), but when you have time to search and sift, you may come away with a lovely thing you’d otherwise not have found.

      Job hunting from a position of wanting to rather than having to is a significant advantage, because it actually makes you a better candidate. You’re more relaxed because each interview isn’t make-or-break, you can be highly selective in what you apply for and offers you consider, and you’re less likely to rationalize red flags in the interview process.

    2. Beth*

      This is my thought as well. You might as well run an ongoing search for any dream jobs that might open up! You have the time and flexibility to job hunt, and you also have the income and stability to allow you to look for what you’d want instead of needing to take something. Who knows–maybe you’ll find a position that pays just as well and also allows you to use your brain the way you want!

    3. Cassandra*

      This is how I would approach this dilemma as well. You’ll likely get a glowing rec from Jane (unless I misread things, which is possible), you have all the time in the world to search, and you’re in what is (even now) what they call a “target-rich environment” for a job hunt.

      I am admittedly the sort of person who absolutely can’t stand a stultifyingly boring environment for very long… but even if you’re not that sort of person, OP, your situation is suboptimal for the career-development reasons Alison mentioned. Get out and into something better!

    4. Parenthetically*

      Absolutely this. And I think if OP is actively looking, even if she is super picky, it’ll diminish some of that feeling of Oh Gods It’s Going To Be Like This Forever. Like, nah, you’ll find something that ticks all the boxes eventually, but meanwhile you’ve got a cushy, easy rest stop along your career highway.

    5. Hapless Bureaucrat*

      Absolutely this. If nothing else, it’ll give OP data points to either confirm or refute the hypothesis that this job has benefits and flexibility you can’t get elsewhere.

    6. Workfromhome*

      As many others have said “Job search heaven”. Working from home with little to do you are almost being paid (and well paid at that) to look for a better job.

    7. Smithy*

      100%

      The act of applying for jobs, getting the resume ready, doing interviews will also help the OP practice talking about her job and skills. So even if the daily work is providing brain atrophy – planning for interviews and answering questions about achievements are great ways to stay limber.

      I would also add that from what I do know about a lot of federal employees (though obviously not all) is that typically tenure is longer than in the corporate or nonprofit world. So if the OP has been with a certain agency or job for 5-10 years (or more)- a few years of little growth isn’t as damning as it would be if she’s only been in the role for say 2 years before this happened.

  5. Jam Today*

    OMG take the money and run. Use your free time to read, take online classes, learn a new language, write the Great American Novel, whatever you want to keep your brain sharp. This sounds like a dream.

    1. nonprofit writer*

      The things is, though, it’s really hard to write a novel (or do the other things you mention, except reading stuff online) when you’re supposed to be working. Even if her boss doesn’t give her enough work, even if she has a private office, it’s really hard to relax enough to feel comfortable doing that stuff on the clock. I know because I’ve tried. My situation wasn’t as extreme as the OP’s; I definitely had responsibilities, but they diminished over time and even with new ones that my boss let me take on in order to fill the time, I still didn’t have enough work. Which seemed like a dream, since I *did* want to write a novel. But I just couldn’t do it at work.

    2. Hey Karma, Over here.*

      My work has natural down periods built into it. Document production, meet the deadline, wait for the next project to start. My boss was promoted from within so she understands and states that you don’t have to look busy for her benefit. Use the time discreetly and be ready to work. I learned a new language, earned a masters and other things because their wasn’t the fear that someone would look over and say, why ARE you on Duolingo?

      1. Elemeno P.*

        This. I realized my job had a lot of downtime after I’d been here for a year, but my bosses have always been explicit that they don’t care how my time is used as long as I stay within a set hour range and get all my work done. Now I’m almost done with my Master’s.

    3. Chris*

      It’s really not. I had that kind of job a few years ago and I can say truthfully that I started to dread the beginning of the next work week. There is just only that much stuff to do if you are sitting in front of a computer in an office 8 hours a day, 7 days a week. And there is a big difference of having free time and deciding to work on a novel, learn a language, read a book or do whatever and having to do all these things because there is nothing else to do.

      I had a short commute to work, a boss I liked, colleagues I liked and all that stuff and I am so happy that I changed my job and got other things to do. Things that challenge me are interesting, sometimes frustrating. Deadlines that have to be met and customers who are interested in what will be finished when. It’s a difference like day and night. After a year they asked me if I wanted to change back to my old job. The answer was “hell, no”.

  6. Birch*

    Stay another year/few years. Look around for what you’d love to do, really think about it. Save a fudgeton of money. Get your personal goals to the “amazing” point in all areas. Find and attend all professional developments, trainings, technique seminars, etc. that you can–things that will be applicable in other companies. Take classes on something that interests you, just for the heck of it. This is an opportunity to take a breather, spend some time on yourself, assess your professional goals. Take the opportunity with the knowledge that you can move on whenever you want! Knowing you’re not trapped and actually have the power and this nice cushy buffer between you and whatever risk/situation is next will give you more agency over using this time to your best advantage.

    1. Queen Esmerelda*

      This is what I was thinking. Take every development they’ll send you to, attend seminars, look into online classes. This will keep your brain working and open up some networking opportunities as well.

    2. Not So NewReader*

      This is great advice. I stayed at one draining job because of my personal goals. To me these were big goals. I hit all but the last one, and that one was completed after I quit the job. I had saved up enough money to finish my degree, so I did. The only way I survived that job was because I kept completing my personal goals.
      If you decide to stay, OP, get your list of goals together and work that list with all you have. On a bad day you can pull your list out and see how well you are actually doing.

      The problem I had with my job was way too much work. But if I were faced with a job with not much to do, I would have to leave. I have no patience for hanging out all day and doing nothing. Zero patience. You know you best, so go with what you know about you.

  7. Kassie*

    I think something missing in all this is the ethical piece. This isn’t a big corporation spending money on some dead weight. This is taxpayers and tax dollars that are being wasted. That’s not right. I too am a government employee and my head is always with what taxpayers would think if they knew how I spent my day. I’d go over her head and explain the situation and ask for more work. There is always work to be done and good people are always needed.

    1. noahwynn*

      It is not her choice though, it is the agency leadership’s choice. She is fulfilling the role they gave her, nothing unethical about that from my view.

        1. Academic Addie*

          That’s such an over-the-top response.

          Jane needs to delegate better. But government jobs are just that – jobs. She gets to struggle with whether or not she wants to keep working under a manager who isn’t delegating appropriately. She’s not doing something untoward.

        2. Annette*

          Wasting taxpayer money by reading the news at work is not at all like committing genocide. Dramatic commenters miss the point by a wide margin.

      1. Person from the Resume*

        If LW leaves, there is no reason to think the position will remain unfilled. Jane has convinced leadership she needs someone to do the work the LW does.

        This is not the LW’s problem to solve.She just needs to decide if

    2. Nicelutherangirl*

      I’m glad you raised that issue, just to get it out in the open, even though there isn’t anything practical the OP can do to change anything at her agency. I agree with the other posters here that the work load isn’t the OP’s fault, and what she wrote in her letter indicates she’s conscientious and very likely a hard worker. I’m not anti-government or anti-tax by any stretch, but I can see how many people would read this and then feel justifiably angry at how their tax dollars were being wasted, providing an under worked employee with benefits that many of them could only dream about.

    3. NotAnotherManager!*

      Everyone at EPA, most of State, and a number at Education would be happy to explain to you what they’d like to be doing with their day versus what they’re allowed by the appointees that run their department/agency/bureau/administration/commission to do with their day. There are a number of career civil servants hanging on desperately for 2020 hoping that someone whose mission is not to destroy their life’s work shows up. Why should they have to give up their job for what they’re hoping is a four-year hiatus from normal operations?

    4. Marthooh*

      I think you’re misrepresenting the situation. As I understand it, there’s enough work for two, but Jane wants to do most of it — she complains about being overworked. It’s ridiculous mismangement on her part, but the taxpayers seem to be getting two salaries worth of work here.

  8. Anon For This*

    My current boss sounds a lot like Jane. He is motivated by being seen in the industry as a well-connected industry expert. He feels that when his reports (directors/senior managers) interact with influential people that he is missing the opportunity to be seen as a well-connected insider. Of course he’d never admit to it.

    1. KTB*

      OMG, my last boss was TOTALLY that guy. His whole thing was being the guy who knew everyone and was everyone’s go to for everything. Working for him and attempting to be a successful manager/subject matter expert in my own right was a total nightmare.

  9. Name Required*

    OP, I feel your pain. It was hard getting back to a quicker pace after leaving my boring but comfortable job, even when leaving for a job that was less fast-paced than the more stressful position I had originally been in. It was a definite disservice for me professionally and intellectually. Any chance of having an open conversation with Jane about your concerns of the long-term impact, or any new projects that utilize this so-called increase in “leadership” that could lead to even better opportunities?

  10. Anon today*

    I wonder if she could apply for a detail assignment somewhere else in the agency, which will both kill time until November 2020 and give her something to put on her resume.

    1. RosieC*

      This is a great idea, and if Jane is so up on professional development, it might not be that hard a sell. OP just has to make sure they have somewhere to land afterwards.

    2. Not All*

      This excellent advice.

      A lot of us whose careers are in things like environmental protection and social justice have been sidelined under this administration…about the best we can do is try to keep things in life support and try not to draw the attention of political appointees whose mission is to destroy our agencies.

      1. 2horseygirls*

        Or is it possible to use the time (somehow) to collaborate with nonprofits in the field? I imagine that they are picking up a lot of the slack with particular agencies being under fire, and would be crazy grateful for your input and expertise.

    3. LQ*

      This! Look for out of class/out of role work elsewhere in the agency or in another agency. Either a short term or long term assignment. Do something where you can retain your current role (this may vary depending on how you are set up for your state) but work somewhere else or on some other special project.

      1. Hapless Bureaucrat*

        Speaking of special projects, there’s another option. If there’s a continuous improvement project or other special project somewhere in the agency that needs staffing but doesn’t have an out of class or detail assigned, asking to help with it could work. Sounds like it would need to be low-profile enough that Jane isn’t tempted to take it on herself, but important enough that it makes sense to have someone from agency leadership there.
        And there are almost always projects out there that everyone knows need doing but no one has the FTE to do it.

    4. Mockingjay*

      Came to say the same. Find another assignment – even a temporary one – to activate your brain, while you retain your seniority, pay, and benefits. My government agency (I am a contractor) is screaming for good people in several positions on our program. Check your agency’s internal job listings. The descriptions are probably in ‘Governmentese’, so ask around for details. (Our program is much more interesting than the generic, dry job postings.)

    5. Not So NewReader*

      Am chuckling. One of the survival things I have done is to look around for the tasks that no one wants to do. These are the tasks that feel as mundane as sweeping the floor or changing the oil in the car. The tasks have to be done, no one has time and no one does them. Some how most times it works into something much bigger and becomes a feather in my cap. OP, you may want to look around for opportunities like this that can expand themselves as you go along.

  11. just my opinion*

    I’m in this exact situation myself, except it’s not going to change, ever, because management doesn’t change with every election cycle. I don’t know whether the brain atrophy is something I can get past, though this might sound like a dream job.

    1. Seeking Second Childhood*

      I get the feeling her boss is trying to preserve *herself* after the next election…

  12. Govworker*

    A lot of people will have a strong reaction to this story because they often have to work multiple (and sometimes bad) jobs and this picture of the government with these slow, well-paying jobs that you cannot even lose unless you do something horrific pisses people off. My gov job, although not as well-paying and not high ranking, is slow too and I’m looking elsewhere because I’m frankly shocked at the pace of work and everything else. I’ve seen people sleep in their cubicles, read NYTimes all day and what not. If you’re in for the money and the perks, I’d say sure keep it and enjoy the ride until the next president, although from the moral standpoint it’s a cop out. We’re being paid by everyone else, you know? But Alison is right, it makes sense to look for something where you’re actually contributing and developing your skill set.

  13. PitaChips*

    I’m in a very similar situation – bored with very little to do, excellent reviews, and good pay/perks. I’ve been in this situation for close to 2 years.

    It was great for the first 6 months, then tedious. Guilt-inducing. Irritating. Weirdly exhausting, in that doing nothing all day makes me shut down.

    My personal recommendation: Enjoy it for a little while – write your book, perhaps. But then, I would go with Clorinda’s suggestion and conduct a “luxurious job search.”

    1. henrietta*

      This. The more I have nothing to do, the more easily inconvenienced I become. There’s an aphorism for that: when you want something done, give it to a busy person.

      If a luxurious job search carries you into the next administration, it’s certainly possible that Jane’s roles will once again be re-org’d and the OP will either be busy again or shifted elsewhere.

    2. Sleepless*

      Sitting around all day with nothing to do is exhausting. And it makes the stuff you do have to do so much harder. My job has an unpredictable flow by its nature, and I hate slow days with a passion.

    1. seller of teapots*

      Wow, that’s unnecessarily harsh, and really not in the spirt of comments here at AMA.

      The OP keeps asking for more work and is not recieving it. What other option is there? She is considering leaving specifically because she feels she is not being given enough work—so she can stop wasting “your” money.

    2. Aunt Vixen*

      Let’s suppose you make $100,000. At the most super-basic level of analysis that would make your federal tax burden about $17,000. There are approximately two million federal employees. If each of them were paid equally -which they’re not, but bear with me for one more second – your personal contribution to each would be a little more than three-quarters of one cent.

      It’s not your money.

    3. Maya Elena*

      I generally agree with you, but I can’t really fault an individual for taking advantage of what they are given by a system they don’t control, when they don’t actively compromise operations (contrast with someone being very slow at DMV). Your comment would be better warranted if OP acted in any way entitled to her perks persisting, or angry if they were going away (or she was downsized).

  14. Maya Elena*

    I’d say to out your energy into networking and getting projects in your organization if you can so that you don’t die of guilt and boredom, buy otherwise say.

    With regards to your employability later: if you’re not super ambitious (CEO OR BUST) and just want good pay for decent mildly rewarding work and some growth, you will find it. While your wages or career stage will suffer relative to what they would be if you were more of a go-getter and had no kids, do you want that? And many people in respect a decision to “lean out” for family reasons, or just a value structure where work is not primary.

    Another reason to stay: are you in a position to give a new job 100%? I am in a similar situation to you (though much less dire). I want to leave but my circumstances are such that I can’t do long hours or go all in at a sexier company without compromising other things in my life, so I’m staying.

  15. Betsy S*

    IMHO this is a good time to think about where you want to be in five or ten years, when the kids are bigger. Do you want to be an author? Finish your book. Have you thought about going back to school or getting a professional cert? Great time to take courses. If you want to advance in your current job and your current area, good time to start that leisurely job search and look for something that is parent-friendly while offering more opportunities for advancement.
    Or maybe you do decide to take the career hit now to trade for time with the kids. I’ve found working from home to be a HUGE perk, but it also does reduce your visibility in the organization if it’s not something people do.

    Also think about what happens in three years when the next manager rotates in. You’ll have glowing reviews and no tasks. A sane manager would use you more wisely – are you in a position to tell whether that is likely to happen?

  16. Dragoning*

    Because this is a government position, and possibly a high-level one, my gut is wondering if Jane is setting you up to take the fall for something and desperate to keep you until that comes down.

    1. Jess*

      This. She’s finagled it so that you -have- a job now, and she has a job now, and you are protected, and she is protected, but if someone has to go (which is a reasonable scenario to be prepared for with the current administration), you can take the fall and her department won’t suffer. And, regardless of who wins the 2020 election, she will be in a much better position than you at that time.

    2. OlympiasEpiriot*

      I have to agree here.

      Make sure you have copies of the documentation of all these glowing reviews.

      1. Krabby*

        I have to agree, although instead of taking the fall, I read it as being set up to get chopped as soon as another re-org happens. If there’s a cushion of superfluous people then Jane gets to cut them all and look like the hero taking on all those extra jobs. If more work comes in then Jane is safe and has surrounded herself with loyal people who are thankful she let them coast for a few years (I know this last part isn’t how the coworkers see it, but Jane will think it is).

        Either way, Jane wins.

  17. Amelia Pond*

    “When I started looking for a new job, my husband stopped me.”

    I have a really big issue with this. Unanimously deciding your spouse has to do/not do something while completely disregarding what THEY want is just not ok. He doesn’t get to make this choice for you. He can express how he feels about it, what his opinion is, but he can’t make the choice. Frankly, it always sounds very controlling when a partner tries won’t “allow” their significant other do something.

    1. Dragoning*

      That sentence could easily be read as “He said something that convinced me to stop, but I’m still unsure.”

    2. Tigger*

      I read it as “I discussed with my husband my new job search and he made some great points, like the paycheck and our childcare situation, that made me reconsider”

    3. noahwynn*

      If taken that way I agree, it is bad. However, I read it like others that he just didn’t immediately agree with her about the job search and presented reasons why she might want to stay in her current position.

    4. Parenthetically*

      That’s not how I read that at ALL! I read it as

      OP: I can’t take the boredom at work. I’m putting my resume out there again.
      Husband: Whoa, hang on a minute, the money and benefits are amazing, the hours are flexible, you have freedom to do stuff around kid-caring that my job doesn’t allow… I know it’s stultifying, but what about all those perks?

      Not

      OP: I can’t take the boredom at work. I’m putting my resume out there again.
      Husband: I won’t allow you to look for a job. You have to stay in this job regardless of what you want.

      1. Jennifer*

        I agree. If this were my husband, I may have said the same thing. Especially if we had kids and my job didn’t allow for the same flexibility. He’s just reminding her of the benefits for their family.

      2. gbca*

        Exactly. I think Amelia’s reading of “stopped” was too literal. If it had been the latter conversation, the OP wouldn’t be posting here at all.

        1. Parenthetically*

          Particularly given the fact that the rest of the paragraph is a summary of the list of pros her husband gave her. It’s pretty obvious to me that OP’s using “stopped” to mean “he said ‘hang on, but what about…’.”

      3. Lady Kelvin*

        Same here. My husband was in a rut in his job and really wanted to do something risky (start his own company). As a child of 2 self-employeed people who worked 80 hours a week and still were on food stamps, I said not until I have a stable job (I was a grad student at the time and couldn’t support us). He understood that I have massive fears about job stability and income and so he didn’t leave his cushy, well-paying, boring job. Once I got a job post-grad and felt like we were stable I said, ok, do what ever you want. He’s now helping to build a clean-tech startup and while it is incredibly challenging he’s much happier. Job decisions have to have input from the spouse because both of you are being impacted. A good spouse will not say no, but not yet, or are you sure? Ultimatums either way (“No you can’t leave this job ever.” or “I’m leaving whether you like it or not.”) will ultimately nuke your relationship. Potentially life-altering things like changing jobs have to be a compromise and joint decision.

      4. NotAnotherManager!*

        This was also my interpretation and what would likely go down in my house. My job is not flexible, requires a crapton of hours, and we have children, a house, and pets. Someone’s got to have the flexible job (though my spouse’s is adequate-but-not-high paying and not slow) to handle sports practice, getting everyone to/from school, dinner, etc., though, and I’d want to talk about it before he gave that up.

        Nothing in this letter read “spousal control issues” to me, and, at least in our house, job changes are something we talk about together because any change would impact us both.

    5. aelle*

      I don’t think OP meant it as “he forbade it and that was the end of that”, or she wouldn’t be writing in. “My husband asked me to pause and consider his points” is more like it.

      Also, in my marriage, career decisions are absolutely joint decisions. Any change in finances, hours, childcare arrangements impacts both of us, so we discuss it upfront and make plans together. It’s not about control, it’s about managing joint responsibilities.

      1. Rainy days*

        +1 Marriage is a join venture, and I absolutely discuss career moves with my husband before making them–just as he does with me. If I had serious reservations about the impact on our family it would definitely be enough to stop him from jumping ship on a job–not because I’m in charge of him, but because we’re working to create something that’s bigger than either of us alone.

    6. Green*

      The rule here is that we don’t nitpick the language of letter writers like this. She’s not writing in asking for marital advice and there are NO indicators here of anything except people reading way too much into a sentence.

      My husband “stopping me” would sound like, “Hm, are you sure? You seem a lot less stressed than you did at Old Job, at least. Maybe you could work on your book!”

    7. Forrest*

      Yes, I thought this dynamic seemed pretty unfair here. I doubt LW meant “he forbade me”, but I think it’s worth noticing that LW’s husband is getting all of the benefits—high salary, partner with a flexible schedule, ability to concentrate at work whilst someone else does the daytime childcare-emergency—and none of the downsides. He’s not the one sat staring into space and wistfully remembering what it was like to have a purpose and wondering whether you’ll ever have one again!! I do hope he’s taking into account that your professional happiness and advancement ALSO matter, not just the salary and flexibility.

      1. Doodle*

        ???
        LW is getting plenty of benefits: high salary, flexible schedule, plenty of professional development opportunities, ability to take care of kid emergencies (instead of the flurry of phone calls/texts and distraction and worry that happens when both partners are working inflexible schedules). Doesn’t sound unfair to me, just *different*

        1. Mary*

          I didn’t say that she wasn’t getting any benefits, just that she’s the only one experiencing the downsides. Much easier for her husband to focus only on the benefits because he’s not experiencing the costs!

    8. The Man, Becky Lynch*

      I rolled my eyes at the tone I read it in as well. It came across the same way to me but I’m always keen to avoid unsolicited relationship advice.

      I got chirped at by do gooders as well when I moved for my partner. “Why can’t he move for you instead?! You’re setting women back raaah blaaaah” and it enraged me. So not my marriage, not my place to give unsolicited advice.

  18. Auburn*

    When I had babies/toddlers this would have been my dream situation. My ambition came back as soon as my youngest was wiping her own butt. lol.

    It’s ok to want to feel a sense of purpose in your work. And it’s ok to be ambitious and want more. If the positives of great pay and flexibility make it worthwhile for this phase in your life that’s ok too (and think of it as a phase in your life. the having tiny kids phase is really not as long as it feels when you’re in it) then find other ways to scratch that itch of higher level involvement that will keep those parts of your brain active and nimble. I joined a nonprofit board and did some high-level volunteer work for them (ran a strategic planning process) when I was feeling super frustrated with my job a couple of years ago. I did that for 2 years and had real accomplishments to show from it. I scaled back and eventually quit when I got a more demanding job that was more fulfilling.

  19. AJK*

    Oh, my goodness, I am in such a similar situation right now! And it’s frustrated me to the point of tears, too – I have been keeping an eye out for other work, but unfortunately there are not a lot of positions in my area for my specific job – most of the alternatives involve a three hour round trip commute and my current one is five minutes, and that’s in addition to the other perks the LW mentioned.
    I’ll be watching the replies on this one!

  20. Shannon*

    Well, I agree with your husband, especially since there’s an election next year. That being said, what’s the reason that Jane is doing this? I feel like this is a big missing piece.

    1. Ask a Manager* Post author

      I had an email exchange with the OP after this was written. It sounds like she thinks Jane is doing this to try to make herself look indispensable. But also, she gave some additional info that would have changed my answer if I’d had it originally! She said that she gets the sense Jane is badmouthing her behind her back — every time she asks someone for something, they cc Jane on the response, and people are pushing back on her requests when they weren’t before. And: “I’m not allowed be alone with the agency head because Jane thinks he’s so awful that I “need to be protected.” Like I’m a kid? If anyone has a complaint about me, they go to Jane and she acquiesces 100% of the time.”

      All of that makes this much more alarming and makes me think she needs to actively work to leave (or to find a way to talk to the agency head alone).

      1. Easy isn't always stressfree*

        Oh, well, this changes a lot. If Jane is doing reputation-level damage and badmouthing, it’s time to go. The job search can still be a pickier one, but that kind of backstabbing will have long term effects after a new administration change.

      2. Secretary*

        Yeah this is disturbing.
        Although, if she’s going to stay anyway it just means she has to go out of her way to build her own relationships and make sure she’s covering her butt every step of the way. Would hate for her to lose her job out of the blue because her manager doesn’t give feedback but instead badmouths her to other people.

      3. Shannon*

        Oh, yeah that adds a completely different layer. She should definitely start job searching, but I know it is tough in the government sector right now. It does seem odd that Jane would be giving her glowing reviews but also undermining her. In government (at least where I work) that would serve no ultimate purpose as no one would be able to fire me/OP unless there were some reviews/PIPs/etc. that said something bad was going on. And the agency head is not going to care about something like this. So I would say, save money from the raises, take advantage of working from home, job search (sorry hubby – show him this thread OP!)

      4. The OP*

        OP here!

        Thanks for all the comments. I hadn’t originally included that bit because it sounded so unbelievable. I had no actual proof. I’d even asked some people and….nothing. I was trying to be as factual in my original letter as possible. When AAM asked follow up questions, I felt compelled to mention it then because I thought it sounded more believable? But a gut feeling continues to nag at me in a way I can’t explain.

        This is truly an exercise in how to write an advice columnist! Heh.

        1. Shannon*

          OP, is this a situation where someone could walk into your office and lay you off one day, or are you protected and they would need some kindof poor reviews, etc. in order to take that step?

        2. Hapless Bureaucrat*

          First of all, it sounds totally believable, especially at the level you’re at.

          Secondly, something pinged for me in your original letter. “Special projects” is, ah, well in my agency it is sometimes code for “too valuable to lose for political reasons, but a terrible manager.” That may or may not be Jane– she might actually be good! But I’d look very closely at her work product, because there’s a chance you’re being set up to take the blame for anything she does that goes wrong.

          You don’t say whether you’re at-will or bargaining unit, but if you’re at-will all this becomes a bigger issue.

            1. ChimericalOne*

              If she’s giving her glowing performance reviews & then badmouthing OP behind her back, hogging overwhelming amounts of work while OP idles haplessly & pretending that the arrangement is perfect for both of them, blocking access to higher ups & pretending it’s for the OP’s protection, then yeah, that’s pretty much gaslighting. She’s lying to OP to try to convince her that things are great while OP is experiencing the reality that they are not. And OP is quite definitely doubting her own experiences because of it.

        3. Celeste*

          I work in a government agency setting, and I’ve seen situations where the person in your position was kept on solely to give the Jane a body to manage in order to have a title (and pay) of Manager. In a re-org, the spots are scrutinized and the manager can be reassigned. It leaves the staffer twisting in the wind.

          I totally get your husband’s fears about you not being able to pick up the childcare slack, but I don’t think you’re in a good situation if you do need the money. It sounds like you could be picked off easily, and it’s so much harder to job hunt when you’re unemployed. I’d be on the hunt now, and like Allison says, don’t tell yourself there isn’t anything as good out there. You can do better than whatever this one has degraded into. I would love to hear an update from you!

        4. chickaletta*

          Gut feelings are important. I’d have my feelers up for something more malevolent going on. You mentioned in your original letter that you use your free time at work to catch up with coworkers – I imagine this is probably a really important thing to do right now given this additional context. Networking, chit chat, going to lunch, water cooler talk — all of that is going to end up doing relationship building and you never know when those connections are going to reveal something crucial. Plus, the more people get to know the real you, the more they’re going to question Jane’s opinion of you if it’s the opposite of what they experience.

      5. OlympiasEpiriot*

        Yup, that’s what I was suspecting might be happening.

        Get access to the agency head alone. Or, if you can’t…
        Then, the answer is GET OUT.

      6. Lynca*

        My hackles were raised when the OP said Jane wouldn’t give her work even when she complained about her workload. This kind of sets me on edge because it can be hard to walk back that kind of reputation damage. I’m not sure what Jane’s end game is since there are glowing performance reviews but I’d be looking for a new job with more urgency.

        1. Not So NewReader*

          Agreed. I became concerned when I read that. OP, you were really smart with your reply to her and her reply back to you tells you tons. No matter how busy she is, OP, she is not going to have work for you. Trust your gut, OP.
          My rule of thumb is people may get paid for doing very little for a while, then things change suddenly. Make a plan of what you will do here. My opinion is get your savings built up as you job hunt.

      7. Lance*

        Would it be worth putting this extra info up in/below the original letter? Because, echoing others’ comments here, these additions are… worrying, and would point me toward, at the minimum, finding a way to move out from under Jane (and being at least a little suspect of her value as a reference).

      8. Mephyle*

        My thought when I read about Jane’s glowing reviews is that she can’t be trusted to keep it up when it’s time to give OP references, as Dragoning suggested above.
        This additional information supports it.

      9. Sarah M*

        Yeah, Jane’s behavior was something that raised alarm bells in my head when I first read OP’s letter. I was trying to figure out what her angle could possibly be. What OP followed up with scares me a bit. She didn’t just reduce OP’s workload, she also reduced OP’s contact with potential work allies. And now she might be badmouthing OP to those other co-workers??? I admit that I have an active imagination, but this really, really makes me nervous for OP.

        OP1: I would *absolutely* be looking for other jobs, including not working directly for Jane but in the same agency.

      10. Detective Amy Santiago*

        Oh holy cow. This makes me feel like the comment above about Jane setting OP up to take the fall for something might not be completely wild speculation.

      11. StressedButOkay*

        Oh wow, that changes it completely! That sounds like Jane’s 100% trying to drive her out – limit OP’s contribution, bad mouth her, restrict her access to upper management…

        It’s time to go, no matter what the soft perks are!

      12. CheeseNurse*

        “I’m not allowed be alone with the agency head because Jane thinks he’s so awful that I “need to be protected.”

        Yikes. I don’t think at all that’s why you’re not allowed to be alone with the agency head. I think Jane doesn’t want you to clue him in on what’s going on with you and Jane, or she has been telling him untrue stories about you, or she wants to keep you out of his sight so you won’t attract any attention, assignments, or good will .

        1. Lance*

          Oh, absolutely; the one being protected by that ‘rule’, as it were, is Jane, and she definitely knows it.

        2. Beth*

          Yeppp. OP, even if the agency head is a terrible, dangerous person, that doesn’t justify Jane blockading you away like a child in need of supervision. She could WARN you about it, she could ADVISE you not to be alone with him…but you’re an adult, you ultimately get to make your own decisions.

          And I’m going to bet that by “not allowed to be alone with the agency head,” you really mean “can only talk to the agency head when Jane is present.” It’s not about your safety–it’s about you not being able to establish relationships or talk with the head without Jane overseeing and controlling it. It’s about protecting Jane’s influence and authority–at your cost–not about protecting your safety.

      13. Mockingjay*

        Well, that’s a horse of a different color.

        OP, transfer. ASAP. Scout the internal listings and start applying. Are there sister agencies that you could go to as well?

      14. LadeeDa*

        Oh wow! That changes everything. She is setting you up to take the fall if anything does go wrong. I really wonder what is happening in meetings– if someone calls Jane out on something- is she already blaming the OP? I don’t know how she is getting away with the bad mouthing and at the same time giving glowing reviews. Proper leadership or an HR business partner would catch on to that and question the glowing reviews and max raises.
        Something is certainly not right in this situation, and not being stimulated or challenged is the least of it.

    2. Move Over Thrawn - Florian Munteanu is BIGGER than you!*

      Don’t gov agencies have some kind of backchannel when there is a problem? Someone to go to when you can’t go to your boss?

    3. Ann O'Nemity*

      I, too, was wondering about Jane’s motivations. The best I could come up with was that when Jane’s old job (special projects) ceased to exist, she looked around and decided the OP’s job sounded good. OP gets sidelined, but Jane softens the blow with glowing evaluations, raises, and other accommodations. Maybe Jane is thinking it’s enough to keep the OP happy until Jane or the next agency head can push out OP.

      1. NotAnotherManager!*

        Jane’s kind of shooting herself in the foot, though. If OP’s reviews are glowing, that’s what’s in the official personnel file, and OP doesn’t report any disciplinary meetings (unless Jane is falsifying those) – if OP has a union or any sort of required disciplinary process, it’s going to be hard to force her out of a government job when she’s got excellent reviews and raises for years.

        I think that’s the tact I’d take with the agency head, “All the feedback I’m getting from Jane is very positive, and I’d love to find an opportunity to use those skills more. Are there any projects I could help with, either within our department/agency or in conjunction with another?”

        1. Shannon*

          Yes, this is online with what I was saying above. If she’s at-will it’s another matter but if not…

  21. Kitty*

    Your husband doesn’t get to decide this for you. Yes, he gets input into your plans, but he doesn’t get to decide that you have to stay in a job that’s making you miserable. It’s not like you’re threatening to quit work completely and leave him as sole provider. As another commenter said, this is a good opportunity for a leisurely, targeted job search – you might even find another job that allows your current flexibility.

  22. Not All*

    I have a feeling that I need to stay away from the comments on this one. But let me preemptively say that pretty much everyone I know in environmental, science, and “greater good” agencies is going to understand where your at. The political appointees for the most part were trying to take down the agencies they were appointed to run. They are for the most part intentionally trying to hamstring them. Very, very few of us have anywhere near the work that we had 3 years ago because this administration is actively opposed to it. All we can do is try to keep little under-the-radar projects going & come up with creative descriptions/justifications that make the appointees think we aren’t really trying to help natural resources or minorities. And keep our fingers crossed that in Nov 2020 we can get back to working our tails off for the agencies we believe in and take endless public abuse for working for.

    1. OlympiasEpiriot*

      I have been hearing this from fellow engineers and scientists. The only ones who are still doing their projects are related to USACE or others who get their budget from the Pentagon.

    2. Forrest Rhodes*

      Your comment really touches me, NotAll. You and your colleagues are in a rotten position, and I deeply wish that you (and we all, for that matter) weren’t. Thank you for what you are doing, and … well, heck. All I can do is send you good wishes.

    3. LadeeDa*

      Thank you for posting this. Over the last couple of years I have wondered about this very thing, and how soul-crushing it must be to be working for a cause/agency that one believes in but to have an administration that won’t let you save the environment/feed the homeless/aid the veterans/or whatever it is you should and want to be doing.
      I hope that this nightmare will all be over soon and people like you can get back to doing the work you believe in.
      Thank you for sharing and hang in there!!

    4. NotAnotherManager!*

      I am hearing a lot of the same from friends and neighbors who work for various federal government entities. A lot of them are very torn about staying under the current conditions or riding it out and hoping that things get back to normal in 2020. For the ones who believe strongly in the intended mission of their agency/unit/etc., the triple-whammy of being hamstrung, pilloried, and furloughed has been very difficult.

    5. Frances*

      I’ve heard this from my friends. And the ones who are busy are spending their time trying to keep their agencies from doing something illegal, since their political appointee bosses have little to no relevant experience.

    6. Where’s my coffee?*

      Good god how awful. Keep up hope, there is still 2020 and still much good work to be done.

  23. Former Computer Professional*

    Tons of free time and lots of income? Go back to school and get a degree or two. “I don’t have as many accomplishments in my current job because, with my boss’s permission, I concentrated on my recent degrees in AstroCanine Biology and Underwater Stenography.”

    1. LadeeDa*

      Those sound like fun degrees, I would like to get a PhD in Dog Cuddling and spend my days with good boys giving out belly scratches and cuddles.

  24. Rodrigo*

    I work in a place that is sorta like that, in that I get six months of very light workload.
    In the three years I’ve been here, I:
    – brushed up my french, portuguese and picked up basic notions of other three or four languages on Duolingo, the first year
    – rewrote my thesis, the second year (and I’ll probably work on it a bit more this year)
    – wrote a novel last year. A long one, around 200,000 words.

    And now I’m writing this comment because I have nothing to do right now.

    The point is: there are plenty of things you can do with all that free time to improve yourself. I would like to move on to academia at some point, so that’s why I’m working on a good thesis (in addition to helping out at my uni on my spare time)

  25. irene adler*

    What about increasing the networking avenues? Talking after work, not during. Are there professional organizations for folks in gov’t? That might generate information on what all is “out there” job-wise.

  26. Beth*

    OP, if you’re unhappy in your current role and the perks aren’t balancing that out for you, I want to validate that as a legitimate concern. Yeah, the stable income is nice…but other jobs will pay money too. Yeah, the regular raises and professional development are nice…but there’s no guarantee your boss will keep offering these kinds of perks a year or two down the line when you’re functionally not contributing much (not your fault, but still–relying on a boss’ goodwill isn’t a stable kind of stability). Yeah, the flexibility is convenient for your family…but you’re unhappy.

    If your gut is telling you that you need a job that’s going to challenge you more, I think you owe it to yourself to at least look for that. If you don’t find anything better, you can always stay where you are. But you might find something fantastic–you won’t know unless you try!

  27. Jennifer*

    I think Jane has something up her sleeve but not sure what. This is very weird. Is she setting you up? Keep an eye on her and document all the times you have asked about getting more work and her responses.

    As Alison said, this would be a great situation for a lot of people, especially parents or people with chronic health issues. You do have a few projects you are working on that you could list on a resume even if your contribution has been minimal. You have to decide what’s best for your career and for your family.

  28. MLB*

    I get it. I work for a government subcontractor. My team is bare bones, and we need to be available as needed. But the as needed is very infrequent. And we are a small company under a large company umbrella, so we can’t bid for small business work on other projects, since we aren’t technically small business. I spend most of my time on the internet or binge watching stuff on Netflix. It may sound great, but it’s reallllllly boring. But I recently got the green light to start an online certification program that the company is paying for, and since I’m not super busy, I’ll be able to use my down time at work to learn and study. And having the certification will help me when I’m looking for a new job. So I would weigh the perks of your current work/life balance vs. the ability to find a new job when the time comes having not a lot of experience growing and learning since Jane took over most of your job duties. It may make sense to give it some time, and make the move when it makes more sense in your life.

  29. Plain Jane*

    If nothing else, a job search would allow you to really see what’s out there so you have a better idea of whether the perks you are presently getting really wouldn’t be offered somewhere else.

    1. LQ*

      And even if you do get another job, you don’t have to take it if it isn’t the right fit for you. I think an occasional job search is healthy, even if you are mostly happy with your role.

  30. Easy isn't always stressfree*

    I totally empathize. I’m in a very similar situation. I had a very fast paced, demanding, rewarding job and switched gears to a family business situation. It’s much more relaxed, not at all demanding, the work isn’t as rewarding, and I feel like I’m not applying my skills the best way I can. My goodness, it stresses me out!!! I operate very well at a fast-paced level, and I feel like I fade when it’s too slow. And, since I changed industries, I fear I’m getting to the point (2 years) that I’m becoming too far removed to re-enter. However, I have a small child and the benefits of this role is that I get time with them, I had generous maternity leave, and I get to work from home whenever I want. So it makes being a parent much easier, logistically. Especially since my partner has a very demanding job. I’m in the danger zone of not knowing how we’d manage if my job was more demanding, so I feel stuck!

    So I’m trying to figure out what to do – I’m doing writing and consulting on the side to keep my brain sharp and keep me in my old industry in case I can’t take the “easyness” of my job and need to go back to my old life. I’m also on a couple of non profit boards, so I have some more professional interaction with folks in different industries and learn some new skills, while contributing my skills. This helps the brain atrophy feeling…a lot.

    Are there any big continuing education things you could do – Masters, PhD? If those could help you in the future when a new administration comes in, this might be a great time to have the time to take the educational plunge if you can. And I’d certainly enjoy a job search. You have an enviable position of searching for a job when you don’t need one. So you can be uber picky, you don’t need to settle for anything, and if you find something – Yahtzee.

  31. The Man, Becky Lynch*

    It depends on you and your needs in the end. I had a job that dried up due to the economy, I was paid to just come in and sit for the day “just in case” something came up that I could handle. It started by being just less than 40 hours, then it went down to I could do it part time, down to 20 hours-ish if that. It was murder on my soul and mind. Even though I had plenty of things I could piss away time doing.

    I ended up spiraling into a deep depression that almost killed me. The only thing that saved me was when I finally looked for a new job that kept me busy enough. Thankfully my partner was supportive of finding another job and being my best self, instead of just saying “Well you’re getting paid so well for doing essentially nothing, what’s so bad!?” I can see your husbands POV and I frown deeply at it because it’s tortourous to someone with my mindset that I need to be readily engaged in something work-wise at least somewhat frequently. Sure you have a flexible schedule and that’s great but it doesn’t save your brain from rotting out of your head and heart from becoming heavy with regret of your talents wasting away to a pool of nothingness.

    I stayed part time with that job after telling them I was leaving or I was getting a part time gig to work on my brain-drainage. I finally reached my happiness again when I was able to piece together 3 jobs that put me at 50ish hours of actual work a week. Sadly I know that a lot of government jobs don’t allow you to have secondary jobs, so if that’s not an option, even more of a dagger straight to my soul!

  32. De Minimis*

    For me it depends on what level of government this is. If it’s federal, there are other opportunities out there.

    If it’s at a different level, yeah, that can be tricky. But I probably wouldn’t leave any organization where I’d put in a significant amount of time as far as the retirement system, etc., unless I was leaving for a job with a similar system in place.

  33. Green*

    I don’t have a Jane, but I’m in a well-paid fairly boring but easy job. Leaving a high-paced job, this was a WELCOME reprieve at first. For years.

    But after a few years, it really does get depressing — if you’re not doing much, the chances of moving up are tougher, and it can feel like you’re wasting away your days. (Because even though I’m not working that hard, it’s not really like “free time” where I can step away from the computer for hours and go about my life.)

    So I view this job as a welcome reprieve when it first began, a chance to be picky in my job search, but ultimately, a chapter it’s time to close.

  34. American Ninja Worrier*

    If I were in OP’s position, I’d use this as an opportunity to work on the personal projects while keeping an eye out for a new position that I could be really picky about. To me that’s the best way to split the difference. Job searching kinda rules when you don’t absolutely need a new job ASAP to keep your lights on.

  35. Bob*

    Heads up Alison – it looks like the version on the Cut is missing a fair chunk of the question? It just seems to start halfway (at least for me).

  36. Need a Beach*

    I’d look at this in a tiered format.

    First tier: Parenting. How old are your kid(s) and do you plan to have more? This sounds like an ideal set-up for working parents of young kids.

    Second tier: Election cycle. How does your child-rearing timeline match up with the ebb and flow of your agency? If you’re done having kids and your youngest will be in school full-time within the next two years, that’s a much different decision than if you’re considering TTC again at some hazy point in the future.

    Third tier: Fulfillment/resume padding. Being light on accomplishments can hurt you, true, but working FT and having kids can involve periods of leaning out, and that’s just how it is sometimes. If your ennui is truly sabotaging your ability to be a good employee/spouse/parent, then by all means bump this tier up in importance–just know that not every phase of life allows for constant nose-to-the-grindstone behavior, and that’s okay.

  37. CommanderBanana*

    OP, Jane sucks and your agency head sucks, and she’s gaslighting you.

    YMMV, but I get horribly depressed – like, need hospitalization-level depressed – when I don’t have enough work. I lasted less than a year at a federal agency because there was NOTHING to do (due to circumstances beyond our control, our department’s operations had ground to a halt) and I could. not. handle. it.

    AAM’s response above may change things, but I’d say that if you want to keep this job and can hack it, fine, but you may want to give yourself an exit date.

  38. Weegie*

    I was in this exact position a few years ago. I invented projects and carried them through; I expanded my internal and external networks and carefully curated my professional profile; I wrote a novel; I took online classes – then eventually I stopped showing up in the office altogether. Nobody noticed! What little work I had to do I carried out at home and only showed my face at work for face-to-face meetings. It was tempting to put up with it and just keep taking the money because I wasn’t that far off retirement, but all the while I was looking for other work, because this kind of situation is ultimately soul-destroying. When I found a new job, it brought a higher salary, greater (official) flexibility, and – best of all – my work is appreciated. Oh, and I’m not expected to take minutes any more. My work ethic had taken a hit and I often had to force myself to not slack off but eventually I got there. Moving on was absolutely the best decision in career and mental health terms.

  39. Bob*

    This is my current situation (minus the badmouthing boss) and I’m job hunting because I too can feel my mind becoming stale.

  40. Rachel*

    I have two friends who wanted to be more challenged and left for new, interesting jobs. Unfortunately, both lost their jobs after one year (due to no fault of their own). I almost took a more prestigious job but decided to stay at my current gig. That job I passed on no longer exists (everyone was laid off). At this age, I will take a stable job with good benefits and salary, and pursue other interests on my own time.

    1. Jennifer*

      +1
      I guess it just depends on how you view work. I do things that feed my brain outside of work and look at my job as a way to support my interests. Having a job that’s intellectually stimulating doesn’t matter as much to me when I can barely afford groceries and utilities and am afraid to go to the doctor because of my high deductible medical plan. It just depends on priorities and where you are in life.

      OP – Just remember that many people don’t have some of the perks you do and they may be difficult to find elsewhere.

  41. SandrineSmiles (France)*

    My job doesn’t pay that much, but I am also in a “comfy” situation (busy-wise : I’m basically a flower pot) . Given my current dire situation, however, I would lean towards “stay and make the most out of it” .

    The pros, at least to me :
    – if you earn that much more than you actually need, you can save up and get an emergency fund just in case something happens to you or your family
    – you can, indeed, be really picky in your job search
    – you can, if you have access to the internet, acquire new skills, learn new things and turn all of this into an asset

    The cons:
    – being bored every day (which can be somewhat turned into a positive if you can do things to pass time once your tasks are done)

    Now, that doesn’t mean your feelings about the job aren’t valid. I can imagine how horrifying it is to be paid to basically “do nothing” and I’m not going to play the “woe is me” card to get you to stay. But given the way your job works, maybe you won’t be in it for that much longer anyway, so you’ll be free soon.

    With that said, if you really, really really just CANNOT stay there any longer, it would be understandable too. I wouldn’t blame you one bit if you’d rather leave.

    I wish you the best, please update us whenever you can, OP. Rooting for you here! (Only difference is I don’t get paid that much but eeeh, wishful thinking on my part hahahahaa)

  42. J.E.*

    I would say take all the professional development courses they’ll pay for and “hoard” all those new skills, then at the next election if things change again and you find yourself out of a job you’ll have a bigger skill set to put toward your search. If things don’t change, then you’ll still have built skills to put toward moving out of there. The part that changes things for me, though, is the additional information that OP sent to Alison. I am puzzled, though, why Jane would keep giving such glowing reviews to OP and then possibly be bad mouthing her behind her back? It does sound a lot like Jane is trying to make herself indispensable so that SHE doesn’t find herself out of a job.

  43. stitchinthyme*

    I had a job like this once. I lasted about three months before I couldn’t take it anymore and started looking elsewhere; a month later I found a new job and left because I could feel my brain turning to mush. I didn’t even have a computer for the first month in that place — and my job is software developer! I literally brought a book and read every day to keep from falling asleep at my desk. I’d ask for stuff to do but my boss was kind of noncommittal.

    One more disadvantage to this sort of thing (which applies more to corporate jobs; I’m not as sure about government ones): If you’re not doing much work and they need to make cuts, you’ll be one of the first ones on the chopping block. (And indeed, at the job I mentioned above, I heard my entire group got laid off sometime later.)

  44. Minocho*

    If you have a side project or hobby that could look work-ish, that may be an option. When I had a job that did not keep me occupied full time, I did webpage coding and novel writing. If the OP is loath to give up the position, this may allow her to stick it out without completely atrophying her skills or being bored all the time, at least to see if this state persists through the next election cycle.

  45. Episkey*

    Before the additional info, I would have said I would stay, work from home as much as possible, and just do things around my house/hobbies/errands/etc.

    But I’m not sure after hearing about this additional stuff. That’s a bit alarming.

  46. Elizabeth Proctor*

    I’m in a similar position to some other parents of toddlers who have posted above. My job is not challenging. It’s not busy. It’s boring. I work for a really small organization so I don’t even really get much socialization out of it. But I get to leave work at work, am paid well, and have a decent amount of flexibility–certainly can take any time I need if my daughter is sick, etc. I liked my old job a lot more, but did not care for the new boss at that old job, which is most of the reason why I left.

    One negative I find, in addition to some of the brain atrophy and the bad habits, is that I sometimes resent being stuck at my job doing nothing while I could theoretically (not actually) be spending time with my kid. If I were busy I a) wouldn’t think I were wasting my time and b) wouldn’t have time to think like that anyway.

    But we want to make a significant move soon so there’s no reason for me to search for a new job yet.

  47. Hummer on the Hill*

    One thing I haven’t seen mentioned in the comments, is that the OP’s husband needs to look at the long game. He has a wife who has a pension (I’m assuming) who’s built up some great soft skills and job history. She needs to keep her brain cells engaged, and although learning new hard skills may result in a lower-paying job for a year or two, eventually it will be mucho bettero for both her and the marriage and their future. All of us who have managed know how valuable and unteachable soft skills are. Combine those with a stable job history and new glitzy hard skills and in the long term, I think they’ll be much better off.

  48. Not my monkeys, not my circus*

    If your organization is paying for training, and it sounds like she is very supportive of this, is there something that you want to do that will help your career down the road. I am thinking of going back to school part time, take a few classes, get accredited as a project manager? Anything? You mention writing a book, are there some writing classes, that maybe can cross over to your professional life. I can stress enough how valuable professional training and taking the time off to do it can be. During my first few years in government, I went back to law school, the campus was two blocks from my work, and in the last two years work actually reimbursed my tuition upon successful class completion. And I didn’t have to make up the time to walk over to class at lunch, or for a couple of hours in the morning. It was a fantastic opportunity, when work was busy I stayed late and made sure things got done. But my boss was doing his PHd so let me know that going to school also would benefit the workplace and was considered training.

  49. anonagain*

    These things don’t sound like perks — it all just sounds shady. If the OP worked with money, I would think Jane was embezzling.

    I obviously have no clue what is actually going on, but if I were the OP, I wouldn’t want to stick around. Whatever it is, I don’t think it is anything good and I think this job might end up tarnishing the OP’s reputation.

  50. MommyMD*

    The good news is this gives you time to look for a job while still earning an income. This would be my tactic. It may take a while but sooner or later someone who has power and cares is going to notice your position is not adding much and is costing the department and job will be deleted. Especially if said job rides political whims. I’ve seen it happen.

  51. Berthel*

    I stayed in a job that I was bored out of my mind in, but paid very well for, while conducting, as Clorinda mentioned above, a “luxurious job search.” I took almost two years before I finally said “I can’t take it anymore” and put my search into high gear. I didn’t realize how how unhappy I was until I got OUT of the situation.

    And to be honest, I think the biggest reason I was so unhappy is because I repeatedly told myself that I should be happier about it because it wasn’t the worst situation to have. Others told me they’d love a situation like mine. But that also made me stay longer than I otherwise would have. I also didn’t realize what a terrible overall culture fit it was until I left. And also — even though I felt I was overpaid in my prior position, I’m actually paid even more in my current one. As AAM says, you don’t actually know if you can’t find something better or not until you look!

  52. huskypunx*

    Get paid to job hunt and GET OUT AS QUICK AS YOU CAN. You have no idea how fast your skills die off until you have to get a new job. I’ve been in this position for 3 years and I’m having trouble landing something. My scenario was something of a long-term bait and switch. I was originally hired by a non-profit for my technical skills in a consulting role but over time the job turned into basically assisting clients with writing complex RFPs. I brought it up to my old boss but she was always adamant that “the work for your skills is coming, this is the year” but she was wrong every time. Brought it up with my new boss (internal promotion) who told me that he doesn’t see any work I could do that I’m not already doing. I feel pissed at the organization for not being honest about their needs in the role changing and pissed at myself for not listening to my gut about moving on. I kept rationalizing it as I’m getting paid well (even for my high cost of living locale) to do very easy work. Well that mindset came back to bite me hard. Haven’t used my technical skills in 3 years and now spending most of my personal time studying/re-training.

  53. Jeff*

    I’m in a similar boat, LW. After a reorg two years ago I now report to the CEO who never assigns me the special projects that make up most of my job description. A few routine reports make up about 10 hours of my work week and I spend the rest of the time on my phone. My performance reviews are always 10/11 or 11/11 on our grading system, my CEO is thrilled with my performance, and as such I usually get raises and bonuses pretty easily.

    So far about two years I’ve skated by in this forgotten job and while it is nice at times, it isn’t totally smooth sailing. I have bouts of depression and boredom from sitting here eight hours a day doing absolutely nothing. I have bouts of paranoia where I’m afraid suddenly I’ll be put on the spot and asked what I’ve been doing for two years. And yes, I worry about brain atrophy and an irreversible decline in my work ethic. I used to he someone who would easily work until 8pm or put in 60 hours a week and after two years of sitting around barely working could I go back to my old work ethic at a new job? I really doubt it.

  54. The New Wanderer*

    The way it reads to me, Jane wants the OP to leave without directly sabotaging her or overtly making her look bad, because that would make Jane look bad. Taking away all the best, most visible parts of OP’s job while also giving glowing reviews (of what exactly?) and paid professional development sounds like Jane is positioning OP to be motivated to leave of her own volition. I don’t think it’s evil intent, but I do think Jane will continue to keep all the good parts for herself to look/be valuable while also making herself feel like a good manager by rewarding OP just as highly now as ever. So if OP leaves, it won’t look like anything Jane’s done.

    Unfortunately if going over Jane’s head is not an option, and even if it is, it probably won’t matter to the leadership *who* does what role, even if OP used to do it successfully before, as long as it gets done. So Jane calls dibs and she gets to take what she wants.

    Honestly, if a manager was preventing me from working on anything that would further my career, blocking me from opportunities at visible success or networking, and gaslighting me (and leadership) about my value with inflated* reviews, I would want to get out as soon as some reasonable opportunity came along.

    * I don’t mean OP isn’t doing good work, I mean the reviews are inflating the value of the work OP does.

  55. YoungTen*

    Remember that NOTHING last forever. This is just a season. I found as a working mother that its helpful to have a job that understands child care emergencies especially when the kids are small and they are more likely to happen. While your husband cannot fully understand what you are feeling, He does have a point that you can work on your personal goals. As long as you are developing yourself, your brain wont go stale. Who knows, What if you develop yourself to the point that you can take over Jane’s positions one day?

  56. RB*

    A part of the original letter got slightly truncated when it was posted to the other site. The first sentence about the e-mails was originally in the middle of the letter.

  57. Stephanie*

    Late to the comments, but in a similar boat (private sector, however). I’m in a rotational program at a MegaCorp and since my position is only a year, my boss gave me the easy supplier deck. And yeah, because it’s easy…nothing happens that often. I joked with a friend that I was crossing my fingers for a non-fatal facility fire or strike just to liven things up. They’re also very relaxed because you can travel frequently (I am not at the moment, however). That being said, I came into this job after my MS (which was pretty rigorous) and had a series of low-paying and/or workload-heavy jobs, so I may also have a skewed idea of a normal workload. Planning to say, if only to get some stability on my resume.

    Doesn’t sound like you can do this with your boss, but I just let mine know I was a tad underutilized. We’re going through a massive reorg and I may be in this role a bit past my year anniversary, so my boss said he might be able to give me some more difficult sites. I got on a longer-term side project (with his approval) and helped out with intern recruiting and interviewing.

  58. Batman*

    Wow. I am dying to know why Jane is doing this! That type of behavior is fascinating to me. Why would she want to take on all the stuff her employee does? Does she not have enough work of her own?

  59. Lobsterp0t*

    Agree with the advice.

    Also, on the off chance it’s the federal government… this seems like a great time to leave the proto fascists behind for something more personally and societally rewarding

  60. Kitty*

    I feel this, we can have fallow periods in our workflow where there’s not much for me to do. At first I liked it, work didn’t feel stressful and I had time to check my phone or email etc. But it quickly started to feel boring and stale. Like my skills were atrophying. And I felt useless, like I hadn’t accomplished anything. I am in the process of looking for a new job that offers more stimulation and sense of accomplishment.

  61. M*

    Decent chance Jane is preserving you in an unnecessary role for the next round of budget cuts. i.e. you’ve got a cut-happy agency head, she’s lucked out and cobbled together *slightly* more staff than she actually needs in her team, and instead of declaring your role redundant now, finding actual work for you or passing you along to a different department, she’s plumping up the value of cutting your position for the next time she’s asked to find cuts to make. It’s worth dwelling on that possibility and assessing whether it might ring true – if it is, it doesn’t mean you have to take the first available job out, but it does mean you’ll want to make a realistic assessment of when that next round of cuts might come down the line, and make sure you have options on the table by then.

  62. Michaela Westen*

    We have a corporate manager who is doing similar to Jane. Whenever she notices anyone doing anything, she tries to take it over and do it herself.
    She’s doing this on a scale that doesn’t make sense – taking on more than any one person could do. Wondering what’s wrong with her the only conclusion I can draw is that she’s delusional: she either thinks she can do all these things, or that this will make her look good to upper management. Both ways she’s wrong.
    I don’t know if this helps OP, but at least she’s not the only one seeing this.

  63. ChimericalOne*

    This was the giant red flag, right here: “I used to get invited to meetings, but now I have to ask for permission, and 95% of the time I’m not allowed to go EVEN WHEN JANE CAN’T.”

    Not allowed to even GO to these meetings? Not allowed to go EVEN AS A SUBSTITUTE when Jane can’t make it?

    This — along with the “Jane complains about being overworked & then pretends that she’s fine while hogging all the work” (itself already a significant yellow flag) — says “deliberate sabotage.”

    OP, figure out how you can get the agency head alone. Prepare a document, bullet-points, whatever, so you don’t get cut off while getting your points across. If you have to, email him that you have some serious concerns & ask to meet alone, or with him & HR. It sounds like you have plenty of evidence that your work is being crippled, that you’re not allowed to take on projects, communicate independently in the office, or even attend the kinds of meetings that you’d done before (even as a substitute for Jane when she cannot make it), and all with zero reason given; that Jane has taken over all your projects & complains about being overworked but will not redistribute the work, even though she’s given you nothing but glowing reviews; tell him even that Jane says that you are not to meet with him (the agency head) directly and that this is for your “protection” (which he is likely to bristle at). Tell him that your email load has gone from 100+ per day to 10. Tell him that you’re not sure what Jane’s motive is, but that she’s created an unsustainable situation for you. Give him an opportunity to be as alarmed as we all are and (hopefully) change things.

    But maybe start that job hunt first. You’ve got a period of [relative] calm right now, and you’ll want at least one potential backup in hand if things get worse instead of better.

  64. Software Engineer*

    I would also like to add that if your skip-level (manager’s manager) just 100% refused to talk to people who don’t report to him then he is terrible at his job! Like… what? Higher ups can be difficult to get ahold of because they’re so busy but they shouldn’t just refuse to talk to their staff on policy!

    How does you know if your reports are doing a good job managing if you won’t talk to the people they manage? What if Jane was snorting coke at her desk in the open office plan he still wouldn’t want you to talk to him?

  65. Spelled With a C*

    I think it can be because of situations like this that women get left behind in the workforce. Right now we’re all telling her to stay in an unfulfilling job that’s not helping her get anywhere in the interest of picking kids up when they are sick. And I can’t hate on it because I get that, it’s an unfortunate reality. But she’s already working, she’s already out of the house, why not do it for a job that doesn’t kill her soul AND is beneficial to her in the long run. I just don’t see men being asked to make this kind of sacrifice.

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