is it ethical not to ask for more work when you have room to do more?

A reader writes:

Is it ethical to not ask for more work, even when you could do it, if it’s more than others at your level are doing? I’m a high-achieving secretary at an education organization. This is just a job for me to pay the bills while I go to school, which it does, but barely. I support more staff than any of the other secretaries at my level, including a newly minted director of a new department (who only took the promotion if I could stay her secretary). I also handle a project entirely on my own that is usually the domain of higher level support staff, and I tend to be the girl Friday for anyone and anything in my department and even in the wider org.

All that being said, because I have such a high drive to work, I often finish my work and have time to spare. I know the traditional wisdom is to ask for more work, but in this case it would mean someone else’s projects/people being given to me. I don’t want that, because it’s not like I’d be getting paid more, and it might cause friction among the other secretaries who would have their stuff moved to me.

Right now I spend extra time reading education-related articles, watching tutorials and stuff on marketing and marketing tools (the new director is director of media/marketing and I do a ton of design stuff for her), etc. — stuff that’s tangentially related but not necessarily my job directly.

The petty selfish part of me doesn’t want to ask for more work because I am tired of being a shining star and my only reward being more work. It was fulfilling to a point, but when I look at my paycheck and see I’m making barely over minimum wage, I get demoralized. So is it okay to not ask for more work and to keep flying under the radar as a superstar but not quite working to what I know is my full potential? Or should I be asking for more work and all that entails because it might be good for me further down the line in some way I can’t envision right now?

For what it’s worth, I plan to ask for a raise/promotion to a higher secretary level later this year, but I don’t know if that will go over well with how old-fashioned it is around here.

It’s okay not to ask for more work.

Presumably there’s a set of expectations for your position that you need to meet, and it sounds like you’re meeting them.

From there, it’s up to you whether you want to go above and beyond and do more. And it’s completely okay if you decide that you don’t.

There are some exceptions to this. Like if you were a social worker with a client in a terrible situation, knew you could help but chose not to since you’d already hit your metrics for that quarter, even though you had free time, that wouldn’t be okay. But those situations are exceptions rather than the norm. Of course, it can be more complicated than that in some types of nonprofit work, where there’s always an underlying feeling that the more you work, the more you’re advancing the organization’s mission (a mission that might be very personally important to you and/or the world) … and that’s a feeling some nonprofits take full advantage of, to the detriment of their staff. But these are exceptions, not the rule.

Generally speaking, if you’re meeting your goals, you’re doing your job and you’re not obligated to ask to volunteer to do more.

That said, there can be real benefits to volunteering for more — that can be what gets you more recognition, more money, more projects you want, promotions, etc. That assumes you’re in an office that responds that way, of course — and if you’re not, there’s far less incentive to do that. Although even then, that extra work can be what gives you more options when you leave — by building your reputation, giving you impressive things for your resume, etc.

It sounds like you might be performing well enough that you’re already getting those benefits! And look around and see that the level of work you’re putting in is positioning you well for whatever outcomes you want, then so be it.

Read an update to this letter here.

{ 162 comments… read them below }

  1. Sloan Kittering*

    A nice middle ground can be to be strategic about offering to take on only extra work that is high value to you – either to gain experience you want for your resume, or something you will really enjoy doing, and don’t offer to take on more work that you don’t find rewarding. Occasionally this may backfire (“no, we don’t need you to work on the website, but you can file all these documents if you have extra time”) but it’s a technique I’ve used with success. I consider it a reward for getting my core duties done with time to spare.

    1. And another thing Judy,*

      It also makes sense to wait to be asked, rather than offer. I was in similar situation, and I kept offering to help other people. Which resulted in my having to attend weekely meetings with HR due to a complaint made by a coworker, who felt that they were being given a disproportionate amount of work, and upset that no one ever offered to help with the workload. (Reality was they were a slacker who didn’t take care of the most basic core aspects of their job, like calendaring and answering the phone).

  2. OP*

    Thanks Alison for taking this question and the thoughtful response! I’ve already taken advantage of a lot of goodwill garnered by being such a superstar in this position, including flexibility on health and schooling stuff. The only thing I could possibly want from this job, is more money. Which I plan to ask for, though that’s a whole nother kettle of fish in dealing with. I know even in the three years I’ve been here I’ve made a significant impression on my coworkers and boss, and I know I will continue to have a great reputation (I got this job based on the stellar reference a former coworker gave me from my last job).

    I’ve already gotten some great stuff to add to my resume(“successfully updated and streamlined procedures for the entire region’s XYZ testing protocol by transitioning to electronic testing”, “created and managed employee wellness programs including yoga and food trucks”, etc.), I just don’t want to be seen as the preppy young upstart here to steal away projects and people from the older well-established secretaries. I can’t wait to graduate and do work in my career goal field.

    1. OP*

      I forgot to add; I’m very much a higher further faster kinda person, and sometimes it’s hard to know when to chill out, and this is one of those times, so I appreciate the external input.

      1. If you remember, you weren't there.*

        Also, leave room and time for people to find you. I make a point to tell my boss I’m available if she needs help with anything. This has led to my getting tapped for cool one off projects and ownership of longer, interesting things. So don’t focus on the amount of work you could be doing, think about the type of work. See if you can do some marketing task with/for her.

        1. OP*

          Yeah, I have an excellent relationship with my marketing director boss, who while isn’t my real boss-boss, is a great delegator and team player and loves to loop me into projects. Unfortunately there’s only so much I can do before it has to go back to her to finish up.

          1. AnnaBananna*

            I think why I keep coming back to working in academia is because of what my father once told me when I came to academia years ago (he also worked and retired from the same university), which is that staff in an academic setting can really create their own roles if they’re strategic about it. The beauty of being a high performer is that you now have so much more time for professional development and skill building. Ask if you can shadow someone in another department for an afternoon or see if someone has time to teach you coding for the website (etc etc). Normally a support staff doesn’t have the bandwidth for this, but since you do, do NOT feel guilty for spending all your time learning other things, as long as they can be somewhat related. Two years ago I did an entire Coursera course module on a subject that likely wouldn’t be implemented in this role due to our needs, but definitely helped me think about how I was approaching my own processes.

            And yes I think if you have an interest in something, 100% ask if you can volunteer on those projects or attend planning meetings to take notes. Be a sponge! :)

            No more guilt, and keep up the good work.

      2. Autumnheart*

        I would make the following recommendations:

        1. Leave yourself pleennnnnttty of padding for the time you need to complete projects, as in don’t fill up your plate to capacity. That way, if an emergency comes up, you’re not overbooking yourself.

        2. It’s a good thing to be known as the person who willingly steps up when another set of hands is needed. But…don’t give more than you get back. Yesterday’s extra effort tends to become today’s expectation in a lot of environments, and you shouldn’t have to produce 150% to someone else’s 100% to be thought of as “productive”. If you find yourself taking on a bunch of extra work, and it doesn’t result in a better review, more money, more recognition, etc. then scale back to “if I feel like it/it’s valuable experience for me”.

        3. Don’t burn yourself out either. People are more productive when they can put their work down for a while (figuratively or literally) and not be the work 24/7. Your employer doesn’t own you and all your potential for accomplishing things for their benefit. Just because you’re producing at Ferrari levels compared to someone else’s Miata, doesn’t mean you owe your employer 8 hours of Ferrari production when they’re paying for Miata production.

        1. 2 Cents*

          Omg, I was so much #2 at my now (thankfully) Old Job. I kept saying yes to things out of personal interest in the work plus an overwrought sense of duty and “pitching in” only to be held to a wildly different (higher) standard than most of the other people there. I mean, I wanted to be seen as a good, hard worker, but when you’re literally assigning me people’s entire jobs to do bc they don’t feel like doing them, yet you won’t fire them, then no thanks. Also, if I had an off day, I’d hear about it. But when Mr. Slacker actually completed the bare minimum, they’d throw him a parade.

          1. Autumnheart*

            Exactly!! It’s like, why should your job security be more at risk than the person who does half the work? It’s crazy, but so many managers buy into that mentality! “You routinely underperform and don’t demonstrate the skills expected of your role? More coaching and encouragement for you, plus regular check-ins about your growth. But Jim, who does the work of 2.5 people, called in sick two days in a row with the flu? He needs a talking-to about being a team player, and maybe he shouldn’t get a bonus if it happens again.”

        2. Kaaaaaren*

          This is an excellent point on #2 — That today’s extra effort can easily become tomorrow’s expectation. I think women, in particular, tend to fall into this trap and it’s definitely something to be mindful of!

        3. No Way*

          Excellent points.

          And IME, point #2 about the baseline expectation shifting is especially a problem for women.

        4. Not So NewReader*

          A good way to test how you are doing is to notice if you feel anger about your workload or if you start getting edgy with peers. This could be a sign that you have gone too far and taken on too much. Another sign could be if you go home exhausted and have nothing left for yours or your home. If any of these things start happening stop volunteering for extra work.

        5. TardyTardis*

          No duh. When I was worked at the main old ExJob, I was consistently replaced by at least two people whenever I changed internally. And for that, I was paid only a little bit more than the slacker in the other cube.

      3. MommyMD*

        Don’t ask for extra work. Just continue doing your excellent job. This is a steppingstone for you anyway.

    2. Eeyore's missing tail*

      Speaking as one higher ed secretary to another who’s working on school at the same time as well, don’t ask for more work. I rubbed several others the wrong way because they thought I was the new kid trying to make waves or prove myself. It’s taken time, but I’ve learned how to spread my work out so I’m not done by 9:30 am some days.

      Do you think your boss would be ok with you working on your schoolwork when you have down time? That’s been a big perk for me. It helps keep me busy, and my boss is ok with it as long as everything else is done.

      1. OP*

        Yeah, you understand that in the more traditional hierarchy secretaries in education like to stick to, it’s really easy for your peers to start to see you as something else when you’re just trying to help. I’ve already been down that path at a previous job and I’m keen to avoid it here.

        The school stuff is already something I’ve gotten the implicit approval to do; unfortunately it’s not always stuff I can do at work which bums me out. I’m really lucky, honestly, with this job and I really love it. I don’t plan to leave until I’m completely ready to switch gears because it’s been a great place to work. Aside from the pay.

        1. Truth*

          OP, you rock and are gonna be the boss of those old-fashioned secretaries one day.

      2. Amethystmoon*

        Yeah, it depends on your job and your boss. When I was getting my MBA, I would work on papers during my downtime. I have also worked on Toastmasters speeches during downtime. The club meets at our office location.

    3. Kendra*

      I’d consider looking for a new job. If you’ve already added things to your resume, like you say, that’s the only reason I’d say it would make sense to ask for more work. It doesn’t seem like they’re going to give you a raise or a promotion if they’ve already given you more work without a raise or promotion.

      1. OP*

        I won’t be able to find a job that’s a step up, really. The pay everywhere is very comparable and it’s hard to command a higher starting wage when they can hire anyone off the street for their lower wage and just deal with the underperformance. Really, this is a great job while I’m going to school because I get great perks, but I hate to feel “wasted” which I sometimes do at work. I think if I shoot for something higher not only will I miss, I might end up lower.

        1. Kendra*

          Well, if just looking to graduate and then do something else, fine. And if you’re in a super small town and this is really the best while you’re in school, that’s fine too.

          However… there’s just not really any such thing as shooting for something higher and ending up lower. Especially if you mean salary, benefits, title, responsibilities — all of those are things that you would know in your interview and/or offer letter. It’s not like you interview for a job, take it, and then find out later what the job is and how much you’ll make and what benefits they offer. (Well, most jobs.)

          I know what you mean about feeling “wasted” but if this is really the job for you, why not pick up some sort of activity, hobby, or thing to study just for fun? I know you’re already in school, but if you spend 30 minutes a day… say, singing. Or dancing. Or weight training, or whatever, then being at work will feel more like a “break” and you won’t need your work to make you feel fulfilled because you’ll get it through your activity.

        2. Office Gumby*

          You said you were boning up on education-related and marketing-related articles, etc. This isn’t a waste of your time. Just because it hasn’t been formally made a part of your duties doesn’t mean it’s filler.

          You’re educating yourself on the field you currently work in. This is a good thing. If you were a professional in a field (say, law or science or fine arts), it would be expected for you to keep up with what’s happening in the industry. You’d be expected to read trade magazines and blogs and articles and peer-reviewed journals.

          Sure, you’ve got your duties, but if you finish them well within the time you have allotted, don’t be afraid to read up and keep your finger on the pulse of what is happening.

          Also, work-life balance happens between 9-5 as well. Life has rhythms. There will be times you are super-busy. There will be times you’re not. Don’t assume everything must be zipping along at top speed all the time. It’s okay for there to be some downtime during the day as well. It’s not as if you’re sprinting a marathon, then stopping to twiddle your thumbs. Note the rhythm of your day, and accept it. It’s normal.

        3. MommyMD*

          Finish school. Do your job. Don’t ask for extra and open that can of worms. If it were a life changing position yes. That’s not this. You have plenty of time in your career to be piled high with work. A barely minimum wage job is not worth opening the genie in a bottle. I guarantee it will lead to more busy work being piled on you. The other employees at your level have a responsibility to get their own tasks done. Plus when you leave it’s a disservice to the capable person who fills your job but has no aspirations to be a superstar. Pace your work throughout the day.

    4. Burned Out Rockstar*

      Just save some of that energy for yourself…it sounds like going above and beyond here isn’t going to benefit you much beyond where you are, and meanwhile, you could be focusing your mental and emotional powers on your studies, on hobbies, on anything else that will benefit you. I am speaking as someone who gave her all to various companies for decades and was unpleasantly surprised to discover that burnout is something I’m not immune to…and that no one really appreciated my efforts as much as I had hoped they would.

      1. learnedthehardway*

        This is really good advice, esp. for someone who is balancing school and work.

        OP – you really need to build in enough time for things like – a sick day now and then; a group project at school that went sideways and now you’re stuck accepting a B or pulling an all-nighter so the group gets an A (been there); your manager suddenly asks you to do an ad hoc task that you hadn’t expected and they need it tomorrow (also been there), etc. etc. etc.

        If you can get your job done well in the time required, and have 20% time left, that’s good. If you have more than 30% of your time unaccounted for, then consider asking for something more, but do it strategically to get something you really want to work on, that will help your development.

      2. TardyTardis*

        So true! I ended up with atrial fibrillation trying to do it all. Loved the company in many ways, and their benefits came close to doubling my real salary when there were serious medical expenses–but in a small town, it was hard to find anything better.

  3. Polymer Phil*

    Try to find something constructive to do, like background reading on relevant topics. You should be able to find no shortage of things to read, Youtube videos to watch, etc that would help you to learn things relevant to your job.

    1. Reading!*


      “Right now I spend extra time reading education-related articles, watching tutorials and stuff on marketing and marketing tools.”

        1. blaise zamboni*

          Because it’s something the LW said they’re already doing :) Not bad advice, just not needed for this person.

  4. Roscoe*

    Totally agree with Alison. It amazes me how much on this site I see people saying things like “If you finish early, there is always something more to be done. Ask around. Thats what GOOD employees do”. Sometimes, a job is just a job, as you said. You may be perfectly content where you are, don’t want to move up in the company, etc. Asking for more work because you are efficient just seems pointless, unless you are in a role like sales, or you want to advance in the company

    1. Ask a Manager* Post author

      I know you’re agreeing with me, but I also think you’re maybe conflating two points (but maybe not). It’s perfectly ethical not to ask for more work when you’re meeting all your goals and your manager understands your workload (as opposed to a situation where your manager doesn’t realize you’ve only been assigned what a reasonable person would consider a day of work for a whole week). But it’s still true that in many cases it’s smart to ask to do more — if you’re someone who wants to have options, build your reputation, etc. In the OP’s case, she’s explained reasons why that doesn’t apply here. But I wanted to make the distinction between the question of ethics and the question of what’s good for your career — they’re two different things to analyze.

      1. Roscoe*

        I agree it is better for your career long term, but again that is if you want to be at your location long term. But sometimes, you just are there to do your 40 hours, do it well, and go home. If they spread work out over 5 employees, and you are faster, I don’t think you need to ask for more work. I’m not conflating those issues at all. In fact, if you are early in your career with very few references, I’d probably say you should do that stuff. But after a while, asking for more work gets you more work with nothing else to show for it except being more tired at the end of the day

    2. If you remember, you weren't there.*

      I read Alison’s reply about conflating, and I think I’m going to dip in here. I’m with you, Roscoe. It’s not about asking for more things to do to fill the time, if you are doing your job well very little will be gained by absorbing the work of your peers. The point is to take advantage of your time and let your boss know that you can take on more important/interesting/challenging things.

    3. The Man, Becky Lynch*

      I want to burn “if you have time to lean you have time to clean.” and dance in the ashes.

      I saw someone post this on a social media platform awhile ago. It was supposed to be a tribute to an old manager who “taught them” so well.

      Even if it’s not just a job, a good employee does their jobs well and cares about their quality of work. Not the amount of work. I suggest asking for more work when it will come with benefits [promotion or money] and when you’re bored AF and want it. I’m a workaholic in ways and even I’m like “They’re paying you how much? No. Do what they’re paying you for.”

      I saw this in real life when my partner was being tapped to do more than he was being paid for. I hadn’t seen it before. Then I realized how much I was overworked and underpaid as well at the same place. So that’s a valuable lesson I’ll scream from the roof.

      1. Roscoe*

        Oh god, my first job said that nonsense. I would dance in its ashes with you.

      2. Not So NewReader*

        The fools do not realize that the employee is leaning because it keeps the employee from keeling over onto the floor. The retailers really know how to suck every ounce of energy out of you. They are good at it.

        I do believe in 8 work for 8 hours pay. But oddly, I can get much more efficient the higher my pay goes. Consistently, I have found that employers do not know that much about efficiency and streamlining work efforts. I am not saying sandbag a job, but higher pay does cause me to think more about being more productive.

    4. Grouchy 2 cents*

      Asking for more can also put you in the situation I found myself in: getting all the crap no one else wants to do dumped on them because “they’re a star!” It took me far too long to realize that those compliments came with no money or respect or upward mobility. In fact it made it impossible to move up because the Company knew they’d never find someone who’d work 80 hours a week for a 40 hour salary. This company by the way? No worse than most of them out there. But like most companies they aren’t going to volunteer more money for someone just because they’re a star. (Well maybe if they’re a failing CEO with a penis….)

  5. Washi*

    I’m sometimes in this situation at work, where if I volunteered to take more on, I’d just be doing other people’s work for them. And since I’m already doing more than most others, I don’t feel too inspired to make things even more uneven – why should I take on 10 units of work while getting paid the same as my coworker doing 4 units?

    What I’ve done instead is kind of what you do, I assign myself my own extra projects, and every once in a while, I’ll approach my manager with “oh, I had a little down time, so I took a stab at this, what do you think?” That way I get to do stuff that’s fun for me, get praised for taking initiative, and I’m not taking over other people’s work!

    1. That Girl From Quinn's House*

      I’ve seen situations where an eager or fast-working person is taken advantage of by having other people’s undone or unpleasant work applied to their workload, and then ends up with their role diminished/passed over for growth, etc., because they became the workgroup’s garbage dump, so to speak.

      1. Ayup*

        Yep, this has happened to me. It’s infuriating… and so far I don’t see a path out except to never admit that I’ve got time to take more on.

        People who have colleagues or subordinates volunteer to help with *your* work: don’t be that guy who always foists your grunt work onto others. They will eventually stop offering.

      2. ThisColumnMakesMeGratefulForMyBoss*

        I think you have to establish boundaries if you’re going to volunteer to others for work. You need to make sure you’re okay with saying no when asked, or pushing back when others make assumptions that’s you’ll always be able to help.

        1. Ayup*

          For sure. If I notice a coworker is visibly stressed, I will offer to do some triage/take something from them but I’m always sure to mention “I have plenty on my plate, but nothing that can’t wait until this is taken care of.”
          I’ve also said ‘no’ once or twice, but it can be really hard to walk back “I have some time, can I help with anything?” Once was in the context of a coworker appearing overwhelmed, I offered to take some work from her, and she tried to give me a project that was a much bigger time commitment than I could afford to take on– which I told her.

      3. Powercycle*

        Where I work now I’d be doing someone’s work if I volunteered for more. Seems we’re in a slow period and there’s only so much work for the whole team. At least my boss understands this.

        I’ve previously had a burnout so I’m in no rush to again become the “go to” person with too much to do.

    2. Ellex*

      That’s what I do. If I asked for more work, I’d be courting burnout, but if I have some spare time I prefer to work on various personal projects with the aim of streamlining or organizing procedures, creating procedure guides and help documents, or familiarizing myself with the newest changes in the various software we use.

      Technically speaking, some of that is part of my job – it’s just not the most active, metrics-meeting, “getting stuff done” part of my job.

    3. OP*

      Yeah, your first scenario is exactly what I want to avoid. It’s super easy to become the punching bag/project dump when you’re too over-eager. I’ve been there before. I like the idea of developing independent projects on the side that might help us. Definitely a place where there’s room for improvement and advancement at our org.

  6. KHB*

    It’s normal and healthy to have a certain amount of “room to do more” at work. If everyone on your team were working at 110% all day every day, then you’d have no one to pick up the slack when somebody goes on vacation/gets hit by a bus/suddenly up and quits.

    1. RainbowsAndKitties*

      I feel like I’m very much like LW, and I was only JUST forced to learn this lesson with my newest job. Every job I’ve worked until this point in my life has been a “work 110% everyday and you will always be behind on your work” kind of job. My newest position has left me with much more down time than what makes me comfortable. For LW, it isn’t a terrible thing to have some downtime. It sounds like you are using it productively, and I think you should carry on doing that.

    2. Sunflower*

      Completely agree. I think I read somewhere that most employees only work 6 hours a day once you factor in distractions, water cooler chat, downtime, etc. Most people can’t- and shouldn’t- be working at full capacity or they are at a big risk of burn out.

      What some people think is down time, really isn’t. Improving processes and putting together useful documents is a core part of many jobs, it’s just that a lot of people are so slammed with the everyday workings that they don’t have time to handle this type of non-urgent stuff.

    3. Reading!*

      I’ll add that the more collaboratively-siloed your work is, the more true this is. I spent much of April taking over for a coworker who had a family emergency; the nature of her workload meant that no one else was in a position to take it on, and we had a major action planned in that time. I had to pitch a couple of things that were less essential but was glad I had room in my schedule to accommodate it.

  7. boredatwork*

    I have this problem too – I am a top performer, and my reward is more work. There’s no real hope of promotion, I am paid very well for the work that I do, but my raises are limited to COL increases.

    There’s also the issue of alienating all of your co-workers. If I performed at my actual capacity, I’d be able to handle twice the work load of my colleagues. Our managers compare us to one another and their short comings are really highlighted by my “super-star” status.

    I probably only work 20-30 hours a week, and the other 10-20, I find ways to assume myself (thanks Alison!). Some of that time is internet, some of it is developing internal training documents, or picking through inefficient processes for improvement.

    1. OP*

      The hardest part for me has been completing my work and then not becoming resentful of the other personally productive things I could be doing with the time I now have to spend at work essentially waiting for something to come down the pike or twiddling my thumbs.

      1. Ella*

        It might be worth investigating if there’s a personally fulfilling hobby you could pick up and spend some of your down time at work doing. Have you ever wanted to learn another language, or write a book, or read more, etc? All things that can be done in spurts in your phone or in a notebook, so you don’t feel like you’re wasting time that could be productive but you’re also not taking over everyone around you’d job for them.

          1. Ella*

            I highly recommend Duolingo! It won’t get you fluent, but it’s a great starting point and something that would be really easy to do in 5-10 minute increments when you have downtime.

            1. OP*

              This would be very, very helpful as we have staff members who focus on ESL and LEP students, and they’re all english/spanish fluent speakers so it’d be a great opportunity to get real-life practice while I’m working with them if I go the route of spanish, which is the most common second language around here.

              1. Michaela Westen*

                Spanish is very useful where I live. We have a huge Latino Spanish-speaking population. From what I read and hear, this is common in many parts of the USA.
                It’s fun too, and very useful when eating in a Mexican restaurant!

      2. boredatwork*

        see the difference, is I started doing the personally productive things at work. I’ve read books, learned how to make elaborate baking things, planned vacations, done all my bill paying/budgeting, I’m also very up-to-date on industry news and news in general.

        I’m very fortunate that I have an office, my weeks are largely un-monitored and I’m salary.

      3. Master Bean Counter*

        I used to do research for my grad school papers while at work. Can you possibly discreetly tackle home work while not busy at your desk? My former boss didn’t mind.

    2. The Man, Becky Lynch*

      I keep getting this gross feeling in my stomach each time I read comments about how this causes issues among coworkers.

      I’m a brutal woman who wish someone would try me. Yes, I’m a machine, yes I do more work than you, yes I take tasks like a hungry hog that you cannot seem to handle yourself. Deal with it.

      But I’m not here to make friends. I adore my coworkers, the majority of mine are awesome but if they ever wanted to “fight” because of my abilities vs theirs, that’s a fight I don’t fear. I imagine it like the bigger kid holding out their arm and holding the smaller kid back while the smaller kid just swings at the air wildly.

      I cannot sit by and allow for people to tell others to slow their roll because “oh no, you may make people hate you” So what. Someone who is going to hate you or resent you is going to find a reason one way or another, don’t tread lightly. Stomp around and get dirty, become great and get paid.

      1. Anna*

        I think it’s more about “don’t be an asshole.” If you’re taking work from people because you think you can do better, you might be an asshole. If you think nobody can live up to your amazing standards, even though they’re doing great work and your boss isn’t looking for employees to compete with each other, you might be an asshole. Focus on your own shit and don’t worry so much about whether it’s better, faster, stronger than your coworkers’.

      2. LQ*

        I think the problem is rarely someone being direct or blunt or clear about it. That is easy enough to manage. It’s people who very subtly start to poison the well against you. It isn’t a fair fight unless you’re also willing to fight dirty. It’s the littler kid going over to the very large bully and making them beat you up instead. That’s nearly always the problem. I can handle a thousand little kids swinging away. It’s much harder to handle the giant who comes by with a mallet from behind and destroys you because they’ve been poisoned.

      3. Not So NewReader*

        Making people hate me is the least of my concerns when it comes to asking for more work. I almost never think about it. Eh, if it bothers someone then they can beef up their own game. I do watch out for my own resentment building up. I love the post up top about being strategic. Just because the garbage can is full does not mean *I* have to empty it. I can pick something else and do that.

        I think my cautionary warning is to watch out for how many times a person uses their “concern about being hated” as a reason NOT to spread their own wings a bit. It is useful to observe and understand how our actions impact others. It is shooting ourselves in the foot to use this concern of being hated as a guide for every decision we make. It will ruin a job for a person. And this is in part because almost everything ticks off at least one person. We cannot win by striving to be people pleasers. It’s safe to assume for every action we make there will be at LEAST one grouser.

        Back to why I almost never think about people hating me for taking on too much work: I don’t know why I started doing this but early on I started figuring out who the best worker was in a place and I copied what they were doing. I never disliked the best worker, just the opposite, I wanted to learn from them. It was a little challenge that made my day interesting to me. I think that I don’t worry about others hating me because I wanted to be a little sponge who just soaked up the best ideas of what everyone had to offer. I don’t mind sharing and I don’t mind showing people stuff because I like being treated that way myself.

        I think hating people for their work ethic or productivity level is wasted energy. I do know that resentful/angry people work slower because their emotions seem to slow them down. (I have seen this first hand, it shows in the numbers when you track productivity levels.) That reason stands alone in my mind as good reason to let go of resentments.

        1. Michaela Westen*

          The thing is we can talk all day about why people shouldn’t be resentful, angry, jealous, or haters, but there are always people like that who refuse to see the light. So we have to cope with them.
          I think anyone would know (unless it was their first week) if there was a lot of such people in their office, and would take that into account when deciding whether or how to ask for more work.
          IMHO it would not be worth it if it got the office dementor after me… I’d find other things to do or other ways to move up and out.

      4. learnedthehardway*

        There is, however, something to be said for not setting a pace / level of productivity that is unsustainable, and that becomes the expectation for not only yourself, but also your co-workers.

        Perhaps someone really is capable of doing 150% of the work of their colleagues while studying for a degree/diploma. However, some people can set a punishing pace and burn the candle at both ends for quite a while, before crashing and burning. It becomes normal to work at that pace, right up until the person gets sick, has a break-down, or burns out.

        It’s not fair to colleagues or to oneself to set an expectation that isn’t sustainable.

      5. I have never watched Game of thrones.*

        The “I’m not here to make friends” sentiment just feels like a way to step all over people. It’s great that you are super effective an do awesome work, and sure there are some people that will be resentful for whatever reason (some might not be reasonable ones, some might be), but there will also be other people who may not be the superstar you might be, but that will be trampled all the same. Why not just be a nice human being without the assholeness? (And I have spent a lot of my life having to wait for other people to finish, doing the extra work because I’m the competent/mature/good one and being held to another standard, and being resentful for it, but different people are good at different things and there is a great difference between being okay at your job and having it pulled away from you and slacking of leaving others to finish your work.) Try a bit of humbleness while you stomp ahead. There’s no need to trample others while you do it.

  8. This One Here*

    The reward for work well done is the opportunity to do more. – Jonas Salk

    Geez, thanks Dr. Salk

    1. The New Wanderer*

      Given the context, I automatically read the quote as a warning, not an aspiration.

      1. Indigo a la mode*

        Same. “Oh, you did great on that big one-off thing! Now can you do it every week from here on out?”

        Been there, Dr. Salk.

    2. MommyMD*

      Um his work was universe changing so not really a good example. The rare person on his level strives to always contribute at 100 percent. And more. And thank goodness.

  9. Sara without an H*

    Hello, OP — The short answer to your question is, yes, it’s perfectly ethical not to ask for more work if you’re already meeting the requirements of your job. In this case, you’re exceeding them and it doesn’t sound as though exceeding them further is going to add any benefit for you. So, you’re good where you are.

    You mentioned that you’re in school, but you didn’t say what you’re studying. Is it in anyway related to the work done by your organization? If so, it might help to think of this as a low-paying but useful internship that provides contacts and experience for your future career. Are there any projects you can volunteer for that would be relevant in some way to your future career plans? If you decide to ask for more work, can you ask selectively, so that you get to do things that would help you build a professional resume?

    If the answer is no, than I think you’re ethically just fine doing what you’re doing now. Keep reading professional articles, viewing relevant tutorials, TED talks, and the AAM archives, with a clear conscience.

    1. OP*

      Totally unrelated. I’m an engineering major and this is K-12 education. I have taken advantage of the staff here with mathematics backgrounds who’ve offered to help me, but other than that there hasn’t been much benefit directly to my schooling.

      1. Sara without an H*

        OK, then you can use your free time for your own professional development without any ethical qualms. Go for it!

  10. logicbutton*

    Given that you consider this as a temporary situation, I’d be mindful of not inflating your supervisors’ expectations for what people in your role can sustainably do. From that perspective, there’s nothing at all wrong with not asking for more work, especially as it doesn’t sound like your reputation needs the help.

    1. Not So NewReader*

      Respectfully disagreeing. It’s up to the supervisor to have an understanding of what average capacity is for the job. It’s up to the supervisor to figure out if a subordinate is below, at or above average capacity. Good supervisors recognize when they have a gem of an employee, they can see it. Bad supervisors will have to work through it somehow, not up to OP to “train” them as to what to expect. All OP has to do is do her job to the best of her ability each day.

      1. TardyTardis*

        True, but we all know bosses who would like everyone to be able to pick 500 pounds of cotton every day, and just because one person can, holds up that person as the new norm.

  11. boo bot*

    I think it’s wise of you to realize that asking for more might mean projects being taken away from other people, potentially resulting in friction. One of the common refrains here is, getting along with your coworkers is part of your job, and from that vantage point, it makes far more sense to just be okay with having some free time.

  12. Noah*

    The “other” exception is the many many jobs where the company or your manager tells you to come ask for more work when you’re done with what has been assigned to you.

  13. Alienor*

    My two cents: As someone who assigns work to people, I would prefer for them not to be totally maxed out. This is because if a new or rush project comes in, I want someone to have the capacity to take it on, and that can’t happen if everyone is loaded up to 100 percent (or more) capacity all the time.

    1. E*

      This. It’s taken me several years to recognize that being maxed to capacity all the time is not a good thing. Because then everything additional that comes in causes fires needing to be put out immediately.

  14. Heidi*

    I think it would be fine to use your extra time to work on school. But looking back, I’ve found it really rewarding to engage in activities unrelated to school or work with any extra time I’ve had. Cultivating a new hobby or reading up on an unfamiliar subject is a good way to diversify your skill set and avoid burning out. I took up knitting at one point, and I learned how to make balloon animals, and I started reading all the novels by John le Carre. All highly recommended. It gives you topics to talk about with people that are not just work and school.

    1. Heidi*

      Obviously, you can’t always do these things at work (although I honestly don’t think my coworkers would even bat an eyelash if I just started making balloon animals). But if I have down time, I can quietly look up knitting patterns or watch YouTube videos on balloon animals.

    2. Indigo a la mode*

      I think I would like to hang out with you. I too enjoy picking up fairly random new skills, such as learning to write upside down or to sightread Braille.

  15. Sneep Snoop*

    That reminded me of a job I used to have. Management always encouraged us to work better and faster, but the only thing that happened if you did finish your day’s quota early was that you were assigned more of the same work. That could come to bite you in the butt, too, because if the extra you were assigned turned out too long to be finished before you left, then, that meant you’d either have to stay late or be in a crunch the next day.

    I loathed said work – it was insanely boring, it wasn’t my field, there was no room for advancement and raises were strictly awarded based on seniority. Also it was not a project-based job so it’s not like a stellar performance would have gotten me interesting assignments.

    Basically the only incentive to indeed work faster and better was the nebulous reward of building my name as a stellar performer. Which didn’t even matter much to me because again: not my field. So… yeah. Sometimes I found it in me to go that extra mile, but more often than not I barely had the motivation to do my quota.

  16. NoMoreFirstTimeCommenter*

    I think the common advice “always ask for more work” is best suited for jobs where someone gives you individual tasks one by one. In that kind of situation, you’re supposed to tell you have finished the previous one, not just wait until someone sees you hanging around with nothing to do. Most jobs aren’t quite like that, and whether to not ask for more work is a more complex question. In jobs where you have independent responsibility for bigger systems, not separate individual tasks, it’s often enough that things get done and everything keeps moving smoothly. Then you’ve done what you’re supposed to do and nobody cares if you haven’t been that busy all the time.

    1. CheeryO*

      This is a good point, and it’s part of why I couldn’t hack it in consulting. There’s no room for that ebb-and-flow when you’re a junior employee and you need to bill 40+ hours per week to projects that you have minimal control over – if you’re not operating at capacity, you need to be asking for more work.

  17. Detective Amy Santiago*

    The petty selfish part of me doesn’t want to ask for more work because I am tired of being a shining star and my only reward being more work.

    I don’t think that makes you remotely selfish or petty, OP. Being a highly efficient worker can definitely be a double edged sword. It bit me in the ass hard a couple of jobs ago when I was working at a highly toxic organization because they just kept adding and adding stuff to my workload and then when it started to get overwhelming, refused to take anything away, which resulted in me letting things slip through the cracks and ultimately getting fired.

    Where I am now, I am still pretty efficient, but I’m a lot more strategic and cautious about what I offer to take on.

    1. Not So NewReader*

      When that selfishness or fatigue sets in, I know it’s time for me to straighten things up a bit, put in some me-time, organize my own papers, update charts and contact lists and all that sort of thing that does not get done when work is busy. It’s sort of like getting my own feet under me again. Sometimes I take my whole desk apart and dust it. I’m not just dusting. I am also digging things out that fell off into dark corners and completing those things.

      Often times this makes me feel better about my job and my own work effort.

  18. Lilysparrow*

    I have been in situations similar to this, where there was no realistic path to advancement in the role (or it would take me where I didn’t want to go). My takeaways were:

    1) Your free time is your reward, since there’s no reward in your check or your career path. Enjoy and make the most of it in ways that serve you best.

    2) Margin is a good thing and deserves protecting. In nearly all jobs, there are crunch times and slower times. The slower times create capacity to accommodate the crunch times – whether that’s through planning, organization, catching up on important-but-not-urgent tasks, improving systems or skills, or just being refreshed. If you fill up all your margin with busywork, you won’t be able to meet the next crisis or surprise at 100 percent capacity.

  19. Project Problem Solver*

    I would go further and say that, at least for me, it’s necessary. I aim for about 80% of my “true capacity.” I will absolutely represent that as my full capacity to my managers, and if they’re a manager that’s willing to listen, I will tell them that’s the level of effort that I can sustain indefinitely. Like you, that “80%” is well within expectations for my job, and usually significantly exceeds them.

    But sometimes … I need to be a rockstar. I need to pull off a miracle for a project. And then I have that 20% to fall back on. I can put on a burst of speed and do something amazing. But I can’t sustain it forever – I need to “recharge” after a period of intense work. Keeping that in reserve is protecting myself from burning out.

    Now, of course there are caveats in terms of how busy you like your day to be, whether or not your meeting the expectations of your job, and other things, but it sounds like you’re already exceeding, so don’t feel bad holding that part back for when you really need it. It’s sort of like preparing to “give 110%,” only more mathematically sound.

    1. The Ginger Ginger*

      This! I work in an agile shop, and it’s actually standard to schedule everyone at about 80% of their capacity all the time. So if an extra kick of juice is needed temporarily or something takes longer than expected, there’s room to do that without burning everyone up to flinders. There’s a difference between 100% EFFORT and 100% TIME. You should give 100% of your effort to any project you’re working on in the form of focus, commitment, etc. That does NOT mean you have 100% of your available TIME locked into whatever project you’re working on. That’s how you burn out or end up having to stay after hours to accommodate last minute emergencies. Plan some head room into your schedule, and don’t feel bad about it.

      You sound like you have the 100% effort thing down. Now you just need to get comfortable with 80% (or so) time.

    2. OP*

      This is the Scotty method of working, as I’ve heard people refer to it as. Quote high, aim high, and deliver better under crunch circumstances.

      1. Michaela Westen*

        When I worked in a trade long ago it was “underpromise and overdeliver”.
        Tell the customer the job will take an hour longer than you think it will. Then you have time when the part doesn’t arrive, when some other emergency pops up, or when it just takes longer than you thought.

  20. Jennifer*

    As others have said, I think sometimes it can be smart to be strategic about what you offer to do. Sometimes it just results in more work being dumped on you which can ultimately ruin your level of efficiency. Plus you don’t want to move up in this organization. It’s just a job. If you have other things you want to pursue outside of the company, like school in your case, your point of view makes sense.

  21. CMart*

    Question for the room:

    Is this kind of work pattern (high performing, perhaps already outperforming your position, still have downtime, not asking for more work) still ethical if that downtime is spent, say, reading AAM or meal planning or whatever non-work, non-career focused activity you want to insert here?

    A guilty conscience with high output and yet a lot of downtime who does not ask for more work and reads AAM instead of doing CPEs or noodling on value-adding side projects

    1. The Man, Becky Lynch*

      Yes. You’re still there and you’re still going to do the work that comes at you while you’re enjoying that downtime, right? So if your boss comes by and says “Hey here’s some reports to process that just came in.” you’re going to stop reading AAM and do them? Or at least get them done in the timeframe that is expected?

      I don’t care if you’re doing educational, career building exercises or shopping for a new dress, if your work is done. Also seriously, I’ve learned from experience to only bend over backwards and work if you 1. want to and 2. are being paid for it. I ask for work a lot of times, I often take on special projects of my own because it puts me under the right noses and those noses have authority to give me more money or it’s just something I enjoy, so why not? But don’t just work for the sake of working because you feel ethically bound to do it, they need to entice you to bust your hump.

    2. KeepIt*

      If it’s unethical, then I guess I’m being unethical *shrug*

      In my opinion, you can’t just stop being a human and managing your life for work 8+ hours a day. As long as it doesn’t get to the point where you are doing that instead of working on what you’re supposed to be working on, I don’t honestly see a problem. (exceptions obviously for public facing roles where this would be more frowned upon, obviously)

    3. The New Wanderer*

      I’m interested in other answers because I’m in the same situation and almost always have been. I see it as kind of two things:

      1) I can use the spare time to work on things that benefit me in my specific current role and/or my career in general. I’m more interested in doing this if I’m not working on high stress tasks or things with a heavy thinking component. The other thing is, if I’m working on a side project that is work related, I’m more reluctant to mentally move away from it to work on primary work stuff when needed, so I have to balance those things.

      2) I can use the spare time to take a break from more mentally intense work things and thus be more rested when I’m back in intense work mode. These breaks are much more like read a blog, watch a short video, personal email, and other things I can drop easily because I’m not very mentally engaged in them and they’re short duration activities.

    4. LQ*

      I’d say AAM is career related. It helps you better understand and relate to and do your work like working with humans around you. And I’d say yes. I do AAM and then I have a handful of workish (Agile/Content/Development/Testing) slack groups I’m a part of. I need brain breaks. Like right now I’m taking a brain break and eating a snack because I’m going to be here another two hours and I need to clear out some energy and settle into a better space of doing some Big Thinking work.

      We are only human and can’t work and task shift the way a computer would. So yeah. I’d say it’s ok, and it makes sense to do.

      A sometimes guilty, but often overwhelmed person who needs a break and to shift from one kind of work from another and thinks that using tools like AAM/Slack to bridge that makes me more productive overall

    5. Not A Morning Person*

      Oh, the guilty conscience that keeps us putting other things ahead of self-care! People are not machines that can just keep chugging away without a break. Also, even machines need maintenance, updates, upgrades, and sometimes turned off. so they don’t burn out. Consider your “down time” as for your maintenance or your brain, your balance, your opportunity to be strategic, and just plain rest once in a while. You need time to think, time to plan, and time to grow. I hope you can argue back against your guilty conscience!

  22. The Man, Becky Lynch*

    Since you’re not being given any rewards and are being paid such a paltry sum, I totally agree that you need to just sit back and let others do their own work, don’t ask for more, just do what’s in your duties. I kind of really hate your employer, okay no, I really hate your employer, they’d love to take advantage of you if you allowed them. Ew.

    If there was room to grow and taking on extra work was rewarded with raises and not just back pats from those you support, then you wouldn’t even be asking this.

    I will give you full validation as an internet stranger who’s always been that above and beyond person who’s grown into a seasoned professional by taking on extra tasks left and right. I make a lot now and it’s all thanks to that initiative and serious ‘ef anyone who doesn’t pay you right. Praise doesn’t pay your bills or feed your belly, it’s valuable only when added on to your healthy paycheck.

    1. Rebecca*

      Thanks for this – I’m in much the same boat. I’m here because of the cadillac health insurance. My employer thinks one 50 cent per hour raise in 9 years is a huge thing, and rewards hard work with more and more work. I learned a long time ago to keep my mouth shut. I do work on streamlining my workload to make it go easier and faster, and share my ideas with my coworkers, but as far as volunteering to do more? Nope. I can’t pay bills or buy gas and groceries with praise, and it’s rare that I get that – it’s more like here’s more now that you’ve gotten that done. So, if I’m reading AAM, looking at Facebook, playing a game on my phone if I have a few hours a week here and there – well, that’s the way it’s going to be.

      1. The Man, Becky Lynch*

        I think my go-to for advice at this time is simply “do your best at your job and the tasks you signed up for when accepting the position”. Don’t steal from an employer and do no harm in terms of just phoning it in all the time.

        Do more because you want to. Sometimes people just want to [I’m guilty of that frequently enough! I just want something to do, so yes, I’ll clean the stock closets or re-label things that are getting faded] or do it because of the extra pay off that comes with it.

        You owe an employer solid work that they’re expecting from you not a bunch of extra add-ons. Like most dealerships aren’t throwing in fancy stereo systems and upgrades just for “nice nice” without you paying for it. An employer has to pay in some fashion for those additions!

        And I’m a business person. Who will go to the battle grounds and die for a few of my bosses from over the years. Each one of those showered me with cash [to the extent that they could afford it and knowing their books, I know when they can and cannot afford it.]

        You get what you pay for.

        1. Anna*

          That last line is spot on. If you want amazing talent with fierce commitment to you and your mission, you have to pay for amazing talent and convince them you’re worth fierce commitment.

        2. Rebecca*

          Yes, yes, yes to the last line! My workplace is becoming somewhat of a revolving door at the entry level jobs, people move on when they figure out raises “aren’t something we do”, so we’re now in a constant new person, training, person leaves, person is hired, training cycle. If they would reward someone who does good work, and stopped nickel and diming us, things would improve.

    2. OP*

      Hey, thank you for this, I appreciate it. I grew up extremely poor(literally dirt floor poor) in a rural part of the country, and it has been a hard-fought scrabble to even get where I am now. As bad as it might sound to some, I’m always looking for the bigger payday if I can find it, which is how I got into this job in the first place, as it’s the highest-paying admin-type job in our small town. I don’t really have anywhere else to go for more money right now, and my only real hopes of that are pinned on internal promotion up the admin hierarchy. But my degree will be my ticket out of this place and onto a career pathway that will hopefully shoot me far, far away from this place, finances-wise.

      1. The Man, Becky Lynch*

        Fist pump for two kids from the backwoods [or prairies if you’re in the flat-lands, I’m from the foothills, you get it.] I say this as someone who grew up with less than 100 students in our graduating high school class and now lives in an area that’s reaching towards the 3.75 population mark for the metro area.

        You can make it and you can succeed. You have the abilities and someone will pay you for it in the end. I worked a few lower paying gigs just for the experience years ago. This place will at least give you a good reference when it’s time to blow the popsicle stand after you’re done with school. But there’s no reason to bust your butt for a reference you’ve already gotten in the bag.

        Just remind yourself that this is “now” and that later things will be different. Don’t let yourself form bad habits because you’re going to move on to a higher paying job and you’ll want to be able to dust the rust off of yourself. That’s my only extra advice. You’re using your spare time to educate yourself though, so I’m not worried about you developing any rust that you can’t just knock off when you’re thrown into an environment that you can thrive in. But if you were just hanging in that job just because “it’s all there is”, then that can lead to bad consequences down the road that I’ve seen.

      2. Truth*

        But my degree will be my ticket out of this place and onto a career pathway that will hopefully shoot me far, far away from this place, finances-wise.

        Yes. Once you complete your degree, move out of your small town to a major commercial center.

      3. learnedthehardway*

        Good for you! And also – make sure you prioritize school and don’t do anything that would affect your ability to study for an exam, do a group project, etc. That means, keep your work load at work to a reasonable level so a last minute work emergency doesn’t leave you exhausted before an exam or unable to complete an assignment.

    3. Michaela Westen*

      I’ve seen a lot in my life and one thing I’ve noticed is there are always people or employers willing to take advantage of young, inexperienced people.
      When I was young I couldn’t afford to work for free.
      Unpaid internship?* No thanks!
      Offering a wage I can’t live on? Bye!
      Some people said I had a bad attitude. But I moved from Kansas to a big city and I’m still here decades later. I made it by continuing to look for jobs that paid a decent wage and not letting them exploit me.
      You do the same, OP!

      *Unpaid internships are elites helping the children of elites. Unpaid internships exclude the many deserving young people who need to earn a paycheck. (unless they’re part-time and give the intern time to work a job also)

  23. RUKiddingMe*

    “Is it ethical to not ask for more work, even when you could do it…?”

    Is it ethical for bosses to keep piling more and more work on *you when they know *you are already at capacity…capacity for three people, and working 32 hours a day?

    Almost always IME the more you give the more they take advantage.

    * The general “you” of course.

  24. Not So Super-visor*

    I guess it all depends on if you have “down time” because you’re not taking on extra work, what you’re doing with, and how out of place it is for you to have down time. It sounds like you make pretty good use of your time, but there are some work places that no matter how many widgets you file, you’re going to look out of place if you don’t grab more work after you’ve finished your pile. That’s especially true if you’re flipping through your phone or reading a novel while other people are working (which it doesn’t sound like you’re doing).

    Just a thought: you said that you found your paycheck demoralizing. If that’s the demoralizing part, have you had a conversation with your manager about what it would take for you to get an increase? You could use examples of the additional work that you’ve taken on to bolster your case.

  25. Lalaroo*

    Does this answer still apply if the position is paid hourly? That’s what I struggle with, as someone who frequently has no work to do – even after asking for more.

    1. Not So Super-visor*

      Again, I think that it depends on your workplace. For some workplaces, there is still the expectation that Salary/NonExempt = X hours while for other places Salary/NonExempt = Y amount of work. I think that you have to know the culture of your workplace in order to answer that question.

    2. OP*

      Considering I’m hourly, and non-exempt, as are most support staff in my experience, I think it still applies.

    3. The Man, Becky Lynch*

      Yes. Unless you’re a strictly project based employee and nothing ever gets passed to you at random intervals, you are “on standby” in my point of view. You’re more likely to run into this as non exempt in general.

  26. C Average*

    I agree with everything Alison said, but I also think a little slack in one’s schedule is underrated.

    Having some white space means you can say yes to impromptu requests. It means you can deal gracefully with interruptions. It means you can offer colleagues in-depth help with tricky questions, rather than a cursory overview. Having the capacity to do those things is hugely valuable.

    Also, people who are not franticking around trying to manage their workload are waaaaaay more pleasant to work with. An admin who has the time and capacity to project a certain amount of zen to the overall department is a huge asset.

  27. dumblewald*

    In my team, contributing to teamwork is highly encouraged though never required. Or working ahead on your own tasks. Like other commenters suggested, I would play this card selectively. If your tends to go through ebbs and flows of busy and less busy periods, it’s not a bad idea to use the downtime to rest a bit so you don’t get burned out.

  28. Michelle*

    So I’m in a similar situation. I used to ask for more work and/or help others. Then I found out that while I was doing their work, they were on social media, taking 2 hour lunches or strolling around chatting with work buddies. So I stopped asking and helping. If my boss asks/assigns me something extra of course I do that, but otherwise I do my stuff and find ways to fill the time. I’ve got the best looking files, labeled stockroom and cleanest cube in the company.

  29. Betsy S*

    Also remember that there is *value* to the organization in having you have some spare time. Think of it as reserve capacity – it means that if there is something critical that comes up, you’ll be able to do it and do it fast and well. If you were 100% busy, you’d have to be telling people NO some of the time or making them wait for things more often.

  30. Batgirl*

    OP, it sounds like this set up is what drives you in this particular job.
    You’re not so under-utilised that you’re bored, in fact you’re extremely high achieving; so why mess with a winning formula? If ‘more work as a reward’ is demotivating, then stick with what’s motivating – hitting deadlines quickly and cleanly and leaving a little silence between the beats.

  31. Admin Amber*

    You might want to look into getting your position reclassified. That will maybe cause some jealousy issues with the other admins at your current level, but that is their issue not yours.

    It sounds like you are working well above your current position and should be properly titled and compensated for it.

    1. OP*

      Yep, that’s the “promotion” I’m angling for, to Marketing Assistant from Secretary. We’ll see if it happens.

  32. AKchic*

    Look at it like this: You’re learning to be a better secretary/assistant by doing the tutorials/readings/educations in your downtime. You’re also available for any emergencies that come up because you’re so efficient at your job, which means that if someone else needs temporary help, you’re there to step in, and that kind of flexibility is invaluable.

    Requesting more work on a full-time basis could burn you out. Being flexible and not requesting more full-time work is probably going to be better for you. You can keep learning, keep being available for short-term or emergency as-needed projects and still look like a rock star.

  33. Samwise*

    I would not ask for work. What you are doing now — educational videos and so on — is appropriate; it’s professional development and it’s related to the work you are doing.

    If I were you, I’d ask for that raise and promotion *now*. Do you really need to wait? Do you think they will fire you if you ask now? (probably not, your boss made sure you were part of *her* promotion package — I’m side-eyeing your boss for not asking for $$ for you when that happened!). I wouldn’t present it as “I have all this free time” — instead, lay out what you just said in your letter, with lots of specifics on what you are doing and its value, making clear which parts are already work that’s done in positions above your paygrade.

    And you might just do some job searching, if only to see what other opportunities are out there, and how much you could be earning.

  34. tempanon*

    OP, you sound like a rock star, I know things will be different/more demanding in your chosen field but I can only imagine you will succeed there too. And get paid! Seriously, I hope you get rich!

    It’s a shame that quite often being more productive means just getting rewarded with… more work.

    I used to manage a team (out of several) of salespeople in a call center, we managers would take turns dividing up weekly busywork to the staff. One guy, Steve, was amazingly quick. What most people spent an hour or more doing he could do in maybe 15-20 minutes, and not sloppily, either. One week I noticed a manager assigned him double the amount of this busywork. When I asked him why he said well Steve is faster, this way everyone spends the same amount of time doing this stuff no one wants to do.

    Uh, no, we don’t punish excellence, we reward it. Steve isn’t going HOME when he finishes it, he gets back on the phone and makes more sales. You know, our primary role. Do you want Tiggers or do you want Eeyores?

    I prevailed but it was annoying how much back-and-forth it took.

    1. Not So Super-visor*

      funny flashback: at my first job out of college, I was a Steve. My manager would go around every afternoon with a stack of invoices and POs that needed to be processed between phone calls and evenly distribute them. I’d always get through them super fast while staying on the phones. Then I started noticing that I was getting more and more, and I was struggling to get through them all. They always showed up while I was on my afternoon break. One day, I finally told my manager that I was having a hard time keeping up and showed her what I hadn’t completed. She was confused because she hadn’t given me more than normal. She redistributed what I hadn’t gotten through. The next day, she kept an eye on my desk when I went to break. It turned out that several coworkers had been slipping some of their work into my inbox when I went to break. Jerks.

    2. OP*

      Thank you for the kind words! My chosen career is engineering, so while I won’t get rich quickly, that is the ultimate goal, to give my own family the truly comfortable life I didn’t have myself growing up.

  35. Lysis*

    I think the fact that you have the time to do background reading and research in your field is part of why you are a superstar. It gives you the context you need to excel in the projects assigned to you. This is not anywhere near unethical, you are doing your job!

  36. I coulda been a lawyer*

    I was a secretary at an employer in the early 1980s with a tuition reimbursement plan. They paid me back what I paid for tuition based on the grade I earned (100% for an A, 90% for a B, …). They considered my school work to be part of my workload. Not at the top of my priority list, but still on it. Anything school related was part of my duties, even calling my study group to coordinate sessions or a lab scheduled during business hours.

  37. Green Glass Goblets*

    Others have made excellent points, most of which I agree with. However – and I don’t mean to sound like a grump – have you considered the long term benefits that taking on some extra grunt work might get you?

    Reading your initial question along with your replies, you come across to me as extremely intelligent, highly competent, and slightly smug. I don’t mean to insult you by saying that, but just to give you a perspective that you may not have considered.

    To answer your original question, I personally don’t think there’s anything unethical about coasting in a job – if you can do the job well, and spend your downtime working on more important pursuits – go for it.

    In a practical sense, it’s a judgment call. If you can get away with studying, etc. while still doing the tasks you’re being paid for, then I personally think that’s a good use of your time.

    I do think you may want to examine your attitude though. This is obviously just my reading, but like I said before, you come across as a bit smug to me. You’ve described yourself as a ‘superstar’ a couple of times, and I think that might be a bit premature. I don’t doubt for a minute that you’re extremely good at what you do, but maybe consider that experience is cheap at any price?

  38. nnn*

    If you truly are concerned about whether you’re behaving ethically, you could ask your manager “Is there anything in particular I should be doing when I’ve finished my work before the end of the day?” and then abide by their instructions. If they can’t think of anything, that’s fine! You’re doing exactly what you were told!

  39. Megasaurusus*

    Entry and mid level administration in the field of Education is different than other fields. It comes with overwhelmingly busy spurts and long stretches with little to do. It took me awhile to figure out that part of my job is to figure out how to endure the sparse times while looking reasonably engaged and productive. Additionally, pay is reliant entirely upon job classification, there are no raises beyond COL without a promotion. There’s no reward for high performance and virtually no punishment for low performance. I see a lot of people get discouraged by this and it manifests in different ways – either angry & resentful over working, or flippant goofing off. I decided for myself I’d aim for the middle ground and just do the job I was hired for, no more, no less. When I have extra time (often) I do like the OP and read and explore professional development webinars and whatnot. It was frustrating to me at first, because I prefer to be busy and engaged, but it was helpful to see it as literally a part of the job requirements, so that I could make the most of available time – it’s very much a luxury that many others in the working world do no have.

  40. Lily*

    “I am tired of being a shining star and my only reward being more work. It was fulfilling to a point, but when I look at my paycheck and see I’m making barely over minimum wage, I get demoralized.” —- Exactly this. I completely feel your pain OP! Agree with Alison’s advice, that if you’re meeting the goals of your own role you’re not obligated to ask for more.

    I was in your position a year ago, and I did ask my manager if there was anything more I could be doing….frankly I’m kind of regretting it. In my very junior role in my large company, my workload has tripled in size in 1 year, with no compensation increase. I’ve become the “go to” person for almost all things in my department, spending 75% of my time doing things outside of my actual job description. While it is very flattering and I do appreciate learning opportunities, it’s getting to the point where it feels ridiculous that I’m supporting 10 different peoples projects or workloads, because I’m good at doing my own job (where as some of my colleagues move at the speed of molasses…). My boss took my one mention of “I’ve got a bit of time I could be doing a bit more” one year ago and it’s followed me ever since.

    While I know in the long-term it’s great to be making a good impression as a worker, and learning a lot of different roles, frankly on days where I’m too busy to take lunch and meanwhile my (paid more) colleagues leave at 3pm…can’t help but feel like my “great, fast worker” reputation is just bailing them out and allowing them to maintain their inefficient work habits. ¯\_(ツ)_/¯

  41. LCS*

    Is what you’re going to school for related at all to your job? If so, I’d be tempted to frame it like “I’m taking ____ in school in part to better develop skills X, Y, Z which will make me better at my job. As long as I’m meeting all job requirements, if I find I have a slow period at work, can I use that time to complete class readings / write papers / research / etc. as a form of professional development?”

    If they say yes it’s win/win/win – You get to be paid to knock off some homework, they buy in to your professional development (which actually makes it easier to ask for the raise down the line) and you don’t need to feel either (a) guilty about not asking to do more, or (b) resentful because the “more” you do just lets other people off the hook.

    If they say no – you just never happen to have a slow period :)

  42. Wish my team thought like this*

    Just to highlight the difference between what you’re asking, OP, as a diligent hard worker who uses down time to better yourself, and a situation where responses would be somewhat different…

    In my work, we can occasionally have a bit of down time during projects while we wait for responses from clients before moving to the next stage. Theres often other tasks to do, coworkers with bigger workloads that could be eased by one day’s help, next projects to start prepping, etc, but my team don’t seem to grasp that. They don’t bring the project briefly stalling to my attention, spend a day or two browsing the internet (not work related reading) and when I ask how things are going they’ll respond “I’ve finished stage 3 and I’m waiting for x, y and z now.” I stand there for a moment, before prompting “So?” “Oh… I guess… hmm… is there anything I could help out with while I wait?” *eye roll* I’ve had to have quite a few 1-1 meetings, explaining the benefits of proactively asking for work not originally allocated to them, but it seems they prefer to stare out the window or chat about what was on TV last night with their coworkers. Sigh. Ultimately before I can really get into it, a client response comes in and they get back to work.

  43. Amethystmoon*

    Some things that can be done during down time are: Double or triple-check your work for errors, type up your notes into a Word document or a PowerPoint so others can do the job if you take a vacation someday, organize files (this works for digital and paper), cleaning up your workspace, read Ask A Manager (though only if your company’s internet use policies don’t prohibit this — although there is always your cell phone), or just find a way to look busy in general. I myself have had a lot of down time lately, but I know we will be getting slammed with work when boss comes back from his travel in the next week or two. Another division of the company hasn’t been doing it and our team is getting assigned to it, but there need to be i’s dotted and t’s crossed for us to do it, which aren’t there now.

  44. Jennifer Juniper*

    Don’t ask for more work unless you want more work. Otherwise, you could end up burning yourself out.

  45. ECS*

    Don’t underestimate the value of reading articles and watching tutorials. Those are important skill builders.

  46. Dirty Thief*

    I once took a job as an office admin for a small company, in which two of us were hired at the same time. The other admin did not last long, and was not replaced. Even though she had been started at a $2 higher hourly wage than me, I was given only a $1 raise and would now be doing all of the work we had previously shared. Well, over time I found ways to work smarter, not harder… I became faster and more efficient and was able to complete my work in considerably less time, leaving myself occasional downtime like the OP describes. The company owner’s response to this? That any downtime while on the clock was considered theft from the company. In his eyes, the only reward for my increase in efficiency and productivity was that he could get more out of me for the same amount of money. Guess who started working a lot slower after that…

  47. voyager1*

    I think the answer is in your case it wouldn’t be unethical. However in many professional jobs, this situation wouldn’t be seen as ethical but as: are you a team player/takes initiative. You want to be seen as. a team player or as someone who takes initiative.

    Hope you get that raise.

  48. boop the first*

    You mean there’s a situation where being extra efficient and extra helpful DOESN’T just lead to being expected to do MORE work for no benefit? When I took initiative to voluntarily cross train during slow hours, all I got was shifts where I was the only person around because “I could do it”, work that my manager should have been doing, and $2/hour less than the “equivalent” (not equivalent, b/c I was more senior and had more responsibilities) men as my “benefit”.
    Then in my next job, I was the most reliable and hustled hard to increase output in my department, and my “benefit” was the expectation that I would skip breaks in order to finish the increased workload (again, I found myself the only person left in the department that originally had three people per day). They also ignored me for several months and tried to deny me vacation time. And then laid off.
    But boy did I get some pats on the head for being such a good little worker, makes the whole thing worth it!
    (not really)

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