my boss wants me to take on a new task – and I don’t want to!

A reader writes:

I started a new job about four months ago in my field, but in an entirely new role. I have been in customer-facing tech support for the past six years, and was extremely excited to have my first non-customer facing role. Now I do mostly technical writing and lots of project-based content management and I love it! I’m an expert in the subject matter of this field and it’s been a progressive environment for me to expand and utilize my skill set.

Recently my boss has talked about wanting to implement a live chat style messaging system within our company’s app, where our users can ask questions in real time and get technical help – a sort of help desk. In theory this would have me and two others manning it (as we are the most experienced in this field).

This is actually devastating to me. I have done my time getting chewed out by angry customers online or on the phone, carefully explaining technology they have no grasp of. This job was very specifically my breakthrough out of customer service to focus on growing my actual skillset. I feel like because of my past experience in customer service and my thorough knowledge of the product, I’m being pigeonholed into this. Because I’ve been in this role such a short time, I don’t exactly have the experience to start looking for other work right now.

I need some advice on how to approach my boss and explain this is not a responsibility I want or am willing to take, without putting my job in jeopardy. In my offer letter, it said something like “the job duties may change based on company need,” but this is basically turning me into a completely different role. If I knew that doing customer service / web-based tech support was going to be on the table at all, I would’ve likely stayed at my last job where I loved my boss and had a much more collaborative team.

For a little background, this is a very small company (less than 15 people) and there isn’t much of a hierarchy. My boss (the owner/CEO) and I have almost zero relationship. We don’t ever have check-ins or performance discussions. When I was hired, he told me what my area of focus would be and set me free into the role (which I have been excelling at). We only really talk to discuss how projects are going or what direction they will take, so I already don’t feel very comfortable being super candid with him or discussing my career path.

It’s true that most job descriptions say something like, “duties may change based on company need” or “other duties as assigned.” But that doesn’t mean you can’t push back! You can — especially when you have strong feelings about a task and especially when it’s squarely outside the work you were hired to do.

Right now, your boss probably has no idea that you don’t want to take on the help-desk function, and he definitely doesn’t know that you feel as strongly about it as you do. And if he’s a decent manager, he doesn’t want to demoralize a good employee or risk losing you by adding a hated duty that you weren’t warned about before you signed on.

Of course, it’s possible that he could want to keep you happy and yet have no choice about needing to assign the work to you. Jobs evolve, and sometimes they change in ways that the people doing them aren’t thrilled about. Sometimes managers do need to say, “I hear you that you’d rather not do X, but I need someone in this role who can take that on.”

But other times, once they understand someone has very strong feelings about not taking on a particular task, managers are able to work around that. Sometimes that means pulling in others who don’t mind as much. Sometimes it means restructuring your share of the work in a way that makes it more palatable to you. (For example, maybe you’d be happy to advise the people staffing the help desk as long as you don’t have to talk with customers directly.) Sometimes, a manager may even be open to rethinking the plan entirely (“we thought Jane would jump at the chance to do this, but since she’s not, let’s explore other approaches”).

The more valued you are, the more likely your boss is to try to accommodate you. If you’re fairly senior, in a hard-to-fill job, have a track record of excellent work, or have built up a lot of good will (such as by being flexible in the past), those things all help. In your case, you’ve only been there four months, which makes it harder to check off most of those boxes, but your newness might work for you in a different way: You were just hired into a job that didn’t include this work — and your boss probably doesn’t want you to feel like it was a bait and switch.

Of course, so far all of this is speculation. Your boss might turn out to be flexible, or he could refuse to budge. We don’t know yet.

So, the first step is to talk to him. Ask to meet, and say something like this: “I wanted to talk to you about the plans for the help desk. I took this job specifically because I wanted to get away from doing customer-facing tech support. It was the reason I began job searching, and it was a big factor in me signing on here. I love the work I’ve been doing — it’s exactly what I was looking for — and it’s really important to me not to go back to customer support. I’m hoping there might be a way to keep my job as it’s been and not add this on to it.” If your sense is that you could safely add this, you could also say, “To be fully transparent, I feel so strongly about this that if I’d known the role would end up including a help desk component, I wouldn’t have taken the job.”

And then see what he says. Based on how the conversation goes, at some point it might be useful to say, “I want to be clear that I understand that jobs evolve, and in general I’m very open to that. This just happens to be the one thing I was specifically changing jobs to get away from.”

From there, you’ll get a better idea of whether there’s some flexibility, or whether the help desk is now going to be part of your job regardless. If your boss isn’t willing to budge, you’ll need to decide if you still want the job under these conditions. (If that does happen, you might see if you can negotiate to have the assignment be temporary rather than permanent.)

Last, I know you said you’re not comfortable being really candid with your boss. But to give yourself the best chance of a good outcome here, you do have to open up a little. It’s key for your boss to understand that you don’t object to taking on new responsibilities in general, but changed jobs specifically to avoid this one. Good luck!

Originally published at New York Magazine.

{ 108 comments… read them below }

    1. NoMoreTechSupport!*

      Hi friends, OP here. So I sent this letter a few months back and it actually turned out okay. I preemptively used the advice that Alison basically gives here. I was kind of panicking when I wrote this and was really in my head about being in a CS role again and feeling nervous about approaching my boss.

      We had a small group meeting where we were talking about the road map for this project. I tried to be kind but stern and said something like “I’m pretty averse to taking on any more customer facing roles myself. Is there anyway I could help without straying too far from my current duties?” My boss was actually very receptive and as a compromise I’ve helped do some training with our support team on how to make their answers / interactions stronger since I have so much experience, without actually talking to customers myself. All’s well that ends well! Alison’s scripts here are great and hopefully this post can help others as well :)

      1. msk*

        That’s really a good outcome. Having a trainer/support person with a lot of knowledge is very valuable. It’s easier to find people to fill the customer service role–people who might actually enjoy it, when you have that key support person.

      2. Hey Karma, Over here.*

        Channeling your inner Alison. Excellent. (and your own good sense and confidence!) Well done.

      3. Hannah*

        Since you’re in a content role, have you thought about suggesting a chatbot? If a customer can’t get a very specific question answered there, then they can be rerouted to a live human. And you could help write the responses to a sort of FAQ. That way you can still be super helpful in that way without having to interact with live customers.

        Just a thought. Glad it turned out well!

        1. PersephoneUnderground*

          Ooh nooo chatbots are awful- you type out a very specific question and they see the keywords with what you already tried and link you to the same faq you specifically said didn’t help… Just no. I think all they do is make customers angry or give up before they talk to a human.

        2. JSPA*

          I’m not a violent person, but chatbots? Yeahhhhh…no.

          It’s like having someone who doesn’t speak the language search and read your webpage for me (which I have already done for myself, thankyouverymuch).

          The bad ones are immediately useless. The good ones (the ones that fake being a person) are hugely enraging time-wasters. I’ll stop doing business with a company (even if I have a cart full of carefully selected items) if they foist a chatbot on me.

          Hate. Hate. Hate.

        3. Marissa*

          I’m fine with chatbots if and only if the chatbot is very willing to give me a clear and easy “would you like to speak to a human?” option when it fails to solve the problem.

      4. NotAnotherManager!*

        This update made me really happy! I’m glad this worked out – both that you were able to advocate for yourself AND that your boss was receptive.

        My spouse has a similar role – years in customer-based support, finally parlayed that it something that he much prefers. I think they’d have to double his pay to have him go back to first-tier support!

      5. Cathy Gale*

        That’s great! I think the first comment at the NYM site was also excellent. It noted that even more than executing help desk responses, you can create valued answers and documentation, eg job aids, because you’re a SME.

  1. Jennifer*

    I feel your pain! I have done my time getting cursed out by rude customers as well. I did call center jobs for years and I’d NEVER do it again unless I was facing homelessness. I hope everything works out.

    1. Johnny Tarr*

      Good lord, yes. I didn’t have a call center job; I had people cussing me out in a completely different line of work, and like you I would NEVER do it again. Dealing with the public is . . . its own category of work. Springing a customer-service responsibility on unsuspecting employees is not. cool.

      1. Johnny Tarr*

        Not to attack this boss; he/she probably dealt with this issue in the best way that circumstances allowed, but I can’t imagine many employees would respond to this change with happiness or even indifference. I for sure would not.

    2. Elizabeth West*

      I’d rather go back to FOOD SERVICE than do a call center job. I had a short-lived telemarketing position, a long time ago, plus 100 million years of receptionist work, and that was enough. At least in food, there are jobs where a person can work in the kitchen and not have to deal with customers.

      1. NotAnotherManager!*

        Same – my mom works in a call center and, for the most part, actually enjoys it, but when she tells me about some of her calls I realize that it’d be my idea of hell on earth. (It’s a great fit for her, but I think she’s the weird one for falling into that category.)

    3. I Heart JavaScript*

      God, same. I’ve done call center, retail, and reception/admin work — all of which are essentially different forms of customer service. I’ve been told that I’m what’s wrong with the youth of today, and that’s one of the milder insults. I’ve been yelled at, sworn at, insulted, and belittled, all while making barely more than minimum wage. It’s shameful the way some people act, especially towards those on “lower” rungs who just have to take it.

      It’s so bad that now that I’m in software, I refuse to apply for things like sales or solutions engineer roles because I never want to work with customers again.

      1. Cathy Gale*

        I’m so sorry. I have done my share of customer service/help desk stuff. Not gotten as much abuse, but had people cry and lose tempers when talking to me. I try to tell people at call centers if I’m upset, “I’m not mad at you, I know you’re just trying to do your job, but here’s why I’m frustrated.” I know when customers talked to me like that, it made me feel like we were trying to find a solution together…

        1. Devil Fish*

          Please stop saying that. :(

          If a caller starts by saying “I’m not mad at you,” there’s a better than even chance that at some point during the call they’ll start threatening me or calling me the c-word or similar. If you start off by saying that, we brace for the worst and it’s incredibly stressful waiting for the abuse to happen and not being able to do a thing about it.

          “I know you’re just trying to do your job,” gets our call score marked down by QA because it’s considered an empathy fail, and too many empathy fails gets us put on a PIP/written up/fired. (This isn’t done everywhere but it’s been done at more than 1 call center I’ve worked for.)

  2. stefanielaine*

    Unless OP’s industry has a particularly high demand for IT advice, it’s hard to imagine that it would take 3 full-time staff to support a tech help chat for a company of 15 people. OP, the more quickly you can have this conversation with your boss, the more time you give them to come up with another plan (or realize that they don’t actually need to assign 3 people to this task). Good luck!

    1. JimmyJab*

      I gather there is a product produced by the small company, users of which require tech support, not the employees of the company. Could be mistaken, but that’s how I read it.

      1. Fortitude Jones*

        I read it that way as well. I think OP would be a lot less concerned about this change if she were only doing chat support for internal customers versus external customers.

        And OP, as a former claims adjuster who also had my fair share of unpleasant customer facing interactions and who swore off customer service oriented positions from now until eternity because of it – I feel you. So hard. I hope Alison’s advice works for you.

  3. ragazza*

    I wonder if OP could also make a case for how much this would disrupt her other work. Not sure if they would have shifts (which doesn’t seem like the best use of her time, if there aren’t a lot of inquiries) or if she would just answer inquiries as they came in. In the latter case, it’s very hard for a lot of people to move back and forth seamlessly to different tasks, and there are studies that constant interruptions greatly reduce productivity.

    1. AnonEMoose*

      I think this is a good point. It sounds like the OP’s current responsibilities require sustained concentration, and the frequent interruptions of monitoring a chat would be really incompatible with that.

    2. Daffy Duck*

      This! It is next to impossible for most people to effectively write technical information if they are constantly interrupted (or even expecting to be interrupted). This is not a matter of knowing the material or experience – it requires having to switch focus.

      1. it's me*

        Yes. Addressing tickets/chat requests case-by-case is very different from sustained writing of content.

        1. AnonEMoose*

          So much this! I used to have responsibilities that, while they didn’t involve technical information, did involve putting many pieces of information together into a narrative for review by others. Interruptions or things that made me switch focus could easily cost me half an hour, because not only did I have to deal with whatever it was, I then had to figure out where in the heck I was with what I’d been doing before.

          Fortunately, my boss was understanding, and at particularly busy times, was willing to tell the most frequent interrupters to email me rather than stop by my desk. Then I could deal with their questions between other tasks. They didn’t always like it, but they learned to deal with it.

      2. Elizabeth West*

        Yes yes yes.

        Although I was technically an admin, and we backed up the receptionist at lunch, my primary duty at Exjob was editing and creating technical reports and department SOP documentation. Yesterday, I saw a listing for a tech editor at an environmental company here. It sounded great, but the very bottom of the listing, they shoehorned in front desk duties. Not as a backup, either.

        I passed; the front desk is the very definition of jobus interruptus. I could never do anything but sit there when I covered Exjob’s receptionist at lunch. That was just a butt-in-seat thing, for an hour. Plus, the fact that the environmental company would combine those two very, very different roles made me suspect the pay (not listed) was more in line with a low-level admin rather than an actual professional position.

    3. animaniactoo*

      Yup – this was what I was coming to bring up. Being able to talk to boss to say “I’ve done this before, and because I have I know how disruptive it would be to accomplishing the work that I’m focused on. It would likely create X, Y, and Z problems for me (and possibly the other 2).”

    4. LizB*

      This is a great point, but if I were a boss really trying to make this work, I’d probably then set up a shift/coverage schedule — so OP will be covering the chat Mon-Tues, Jane will be covering it Weds-Thurs, and Susan will be covering Fri-Sat, for example. That lets each team member plan their week around their coverage day. I think the OP should make their primary argument that they just don’t want their role to change in this huge way, and bring in the disruption as a supporting point.

  4. Doug Judy*

    Yes talk to the boss about this. If they still seem to want you involved, maybe offer help write procedures and processes or give your opinion on things, but make it clear you are not interested in doing the work. Almost like you’re consulting them.

    1. Captain Raymond Holt*

      A lot of software companies are moving towards knowledge bases and other kinds of customer-facing documentation. Customers love it because it saves them the time of waiting for a response from support. OP could offer to write that as well, which would keep them in the technical writing realm, but also allow them to help with the new support initiative.

      As someone who just transferred internally from a customer facing role to a pure business operations job, I feel the OP. I’m much happier now and I realize that just because I’m good at interacting with other humans doesn’t mean that I want to be in a customer/public facing role.

      1. it's me*

        This is also a good point—I’m not sure what kind of end deliverable OP is writing, but they may be able to create an FAQ-based knowledge base that customers can access rather than contacting live support.

      2. Mid*

        Without hopefully going too off topic, I would strongly disagree that customers like knowledge bases. I have yet to find one useful. Either the problem is too unique for the knowledge base to help, or the user is too unfamiliar with technology for the knowledge base to help. Or the knowledge base is outdated or too updated to help (e.g. doesn’t include the newest update, or updates and discontinues support for older editions of the product.)

        However, this could be a viable alternative to propose–especially if the company plans on actually keeping their knowledge base updated and functional, there would be a lot of tech writing involved. And if there is a Q & A space where users can post their issues without necessarily needing live support, OP could potentially volunteer for that–still supporting customers, but not live interaction, and not as a main duty. But essentially moderation and quality control of a help forum.

        1. Captain Raymond Holt*

          I think it depends on the software product. I’m coming from a SaaS background where our users have found a knowledge base a helpful alternative for those “how-to” type questions. I’ve also found them useful as an end user. There’s some stuff I rarely do in the product, so I don’t bother to learn it, just look in the knowledge base.

          The point is moot with the OP’s update, but these tools have value if (as is true with any tool) they’re implemented properly.

          1. Jadelyn*

            Agreed – the HRIS my company uses has a knowledge base in their support stuff, and I LOVE it. When the call center is slammed (which it often is), I’d rather spend a few minutes searching to see what I can dig up myself – especially since the knowledge base is comprised in large part of closed customer cases, so you wind up finding other people who’ve had the same or very similar issues to what you’ve got, rather than just general help articles.

            It’s particularly great for those things I do only occasionally, so I’m familiar with the process, but I need to jog my memory every time since I don’t do it often enough for the details to stick.

      3. Temperance*

        I find knowledge bases/documentation frustrating because I’m tech-savvy enough to navigate the first few rounds of troubleshooting myself. So by the time I deal with a person who is asking me if I know X, Y, and Z, I’ve done all of those and am frustrated when I’ve likely identified the problem without assistance and just need someone on the inside to do the final step.

        1. RUKiddingMe*

          This is me. I am by no means an “IT gal” but yeah, I reset the server, just like I did every single other time. Yes, I did XYZ…just like every single other time. Dude, stop wasting my time. Just transfer me beyond level one support mkay?

          1. Jadelyn*

            Unfortunately, if you work tech support, you quickly learn that there are a surprising number of people who think their issue is just too special to be fixed with restarting the computer, or resetting the server, or clearing their browser cache, or whatever other first step. So they skip that, claim they did it, and you waste your time chasing down and trying more involved fixes only to eventually discover that they never did reset/restart/whatever it in the first place, and as soon as you get them to do that, it’s fixed. So you eventually figure it’s faster to waste 5 minutes and insist they restart it again and annoy them a bit at the outset, then continue to the more advanced fixes after that if it’s still necessary, than to take them at their word and potentially wind up wasting a lot MORE time that way.

            Plus, in the bigger corporate call centers, there’s usually a script the level 1 support reps are stuck with, and they can’t transfer you on until they’ve completed the full song and dance routine.

        2. Cathy Gale*

          I have to cosign Jadelyn here. Had exactly the same experience. Technically proficient people in certain areas who nonetheless don’t do methodical fixes before calling for help, beginning with turn it off/turn it on again. Or simply want you to remotely do the fix they could do faster themselves.

    2. NoMoreTechSupport!*

      OP here, yep this is exactly what I did! I ended up writing a Customer Support Writing Guide for the team to refer to, and doing some individual coaching with the support staff. It helped make our team stronger without having me actually doing customer support, so I can focus on my work but still set aside time to help the newer team succeed. Now we do a monthly meeting to check in and go over tickets or chats that were particularly tough that I can help guide through. Worked as a nice compromise for me!

      1. RUKiddingMe*

        Great job!

        Don’t forget all that organizing, training, team leading, supervision/management experience you’re getting by doing all of that when next you update your resume.

  5. Shawn*

    Also, your skills as a tech writer will set you free. I have been in that role for over 10 years now and jobs are aplenty! Gain about a year under your belt and you will be very marketable for future tech writing jobs…those that don’t require you to work in a customer service type of role. Don’t lose hope!

    1. Fortitude Jones*

      This, and proposal writing and content management positions (especially in tech – I work for a software company). I was a proposal manager for a year in the transportation industry when, suddenly, I began getting a ton of interviews for job applications submitted to places that wouldn’t even sneeze on me just a couple months prior, lol. I wonder what it is about that year mark?

    2. NoMoreTechSupport!*

      OP here, thanks for the support! I love technical writing and am thoroughly enjoying it. It was a really nice way to transition doing so much tech support into a more specialized role. I’m definitely hoping to make this my new career path and it’s been going well so far! Glad to hear that 10 years in you’re still digging it!

  6. it's me*

    “For example, maybe you’d be happy to advise the people staffing the help desk as long as you don’t have to talk with customers directly.”
    This is a good angle to start with, if the conversation takes this turn.
    I’d bet, as a tech writer myself, the decision-maker here assumed that these are basically the same jobs.

    1. AndersonDarling*

      I was thinking that the OP could get the chat project rolling with the understanding that a new hire would start after one month to take over the support role.
      But that depends on if the company is trustworthy enough to hire someone.

    2. Shawn*

      Agreed. People find you are a tech writer and suddenly you are given work that you never even knew existed.

  7. ArtK*

    I knew it was time to get out of direct user support when I wanted to answer the phone: “Customer Support, this had *better* be good!” Left it and haven’t looked back. I used to get recruiters try to get me back into it but I shut them down quickly. I’m not cut out for it and the customers would suffer (as would I.)

    I hope that the LW can get this resolved. It’d be something that I’d consider quitting over.

    1. Fortitude Jones*

      LOL! You sound like me when I was a claims adjuster. I did frequently answer the phone with that tone, and I even got to the point where I’d flat out ask, “Is this for real? What part of what I explained to you two days ago was unclear?”

      Thankfully, I was out of that role a few months later.

      1. Tisiphone*

        So many times I’ve had to resist doing the following:

        Me: Thank you for calling tech support, how may I help you?

        Customer: I need to talk to a tech.

        Me: OK, let me transfer you. (dumps the caller back into the queue where the clock on the wall says the wait time is 45 min)

        What I actually said: That would be me.

        Customer: I need to talk to a tech.

        Me: I’m the tech… (five minutes later he (it was always a he) accepts that I’m a tech and it usually turns out to be a wild ride of making a face-saving show of not pricking his precious little ego while having him “reseat the cables”. In other words, the damn cable wasn’t plugged in.

        Never again. Oh hell no!

        1. Fortitude Jones*

          Ugh! Yeah, I got a lot of garbage from male callers who thought they knew more than I did about the insurance policy (they didn’t), and it always amused me when they’d ask to be transferred to a supervisor (because I clearly got the claims decision wrong), and my supervisor would always agree with my decision, lol.

        2. ArtK*

          We should do a share of customer stories in tech.

          My favorite. We had a customer that was using a teletype. Yes, a real machine that connected to the ‘net via a modem and typed on paper. BTW, this was a state agency — we held one tiny database for them. So the caller goes into the fact that their teletype isn’t working. I do the usual routine. “Are there any red lights showing?” “Is it plugged in?” “Is the modem connected?” Back and forth for several minutes. Then the user asks “What does this *red* ‘paper’ light mean?”

          I can just imagine how painful that stuff must be when you add the blatant sexism into the mix. I’m sure that there’s a temptation to say “Son, I’ve *forgotten* more about this tech than you’ll ever know. Deal with it.”

    2. RUKiddingMe*

      The ladt year in the salon (owned it) I would lock the door, turn off the lights, and hide/nap under the hairdryers.

      In my head I was like “stop knocking you *really* don’t want me near you with sharp/hot stuff or chemicals right now…go away.”

      It was time to go. Past (way) time…by a few years. Sold my half to my partner and never looked back or regretted it.

  8. The Man, Becky Lynch*

    I’m flinching a bit because it’s a small company and you don’t have much interaction with your boss, that’s a bad setup and puts my teeth on edge [not your fault OP, your boss is the problem, they should know better…].

    It could be my own battle scars from all the years with that size of company, it will depend drastically on the ownership and if they’re actually good leaders [not checking in with you, having no relationship with you, that screams “bad” to me, it’s not the norm if you want to build a company to be solid but yeah.]

    So I would approach it cautiously, still say you’re not interested in doing the customer service help desk work and see what happens. If they have 2 other people to deal with it, it may boil down to you needing to just be the person that if those two people are out at the same time, it lands in your lap.

    It’s giving me flashbacks to “Everyone has to pitch in everywhere, no we don’t care if you don’t want to do it, do it or the retooling means that you’re going to be fast tracked out of the “family”/company.”

    1. RUKiddingMe*

      Yeah I hate those companies that hire fir position a and then dump positions b and c on you…each being a full time job instead of just hiring more people. I get it…money, but ultimately they lose good people, so…

      Sure pitch in in a pinch for a very short temporary thing that happens as a one (or even two) off because hiring more people for something that will resolve in a couple weeks makes no sense.

      However when it becomes open ended and/or keeps happening regularly (3+ times) that’s a pattern and a need for additional staff even temp staff from an agency.

      1. The Man, Becky Lynch*

        It’s irresponsible and takes advantage of workers. I’ve made a living off “wearing multiple hats” and I’m fine with it but I’ve still seen it go above and beyond, which is gross to put it bluntly!

        It’s also not sustainable as you know. I’m fine plugging holes while we get some more people on board but yeah it regularly turns into a forever-multiple-jobs, especially if they’re salaried! Man…I love punching a clock again. I’ll do whatever you want for that OT money ;)

    2. Seeking Second Childhood*

      Another classic…you’re hired to be an A+B promised to move up to full-time B when they’re big enough to add someone else to staff. Only the owner’s friend gets laid off so they hire her over your head…

    3. MissDisplaced*

      I feel like this too, and in my experience the smaller the company the less room you have to not do it. I tried to get out of trade show organization because I was already doing email, web, design, social and writing and the trade shows took up so much time (plus never being allowed to go to any of them-which cut me out of that learning experience).
      Sigh! I hope this works out for the OP.

  9. mcr-red*

    “I need some advice on how to approach my boss and explain this is not a responsibility I want or am willing to take, without putting my job in jeopardy.”

    I honestly think OP, that at 4 months into a job, this is likely impossible. If you were years into the job, maybe, you could push back and say, “Yeah, this isn’t what I want to do, this isn’t what I was hired to do, I left my last job (doing this) to come to you…” and they might see reason. I have two friends that had worked a decade plus at a company, got transferred to another division/role, and months/years went to their boss and said, “This job isn’t what you told me it would be, I hate it, and I want back to my old job,” and they did do it. I have a feeling that at 4 months in, they are going to not care and tell you to do it anyway, or leave.

    And I will tell you, beware of them saying they understand and will have you “temporarily” do the customer service role until they can find someone else. They will never find someone else. I fell prey to that myself – got burnt out doing a particular aspect of my job, said I seriously can’t do this anymore, they did give it to another person, that person burnt out and quit, hired another, that person burnt out and quit, and I got it back and told it was temporary. It wasn’t.

    1. Alienor*

      My company loves to do that “temporary” thing. I’ve spent the last year and a half “temporarily” doing the jobs of three people who have left (one of them a manager), while also trying to do my own original job. Needless to say, I’m not performing very well at any of them, which is a constant drain on my psyche.

  10. hbc*

    Maybe your background in customer support would let you bring in a little expertise as you talk to your boss. How are you three going to do the other work given the interruptions? Do all three of you need to be manning your computer nearly constantly, staggering lunches, and so forth? Do you cover the hours your users reasonably expect you to be available? What would be the volume when it would make sense to bring on a dedicated person or outsource? Is there someone else who can be the screener so three highly trained technical people don’t spend their days telling people how to double click?

    He might not have thought all of this through.

  11. The Man, Becky Lynch*

    Another idea for you, do you have any connections with the two other employees who would be tasked with this? Especially if they have seniority in the company and may be closer to the boss, they may want to toss the idea in the toilet as well.

    We have kicked a similar idea around here and everyone who would have to deal with it recoiled and was like “Yeah…that sounds awful, we’re already at our capacity! So if we go that direction, the best choice would be to bring in someone else to handle that specifically with the right temperament and the experience.”

    Even the bosses know on a level because they are all aware how awful chat systems can be, they’re often worse than any phone work because people have so much more “spunk” with the frigging keyboard. So they backed off and it’s on the “to do later” list, basically “to do when we want to expand our CSR department.” It’s possibly worth a shot and then you won’t have to deal with the fact that you’re so new there and don’t have any relationship with the boss. [This of course doesn’t work if the other two are like “meh whatever, sounds fine to me.” but it’s a good place to start sniffing around about.]

  12. Autumnheart*

    “I took this job to get away from help desk, and now my boss wants me to be help desk again.”


    I feel you, OP. Maybe you could make a case for hiring one dedicated help desk person to operate this chat, and then those of you with product experience could train that person. At the very least, splitting your duties between help desk and documentation isn’t going to let you do a good job at either of those duties, and maybe you could sell the idea of having a contractor/temp worker whose specialty is help desk, to see what kind of demand there is for a live chat.

    Otherwise, I’d totally say to finish out your year and then start looking, because there’s no point in staying in a role that you outgrew before you were even hired.

  13. Meredith*

    Two letters: AI

    Chat is moving in the AI/chatbot direction these days. I would propose setting up a way to “screen” people on the chat via an AI chat platform. What happens is that you develop scripts for different scenarios. This can help people who have common and minor issues (password resetting, potentially some easy CMS stuff). If their issue is more complex, you can have them put their email in and then it will be sent to whoever is manning maintenance so they can pick up the task/get back to that person on their own timeframe. This is also great because it allows the chat to run 24/7 without someone staring at it the whole time, and allows people to contact you at their own leisure, not just during business hours. This would also likely only take one person to monitor – ideally the person who is not you, OP.

    LiveChat/ChatBot is one platform that can handle this for a relatively low monthly cost.

    1. Kimmybear*

      This is what I was coming to say. Someone needs to help write the material that the chatbot leverages. I wonder if your boss really wants you to staff this chat or help develop the chat platform. He/she may not know the difference but you can perhaps sell them on the bot. Using this as a chance to develop the chat platform would actually be a huge plus to your resume and build your skills.

    2. Lemonish*

      Yes, I was coming here exactly to say this. Implementing a chat bot system would engage tech writing skills that OP has and could also be quite interesting to work on.

  14. Lily Rowan*

    Oof, good luck with this! I have been in a similar situation — I had a job doing X, and I hated it, so in the future, I focused my job searches on jobs doing Y and Z. But MORE THAN ONCE, a few months in, X got added into my job because I had the experience! At least in my case, it was never a huge part of the job, but still.

    Alison’s advice is good.

  15. Tisiphone*

    I feel your pain. I burnt out on tech support years ago and I’d singlehandedly face down the Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse before going back to tech support.

    Definitely push back on this. Be polite about it, but say no. If they try to convince you it’s temporary, it won’t be. I like Ragazza’s idea of pointing out how disruptive the constant interruptions would be to your primary job of techwriting. It might also be worthwhile to mention that you’ve done the tech support end of things and it wasn’t for you.

  16. outdoorofficeworker*

    The boss/company may not realize that communicating with customers via chat and answering customer service phone calls are the same function. I know this seems obvious as I type it, but in my workplace (a completely different industry) we have a reception desk answer incoming calls, but our marketing department handles all inquiries that come in via social media. This just happened to us by default; since the marketing office posts the social media content, they got stuck with the inquiries. The incoming social media inquiries, for the most part, are really receptionist-type work: people just need a quick answer to questions like “When is XYZ event?” or questions that need to be routed to an expert in a different department. We are in the process of shifting this social media reception work to the reception desk, which is where it really belongs. It’s possible that OP’s workplace doesn’t realize that chat help and phone call help are the same thing, and should probably reside in the same area.

    1. Pay No Attention To The Man Behind The Curtain*

      I can sort of understand having a marketing person answer social media inquiries rather than a receptionist. When it’s something in writing and very visible to the public, you want all communication to be on brand all the time, even if it’s a trivial question.

  17. AndersonDarling*

    Ugh, that chat option will turn into a full time job in no time. People are much more willing to use a chat rather than calling. The company should be concerned that they will be paying a technical writer to be a helpdesk tech and all the technical writing projects will come to a halt.
    Good luck to the OP! This is a stinky spot to be put in.

  18. Pay No Attention To The Man Behind The Curtain*

    It sounds like most of this is speculative at this point and that the OP hasn’t officially been tasked with help desk duties, just that they believe they will be because they are the most experienced in the field. It could be that the boss has no intention of making OP the live support. I would clarify that first and foremost before mentioning that they would have never taken the position if they knew it included tech support and therefore hinting (intentionally or not) that the job was a bait and switch. It could be that the OPs salary as a technical writer puts them out of the pay scale for tech support. Perhaps as a tech writer the OP could suggest they write up scripts for FAQs that a lower-paid employee could use, and only be available if the problem is beyond maybe 2 levels of escalation — ie Tier 1 is a non-technical chat/phone person that mostly has training on customer support, Tier 2 is a lower level tech, Tier 3 is the OP and the other experts. In a small company though, it’s been my experience that it’s all hands on deck for customer support so there may be no way to get out of doing some level of it.

  19. Powercycle*

    I’ve been in a similar situation.
    Many years ago at one IT shop all the techs (junior and senior) had a scheduled rotation for answering the phone. Typical that meant a half day or two a week. (That was about the max I could handle.)
    One day our new supervisor decided the most experienced techs should answer the phone. I was filling in as senior tech at the time and got stuck answering the phones all day long. I was not happy about it. Constantly getting urgent calls from frustrated users when trying to get project work done was quite counter-productive.
    After a year of that I took a demotion (and pay cut) back to junior tech to get off the phones and return to doing services call on the floor.
    I was gone for good a few months later.

  20. Shiny Carvanha*

    Did anyone else find it really jarring that the boss was referred to with male pronouns when there was no indication of gender in the letter? I had no idea how much I appreciate the female default until I read this! Alison, I’m curious whether this was deliberate on your part for some reason; whether there was an indication of gender that got edited out/that I missed, or was it The Cut that changed it? Or something else?

    1. Ask a Manager* Post author

      She calls him “he” in the last paragraph of the letter: “When I was hired, he told me what my area of focus would be and set me free into the role (which I have been excelling at).”

      … Aha! The Cut edited the letter down, so it’s not in that version. The full version of the letter is the one in the post here. I’ll have to watch for that in their edits in the future!

  21. Bopper*

    I wonder if you could tell your boss that you would be happy to set up the chat SYSTEM, and would be Tier 2 tech support, but don’t want to take on everyday chat support. Talk about what you DO want to do.

  22. ThisColumnMakesMeGratefulForMyBoss*

    I’ve been there. At my last company I was hired as a Business Analyst. I had always worked in IT and had a very brief stint at Comcast in their call center when I was out of work for a long period of time, so I knew that a call center role was not for me. As a BA I had worked closely with the team, taking on different roles to implement a new system, and was approached by my boss for a new role as Support Specialist (second level support). I told him I wanted more details before I agreed, but before I knew it he had the offer letter for me to sign and I didn’t have a choice. I wasn’t answering phones, but I was working tickets from a queue with one other person. It was very stressful, I was working way more hours than a typical 40 and I hated it. I’m not sure if speaking up more to my boss would have helped the situation, but I regret not saying more. I stayed with the company for 4 more years (not really sure how) hating my job and my rotating band of idiot managers. Alison’s script is spot on. You need to be honest with your manager – not in a “I refuse to do this or else” way, but they need to understand how you feel. You may end up not having a choice in the matter (unless you want to quit), but at least you’ll be heard and it may end up being temporary. But if you don’t speak up, you risk being miserable until you can find a new job.

  23. General von Klinkerhoffen*

    I think it’s perfectly reasonable to have a red line for tasks/fields you really don’t want to get involved in. FWIW, mine is Finance. I use a combination of “no, no, no, thank you” and “I am worse than useless at ~☆~money~☆~” and “hey remember how good I am at $PreferredTasks”.

    1. Seeking Second Childhood*

      I should enforce my boundaries on that more myself…I’m about to get into the no-man”s land of purchase orders because my manager left the company.

  24. Amethystmoon*

    You’re very lucky. I work in a company where pushing back on any requests from management can and will get you written up. We’re basically never allowed to say no to anything. If we don’t want to do what they ask us to, we would have to start looking for another one.

  25. I coulda been a lawyer*

    Why am I the only one thinking, “Well boss this is my specialty that I no longer want to do … but I’ll gladly train and supervise the help desk staff, with the new appropriate pay and title of course”.

  26. Tech guru*

    Offer to help set up a chat bot instead. These are pretty easy to set up these days, as long as you’re allowed to basically and they can help with these types of faqs a lot.

  27. Jo*

    Glad this worked out for you OP. I’ve been in the position before of having to go back to a customer service role from a job I loved, managed to get away and now potentially facing going back again. My situation is a little different as the non customer service jobs were secondments, but the thought of having to go back to a customer service role doesn’t inspire me – I’ve spent enough years being shouted at or whined at over the phone and want to move away from that permanently! I’m glad you found a solution.

  28. Frankie*

    LW, this happened to me! My role was specifically a system administrator/designer/builder; a bunch of answering phones and help emails was tacked on later. Miserable.

    You could try explaining that the interruptions COMPLETELY derail the more advanced work you’re supposed to be doing. In my previous job, that never held water because I was just supposed to work 24/7 to get the advanced work done. I had to leave. But reasonable places will want to know that these two types of work are quite incompatible. If possible, use your past experience to put down some time estimates and show how much of your other work this will eat into.

  29. Aspiring Chicken Lady*

    Chatbot seems like an option, if it makes sense for the product etc.

    Also, it may be one of those changes where you lightly outline your concerns and then say cheerily “let’s hope it’s not as bad as we’re anticipating, since we haven’t actually started it yet.”

    We don’t know the call volume or the content of the calls yet, so it’s hard for anyone … boss or worker .. to see what the impact is.

    Document the calls — content, time, frequency — and then after a trial period, you can go to boss and lay out a new proposal if a new proposal is warranted.

    And if you discover yourself bait-and-switched, then you shine up your resume and keep your eyes open. And when the next employer asks why you left so soon, then the answer is “they changed the job on me and it didn’t work out.”

  30. So sleepy*

    I agree that the best approach would be to say you’re happy to set it up and coordinate the launch (including training the staff), but that you think long-term, this would be better handled by the existing front-line staff (or other option you propose), to ensure consistent coverage and because it is more aligned with their day-to-day responsibilities. You can also add that it would impact your capacity to do XYZ (if it would), and that although your background is in this area, you want to ensure you have time to focus on X priorities of your new job and this could potentially impact your ability to do that. If you are below capacity it will be difficult to make this case, but presumably you are busy and challenged and so taking this on would limit how much time you have for your other responsibilities.

Comments are closed.