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

It’s the last week of “where are you now?” time at Ask a Manager, where I run updates from people who had their letters here answered in the past.

Remember the letter-writer who had a well-paid job with lots of flexibility but hardly anything to do because her boss was hoarding all the work? Here’s the update.

I have a really good update, and I wanted to answer a couple of questions that came up in the comments. But before I get started, you were very right!

Given the fact we have a new boss every four years, Jane was driving to present herself as indispensable. She never said this, but that’s how she carried herself with everyone else. But she would tell me all the time about how the job was too much and she really wanted a lower level position because she didn’t enjoy being such a close advisor.

I did take one commenter’s advice and started a “luxurious job search” while I stayed at my job.

Soon after my letter ran, a big management positioned opened up in another agency – bigger than Jane’s in pay and reporting structure. I applied for it and got it. Jane did NOT, as I suspected, sabotage me at all. She was very encouraging and gave me a positive recommendation. (The guy who hired me and became my boss has known her for a long time.)

You were right about a bunch of things. Obviously that sweet gig was one that was never going to happen again. I did give up a lot of perks, but not as many as I thought. I don’t have as much flexibility, but I’m finding I don’t miss it as I have a much bigger workload. Plus with my boss down the hall and my new job duties, I don’t have time or the desire to do errands during the day. (Although I do miss my gas tank always being full!)

My husband was thrilled at the major pay increase, but he was also disappointed that I didn’t have as much flexibility and guaranteed pay increases as before. But honestly? I’m a lot happier about what I’ve given up, my brain feels like it’s exercising again, and I feel more confident. And, like I said, our lives didn’t change as much as I thought. More like small tweaks here and there to our schedule.

Finally, a bunch of commenters wanted to know why I didn’t bother talking to the big boss about everything. He’s the reason all of this happened. He insisted on picking everyone who reports to him because he doesn’t believe in inheriting employees. He also refuses to meet with anyone who doesn’t report to him. If someone who doesn’t report to him needs to meet with him, then he needs to have a person in the room who does report to him as well – the person who would have the non-reporting person in his/her department structure. Plus even if we did all meet, that boss had a habit of literally only looking at and addressing the people who report to him in meetings. So we’d have these strategy meetings where I would talk and he’d only look at Jane or if I said something and he had a question, he’d only ask Jane. It was like being a ghost so when I left, I’m not sure he noticed.

There is one upside for Jane: with me leaving, I don’t think her workload changed. Everything worked out for the best!

{ 37 comments… read them below }

  1. ZSD*

    I’m so glad you’ve found a position with more responsibility that makes you happy!

    And good heavens, your old big boss’s management style sounds terrible.

    1. LQ*

      This to me sounds entirely like someone who heard something about empowering the people who work for you by not going around them directly to their staff and managed to turn it into something absurd.

      I think most weird and strange management styles come from a nugget of something that got pushed too far. Which is a far more interesting thing to look at because then you should examine the things you are being told and make sure you’re not taking anything to an absurd place. I think it’s easier to end up in an absurd place than people think. Nearly no one sets out to be this weird boss who won’t even look at the people who don’t report to them. People set out to do the right thing and they are told they go around their employees too much and you should knock that off and then they resolve to never go around their managers and then years later they are the person who won’t look at someone who doesn’t report to them.

      It’s easy to make bad guys instead of pausing to consider what you need to do to never be that bad guy.

    1. Alton Brown's Evil Twin*

      No kidding.
      You work in the government, and you don’t “believe in inheriting employees”? That’s some serious cognitive dissonance.

      1. Hapless Bureaucrat*

        If I recall correctly, OP worked at a leadership level, and agency head was a political appointee. This attitude isn’t uncommon at that level, especially if the administration changed political hands. Also, often the leadership at the agency head level HASN’T worked in government before. Big Boss is taking things to an absurd extreme, but… that is also not unheard-of with political appointments.

        1. old curmudgeon*

          Yup – absolutely correct. I’ve seen this type of thing many times since I’ve been with my current employer (a state agency). One political appointee we were stuck with not only would refuse to talk to anyone who wasn’t his direct report, he’d hold up his hand to shut them up if they had the audacity to speak. We called it his “Heisman move,” because he’d hold his hand up like the little sculpture on top of the Heisman trophy.

  2. EPLawyer*

    Big Boss is weird.

    Everyone has their priorities for what is important in a job to them. You clearly like working (but not being overworked) to having an incredibly flexible schedule. Good for you for finding out what YOU need to succeed.

    1. ThatGirl*

      I mean, I appreciate flexibility, but I also appreciate feeling challenged and accomplished. I can definitely see “well paid but nothing to do” getting old after a few months.

      1. Jen*

        I once had a job where, for various reasons, the entire office took long lunches/played LAN games/streamed movies for a few months. It was *so boring*. After 3 months of being paid to watch The Walking Dead and playing Counter Strike, I felt like my brain was atrophying.

      2. Anonnnnn*

        It hits me right in the guilt. I used to bust my butt to make peanuts, and now I make good money doing almost nothing (by comparison). It really opened my eyes regarding wealth distribution in my country, though.

        1. ThatGirl*

          I definitely have slow days and weeks at my job, and did at my last one, too, but I know those will end — having no moderately busy period in site would drive me nuts.

          I know what you mean, though – I’m as well-paid as I’ve ever been and typically don’t work as hard or in remotely as stressful a job as my husband, who makes 30% less than I do. Part of it is that we’re in completely different fields, of course, but I also have to remind myself that part of the reason my job feels easy is that I have 15 years of experience, and I’m being paid for that.

    2. Automated*

      I have an infuriating mix of the two. Not enough to do because the hourly leadership hoard work for the overtime, but they also get really passive aggressive about people leaving on time/not working as many hours as them. They even cracked down on work from home recently, because their roles don’t allow them to so why should anyone else get too?

  3. Emily*

    WOW. Congratulations!

    It sounds like this turned into (nearly) the best potential result, of any possible scenarios. I’m so pleased that you were able to get a new position that’s such a good fit, and pays more, and works better for you.

    Best of luck!

    1. Emily*

      Please imagine the following images:

      Flower bouquet emojis
      Party popper emojis
      Loads of bright confetti streams
      Lots more flowers


  4. Amber Rose*

    Somebody has an extremely inflated sense of their own importance. Does Big Boss think he’s royalty or something? “Don’t talk to me, peon, you are not nearly on my level.”

    It’s actually quite funny to me as someone who doesn’t work for the guy (does he use the royal We? Would he react if you started mouthing off at meetings or continue to ignore you?) but I imagine it’s less funny to actually deal with.

    How odd. You are well out of THAT.

    Aside: I think we should have a “strangest/most hilarious boss” award, because sometimes bosses are just weird instead of infuriating.

    1. drpuma*

      Or a best/worse grandboss each year! You hear from some updates where the letter writer’s grandiose was invaluable in making their situation better. And then there are the others where, well, as they say the fish rots from the head…

    2. UK Civil Servant*

      I knew a military officer like that once: would only speak to one rank down. I being a lowly civilian got completely blanked.
      His widespread nickname among fellow officers (and ranks) was “Sh** For Brains”. IIRC it was a play on his initials (For Brains being a double barrelled surname).

    3. AcademiaNut*

      I mentally catagorize the bad bosses into “weird”, “petty evil” and “cartoon villain”. The first category is the ones who aren’t necessarily mean, but have just come up with some sort of weird management style, or personal quirk that people have to live with because they are the boss (like peeing in cups). Petty evil is the micromanagers and shouters and backstabbers – your run of the mill bad boss that makes you miserable but isn’t all that unusual. Cartoon villain is for the really out there, delicious to read ones that are stranger than fiction and totally divorced from human decency. The ones who interrupt funerals, demand kidney donations, and punish people for being badly dressed at unauthorized 2am airport pickups.

  5. The Man, Becky Lynch*

    I’m thrilled you’re in a better space and stimulated again! I shrivel up and die when underutilized, seriously like deep dark spirals level because my brain goes stagnant and so does my body/motivation.

    The former Big Boss is obnoxious and bad at his job. Shocking [it’s not really shocking].

  6. Mazzy*

    I like this OP! So often we talk about the problems at work and being overburdened, but as someone who also left a job or two due to a low workload, it’s nice to hear someone who also hated it. You’re bored and eventually it hits your self esteem, and you get brain fog after a certain period of not exercising your brain

  7. kittymommy*

    Big Boss’s style is crazy but super common in most government places I’ve worked in. My current place is the first government job I’ve been at where a new administration doesn’t “clean house” at the higher levels of management (though chain of command is still very much a thing and no, big boss(es) don’t take meetings outside of their direct reports).

    Glad everything worked out for the LW!

    1. Hapless Bureaucrat*

      Yeah I’ve seen both major housecleanings, and also transitions where basically nothing changed. And sometimes those were counterintuitive to what you’d think would happen.
      All the agency heads I’ve encountered do include direct reports in their meetings, and should. At that level the direct reports are likely providing significant policy and operational direction. You don’t want them in the dark.
      But I’ve never had the displeasure of having to witness one ignore the other people in the room like this guy. That is absurd.

  8. AnotherAlison*

    I’m a little surprised that everyone is so down on the big boss for not meeting with skip level reports. Some of the other things seemed weird–not inheriting employees–but there are many different scenarios are possible with department structure and how duties are assigned where this wouldn’t be weird. My previous role (6 yrs ago) reported to an SVP who reported to an EVP of Strategy who was also promoted to a division president and held both roles. He actually would meet with me because he assigned me special projects, but I was a peon analyst and he was over 1,000 people. I could definitely see him refusing to meet with people just based on lack of time.

    1. That Girl from Quinn's House*

      Yeah, in some sectors, skip-level meetings would be against the chain of command. It might not be best practice, but it’s definitely a common practice.

    2. The Man, Becky Lynch*

      The problem is his attitude more so than the fact he’s busy and has to be picky about the use of his time.

      This stands out most boss had a habit of literally only looking at and addressing the people who report to him in meetings. . WTF who does this?

      I also don’t subscribe to people being viewed as a “peon”.

      I’m hearing Marcus Lemonis screaming in my head about how awful it is to not even know, let alone acknowledge your workers because you feel above them. You’re in charge, act like it.

    3. SarahTheEntwife*

      If everything has to follow the chain of command, you need to have a structure in place for addressing employees’ concerns with their direct supervisor without having to have them in the room for the meeting.

    4. WellRed*

      But could you see him speaking to someone else while you were standing rightthere? And not making eye contact?

      1. AnotherAlison*

        That particular guy. . .yes. I work in engineering. I’m completely used to no eye contact, ha.

    5. fhqwhgads*

      It sounds like it’s not a matter of “not meeting with skip level reports” but rather being physically in a meeting with several levels and flat out pretending the skip-levels are not there when they are.

  9. Generic Username*

    Yay – this is the one update I was hoping for, and I’m glad it’s got a good ending. I’ve been in OPs place a few times now, and it certainly kills your soul.

    1. Not Quite Panicking*

      Downtime can be great for taking online classes or just decompressing, but I think too many managers don’t understand that their subordinates don’t just phase out of existence when they don’t have any work. People can only read so many articles before it starts getting to them.

  10. SameBoat*

    I too am in a job that pays well, but none of my colleagues know what I do and my boss has a hands-off management approach. As a result, my work/life balance is better than it’s ever been, but I’m disinterested in my work. I’m not exactly finding the end of the internet (like some previous jobs), but I don’t feel valued/used. All that to say, money can’t buy happiness. Sometimes loss of flexibility is worth it for a better work environment/meaningful work. Glad you got out!

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