how do I manage a great employee who finishes everything ahead of schedule?

A reader writes:

I have an employee who is extremely efficient. He finishes tasks in about half the time of his predecessors. I give him additional work, but he still ends up with significant downtime. I’m inclined to ask him to search for efficiency ideas but success in that will lead to more downtime. Any ideas? I certainly don’t want to tell a great worker to slow down but in all honesty I wish he would!

I answer this question — and four others — over at Inc. today, where I’m revisiting letters that have been buried in the archives here from years ago (and sometimes updating/expanding my answers to them). You can read it here.

Other questions I’m answering there today include:

  • My employees are distracted when customers need them
  • My contacts want to apply to my old employer, but it’s a terrible place to work
  • Telling a job candidate that I have cancer
  • Figuring out if the manager at a new job is about to leave

{ 191 comments… read them below }

    1. Salad Daisy*

      That works great if you also give the employee a raise, not just extra work with no extra money. I am one of those people who knows how to manage their time, not get distracted, and all those other goodies. So I routinely finish my work ahead of my team members. I have learned to slow down, as all that working better and faster gets me is more work to do without commensurate pay.

      1. JoleneCarlDean*

        I’m curious about the comment that more work (not not more time) should mean more pay.
        Wouldn’t that depend if exempt or not exempt?
        If exempt, then yes, I agree – you’re being paid for the role and responsibilities, but not the time.
        If not exempt, then I think you are being paid for time.
        I know salary/hourly employees are not the same as not exempt/not exempt (in that you can be salary and be not exempt).
        But still, if it’s – we pay you X to be here from Y to Z, then wouldn’t it be fair to work on additional tasks if you had time “on the clock”? (Assuming it’s reasonably in the scope of employment and the same level of tasks. Like, asking an admin to do more admin work, but not asking an admin to do paralegal work).

        1. stampysmom*

          Christine is suggesting the manager delegate some of their duties, not just coworker duties. If the manager’s work is paid at a higher rate, why shouldn’t any employee doing that work potentially be paid more?

          1. Distracted Librarian*

            I get your point, but in my experience, taking on these kinds of responsibilities has led to me getting raises and promotions. I know that doesn’t happen everywhere, but if you do it and get nowhere, you can always take that experience you’ve gained and parlay it into a better job somewhere else.

            1. Fish*

              I think you really have to go company by company on something like that. I have never, not once, worked a job where taking on those extra responsibilities actually ended well for me. But I know those jobs exist, somewhere out there in the ether.

              But in the same situation as the employee here in the past, I volunteered to take on extra… and what I got was extra responsibility, extra judgement, extra pressure, no more pay, no promotion, and the same at-best-2%-COL-raise I always got. In effect punishing me for being good at my job.

              I learned ways to make it look like things took longer than they did.

              A manager who delegates their own work or just piles more work on an employee is a manager who is teaching their employee to lie to them.

        2. Recruited Recruiter*

          “But still, if it’s – we pay you X to be here from Y to Z, then wouldn’t it be fair to work on additional tasks if you had time “on the clock”? (Assuming it’s reasonably in the scope of employment and the same level of tasks. Like, asking an admin to do more admin work, but not asking an admin to do paralegal work).”

          I have regularly been the ahead of schedule employee mentioned. It’s really demoralizing to get extra tasks with no extra pay rate when those extra tasks are at a higher level. At my first job, I was a data entry clerk at $11/hour as an assistant for the biller. When I was getting that work done faster than expected (20 hours/week.) I was given some higher level responsibilities that were previously done by the higher paid Accounts Receivable and HR Specialists. This came with no pay raise, and suddenly, I was the overworked employee, struggling to get everything done in 45 hours/week. This was very demoralizing. Also, when they closed the location, they begged me to move with the company, at a very meager raise amount. When I next heard from a former co-worker who moved, I learned that they had replaced me with three people, all paid higher than I had been. So I had been saving the company $ 28/hour, and was not rewarded in any way.

          Really puts a damper on the motivation.

          1. Starbuck*

            Yeah, exactly this. What’s the motivation? You’re working, not volunteering for a charity. If I can go 2x as fast as the ‘meets expectations’ baseline (or whatever) but I’m still paid as much as the person working the 1x speed, am I going to keep working 2x speed with no reward? No. Maybe I’ll put in 1.1x or 1.2x, whatever it takes to keep myself looking good, but you’re not gonna get my full effort if I’ve been given no reason to do it.

            1. My Boss is Dumber Than Yours*

              The “you’re not volunteering for a charity” thing x10000. I worked for the Apple store to pay for school, and when I asked for a higher raise at my review since I was regularly covering higher pay-grade tasks while still bringing in 2.5-times the revenue asked for at my hours, my boss literally told me he didn’t want employees that cared about the money. When I pointed out I and everyone in his store was working for a living, he said—without any hint of irony—that there were tons of people who volunteered for the soup kitchens and he didn’t understand why helping out the most valuable company on the planet wasn’t equally rewarding.

        3. Just Another Cog*

          Except that what you’re doing is punishing success. Do that often enough without some kind of compensatory behavior and you’ve created a culture where even average people will slow down.

          To some extent, I want to have work while I’m at work, and I used to “make work” for myself – find project that needed doing, or even work on general office things.

          Then I realized that what happens is those become part of your job. And further, that people who are less capable than you but are not seeing to be “picking up after” others (even metaphorically) …. get promoted. Because usually they’re dudes.

          1. Jane*


            I am this employee in many ways. I don’t really have middle gears, so I work fast and to a high quality.

            While taking on some additional responsibilities can be great and keep me interested, the main thing that I need is a system that allows me to work less time.

            I can’t sustain this pace full time for years without burning out, but nor am I capable of working less efficiently.

            My recommendation to manage this employee is a mix – let the person leave early or come late when their work is done without it affecting their pay, and give them opportunities to grow or take on more if they want it.

            But mostly reward them with time. I can get as much done in 20 hours as many can in 40. If I could routinely work 30 I’d be one of the highest performers and be happy long term. If I need to work 40 I’ll manage it for a couple years, by sacrificing my health and my personal life, and then I’ll burn out, and either go part time and resent that it came with a pay cut, or see if I can start my own business specifically so I can work that 25-30 hour workweek.

            1. no name today*

              Same same same. I had to train myself to hoard projects and ‘waste’ time because I am not allowed to spend less time on the clock, no matter how fast and efficiently I work. I came of work age in the dot com era and owned my own businesses at the same time. I was able to work my butt off for the paycheck job and either leave when the work was done or use company infrastructure for personal things.

              Now I’m in a state job and while the stability and benefits don’t suck, it’s mind-numbing. Even worse when I have to train new staff to slow down and hoard work too. Just so stupid and soul-crushing.

            2. Professional Lurker*

              This. Some days, when I have finished my work and still have some time to kill, I would really like some extra tasks to keep me from getting bored. Others, I just want to catch up on AAM or go on an online shopping spree. Give them the choice.

          2. EchoGirl*

            Yep, I worked in a job that was similar. The way the job was set up was basically a neverending list of tasks — once you finished one, you were expected to pick up another task, and so on, for X number of hours per week (can’t be more specific without risking being too identifiable). Within my first month there, I figured out a couple of tricks that allowed me to significantly cut down on the time it took to do the tasks, but because of the aforementioned structure, my only “reward” was more work. That was probably the first domino in the chain that ultimately led to me quitting just 14 months in.

              1. EchoGirl*

                Yeah, in retrospect I might’ve been able to try to leverage that into getting my required number of hours cut down (I would’ve gone for that even if it meant taking an overall pay cut (since I was hourly); the work was so tedious I just wanted to have to do it less), but I was still pretty new to the working world, and, because I was remote (this was in the Before Times), I didn’t have a lot of access to management. I’m honestly not sure if they would have agreed, though — I never really understood what was up with our hours anyway (the math on the position value didn’t add up, literally), so it’s a bit questionable if they would have been open to changing it. (For the record, general dysfunction and questions about the actual sustainability of the hob was my other major reason for leaving.)

          3. Cold Fish*

            OMG Yes! Half the time I feel like I’m correcting the errors or doing the job of people making twice what I am because I keep getting asked to do X (which takes me 30 min, while taking time to check out AAM) even though X is actually Coworkers job (but it takes them 2+ hours to do it! I have no idea why or how it takes them that long to do but it does.) Yet Coworker still seems to get all the recognition and credit when the project is completed.

            1. hamsterpants*

              I quit over the situation you describe. Coworker was a figurehead and I did all his actual work (plus my own!) even while he was “officially” the leader and technical expert. And got the credit, of course.

          4. Cold Fish*

            I once worked in a department where little by little it all fell on my plate; one coworker left, two coworker moved on to other department, one task moved completely to my plate freeing third coworker to move into other position. Until I was doing the work of three people. It was one of the few times in my career where I was actually busy all day long.

            Then I went on vacation and worked piled up (despite the fact that 4-5 people were helping to cover my desk). Management finally realized they would not be able to hire someone to do what I could do if I decided to leave. Two departments were re-organized/combined into a new department and I was transitioned into new job where again I became high-producer.

            At the next staff meeting, while explaining how Dept X & Y have been combined to form Dept Z, I got a brief kudos for all my hard work in Department X. I didn’t see a raise for two years, when everyone in Dept Z were getting raises. Although mine was $0.10 more than everyone elses!/s

          5. MissBaudelaire*

            Yup. Happened to me. I was ‘quick’ enough at my job that suddenly I was doing my job, helping someone else with her job, another woman got her tasks reduced, but the extra labor from those were passed onto me. And the boss refused to make me full time. Or rather, he would schedule me part time hours, then send my coworkers out to nag and beg and plead and cry at me to stay late because they were so desperate.

            Why should I stay longer when I’m not getting the benefits everyone else gets? Why should I stay when my plate is just gonna get heavy so theirs can get lighter? And if there was a day when I just couldn’t do everyone else’s work and my work, I got scolded. How about no?

        4. I Wrote This in the Bathroom*

          More of the same level of tasks for the same pay as punishment for finishing your tasks ahead of time is why people leave. However I agree with you that more of the same task for more pay is silly, and in the end will also lead to the person leaving, as they will feel that they are stuck in a dead-end job. If employee completes their daily number of painted teapots ahead of time, then to me this says that the employee can do something more complex than painting teapots. (Career goals, growth path, promotion, raise that should go with the promotion.) I liked Alison’s suggestion of allocating some time every day to training – this to me fits into the career goals/growth path picture.

          1. allathian*

            Yeah, I agree. At least in an organization where there is a career path that you want to follow. It’s tougher if there isn’t one, and the organization is likely to punish you for wanting to better yourself.

        5. Lady Meyneth*

          Even when the tasks are at the same level, throwing significantly more work to one person in a team without some form of recognition is a great way to drive that person away. I’ve been the one who finished my work in half the time it took my coworkers, and all I got was my coworkers’ work on top of mine. And those coworkers who only did half their jobs got the same money as me. It was demoralizing and infuriating.

          And when I left, my then manager had the gall to say “it’s a shame you didn’t wait a couple more years, I’d definitely could have promoted you then”. No, thanks.

          Now I only turn in my work 15-20% faster than my colleagues: enough to make me look good, not enough to be asked to do all their work.

          1. MissBaudelaire*

            And when I left, my then manager had the gall to say “it’s a shame you didn’t wait a couple more years, I’d definitely could have promoted you then”. No, thanks.

            LOL, bet those goal posts would have kept moving.

        6. Your local password resetter*

          Then you encourage people to do the bare minimum though.
          You only pay for their time after all. Why should they give you a bunch of energy and effort on top of that?

          1. allathian*

            Yeah, and those who want to do more than the bare minimum, i.e. the best employees you’d ideally want to retain, will still leave, because they want to work for an employer that will reward them for their hard work.

      2. No_woman_an_island*

        Yes! This is infuriating. Competent, efficient employees routinely get the shaft. And it’s crap.

        1. HigherEdAdminista*

          Over the last year, my boss basically said that to me. There is another member of my team who is a lovely person, but not as efficient or accurate at producing data. They said they feel bad that they come to me when they need something, but when they need it… they need it, and they can’t rely on this other person. They are trying to train them but a lot of circumstances have made that challenging.

          But meanwhile, I still get more work!

          1. No_woman_an_island*

            Yeah, when they’ve lost all shame about it, it’s time to move on. I eventually left a job because they called me back early from maternity leave when things were burning down without me, but were unwilling to promote me or raise my pay. The straw though, was when my boss essentially admitted that she needed me to finish a grad student’s dissertation research just so she could get him out the door, because he wasn’t capable of doing it himself. Did I get that PhD? Nope. Peace out, y’all.

            1. Anastasia Beaverhousen*

              HOLY SHIT! Not only is that way out of line but the school would revoke their degree if they ever found out!

              1. Artemesia*

                I don’t know about that since the school is colluding but I know of two people who did have PhDs revoked due to plagiarism discovered much later. So revoking a degree is a thing.

        2. Mental Lentil*

          Agreed. This is how competent, efficient employees either become demoralised, inefficient employees or how they become ex-employees.

          Do [handclap emoji] not [handclap emoji] do [handclap emoji] this!

          1. Wally1121*

            My career was as an engineer. For most of my career, I imagined myself as a “Dilbert”. I have all the attributes including “The Knack”. But as the years passed, I found myself becoming more of a “Wally”. Working hard and finishing early or working late got me NOTHNG! So I resigned myself to doing the minimum necessary. I backed up to working 9-5 and everybody was happy. I was even happier, not working myself into an early grave.

      3. Person from the Resume*

        But if you are not asking them work more than 40 hours a week are they “owed” this raise. I don’t know; possibly, but not automatically.

        1. NotAnotherManager!*

          It depends on what the productivity metrics are in your office and how much you want to keep an efficient employee.

          If I have someone who can fit what is regularly a day’s worth of work into less than a day, then, yes, it makes sense to pay them more for being more productive. If Jane produces 40 widgets in 40 hours, and John only produces 25, I certainly want to incentivize Jane to stay (or, at least, not incentivize her to leave).

          If I have someone whose time is being billed out on an hourly basis, then the value of working faster may not result in increased revenue (though, in my experience, supervisors in billable environments love working with the fast/efficient people and tend to give them more of their choice of tasks to lure them to their projects). If it’s substantially faster, then a higher billing rate and correspondingly higher salary area pretty easy to justify.

          1. Mockingjay*

            You’re right about the billing. I and several of my teammates complete work quickly so we’re always looking for more tasks. In essence the team is overstaffed. But there’s no compelling reason to get rid of the ‘slower’ staff members, as they are working at the estimated pace. We bill to a federal contract, so the work is finite per each year’s order, which makes it extremely difficult to find more tasks.

            One moved into a supervisory role, but the rest of us prefer the technical role. Our manager does a great deal to move people around, loan us out to other projects, give us training, and so on, while she tries to obtain more tasks for us.

            I’m not leaving the company since I’m getting closer to retirement. The work pace does seem to be picking up slightly as we start the new contract year (COVID slowed things to a crawl), so hopefully things will improve. I’ve taken all the training I can find already!

        2. RandaPanda*

          To me this line of thinking reads as subtle classism. If you think a salary employee should be compensated based on the work they perform, then an hourly employee should also be compensated based on the work they perform. So if one hourly employee consistently performs more work than all the others, they should be compensated more. If they choose to stop doing all they can, and purse personal interests on the clock, they’re still present and completing all their workload, which by your definition means they are meeting the requirements of “hourly” work.

          1. Gothic Bee*

            Speaking as an hourly worker who has been hourly for pretty much all of my career, there are some really weird attitudes about hourly work. So many bosses seem to believe that hourly workers are there to do work for exactly 8 hours, down to the minute, and how dare you take a bathroom break or do anything else that reveals you’re human? It’s odd because salaried workers absolutely do not have the same expectations (at least in the workplaces I’ve been in where there is a mix of the two), and while I can understand hourly workers needing to be butts-in-seats for 8 hours, I don’t see why taking breaks or having downtime is such a bad thing as long as your work is getting done.

            I’m lucky to be working somewhere that handles this really well now. But at one of my past jobs I was told that I had to slow down because even though I was doing all my work and not making mistakes, they didn’t want me to just sit there with nothing to do. So instead I would just blankly scroll through stuff I’d already done (and reviewed for mistakes) for like an hour or two before “finishing”. On the other hand, I listened to a ton of podcasts at that job.

            1. MissBaudelaire*

              I have noticed this. I’ve seen bosses act like hourly workers are stealing if they aren’t frantically working at a break neck pace, sweating. Did not feel this way when salaried workers were sitting with their feet kicked up.

                1. MissBaudelaire*

                  Mmm, yup.

                  Remember working fast food and finding things to do. There’s only so many times in one week you can polish the chair legs!

        3. Librarian of SHIELD*

          A person’s rate of pay shouldn’t be determined by what they are “owed.” That’s a really limiting way to think about it.

          The quality and level of a person’s work should be taken into account when their pay rate is set. If this employee is producing a lot of good quality work, some of which is usually assigned to higher level employees, that employee has become more valuable to the business, and that level of value should be reflected in the person’s pay.

      4. Cold Fish*

        Another high producer here. Yeah, I used to take the brunt of the workload and look for/create extra projects to work on because I hated all the down time. While I was appreciated by immediate management, I never saw commiserate pay or opportunities. It is very demoralizing.

        My bosses boss is in charge of pay and doesn’t appreciate or understand the day to day minutia that keeps things running. The fact that I was turning out three times as much work as the lowest producer, working on more complicated projects than said slow producer, was so accurate that I was QA’ing others work on top of my own, and working on two side projects (that were totally unrelated to job and had been on the office managers to-do wish list for 5 years before I did them) was completely irrelevant when it came to raises or recognition.

        I eventually moved to another position in the company that was supposed to be busier and more responsibility (finally got a decent raise with that). But nothing really changed so I slowed down my “production” pace, poking around on the internet and reading blogs. Most days I actually feel very guilty about it and I find I really dislike working on personal projects on company time.

        I’m usually working on projects 2-4 weeks out (typical job takes 6-8 hrs). The longer it goes on the more I am finding is it harder to switch mindsets on a day that is actually busy. By the time I can get back into even mid-gear, the work has slowed down again. Turning it back down to low makes for very boring days. The days move so much faster if I have work to do!

        I really should have moved on years ago but I like the people here and I hate (no despise…., abhor…, loathe…. I don’t know if there is a word strong enough to describe my emotion) job searching so I put up with the low pay and boredom.

        If you really want your employee to stay, I suggest you find a way to challenge them. Not just keep them busy.

        1. Lady Meyneth*

          “the more I am finding is it harder to switch mindsets on a day that is actually busy”

          So, I’ve lived that. What worked for me was, I considered myself “on the clock” about 4-5 hours each day, and worked those hours in my usual fast pace until I’d done all that was planned for that day. Then I’d actually turn in the work only a bit earlier than my deadline, to still look good for the bosses and all. The hours after I finished what was actually planned for my day were (in my mind) my own, and in that time I did my own projects, or browsed random blogs, or or or. But on busy days, all I had to do was work my already normal fast pace for all my actual working hours.

          Over the years since I started this, some of my managers knew I did it, some didn’t, but none ever complained about how I worked.

          1. no name today*

            I’ve learned to pad my deadlines and turnaround time to exceed expectations enough to be noticed but not enough to drive me into the ground. I use the ‘padding’ to entertain myself, online when working remote, paid walks around the workplace when I’m forced onsite.

            That being said, there are regular manic times that suck 150% of my time & energy, so it balances out.

      5. Just Another Cog*

        Lets add something else:

        If YOUR work can be done in a subordinate’s spare time, you’re not doing YOURSELF any favors either. What are you going to do with the time of yours you free up – take on some of your boss’s work for no salary increase?

        Think about the implications of what you’re saying, there.

      6. Meep*

        I got burnt out a couple of years because I was supposed to be solely responsible for Website Development, Marketing Materials, Product Management, Documentation, Training, and Security on top of my regular optical engineering duties. But don’t worry! I was “fairly compensated” (as promised to me weekly) via PTSD and severe anxiety that made me suicidal and depressed!

        The worst part was the person who managed me was always talking about how she was working from 4 am to 8 pm (she was not!) and how I needed to “get focused” because we were going to make it big soon and she cannot afford for this to fail. As it should come as no surprise, smarter people have left for greener pastures and we are still about to “blow up.” (Which we are but not in the way she means.)

      7. Who Plays Backgammon?*

        I was going to say. Loading down Mr. Efficient because he’s more productive is beyond unfair, to say the least. If you give him more work, make it work that will help him learn and grow in and beyond his role over time. Don’t view him as “two employess’ worth of work for the price of one.” And make sure your other employees aren’t dragging their feet so more of the work can go to their more efficient coworker.

      8. TardyTardis*

        Roger that. My efficiency meant I got to do cleanup for the slower employees for the same pay. So glad to be retired! But I hope the manager doesn’t fall into the trap of loading more work onto the guy, paying him the same as everyone else, and being afraid to promote him because he would have to be replaced by two employees.

    2. Bertha*

      I think this would be fine if you’re following Allison’s suggestion of asking the employee what they want. I’ve taken some projects from my boss when I run out of work — they are essentially her “busy work,” not necessarily manager level work, and I’m more than happy to do to it rather than be bored out of my mind. My boss always ASKS if I want to work on particular projects like this. She doesn’t automatically delegate.

    3. Mental Lentil*

      I’m not happy that the first comment is essentially “use this employee’s high level of efficiency to exploit them”.

      1. Gerry Keay*

        That’s capitalism baby! Gotta extract as much surplus labor as humanly possible to make stonk like go up!!!!

    4. Chickaletta*

      Noooooo….. that’s a great way to punish good employees. I see it all the time and I’m witnessing it at my work right now where a wonderful coworker of mine is being given more work that she and everyone else has told the boss that she can’t handle. But she also is highly reliable and professional and that’s all they care about: what can they milk out of their workforce without paying for more labor. Unfortunately, she’s also hinted confidentially to a few close coworkers that she’s going to reach her breaking point soon. And that’s how companies lose good people.

      1. MissBaudelaire*

        And then the higher ups sit around and scratch their heads, wondering how it possibly could have happened.

    5. John Smith*

      So you think an efficient employee should be punished with extra work? That’s a good way to incentivize the employee to be less efficient in the future.

  1. DarthVelma*

    One thing that #1 doesn’t address is whether the employee does things as well as his predecessors. Before offering him a more flexible schedule or more responsibilities or free use of his down time…I’d want to make sure doing it in half the time didn’t mean it was done in a half-assed way.

    1. Artemesia*

      Once he gets in the habit of leaving early etc, it may be difficult to reel that back in if conditions change. I’d be looking to offload some of my own responsibilities to him and use that extra time to do things that might enhance my own role then — create new project, recruit new client, even develop new skill that might be useful for my own advancement.

      1. Threeve*

        Agree–and I think comparing someone to their predecessors is very different from comparing them to their current peers and the idea of punishing someone for being extra efficient doesn’t really apply.

        It isn’t a matter of being fair, it’s just a matter of updating your expectations and assigning work accordingly.

        1. Empress Matilda*

          Yeah, ideally you wouldn’t be comparing him to specific people at all. It would be better if they had specific metrics for the role, so they can easily identify whether or not this person (and others) are meeting expectations.

      2. DANGER: Gumption Ahead*

        Oh man, that is the worst, IMO. I’ve been the efficient, accurate employee who ended up doing all of my job, 1/2 of a less efficient co-worker’s job, and 1/3 of my manager’s (who was paid $30,000 more than me) for no extra pay, no extra authority, and no plans that doing this extra work would lead to anything but more work. It was 75% of the reason I left that job. And then lets not even get into the tendency for managers to offload their least favorite and/or most tedious tasks on productive staff. Do not just offload tasks onto reports because they are good at their jobs.

        1. Artemesia*

          yeah part of the deal should be to figure out how to promote and reward this employee who is efficient.

        2. Koalafied*

          Definitely agree that it shouldn’t just be done without consulting the employee and being clear about whether or not it’s going to lead to more pay or a better title. The upshot is that even if your current employer doesn’t increase your compensation, they’re giving you experience you can leverage into a more senior, higher-paying role elsewhere. Nobody wants to hire you to do anything you don’t already have experience doing, and in my case the only reason I was able to get any professional job I’ve held after my first one was because I had been doing that work already at my previous job even though it wasn’t part of my original job description and I wasn’t paid what people who do that work get paid. So it can be a good thing – but the manager owes it to their report to be up front about there not being a path to promotion even if they take on the work, give them some input into whether or not they want to take on the extra tasks, and understand that they are effectively training you for the job you’re going to leave your current company for and not be surprised when you land that role and resign.

      3. Fish*

        Will you also be giving this employee some of your salary since you’re offloading your work to him or her?

    2. quill*

      My first thought is: is he not doing crosschecks?

      My second: Maybe he wrote himself a shortcut to cut down on some sort of math part and it’s really adding up…

      1. DANGER: Gumption Ahead*

        This happened at the job I mentioned above. I knew how to program super efficient code in SAS because I’ve been doing it for 20+ years and happened to have work with MUCH nastier datasets in the past, so I was able to streamline the bulk of my work into a 3 click, less than 1 hr/day process.

        1. quill*

          Yeah, it’s really impossible to tell on the information given if this person has managed to automate a process, or if they don’t proofread.

      2. Just Another Cog*

        Or he just processes quickly….

        One of my duties involves a … quality control concern …. on files that leave my organization. I’ve watched other people who do this task, and they feel painfully, horribly, slow at it. They don’t use keyboard shortcuts, they read very slowly, it takes them forever to select the right command when they’re correcting an error.
        I’m easily twice as fast as some of them and more accurate. I read fast. I do math fast, I do logic fast. Fast does not mean inaccurate, sometimes it just means your base CPU clock speed is higher.
        (note that there’s zero age correlation on this. I’m finding that our younger employees are much slower even though they’re “digital natives” — most of them have never heard of a keyboard command. Watching someone edit a document by going up to the edit menu, sliding down to select a command, selecting the command … over and over again? Is excruciating. But more than one recent college grad that I’ve onboarded has done everything that way.)

        1. quill*

          Yeah, my experience is probably very industry specific in that there are a few things where the process has to be slow so that it is done correctly… and some processes where a well built spreadsheet will cut your day’s work in half. Or where reading speed is the main speed limit for your workflow.

        2. Hamburke*

          I’m an external bookkeeper. I use the keyboard more than the mouse. I actually have the keyboard shortcuts posted next to my desk so I can learn new ones. My boss and coworker use the mouse almost exclusively. Drives me crazy! When I cross train my boss and coworker, I’m like ctrl-I, tab-tab, date, tab, num, tab, amt, tab-tab, ctrl-v, tab, account and they click on each box they need and right click to paste. I sometimes write directions like this. I’ve updated most of my instructions to be more inclusive and note what field I’m going to, but I still keep in “tab to field…”

        3. Susie*

          I went back to college recently to switch careers. The mandatory computer course forced us to use the menus and mouse for *everything*.

          The software they used to grade us was a virtual duplicate of the real application. It gave points for clicking on the correct menu button and then the correct item. The software also blocked keyboard input unless a text box was open (naming a document to save it, typing data into cells, etc.) and did not recognize modifiers if you pressed them.

          As someone who makes heavy use of keyboard shortcuts day-to-day, that course was extremely infuriating.

          For my 17-year-old classmates who were learning that software for the first time, the menus and mouse are the only way that they know how to use it because of how they were taught.

    3. Person from the Resume*

      It also could be his predecessor was slow or lazy and did the job just as fast but didn’t let you know about it.

      I think the consideration should be the output you can expect of a good (maybe slightly better than average) employee to do.

  2. Clara*

    Did my old boss send this email?

    As the employee who has been in that position, I’ve generally liked to take up extra work or projects, even without the rise in pay. At some point, I would want recognition or a title bump at least. If leaving early / coming in late isn’t an option I don’t want to sit there bored, and I don’t like doing/can’t focus completely on non-work tasks at work. If I’m at work I might as well be working.

    And to the folks who think I must be half-assing it – I definitely wasn’t! I’ve just realized over the years that once I get into the swing of things I tend to do work faster than others.

    1. Cedarthea*

      Hello fellow me, I am the same and have the same suggestions. Also, I am also not half-assing things, sometimes I gain time through efficiencies (batching tasks etc) and also I am just a fast system operator (like when im doing AP tasks I have all my keyboard shortcuts memorized and can move swiftly through my tasks

      One of the things that my bosses have done over the years is give me some background “grunt work” that is boring but not time sensitive (like updating old documents to current standards, tagging photos in our management system for easier searching, changing URLs to our new brand standards that can then be sent for fresh SEOing, archiving old vendors in our accounting system, etc).

      This gives me projects (that don’t require me to speak to my manager and add to their workload) that I can just do when I am between assignments that benefit the company and keep me occupied.

        1. Cedarthea*

          Yep, pretty much.

          I actually enjoy those tasks, it gives me a sense of satisfaction to complete those tasks.

          I have also used those tasks to get promotions and additional support for my organization. In that case, I entered all our paper trail pass data into excel and was able to crunch data and find out some crucial info about our users that informed a number of grants that grew the orgs significantly.

          But my work won’t give me time off, and would not allow me to just read or surf the internet, so this is my best option, and I get to listen to podcasts as I do it so it works for me.

          1. Koalafied*

            I’m with you. I like to have a few back-burner projects that are low-skill and not time-sensitive. They make a nice palette cleanser between other projects. And despite the projects being low-skill, in my experience everyone I work with has understood that Project X is monotonous, tedious work that takes a tremendous amount of time, and they’re genuinely pleased to learn that I merged all the duplicate records in the database, or cleared through a backlog of customer testimonials that needed to be reviewed and either approved for display on the website or rejected. It’s enhances both my professional reputation and my professional relationships, and the brilliant thing is that the work isn’t even hard.

            I wouldn’t want to spend my full 40 hours every week doing database hygiene or sifting through mountains of user-generated content, but I actually like that those things are available to me in between other projects and would genuinely prefer to do them and earn the professional capital associated with them, than to mindlessly surf social media until the next project starts.

          2. Man from the North*

            Nice to see someone else in a bit of the same boat.

            I mainly work high-level migration projects and other things. I also keep a few calendar events for monthly basic website maintenance for some clients. It’s work I could easily give to a first-year tech, but I keep them for myself – because after chewing on a tough problem, sometimes I just need the easy meatball right over the plate.

        2. The Dogman*

          That’s what I thought. They seem proud they are being overworked.

          If one person can do the same job in half the time they should both get the same pay but the quicker one should get more time off. In most jobs where this is possible shifting to a “paid to produce” over a “paid for time in office/online” model would be good for faster workers and make no difference to slower ones.

          Bosses might have to employ some more people, which I think is great, but bosses usually want to keep all the accumulated cash sadly.

          1. berto*

            I’m fine with a juicy, self-directed project that gives me a chance to shine and be rewarded. But instead I get “can you help Wendy with an excel spreadsheet, she can’t figure it out”. Which is fine, but at some point, c’mon, Wendy has to do her own job.

          2. Jane*

            This. Both loading work onto high efficiency employees to keep their (our) workload maxed out *and* giving them nothing to do so they end up stuck and bored burns people out – fast.

            The solution is increased time off *without* a cut in pay, or increased responsibility *with* an increase in pay.

        3. Person from the Resume*

          You get work to occupy your working hours.

          There seems to be some sort of disconnect from people who think that what you owe your employers is “a certain amount of output and if you get it done you should get no more” versus the idea that you owe your employer “X hours of work.”

            1. Person from the Resume*

              Not really because that means are you exempt or not exempt from overtime, not if you are paid by the hours you work or if you are salaried.*

              The LW doesn’t say if this guy is an hourly employee who when the work is done stays at work and is being paid to wait for more work if it comes in or if this guy has a set salary. Sending someone home early when they are being paid by the hour may not be a reward if they need the money.


          1. Cold Fish*

            Yeah, that thought process lasts as long as it takes you to realize
            1. You are producing 3 times more work than the next guy
            2. Your coworkers are cherry picking the easy jobs for themselves so not only are you producing more you are doing all the crap jobs
            3. Your work contains half as many errors as your coworkers
            4. Your coworkers got the same crappy raise that they gave you despite facts 1, 2 & 3 above.

            I am happy, and would prefer, to work a full 40 hours a week. The week would go by much faster. But if my contribution to the workload is 2-3 times that of the person beside me, why shouldn’t my pay reflect that (it never does). Heck, if it was recognized by the powers that be then it would go a long way toward job satisfaction (however even that is often not the case).

      1. Red Reader the Adulting Fairy*

        efficiencies, yes — our system drops the same report every day, that has to be reformatted in the same way (for our needs, different areas use this report different ways) every day before our area can work it. After two days, I set up an Excel macro to reformat it with one click. I offered to show my counterpart how to do the same, so she didn’t have to take 20 minutes to reformat it every day, and she about had the vapors at the very idea. “I’m not a tech-y person like you are, I couldn’t possibly.” Uh, well, okay, but this would also resolve the part where three times a week you accidentally delete half the report, take a half hour to figure out what’s wrong with it, and then another twenty minutes of panicking before you download a fresh copy and start over. “I SAID I COULDN’T POSSIBLY.”

        Okay. So in the time I save doing it the easy way, I’ll pick up other projects that get my name in front of our executive suite and mean that when I apply for a management role, they know me and my work. ¯\_(ツ)_/¯ I guess if you really want to keep stressing yourself out every other day over constantly screwing up and having to start over ….

        1. turquoisecow*

          Oh man I’ve been there, too. Sometimes it feels like my coworkers are doing things the slow way on purpose to make themselves seem busy.

          I had a coworker who was always busy with a particular tasks, and couldn’t help out when big projects came out that were all hands on deck because she was so busy with that task. One day they decided I should help her with the task and that I should take it over when she was out sick unexpectedly. Once I’d figured out what I was doing I did it in like half the time. And not badly, either!

          I’ve also often gotten the busywork tasks in the background. I’m a data entry clerk, basically, and in the past there were often lots of data errors because data in the past was entered badly, but no one had the time to clean that up. I started cleaning things up in my free time, and that was greatly appreciated by everyone who had to deal with the data. Reports suddenly looked cleaner, and it was easier to find things in the data when certain things matched. I didn’t get extra money from it because that wasn’t there, but I did get a lot of goodwill from it, to the point where when that company went out of business, my old boss remembered me and recruited me for a new company.

    2. turquoisecow*

      Yeah this letter could easily describe me. I finish the work I am assigned and there isn’t more work to do. In the past I’ve often gone to my boss and often they’re busy with meetings or other work they can’t offload and so they basically just tell me to keep busy. I often come up with some busy work projects on my own.

      At least now that I’m working from home I don’t have to look busy when the executives walk by, and I can do whatever else while I wait for more work. My current job has periods where I’ll go weeks or months without much to do, and then weeks where I’m very busy, and my boss understands that so while I do feel a bit guilty about not actually doing more work, there literally isn’t work to do. And he appreciates my speed when I do get work.

    3. Web of Pies*

      Me tooooo I have gotten IN TROUBLE at MULTIPLE JOBS for “not working” because I got everything done quickly and correctly, asked bosses for extra work and been denied, finished any office admin/organizational tasks in my purview I could think of, got my inbox and files in order, and finished reading the entirety of a bunch of industry blogs to at least be educating myself during downtime. Like, what do you expect someone to do at that point?

      Fast, accurate workers should be incentivized to stay that way, but I was always just told to slow down.

      1. NotAnotherManager!*

        Years ago, when I was a paralegal, a senior partner chastised me for doing something too quickly because he “made more money the longer it took to complete” and also believed that legal practice was an art that could not possibly benefit from technology or standardization of practices. (This was before 2008, when clients realized that the billable hours did not incentivize efficiency and stopped giving law firms a blank check budget.)

      2. Who Plays Backgammon?*

        I was once reprimanded by my manager for, in effect, being efficient, diligent, and punctual. Came to work on time, took/returned from breaks and lunch on time, and in between, i *worked*. While my counterparts came late, yakked, took half-hour breaks and 2-hour lunches, and made long personal phone calls. At the end of the day, I’d be straightening up my desk to be ready for tomorrow, while my counterparts scrambled like mad to do the work they’d blown off all day. The execs would come out of their offices to go home and they’d see my counterparts busy busy busy while I, as my boss put it, was just sitting there with my hands folded waiting to leave. Guess she didn’t notice all the stuff I’d done and brought to her all day long. Nahhhhh.

    4. ophelia*

      Agreed. Also, depending on where he is in his career, can you offer him professional development opportunities? I’m also a fast worker, and that has given me the opportunity to do a variety of online courses (and sometimes in-person ones) that are relevant to my job, and help me become more well-rounded.

      1. Keymaster of Gozer (she/her)*

        That’s pretty much how I ended up in a senior IT role. Seriously good at spotting and resolving data faults, ended up clearing my call queue down in half the day, spent the rest of the time reading up and trying out SQL to make myself qualified to move to a more expert role.

        Didn’t exactly come to fruition until I left that firm and joined another with my new skills but the pay increase and more interesting errors to work on was nice :)

  3. berto*

    The story of my career – work harder, stay focused, always learn, always grow. I finish work not in half the time, but a fraction of the time, and yes, the quality is high. My reward? More and more work piled on my head. Fixing other people’s mistakes because they’re overloaded. More responsibilities but no more money or promotion. Empty promises that are never followed-thru. So I made a change. Since no one really knows what it takes to do my job, I just pace my work along with the team. If they move slow, I align my comms and due dates so that it appears I am working at the same pace. In reality, I finish work early and spend my downtime learning on my own, relaxing with family, cooking healthy meals, and exercising. Our work culture has some strange priorities.

    1. Richard Hershberger*

      Yeah, my immediate reaction is that this problem would magically go away of Star Employee could work remotely. All the work would get done, without the awkwardness of anyone seeing this person twiddling their thumbs. In a rational world the answer would be give this person more work and pay them accordingly, but we do not live in that world.

      1. berto*

        I have worked at least semi-remotely for many years after decades of sitting there trying to look busy. I once had a boss tell me to “slow down, you’re making the other team members look bad. ” That company doesn’t exist anymore.

        1. Recruited Recruiter*

          I have totally experienced the “you’re making the other team members look bad” talk. I was lucky enough that it was just from a co-worker, and my boss actually supported my growth. I got my first promotion after 3 months, and my second after 7. Most people who do second promotion job don’t get that one until 3 years or later. At that point, I ran out of space to grow, and sat in promotion 2 job until 3 years.

        2. Analytical Tree Hugger*

          I was given a similar “you’re making others look bad” spiel in my exit interview with HR once.

          “Well, maybe ProblematicColleague had exploded (in front of HR, his manager, and the rest of the team) because we took that big project away from him and gave it to you.”

          …they took it away because he had done almost no work on it for the past *two years* and it was due in *6 months*. We would have been in big trouble if it wasn’t done.


      2. Keymaster of Gozer (she/her)*

        Not again hearing ‘No Keymaster, you can’t sew geek embroidery in your downtime, it annoys your coworkers’ is definitely a nice perk of the days I get to spend at home.

        (Sewing is also my stress relief)

        1. BeenThere*

          I’ve been knitting while I wait for meetings to start and it’s been wonderful for my stress levels.

          I always love it when a large meeting consists of a majority of people with video off, bliss pure bliss.

        2. MissBaudelaire*

          I work in healthcare, but not patient care. I work on the clerical side of things. The amount of people complaining that I was crocheting or reading a book once my work was at a standstill.

          “She should find *something* to do.” Or you should mind your own business and worry about your own work? I couldn’t do anything until the doctor started moving, so what you’re really upset about is that the doctor isn’t moving fast enough. Take that up with the doctor, not me.

      3. Baal Like Bocce*

        I worked with someone whose management philosophy was “I don’t care what you do, I care what you get done.” As long as her team was meeting/exceeding deliverables, why add to her own workload by micromanaging butts in seats? She’d also fight hard for that team for awards, raises, promotions, etc. (with varying degrees of success) but yeah telework was key to that policy.

        1. Analytical Tree Hugger*

          What a concept, managing for results and rewarding employees for them.

          Sigh…why is that so hard??

    2. The Wall Of Creativity*

      Leave them twiddling their thumbs for a couple of hours before they leave at 5. Then put them on a PIP and push them out while giving big pay rises and promotions to those that do their jobs in slow motion and end up having to stop late every day. When you put them on the PIP, talk only in terms of the number of hours they put in compared to others and ignore the end product”. Point out how you’ve seen them check the news on the internet ten times a day and how the slowcoaches never use the internet.

      1. Who Am I*

        I see we’ve worked for the same employer. Were you supposed to help everyone else out too – the ones who would bad-mouth you behind your back for not helping them but refused to ask for help? (Mostly so no one would realize they hadn’t done their filing or any other boring housekeeping tasks for a year.)

    3. Threeve*

      I have often been the person who finishes things relatively quickly, and it’s never occurred to me to resent taking on more work when I have the capacity.

      I don’t exhaust myself or work more hours than everyone else, and I’d probably push back on being assigned to permanently manage someone without a promotion…but I’m paid for being a full-time employee, not for doing an average full-time employee’s workload.

      1. berto*

        I felt the same way for many, many years. I volunteered for hard projects, even went into management for a while. I just kept getting taken advantage of by leaders who only cared about getting more out of me. I got burnt out and bitter. The saying I learned was “From each according to his ability, to each according to his needs”, that is from Karl Marx and it is alive and well in Capitalist Corporate America.

        1. Eldritch Office Worker*

          It’s a hard balance to strike. I’ve left many jobs overworked, burnt out, and bitter. I love my current job but I’m underutilized and I’m so hesitant to ask for any more work, even things I might be interested in doing. Jobs can cause trauma and keep us from optimizing our future experiences.

      2. Bitter*

        I wasn’t resentful until I was on the job long enough to realize the others, who weren’t as knowledgeable and efficient as I was, went on to getting real promotions while all I got were compliments on how good I was at doing the grunt work, the expections to always be the one handling all the grunt work, and an offer to update my job title to something like “Sr. Grunt Work Coordinator” and essentially close all paths to a more interesting role in the future (given my work history so far).

        I gave it my all to that company for three years and now I’m still tired and have adopted a different approach at work. Instead of “being a team player” who always volunteers to do the tasks that no one wants (or is smart enough) to do, I just sit at my desk and teach myself new skills. I’m sure neither my boss nor my coworkers are impressed by what they perceive as my contribution, but at this point I know better than to try the same thing and expect a different result.

        1. berto*

          One suggestion: I moved into a more outcomes-based roles (sales, parts of marketing) that values face time less than hitting numbers. I also stopped caring about being promoted because I didn’t want to make more $$ but have to give up more time. Sales is not for everyone but it reduces the pressure of feeling like you have to look busy.

        2. TardyTardis*

          But you were so good where you were you couldn’t possibly be moved anywhere else! After all, you need to pick up all the slack for the spots they decided not to fill…

  4. Richard Hershberger*

    LW3: Offering to talk on the phone is itself a huge clue. I would totally understand an implied “because there is no way I am going to put this in writing!”

  5. Empress Matilda*

    #1, I would start by getting clear on what problem you’re trying to solve here. What’s the actual issue with his downtime? If he’s finished his assigned work and the quality is good, does it matter if he has downtime afterwards? How does it affect the others on your team, or outside your team? If there’s no practical impact, and your main concern is that it doesn’t look good, that’s fine – just be honest with yourself and him about why it’s important.

    Also, how much time are we talking about? If it’s an hour or so a day, that’s a different story than if it’s 3 hours every day. An hour a day, you can mitigate with busywork if need be. But half a day, he’s likely very underchallenged, and you may want to think about finding more (or different) work for him to do. And don’t forget to ask him how he wants to handle it! Of course you won’t be able to promise anything at first, but you should at least give him a chance to voice his opinion on the whole thing.

    1. Anonymous Educator*

      I like Alison’s answer, but I’m also confused as to what the problem is. Doesn’t sound as if the quality of the work done is subpar (otherwise, the problem would be “My employee rushes too much and makes mistakes and needs to take more time”). As long as the employee is getting the work done at a high level, there’s nothing wrong with getting it done sooner, unless the employee complains about being bored.

    2. MissDisplaced*

      If I had to guess, the coworkers complain that he’s not working, even though all is work is already done.

    3. Filosofickle*

      I’ve been scrolling looking for this comment :)
      What’s the actual problem? Someone is complaining? The employee is unhappy? Bosses see an idle worker? Or is it just awkward for the boss? It’s not at all clear WHY they want the employee to slow down. They also didn’t say what the person does with that time. That feels important.

      I’ve often been faster than those around me. I was usually lucky enough to be salaried, and had the kind of schedule or office where it wasn’t visible that I didn’t put in whole days. The worst scenario is when you have to sit there and *look* busy. That’s miserable.

      1. Bob the Bob*

        Yes, and please realize that the person may not be able to slow down. I can work very quickly and accurately (but not forever or I will burn out so I’ve learned not to keep taking on more). I cannot work slowly and methodically without checking out and making errors. Sorry, just not how my brain works. I’m a sprinter, not a marathoner.

        1. Man from the North*

          Same here, and I ran into a problem at an old shop, being asked to slow down.

          Monthly, we’d get a dump from our loan system with various data. This data would be chopped, pulled and twisted around into some pretty dashboards. It was too much to easily automate open source, and the boss wouldn’t pay for a professional product, so I’d do it manually.

          I had a Process, and the Process had to happen at a given Speed. They asked me to slow down (after I finished, I’d e-mail the reports to the bosses – if they got it too soon, they’d feel pressured to meet that afternoon instead of the next day) – slowing down broke the Process and lead to more errors. The Process contained various sanity checks at several steps, but the checks made assumptions of current position and status based on the Speed – when the Speed had to be slowed down, the checks no longer happened when they should and it caused problems.

          I solved the issue by doing it at normal pace and just delaying file release until the next morning.

  6. Stephanie*

    The final question reminded me of my dad :( He’s twice (actually possibly thrice) come on board with a great manager and built a successful relationship. But within a year, that person moves on and he gets shafted in regards to the new management. He’s currently undergoing a terrible experience with his current place as he waits it out for his retirement plans.

    1. Daniel Tiger*

      I started a new job in January and my boss announced she was leaving a month in. I don’t think she was planning on leaving when we first talked but it was still a shock as I’m transitioning a bit in my career and there’s a lot I don’t know. But, luckily everyone understood and we muddled through until a new boss came on a couple months later. I think overall it was probably a good thing but it was scary for a bit.

      1. Not a Real Giraffe*

        I once accepted a new job where a huge part of the draw was the ability to work with and learn from my soon-to-be supervisor. Upon joining the firm, I learned my supervisor had been fired and would be replaced with someone who had absolutely no idea what they were doing. So, even if I had asked in the interview process about their medium-range plans, my would-be supervisor would have given me an answer that turned out not to be the case. All of this to say — make sure you want the WHOLE job, not just the ability to work with one singular person.

  7. BlueBelle*

    Keep this employee engaged and let him use that time for development. This is a high performer, and you do not want to lose him because he is bored or not challenged. Do you have a Learning and development team, do you have a learning management system he could access? Is there certifications he could work towards for his future career goals. Engage him!

    1. it made me a better employee*

      Yes, development! I was waiting for someone to say this. I was an unusually productive worker and in my spare time I looked into solutions to problems, learned new and related software, read articles on the internet related to our work, did tutorials, and organized/cleaned out files. Since it was all related to our work, it didn’t look bad if bosses noticed as they walked by. I could always say I was researching an issue, and I often was. Anything I learned made me a better employee and I often shared my discoveries with coworkers or my team lead. We had no formal in-house development, I took the initiative on my own.

    2. Baal Like Bocce*

      As an L&D/e-learning specialist, I wish that the mere existence of an L&D team and/or an LMS meant that an organization offered in-house professional development! A few years ago I joined a full L&D office with an LMS that served about 100 offices worldwide – the ONLY things that team “offered” were new employee orientation, mandatory federal compliance training, and mandatory new supervisor training. Needless to say, I left that job pretty quickly :)

      Putting on my professional hat, I very much agree with the vibe of this advice! Supporting his growth and development has a lot of benefits beyond just the employee – your team and company both benefit from better skilled and satisfied employees and a proven commitment to PD can attract better talent over time. Certifications related to his current position or his future goals, membership in professional organizations, mentoring/coaching, free or low-cost online courses or webinar are all great options with a range of price points. Have a conversation with both your employee and your own supervisory chain about what he wants and what you can do to support that. To remix what Bluebell said: work WITH him to find opportunities to engage him!

      (Side note: Everyone please remember that employees don’t all need to do the exact same PD but everyone should have equitable access to the PD system!)

  8. Ray Gillette*

    I work best when I can get things done in quick, intense bursts, followed by downtime to recover. I consistently get positive feedback on the quality and consistency of my work, so I’m not half-assing it, but the optics of being seen doing nothing are bad. But the time I spend doing “nothing” is what allows me to complete the other work quickly.

    I don’t really have a point here. I suppose I’m just grateful to be working remotely now so I can focus on my output and not how it looks to take more breaks than my coworkers even though the numbers clearly show that my output is equal or greater to theirs.

    1. berto*

      same here. remote work has been a godsend. And the funny part is, I prefer to go in an office a few days a week to break things up.

    2. The Wall Of Creativity*

      So many managers don’t understand that way of working. You get more done than everyone else but they still label you as the only one who has time to check the news during the day.

    3. No_woman_an_island*

      Glad to know I’m not the only one. I need a brain dump every hour or 2 to recharge and tackle the next chunk of work efficiently.

    4. turquoisecow*

      I’m so glad I work remote and I don’t have to pretend to be busy if a higher up walks past my desk. I don’t have any work to do, I’m not slacking, but of course it appears that I’m just goofing off on company time. Oh no, I came in five minutes late, I’m a slacker! Never mind I got as much or more done than my counterparts. Optics!

    5. DANGER: Gumption Ahead*

      Same on the remote work. I’d always thought I would hate working from home, so I was a little worried when I started full-time, remote in 2019 (only office time is 1 visit per year in a state a 3 hr flight away), but nope! I love it. I also need those brain pauses between high output periods, so being able to freely take a break is awesome, especially because I can get up, do something physically active-ish, and completely not work related. I’ve solved a ridiculous number of work problems sweeping, dusting, working out, prepping ingredients, etc.. Apparently my brain likes a true “And Now for Something Completely Different” breaks

      1. allathian*

        A change is as good as a rest. Not really, but sometimes focusing on something completely different for a while helps with focus.

    6. Why did I go to library school?*

      Working from home really drove this home for me about myself as well. Now, if only they’d have let us CONTINUE working from home………………………..

    7. KaciHall*

      My supervisor once complained to my boss that I did nothing but play on my phone all day. I pointed out to my boss that I checked my phone while my program was loading the next screen. And also, while our goal was 100 pieces per hour, I routinely hit 900-1000 pieces per day while spending two hours doing a necessary non-productive task and responsible for answering the department phone and handling calls. Everyone else was just hitting goal. Including my supervisor.

      My boss had everyone track numbers for awhile. (I was tracking for myself as a way to focus, everyone else thought tracking was a pain.) At the end of the month, she told me to keep my phone use subtle. She theoretically promoted me to a new department, but everyone she’s hired for my old team has quit and it’s busy season, so I’m stuck for awhile.

      1. Analytical Tree Hugger*

        Hm…an ineffective supervisor and high turnover? Not at all related, I’m sure, KaciHall’s Boss..

        I hope you’re able to really join the new department soon, @KaciHall

  9. AJ Books*

    #1. You have a great opportunity to be the “good guy” here. Assign Star Employee professional development assignments. This employee looks like they will have a great career trajectory, so help them get there. Most career paths have some form of certification or education- offer to assign those so they can study during down time: PMP certification training for an employee in project management, A+ training for IT, whatever is appropriate for your business line. Bonus if company can pay or assist in paying for the cert or classes. Result- Employee gains new skill(s) and becomes more useful to you and the business, Star Employee is hopefully appreciative of opportunity and feels loyalty to you and your company.

  10. Regular Human Accountant*

    I am a person described in #1, and have been lucky enough to have great bosses who were willing to give me projects and responsibilities to fill that downtime. As a result I was able to learn new things and it really furthered my career with those companies. Right now, I’m in a job where I am NOT getting those additional projects and so to get rid of the boredom I’m taking advantage of remote work and am taking classes that will allow me to sit for the CPA exam next year. Hopefully I’ll pass it soon enough and will be able to look for a new job where I’m not bored witless.

    Short answer: OP#1, ask your efficient employee if he’d like to take on new projects or learn new skills that would benefit his career at your company, or else risk him using his free time to learn skills that will allow him to jump ship.

    1. NotAnotherManager!*

      I’m very similar, though I’m fortunate to still be with an employer that recognizes and rewards employee contributions with promotions, raises, and bonuses. Heck, I did a small project (that kind of snowballed into a bigger-than-expected project) for my boss a few months ago because it was tangentially related to my field of expertise, I had some free time, and I knew he was crazy-busy… and he sent me a small bonus for that, which I wasn’t expecting at all. I do not think I would cope well with an employer who expected all that but never said thank you with money or time off.

      I hate being bored, and I hate doing things inefficiently. Left to my own devices, if I have a lot of spare time, you’re going to end up with a documentation manual, template documents, or a list of suggestions on how processes could be improved. LinkedIn Learning is also my best friend in unfilled downtime.

      1. Recruited Recruiter*

        Documentation manual! We are alike!
        I started a new job a few months ago, and the Personnel Files were organized in different ways from each other. The inefficiency of having to search an entire folder just to see if one person had signed this document was killing me. So I organized all the employee files. Told my supervisor. “How were you that productive?” was the next question.

  11. AKchic*

    My last job was like this, except they refused to give me anything else because “that’s not part of your contract”. The problem? They TOOK most of what was part of our contract to do themselves (illegally, but our union kept letting them have more rope to trip themselves up). Depending on our workload, I would finish my entire workload in 1-2 hours. And that was if I was typing at a medium speed. I was required to be there 8 hours a day. I wasn’t allowed to take outside calls (can’t let the gov’t know I’m competent when you’ve been badmouthing the union “girls”).
    They did lose the contract renewal and the managers were blacklisted. Unfortunately, they talked so horribly about us to the new contractors that 9 months later the union is still fighting for us to be rehired (one has, my job still isn’t even available yet).

    Luckily, there would actually be work on the new contract, otherwise I wouldn’t even consider it. 5 years of doing nearly nothing doesn’t look good on the resume.

  12. I'm just here for the cats!*

    #2 How long is the wait? If it’s like 10 seconds so they can minimize the screen or save something I don’t think it’s a big deal. If they are making customers wait for a minute then that’s a problem. I also wonder if the customers are complaining or if the OP is overreacting to some perceived slight.

    1. Richard Hershberger*

      I was wondering that myself. Is this a matter of pulling up the right screen, or are they insisting on finishing the article they are reading?

    2. NerdyKris*

      Ten seconds to acknowledge someone is pretty long in my opinion. They should be looking up as they approach. It shouldn’t take you more than a second to minimize a window, and I’m not sure why you’d need to be saving something before you can help the customer. I’m at a loss to think of anything you’d be doing on work time that would prevent immediately greeting a customer, and that’s not an unreasonable standard.

      As someone who regularly multitasks, you can greet and change windows at the same time. There’s no reason to make the customer wait while you finish whatever you’re doing. If it requires time to put down, it shouldn’t be done in that position.

      1. SimplytheBest*

        Agreed. If you have to finish something up, take the 10 seconds to minimize you’re screen or whatever, but you should be acknowledging the customer right away (“Hi, I’ll be right with you!”) so they don’t have to feel like they have to interrupt you. That’s pretty basic customer service.

    3. Teapot Repair Technician*

      That’s my question too. LW didn’t mention any customers complaining or walking out the door because they got tired of waiting.

      When I worked tech support, I would often let my phone ring a few times before picking it up, even if the thing I was previously doing wasn’t important. Switching into “customer service mode” can take a several seconds, but if you take the time to do it, it can result in better service for the customer and a more sustainable work pace for the employee.

    4. commensally*

      Yep, “employee is ignoring customers in favor of playing web games all day” is one problem, “employee occasionally takes a few extra seconds to switch tracks when the first customer of a three-hour shifts arrives at the start of hour three” is probably not actually a problem at all? (And probably completely unrelated to the fact that they’re looking at Facebook.)

    5. Rav*

      I’d add to the questions: Are you sure they’re misusing their access and not finishing something from work? It’s important to establish the reason. Context switching can be worse for the quality of the job.

  13. Pascall*

    I have the problem of the employee in the first question. I do a lot more than my predecessor did and in half the time. There are some days when I’m busy with work all day, but on days like today, for example, I’ve finished everything I need to do and I’ve still got about 4 hours left of work.

    My supervisor is very supportive of me taking some downtime to read some news, study some stuff I’m interested in, or taking on a bit of extra work here or there to help out some other people in my department. She’s adamant that I not take on anything that’s really above my pay though, without the higher-ups establishing my role as a level II instead of a level I (and providing a raise to reflect that), but that can’t happen until next summer’s budget reconciliation, so it’ll just be a little bit of a waiting game.

    So now I just kind of fill my time, if my supervisor doesn’t have any projects she can delegate to me, with studying SQL – which can get me into higher roles on the current track I’m in – and, on a more personal level, studying screenwriting. :)

    And all else fails, I go ask the specialists in the neighboring office if they have a bunch of papers for me to scan into the system and I’ll just watch Hulu all day while scanning haha.

    My supervisor is very supportive and I think that makes all the difference!

  14. Llama face!*

    Hey I match 2 out of 4 of these questions. Technically 3 but I have no hindrances in telling people to stay away from my old dumpster fire workplace.

    For LW1: As a fast and accurate worker who gets frustrated by work bottlenecks (otherwise known as my direct supervisor) one thing that helps is if you are very clear on what is okay to do while I wait. I am a conscientious person and don’t feel comfortable doing not-work activities during paid hours if I don’t have permission to do so. (I still do because it’s that or stare at a wall but then I feel really guilty about it). Also, if you do or don’t want them to ask you for work when they have run out, please be very upfront about it. I have had workplaces where you are expected to look busy but when I ran out of work and asked for more I was seen as demanding and putting pressure on my (already busy) supervisors. Make expectations clear.

    For LW4: Nothing but sympathy. I was hired for my most recent job by someone who I clicked really well with and who seemed very competent and organized. 2 weeks later I go in for my first day and “oh didn’t you hear she quit?”. She had to have given notice either just before or after interviewing me but nobody thought to mention it. And it changed the workplace dynamic quite drastically.

  15. Essess*

    I was ‘that’ employee. I would get my work done so much faster than others. When I had supervisor A, when I finished my work then I was assigned to pick up my coworker’s slack. That just taught my coworkers to avoid doing the tasks that were difficult and unpleasant because eventually they would get dumped on me. That also taught me to waste more time on my tasks so that I wasn’t always stuck with the unpleasant work. But when I had supervisor B, when I completed my tasks, I was given the opportunity to take training classes, or given small independent projects to work on as proof-of-concepts for new programming ideas and that sharpened my current skills and also situated me to have enough preparation for other roles and advancement. Guess which supervisor I trusted and excelled under?

    1. Loremipsum*

      I’m the same kind of employee. I also went from an industry with one of THE most demanding production schedules that exist, to a similar position, but in the public sector. The tasks that took the person who previously had this job an entire week, I can do in 1-2 days – AND they even had a deputy who retired as soon as the person moved on. Which I don’t. They kept saying, “are you familiar with the concept of time management?” The key is: always look occupied. I always ask for any projects or ways to help the department head. If they decline, I work on professional development. It is encouraged at our agency actually and in this field to engage in continuous training, and there are a lot of free opportunities to do that.

  16. commensally*

    Oh hi #2! Are you my manager?

    Here’s what I’ve got: it’s possible some employees are being distracted from customers by the internet.

    It’s possible some employees are more distractible, and since the internet is there, that’s what you’re focusing on. Banning them from the internet will not fix this! It will just force them to stare blankly into space instead, or they will shift to doing other work tasks that are even more distracting. It will work better to focus on what you need them to do (help customers immediately, and strategies for that) than what you don’t want them to do (occupy the time between customers.)

    It’s possible all your employees are occasionally distracted from helping customers but you’ve decided the internet is the problem. I had several one-on-ones with a manager about my distraction by the internet when I was supposed to be helping customers. I pointed out the reason I was always the one who needed to be helping the customers was that the other two staff members who were supposed to be sharing the load were always in the middle of their daily 45-minute conversation about their kids and pets. This did not go over well. Again, if the problem is that customers aren’t being helped, then there needs to be an actual attempt to figure out why. A redesign of the desk area so that it customers knew where to come for help as opposed to loitering vaguely around helped with this far more than talking to staff about leisure time.

    It became pretty clear that this manager’s problem wasn’t with customers being neglected, it was with the idea that employees might do things she considered not-work while on the clock. That is also a different problem than customers being neglected! (Instead, we were told do only do work tasks at all times, which meant we were almost never *at* the desk, because we were all over the building doing other tasks, and customers had longer waits. Somehow this was not a problem.)

  17. Coco*

    #4 Telling a job candidate that I have cancer: I agree with Allison’s answer about transparency. It s important not to be so transparent that you are offering up to many personal details. You don’t want to go into very specific medical things, just the surface level issue. I would also wait to disclose this until the offer stage. This way the candidate can consider if any concerns about this would override the benefits/salary that you present during the offer stage. Keeping it very factual “I also wanted to let you know that I can currently undergoing cancer treatment. Since I would be the supervisor for this position, I felt it was best to let you know. For the next few months this will impact XYZ.”

  18. Fish*

    I think it’s interesting to read the comments and see who believes the efficient worker should be -offered- the ability to take on new projects, who wants to just hand their own work or just more work over to the worker without any commensurate rise in pay (thus essentially punishing them for being good at their job), and who has been in those shoes and learned the hard way to never, ever stand out as a quick worker because, well, you end up being punished for being good at your job.

    If possible, offer the employee a day or two to work at home. Or to go home early here and there (“What if we work out a schedule where, without cutting your pay, you leave at 3 pm instead of 5 pm on Wednesday and Fridays, assuming of course that you keep turning out such exceptional work”). Or offer them more work with a commensurate raise.

    Or… just accept that downtime is not the devil.

  19. ecnaseener*

    Re #4 at the link, I think I’d be uncomfortable being told about a hiring manager’s cancer. Is she watching my reaction? Am I supposed to take it in stride or offer my sympathies or…?

    So I would vote for keeping it vague, “I’ll be dealing with a medical condition for the next several months so I’ll be away from work a fair amount” etc.

  20. Marzipan Shepherdess*

    OP1: You have an excellent employee who beats the deadlines every time. This is a PROBLEM?? Would you also complain about winning the lottery?? Do you know how many managers would kill to have that “problem” as they do their best to wrangle chronically late employees who turn in shoddy work well past the deadline (but who can’t easily be fired because of connections with a board member / highly placed executive / appearance of discrimination because said employee belongs to a protected class / etc. ?)

    Thank your lucky stars and work with that employee to see what projects they could work on when their assigned tasks are completed; they sound like someone who’d jump at the chance to initiate and carry out a project on their own (monitored by you, as the manager, of course.) You’ve got a great employee indeed – make sure they know they’re appreciated and you’re BOTH set for success!

    1. Boof*

      It’s not a complaint it’s a honest question “how do I manage this”. People who win the lottery actually need advice on how to manage a huge windfall too; those who don’t prep it can turn out to be a disaster! I think it’s a legit question and the answers here are interesting “yes more work” “more time off” “more money” “anything except ramping up tedious work with no real reward”

  21. Ozzie*

    I can relate to to this… too much. At my current job, I spent a year being delegated the most tedious tasks that others just didn’t want to do (like updating zip codes in customer profiles that were not set up properly by my predecessor) before finally just…. slowing down my work to stop getting people’s dirty work. Which I knew then and know now, is an awful habit.

    I have repeatedly asked for more complex work, different projects, a higher level job altogether, only to be punted back to the role I was initially hired for because, well, someone has to do it, and we’re not hiring someone to take it from me. Not full time, anyway. And not when you most need the help.

    Only give extra work to a point, but definitely discuss with the employee what he wants out of the position, and have an idea what compensation you can offer in exchange. Because simply adding more and more work, with nothing to balance it out, only punishes him for being efficient – which will either create bad work habits, and just cause him to leave. Don’t wring your workers out for all they are worth and leave them burned out and resentful. It’s the fastest way to lose a good employee.

  22. Pam Adams*

    I wonder if you should be looking at the metrics of the rest of the team. Is this employee really fast, or have the rest of the team gotten complacent and slowed down?

  23. Retired(but not really)*

    As someone whose job changed sorta midstream from inputting each invoice from a major supplier individually for each wholesale customer to inputting a statement total at the end of the month for that customer, I ended up with lots more time on my hands even though our number of wholesale customers had increased significantly. So I ended up doing some other things unrelated to my original ap/ar position. Eventually after several years I ended up with doing inventory control and shipping/receiving and someone else was doing ap/ar. I discovered I really liked the variety of tasks and it was lots more enjoyable not being “chained to my computer for 8hrs a day”. Although I did end up subbing in ap/ar right as I retired.
    By all means find out what that employee would like to do with the extra time. It will make them even more valuable to the company as well as more satisfied with their job.

  24. Yeah*

    I used to get in trouble for figuring out efficiencies and streamlining my work to a point where I didn’t have enough to do in the day. Then I would get in trouble because I left on time when others worked overtime. It’s truly demoralizing to be penalized for being good at your job. How about you promote your fabulous worker to teach others how to streamline their work instead of thinking they should “slow down”.

  25. Zee*

    I’ve been the employee in situation #1, and it blows. I’ve had multiple jobs where I didn’t have enough to do, but I learned very early on that if I said I didn’t have any more work, I’d get sent home and not get paid for the rest of the day. It’s agonizing to sit and try to stretch out 2 hours of work into 8. Having to pretend to be busy puts you constantly on edge, in case someone walks by and asks what you’re working on. I got out of those jobs as quickly as I was able to.

    The one place that did let me take on more work, while it was really great to try new projects and get more experience, and it was so nice to be busy for once instead of bored out of my mind, it really sucked that the org was willing to pay the ED $40/hour to write a grant but would only pay me $20/hr, even though it had the same result (i.e. successfully being awarded the grant). By the time I left that job, I had taken on at least half of the ED’s duties, and a bunch of things that external contractors were doing – such as bookkeeping, which we were paying a firm $80/hr to do… but I was still only getting paid $20/hr. No raise. No recognition.

    So, what pretty much everyone else said: give them more work, but pay them for it. Or let them go home early as a reward for getting their work done, without docking their pay. Preferably, you’d let them choose.

  26. Harry*

    #1 – this is your top performer. Don’t ask them to perform less well, that’s crazy town! Instead, reward performance by giving them a strong performance review and accompanying salary increase, and start developing them so they can grow within the company instead of taking their high performance elsewhere!

  27. Tiffany Aching's imaginary friend*

    re: LW #5
    I had something similar happen once, where the period between job interview and start date was longish because reasons, and in-between those two times, the person who interviewed me and who I would have worked for was promoted. So my first day, I learn that I’m reporting to someone else, who I had never met, and we did NOT click at all. But I was young and naive and I was fired after about 3 months. And that’s where I learned that in that situation, I should consider the first meeting with the new manager as essentially a fresh job interview.

  28. Snow*

    Funny to read as a teacher. Every class is balancing those kids who finish in five minutes when you know others will take 20+. Always have a plan appropriate for that person! It’s more work, but that’s the job of managing others’ time. Just don’t waste it, whatever you do.

  29. Saundra*

    Why not ask the employee? What is this person interested in, what sort of career growth are they looking for? Work with them to come up with a project that will help the company while allowing them to learn new skills and develop a higher profile, and add something valuable to their resume. You may not have the budget to give them a raise immediately, or a role you can promote them into, but you can make their job into something interesting and challenging that engages their interests. Instead of demoralizing them with more of the same work for the same pay, make it worth their while to work hard, and show your appreciation.

  30. No More Nonprofit*

    My last job was at a small nonprofit where I was hired as a program director. Since I was really efficient with my job and had other skills, I soon became grant writer, administrative assistant, webmaster, graphic designer, and was expected to “pitch in” with my co-workers’ programs. My first boss was really good about acknowledging my work and if I stayed later for some event or meeting, she would let me come in late or leave early the next day. Her successor, on the other hand, told me that because I’m salaried and non-exempt, he doesn’t want us to “count hours” and staying late is just part of the job. So I asked him if that meant I could leave earlier if I finished my day’s work. His response was along the lines of, “no, I’ll always have more work for you” and then told me I needed to be a team player. After that, I suddenly “didn’t know” how to fix things, was “really busy”, and had fewer ideas to contribute. I left the job for a lot of reasons, but that was definitely one of them.

  31. gwen*

    OP1, I have been this employee before.

    Do NOT:
    * give him extra responsibilities and work without increasing his pay;
    * actively compare him to his co-workers who are not completing the same or similar tasks at the same speed as he is;
    * ask him for “efficiency ideas” that will either lump more work on him without extra pay, or see other workers penalised; or
    * promise him rewards, such as bonuses or a promotion, if they will not be delivered.

    * ask him what he wants; and then, depending on what he wants:
    * get him a pay boost and/or promotion;
    * ensure he is paid and recognised for any work above and beyond his actual job title and description;
    * ensure he is able to learn and grow as a professional, such as extra training paid for by the company, learning new skills on new projects, etc.

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