Being the assistant to the assistant isn't working

1373
 
Dear Joan:
I was recently hired to "assist" an Executive Assistant with her job duties (both positions are full-time).  During the interviewing process, I was told she was very inundated with a heavy work load and needed someone to work WITH HER.  She is an 'older' woman (early 60's) and has been working at this company for over 17 years.  I am 50, so there is not a huge age difference. 
 
During the interview process, I made it perfectly clear that I was a go-getter who ALWAYS needed to be busy, who thrived in a fast-paced working environment, and needed a job that offered a lot of variety and challenges.  I was assured by all people I met with, during my two interviews, that this was the case with this position. 
 
I got the job, and after the second day, I knew this wasn't what I was looking for.  The position is turning into more of a second-hand Assistant than working with the Executive Assistant.  But that's not even the problem. 
 
There just isn't enough work for me to do to keep me busy on an hourly/daily basis.  I am constantly asking her if she needs help with anything, or if there is anything else I can do or work on, but there never is.  Besides the lack of work, I could easily run circles around this woman, as she's very slow and procrastinates all day long, which is why she never gets any work done, or why a 10-minute job takes her two hours to complete. 
 
The woman does not want to do certain tasks and those tasks are then given to me.  They are very mundane tasks such as ordering office supplies, making photo copies, filing...you get the idea.  She is the only assistant within the entire company who does not have to do executive scheduling, travel arrangements or expense reporting.  She has told management that she "doesn't have the time", but in reality, she just doesn't like doing those tasks, so she doesn't have to. 
 
The only other project this position is responsible for is quarterly board meeting reports.  It only takes a couple weeks to accumulate all the documents for these reports and this is the busiest part of the job.  It is also the only part of her job that she prefers and actually has to do.  It is the most routine and redundant job task, and because she does not have the talent to multi-task, she enjoys this project.  I've been told the months in between the board meetings are "slow," but at this point, even what they consider to be 'busy' I have already deemed as slow. 
 
I've already ruled out any ideas of the department replacing her with me.  They seem to be quite satisfied with her "performance" (or should I say, lack thereof).  My question is this...how do I try and make them understand that this is not what I was led to believe?  Do I go to HR and let them know I am bored to death and not happy, and try to find something else within the company (it's rather large with over 300 employees), or do I just look for another job and not say anything at all?  I've only worked there for three weeks and don't want to keep stringing them along and wasting their time if I'm not happy and don't plan on staying in this position.  I've never run into a situation like this before and I'm stuck trying to find a solution.  Thank you!
 
Answer:
My hunch is that your job was created because they weren’t getting enough work out of this long-term employee, and they bought her excuse, that she is “too busy.” If, however, they are aware of her procrastination and slow pace, they have hired you to be the “work around” solution.
 
It’s possible they are keeping her because she does a good job of getting the Board documents together…and they don’t want to risk breaking in someone new.  Additionally, she has been there a long time and they may be fearful of the legal implications of firing an older, long-term employee.
 
If you go to the boss and explain that you are bored—without throwing your co-worker under the bus—you may learn the real reason you were hired. However, you will certainly blow her cover. If they have seen enough good work coming from you, they may feel comfortable letting you take over the Board documents. But if they are clueless about how to confront and manage her performance; or cowardly about how to set higher expectations, or remove her from the job, going to the boss may result in nothing but hand wringing.
 
My recommendation is to go to your boss and tell him the job wasn’t what you expected. Don’t criticize your co-worker, but explain that there just isn’t enough for you to do and you don’t feel right being paid for a full-time job. Ask your boss for advice. Ask if you should go to HR and ask them to consider you for other opportunities. Once he sees he may lose the quick employee and get stuck with the slow employee, he will either support you with HR, or he’ll be forced to confront the performance problem he has been avoiding. In the meantime, put your resume back on the street—just in case.


Joan Lloyd is a Milwaukee based executive coach and organizational & leadership development strategist. She is known for her ability to help leaders and their teams achieve measurable, lasting improvements. Joan Lloyd & Associates, specializes in leadership development, organizational change and teambuilding, providing: executive coaching, CEO coaching & leader team coaching, 360-degree feedback processes, retreat facilitation and presentation skill coaching and small group labs. Contact Joan Lloyd & Associates at (414) 573-1616, mailto:info@joanlloyd.com, or www.JoanLloyd.com 
 
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