Bored employee is desperately seeking something to do

Dear Joan:
Recently, I left my large employer of 12 years, to work for what is considered another large company in the same area. I have now been here for three months and I am beginning to wonder if I made a mistake.

Several things I am finding rather frustrating and am wondering if you can offer some advice. Currently, I have no projects to work on and find myself trying to "look busy" for fear of my boss finding out that I have nothing to do. But then again, my boss should know that I have nothing to do.

They justified this new position with management and, I would assume, based it on some sort of need that was going unfilled. Projects or "to do" items that I thought would have been part of this position are already being done by someone else. I have offered to take some of these items off of these peoples’ to do lists, in hopes of freeing up more time for them and to learn about these specific tasks. But no one wants to give up what they are doing.

I am an experienced professional, who brings many years of experience to this position and would like to be able to participate and add value to the organization, but I don’t understand why they are allowing me to sit.

I have talked to other newly hired people at this organization as well, and I am hearing the same things from them. They are not that busy and are tired of trying to look busy.

The other thing I should mention is that I put together a list (per my boss) of what I thought the goals and objectives of my position should be. I don’t understand why my boss doesn’t know what they are. It’s my boss’s department and responsibility to know. This was several weeks ago, and I have yet to hear back on approval/disapproval.

I am getting the impression that this company is overstaffed. I know it’s hard to believe in this day and age, but I really think this is the case here. I am so underutilized and bored that I can hardly stand it anymore. Can you offer me any suggestions?

You may be working for a dinosaur. And we all know what happened to them.

Your situation reminds me of a cover story that ran in Fortune Magazine some years ago. On the front cover were pictures of three dinosaurs. The dinosaurs represented three companies: Sears, General Motors and IBM. The story was about how these huge companies became too large and too complacent to stay competitive. (Since that time, these companies have taken major steps to stay viable in their markets.) When I read that story, I was struck with some of the comments of employees. For instance, one person was commenting on how big and bureaucratic his company had become. He said, "Getting a decision made is like swimming through peanut butter."

It seemed to me that the companies had become too big to run, too fat to fight and their brains were too far from their tails. When a customer problem or market threat tugged on their tails, it took forever for that information to reach a place where a decision could be made. They had become overstaffed, they had too many layers, and responsibilities and accountability had become too diffused. Like them, your company sounds like a paleontologist’s dream.

Your manager seems out of touch with the day-to-day operations in the department. Perhaps your manager is away at meetings, or is very busy with his or her own responsibilities. Or, maybe your boss is simply trying to give you a lot of autonomy. Since your boss knows you bring a lot of experience to the job, he or she may think you have a clear idea of the direction you want to take.

I suggest that you go to your manager and tell him or her that you are concerned because you don’t have enough to do. Explain that you understand that it takes time to assimilate a new person into a department. Perhaps your manager assumes that you are already working on these goals. In any event, you need to get some clarification on your responsibilities and expected results. Your boss may need to get involved in reassigning who does what. If other employees don’t want to give up any work, perhaps they don’t have enough to do either.

Give it six months. If you don’t see any changes, begin to look for another job. There are plenty of companies who would be glad to give you the challenges you are looking for.

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,, or 
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