5

I have an advanced degree in electronics and a number of years of directly relevant industry experience. Our engineering company has been recently acquired by a larger corporation and my new direct manager (who's not on site) has little knowledge of advanced engineering concepts or what we have been actually doing as the engineering group. The corporation acquired us to provide engineering support for their product while actively maintaining external contract projects. Needless to say that the contracts are valued only due to the good money they tend to bring. I have not left the company only because of the good team and interesting external contracts.

Anyway, there is a "crisis" and my boss has asked me to lay out a board (that I made schematics for) that any technician or technologist could lay out in a two week time. I am literally swamped with external work and do not mind improving schematics or running analyses but it seems that every other internal project is of an "utmost priority" and everything else has to go aside.

I simply cannot be solving differential equations and writing embedded software one day and be laying out traces the next day. It is not a good use of resources and my education/experience.

How do I convey the message? How do I tell my boss that I do not want to be doing tasks that undervalue my education and experience?

I do not want to leave the team but at the same time, I do want to do what I studied to do and what has to be done to satisfy long-term contract customers.

  • 4
    What's your actual problem - that these tasks are beneath you, or that they interfere with external work? Your boss doesn't care about the former if it doesn't affect his bottom line. – AakashM Apr 30 '13 at 8:32
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    "Hi boss, I realize this project may be critical to the companies success, but the work you are asking is way beneath me - can you find someone you trust less to do it instead so I can focus on the work I want to do instead?" <-- this is how your entire question reads to me. – enderland Apr 30 '13 at 10:23
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    @enderland Our PCB technologist quit three months ago and I immediately asked for a replacement. Nothing has been done about that so far. That seems to be the new trend - take away resources and expect the same or better results. And you are right, I do not want to do that job - it's not an engineering job, it's technician's job. To give you an idea how disparate the two jobs are: It's like asking someone who designs operating systems to be installing MS office on company computers for the next two weeks. – SunnyBoyNY Apr 30 '13 at 12:27
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    @SunnyBoyNY I think that you mean a significantly different question then. You are really asking, "how can I deal with being assigned tasks which someone who left the company and does not seem will be replaced normally should do (and are not appropriate for my education)?" – enderland Apr 30 '13 at 13:09
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    You've raised two issues, overbooking (too much work) and undesirable tasks. The answers are different, so could you clarify which you are asking? (Most answers here seem to be assuming the latter.) – Monica Cellio Apr 30 '13 at 15:30
22

I simply cannot be solving differential equations and writing embedded software one day and be laying out traces the next day.

Well of course you can! You are simply choosing not to.

It doesn't sound like the larger corporation, your new manager, and you are a good fit. That might be temporary, as often situations come up for new managers that require a bit of fire-fighting which hopefully won't continue in the long run. Or it might be an indicator of what is to come on a regular basis.

Either way, it sounds like you have already concluded that your boss doesn't understand you, and isn't using your skills the way you want them to be used. You seem to have decided that you want to concentrate more on what you have been doing than on what your new manager wants you to do.

How do I convey the message?

You could have a chat with your manager, and point out how you feel about these "crisis" tasks, and how you would rather work on the external work you had been doing before. You manager might not realize how you feel about this, and might be able to come up with a creative solution.

You could ask for help prioritizing the requested "crisis" internal work versus the external work that swamps you.

But it sounds like you are really asking for a way to tell your new manager (who has little knowledge of advanced engineering concepts) that you simply won't do the work being asked of you because it is beneath your education and experience.

I'm not sure how you can do that without being prepared to quit. But if you feel that strongly about it, you could just say "I'm at a point in my career where I don't want to be doing that sort of work any more. If that work is going to be required of me going forward, I'll have to consider working elsewhere", and then be prepared to move on. Sometimes larger companies have other groups or divisions that might hold a happier home for you. Sometimes not.

When acquisitions occur, these sort of fit issues happen all the time. After all, you were happy with the prior situation - you didn't apply for a job in the new, larger organization.

Sometimes it's best to stick around and see how things shake out. Sometimes it's just best to move on.

35

What you do is point out that this arrangement is bad for the company. "You're paying me $x to do all of this fancy work that nobody else can do, but instead I'm doing this other stuff that you could be paying some guy $x-y to do."

The manager might not know technical stuff too well, but they should understand business. Explain how this situation harms business, but be prepared for the manager to explain how hiring a lowly technician is bad for business (or get the bright idea to replace you with a lowly technician, who then has to do demanding work).

  • 4
    This is the best answer IMHO because it takes the situation and communicates it in the only way some managers understand, money. – maple_shaft Apr 30 '13 at 14:27
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    This is good, but I sense a danger in the manager saying: "Wait a sec, you're telling me that I can save $y by firing you and hiring someone else who can do the exact same thing just as well? That's a great idea!". – MrFox May 2 '13 at 19:02
  • @MrFox - absolutely, hence my parens statement - though the question seems to indicate enough dissatisfaction that looking for more challenging work is in the cards. (and really, not a few managers will look to cut corners/salaries sooner or later; better to know that it is coming). – Telastyn May 2 '13 at 20:20
  • The comparative salary of the tech isn't necessarily the same as the cost of hiring someone for what appears (to the manager right now) to be a one-off two week job. I mean, there are typists who'd take less pay than me and type faster, but it doesn't follow that it's bad for my company if I write my own emails, given the overheads of them operating a typing pool and me interacting with it. Two weeks is a lot more than a few emails, of course, but it's not immediately obvious that similar concerns don't apply. – Steve Jessop Sep 18 '14 at 1:20
  • This approach has always made sense to me... and I've yet to see it work once. It assumes at least a few things: 1. The manager has the option of having someone else work on it. 2. The manager has the authority to hire someone else if they have no other available resources being paid at a lower rate. 3. The overhead (importantly, including the time it takes) around delegating or hiring for this task is less than the cost of having you do it. ...I've never seen a situation where these things all came together. It might happen, but I seriously doubt it does often enough to count on. – kungphu Aug 24 '16 at 0:30
19

Pick Your Battles Wisely

Your company has just been acquired.

Your department is understaffed.

There is urgent work that needs to be done.

Your actions now will speak volumes about how your manager perceives you and your attitude. Tread carefully.

If you like the team and the job, and want to prevent this sort of work, then perhaps you shouldn't fight this battle in favor of winning the war long-term to get work you want to enjoy.

Just Do It

I would recommend just doing the work. This will show that you can be trusted to do important (if menial) tasks without whinging about it, and show your new manager that you're a "team player". This will give you brownie points you can redeem for valuable prizes.

At the same time, you should lay the path for further discussion. I would recommend sending an e-mail to your manager saying something like this:

Hey manager, I know that this work is time-sensitive so I will take care of it. In the meantime, could we schedule a telephone call to discuss how to handle this work in the future? Until X months ago we had a technician to do this sort of work so that we wouldn't have to lose engineering resources we could use for consulting contracts.

Have an Honest Discussion

When you actually have the call, you should have three goals:

  1. Understand your manager's goals/plan
  2. Provide him with a solution to prevent you from doing this work in the future
  3. Get him to understand you have more value than doing technician work

The first thing to do is to listen to your manager. If you could ask what the situation with the technician is, and what the plan of the organization is to fill that hole, it will give you insight in to how your manager is thinking about the situation, and what he/she actually understands about your business.

If he/she provides a solution -- great! You are already on the same page. If not, you should provide him with a solution. Since you are on-site, you know better than him how often a technician is required, and how it benefits the office having one. Present him the benefits of having a technician, and how many billable hours it will save the engineering staff to have one.

Finally, you should ask him to come over and visit your organization to see what you guys do. Explain that since he will be managing you guys, you would all like to meet him and show him around so that you can understand each other better and get a better grasp of the needs and capabilities of each part of the company.

What you should absolutely not do is explain why you are insulted by the work he is assigning you. That isn't likely to help your case.

8

If there's another team member who is skilled at PCB layout, you can recommend to your boss that s/he'd be able to do the job quicker due to closer familiarity with the tools.

Or you could suggest to your boss that you supervise an outside contractor to do the work, freeing you up to do other work where your specialist skills add more value.

If neither of those options is available, but the design work really needs to get done to complete the project, then you do what you need to do to complete the project --- sit down and lay out the board. Two weeks of showing you are willing to do what's needed to complete a project won't derail your career.

  • 2
    +1 - Whatever you do in these situations, you have to present viable alternatives. – user8365 Apr 30 '13 at 13:05
5

The way I see it is that every technology job has two forms of remuneration.

One is the money you get. You give them your time and expertize, they pay you. Great.

The second one is your interest/experience in what you're doing. People accept lesser paying jobs to work on things that will improve their career prospects down the line, or maybe simply just increase their quality of life by making their days interesting.

You have a completely valid concern if you are being asked to do things that are not what you were hired for. An engineer who is doing technician work will have a very hard time finding another job, never mind the psychological aspects of being over-qualified.

However, do keep in mind that sometimes you will have to do things that are 'below you'. Business needs are very dynamic, and being too rigid will be deemed as 'not being a team player'. Frankly, your bosses will sometimes screw up resource allocation and will need your help to get the projects done.

Where this line of flexibility vs. overqualified pidgeon-holing is to be drawn depends on specifics & the amount of time that you are asked to dedicate to these tasks. My advice is: if you're sure this is temporary, just do it. If you believe that this will become the norm, then have a frank conversation with your non-technical boss explaining exactly what the problem is in a non-confronational way. If the boss ignores your concerns, find another job.

3

Your company was just aquired and you think you can make demands to the new manager? Your position or possibly the entire department may be viewed as redundant and on the way out. As an engineer, you'd like to think your technical knowledge is enough, but most managers are going to favor those who make their job easier; not yours. Questioning their decisions too early could be a big mistake especially for the reasons you stated.

You need to wait and see if this is going to become a habit. The next time you can suggest assigning the task to someone else. Don't make it sound like this work is beneath you or you're trying to get out of work. Be subtle about the benefits of your working on other types of tasks.

In smaller firms, most employees have to wear many hats and do more of the mundane work. There are no captains on a leaky rowboat, everyone has to bail.

2

You've probably already dealt with this by now, but others will certainly be in your situation and come across the answers and opinions.

I would do the menial work, but prior to beginning it, I would: 1) in writing make my manager aware that I am happy to help him/her in any way possible 2) make him/her aware of what other jobs will be affected by my putting them aside and who if anyone could do them aside from you 2) suggest a possible solution such as outsourcing it to a cheaper tech (or another specific employee at your company if you know one).

While it surely is far from satisfying doing something that you hardly have to thing about, taking this step of writing out your suggestion will allow you to be seen as not only a co-operator and someone well aware of their abilities, but also someone who is looking out for the company's bottom line. As an added major bonus, you are covering your ass if someone even higher up starts hollering about where the heck are the projects you are SUPPOSED to be working on.

1

The corporation acquired us to provide engineering support for their product while actively maintaining external contract projects.

I am literally swamped with external work ... but it seems that every other internal project is of an "utmost priority" and everything else has to go aside.

The picture I get is that actually they acquired you to provide engineering support for their product. The fact that in doing so they had to take on your contractual obligations appears to be treated as an unfortunate side-effect, although of course nobody turns down the money when it's due.

You're overworked, especially with this extra two week job taken into consideration. Of course you want to drop the task that's least appealing to you, especially in view of the fact that there exist cheaper, trained people perfectly capable of doing it. That's not how it works though, you should drop the lowest-priority task given your company's actual situation, not the situation that it would be in if they'd taken your advice in the first place and hired that cheaper person a month ago. They chose not to replace the PCB tech (certainly not as a matter of urgency), now you and they together will deal with the consequences.

So:

  • if your boss is aware of your workload,
  • and your boss, not you, bears responsibility for servicing the external contracts[*], and realises that this is an either-or situation, you can't do both at once,
  • and your boss is aware that someone could be hired (perhaps as a contractor?) to do this job, cheaper and quite possibly faster since they're a specialist at it,
  • and your boss nevertheless determines that this is your highest priority,

then you do it. And if (for stupid, frustrating reasons that you could have predicted and prevented if you'd been in charge) you're the only person available to change a light bulb in the office, then (health sand safety permitting) you change the light bulb in the office. We're professionals, we're specialized, but we don't have to be precious about it.

Unless you have a pretty good understanding with your boss (it sounds like you don't) then in this first instance you should not convey that you won't enjoy the task. That's irrelevant, it still needs doing, and if everyone were completely candid then satisfying your preferences might not be his favourite task either. Do the task first, then maybe say it sucked afterwards if you think it'll do more good than harm to say so.

You should convey to your boss that you're currently a bottleneck, and other projects are at risk too. That's basic professionalism and it's the information your boss needs to prioritise. By all means suggest that this (and perhaps a list of other things) would be relatively easy to shift off you. If you make that list of other things then be honest, include in it things that you enjoy but that other people could do.

Longer-term, if you don't like the job any more (as it develops under the new management) you can say so, and if there's a pattern of assigning you tasks that don't require your particular education then you can raise that as a problem: both that your manager isn't getting the value he should get out of you and that you're not able to develop in your field because you're working on other tasks. For one crisis you can't be straight onto your high horse. For the tenth crisis with no improvement, sure you can, because by that point the job as it stands isn't looking like a good one for you any more.

Btw, the fact you're such a critical bottleneck is in itself worrying. If you got hit by a bus and spent two weeks in the hospital, quite possibly you wouldn't have a job/company worth coming back to under these conditions, and your new company would have wasted whatever it spent on the acquisition.

[*] If you carry the can for the external projects, that is to say your boss is making a request without considering truly dire consequences, then you can and should push back hard. "If I do this, I take two weeks out of my usual work, we break contracts we're committed to, we'd get sued. I can't just agree to do that, we need absurd amounts of authorization to abandon these contracts even just for two weeks". Again, the fact it's beneath you is completely irrelevant. It could be the most perfect use of your abilities ever, but if you're committed to other things then you'd have to let it go by.

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