When I was first hired, I was a model employee. I'm a smart guy, and I can work my ass off. I worked the extra time to make up for conversations I had, and I would often come in on nights. I never browsed the internet, and I rarely looked at my phone. I got a lot done, and as someone who had just entered the workforce, I was getting more done than half the team.

Fast forward a few years. I'm a lot less insecure - my self worth is not based as much in academia and work anymore. I got a raise recently (amidst my underperformance). I'm lazy, and I'm on my phone and computer talking to people all the time and browsing sites like Reddit. Part of my problem is that I'm given a lot more responsibility such as my own projects now (we have a small team). I can program if given a task, but when given something to design, I always want to make it perfect and never violate any principles, and I get nowhere.

The long and short of it is that over the past 6 months or so my performance has gone from excellent to below average. I feel like Wally. I'm getting away with doing almost nothing. I'm a very moral person, so this bothers me. It does not make me happy to have this performance level.

Should I talk to my boss about this? He's a very understanding person, and used to be team lead (and sort of still is) until he was promoted recently due to various events. He still acts like I'm awesome for the most part, so maybe he still thinks I am, but he's also the kind of guy to compliment you a lot.

Relevant comic.

  • Do you know if your boss has competitive targets to meet? It's possible that you're being tolerated because he hasn't got tough targets to hit.
    – pyfork
    Commented Jan 26, 2015 at 0:13
  • Well, we got bought, and there's a really unreasonable target to hit by May (going to the other company's systems, which are terrible. I cannot explain how terrible they are). However, I'm one of the most competent employees barring the team lead and team architect when I'm actually working.
    – Mark Smith
    Commented Jan 26, 2015 at 0:20
  • We are very short staffed though.
    – Mark Smith
    Commented Jan 26, 2015 at 0:20
  • 4
    Have you considered whether the Dunning-Kruger effect is at work here? Low-skill workers often overestimate their level of skill, but high-skill workers often underestimate theirs. When you write that your manager seems to be fine with your work, maybe he sees an overachiever that gets more done than others, even with distractions. You write that your performance has gone to below average - is this your subjective impression, or was this the result of a managerial assessment? Commented Jan 26, 2015 at 8:35
  • @StephanKolassa I'd like to think it's at work haha. Thanks for the link. Perhaps, perhaps not.
    – Mark Smith
    Commented Jan 28, 2015 at 2:53

4 Answers 4


I wouldn't talk to him about your under performance, but I would have a conversation about your strengths and weaknesses. I empathize with your design challenges. Every time I design an object oriented system, I end up with an abstract class named Universe that I could derive the periodic table from ;) I am however, really good at integration, expanding on something that's already designed, and finding root cause for really hairy problems.

My manager knows this and gives me projects that work with my strengths. It's difficult to be motivated when your projects require you to work mostly in the areas outside of your strengths. We all have some things we need to do that aren't our favorite tasks, but if you spend all of your time there doing the stuff that doesn't come easily, it is easy to get demoralized. You should spend some time there so you can grow your skills, but you need a balance so that you can accomplish some things to keep you engaged.

Before you have that conversation, spend some time thinking about what your strengths are and how they fit into the team. Is there someone around that is great at designing a system and less great at implementing it? You said you like to make things perfect... would it make sense for you to do a maintenance sweep on the code base? Make sure you show up with some ideas, and not just a truckload of slacker's guilt. I'm fairly certain that it's not as bad as you feel it is, otherwise your management would be coming to talk to you and not the other way around. You still care enough to feel guilty about it.

  • Thanks for the reply. I agree with some of what you said. I do, however, have high aspirations, and I know that I am capable of designing a large system once I have the experience. I've been working at the same job for 3.5 years, exactly 2 of those while finishing my undergrad. Designing is not something that I want to run away from.
    – Mark Smith
    Commented Jan 25, 2015 at 23:25
  • @MarkSmith I'm not say run away from designing. I'm saying shift your workload so that it favors your current strengths. I'm mentoring under our System Architect right now to try to improve my design skills. You don't have to have all of your work be outside your comfort zone to grow. You need a balance so that you can accomplish something and get that little jolt of motivation to tackle something harder.
    – ColleenV
    Commented Jan 25, 2015 at 23:41
  • So perhaps a conversation with him saying that I want more direction from him? Edit: I tried to upvote you. I wish this was my main account.
    – Mark Smith
    Commented Jan 26, 2015 at 0:02
  • @MarkSmith I wouldn't put all of the burden on him. I would think about some things that might help you get reconnected with your work. Tell him that you feel like you're spinning your wheels a little bit and need to get some traction on something. Discuss your ideas and see if he has any ideas. It sounds like you have a good relationship with him, so talking through how you should be spending your time might help. You should be honest that you feel like you could be doing more, however, you don't need to mention specifics like your reddit habit :)
    – ColleenV
    Commented Jan 26, 2015 at 0:09
  • Thanks :). By the way, I'll log into my main when I get the chance and upvote you.
    – Mark Smith
    Commented Jan 26, 2015 at 0:12

To me, it simply looks like you've got bored to death with your job.

You already proved you can do what's expected from you now and now it's done you don't have the energy to repeat yourself. The good news is it's a sign of intellectual strength - you're just not a code monkey and you can deliver only when the job represents a challenge to you.

So go ahead and talk with your boss, but not about your underperformance. Rather about the fact that you performed really well with your current level of assignments, and that your boss could use this ability to a higher level. Your sense of guiltiness may not come from your underperformance but from your inability to take a bold move and say :

Okay, I've been doing this and now I don't want to anymore because it doesn't challenge/excite/move/interest me anymore.

It's also possible that you don't have any room for evolution in this particular company, in which case you should leave.

It's also possible that you don't want to do something radically different, you just don't feel like working in that team or on that project or in that company anymore. Perhaps it's the neighbourhood, the color of the walls, perhaps it's something else; anyway your feelings of boredom and guiltiness are telling you that you don't want to keep on those tracks anymore.

Do you see yourself stuck in that situation, having to do something that doesn't bring you any fun by now, and does not challenge your intellect anymore to the point that you're just bored to death about it, afraid to talk about your boredom with your boss, until you retire?

If not, it might indeed be time to make a change.

  • I like this answer. I've found that once I've overcome the learning curve on a new job/project/etc., boredom begins to creep in. Re-solving the same problems gets.. tedious, and I have a bad habit of procrastinating in such situations.
    – James Adam
    Commented Jan 26, 2015 at 15:08
  • I think the "no room for evolution" thing is fairly accurate.
    – Mark Smith
    Commented Jan 28, 2015 at 3:16

I think the bottom-line to insecurity about recent underperformance is you need to start showing him results.

Revisit your performance targets, if none or some of these are time-bound or season-bound, then deliver those asap.

In the meantime, be proactive in meetings and volunteer to co-lead or take lead on additional work that gets discussed in staff meetings.

I would not advise you engage him before you have anything to show because you might be highlighting the obvious and the idea that you're a drag may then stick around and you'd want to prevent this.

If however, the issue is you lack skills to outperform, then by all means you need to seek help outside on your own and also from the company (as much as they're willing to invest resources in you at this time). Do this asap rather than later.

Whatever happens, focusing on delivering more and on your performance will help your case even if your boss leaves the company because surely the new boss will assess his team and you don't want to be the last item on his list.


I wouldn't worry if I were you. You underperformance will catch up with you, your boss will lay down the law and you will have to react, except that you most probably won't have a lot of time to react. It doesn't matter whether you clean up your act or they get rid of you. Either way, the issue of your nonperformance takes care of itself and it goes away.

"... but when given something to design, I always want to make it perfect and never violate any principles, and I get nowhere" - That's an interesting statement because if you were working for me, I'd treat you not getting anything done as you violating every single principle. Spending a lot of time and not getting anything done - even I could do that and I could do that regardless of what task is assigned to me.

No one stops you from discussing your performance with your boss. Given that the issue is highly sensitive (to you) and that the outcome of the discussion could turn negatively (for you), what have done to prepare for such a meeting?

  • 1
    I like this answer for its honesty and frankness. You are obviously not just trying to tell me what I want to hear. However, you sound jaded, and judging by this post, I would hate to work for you, whether I was on my game or not. We should work to live, not live to work, and I think you have that backward. Or, perhaps the internet has skewed my interpretation, and you're actually a very nice individual that everyone loves to work for. (1/4)
    – Mark Smith
    Commented Jan 28, 2015 at 3:12
  • 1
    "I wouldn't worry if I were you" followed by "The issue of your nonperformance takes care of itself": this doesn't address in any way, shape, or form how I should best proceed to get out of this slump (contrary to what you seem to imply, I think that some paths of action can correct laziness better than others). And it certainly doesn't mean I shouldn't worry. (2/4)
    – Mark Smith
    Commented Jan 28, 2015 at 3:12
  • 1
    "I'd treat you not getting anything done as you violating every single principle": this is simply wrong. I'm violating one principle. I can't tell from your profile whether you write software on the order of tens of thousands to millions of lines, but if you do, you realize that you must follow certain principles to keep the code readable, maintainable, and fast. You would also realize that it takes far more than a few years to master these principles. (3/4)
    – Mark Smith
    Commented Jan 28, 2015 at 3:13
  • 1
    By not working, I am violating the principle of getting my work done, and I am most certainly not violating the coding principles that make programming a job that computers cannot currently do themselves. (4/4)
    – Mark Smith
    Commented Jan 28, 2015 at 3:14
  • @MarkSmith "My code is readable and maintainable and fast because I have no code to show you"? hmmh. It's certainly not readable because I can't find it anywhere, it's not maintainable for the same reason and it's not fast because I'll be waiting until doomsday and beyond to get the results I want from your non-existent code. That's a quibble, however, compared with the fact that you can't even show a design for your code. At this point, the result of your quest for design perfection is no design and a design that doesn't exist is perfect. A perfect, "zero goals met" disaster. Commented Jan 28, 2015 at 9:05

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