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I am a front-end developer and I recently had a meeting with my boss. During the meeting, he blamed me for not doing anything in the office for months. He mentioned that I should be involved with doing stuff beyond my scope (another department) just so that I have something to do. And he seemed very upset about my lack of initiative.

I have mentioned my concern that it's not my job to find clients / opportunities (there's a sales department) and to dabble in other people's work as those are not my specialization. There's another department for print design and to him, since I do 'design', I should also be able to help churn out / prepare the final artworks for printing (which requires specialization in print design).

I have no qualms about helping out (within my scope) if the other department is overloaded. The thing is, the other department's work is also very minimal so there's no reason for me to take on more.

Overall, there are just not enough clients / work to be done in the first place.

Is he being unreasonable?

marked as duplicate by keshlam, gnat, jimm101, paparazzo, Chris E Apr 4 '16 at 13:09

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  • If there is neither enough work in your specialization, nor work outside it that you are able and willing to do, why should they go on employing you? – Patricia Shanahan Apr 2 '16 at 7:28
  • Initially, I had a lot of work to do. But these past few months, they lost some major clients, thus, lesser work or no work at all. – catandmouse Apr 2 '16 at 7:48
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    That suggests the best strategy for the company would be to lay you off, and use a temporary worker if and when they need your type of work done. Your manager may be trying to protect you from that by getting you to find other things you can do that would justify continuing to employ you. – Patricia Shanahan Apr 2 '16 at 8:02
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    I disagree with the dupe votes, those questions are from people who want to do something and are aware of the importance of being and looking busy. This question asks "please confirm that it's ok to just do nothing, as long as there are other people who I feel are responsible for getting me something to do." and that's a completely different question. – Kate Gregory Apr 2 '16 at 16:29
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    "That's not my job". Never say this to your boss, even if it is true. Consider telling him instead about how you have taken initiative to work with other departments, but haven't found much to do there. There are plenty of incompetent managers out there who have no clue (and don't care) what their team is doing, unless team members tell them. Lacking your boss' version of the story, I wouldn't jump to call him incompetent, but that is a possibility. – Masked Man Apr 2 '16 at 18:25
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Here is a position I often adopt myself, and encourage others to:

It may not be your fault, but it is your problem.

You are paid a salary. Your company does that because it gets value from you. There are lots of ways you can provide value:

  • you can work on billable projects after sales has landed them
  • you can represent a valuable asset that would be hard to re-acquire if a big project came in (I've paid people for months so I would have them if I needed them later)
  • you can be a name (and skill list) on a list of people that sales has, that they use to prove why they should get the billable project
  • you can contribute to things that sales has to do to land a project
  • you can make the workplace nicer or more efficient
  • you can (less than brilliantly) help others with things that are out of your scope, not as well as them but better than sitting around doing nothing
  • you can learn how to do new things in order to expand that list sales uses, and to increase the things you can help with that used to be out of your scope
  • you can try to help the company land billable work (speaking at user groups, networking at industry events, keeping an ear out for things to bid on)

It seems like you're not willing to go past #3 on that list of possible values. If 1 and 2 are enough, perhaps they'll keep paying you to do nothing. I wouldn't count on it, though. This has nothing to do with "fault" or "blame" - if there isn't enough billable work for point #1 to count for much, and your value stops there, then your value falls below your salary. If there is someone else in your group who is willing to help sales, to help the other department, to do some boring admin stuff, then I would keep that person and get rid of the person who has less value - you.

If you don't want to be the person who has less value, start having more value. It's not your fault that there isn't enough billable work for #1 alone to justify your salary right now. But if you lean back in your chair and declare this lack of billable work to be "not your problem", you may soon find that coming up with your salary every month is not your employer's problem any more.

  • Excellent answer as usual Kate. I'll definitely have to remember that phrase. You wouldn't happen to have (or be) the source for it? There are a few interesting articles with that title that a cursory search revealed but nothing with an attribution. – Lilienthal Apr 2 '16 at 22:17
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    I don't know where it came from. I've been saying it for decades: it's one of those things that clicks with rightness when you hear it and sticks with you. – Kate Gregory Apr 2 '16 at 22:25
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The interesting question for you isn't whether it's your fault, but whether you get blamed. And the question isn't whether your employer is unreasonable blaming you, but whether he blames you. In your case, there seem to be not enough clients, so there won't be enough money coming in, so jobs are not safe, and that question gets more important for you.

In the situation your company is in, I would look around for positions elsewhere, while making sure that I am seen to do work to avoid being the one who loses his job when the time comes.

As mentioned in some comments, if you are not successfully looking for a job elsewhere, it's only in your best interest to give your employer a reason to keep you employed. Fact is, right now you are not working (whether that's your fault or not doesn't matter), and it looks like you are not trying to change that, so think about why your employer would want to keep you employed.

  • I rephrased my question. – catandmouse Apr 2 '16 at 7:53
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Put yourself in your bosses shoes: There isn't enough revenue generating work to keep you busy so he has basically two options: fire you or find something else to do that justifies keeping you around and paying you. Which one do you want him to do ?

He seems to attempt the latter and he is asking you to help with this. It's entirely reasonable to expect a mind set of "how can I add the most value to my employer". It's your choice whether you want to engage there or not.

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