33

Around 2 years ago I started a role that had previously been done by the same employee for 10 years. The company was sad to see the employee retire, but happy he could pass his knowledge to me, as the role is vital to our ability to make a profit.

Since taking over, I have slowly automated large parts of my role while increasing my productivity by all measures. It's a service role, with a defined set of tasks I do "on demand" for around 150 other staff out of a larger subset of our company. There are similar employees that look after these task for the people I don't look after, and similar tasks that are done by other colleagues.

The problem I face is that while the automation has allowed me to be around 3x as productive as the person I replaced (measured by tasks per month and profit per month), it means that I am only busy (at most) 10 minutes out of every hour. In some ways, this is great for the company:

  • No one waits for things to be done
  • My time-target for completing each task is 4 hours, I'm doing it in under 10 minutes.
  • I have time to advise when needed to improve people's requests
  • I am free to informally advise on areas outside of my role where I can be helpful

In other ways, it's terrible for them and me:

  • I never look busy, which is bad for people's impression of me.
  • I have very little motivation after 2 years of doing nothing
  • My boss struggles to help or understand me
  • I have literally 7+ hours a day when I could be far more useful
  • I know I could, at any minute, be forced to explain how to use my automation tool, and be replaced by someone cheaper.

Along a similar vein to the poster here I initially struggled with whether to stay or leave, and took a number of steps:

  • The managers are struggling to find more work to me. I've taken on extra responsibilities, but none keep me busy.
  • The colleagues who also use automaton tools don't want to use mine, or to let me take work off their plates when I offer them. Most have confessed they don't want to end up like me.
  • Work from colleagues I can help died down after a while.
  • I've tried moving both elsewhere in the business and externally. The first couple of internal interviews I didn't realise I had a reputation. The second couple I discussed openly with the interviewer the milestones I'd passed and the achievements I'd made to become less busy. In the most recent interview I also prepared a number of ways in which I could automate the administrative burden of the role to be able to use my knowledge and training to deliver more of what would be core to the role. All of the interviewers were very pleasant, the most recent even more so than usual, but all pointed out that my current workload wouldn't look good in my new team. It seems that I have accidentally black-listed myself.
  • Expanding my role tramples on the toes of other staff, although only slightly. While the company is currently stretched in those areas, the toes that were to be trampled complained very loudly, and training/expansion was quashed.

Around a year ago, I started reading kindle books between tasks. It was better than staring into space. Around six months ago, I could no longer afford to buy 2-3 books a week, and so went on youtube. After 3 months of more or less back-to back TED Talks I moved away from anything that could be considered professional or educational. I've tried since then to keep to things that at least "look" like work.

I guess I'm struggling with next steps. I also am struggling to come in every day; I have a lot to do at home, and a new kid that I'd love to be spending time with. In an ideal world, I'd be able to work from home, keep my performance high, but spend the time I'm not working playing with him. My normal work doesn't technically need me to be here, but most of my "extra" work seems to come from me being here. I doubt my boss would consider it, but how would I even ask?

If we assume that I'm not going to get approval to work formally on demand, does anyone have any suggestions, either for my next interview, or for how to get more work in the first place?

  • Comments are not for extended discussion; this conversation has been moved to chat. – Jane S Mar 27 '17 at 23:31
29

Moving on seems like a good option here.

  1. You have maxed out your current growth here. There is nowhere left for you to go internally, time to go.
  2. The company does not seem to be growing. They have turned down the opportunity for an innovative approach to productivity. While the desire to retain employees is admirable, the fact that there is nothing to move people onto once their jobs become more automated screams of stagnation.
  3. You seem to be able to land something external, with potentially better conditions/benefits. What's stopping you?
  • 2
    To answer your last question, I've no real idea, but I do seem to compete with far more experienced people whenever I go out for an interview. In the last 2 years I've been on 10 interviews and they've always hired someone with 5-10 years more practice than me. – Martin KS Mar 27 '17 at 13:27
  • 3
    @MartinKS Getting into the interview shows that your CV is solid. I would guess that it's a lack of confidence more than a lack of experience. Depending on what field you are in, you might want to consider some personal projects for your downtime just to give you that additional experience. For example, for fun I built my own invoicing system (I am a contractor). – JohnHC Mar 27 '17 at 13:33
  • @JoeStrazzere, thanks, there are two levels in my role and roles in which I have experience: Graduate and Senior. I Don't want to step back to Graduate (10y experience), and people with 30y experience still apply for Senior... – Martin KS Mar 27 '17 at 13:34
  • @JohnHC, Thanks that's a good recommendation, harder to do practice for sales and business relationship management, but I'll give it some thought. – Martin KS Mar 27 '17 at 13:35
52

IS it feasible to work from home? If they are happy to pay you to answer people's issues as they come up, then this sounds like it could be great remote work. When you're not there, people can't see you "not working", they just see the tickets getting solved and the happy emails about how everything is taken care of. You could maybe be home every other day, or 3 days a week or something, so you still have a presence and are probably much busier on the days you are in.

  • 2
    I have no idea why this was down-voted, seems a reasonable idea to discuss, although it depends on the office culture. Some companies just don't/won't do the WFH thing. – user44108 Mar 27 '17 at 13:30
  • 3
    There is no technical reason (intranet access) etc that I can't work from home. I do work from home when I have to, but there's often pushback. Reading between the lines - my lack of work makes me less trusted to actually do any work when I'm at home! It would also require a change in culture here - people would need to phone me to say when I had work to do - it's not massively practical to monitor your inbox while playing with a toddler. – Martin KS Mar 27 '17 at 13:31
  • 11
    This just solves the problem by sweeping it under the rug. Eventually people will realize that you are not actively working. – Bradley Uffner Mar 27 '17 at 14:50
  • 5
    You want people to phone you when you have email? Thought you were the automation guy. Send the email to your smart phone and try not to get baby food on it. The fundamental problem is you're only tackling work that comes to you. You've mastered what comes to you. Use the extra time. Stop just cooking steaks and go find a wild animal to hunt down. The hunting permit might require a new job. You could always offer yourself to the old employer as a contractor. What you want is flexibility. You get that through independence. Make your self independent and you can negotiate. – candied_orange Mar 27 '17 at 16:33
  • 2
    @MartinKS Just find a tool that allows you to configure a loud ringtone to play whenever a new ticket arrives in your inbox, then people won't have to call you. – Sumyrda - Reinstate Monica Mar 27 '17 at 18:19
9

This is just my opinion, but I've been in somewhat similar circumstances where my workload was very low. What I did was use that free time to educate myself in another field that was more interesting (for me i was working in desktop support, but wanted to transition into network engineering). I was able to get certifications that helped me land a job in the networking field which was more interesting to me and also payed much better.

One caveat is that I am single and don't have a family to take care of. Getting fired for me wasn't really big deal, so I didn't care if people saw me reading books all day. I just decided to take advantage of the situation as long as possible and for me it paid off.

  • 2
    This is particularly helpful if you can find training that looks like your current work, and something I did for the first year. The only problem I had with this was the interruptibility of this training - stopping the training a few times an hour to do actual work was making the training much harder to complete! – Martin KS Mar 27 '17 at 13:25
  • 1
    If you're being stopped a few times an hour, and each ticket is taking 10 minutes, you've only really got 30 minutes per hour your not working. I think maybe this feels like longer, because you're not doing something. – djsmiley2k - CoW Mar 27 '17 at 15:17
  • 1
    +2 if I could. The company is happy with the work and the pay, and you have time to spare. It's a perfect opportunity to prepare for your next step, whatever you'd like it to be, and not be rushed getting there. – donjuedo Mar 27 '17 at 16:49
7

This may be a frowned upon answer, but the capitalist in me feels it should be suggested.

Spend some of your free in-work time writing a report dealing which parts of which processes you have been able to automate. Clearly identify how much time each automation can save and translate that into man hours/day (or week or month). For example;

Task A can be automated to take 40% less time. Equivalent to a time saving of 15 minutes per call. This task is typically the most common task and as such is usually performed 10 times a day, this is equivalent to 12.5 man hours per week per employee. With 4 employees in this role that a time saving of 50 hours per week.

The rate of pay for an employee at my level is equivalent to £15/hour as such a total of £37,500 per year could be saved.

I propose replacing the current team of 4 employees with myself running the automated system.

The automated system will require upkeep, and if you make the system there is no one better to maintain it than you. It sucks for your colleagues, but your employer would benefit from it, and you could convieveably take a reasonable pay rise.

  • 6
    Nice, in theory, but in honesty I couldn't automate it to the point where everyone but me were fired and so I'd have to work with the remainder of the shrunk (and now embittered) team. Secondly, very few companies would pay you the extra money - most would just swallow the salary savings. Finally, would you honestly want to have caused 10 people you've worked with for years to have been laid off? I'm not sure I could sleep at night... – Martin KS Mar 27 '17 at 15:49
  • 1
    @MartinKS, it's a good point about causing others to be laid off. But if someone is thinking of going anyway, you could talk to them about timing, etc. and help on a case by case basis. – donjuedo Mar 27 '17 at 16:52
  • 1
    I understand you not wanting to cause colleagues to get fired but thi5bk of it this way: you've managed to automate the process (to some extent) all it takes is a consultancy firm to offer the same advice to your company and then your job is at risk. Also if you're doing the work there's no reason your colleagues can't be rehoused in another department (maybe new training takes 6 weeks, that's how long you choose to take to impliment your automation. – user6916458 Mar 27 '17 at 19:15
3

Have another talk with your manager and talk things through.

If you've competenced yourself out of your current role and there aren't any internal openings for you to grow (without making someone else redundant), then it seems as though it's appropriate for you to leave and seek fresh challenges elsewhere.

  • 1
    Thanks, this was a useful suggestion, and something that I forgot to add to my answer. I already have my manager's blessing to find an external role, I am allowed to take time off for interviews, but he's asked me to do the actual search outside of company time. – Martin KS Mar 27 '17 at 13:18
  • 2
    i don't think one should ever job hunt during work hours. It is highly unethical. -1 ... company paid time should be used for the company. My brother is a military firefighter, he stays 90% of the time idle in the barracks. During that time he can study, exercise, take a nap, even watch netflix. But his job is to stay ready for action at all times. The other 10% of the time he is either saving lives or risking his own. – Mindwin Mar 27 '17 at 13:21
  • @Mindwin - I did start by recommending that Martin talk this through with his manager. I see that Martin has raised this point with his manager and wrote my answer (obviously) before I knew the outcome of that conversation. – user44108 Mar 27 '17 at 13:26
  • 2
    @Pete On the sliding scale of office betrayal, "Job hunt while on the clock" is two points below Dilbert's Iconic "I did nothing today and still got paid" – Mindwin Mar 27 '17 at 13:47
  • 2
    @MartinKS you fell like you've done less than what you could've done, but you did add value to the company. Your tasks are done promptly, you have paved the way for the company to reduce costs (at the expense of sacking you) with the automation system. You could probably absorb the workload of 3 other workers. Honestly, people commenting behind your back that you are idle are envious. So long your job gets done and your manager is happy, everything is fine. ----- Where on the scale? Zero. You are not betraying your office. – Mindwin Mar 27 '17 at 14:25

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged or ask your own question.