As a new hire, it’s common to have to do some busy work. Data entry. Organizing files. Work where you’re not sure why your boss has assigned it. Most everyone does some busy work, no matter how high up in the office hierarchy they are. You deal with it with your head down and then move on to the more meaningful work on your plate.
But what if all you’re doing is completing menial entry-level tasks assigned to you by your boss? This type of work isn’t promotion-worthy and can leave you feeling stuck at your job. How do you handle this situation?
These management professionals share their best tips on how to deal with a boss who wants to keep you down.
Find your supporters beyond your boss
Even though your boss may not appear to be in your corner, it’s important to find people within the organization who can vouch for your successes, especially at meetings where your boss is present. The more people you can get on your side, in particular on your team or in your department, the better.
“Build strategic relationships with others who can support you and help you get out from under your boss,” says Joanie B. Connell, founder and president of Flexible Work Solutions, a California-based consulting firm that specializes in leadership assessment, development, and retention.
“Develop supporters from elsewhere in the organization who can stand up for you when your boss says something negative about you,” she says. “This network may also be useful to help you find a different position within the organization with a better boss.”
How do you create internal advocates? Show how you can help other employees with their projects and learn more about their work. That way, you’ll create advocates for yourself within the organization who can speak to your abilities and work ethic. You also could try to switch to that department eventually, depending on company needs.
Build trust with your boss
Trust isn’t built overnight, but there are things you can work into your everyday interactions with your boss to start developing a trusting relationship that will lead to more opportunities.
“By providing project updates on a regular basis and keeping him or her apprised of recent accomplishments, your manager will gain confidence in your abilities and display less controlling behavior,” says Cynthia Kong public relations manager at OfficeTeam in Menlo Park, California.
It’s a common misconception that you shouldn’t promote yourself. In many ways, demonstrating your accomplishments to your boss (and co-workers) in a humble manner can establish you as someone who would be able to take on more significant projects.
Confront your boss
If none of this works, it’s time to confront the elephant in the room. Straight talk is hard—especially when it’s with a boss who has been regularly assigning you menial tasks. But approaching him or her honestly about how you would like to take on more meaningful work—and what kind of work that would be—can cut out the politics and passiveness (and will make you feel better by just being honest).
“Perhaps you’re missing something about yourself that’s holding you back,” says Connell. “You never know, your boss could end up being your best supporter if you work it out.”
Prepare talking points around specific concerns (and what specifically you object to), and find the appropriate time to bring them up. This might be during your recurring one-to-one meeting. If you don’t have one, find some time when your boss is free and schedule a meeting.
Leigh Steere, co-founder of Managing Better People LLC, a management research firm located in Boulder, Colorado, recognizes that sometimes managers don’t realize you have a particular skill set and give your desired work to someone else. “You need to advocate for yourself and say, ‘I have XYZ skill set and would like the opportunity to show you what I can do in this area,’” says Steere.
Look for another job
If this approach doesn’t work, it may be time to start looking for another job. The reality is, in many industries entry-level jobs do include a lot of busy work. If there isn’t room to grow into a position with more significant work, how long will you actually want to hang around in a dead-end job?
Being honest with your boss (and yourself!) takes guts, but it’s necessary for your well-being in addition to your chances of moving from menial to meaningful.