Editor's note: Career Coach columnist Joyce E.A. Russell, an industrial and organizational psychologist, discussed workplace issues in a recent online forum.
Q: I just finished a big project where I worked hard, the project was successful and I received praise from our clients and my boss upon completion. With the close of that, I find myself with almost nothing to do; those around me with similar roles are busy each with a couple projects. Two projects that are about to start are slated to be led by one of the people with a healthy workload. Two weeks ago I brought up to my boss that I really wasn't contributing, though I want to be. I asked if he would reconsider our team's workload, specifically the projects which were about to start and my roles in them. Shortly after that, I was asked to do some work on project A, without clarifying if any of the project roles were changing. This rightfully upset the co-worker who had been designated for that project. I finished that task and the other co-worker took over, so after a couple weeks, I was back to pretty much nothing to do. I asked my boss if he had considered what I requested a couple weeks ago and he said he didn't want to change staffing on the projects though he knew I was "in a lull" and I should enjoy it. I'm on the Internet killing time not because I think it's appropriate but I have nothing to do. I feel I need to respect my boss' decisions but this is not an OK work situation. Should I let some time go and speak to him again?
A: You might need to have a chat with your boss about your strengths and areas to improve. If you are not regularly getting picked up for projects, is there a particular reason? Do you require more training that the current boss does not have time to give you? Do you have a set of skills in a particular niche that can help the firm? If not, you might look to see what are the typical clients your firm works with and use your downtime to gain additional knowledge on those clients. This might enable you to be perceived as a stronger expert in those areas so you can more quickly get put on projects.
Q: My husband has received the unfortunate news from his company that he is being laid off because of the loss of a major client. He has been offered a fairly generous severance package if he stays through the conclusion of the client's contract with the company. He has been actively conducting a job search, but has now learned that there may be an opportunity to stay with his company, though at a lower level and in a field that is not of interest to him. He is considering this position primarily out of a concern that a gap in employment on his resume will make it even more difficult for him to find a position in this economy. Financially, our family should be fine with my job, but we are trying to decide if in the immediate term he should try to stay with his company, or put all of his efforts into a job search and taking the opportunity to spend time with our children while receiving severance.
A: Sounds like either strategy will be OK with your family. It really depends partially on whether financially the family can afford for him to be unemployed for a period of time. You did not say how long the severance pay holds out. If it is several years, that enables him plenty of time to search. If it is much less time (a few months), he will have to be extremely active to make something happen quickly.
I also think he will look more attractive to the market if he is still employed, even if the position is lower-level. He will also act more confidently in his interviews (most people act more confidently in interviews if they are employed rather than unemployed).
Q: My company is being acquired by a larger firm, one which is owned by a global, publicly traded company. This was totally out of the blue as the company is doing great financially. It is unlikely I will keep my job, since the parent company has people doing what I do already (marketing director). I know severance is not guaranteed, but I'm hopeful at my salary level they will be fair since it may take a few months to find something new. If they don't offer anything, how could I go about requesting a package, with at least a few months pay and this year's bonus? And maybe health insurance?
A: First, don't make the assumption they will definitely get rid of you. Try to make sure to meet with the relevant leaders to see what the status is. Then, if you find that you will be asked to leave, I would definitely see what they might be willing to offer you. I would do some research (look on salary.com, monster.com, careerbuilder.com, glassdoor.com) to learn more about typical severance packages in your industry.