Wednesday, June 11, 2014

Bored to Tears at Work - Help!

We have a new reader with a question today!

Hi! I'm so glad I found your blog. Very informative and I spent hours reading your former posts. I want your advice on my situation and how you would handle it. I've been the EA to the President of a local t.v. station for almost 2 years. Prior to this role, I supported 4 Executives at a Security company for 8 years and loved it but they relocated the division to another city so that's how I ended up where I am currently. My current role bores me to tears, I only have 2 hours of work at most per day and spend the rest of it sitting waiting on something to do. My boss seems oblivious. I make an incredible salary so when I tell my husband and friends I want to explore other avenues, they think I'm crazy. Couple the lack of work with the fact that this is a very isolating position. We are in an executive wing which is just my boss and I. No one and I mean no one comes into this area unless they have an appointment with my boss. This position doesn't fulfill me at all and I can't believe they pay me what they do just in case he needs something. There is only so much surfing you can do on the net before you start to go crazy. I also have a 50 minute commute each way which isn't helping. How would you discuss this with your boss without sticking your foot in your mouth? Many people think working at a t.v. station is glamorous but it's just like working anywhere else. If I had more work to do and would be learning along the way, I would stay. Right now I just put things on his calendar and order food. Any advice you give me would be greatly appreciated. Many thanks!

Hi Bored to Tears,

Welcome new reader!  I feel your pain.  I have been there!  For any new readers, I will answer your entire email line by line and explain general information which may or may not apply to you, and give you some things to ponder.  Then, I’ll give you my take.  

I’m sorry to hear that a job you loved moved cities so you had to find your current role. I’ve had the “dream job” too and was sad when I got laid off.  So I know the feeling and the struggle.  The feeling of no longer having the dream job and thus the almost perfect life is crushing.  The change that was ‘forced upon’ you can seem unfair.  I spent years seeking that dream job again.   I have it now.  

During those “in-between” years before I landed another dream job, I also had a job that I was “happy at,” but was no where near as ecstatically happy as I was in my first dream job.  And I had to debate with myself if it was worth staying in a job that was pretty great, but not amazing.  I knew I didn’t want to job hunt for more than 6-9 months if I didn’t have to.  It’s a grueling process to keep doing for a year or more.  It also looks bad on one’s resume.  And as I was working, job hunting and/or temping, I had to find other sources of happiness.  So I read a lot about happiness, job hunting, and a meaningful life. 

I’m not sure how your job hunting experience was.  You may have been spared or perhaps you or other readers can identify with my experience.  As you may know, I mainly work in the entertainment industry for CEOs.  Anytime I look for a job it takes at least 6 months because each company really only has one President or CEO I can work for and if there is no opening, there is no opening.  (There a lot more admin at a company which I am deemed overqualified for).  

It’s important to keep in mind your industry or field’s “history,” and future trends for job prospects too.  When I look back on the last decade or two for entertainment and even the US/world at large, we’ve observed 9/11, the dot com bust, the 2008 worldwide economic crisis, the fall of the music industry, and now the fall of the visual effects industry, and some can argue the film industry moving to Canada, overseas, and outside of Los Angeles, where I live. I can honestly say that EVERY SINGLE COMPANY I have ever worked at has been sold, merged, bought out, or some are on the brink of failure, or no longer existing in a decade or two.  (Case in point, I worked for a short time at a social networking website.)  I have also been on both sides of a layoff.  So in this day and age, the idea of stability is non-existent because every couple of years there has been some sort of change/crisis, brought upon by financial issues around the world or improvements in technology that wipe out entire workforces and industries.  I point all of this out because where you are today and where you want to be in a few years is somewhat shaped by the past.  So keep that in mind.  For myself, I had to seriously consider leaving the industry I loved as it seemed to be dying.   

In those in-between years it made me wonder if having a job I absolutely loved was a bit “unrealistic” and “greedy” when so many people a) don’t have a job b) make minimum wage though they have a Bachelor’s, Master’s, a law degree, or much more experience than myself c) hate their job d) have horrible, horrible bosses or co-workers, e) wish they were healthy enough or young enough to work f) are homeless.  

A lot of my reading and soul searching was really answering the questions:  What if I never find my dream job again?  And - How do I get and stay/be happy during my job hunt, or at a pretty good, but not cloud 9 happy job?  And even - Should most of my happiness come from my job just because I spend 40 hours a week there?

All three of those answers are very intertwined.  There is no single great answer.  What I found was this…  If you are happy 80% of the time, you’re doing great.  Because you can never be 100% satisfied, the last 20% is really just a different set of problems.  So what 20% of issues are “worth staying for” and the lesser of all the evils?  Studies will also show you that happiness and a meaningful life are drawn most from being surrounded by loved ones and having a good social/personal life, first and foremost.  No one dies and wished they were at work more.  Happiness also comes from making more than 40k a year and living above the poverty line.  Money can only buy so much happiness.  After 40k and until you make the kinda money that Bill Gates or Oprah does, the middle strata of 40k to billionaire isn’t that much different until you can buy your own private jet.  It is true that the more money you have the more COMFORT AND FUN EXPERIENCES you can buy.  So 40k vs 60k to 80k to 100k and 120k to 140k+ are all different, but only incrementally.  Still, having great friends, family, or a significant other is paramount because again, most people also don’t want to do fun things alone or die alone.  Aside from someone to love, something to do (job, a hobby, or life calling), you also need something to look forward to, and something where you learn and grow that is not too easy but not too hard.  If you think about it, jobs come and go, through no fault of your own, but family, friends, and loved ones are a a bit more permanent.  You can always save or make more money.   You can’t replace people as easily.

I also thought about money, salary negotiation, and how I was spending my time.  I really wanted to understand getting the most bang for my buck in a paycheck AND how my time/energy was spent vs how much happiness at work or in my personal life I reaping.  Since a day is 24 hours, I thought about it like this.

8 hours of sleep
8 hours of work
8 hours of play

Granted, that’s a very rough breakdown because we get ready for work and have to commute so that might really only leave about 6 hours of play each day.  But on a weekly basis, that’s about 30 hours a week plus 32 hours on the weekend.  So you have 62 hours of 168 hours each week for play.  That’s a lot of free time.  :)  Are you doing what you enjoy in those hours?  Are you living it up, not taking it for granted, and spending them wisely?  Or are you just watching TV like a zombie?  

You mention you would stay if you had more work to do or you were learning more.  I am not sure if those are the values that bring you the most joy - being productive and learning.  But whatever those values are, is the key.  Figure out the values that mean the most and maximize the crap out of them.  For example, I ABSOLUTELY love learning, helping people, and relaxing.  So literally all of my time, as much as possible, is spent pursuing those values.  EVERY SINGLE DECISION I make I ask myself - Is this a good use of my time?  Will it make me happy? Do I want to do x, y, z?  Does this fall in line with what I value?  At work it’s mostly helping people vs learning.  In my free time, all I do is pursue the same values of helping, learning and relaxing.  I am a supportive girlfriend/friend/sister; the thing that matters most is that I am with my boyfriend/BFF/or family that I REALLY DON’T CARE what we do.  We could be just eating, window shopping, or sitting in the sun; with the right company you can have fun anywhere.  I volunteer, I read a lot, I write this blog, I sleep a lot and have a lot of fun.  I have one day on the weekend where it’s just me time and I may do nothing at all except lay around the house, nap, eat, and watch TV.  I also CUT DOWN on things I hate doing by using services or paying for convenience, this also key.  Reduce the stress and annoying things in your life to maximize your happiness.  If you can buy happiness/time - buy it.  How?  I will spend $5 in valet vs spending 15 min looking for street parking.  I would rather go to a pilates studio that has classes late at night that fits my work hours vs going to a gym that only costs $30 a month.  I would rather go to a movie theater that has reserved seating for $15-$20 a ticket than a regular theatre that cost $12 where I have to show up really early just for a good seat and “waste” time sitting in the theatre til the movie starts.  I would rather buy used books on vs driving in Los Angeles traffic to go the library for free books.  Everything has a price - whether it’s time, energy, money, or effort.  Make the best trade offs you can afford for the happier life.  

You mention: My current role bores me to tears, I only have 2 hours of work at most per day and spend the rest of it sitting waiting on something to do.  I’ve also had the job where I had very little work to fill up an 8-hour day.  This was mostly as a temp during very slow months when the entire industry was on vacation, but I’m sure the paycheck wasn’t as amazing as yours.  You also mention your boss is oblivious to the lack of work you have.  Believe it or not, he may know you have nothing to do, but it’s not a big deal to him because he’s so busy.  Or, he really just may not have anything to give you.  Executives like paying for assistants “just in case” something comes up.  I’ve seen it a lot so your situation is not unheard of, though I agree it doesn’t make a lot of business sense.  I also have worked in the executive wing where I literally saw the same 3 people every day - the CEO, another executive, and another assistant.  I totally understand the lack of social interaction, water cooler talk, and deafening silence.  I think most assistants would agree that one’s job isn’t “fulfilling” in the sense that no one says they want to grow up to be an assistant. So I can totally empathize and sympathize with your situation.  

You mention the horrible commute each way and getting bored of web surfing.  And when you tell your loved ones you want to leave your job they can’t believe it because it pays so well.  Your question is:  How would you discuss this with your boss without sticking your foot in your mouth? 

So here’s what you can think about when you speak to your boss.

1) Think about a solution.

You have to know what you want out of a job and out of life (if helpful, take the Myers-Briggs).  Once you figure out what you want out of a job, figure out how you can get it from the role you are in now.  Do NOT go to your boss and say, “I’d love more work and projects.”  Because all he will hear and what HR may hear is:  You’re unhappy.  You have a complaint, but want them to fix it.  And now you’re a flight risk so they may just let you go for someone who is dying to have the easy job that pays extremely well.  They’re thinking - you have a job (albeit a bit slow for your taste) and you get a paycheck for doing that job, what’s the problem?  Your happiness isn’t their burden to solve; it’s yours.  No one will care more about your career or happiness more than you.  

2) Pick a good time to talk.

Once you figure out the solution it may be easiest to talk at these times.  First, if and when your boss is busy, offer to do something for him, but give him room to say no.  “If it will save you time, I would be happy to x, y, z.  If it’s just faster/easier for you to do it, that’s fine too.”  Second, talk to him during your annual review.  I can only assume you get one, and there is a section about goals, improvements, things you want to learn/change, or some sort of feedback about maybe even getting promoted out.  Mention you love your job and IF anything arose where you could be more instrumental and helpful to assist him/the dept/company you’d be more than happy to learn.  Throw that “feeler” out there, but if no bites, don’t push it.  Again, be ready with ideas if he seems open to hearing them but know the risks you’re taking as mentioned in #1.  Third, if you are ready to leave your role, when you are ready to leave, start a discussion with your boss about an in-house promotion, doing more personal work for him, or why you are “unhappy.”  But only exercise this third step when you are willing to walk away.  This means if you are asked to leave your job you are okay with not having a paycheck and have enough savings to cover your 6 months+ job hunt.  

3) Have a strategy.

You’re making a big decision to change your job, either at your company or by leaving.  Know how you will plan for it and adjust to those stresses - financially, emotionally, and not landing in a new role where you are either bored, the commute is too far, or you’re unhappy with a MAJOR aspect of the role that you’d want a new job again.  You don’t know what a job is truly like until you’ve worked it for 2 years.  Always look for the RIGHT job, not just any job.  Talk to your husband if you can’t find another job that pays extremely well, how will you adjust?  How long can you job hunt for before you run out of money and have to take any job that is offered to you?

And here’s what I would do or things you may or may not have thought about...

I have no idea what salary you make, but whatever it is, it must be above the norm or at least a lot considering how little work you do.  When you leave your job, other companies will only consider you for jobs of equal or higher pay and skills.  If you get paid a lot they will not give you a job that pays less figuring you’d be unhappy and can’t afford a huge pay cut.  If you have a high salary but not the matching talent you will be a weak candidate for those who make a high salary and have all the proper training and experience.  Even if YOU are okay with a lower salary/demotion the company that hires you is most likely going to see you as a flight risk.  Companies are about hiring so folks stay at the company as long as possible so they are very precise on the sort of candidate they want; and there are a lot of candidates out there.

Perhaps a change of perspective will help you manage your unhappiness until you find the answers you need…  Instead of thinking your job is to assist your executive, it could be viewed that you get paid a salary to commute 2 hours, do his schedule, order his lunch, and provide PEACE OF MIND.  You’re not there so much to DO stuff for him, but rather BE A COMFORTING THOUGHT that you are sitting outside his office to “babysit,” provide any “hand holding” and be a visual cue for “everything is under control/all is okay.”  It’s like a security camera - the security camera in and of itself can’t stop or prevent crime, but the IDEA of it and the POWER IT HOLDS is what people respect and deters 99% of crime.  It’s a metaphor.  Your job is to be metaphor and you get paid HANDSOMELY for being a guardian angel, really.  :)  

Most people want a good job, with a good salary, and where they can learn and grow.  How each person defines all that is subjective.  However, no one ever said they wanted LESS money.  If you get paid so well that it is above the norm, you’ve been handed a salary people take YEARS to earn. What if it takes 5 or 10 or 15 years to get back to your current salary? Is your pay so outrageously high there is no reasonable way you'd ever make that much again?  It’s true, many things are more important than money - being engaged/learning/growing, etc.  However, that does not have to come from your job.  You can do that on your own AT work perhaps.

If I had your job I’d spend all my hours writing this blog, planning my vacation, thinking of recipes to cook, making my grocery list, plan where I’d want to volunteer over the weekend, making plans with friends, internet shopping for X’mas/bdays early, and then spending my time outside of work actually RELAXING with people I love instead of doing the mundane tasks of daily life.  Write a book, learn a new language with headphones on and Rosetta Stone or youtube videos.  Take an online class and study at work.  If you have kids, I’m sure you can plan birthday party themes, order the decorations, cake etc.  Volunteer and mentor online by being an email pen pal.  Do all the things no one has time to do - write a will, set up your 401k and retirement, organize your tax receipts, organize all your car maintenance files, balance your checkbook.  Research where you can donate stuff after spring cleaning or sell it on ebay.  

I’m not saying that people can’t look for a job that makes them happy or search for the dream job.  What I can say is that I’ve chosen to pick my battles and be mindful of which 20% of unhappiness I could live with.  Every month I get at least one call/email from a recruiter trying to poach me.  The average is anywhere from 3-5 people a month asking if I’m looking for a new job.  I automatically decline because I know what I want and I know I have that in my current role.  And yet, some headhunters will still circle back around a week later just to double check I haven’t changed my mind.  Only in two instances do I leave a job 1) Where the problem was unhealthy.  2) I got laid off.  Otherwise, I also DO NOT take a job I feel doesn’t meet a majority of my criteria.  So, I manage my life so I ONLY job hunt for the RIGHT job when I absolutely need to look for a new job.

What counts as an unhealthy problem?  For me, it was working 80-100+ hours a week.  I did that for 6 years to pay my dues and then had the smart realization it wasn’t for me nor was it healthy to do that forever.  But for 6 years I didn’t call in sick or go on vacation.  For others it could be a verbally or mentally abusive boss or illegal activities like Enron are happening.  Your health and sanity should not be compromised.  

When I got laid off it was a blessing in disguise though I didn’t know it at the time.  The first time was from my dream job.  The second time was at a company that wasn’t faring so well.  Both times, I was not happy about the layoff, at all.  But for new great beginnings to happen other doors must close and chapters must end.  If those 2 layoffs didn’t happen, I wouldn’t have my dream job today, nor would I appreciate it as much.  Mainly because through those layoffs I got a promotion, whereas I would have just happily stayed on the EA route.  When I thought about the timing of those layoffs and the gains I made, I honestly believe I couldn’t have orchestrated a better outcome.  So, believe it or not, suprisingly sometimes getting laid off isn’t such a bad thing.  

So the two questions really are: What can you do or look forward to every day, week, month, or season to make going to work M-F bearable until you figure out what to do? And, what would you trade your insane paycheck for and would you be happy with that trade off? In the end, I think you will make the decision that is RIGHT FOR YOU.  I can only go off of what you wrote.  There is so much information I am missing and we are two totally different people.  I will support you with whatever decision you choose!  If I didn’t answer your question thoroughly, let me know.  Keep me posted on your journey and please write an anonymous comment so I know you read this.

***New “rule” - when you ask me a question for anonymous advice and I answer it, could you write an anonymous comment so I know you read the post?  You can just write “Thx!” or something!  :)  

As always, I usually tweet any new posts I have. And anyone can email me questions and I respond only via this blog, not to your personal address. 

I also write over at under Hollywood Executive Assistant.


  1. This is Bored to Tears. Thank you for the insight. You made me think about some things I hadn't thought of and in a new way. I have much reflection to do. I will keep you posted on my journey. Thanks again!

    1. The Muser at Musings of a High Level Exec Asst.June 12, 2014 at 3:56 PM

      Hi Bored to Tears - Glad you enjoyed my post. I am glad I gave you some food for thought! Hopefully you will find the happiness you deserve! Do all the reflection you need and if you have time in a few months or a year, give us an update! Take care and have a great summer. Thank you for the great question again!

  2. Great Read - truly hit home about finding what it is that makes you happy outside of 9-5...because at the end of their life NO ONE wishes they worked more....being satisfied is so much harder then it sounds - counting my blessings!!!

    1. The Muser at Musings of a High Level Exec Asst.June 12, 2014 at 3:54 PM

      Keli - Thank you for the comment! Glad you agree and find true what I learned/read about happiness outside of work. True, being happy with what you have takes a lot of practice! I try to count my blessings daily! It's hard some days!

  3. Great post! I have been in the same situation for the past year and a half. The point about being your boss´s peace of mind is spot on. I used to be so scared that I would get caught not having enough work to do, but now I know my boss couldn´t care less as long as I´m there when he needs me. I use the Amazon Cloud Reader on my web browser to read books, and have been able to free up my evenings and weekends by doing a lot of my personal errands online. I have an end in sight because I will be moving cities in a few months and therefore looking for a new job. However, I don´t think the decision has to be so black and white for Bored to Tears. She could keep an eye on job openings in her area and even go to a few interviews. If you find something better, great, and if not, you didn´t give up your current job. Good luck!

    1. The Muser at Musings of a High Level Exec Asst.June 12, 2014 at 3:52 PM

      Thank you for the comment, Anon! I like the suggestions and agree it doesn't have to be so black and white! I hope the writer gives us as update at some point; would be fun to know!

  4. Hi! Great post!! I can totally relate to "Bored to Tears" so the advice you give her is very helpful. Thanks!

    (I wrote to you an email several months ago but never heard back so at first I thought this post would be about me xD Anyway, as I said, this really helps me).

    1. The Muser at Musings of a High Level Exec Asst.June 16, 2014 at 11:18 AM

      Sil - Glad you enjoyed this post! I looked thru my emails and saw you commented a couple of times but didn't actually see a question from you. Let me know if I'm missing something! Perhaps you wrote in anonymously? Feel free to re-submit your question. As last I have is you wrote this: Thank you! I don't have access to that link at work (it's blocked :S), that's why I didn´t find your email. I'll write soon!

  5. Thanks for answering! I wrote from my Gmail address (my name is Silvina) on Oct 4th, 2013. I think I typed your email address correctly, is your G+ image the japanese flag and some kanji? ;)
    Anyway, as I said, almost everything has been answered in this post, so don't worry, and thanks again! :)

    1. The Muser at Musings of a High Level Exec Asst.June 17, 2014 at 7:27 PM

      Sil - Ah, yes I found your email. Can I go ahead and paste in the comment sections your original question since it's very similar to the one this post is about but gives another view point? (You spoke to your boss and HR and they were "okay" with your lack of work, etc)

    2. The Muser at Musings of a High Level Exec Asst.June 18, 2014 at 6:32 PM

      Here is another reader's question/perspective very similar to Bored to Tears. Thank you, Sil for the great question and I'm glad my answer to Bored was helpful to you as well! It's nice to kill 2 birds with one stone!

      Hi! Thank you for taking the time to read my email. I love your blog and it has been very helpful. I hope you can help me this time too.

      I've been working as the assistant to a director at a big company for almost six years. I love the company and I'm really grateful for my job, since it's one many people would like to have: an important company, close to home, a very good salary, my own office and kitchen, parking spot, gifts, etc.

      For the first three and a half years I had a boss that had never had an assistant before, so he didn't know how to work with me. He never cared much about me, didn't inform me about his plans, arranged his meetings without letting me know and usually wouldn't bother to tell people that he had an assistant. I had so much free time that I used it to study and eventually I got a minor in Marketing.

      Then came another boss, who was completely the oppposite, and while I was working with him I realised that I liked being an assistant (previously I used to feel embarrassed about it). Unfortunately he was fired after less than a year. I have now a boss who is not as bad as the first one but not as good as the second one. But regardless of the personality of each boss, the problem is with their position. The workload is not so big so they can handle things by themselves.

      In other departments there is one assistant every two directors, but our offices are located in another site, so there's no one to "share me" with. My tasks during the day include making a coffee, printing a few pages, answering a couple of phone calls or emails, arranging one or two meetings, and occasionally (about once every two weeks) I go to the bank or translate a document or create a Powerpoint presentation. I have plenty of time to read, write, watch a movie, paint my nails... So much free time that it's driving me crazy. Besides, I'm alone most part of the day.

      I talked to my boss about this, and he admits that the fact that I have so little to do is his fault, but there's nothing he can do about it. If he has no meetings to arrange, if no one calls or visits him, if he doesn't have to travel, what can we do? A few years ago I told HR in several occasions that I would like to move to another position (marketing, communication) but it was in vain. I've been told to take advantage of the situation and keep studying; I started self-teaching French a few months ago but I don't want to study anymore! I want to work! I offered to help other people but apparently everybody is just fine.

      I'm looking for a new job but I know the process will be long. In the meantime, what do you advice me to do?

      I apologise for such a long letter and for any spelling/grammar mistakes I could have made (English is not my mother tongue).

      Thank you very much in advance!

  6. Great article. I feel the same most days... not enough to do.. hence, looking for articles to be a better EA!

    1. The Muser at Musings of a High Level Exec Asst.June 26, 2014 at 12:05 PM

      Anon - It's awesome you spend your spare time looking for ways to improve! Your boss is very lucky! Thank you for being a reader!

  7. This was such a Great answer to 'Bored to Tears', with such thorough, strategic and insightful points to consider. This is the first post I've read of yours and am so impressed. Thank you for sharing such great thoughts and wisdom.

    1. The Muser at Musings of a High Level Executive AssistantNovember 11, 2014 at 2:49 PM

      Thank you for the comment. And welcome to being a new reader on my blog. I hope you look through all the old posts as well.