Looking For More Challenging Work Assignments

Dear Evil HR Lady,I was wondering what a management professional should do if she wanted to take on more responsibilities or greater challenges at work. Normally it would just make sense to ask a supervisor for more/better projects and duties, but this is a lot trickier during a recession. On one hand, you don't want to look like you're not busy or don't have enough to do when people are being let go left and right. On the other, a slower pace of business (due to fewer orders, fewer projects coming in, and the slower economy overall) makes for very boring days at the office. How to proceed? Remember when you were 7 (or 12, or in some extreme cases 25) and you were bored, so you ran to your mother and said, "Mom, I'm bored"? And what did she say? "If you're bored you can do the dishes/vacuum the living room/weed the garden/scrub the toilets." Right? And so you pretty quickly learned not to tell your mother you were bored because she always had another task for you to do.

This effectively teaches children two principles. The first is that you better darn well find something do on your own, because whatever it is, it will be better than what mom has in mind. The second is that mom always has a stack of tasks for you to do.

Somewhere along the line, when we became adults and got real jobs, we forgot lesson one and remembered only lesson two: Mom (the boss) will always have a task for us to do.

You're right -- when business is slow and the company is looking for more ways to cut costs, announcing that you're bored could be dangerous. Chances are, if you don't have enough work to do, neither does your boss, and she would quite like to keep her job, so getting rid of you and taking on your tasks would make her invaluable. We see your dilemma.

But, let's look at the first lesson: You better darn well find something to do on your own, because otherwise the boss just might send you to file for unemployment.

This can actually be a fantastic opportunity for you. You already have a job, which puts you ahead of a lot of people. Now, pretend you don't have a job. Pretend that you're going in for a job interview for the job you already have. The manager asks you, "What can you bring to this organization?" Stop and think about that. If you were competing against 20 other people for this job, what would you offer to do that would push you over the top?

Figure out the best thing you can do for the company. Perhaps it's something outside of your normal duties. Figure out what you, specifically, can do to help pull the company through the tough times. Come up with a solution. Pretend you've been asked to do this as an official job assignment. Do the research, run the numbers, think through the potential problems and their proposed solutions, and present this to your boss.

This doesn't have to be a job you could carry out on your own. What this has to be is a sound business proposal that will help the company. If it would require other people's input, all the better -- because if you're bored, they're bored, and in the end you all want the company to do better.

So come up with something that will make the company more profitable. Present it and prepare to carry it out. And always keep in mind the first lesson from your mother -- don't you dare say you're bored.

Photo by Flickr user John-Morgan, CC.

So you’re doing a good job at work. Your boss seems happy. And now, you're ready to take on more.

Pushing yourself out of your comfort zone to take on more responsibility is a great way to grow personally and professionally . It can be uncomfortable and hard at times, but that's what will help you make real progress within an organization. So give yourself a challenge, and try these five ways to step up and have your colleagues see you shine!

1. Talk to Your Boss

Go to your supervisor and see if there are any additional projects you can work on. Make it a discussion rather than a direct question: you can share your own career goals and talk about how you see yourself fitting into the company’s future.

Think about what skills or knowledge you want to develop , and see if there's an opportunity that'll let you do just that.  If possible, have a few concrete ideas in mind so you can suggest areas where you may be able to get more involved.

If you don’t have regularly scheduled meetings with your supervisor, try to get time on his or her calendar for the conversation. But if that’s a long way off, mention it in passing and follow up. A simple “Hey, I think I am ready for more responsibility and would like to help the team” may be just what he or she needs to know to give you the opportunity.

2. Look for Busy, Stressed Out Co-workers

Look for the people who need help, be it in other departments or in the cubicle next door, and offer to lend a hand. Make sure that you don’t get taken advantage of, though, or become a victim of a credit hog: those colleagues who will attempt to have you do their extra work, and then take all the credit. Learn to identify and avoid these people.

Also, be sure not to overwhelm yourself with others’ work. If you're risking neglecting your own responsibilities, you're going too far.

3. Become an Expert

Acquire new knowledge continuously and stay on top of trends or developments in your field. If you’re seen as an expert in a particular subject, you’re more likely to be needed for new projects coming up.

One simple way: set up a “Google Alert” for topics relevant to your industry, company, or team’s area of responsibility. Pick your search terms, and any new articles featuring the terms you’ve chosen will be sent to your inbox in a daily update email. Another great option is to use Twitter's news hashtags .

When you find articles relevant to your team’s work, send them out with a brief accompanying summary. You’ll be helping all of your teammates look better and stay up-to-date on the latest industry news, which can gain you a lot of credibility as a team player. Remember though, when you send an article out to your team, make sure you anticipate any questions that may come up about what you sent.

4. Be Proactive

Sometimes you can’t wait for someone else to give you the green light. Take initiative, and do what needs to be done before someone asks you (or someone else) to do it. Start by identifying tasks that are falling through the cracks and completing them. Your foresight will be appreciated.

If part of your planned activity involves reaching out to clients or other external members of your company, make sure that you have approval to do this. “Jenn, I thought that a press search would be helpful here, and I wanted to reach out to Erik on the PR team” is a simple way of confirming your team is okay with you reaching out, and also of communicating what you're doing so it doesn't end up being done twice.

5. Start With the Fun Stuff

Lastly, some workplaces have extracurricular activities you can get involved in, be it the softball team or the sustainability initiative. Show your leadership skills there and get to know more people at work as a first step towards more official responsibility. Plus, it can be good for your co-workers to get to know you outside of your traditional professional environment.

Photo courtesy of Shutterstock .

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