Reader 1: I’m a midcareer public servant. Last summer, the funding that supported my position ended. My supervisor did everything possible to retain me, and I remain employed at the same salary but in a different capacity. Shortly after this, I applied for a management position, but my supervisor passed me over for someone less experienced. So I am both grateful to remain employed and stung that I wasn’t chosen for promotion.
Now I hate my work. I’m responsible for a handful of “special projects” that need doing but nobody else has time for. I feel irrelevant and sidetracked, and I dread coming to work, a huge change from the job I once loved. My annual evaluation is coming up. Do I tell this kind boss who worked so hard to keep me but passed me over for promotion how much I hate my life now? I have been applying for other jobs, which feels disloyal.
Karla: My guess, I’m sorry to say, is that your boss has taken you as far as he can. Complaining that the shelter he’s provided is drafty and lacks amenities will sound entitled — and won’t leave him inclined to protect you further if a higher-up looking to cut costs questions why someone as experienced as you is being paid to handle projects that even you don’t seem to value.
But if you approach your boss with an emphasis on gratitude for what he’s already done and eagerness to try new things, he may come up with more strategies to enhance your value and make a more secure place for yourself.
And finding a better job elsewhere may temporarily inconvenience your boss — but it’s not “disloyal.” All you owe him is adequate notice and maybe an extra word of thanks for having your back.
Reader 2: I have held three jobs since graduating from college 15 years ago. I have worked in the federal government for the past six years, and for most of it I was content and had top ratings. However, there are no opportunities to advance, as a staggering number of senior and executive employees in my division have recently begun to “retire in place.” Many are in their 50s and have decided to “check out” at work. My manager tells me this is unlikely to change anytime soon. I really like my work and do not want to start over, but I do not think it is reasonable to endure another five or 10 years without advancement. Should I stick with it or start looking to leave?
Karla: I can’t help feeling a pang of sympathy for the older workers you see as obstacles to your ascent. Maybe they want to retire or change fields but are hobbled by economic constraints and age discrimination. They may be just as frustrated as you.
So you have the choice of resigning yourself to resentment, or letting your discontent and ambition spur you to explore opportunities elsewhere. In the D.C. area, at least, for whatever public agency you’re currently serving, there is often a parallel private-sector entity — contractor? Lobbying firm? Publisher? Educational institution? — that would welcome your expertise. Just be mindful of any agreements you may have signed regarding professional ethics and conflicts of interest.