help! my new job is unprepared for me, and I don’t have any work

A reader writes:

I’m two weeks into my new job, and I still don’t have a computer. Or a desk. Or even a corner that I can call my own. My company created a position for me as an assistant in a new department and they admitted they are going through growing pains, so I’ll be shuffling around for a bit. But after 80 hours of sitting quietly beside my boss’s desk and watching her work, I’m annoyed. They offered me the job a month ago!

My boss is trying to at least order a computer for me (that has to be cleared through a couple people) but I seem to be at the very bottom of the company’s priority list. It’s their busy season and everyone runs around in a state of panic most of the day, including my boss. No one has time to train me and they seem content to keep me in the corner, out of the way.

I suppose I shouldn’t complain about sitting around twiddling my thumbs (and getting paid to do it) but what would you do in this situation? I jump in and help when I can, but there’s only so much I can do without a computer. Should I be more assertive and demand a work station? Be patient and wait it out?

Ugh.

This is surprisingly common — although you’re getting it especially badly. And there’s never any excuse for it — no matter how busy an organization is. It speaks volumes about their culture, and none of what it says is good. So keep your eyes open for other signs of problems.

In any case, no, don’t demand a work station. That’s unlikely to go over well. However, try any or all of the following:

* Are you willing to bring in your own laptop from home to use temporarily? You’re certainly under no obligation to do this, but it might make your life easier while you wait for your computer.

* Ask people if there’s anything you can do to help them. If they’re all running around in a state of panic, someone will probably appreciate the offer of help.

* Say to your boss, “I’m really eager to get started, but I can tell this is a really busy period for you. Is it realistic to get a couple of meetings with me on your calendar to start talking through my role, or is there someone else I could be helping meanwhile?”

* Think back to what was discussed when you were being hired — what specific responsibilities or projects were talked about? Pick the simplest of those, and say, “I’d love to jump in on X if it would help. I was thinking I could do A, B, and C to get started — does that sound okay to you?” (The key here is that you’re not giving your boss yet another thing to figure out while she’s already harried; you’re giving her a proposal that she can say yes or no to, or which she can modify.)

And if none of this produces any changes, it’s entirely reasonable to ask your boss for her sense of how long this will last.

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