Are long periods of little to nothing to do at work common in Corporate America?

It’s a common comic affectation in movies and media to show corporate drones and middle managers spending long hours not really doing anything at work. So six months ago I took a job with a big insurance company and I literally have nothing to do 90% of the time. I show up at 9:30. Space out for half an hour. Go get breakfast. Do about an hours worth of work. Get some lunch. Surf the web all afternoon. And then head home. Mostly I just want to throw myself off the roof from boredom.

So is Corporate America really this retarded? I’ve always worked as a management consultant. We’re usually crazy busy 10 hours a day unless we don’t have a project. We go to companies like the one I’m at now and think “look at these lazy, sedentary dumbass drones doing their same stupid mindless tasks every day like a mule pushing one of those Wheel of Pain things until it drops dead.”

I just thought we were being arrogant pricks, but it seems like it’s actually like that. When I talk to people to find out what they do, it turns out “I’m sooo busy” really means “someone asked me to do a 10 minute task I will stretch out for 2 hours.”

So is that normal? Do most people struggle to find stuff to do at work? Or do I just have some bizarre luck where I get hired for positions that no one ever figured out the person working them should actually do?

I don’t get it…what did the company hire you to do?

I think it depends on what you make out of the job.

Each day, I have a series of tasks I need to take care of. I also need to handle incoming orders as they arrive. I have to answer questions from my staff.

But today, there was a period of about two hours where nothing was going on. We were done with our work, just waiting on some final stuff to arrive so we could print.

Then, about 4pm, all hell broke loose (kind of. I’ve seen worse) and I got really busy and actually left work later than I expected.

If you have nothing to do, go ask your manager if there’s something else that needs to be done. Can you be assigned a project, can you cross-train on another responsibility. Make yourself valuable, find things to do to fill your day.

I wouldn’t say I regularly have nothing to do. Most days, I have much more than I can handle.

However, there are times when–despite many years of learning to manage my workload and timing–I find myself playing the waiting game. For example, just Tuesday I realized I had work with legal to review, other work with my manager for her review, yet more work with the proofreaders to review, some items I couldn’t do anything with till I got data I was waiting on… and nothing to do until some of that came back to me! So I sat there, with nothing to do but follow up on the items that were out.

And, of course, it all hit me Wednesday like a ton of bricks!

Any corporate job I’ve ever had was non-stop busy.

My last two “real” jobs were like this. Problem was, I finished up what I needed to do, did some extra then helped other people out. I was told by management to stop this PRONTO!, as I was “skewing the numbers” or somesuch shit. (One guy said “You make my team members look bad”) Okay. I’ll just sit here and play computer games. Christ, that was boring.

The last job, after proving myself invaluable, I worked a deal to take Fridays off, since all the weeks work was wrapped up by Tuesday afternoon anyway. This was the salad days of surfing the dope and porn.

Not a snark, just giving another point of view: In my experience, managers find very few things as annoying as that. In fact, some managers hate being pestered for new things to do by a wheel-busting hamster who can’t think up something to do on his or her own.

I can say yes and no. I always have time to surf the Dope when a job is running or during a very boring conference call. I will be honest and say that I don’t overextend myself anymore. I rarely get in before nine and I live at 5 pm sharp because I have to pick up my girls. I take at least a 5 minute break every hour because my legs get sore. I also take a long walk of about three miles every day that I can around the large campus.

However, this week has been a bitch. I have had to send e-mails and IM’s at the same time in real-time conversation. I am pretty sure I had over 100 different conversations today and I co-manage a staff of 40+ people in India. Our work is seasonal and this is the high season so it will only be this way for a few more months. They hired me more for my knowledge and definitive opinions more than pure effort. It could have taken a newer person literally weeks to do what I do every day that it is needed.

There is nothing wrong with that. I won’t get this story right but I believe it was Henry Ford who called in an engineer to help him with a problem. The man walked in, took a look, and drew an X where the problem was and presented a hefty bill. The reply was that the bill was absurd for simply walking in and drawing an X. The reply was that the man wasn’t being paid to draw an X, he was paid to have the knowledge of where to put it.

That is true. I hate it. There are tons of things around to learn or play with.

I’m a career State employee in a fairly high ranking position. I had six months of nothing to do. Annoyance when the phone rang on tuesday that it might ruin the rest of the week.

It’s a soul sucking experience I wouldn’t wish on anybody.

It was due to a period of gross mismanagement where the powers that be insulated themselves with people who told them what they wanted to hear, and ‘walled off’ the people that really knew their jobs.

At one point, I got tired of it and decided that I didn’t want the rest of my carreer to go this way.

My life then got busier than I ever thought it could be. The management that got us here got fired, and a lot of things changed.

It won’t last, it can’t last, but for a short little bit, enjoying a break can’t hurt…then keep moving as the moss grows quickly.

I rarely have time to pee.

I work for a daily newspaper and it is either feast or famine with workloads.
One day I’ll literally spend 8 hours surfing the 'net, getting a coffee to go, shopping at the mall and anything else that I can think of to pass the time.
The next day might turn into 18 hours of hell by the side of the road while the hostage situation resolves itself.

One might ask how I can spend 8 hours doing nothing at a newspaper and the answer is simple- we were told to cut costs and that includes driving around looking for news. It is one thing to have something assigned by higher management or to have something major pop up, but we are not supposed to rack up mileage looking for a good story.

I really do hate the days where I’m getting paid to be completely lazy- I’d much rather stand around the side of the road in a freezing rain and feel miserable about it while I wait for that one good photo to occur.

I am doing well if I work 20% of the time I’m at the office. I’m required to be there Monday-Thursday from 7:30 - 5:00 with half days off on Fridays. I’ve taught myself more than anyone else in the office knows about Excel and Access and openly beg for extra work of that sort to do. I’ve told my boss I don’t have time fitting in extra tasks for my team and the rest of the department, and take all that come my way. My co-workers complain about being slammed, and for the first year I thought maybe I wasn’t doing some essential task that they forgot to mention, but I realized that I:

A. Don’t chitchat with my coworkers.
B. Develop labor-saving macros, mail-merges and other tricks (Yes, I offer to set them up for others, but most of the people don’t like to deviate from the one way they know to do things)
C. Actually do the work as it comes in, rather than procrastinate and have to push to get my tasks done.

I have 4 clients’ A/R to manage as opposed to my teammates’ 3. I do special projects. I surf the web until I’m bored silly. I’d like to be busier just to make the days go by faster. I wish they’d just let us leave as long as we were getting our work done.


At my work I’m almost always busy. At first, I was busy reading everything I could get my hands on to learn what the hell I was supposed to be doing and what regulations I needed to know (and even some I didn’t). Now, I’m busy putting all that stuff to good use. A good chunk of my time, though, is spent brainstorming. It sounds stupid and cliched - who has the time to sit and just think? But that’s part of what I’m paid to do and it does take a while, especially if you’re working in a heavily-regulated environment, to come up with certain creative solutions that will actually work and help people.

Wanted to modify my earlier response: depending on the manager, he or she might really appreciate it if you have your own ideas–“I’m really interested in X, could I cross-train on it”, “I’ve had an idea to do X, could you give me some guidance on how to start a project in that area”.

What they (we) don’t like is hearing at 9:30 AM: “Well, I’m finished. What do you want me to do next?” Gahhh, you’re creating work for me and demanding attention exclusively on you! Why don’t you think of something and come back and impress me?

I was non-stop busy in my corporate job - frantically busy - to the point that chronic overworking was a major reason I left. The attitude of management was that salaried employees should work however much time the job required - and the requirements kept going up. Also, we were supposed to do a lot of work in our personal spare time because they wanted to keep reducing staff. At one point, a manager gave me a project that would take up 100% of my time, and expected that, you know, that 50-60 hours of other stuff a week would just happen outside business hours. That manager got an earful.

In my small business job, I am not very busy. There are periods of being busy, but for the most part, I do about an hour of work a day (partially because I work efficiently, and don’t drag it out). At first it was agonizing, but I’ve learned to fill the time with other projects.

I would suspect that many people learn to ‘look busy’ and there are enough ineffectual managers out there to not really understand their workers’ jobs. In our case, however, we’re a small firm, and when each person is doing several different roles, there’s not much more we can really ask. There is simply no more for me to do than I do now that I am qualified to do. It’s just not feasible to reduce staff since I’m the only one who does my job, and part of my job is to be available during all business hours. A part timer can’t offer the coverage of a full timer, so, I twiddle my thumbs like the Maytag Repairman and that’s the job.

When I worked in corporate, every hour of our time was supposed to be billable. At the end of the week, your time sheet had better reflect that you’d been working or your job was in jeopardy.

We had plenty of work to go around, so it was no problem being productive.

What did they hire you to do, msmith?

Blackberry’s work just fine in the bathroom. It use to unnerve me when someone would suddenly strike up a conversation in the stall next to me. My first reaction was, hey, I’m not a Senator, but then I realized people were taking care of backlogged phone calls.

I honestly have no idea what they hired me to do. The Director who hired me quit as soon as I came on board so I never got any direction from him. So then my entire group reported up to a psychotic menopausal bitch who management style wavered between neglect and abuse. To the point where 2 months after I joined I reported her to HR and said “I don’t care what you do, I just want it on record that I have gotten jack shit for direction since I got here but that’s been more than made up for in abusive bullshit.” This crazy broad basically set up the group so that even though I’m the senior manager of the team, not everyone reports to me which makes no sense. Fortunately psycho bitch was forced into retirement so she’ll be gone by Thanksgiving. We have a new Director and a new VP but they have no clue so now I’m basically “managing” them. And, of course, the entire company is going through massive layoffs and restructuring so really no one knows what the hell is going on anymore. Mostly my “job” consists of writing proposals for projects the business thinks they want but dont want to pay for so they don’t get approved and no one has anything to do.

So mostly I bide my time, use my position withing the company to make industry contacts at our vendors and wait for the job market to pick up so one of them can hire me.

In my last two jobs it was common for me to have little to do. I worked as a manager of software developers. My bosses preferred that I only do management, but I was quite capable of managing and doing development too.

But my bosses didn’t want me on the critical path, in case I got caught up in meetings and the project get delayed.

That never seemed to happen - yes I had a lot of meetings - but I had a lot of time to do nothing too.

I actually hate doing nothing, so I am happier in a job doing development, or both.