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On a Software Development and Support Engineer Owning Recurring Tasks
I saw a social-professional pattern where the boss tells the employee to do a recurring task, with no end date/time and then as time goes by also the boss doesn’t actively have a further conversation with the employee to review how the task is being handled. In other words the manager gives a standing order to the employee and then forgets it.
For example the boss tells the employee to do a daily errand every day. This could add up — if the boss gives 100 standing orders to the employee over the course of the year, then that is 100 recurring tasks that are expected to be done.
I say there’s a good way and a bad way for an employee to handle being assigned a thankless recurring task. This is outside of the employee saying that no, they won’t take on the task. I say a good way is for the employee to do the tasks but also check back periodically telling the boss how its going with that. I say a bad way is for the employee to do the tasks and never periodically remind the boss how its going with that.
In the good, checking back way, one scenario could go like this:
The employee takes on numerous tasks throughout the year, and also remembers to check back with the boss on each of them periodically (like once a quarter) to ask how things are going with them? (whether they still need to be done?, are they being done right?)
And then the years go by and each quarter, the employee touches base with the boss on each of the tasks and how its going. The employee’s schedule is filled with the tasks as long as the boss still agrees they are important, and both the boss and the employee continually realize that the employee is adding value by doing these tasks.
Since the employee is spending great effort and the boss is periodically recognizing them for it, for the employee it can promote professional acknowledgement, sustainability, recognition, the boss recognizing the employee’s good performance, reviewing of tasks to cull out unneeded ones and leaving only higher-priority value-adding tasks.
In the bad, never periodically checking back way, the same scenario could go like this:
The employee takes on numerous tasks throughout the year, and doesn’t check back with the boss on any of them to ask how things are going with them? ( whether they still need to be done?, are they being done right?)
And then quarters and/or years go by and not another word is spoken on the subject. If, for each of those tasks, no conversation is had regarding the ongoing handling of the tasks, then a situation develops where the employee’s schedule is filled with tasks, and they’re the only person who’s attending to the tasks.
Since the employee is spending great effort and not being recognized, it can lead to resentment, burn-out, the boss not recognizing the employee’s effort, and tasks still being done that actually no longer need to be done.
This scenario, is above split into two extreme outcomes. However, this does happen on some scale.
It would be an excellent boss who gives a standing order and then themselves remembers to check back each quarter to ask the employee how its going. I think often what the boss means when they give a standing order with no end date, is “Do task “x” every day, and check back with me quarterly to review the handling of task “x”.” *but* the boss doesn’t actually *say* the last: “and check back with me quarterly…” part. In any case, in order to as the employee take ownership and be professional, its the job of the employee to check in with the boss periodically to review the state of the standing task.
Here’s where some smarts can come in. The employee can realize that even though no end date was specified and the boss doesn’t initiate a review, *the employee* can periodically check in, and can ask for an end date.
Say the employee does a daily recurring task reliably for 90 days and no one says anything — it’s taken for granted that “the employee does that task” or “the employee does that task because they like to do that task” or “the employee does that task because they are good at doing that task”. Let’s not have any of these things be taken for granted — let’s talk about it periodically. If once a quarter, the employee reminds the boss “hey, now that I’ve been doing this task every day for 90 days, how have I done with that? I just wanted to confirm that doing-the-task should still continue to be done the same way, or ask whether it should be done differently”. There are some benefits for the employee here, and some for the boss. (a “win-win”! scenario)
One is that the employee has taken ownership of the task. The boss initiated the task, but now the employee’s the one initiating the continuation of the task. It shows initiative, responsibility and professionalism.
Two is that it’s a reminder to the boss that the task isn’t doing itself — the employee is doing it and is thinking about it regularly.
Three is that sometimes new people come on board. And if the employee is busy doing recurring tasks and no one’s talking about it, then people will think “the employee does that task because they are good at it and they like it”. And so maybe the new person will have a better chance to get assigned that new challenging project that is seen as adding value to the bottom line, and the old employee will be more likely to be the one who stays in the role of thankless-task-doer. When really if a company promotes from within then the old employee should have a way to move from the less challenging role into a more challenging role. And of course if this new person comes in and new-project-assignment starts to happen when the employee hasn’t been checking in quarterly/regularly, and the employee then says “hey how about I get the new challenging project?”, then the chance is that it’ll be seen more as they want to leverage themselves in front of the new person, but conversely if this starts to happen when the
employee has been checking in quarterly, and the employee says “hey, since I’ve been doing a good job with the task-doing — what are the chances that I can apply the same pride and ownership to the new challenging project?”
Four is that the reason for the employee to check in on a recurring-task status regularly on a by-the-calendar schedule, like quarterly on the fifteenth of the first quarter of the month or whatever arbitrary recurring date makes sense, as opposed to whenever they feel like it, is that it shows that its a routine check-in — the employee is merely checking in in a responsible way — removing any doubt that the employee just had a bad day and didn’t feel like doing the task and is checking in to try to get out of doing the task.
In summary, bosses ask employees to do recurring tasks. (Yes this includes us Software Development and Support Engineers) A good way for the employee to handle this is to take the ownership of the task, do a good job of it, and regularly & periodically check in with the boss regarding this task.
Edit: This post was previously published at: w̶i̶e̶l̶d̶l̶i̶n̶u̶x̶.̶c̶o̶m̶/2016-05-28-engineer-Owning-recurring-tasks.php
[2019 edit: Moved to: https://investorworker.com/2016/... .html.]