Office Politics 101: Petrified of the Peter Principle

Q: I accepted a new position last month, which looked great on the surface. Unfortunately, I’ve found there are duties I can’t perform because I don’t have the necessary skills. It’s incredibly stressful and I don’t know what to do next. Any advice for me?

A: It’s understandable you are experiencing stress at this time, but don’t fret. There are options available to you. I would recommend you act quickly, however, to avoid any embarrassment or the possibility of being removed from the position.

Take a moment to reflect on the recruitment and interviewing for the job. Were you surprised to learn you would have duties which are now making you feel so anxious?

Was the job description (which I presume you reviewed) sufficiently unclear to the degree that you were not aware of the full extent of the responsibilities?

These are important questions because they may provide you with the proof you need to defend your application and subsequent appointment; after all, you did compete successfully against other candidates based on your understanding of the skills needed.

Now you want to decide whether you’d like to keep the job if at all possible or offer to voluntarily relinquish it in favor of another position, if there is one available.

If it is your decision to attempt to continue in the present position, you’ll still need to “come clean” at the earliest opportunity and meet with your supervisor and clearly explain the situation.

You’ll require sufficient time to master the requisite skills — which may even include some formal training or coursework — and your employer must show understanding to make this possible.

(Another employee may need to assume these duties for a certain time.)

You may think there will be some risk involved in acknowledging your limitations – and it’s true. The only other option, however — to say nothing and attempt to educate yourself as quickly as possible — could make you vulnerable to criticism should you be discovered.

You are in a rather uncomfortable situation but, given that you are brand-new (and apparently never had a sense of these responsibilities) should allow you to make a rational case for consideration and the opportunity to learn the needed skills and remain on the job.

Submit your confidential questions relating to work and office life to simongibson@shaw.ca

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