my boss says I don’t respond to people quickly, but I do

A reader writes:

I’ve been having an ongoing issue with my manager. I work in a bookstore, and he is frustrated that I don’t reply quickly enough to authors who will doing speaking events at the store, but I feel that I do.

My job is 75% marketing/events and 25% retail. I work from home the majority of the time, but tend to go into the store at least three days a week–usually more. I use my own computer and phone for this job, and have stopped giving out my number due to having past speakers call at unusual times (say, five times on a rare Sunday off, when I’m not really checking my phone) and then contacting my manager to complain that I don’t respond in a timely enough manner (meaning I’m not answering my phone immediately). It’s not like I let these calls drop-I contact the speakers within 24 hours, often before. In fact, I’ve calculated my average response time to be 5 hours (including nights and weekends). Keep in mind that none of these calls were emergencies, just calls to confirm details for an event.

Because the speakers call the store when I don’t respond immediately, the calls then get handed over to my boss, who thinks I have an issue responding in a timely manner. I’ve showed him email threads, call logs, anything I can get my hands on to prove that I get back to speakers quickly. He kind of vaguely agrees that I’ve responded quickly enough, and, when I ask him how he would like me to respond quicker, he just goes off on a rant saying that I just *have* to respond more quickly. Somehow.

The latest example is a speaker who emailed me around 1 p.m. yesterday. I was bogged down in other work, and flagged it to respond to first thing this morning (around 8 a.m.). Again, no pressing email, just confirming some details. Before I could respond this morning, she calls the store, talks to my boss, and he calls me and sends me an email asking again how to respond more quickly. The worse case of this was a speaker who called me and, when I didn’t pick up, called my boss and then he called me and sent me an email about how disappointed he was in my response time. The time it took from the speaker’s initial call to my response? 25 minutes. Yup. Other examples are me taking comp time for an afternoon (and letting the boss know about it), then waking up to emails the next day asking me if I was alright or sick because I didn’t email him back when he emailed me the afternoon before.

I’m fairly frustrated (as you might be able to tell). I can’t be any more responsive without giving up more weekends and nights, which I rarely get off anyway. Any time I ask for concrete improvement ideas from my boss, he’s vague and unhelpful. My fiancee suggested I have an outgoing/signature message to the effect of “I will get back to you within 24 hours; give me time to respond.” I end up checking my email several times a day on my days off, and I don’t get paid enough to work seven days a week (just above minimum wage with no overtime).

At this point, I’ve accepted that it’s just par for course at this job — that he thinks flex time means I’m on call all the time — but how can I convince my boss that I’m not slacking?

Well, you may not be able to, but I can tell you what would work with a boss who’s reasonable. How your boss responds to this will give us good data on whether he’s reasonable or not.

Sit down with him and say this: “You’ve mentioned a few times that you’re concerned that I’m not responding to speakers quickly enough, so I wanted to make sure we’re both on the same page about this. I’m vigilant about responding to all speakers within 24 hours, and it’s usually much less. I took a look at my average response time over the past X months, and I’ve averaged responding within five hours, including on nights and weekends. People sometimes get impatient anyway — I know we had one person who complained when it took me only 25 minutes to get back to them. So I want to make sure that you know how I’m handling this, and see if there’s anything that you want me doing differently. I think an average of five hours is really good, especially since I don’t work 24 hours a day. Does continuing as I’ve been doing sound okay to you?”

A reasonable boss will either say yes here, or tell you if there are specific things he wants handled differently (for example, “that sounds fine, but make sure you respond to people in Category X within the same business day; don’t let it go to the next day”).

What might happen is that he’ll say that this sounds fine, but then be back to nagging you the next time someone complains. If that happens, say this: “I’m sticking to the system we agreed to, about responding within 24 hours and usually less.” If the message came in during an evening or weekend, add: “This person contacted me at night/on the weekend, but I responded quickly when I was back at work.”

Also, you don’t note whether or not you’re ending up working more than 40 hours a week or not (including all that email checking from home), but if you are, you need to start logging that time and getting paid overtime, as the law requires (assuming you’re non-exempt, which it sounds like). And then you can add this in when you talk to your boss: “If you need me to check email and respond to people during off-hours, we’re going to incur overtime costs because it will take me over 40 hours a week. Is that something you want to do?” Alternately, if you don’t want to be doing that, don’t open the door to it — just say, “I’m not able to work more than X hours per week, so people who contact me outside of those hours will end up waiting until I’m back at work, but my email auto-reply lets them know when they’ll hear back from me.”

And speaking of an email auto-reply, I’m with your fiancee on thinking that you need to set one up. I wouldn’t say “give me time to respond,” since that’s a little aggressive, but I’d say “I will get back to you within 24 hours.” If you find people don’t pay attention that that, bold it, or add something that seems to speak directly to them (like “if you’re writing to confirm details of a speaking event…”).

But ultimately, you can’t make your boss see reason. You can (a) bring the issue to the surface, (b) lay out what you’re doing as clearly as possible, and (c) remind him of that when it comes up again, and that will work with a lot of people, even managers who seemed kind of unreasonable previously … but you can’t make a determinedly unreasonable person be reasonable, so try this and see who he reveals himself to be.

{ 346 comments… read them below or add one }

  1. NYC Redhead

    It might also help to quickly acknowledge the email with a timeframe for a more substantive response. e.g. “Thanks, Bob. I will get back to you tomorrow morning.”

    Reply
    1. Persephone

      I was going to say the same thing. I do this a lot because sometimes it takes me a while to get everything I need to answer someone’s questions or fulfill their request (or handle more timely matters first), but I want them to know I got their email and it will be addressed.

      Reply
    2. Not the Droid You are Looking For

      I have a few coworkers that I have learned need an acknowledgement, “Got your message! I’ll get back to you by COB” email.

      It seems silly, but it has honestly made my life easier.

      Reply
      1. Amber

        I wish my co-workers would do this. Or like when you need feedback and they use no reply meaning they were fine with my submission rather than replying and saying they were fine with it.

        Reply
    3. The Cosmic Avenger

      I have been trying to get better about this myself, as I went through something similar (although not as bad), but the OP states that these are phone calls, and if she calls them back she’ll likely have to spend 20-30 minutes on the phone, which is why she’s putting it off.

      Reply
    4. BethRA

      I would point out, too, that in order to send such a response, she’d have to check email constantly, which she’s trying to avoid.

      Reply
      1. Ask a Manager Post author

        Yeah, and she has people complaining after only 25 minutes, and her average response time is already five hours, which is pretty damn short for the sort of inquiries she’s described (which sound like they’re decidedly not urgent).

        Reply
        1. LQ

          Is the person complaining after 25 minutes or just trying the second number they were given? If I was given 2 numbers and nothing else I can see trying one number, not getting an answer and then just trying the second number.

          If they numbers aren’t given with clear, “Call this person: 123-123-1234” and then maybe “In case of something urgent call: store number” then it might be that messaging that’s the issue. Calling, hanging up and calling another number might not be a complaint, but a “I have 2 numbers so I’ll try them both.”

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          1. The IT Manager

            +1. The author didn’t complain; the author just called an alternate number which happened to the boss’s, and the boss complained because he had to deal with it.

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            1. AnotherHRPro

              I actually think the not responding quick enough is a red herring. The real issue is the boss does not want to take calls from these authors and the current process is that if they can’t reach the OP, they call the store and get passed to the manager. I would recommend (1) having the store stop passing the calls on to the manager and redirect the caller to the OP and (2) establish in your outgoing message (and even email) that you will respond to their request within X hours.

              Reply
              1. CADMonkey007

                This is a good observation. I’m also curious if authors are just calling a faceless phone number given to them or if they see OP as their personal contact. Perhaps a more personal connection and establishing the 24 hour followup from the beginning will help dissuade them from calling the boss or a general manager when she doesn’t answer right away.

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              2. Rebecca

                I completely agree, AnotherHRPro. Something is wrong with the up-front messaging to the authors, if the authors are confused about who to call and what the expected response times will be. And there is a misunderstanding at the bookstore if calls are being routed to the boss instead of re-routed to the OP. The OP and the bookstore need to fix the upstream problem(s).

                Reply
                1. Chickaletta

                  Excellent point. I have a part-time job from home and it usually takes me anywhere from 6 hours to 2 days to get back to people, depending how busy I am. Yet I very rarely have someone complain about my response time. Occasionally I’ll have someone send a follow-up email reminding me of their request, but that’s probably just once or twice a year during our busy time. So, the fact that OP has this happen to her enough that it’s becoming a problem makes me think there’s something more to this.

        2. A Bug!

          Especially given that she’s including off-hours inquiries in her average. That means that her response time during normal hours is likely to be much, much quicker.

          Reply
      2. Ineloquent

        Would it be possible to autorespond with this? Fewer checks, happier speakers (you know, if they’re normal non-rabid humans).

        Reply
      3. Jady

        Assuming a smartphone and/or desktop program, she wouldn’t have to actively go out of her way to check it. She could get notifications set up. It takes 1 minute to read an email and 1 minute to reply ‘I’ll get back to you’. While it stinks she may have to do this and that she shouldn’t have to, it will save her time and headaches having to deal this with situation reoccuring endlessly.

        And if not, there’s the auto-reply option for off-hours.

        Reply
        1. Elizabeth the Ginger

          If she’s doing this, though, then she’s still essentially on-call all the time, even if on-call to say “I’ll get back to you soon.” There are plenty of times when I don’t want to stop what I’m doing to send that kind of email – when I’m having dinner with friends, or relaxing with my husband, or watching a movie on Netflix. These aren’t emergencies – it’s not reasonable to expect the OP to interrupt her time off for them constantly.

          Reply
          1. Elizabeth the Ginger

            Also, sometimes people with a “quick question” won’t really be appeased by an “I’ll get back to you” response. “If you had time to type that you’ll write to me later, why didn’t you have time to type the information I wanted? It was just a little thing!”

            Reply
            1. katamia

              This is how I am. I’m not bothered by autoreplies, but I hate “Got your email, will get back to you shortly” replies. That’s time you could be spending either actually answering my question or doing whatever else you have to do before you answer my question.

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            2. John Cosmo

              And of course, the “quick question” is usually a lot more complicated and requires more research before you can give a “quick answer,” by which time you’ve wasted a lot of time and are now behind in whatever you were trying to do before the “quick question.”

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          2. Victoria Nonprofit (USA)

            Yes, this. And depending on her personality, this might be highly disruptive.

            I’m am anxious person, and to keep myself on an even keel I need time when I can pretend my obligations do not exist. Looking at my email, even just to say “Got it, will respond tomorrow” would blow up that space I’ve created.

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          3. Natalie

            Agreed. It sets the wrong expectation, and makes it all the harder when you actually do need to be unavailable. I have a very unpleasant memory of my fiance spending intermission of a play on the phone with his boss because of this kind of pattern. (It was my birthday too. That was nice.)

            Reply
      1. Gene

        If you do this, and you’re not exempt, you need to track that time and claim the OT. This really isn’t optional, your employer now knows that you get calls like this when you are “off”. They can get in a lot of trouble for allowing you to work off the clock; and if management doesn’t have severe cranio-rectal inversion, they will either want you to track and claim the time, or tell you not to do those tasks in your off time.

        Reply
    5. Jady

      For emails this is definitely the best answer. An auto response may annoy people, but it takes 5 seconds to hit reply and just say ‘I will look into it and I’ll get back to you by X’. I think this would prevent a lot of these issues.

      Reply
    6. HRChick

      One idea is to have n autoresponse set up – one for when you are in the office and one for when you are out of the office
      “Thank you for your email. I will respond to any inquiries within 24 hours”
      “I am out of the office and will return __. I will respond to inquiries at that time”

      You could do some for your phone, too.

      Reply
  2. Mando Diao

    It sounds to me like the OP is doing her job perfectly well, but that the specifics of the job description/duties aren’t lining up with the needs of the business. I can see how a visiting author might not be able to wait from 1 pm one day to 8 am the next, depending scheduling and logistics, and especially if the author is “touring” from out of town. The OP’s boss either needs to officially amend OP’s job description (as well as salary and/or exempt status) to include 24/7 email responses, or the boss need to hire someone specifically to do that part of the job. The OP is basically a math teacher being reprimanded for not teaching history. She needs to recognize where she and her boss aren’t having the same conversation.

    Reply
    1. Elle the new Fed

      I think we should take OP at her word when she says they’re not urgent. If the event is the next day that is decidedly more urgent than an event in several months.

      Reply
        1. Bookstore Events

          OP here. I agree-it is a different story for locals vs. visiting authors and authors speaking in one day vs. one month (and I try to respond accordingly–keeping an eye on my email the day before an event, etc.). We’ve had a couple of visiting authors, and those schedules were nailed down at least a month before the speaking date-generally ASAP after the publishing company/s approached me.

          The emails are non-urgent from authors (confirming the three times already confirmed times, seeing if they can get some bookstands that display their books for the event two weeks from the email, etc.)–but for a lot of authors, they are fairly new to the speaking game decidedly (and understandably) nervous and needing some extra confirmation! My problem isn’t with the authors, it’s with the boss. I tend to be fairly sympathetic to people who are nervous and needing reassurance.

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          1. RVA Cat

            Would it be possible to put the event details on Dropbox, Google Drive, etc. and give the authors online access to their individual events? That could spare you some of the confirm-info calls and could help tide them over after hours until you can answer any questions that aren’t covered.

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          2. Chickaletta

            One thing you can do to help head off these requests/questions from the authors is to provide a FAQ sheet as soon as they book an event and let them know the process for when they can expect further information. In other words, take control over the process from the start.

            I manage a conference with exhibitors and they have to know things like the size of their table, that chairs are provided for them but not extension cords, how to get a discount on a block of hotel rooms, etc. All this is explained in an info sheet that they get when they express interest in being an exhibitor. It answers questions that I know they’re going to have. I also let them know when to expect further instructions. So, when I send them a confirmation email, I might say something like, “I will email you about two weeks before the conference to let you know what the set-up times are going to be. Thanks for signing up. I look forward to working with you.”

            If you lead the process, it can be very reassuring to people who are nervous about what to expect. It helps them feel like you have everything under control.

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          3. CPSmgr

            I think if the boss thinks an employee doesn’t respond quickly enough, the employee isn’t responding quickly enough. I believe that expected service level agreements need to be clearly agreed upon, and adhered to. If the employee can’t agree to the terms, he/she should move on. Event management isn’t really a 9-5 gig and it’s not for everyone. (P.S. sounds like it would be in the boss’ s best interest to up the ante and make this an exempt position…)

            Reply
      1. Mando Diao

        Urgency is a matter of perspective though. To the people the store is hosting, these requests apparently ARE urgent, so much so that they’re reaching out to other people to get their answers. It happens often enough that it’s worth accepting it as a quirky norm of the business and go forward with that in mind as a constant.

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        1. JB (not in Houston)

          But not really. The authors may *feel* like something is urgent, in the same way that some people feel like if they didn’t mean any offense, their comments aren’t rude. But the OP explained that these are not matters that truly need immediate attention, and I think we should take her word for it.

          Reply
        2. Victoria Nonprofit (USA)

          This is a good point. I totally trust the OP’s interpretation of the urgency of these requests – both because there’s no reason not to, and because she’s added some context in her comments here.

          But, in the spirit of dealing with how things are rather than how they should be, if this is a consistent problem it does seem like a new solution is needed. The “expected response time” messages (whether personal, automated, or on voicemail) sounds like a good start. Maybe some more details (or FAQs) on a private site for your authors. It could also help to make the OP more prominent on the website – a photo, bio, and description of what she does.

          Reply
          1. Mando Diao

            That’s my thinking – I’ve been customer-facing before, so I know what it’s like to have customers insist that they need answers NOW even though they really don’t. Even so, enough authors are operating this way (either because there’s another backup in the procedure or because of basic human nature) that it should be treated like a feature, not a bug, of the job.

            Reply
            1. Bwmn

              I agree with this. The OP mentioned in earlier comments that a high percentage of these aggressive follow ups have been from new local authors needing reassurance. So while these questions may not be urgent , this is clearly a “speaker population” that needs a bit more handholding. Just thinking of it that way, it may also make sense to think about sending a FAQ sheet with a few personalized details (i.e. show up at X time, bring merchandise by Y time, etc.) a week or few days before the event. Basically some kind of time that comes just before when the freak out calls typically start.

              I agree with AAM’s answer regarding the matter in terms of the boss, but if this is a fairly widespread needy population then it may also be that some additional steps could be helpful. I’m a fundraiser that works with donors who have their own set of needs and ideas. And while I know my boss would never expect me to be in a position to return calls/emails within less than 5 hours – if my boss was consistently hearing from donors wanting certain kinds of answers or attention sooner – then ultimately a new system would need to be created. Not so much in the sense that I was in trouble, but rather that important stakeholder needs weren’t being met and how might those needs be better addressed reasonably.

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        3. Sarah

          I don’t think urgency and impatience are the same thing, though.

          When I need to get ahold of someone and have multiple numbers to try, I try all of them, in rapid succession, until one of them works. If one of them redirects me to someone else, I’ll ask for the person I need by name or job description if I know it or, if I don’t, just ask my question and assume they’ll know whose wheelhouse it falls in and redirect me accordingly.

          This is partly efficiency (I have my phone out, why not make 3 calls right now?) and partly impatience (I got my phone out, don’t make me wait an hour and try again!) I think a lot of people do the same.

          From everything the OP said in the letter, what I suspect is happening is that the boss is reading calls to the store number as “complaints” when really they’re just the let’s-try-every-number phenomenon. Especially if, when he tells them they need to get in touch with OP, they mention they’ve already tried OP’s number and there was no answer. They’re not saying so to complain or out of urgency, but to explain why they’re calling him, rather than the number he just gave them that they already tried. In that case, *he* would have elicited the “complaint” by asking why they didn’t try OP’s number already, missing the fact that they only tried her number within the last five minutes or so. Note that this is pure speculation, but I have a suspicion that’s how a lot of these calls to the boss go.

          Reply
          1. AnonEMoose

            I’m exactly the opposite. If I need to reach someone, I’ll try the most likely or appropriate to the situation method first, and wait a reasonable time (depending on the urgency of the issue) for a response. I’ll only do what you’re describing if I really need to talk to them, or to someone/anyone Right.Now. And for me, that would be a “someone is stranded/bleeding/something or someone is on fire/in the hospital” type of situation.

            If someone did what you’re describing to me, and it wasn’t that level of emergency, I would be seriously annoyed with that person. Now, because I know people have different communication styles, I’d give someone a pass the first time they did it, and explain my preference to them “Please don’t call all my phone numbers in rapid succession. If I don’t answer my work number/cell phone (whatever is appropriate for that person), it means that I’m driving/in a meeting/have stepped away. Just leave a message and I’ll get back to you as soon as possible.” Annoyance would kick in if they kept doing it after we’d had that conversation.

            Reply
            1. KH

              Oooh yeah, rapid cycling through all the phone numbers you ahve for me would thoroughly piss me off. Because what happens is that I’m in a meeting or in the middle of a focus intensive task. My desk phone rings (or beeps if I’m already on it). Then my work cell phone rings. Then my personal cell phone rings. Then my desk phone rings again as they call back to leave a message.

              If I’m in the middle of something or on the other line, I’m not going to stop what I’m doing to answer my cell or my desk phone or whatever. So all you’re doing by cycling through all those numbers is annoying the hell out of me.

              Reply
  3. Abby

    Maybe the OP could send confirmation e-mails preemptively as part of her workflow? A lot of businesses that run on appointments (like medical offices) call ahead a day or two in advance to remind you about an upcoming appointment, and request a confirmation. That way, they can do it on their time, and it’s up to the client to call back and confirm.

    Reply
    1. The Cosmic Avenger

      I agree, but it sounds like these are mostly lectures or book signings, which sound like they would be one-time events for the most part. She may not have emails for most of them….but maybe if that’s the case, she can push to have emails collected as part of the speaker sign-up/registration, or have the speakers given her email as a primary method of contact?

      Reply
    2. Judy

      My doctor’s office now emails at the point the appointment is made, and then emails with a link to confirm 2 days in advance.

      I’d also consider a checklist of what needs to be settled when an author is coming. Obviously date, time and location, probably something about any requests (water, snacks), if you handle the travel arrangements, etc. If you can write a standard “complete confirmation” email and send it when the details are finalized, and follow up at time intervals that make sense, it might help.

      Reply
    3. Jillociraptor

      Right, this seems like a potential systems issue in addition to being an expectations issue. If authors need to call and follow up for details this regularly, there’s probably something not being communicated effectively or on the right timeline.

      Reply
    4. fposte

      Totally agree. It doesn’t have to be emails, even, though I’d send an official schedule and guidelines via email.

      It doesn’t sound like we’re talking about a large bookstore here, and it’s quite possible we’re talking some inexperienced authors as well. They’re quite likely calling because they’re nervous. If you can send an official schedule and guidelines when the appearance is confirmed and then resend with any tweaks a week before they appear, including information about your availability, that might forestall some of the calls.

      Reply
    5. ConfirmationisKing

      Confirmation and reminder emails are critical for speakers. I used to think once the initial confirmation was completed that the speaker didn’t need further follow-up because they had been given the appropriate details, but I now know that it’s not. They need confirmations and multiple reminders. Most people who are invited to speak are very busy and have crowded schedules and it’s easy for them to lose track of the details especially when something is scheduled weeks or months in advance.

      Reply
      1. Brittany

        Good on you! I clicked through to the comments and was so glad the group took up this flag. Managing expectations for people who you now know can be needy and get you into trouble needlessly can make life SO much easier!

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    6. TCO

      If the OP uses Gmail, Boomerang would be a great free tool to help her schedule these confirmation e-mails in advance, making it even easier.

      Reply
  4. Joe

    Wrong. You’re on a 24-7 cycle. If an author deigns to appear at your bookstore, the least you can do is answer the author’s questions immediately. Yes, that means taking calls on Sunday, even if you’re “off”.

    Unless you want to look for another job. There are plenty of recent grads who would kill to have your job.

    Reply
    1. The Artist Formally Known As UKAnon

      Well, then the OP would need to be paid for all the hours worked. The owner can’t both have his cake and eat it. And just because “there are people out there who would take worse conditions” it doesn’t make it ok. This isn’t a race to the bottom.

      Reply
    2. AnonEMoose

      Wow. You’re going to the “lots of people would kill to have your job, so suck it up” place? Not cool. OP’s not getting paid nearly enough for that.

      Reply
      1. RVA Cat

        This is the same logic that made people rationalize little kids working in coal mines with no protective gear (or to have lead in their drinking water, for that matter…).

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    3. NotherName

      Actually, if she’s non-exempt, it really doesn’t.

      Also, when do you think the OP is going to sleep? Is she supposed to just wake up and give whatever information she has when the phone rings? Because that’s worse customer service than getting back to people (with the correct information) within an average of 5 hours.

      If the boss wants 24/7 coverage, he needs to arrange for it, which means the OP should have at least one backup for when she’s unavailable.

      Reply
      1. Allison

        Agreed, no one person can provide 24/7 coverage. People need to sleep and people need to occasionally have lives outside of work. Is OP supposed to never go to the movies or travel by airplane because they have to be able to answer the phone every time it rings? That’s ridiculous, and I doubt that many recent grads would “kill” to have a job where those are the conditions.

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          1. Ineloquent

            Wasn’t Alison talking about funding an army of killer robots yesterday? Maybe this is how it starts: someone earning extra cash working for Uber in order to fund the AI research necessary for a realistic sounding robot to handle all their off-hour calls from their day job, in order to not lose the position to a recent grad who doesn’t have a good work-life balance.

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            1. Stranger than fiction

              I think google is working on this. Or is it Apple? Or probably both and their robots will duel it out to the death.

              Reply
      1. Liane

        Which means she is definitely non-exempt, since there is a minimum pay test, among other things, for exempt status. So, for Joe’s information, if Boss wants her to respond to inquiries immediately if not sooner, outside of her scheduled hours, he has to pay overtime.

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    4. NotherName

      Also, “deign to appear at your bookstore”? Really? This is a mutual business relationship, and granted that the authors are probably trying to juggle and arrange a lot of appearances (and maximize their tour time), they need the bookstore as much as the bookstore needs them.

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      1. Amanda

        I had the same reaction, and I’m working toward achieving publication. I have no illusions that upon publication, if I get bookstore events (which, as a first-time author, chances are my publisher is NOT paying for or arranging), it’s not me “deigning to appear at the bookstore.” It’s me appearing at the bookstore in hopes that the event is mutually beneficial for us both, i.e., that people show up to my reading and maybe buy my books. For the bookstore, it’s that people show up and buy any books in the store.

        Yes, I’d want to confirm aspects like they’ve ordered my book/have space set up, etc. Hopefully, however, I’ve checked on that early enough that a response within 24 hours is perfectly fine.

        But coming to it with an attitude that I’m “deigning” to appear? Seems like a great way to ruin a business relationship.

        Reply
        1. So Very Anonymous

          Bingo. I was just coming to post this. The author is not “deigning” to appear at the bookstore. Depending on the bookstore’s profile/prestige, it can be tough for an author to get onto a store’s schedule. And ideally an author talk/lecture is beneficial for both the author and the store.

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      2. entrylevelsomething

        I also love this- “deign” like every author going to this store is Stephen King-level. There are so many authors out there doing press tours and events that have 2 people show up, and maybe 1 or 2 who were already at the store who decide to see what’s going on.

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        1. Retiree57

          In this position, I’d be willing to be available 24/7 if I could book Isaac Asimov, John D. MacDonald, or Mark Twain.

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      3. Sarashina

        +1, thank you! As someone who has experienced these kinds of events from both sides of the fence, authors get as much out of it as the store does, if not more.

        (Also, unless you’re a gigantically big name, I would think telling the bookstore staff that you expect them to be on call 24/7 for your queries would be a excellent way to ensure that you don’t get invited back in the future.)

        Reply
        1. Sarashina

          (Not that it’d be okay coming from a gigantically big name, either, but I’d imagine people are more willing to put up with it!)

          Reply
          1. Kelly L.

            And I suspect a gigantically big name would also be less likely to panic. Neil Gaiman probably knows it sometimes takes a little while to return a call.

            Reply
            1. I'm a Little Teapot

              Yeah. Speaking as a very obscure author who’s met several fairly famous ones: I would be delighted and immensely flattered just to have an invitation in the first place, I’d be appalled if someone were expected to cater to my every whim 24/7, and in my admittedly limited experience even famous authors are generally decent and reasonable human beings. Also, if they’re not, word often gets around. Writers, readers, and other book-associated types are gossipy, and Badly Behaving Authors invite huge Internet firestorms. No one (well, almost no one) wants to be better known for their prima donna behavior than for their books.

              Reply
              1. Rater Z

                My wife is in contact with some of the more known women authors thru Facebook and she talks about how nice they are and about what the authors are doing, their new books, etc.

                Reply
    5. Granite

      That’s not my understanding of the the experience of most authors. The majority of authors are doing these events because they need the publicity. Sure, if some big best seller agrees to appear you give them special treatment, but average authors generally aren’t expecting anything more than standard proper business interactions.

      Reply
      1. NotherName

        Yes, and I would assume that there’s the same percentage of people with unreasonable expectations of those they do business with as there is in the general population. The problem is that the boss doesn’t have the OP’s back in these cases. Or himself seem to have reasonable expectations.

        Reply
    6. Macedon

      No where does it say OP is on a 24/7 cycle (and paid accordingly).

      Authors don’t ‘deign’ to appear at anyone’s bookstore, they make a business decision to engage with their readership, advertise their more recent work, or sometimes even collect appearance fees (if they’re that big of a name). Bookstores also make a business decision to handle hosting (or sometimes the previously mentioned fees) in exchange for boosting sales and the popularity of their venue.

      Plenty of recent grads would also kill for a McFlurry.

      Reply
          1. Macedon

            I’m glad to see I remain hip and cool enough to be attuned to the younger generation’s actual needs.

            (And good luck with your first placement, grads!)

            Reply
        1. Tyrannosaurus Regina

          I’ve been out of college more than ten years and maybe I wouldn’t kill for a McFlurry, but I’d commit some kind of lesser assault.

          Reply
    7. Chloe

      Not to pile on, but I also found this comment to be overly hostile/unreasonable. Additionally, I took issue with the “if an author deigns to appear…” As both a writer and someone who has worked at a bookstore in the past, I know that these events really are mutually beneficial. They get customers in the bookstore, and publicity and sales for the author. The author isn’t doing the store some huge favor here; it goes both ways.

      Reply
      1. neverjaunty

        I’m cool with piling on. Reasonable commenters can disagree (even strongly), but as soon as somebody busts out ‘lots of people would kill to have your job’ as an excuse for anything, they’re jumping up and down and announcing they don’t care if they have a clue what they’re talking about – they just want to bash somebody.

        Reply
    8. Ask a Manager Post author

      What? That’s crazy. First of all, she’s not on a 24-7 cycle or being paid to be on one. Second, the bookstore may be doing these authors a favor, not the other way around, or at most is a mutually beneficial arrangement (hard to know without knowing more about the authors). But more importantly, no, this is just not how things work in functional workplaces.

      Reply
      1. S.I. Newhouse

        I thought it was sarcasm. I really, really hope it’s sarcasm.

        It would be one thing if the OP was working in a high-title and high-salaried position, or even one where being on call 24/7 was deliberately a part of the job description. But considering the OP is barely earning more than minimum wage, I think she is going above and beyond here just by doing what she’s doing now.

        Reply
    9. Snarkus Aurelius

      If her employer wants 24-7 service then he needs to pay for it like other employers do.

      Something about bootstraps.

      Reply
      1. Saturn9

        Thank you for finally calling it. Are we not supposed to out trolls here? Because outing trolls is a vital public service: if they keep getting fed, they’ll keep coming back.

        Reply
    10. AVP

      I’m a little torn about this one! In my small corner of the event planning world, what Joe said would be 100% correct – I have like a two-hour window to respond to questions, maybe, with half an hour being the preferred window, even for things that I don’t think are urgent. The question-asker always thinks they are, and their perception is what counts, not mine.

      However, and this is a big caveat, I’m exempt and these expectations were made crystal clear to me before I got into this industry. I know I will have to check email at night and on the weekends and occasionally respond to things I’d rather ignore. I’ve gotten really good at setting expectations for my bosses and outsiders and have been able to carve out a decent balance (mainly thanks to advice I’ve gotten here at AAM).

      For the OP, it seems like she’s been given these expectations without the right structure or management support to make them feasible. Sure, maybe OP would be easy to replace, but this hypothetical recent grad might not last at it very long, and turnover is a big problem in positions like these, so it should be worth it to the store owner to try to minimize that and make it a more reasonable position. That means communicating these needs clearly to someone before taking the job, paying them for all of the time they’re working, and working with everyone involved to decide on what a real response time should look like.

      Reply
      1. LQ

        I would like to know if you have to wake up in the middle of the night to check emails? Like do you set an alarm to wake up? Do you have your email set to go off on your phone like a phone call to wake you up? How does a 2 hour window actually work? Do you ever get to go on vacation? Or get a day off? Do you get a lot of these messages? Is it like 10 a weekend? 100? 1?

        Reply
        1. AVP

          I don’t have to check things overnight although I typically will look before I go to sleep and when I wake up. My boss typically does a lot of emailing between 2 and 4am (he has sleeping issues) so when I wake up around 7 I’ll go through them and respond or forward as needed. One time I did set an alarm because I sent him an urgent email when I knew he was already asleep and I knew he’d respond by 5am so I got up for that one, then slept another few hours, then got up and went to work.

          Weekends, I check emails if they come to my phone and, if it really requires an urgent response, the sender is more likely to text so I’d get that right away. The weekend volume is probably 5-10 emails per day. Less if we’re in between projects, more if something big is imminent.

          Vacations were annoying the first few years I had this job (like, picture me in a different time zone and no wifi trying to make phone calls while people freak out) but I’ve since realized I could train a more junior employee as my “vacation question answerer” and have her monitor my email when I’m out of the country. I also schedule vacations for times when things will be lighter and less urgent although it’s a bit of a crapshoot.

          I know this sounds crazy but I do work less than my friend sin finance, so there’s that.

          Reply
          1. LQ

            This is good to understand. I hope you get paid well for it, it does sound like you’ve come up with strategies to make it easier.

            Reply
        2. Kat

          When I had this kind of job, I checked my email when I got home from work, after dinner, and before bed.

          I had my phone set right next to my bed. Emails were linked to sounds, so a noise would go off every time an email came on. I would glance at it, and if it wasn’t urgent, I’d fall asleep until the next one.

          Certain VIPs were given special sounds, and for those I shot out of bed.

          As soon I woke up in the morning, I checked my email before all else (including coffee).

          It was also the expectation that I may get called at any time-2am on Christmas Day? On vacation and currently on Space Mountain? Deal with it and call back immediately. I once took a conference call in the middle of the Haunted Mansion.

          There are jobs where this is the norm (I was the PR person for a very large pharmaceutical company) and NOT responding instantly would mean you were fired.

          It was good money, but exhausting, and I burned out after 3 years.

          Reply
          1. RVA Cat

            No wonder. The VIPs’ special sounds making you jump out of bed make me think of the servants Downton Abbey. (Let’s hope they never asked you to move a body….)

            Reply
          2. The Strand

            Yowsa! What a shame the conference call wasn’t with those disembodied spirits in the graveyard. Now that would be fun.

            Reply
      2. entrylevelsomething

        I work in theatre and some of my brethren are lured to event planning because the pay is generally higher, especially companies that do corporate events. The best explanation for working conditions I got was, “well, if you’re okay with not sleeping for 3 days before the event goes up, then you’ll be okay.”

        Reply
      3. AVP

        Okay based on what the OP updated with below, I think she is not in this type of job and instead just dealing with very nervous first-time authors and a boss who’s under too much pressure and the situation is more in line with what AnonEMoose suggested below (as well as many other wise commenters).

        @Kat I’m afraid I may steal your genius idea of linking email sounds to certain senders but that may not be good for my mental health.

        Reply
        1. The Strand

          If you link “The Imperial March” to your boss’ number that might not be good for tenure in your job, either.

          Reply
    11. dog lady

      Part of me knows exactly where you’re coming from. Especially early in one’s career, many employers expect quick responses after-hours, without OT pay. I’m an assistant to the #2 person at a 7500-employee organization, and my boss expects a quick response from me when she texts, even if it’s 9 p.m. or 6 a.m. And when I can respond to emails from our stakeholders after hours and on weekends, I do so, because usually they just need a quick sentence or two, and it helps them, and it makes me look good.

      I’m not saying OP’s boss is right, but clearly the boss expects OP to respond quickly, and I doubt anything she says will change that. Maybe the position is not the best fit for OP, because of the boss’ style and expectations?

      OP, you may also be in a situation where time zones work against you. Your authors and their reps may be West Coast, and you may be East Coast, which creates even more problems with returning calls/emails during the “normal business day.”

      Reply
      1. One of the Sarahs

        Well, or maybe the boss’ expectations are crazy? Just because some employers want to exploit people, don’t mean they have to put up with it, hence Unions, employee protection laws, banning children from working up chimneys and so on.

        Reply
    12. asteramella

      Yikes.

      The FLSA regulates how workers are paid when on a 24/7 cycle (including sleeping periods and interruptions of sleeping periods), and checking email off the clock is a pet enforcement issue for DOL right now. A business owner taking the attitude of this comment towards non-exempt workers is pretty much flashing a neon sign saying “please audit me and force me to pay back wages and overtime and institute a heavily monitored FLSA compliance program!!”

      Reply
      1. Ask a Manager Post author

        I think you might be thinking of a state law rather than the federal FLSA. I can’t think of any part of the FLSA that regulates this any differently if sleeping periods are involved.

        Reply
    13. MsChandandlerBong

      I don’t know that there are many recent grads who would kill to have a job that pays barely above minimum wage and requires the incumbent to work seven days per week.

      Reply
    14. DAC

      I have been a faithful reader of this blog for a while and never felt the urge to comment…until now. What an adversarial, unhelpful response. I’m hoping this comment was meant in jest.

      Reply
    15. Victoria Nonprofit (USA)

      Yikes. What an unnecessarily snippy response.

      In addition to what everyone else is saying, you seem to have a fundamental misunderstanding of the relationship between bookstores/event spaces and authors. I assure you that in most cases – especially since the OP has said that these are mostly local authors – it’s the bookstore that is “deigning” to host the events, rather than the other way around.

      Reply
    16. aebhel

      You have not even the faintest clue what’s involved in author events, do you?

      If the OP is expected to be on-call 24/7, then she needs to be paid accordingly. ‘Slightly over minimum wage’ is not appropriate for that kind of position–and ‘event coordinator’ is not the kind of job where that is a normal expectation. Sure, there are plenty of recent grads who would snap up any kind of low-paying, unreasonable job; that doesn’t mean they aren’t unreasonable.

      Reply
    17. Vicki

      Minimum wage no-overtime cannot (legally) be 24/7

      24/7 is either going to rack up a lot of overtime or be exempt (and exempt pays a lot more than minimum wage (maybe not when divided down by hours actually worked, however. ;-)

      Reply
      1. Rater Z

        I remember that two month period back in 2001 when I was working 80 hours a week (in a 5 day length of time) for $650 a week. That 22 hour day following 4 15 hour days was a killer. The computer was so slow that one of my trainees said it was like watching paint dry on the wall. The boss wanted to know why I was taking so long “…and don’t blame the computer.”

        I wasn’t aware at that time about the rules for exempt workers but I would have been one of them…

        Reply
  5. Granite

    Are you willing to give up working from home, even temporarily? Because that’s the only solution I see working with this boss. A very hard, clear boundary. Post your schedule by every phone at the store so anyone answering a call can say when you’ll next be in to return the call. Do not give anyone your personal number. I don’t see any other way to change the expectation that you’ll be available 24/7.

    Good luck.

    Reply
    1. irritable vowel

      This is a really good point, IMO. Optics are relevant in this context. Because you’re not keeping a regular, in-office schedule, there is both the perception that you’re infinitely available (because there’s no distinction from the boss’s perspective between at-work and not-at-work), and also that there is no way to keep tabs on what you’re doing. These perceptions are both faulty, of course. Maybe the last person in this position worked from home and was available 24/7 and established a bad precedent, who knows. But working from home is probably not the best arrangement–for anyone–for a position like this. Being visible or at least being known to be on the premises for a set schedule will make it immediately clear to everyone–the boss as well as whoever answers the main phone number–when it is suitable to expect a response from you and how to communicate that to the authors. (“Oh, she’s at lunch right now but I’m sure she’ll get back to you by the end of the day” as opposed to “So sorry she didn’t get back to you, I have no idea what her schedule is like.”) And it makes it psychologically easier for your boss to feel confident in your presence in the position.

      Reply
      1. 2 Cents

        She doesn’t necessarily have to be in the office to have a set schedule. Making it generally known is one step. The other — so she doesn’t have to give out her personal phone number — would be to do what we have in my office — the ability to forward to an extension that then forwards to an outside number. That way, the authors are still calling the store, but can be connected to the OP’s phone.

        Adding the disclaimer to her signature is also a good step. And if possible, I’d make it say “one business day” and include your schedule (if you work Tuesday-Saturday, someone emails at 11 p.m. on Saturday, they’re not getting an answer till Tuesday).

        Reply
          1. One of the Sarahs

            Yes, when I was a part time worker, my email sig and autoreply had that made very clear (with alternatives for calling if it was an emergency &c)

            Reply
      2. Jinx

        As an extension of this, is it at all possible for OP to have a “work number” separate from her personal phone? I know she said she’s not giving out the number anymore, but it seems like the only alternative right now is the store where the manager picks up.

        Maybe it would be worth asking the manager to set up another phone line or an online phone number for when she’s working, with a voicemail message that clearly states her response times: “Hello, you reached OP. Please leave your name and number, and you can expect a response within 24 hours. For emergencies, please call the store at xxx-xxxx”. That doesn’t solve the problem if the boss really wants her to field phone calls in her off time, though.

        Reply
        1. One of the Sarahs

          Ooooh, good point – maybe a friend has an old phone she could add a Pay-As-You-Go SIM card or something? And use it for ansp mostly?

          Reply
  6. Snarkus Aurelius

    This is going to sound controversial, but can you ignore your boss’s feedback after doing everything AAM suggested?  

    His response sound like he’s more frustrated at the people who don’t get immediate responses than with you.  He can’t articulate that to them (he can but it sounds like he won’t), but he can articulate that to you consequence free.

    If your boss actually had a solution to this matter, he would have told you something more substantive than “respond faster.”

    I was CCing my boss on an important, time sensitive project with the higher ups.  He is famous for not checking his email.  He walked into a meeting where the higher ups were talking about the project and their interactions with me.  I got a snappy email, ironically responding to one of the emails from me that told him about the project, telling me to “keep [him] updated” on such matters.  I had emailed him three times that day before that meeting.

    I ignored that email and never brought it up to my boss nor he me because A) I had already done what he asked as evidenced by the email he responded to, B) he’s a grown man who is responsible for checking his email without me tracking him down in person to confirm, and C) I figured he was more mad at himself for looking ignorant and rightfully so.

    Oh and D) I’m not my boss’s mom and neither are you the mom of your boss and these authors.

    Reply
    1. Anna

      I feel that way frequently about people I work with. There’s only so many times I can confirm that someone is coming or not coming or give them an opportunity to respond. At some point I have to walk away. My boss sometimes thinks I should do one more attempt and I have to decide if this is one of those times or not.

      Reply
      1. Snarkus Aurelius

        When I worked for a federal official, she stupidly hired someone she couldn’t discipline or fire.  This guy knew it so of course he had zero incentive to be responsive on anything.

        After one disastrous event, my boss pulled me into her office to yell at me.  I told her that I’d emailed “John” six times and left him at least three VMs on the matter, but he never responded or approved anything.  (John worked in a field office in another time zone.)  I memorized her response because I knew I’d be telling this story for years to come.

        “Do you have ANY idea how hard John works?  How BUSY he is?  He doesn’t have time to be checking his email.  He can’t be responsible reading the THOUSANDS of emails he gets all day.  Saying you emailed him several times is a pathetic excuse.”

        I wanted to say, “Did you just make the argument that a federal employee, who is paid by the taxpayers, shouldn’t be responsible for reading the content of his federal government-issued email account that contains information about official business?”  But of course I did not.

        It’s 2016, I never stop being impressed at the mental gymnastics people go through to avoid taking responsibility when there’s a time stamped paper trail involved.

        Reply
        1. Dr. Johnny Fever

          I hate this response. I get this too. I had a director who, even if I had contacted someone via email, voicemail, talked by phone, and visited personally, would tell me I hadn’t tried hard enough.

          These types of managers are just insecure idiots who are secretly cowering from their own bosses, and lash out at their direct reports from the frustration.

          I want to respond, “Do you know how hard I work? How emails I get and actually *read*? How busy I am? I run circles around John since I get shit DONE.”

          Reply
        2. Katie the Fed

          Actually, I legitimately do get well over 1,000 email messages a day, and triaging them is a full-time job itself. But I try!

          Reply
          1. Victoria Nonprofit (USA)

            Yes, this. Not anymore, thank god, but I did used to have a job at which I organized a massive-scale event (over 100,000 volunteers involved). I literally could not respond to every email or voicemail I received in the two weeks running up to the event. This meant that totally reasonable questions or requests were ignored. It was a horrible feeling, but there wasn’t any way around it.

            Reply
          2. Snarkus Aurelius

            But if you miss something, do you lash out at other people?

            My coworker gets easily that much, but he always puts that on himself.

            Reply
        3. Anna

          UGH! Or “Maybe if he responded to the emails he received he wouldn’t get so many to start with” followed by a shrug and look of complete innocence.

          Reply
            1. Snarkus Aurelius

              This is exactly what happened. Because he was so unreliable, people stopped talking to him about major issues in person. Email would leave a timestamped paper trail. VM was sometimes used, but he’d always deny getting them.

              So the cycle began of initial inquiry then multiple reminders that could be printed out easily add opposed to phone records.

              Reply
    2. The Cosmic Avenger

      Good advice. The first part caught my attention because since the OP is working from home a lot, I immediately wondered if they’re being paid as a contract instead of permanent employee. We’ve seen in previous posts how many employers try to push the boundaries between the two, particularly with regard to what hours a contract employee works. This sounds a lot like a previous post where the client tried to determine hours for a contract employee, that’s what this post reminded me of most. (Link in a reply.)

      Reply
    3. themmases

      I actually agree with this. OP’s workplace sounds bad, and they can’t go above and beyond if they aren’t given the basic guidance and tools (and pay!) to do so. After another talk about what to do, I’d keep doing whatever the takeaway was (or whatever worked for me if the takeaway was absurd). The OP is trying to do this impossible by taking action on comments that don’t actually include any instructions or even clear priorities.

      The only other thing I would say is that maybe the OP should be job searching. You might need to ignore complaints or instructions that don’t make sense at a bad job– I’ve certainly done it– but it’s a bad habit to be in. Even at an entry level job, the OP could probably be using their skills elsewhere for more money and better hours. My partner was in a similar position once: he worked for a family friend’s business for about a year. He was a manager/keyholder and did some IT work for them while nominally being a retail worker making minimum wage. Those jobs can be great for proving yourself at a role where a larger business would hire someone experienced, and it did help my partner get into a professional IT job. But those situations don’t benefit the employee if they go on indefinitely. A good boss would realize they are getting an amazing deal on OP’s work and be supporting them, not riding or berating them.

      Reply
    4. 2 Cents

      This was my old boss. I always knew when she just had a meeting with her bosses when I’d get an email saying “I need to be updated on X, Y and Z. You’re supposed to keep me in the loop.” Then I’d go to my sent folder and re-send the message I sent like 3 weeks before with “FYI.” SO GLAD to not be there anymore!

      Reply
    5. Green

      I think I’d take this as my boss saying “This is your number one priority” (and would ask the boss to clarify this). So I wouldn’t skip an email because I was doing something else; I would just respond when I first saw it and interrupt the “something else.” That’s a reasonable response first before ignoring the boss.

      Reply
  7. Cat

    I am wondering if what’s actually annoying him is getting the follow-up calls. Perhaps this would be solved by you having a work cellphone that calls to the store can be automatically forwarded to? I would be kind of irritated if follow-up calls became my issue because someone was working at home too.

    Reply
    1. kac

      Right! And maybe the front desk/whoever answers the phone needs to send these calls BACK to you, rather than forwarding them on to the owner. He’s dealing with the author follow-up because it’s landing on his plate, and he doesn’t want to deal with it/doesn’t want it landing on his desk–so the best thing to do is make sure everyone (not just you and your boss, but the whole staff) is on the same page that this is YOUR responsibility, and trust you to handle it and leave it off your boss’s plate.

      Reply
    2. LQ

      This is a good point. When the initial scheduling happens is the store number given as an equal phone number to the OPs number. The authors might just be calling the first number and then going, oh well, there’s this other number that’s the same maybe I should call this other number instead, it’s the same, they’ll have the same kind of information. They might not know they are being pushing, just going, I’ll try the first number, oh they gave me 2 numbers I guess I should try the second too. If the messaging on that could be changed to something that emphasized or even only gave the OPs number that might help.

      Reply
    3. TootsNYC

      Maybe he needs help crafting a script he can use when these authors call him, and some encouragement that he can stand his ground and doesn’t need to assume they’re right just because they’re complaining.

      Maybe you can coach upwards, and suggest he say, “Oh, yes, our marketing person is the one with all those details; she can be pretty busy, or she’s off duty right now; I’m sure she’ll be back to you tomorrow. . . . Oh, it’s important that you get the information right now for an event in three weeks? I’ll see if that’s possible, but it might not. Thanks for letting us know; I’ll tell her that the urgency has changed, and we’ll see what we can do.”

      And I do like the idea of being proactive about confirming details, etc.

      Reply
      1. Alli525

        Love this idea! If he doesn’t feel “on the spot” or pressured in the moment, because he has a set thing he KNOWS he can say, I bet things will improve a lot.

        Reply
    1. Cordelia Naismith

      Yes, this — and maybe add a line requesting them not to call the store number to confirm event details except in the event of an emergency?

      Reply
  8. AnonEMoose

    I think that part of this is that your boss doesn’t really want you to respond “more quickly” although he’s framing it that way. What he wants, I think, is not to have to deal with the complaints, calls, and so on. Unfortunately, there’s only so much you can do about that. But maybe if you think about it that way, it will feel less stressful to you, and there may be some additional options to consider.

    I think the email auto-reply is a really good idea. Don’t make it too long, but maybe consider including your normal work hours (if that can be done briefly). Maybe something like “Thank you for your message. I am in the office M-F, 8:00 am – 5:oo pm. If you are contacting me regarding a speaking engagement, I will respond within 1 business day. I look forward to assisting you!”

    Then sit down with your boss and clarify what your expected response times are. And explicitly have the conversation with him that sometimes Impatient People Are Impatient (which, obvious, I know, but sometimes it’s worth stating the obvious). Ask him if he would be willing to, when they contact him, ask them this question: “When did you contact her?” And if the answer is less than one business day, he should tell them “She normally responds within 1 business day. If you haven’t heard from her by X time/day, please do let me know.” That sets an expectation for them, and does not reward the very behavior he doesn’t want to deal with.

    I think that part of the issue is that your boss doesn’t know any other way to deal with (or, in this case, not have to deal with) the issue than to nag you to respond “more quickly”. If you can, together, figure out some approaches that get closer to the result he wants, things may improve. Or at the very least, you may be able to create a perception that you and he are allies in this (he wants to deal with fewer complaints, and you want him to deal with fewer complaints). So you’re going to work together to try to make that happen, if that makes sense.

    Also, how are these calls getting to him? Are they being transferred to him by someone at the store? Are they dialing him directly? Depending on how that works, there may be other options to explore as well.

    Best of luck, OP!

    Reply
    1. hbc

      Amen to your middle paragraph. A sales person would get the “I’ve been calling forever and tech support didn’t get back to me” and throw the tech under the bus, both to the customer and to the big boss without even investigating. Well, if you check, you can find they called 3 times in 20 minutes on the landline and didn’t even leave a message.

      Even if you believe the customer is always right, the way to make them happier in the long run wasn’t to yell at the tech for not being chained to her desk, it was to explain to the customer that they should leave a message and/or try the emergency call number they’d been given five times.

      Reply
    2. grasshopper

      I agree with all the advice to be proactive and set expectations. I also totally agree that impatient people will be impatient.

      OldJob office was M-F, 9-5. Both the phone auto attendant and our voicemail always had our hours of operation and were updated regularly to say when we were going to be closed for statutory holidays. Once after a long weekend, we came back to find that someone had left a message at the beginning of the weekend being upset that we hadn’t answered her call and then left a second message where she was livid that no one had returned her call for three days.

      We also had an emergency cell phone, which was monitored 24/7 (by people who were paid accordingly for being on call!). The number was available if you went through the after-hours auto attendant, and in order to reach it you had to go through several levels confirming that this was a real dire emergency (death/bleeding/explosion/etc). Staff would get calls in the middle of the night from people who were just asking general questions or who wanted to update their contact information etc.

      In both situations, it was explained why we weren’t able to assist them at that time, what our business hours are and that we would be delighted to help them then.

      Reply
    3. 2 Cents

      Yes! If there’s a way that someone can forward that call to your personal number/number you’re using for work, then that person can leave a message without bothering big boss. (We have extensions set up so you press ext. 1-2-3 and it autodials the person’s home number.)

      Reply
    4. Not So NewReader

      I agree with AnonEmous’ suggestion of taking the time to get your boss on the same page with you. When bosses know that the employee is handling things, they react totally different. Part of your solution may sound like bragging, but there is nothing wrong with reminding him that you return every point of contact within 24 hours and your average is 5 hours. He may be so distracted by other things that he forgets this and you may have to say it a few times to be heard once.

      Part of the boss’ solution might be to ask, “Well how long ago did you call her?” Perhaps he could also offer to email you as a back up to the phone call. There are things that my boss just does not handle. This is fine, because it’s my job. I have stuff in place so that she does not have to handle it. Sometimes she tries to handle my work and finds herself frustrated because she does not do my tasks very often. That is when I remind her of my set up-” I have x in place for that. So all you need to do is y.” Like you are saying OP, I cannot prevent people from calling or dropping by with paperwork at all hours. But I can set up systems for these things so that they get my immediate attention when I start my work day.

      Whatever you decide on for your systems, OP, make sure you tell your boss. This will show him that you take his complaint seriously. It will also get him in the loop of what the plan is. It may take time for the situation to become obvious to him.
      As an aside, you seem to have some stats on your work. Do you have a total of how many phone calls/emails/letters you handle in a period of time? This might work into something for you. If you can say “Boss, I handled X email, Y calls and Z letters last month. You told me of one complaint last month. Do you think that it is unreasonable? Or overall are you satisfied with how I am handling things?”

      Getting complaints about subordinates is something that happens to bosses. I am wondering if he is at a loss when it comes to complaints about his people.

      Reply
  9. TCO

    I think Alison’s advice is great–your boss is definitely being unreasonable.

    I wonder if for some reason your industry expects lightning-fast responses. I have a hard time believing that all of the other bookstores out there are responding to every author question within ten minutes, but if they are, then authors have that expectation. It’s possible that your boss is feeling torn by this–he knows that your clients expect immediate responses, but he also realizes that it’s not practical given your working arrangements. He doesn’t know how to reconcile those, which leads to all of his mixed communications.

    It’s also possible that you’re setting the standard yourself. During working hours, do you respond to authors immediately? If so, they might have come to expect that speed of service. When you suddenly stop doing it, they worry that something bad is happening (like their event being canceled). If you think this could be the case, would it be too risky to try either 1) responding a little less quickly when you are at work, and/or 2) being really upfront with your clients about your hours and response times? I don’t think you did anything wrong by replying quickly–that’s good service–but maybe your clients are just prone to misinterpreting these things.

    Some of my colleagues who work part-time or flexible schedules (in our 9-5 industries) have an out-of-office reply set up to respond whenever they’re not working. You could set one up saying something like, “Thank you for your message. This week I’ll be in the office M 9-3, Tu 10-6, and Thurs 12-8. I will respond to your message during those times.” Then, though, you have to stick to that–no responding on your hours off, or your clients won’t actually respect your stated schedule and you’ll end up with the same problem you have now.

    Bottom line, though, is that your boss isn’t doing a good job here. You’re not doing anything wrong, but you might be able to make some adjustments to reset your clients’ expectations of you. Good luck!

    Reply
  10. AFT123

    I can see both sides of the coin on this one – my previous place of employment required very fast turnaround and 5 hours would get me fired. I needed to answer the call or email within 10 minutes even if just to say that I needed to get back to them later, and even then, an hour or so was the expectation. Even while vacationing in the mountains or on a remote beach or headed to a funeral… (All true stories). It sucked but it was the reality, and I hung in there for a few years before deciding to get out of dodge. This may be the case for your job, whether your boss explicitly states it or not. But, you’re not salary, and you do need to be getting overtime.

    Side note – is the interface for iPhone mobile different now? It looks fantastic!

    Reply
    1. NotherName

      Yes, but did you have backup? It sounds to me like the OP is handling this all alone.

      If you didn’t have backup, you were dealing with unreasonable expectations or a very low call/email volume. (My guess is both.)

      Reply
      1. Jennifer

        Or, was OP in advertising? We always had a “no more than two hour” response rule for clients, and same sort of range for internal to keep business moving. Not for the faint of heart.

        Reply
  11. LQ

    I totally agree that setting an out of office reply would be a good tool here. Easy enough to turn on and off (assuming you use something like outlook) and it would give the person who sends the email information enough to know that they aren’t being blown off.

    I’m also going to +1 the pre-confirmations. Having something pre-formatted and ready to go would be great. You could even have a couple:
    – Thank you for agreeing here are the specifics
    -Look forward to seeing you in a week
    -Look forward to seeing you tomorrow
    Or whatever the points that people most often email are at.

    Reply
    1. Rocky

      Yes…I’m wondering why there are so many high-maintenance authors speaking at this bookstore. I also coordinate author events, and our speakers can get a little anxious, but never to the point of frantically calling my boss. In addition to the suggestions about getting clear with your boss, I would review the process for communicating with speakers to see if it could be more organized and consistent, especially if multiple speakers are pointing to the same problems.

      Reply
      1. Not So NewReader

        I am willing to bet that OP handles hundreds of messages and she gets 1-2 complaints from time to time. That is what it sounds like to me.

        Reply
  12. Lu

    I work just above minimum wage in a supermarket and I always respond to calls right away even if I have other jobs to do, because phone calls don’t take much to sort out. I think I’d get a warning if I left it over an hour to respond or ignored the phone call.

    Reply
    1. NotherName

      Yes, but I’d be very surprised if these calls are being routed to your home on your days off. Also, based on the OP’s description, I’d guess sometimes her responses have to be a little more involved than the average answer on a supermarket phone line. (As someone who’s done various kinds of customer service, I’m basing this on the difference between calls I’ve fielded in retail versus those I’ve answered working for a health benefit.)

      Reply
      1. Lu

        No they are not but then I am not working from home. I am a Baker a little more than the average customer service. ‘A little more involved’ I answer some really complex queries. I am highly involved in my job as it is my career, I am effectively managing the bakery. Different jobs, a different ‘a little more involved’.

        Reply
        1. Jessen

          The big difference here is that you’re only answering calls when you’re working. The impression I’m getting here is it’s not just that the OP is getting calls when working from home – she’s getting calls when she’s not working and getting flak for not responding right away, even if she’s off work. For close to minimum wage that’s not a reasonable expectation.

          Reply
          1. Lu

            That’s a problem she should take up with her boss ‘Why am I required to answer calls out of hours and not you?’ Unless being on-call is part of her employment conditions. I’m just more curious why it takes more than a day to answer calls.

            Reply
            1. Mike C.

              Because she either has a weekend off or she’s doing other work. Her average, when counting evenings and weekends was FIVE HOURS.

              Reply
            2. Rat in the Sugar

              It can be really different depending on the industry. In my own, I work in accounting and frequently have people emailing for status updates. Many of them can be left til the next day, and my boss would be annoyed with me for interrupting my important work to take care of an email that’s not very important at all.
              And yes, sometimes they call/email my boss because I haven’t responded quickly enough. When this happens, the boss responds and just lets me know. If she is annoyed at anyone, it will be with the person calling her because they can’t wait while we are busy.
              Different jobs can have very different expectations.

              Reply
            3. Ethyl

              “I’m just more curious why it takes more than a day to answer calls.”

              Because the calls the OP are getting aren’t the types of calls you are getting. They are two totally different things, I promise, as a former event planner.

              Reply
        2. NotherName

          I can imagine the types of questions that you get. (I used to work somewhere that provided decorated ice cream cakes – and I imagine a lot of your questions have to do with catering/special events, as well as ingredients, etc. I imagine you get some really “interesting” questions.) And I completely understand why you would need to respond quickly, as that means the difference between whether you get a sale or not.

          However, what it sounds like the OP is dealing with is all the logistics of a planned in-store event. I work side-by-side with people who deal with event planning, and sometimes it can take 24 hours for them to get an answer to a logistical question.

          Reply
        3. Allison

          Yep, I used to work in a supermarket bakery, and I know what you mean – the phone in your department rings, you pick it up. But I only needed to answer the phone when I was actually present in the store for my shift. If I was home on one of my days off, someone else would answer that phone.

          Reply
  13. Lauren

    I think part, perhaps a large part, of the problem is that you work from home much of the time and therefore use your personal cell phone and computer so you are seen as never really being off. So many people use their cell phones as an extension of themselves for both personal and business that it is rare for someone not to be available and answer the phone when they get a call. (This is the reason I refuse to have a cell phone.) So I think the only way to combat this is to work from the store. When you are there you are working; when you are home you are off work. The boundary is much stronger, and any complaints are going to be seen as very unreasonable.

    By the way, change your cell phone number if you do this and don’t give it to any one. You may change your email address too if you are using a personal one for your work. My sympathies, OP. I ran a book review website for eight years and authors are a pain. I’m glad that’s behind me.

    Reply
    1. Retail Lifer

      Agreed with the cell phone thing. I didn’t have a work phone at my last job, just my personal phone, and my staff was only to call me for emergencies. They were NEVER to give it out to anyone else.

      Reply
    2. themmases

      I agree with getting different contact information, but perhaps OP should put it back on the boss. A Google Voice number and a store email address would actually help the business out since their contact information wouldn’t change if and when the OP decides to move on. The OP could then set up voicemail messages and auto-replies specifically aimed at the bookstore’s contacts.

      Honestly if I were trying to get in touch with a business and were getting what sounded like someone’s personal voicemail, or not getting a quick response from an email I sent to someone’s personal-looking address, a natural next step would be to contact the store directly. I might not even wait that long because for all I know, I called a wrong number or got out of date contact information for someone who doesn’t work there anymore. More official looking contact information and messages that are actually aimed at clients might cut down on people immediately calling the store.

      If the OP sets these up, they can just access them from a different app than their personal stuff and turn the notifications off when they’re not working– but be assured that calls and emails will come through when they are.

      Reply
  14. hbc

    “The latest example is a speaker who emailed me around 1 p.m. yesterday. I was bogged down in other work, and flagged it to respond to first thing this morning (around 8 a.m.).”

    You’ve got to get into the details with your boss, because for some people/businesses this is reasonable, and for others, it’s unconscionable to not get back to this on the same business day. The author may be waiting to buy tickets, getting materials arranged with their publisher, and any number of other time-sensitive activities may hang on your response. It’s also up to your boss to decide whether the other stuff you’re bogged down in is more important than a quick response to authors.

    What I’d probably do is come up with some basic rules: 1) Authors get a reply back in X time (one hour? four hours?) during your “regular” hours. 2) You have an out of office message that makes clear when you’re not “on” for both phone and email and gives them an idea of response time. 3) Some sort of backup plan for emergencies and/or prima donnas.

    Then revisit. There will almost certainly be some variation you didn’t anticipate, but if you don’t have the basic framework, you’re both just going to continue to be frustrated with each other.

    Reply
    1. Lu

      ‘Responding the next day’ really rubbed me the wrong day. Any call I answer I respond to within the hour or answer right away. I expect the same gratitude when I am phoning anywhere. You could lose that business in those few hours.

      Reply
      1. Ask a Manager Post author

        That’s not realistic in every job, depending on workload, and especially when she’s getting emails outside of work hours. Plus, these aren’t customers; they’re authors who are speaking at her store, because they want to drum up sales for themselves.

        Reply
          1. Elle the new Fed

            But you said: “I expect the same gratitude when I am phoning anywhere. You could lose that business in those few hours.” and then that you are only referring to your own industry?

            I think that’s an unreasonable expectation for every situation. In my job, I am literally interviewing 6 hrs a day and leave the other 2 for dealing with issues. A voicemail left at 9am may not be able to be returned until 3pm and only if I don’t have the check in with someone else.

            Industry norms are hugely at play as well and expecting “anywhere” to respond in less than an hour can be unreasonable.

            Reply
        1. hbc

          I was wondering about that aspect–is the author getting a favor, is the bookstore getting a favor, is it mutual, does it depend on the author? I’m assuming a bookstore would be kissing, say, Neil Gaiman’s posterior and expecting ten minute response time to any of his inquiries, but that the person who wrote A Field Guide to the Minor Tributaries of the Huron River is just happy to be there.

          Reply
          1. fposte

            It depends on the author and the bookstore, and the publisher features strongly in there as well, since it’s their books that are being sold. (One author I know was told she could either do a book tour or start a blog. So she blogs :-).)

            Reply
          2. TL -

            Actually, it usually doesn’t matter all that much who it is. The publisher is the main contact for scheduling and even though you want to be accommodating, generally neither the bookstore nor the publisher are paying for this. Bookstores usually just require you buy any books you want signed – or if seating is very limited, you have to buy a book to attend but that’s generally much rarer – and the publisher/author gets an increase in sales/visibility.
            At least where I worked, the attitude was: be accommodating and cheerful, but don’t feel like you have to be a suck-up.

            Reply
          3. Bookworm

            I’ve worked at a bookstore, so I can shed some light on this. The *vast* majority of the authors are going to fall into the ‘happy to be there’ camp. Also, the majority of authors are generally not traveling too far.

            Many of these authors are asked to do this kind of touring by their publishing company – it’s not really something that they’re doing as a favor to the bookstore.

            Most of the BFD authors (like Gaiman) actually have someone else who does this kind of organization and it’s generally organized well in advance. (Gotta drum up that excitement…)

            Reply
        2. Cat

          I’m now wondering if the fact that these are authors — people who may have day jobs and only handle “author” stuff after hours or at the very least be used to weird schedules – is contributing to the problem. In that case, an auto response saying “I answer messages between X and Y, but you’re not going into the ether” may actually help.

          Reply
          1. I'm a Little Teapot

            That’s an excellent possibility to consider – thanks! Being a writer with a day job, I e-mail my publisher and such at weird times, almost always outside business hours – but I certainly don’t expect instant responses on Author Stuff when I do.

            Reply
      2. get some perspective

        All these examples are just examples showing the range of circumstances and reasonable behavior.

        I work in a job where I don’t have to respond to certain types of contact for days. Some people have to always respond immediately – that is never leave the phone and not let it go to voicemail. It depends on the job.

        I’m fine with people here showing their own experiences as examples of what is possible. But when those experiences – especially limited experiences – are held up as the way things are and/or should be, we’re going too far. That’s quite a provincial attitude.

        Reply
      3. Kelly L.

        Gratitude?

        And when you’re making these calls, are you calling them late at night on a Sunday, say, and expecting a call back that same Sunday night rather than Monday morning, even if the business you’re calling is closed?

        Reply
      4. KH

        A completely unreasonable expectation, IMO. And in my industry, if someone chose not to take their business elsewhere because I was with a client and couldn’t respond to them in an hour, then I’d consider that business I didn’t want anyway.

        Reply
    2. Persephone Mulberry

      The author may be waiting to buy tickets, getting materials arranged with their publisher, and any number of other time-sensitive activities may hang on your response.

      I’m going to assume that OP knows her job and would not blow off until tomorrow a call that appeared to be that level of time sensitive.

      Reply
  15. Overeducated and underemployed

    I wonder if you can have a talk with your boss spelling out the costs of your responding immediately and dropping everything while you’re at work (evenings and weekends is another matter entirely). As in, “it sounds to me like it’s important to you and our authors that I respond immediately to their contacts, which is not possible when I am tending to other immediate duties in the store. Am I understanding correctly that you want responding to authors to be my top priority, to the extent of dropping my other duties when they call? If so, what can we do to make sure others are always available to take over when I’m dealing with a customer in person? If not, what length delay are you willing to live with, and can I tell authors directly that I will respond within that time frame?”

    Depending on a reasonable boss, of course….

    Reply
  16. Allison

    It definitely sounds like you need to explain your side of the issue and work with the boss to set clear expectations about responsiveness. I agree with other comments suggesting you take the initiative and send a confirmation e-mail with all the important information ahead of time, and in that e-mail you could say “feel free to call if you need any additional information, I will try to get back to you within X and Y hours.” That sets the expectation for them that you may not answer the phone or call back immediately, and they should plan to wait a little while, but you will get back to them in a timely manner.

    I can see where both your boss and the speakers are coming from. If they’re calling for information at the last minute, especially information that would impact their travel plans, they might be a little freaked out if they’re waiting for you to call back with no idea when you might do so. So they call the manager, who now has a nervous and irritated speaker to deal with, and they want to prevent this situation from repeating itself.

    Reply
  17. Retail Lifer

    Either the boss needs to acknowledge that the OP doesn’t work 24/7 and needs to explain that to the speakers OR the boss needs to respond to the calls himself when the OP is off. I doubt either is realistic, though.

    Assuming the boss won’t do either, there should be someone else on staff who can check the calendar and answer basic questions and confirm times when someone calls. It’s just bad customer servive for a phone to ring to an empty office anyway. If the caller has more in depth questions, whoever answers the phone should be clear that the response time will be within 24 hours.

    I planned events at my last job and I wasn’t there or on call 24/7 either. Other staff members had event details and could answer most questions and confirm details. If they were posed with questions they couldn’t answer then they’d take a message, check my schedule, and let the caller know when I’d be in and be able to return the call. I sure as hell didn’t have anyone calling me at home and I rarely checked voicemail from home because I didn’t get paid enough to do so.

    Reply
  18. Sarah

    I used to work at a bookstore, and our community relations manager made a big point of training booksellers to manage expectations of anyone who called in for her. She was very explicit about e-mail being a preferred method of communication, and she would respond within the business day but probably not immediately. (Obviously, do whatever works for you.) If it is possible to “train” your authors and other event coordinators, so they’re not calling your manager to complain, perhaps this might alleviate the strain?

    Reply
    1. NotherName

      To be honest, this makes me wonder how the manager handles customer complaints, too. Is he reasonable? Does his other staff have his support?

      Anyone who’s worked retail knows that there are valid complaints, not so valid complaints, and completely whack-a-doodle complaints.

      Reply
      1. KR

        Yes! I think the OP should talk with her manager and get him to back her up. They could go over what constitutes an urgent phone call and what isn’t, so when the frivolous calls get to him he could simply tell them to leave a message, it isn’t urgent.

        Reply
    2. Not So NewReader

      Having done a lot of retail there is a thing called “training/controlling your customer”. This is done by setting limits as soon as possible by being able to say what the company does and does not provide.

      I am not totally convinced that OP needs to look at this point, but maybe…. OP, when you start with a new author, do you let her know your availability? Is it on your business card?
      I am sure that you are in contact with your authors as their day approaches. But do you remind them of your availability? “I am available by phone until 6 pm the night before your event. Then I will be available the next day starting at 8:30 am.”
      If you know you have a Nervous Nancy do you preemptively call her, anticipating that she will probably call you anyway? You could also make arrangements with Nancy, “Okay, I will call you at 8 am on the day of your event just to see if anything last minute has popped up.” If they know you will be calling that might slow down their panic. Their panic could be causing the boss to panic.

      I think you know this but it might be worth revisiting, if you give people a phone number they will USE it. And they will usually use it with the worst possible timing. If you can set boundaries, this might be another tool to help you. And in the end it helps them because you are telling them what they CAN expect from you. People are great overall, if people know ahead of time what they can expect, they can be very appreciative and very willing to work with your boundaries.

      Reply
  19. GigglyPuff

    I’m also thinking, maybe the store employees need to be trained on how to handle these calls, i.e. not immediately handing them off to the manager. Maybe have your schedule posted by the phone, with work e-mail/cell info, have them say something about your response time if they ask, like if you are working but haven’t answered yet, have them say “OP typically responds to emails/calls within [set amount of time]”, or that you’re not available right now, but will get back to them whenever you’re next scheduled to work.

    I’d also add in a paragraph about this when setting-up the events with the authors and that if it’s a real emergency, cancellations, etc, to flag the email as “urgent”, or something like this. But I agree with others, I don’t think your manager is worried about your response time but the fact that they keep getting these calls when you got hired to specifically deal with this part of the business.

    Reply
  20. Vulcan social worker

    I don’t know that you’re American, but the lack of labor law addressing time off is one thing (of so many) that frustrates me after spending time in countries that legally mandate that employees must have a certain amount of consecutive non-work time per week, such as 24 hours off in a 7 day period. There’s just no good reason to expect businesses to be open and people to be at your beck and call around the clock unless you are the hospital, fire department, or police. I did have to laugh at myself once for internally grumbling about 6 pm closing times when I wanted to go to the pet supply store for the good cat food on Sunday evening and having to pick up a couple of cans of a different brand at Target instead. When I’ve been in Europe for an extended time I’ve just planned for almost nothing being open on Sunday and when I get back to the USA one of the weird things is the ability to buy groceries at midnight (though the giant size of the cars is always the weirdest).

    I get that the OP is working with authors who traveling from out of town and need confirmation for making travel plans. But that doesn’t mean she should be obligated to take calls at all hours of the night or all weekend. It’s reasonable when scheduling the visits to let authors know that she will get back to them the next business day, as other commenters have suggested, or that she and her boss work it out so that he can respond to urgent calls at certain times instead. She should be allowed to have a day off.

    Reply
    1. Vulcan social worker

      Or another store employee could be the backup if an author has an urgent issue (e.g., my cold has turned into bronchitis and I have to cancel for tomorrow and your store should know right now), not necessarily the boss if the problem is that he doesn’t want to field the calls when the authors aren’t getting a response within a few hours. I read the comments that others posted while I was typing and that’s smart. I was thinking about a previous position where issues like that would have needed to flow up to my manager, not down to my assistant, but my manager also wasn’t the big boss in charge of the whole company, just middle management to my lower management.

      Reply
      1. KR

        I agree with this. She could give the store a weekly schedule with details of all the author events including times they should be there, locations, ect and if someone calls the store in emergency mode whoever answers the phone could look at the schedule and tell them the details. (and casually throw in that the OP has a day off today and that’s why they aren’t answering the phone)

        Reply
  21. Hmmm

    I would not be surprised if you were fired for this.

    You’re consistently not returning calls from clients until five hours later. Unless you’re on a plane, or out of the country, or in a five hour meeting, or on the phone with someone else for five hours, this time frame would be unacceptable to almost all supervisors.

    If I were you, I would aplogise profusely and assure your boss that from now on, you will return calls immediately. In fact, if you’re expecting a specific author to be at the bookshop, you should be answering all calls immediately.

    And if you want to argue that you don’t have the time, I’m sure you can find it in your day. For your letter, the calls sound like they’d take around 10 minutes (but even if I’m wrong and the calls take longer, my point still stands).

    Reply
    1. Ask a Manager Post author

      That is 100% wrong. In many, many industries (certainly most I’ve worked in), returning a call by the next business day would be completely reasonable and normal. It sounds like you’ve worked in a field where this isn’t the case, but that’s far from universal.

      Reply
      1. Hmmm

        Give how authors consistently have problems with the OPs callback time, and since they have to make travel plans, I’d argue that the OP is in an industry where immediate callbacks are necessary.

        Reply
        1. Mike C.

          Maybe the authors have unreasonable expectations? Maybe the manager needs to staff up a bit more? Either way, this isn’t on the OP.

          Reply
        2. Ask a Manager Post author

          That’s out of sync with the context she’s described, and her boss has said that she’s responding quickly enough when she’s gone over the actual data with him. I think we should trust that the OP has accurately reported her situation.

          Reply
          1. Kelly L.

            This. I think the boss is just annoyed when they call the second number and talk to him instead, and that there isn’t anything quantifiable the OP is doing wrong–it’s just that the boss jumps to the conclusion she’s doing something wrong whenever he gets annoyed.

            Reply
        3. KR

          But that doesn’t fix the fact that the OPs boss is behaving like he expects OP to be on call 24/7 but not paying her enough. I think we should take the OP at her word when she says the calls are not urgent and do not have to be answered immediately.

          Reply
          1. College Career Counselor

            As stated up-thread, the boss doesn’t want to have the authors/speakers call HIM when they can’t get OP on the line. That’s the real pain point here, not the OP’s response time. The boss needs to change how calls get routed, explain to the authors that OP will get back to them shortly, or staff up appropriately.

            Reply
        4. NotherName

          Also, the OP says the average response time is 5 hours. If she’s providing 25% of her time as a retail employee and fielding calls/emails that could come in at any time (3 am, for example), that seems pretty reasonable to me.

          I feel for the OP – some of the commenters seem to think she should be the Bionic Woman or something.

          Reply
        5. Marcela

          If they have to make travel plans and 5 hours or the next business day are too long for them to wait for OP’s answer, no, sorry, that’s not OP’s fault.

          Reply
    2. LQ

      I’m shocked by the idea that 5 hours is too long to return a call unless out of the country/on a plane/in a 5 hour meeting. Are you talking business hours? (It’s a bookstore and I know of very few 24 hour bookstores so I’m assuming this is not one of them.) I mean, people get to sleep right? Or in the industry you’re in are people required to wake up in the middle of the night and check calls and get back to people?

      Reply
      1. afiendishthingy

        Yeah, holy crap, I would be fired so long ago if this were the case. My goal is to return calls by the end of the following business day, and I’m often not successful with that.

        Reply
    3. The Artist Formally Known As UKAnon

      But that just isn’t sustainable in the long run. OP isn’t goofing off for four hours then going “oh better work now”, they’re working flat out and the volume means that this is a reasonable response time a) full stop and b) for their workload. Particularly for evening and weekend calls, there just isn’t an obligation on the OP – particularly when they aren’t being paid overtime (!) – to respond until working hours resume – and with work built up over that time, they’ll need time to get back to people.

      Reply
    4. Ineloquent

      Eh, I disagree. Unless the sole responsibility of her job is handling these calls and emails and arranging these events, other high priority stuff may legitimately interfere with her ability to respond immediately. Five hours (especially when we’re looking at off hours when technically, she shouldn’t be answering at all) is pretty good for an employee who has other tasks to handle. If she was fired, I’d feel like she’s better off. If her manager can’t give her a specific time frame that she must respond within, then responding as soon as able is pretty dang good in my book. It’s not like the OP is sitting around picking her nose all day and shirking her duties.

      Reply
    5. Erin

      …sure, if she’s on call and getting paid to be so 24 hours a day, every day.

      I’m pretty confident her boss would have a huge wake up call if she fired the OP and then hired someone else.

      And I agree with Alison’s comment – you seem to be operating under completely different work norms than the rest of us.

      Reply
    6. Rat in the Sugar

      I think that really depends on the industry, though. OP has talked to the boss and he explicitly said that her response times were fine, so now it’s just an issue of managing various people’s expectations. She’s asked what he would like her to do differently; I think if he really expected her to respond immediately and five hours was a fire-able offence, the boss would have a bit more to say than just vaguely mumbling about how annoyed he is that people call him when they can’t get a hold of her. In my industry a 24-hour response time is perfectly normal and not at all a fire-able offense, and my boss would think I was very silly to profusely apologize over such a thing. It really depends on where you work, I think.

      Reply
    7. Mike C.

      This feels really over the top to me. If the business requires someone who is able to take calls every day at all hours, then management needs to staff appropriately. Expecting a single person with things like “days off” to do this is unreasonable.

      Reply
    8. Retail Lifer

      The OP works in a retail store, where he or she spends time doing other tasks (helping customers, putting stock away, etc.) and is not posted by a phone all day. The OP can’t drop other tasks and run to the phone every time it rings, and the OP also doesn’t work 24/7.

      Reply
      1. NotherName

        Yes. Cardinal rule of retail is that you don’t drop the customer in front of you in order to take a call. The most you can do is (if by yourself) politely excuse yourself to answer the call and put the caller on hold. (Then pray that a line doesn’t form.)

        Reply
    9. Snarkus Aurelius

      If this employer wants 24-7 service, then he needs to pay for it like Comcast and Verizon do.

      If he can’t afford it, then deal with the status quo or shut down the business. Asking the OP to work for free 24-7 isn’t a sustainable or legal solution.

      Reply
    10. fposte

      Authors aren’t clients. Bookstore customers are clients. There’s no indication that the OP is behind on serving those actual customers.

      Authors are more like sample table people in a grocery store. They don’t work for the store, they’re not customers of the store, and they’re a PITA to work around, but they can draw people to the grocery store products so it’s worth putting up with them.

      Reply
      1. One of the Sarahs

        I do wonder if some of the negative comments about OP come from people who really want to be an author, and have an inflated idea of how important authors are?

        Reply
    11. the_scientist

      Really? Even over evenings and weekends? That’s just not reasonable, unless the boss is willing to pay for 24/7 coverage. I don’t disagree that five hours during a standard work day *might* be too long (although that really depends on the industry) but if the OP is not working, she’s not working. It sounds like she might be getting paid hourly, so there is literally no reason for to be working or answering work calls when she’s not actually on shift. And if the boss wants her to work, he has to pay by the hour for her time.

      Also, OP, stop using your personal phone for these calls! I’m confused as to why you’re working from home the majority of the time and also using your personal devices and numbers- especially since it sounds like your number is being given to external third parties. I do understand that BYOD is a thing but something about this arrangement strikes me as odd, and certainly untenable.

      Reply
      1. KR

        This struck me as odd too. If she gets a work phone she could make her voice mail message something to the effect of, “You’re reached OP. I’m not at my desk right now, but please leave a detailed message and I will get back to you within 24 hours, sooner if it is urgent.” That way people have an expectation of when they will hear back.

        Reply
      2. aebhel

        This. I don’t check my voicemail or my email when I’m not at work, and I would quit on the spot if I was expected to (and yes, event coordinating is one of the things I do at my job). If they want 24/7 coverage, they need to either pay the OP for it or, more realistically, schedule shifts.

        I doubt that’s actually the issue, though; it sounds like the boss just doesn’t want to deal with it.

        Reply
    12. NK

      I would say this is pretty common – whenever I call businesses for my personal business (inquiring about daycares, trying to hire a handyman, etc.) I rarely get a same day callback, if I get called back at all. I would love a 5-hour response time!

      Reply
      1. NotherName

        I was recently very pleased with a 5-hour response time, and that was just an email to a store to find out if they had a hard-to-find craft item.

        Reply
      2. One of the Sarahs

        Ha, if I get a callback at all from a handyman in my city, or a builder, or a roofer, I count myself lucky! I’ve learned the ratio is something like call about 10, get call-backs from 4, within a week if I’m lucky, and quotes from 2. Not that I’m bitter….

        Reply
    13. alter_ego

      They said it’s an average of 5 hours, including nights and weekends. If you return calls within an hour from 8 AM until 5PM, and then don’t return any calls received after 5 until 8 the next morning, that’s 5.33 hours on average.

      Reply
    14. Cat like that

      Similar to the OP, I plan events (though in a different context). On any given day, I am working on 8-10 events, each of which has multiple venue, decor/entertainment, food, transportation, and AV vendors. That’s not to mention all the internal stakeholders within the company and event attendees that I have to deal with. If someone reaches out to me asking about how many appetizers we want for the event in November, they might have to wait 5 hours when I’m dealing with a cancelled flight for an event next week, reviewing a the speaker content for an event in March, negotiating a contract for an event in June, etc.

      Unless the response is super time sensitive, 5 hours is a fairly reasonable response time.

      Reply
  22. boop

    I’m curious to know why so many of these visiting authors have such intense and urgent anxiety about their bookings? Is there a way to improve the process, because it doesn’t seem to be working out. Every business is different – sometimes they are very clear about every possible detail and send reminders/notifications, other businesses send a single vague confirmation and then never contact you again in the months leading into the event. Which one do you work for?

    Reply
    1. TL -

      My guess is they’re just taking it as “oh this first number didn’t work, let’s try the second!”
      Or, they might be a lot of independent and smaller authors (otherwise, I would expect the OP to be dealing more with publishers) which would explain a lot.

      Reply
      1. Bookworm

        Yeah – I wouldn’t actually say we’re getting a ton of info that suggests the authors are upset or stressed. If I have fifteen minutes to make a few calls, and I have two numbers – well, I’ll try the second if the first didn’t work. It’s not necessarily a reflection of my panic.

        If she had said that people were leaving frantic voicemails…that might raise some red flags.

        Reply
    2. Cambridge Comma

      Having worked with authors and on book tours, I suspect the authors OP is working with may have had just enough success to go to their head but not enough to act like true professionals.

      Reply
      1. Ethyl

        This makes some sense to me. I was an event planner for a couple of years and the speakers and most of the speakers and bands I booked, we had details and schedules sorted out a month or more in advance. These were mostly people who were career speakers, and bands who regularly toured and played at various events and festivals, so they had a streamlined booking process and their contracts were usually really specific in terms of who was paying for and booking airline tickets and rental cars, where they were expected to be when, and what sorts of other stuff they needed (special diets, preferred drinks, that sort of thing).

        Reply
      2. EmilyG

        Having also worked with authors, I agree with Cambridge Comma. Some authors are such prima donnas that you simply would not believe it. (Others are, of course, lovely and normal. There’s no way to tell from their public personas which ones are which. Oh, the stories I could tell!) It doesn’t take a lot of solipsism to not realize that your travel plans for a month from now don’t seem as important to someone else as to you right this instant, and plenty of authors would have enough.

        Reply
      3. el conejo de fuego

        I work with authors and while many are fantastic human beings, there are some that don’t understand that their book is just one of many others out there in the world needing attention. I would be HORRIFIED if I heard that one of my authors was bothering a bookstore like this. (On that note, OP, if you’re working with an author who has a publicist or agent, please don’t hesitate to loop that contact in if the author is being unreasonable. It’s our jobs to help out with issues like that.)

        Reply
    3. Lily Rowan

      I bet the authors don’t have urgent and intense anxiety, just two numbers to call. Assuming they know the OP works from home sometimes and from the store sometimes, they just try the second number when they don’t get an answer on the first. Which seems fairly reasonable to me. And then the owner gets worked up all on his own. We have no evidence that the authors are worked up, just that they called the store.

      Reply
      1. College Career Counselor

        I think the comment about optics up-thread is accurate. The issue is the OP is not in the store, the boss gets the call and hears “OP didn’t respond to my inquiry,” so the boss things OP is not working efficiently or is not responsive enough. I suspect that much of this would go away if the OP did away with working from home (although maybe another issue is that this is a full-time job masquerading as a part-time job).

        Reply
    4. MashaKasha

      My only experience interacting with authors was from a year or two I spent attending a writers’ group meetups, but what I noticed is that even the new, unpublished authors are sensitive creatures, with a tendency to overdramatize. I can only imagine the ones that actually have a book, or books, out.

      Reply
  23. Mike C.

    Why do so many people think it’s appropriate to have a single person be responsible for taking care of calls every day at all hours? Are you folks working for crazy people and believe that this is a reasonable expectation?

    Reply
    1. LQ

      It really only seems like a couple of people who believe that the OP should be a robot, most people are on board with getting a full nights rest and taking days off.

      Reply
        1. Rat in the Sugar

          I think a lot of them are just remembering the times when they themselves were frustrated at not being able to get a hold of someone, and aren’t really thinking through the logistics of it. “But just answer the call! It only takes 10 minutes!” and not really considering the fact that OP has lots of other work to do and sometimes the calls come in on weekends.
          People like to look at things from their own point of view. “Do unto others” is not always the best way of looking at a situation, I’ve found.

          Reply
          1. Allison

            See here’s the thing, I’ve totally been that person. I’ve been the “oh my god I need to know this thing RIGHT NOW what’s taking them so long? are they ignoring me on purpose? what’s going on??” But that’s a “me” issue, and after calling once (maybe twice) and either leaving a voicemail or sending a followup e-mail, I generally take a deep breath and try to let it go because 1) it’s never as urgent as I think it is and 2) people have a lot of stuff going on I don’t know about. People get sick. People have family emergencies. Sometimes the office needs to be evacuated due to a fire or something, or there was some other urgent thing that came up that they need to deal with before they can respond to me.

            So while my impatience does motivate me to be responsive and to not keep people waiting when it can be avoided, I’m also learning to put myself in their shoes and realize that they’re probably dealing with something and they’ll get back to me when they can.

            Reply
          2. Cat like that

            >“But just answer the call! It only takes 10 minutes!”

            This reminds me of a time when I answered a call from a venue contact when I was driving home. The event wasn’t for almost a year, so I figured she just had a quick question for me. I was on the phone with her for over 2 hours. I ended up cooking dinner while talking to her on a headset. And the entire conversation was about layout ideas she had that could have easily been summarized in an email (which actually would have been better for sharing the ideas with our executives).

            Reply
            1. EmilyG

              This reminds of me a recent trip where the young lady doing check in for a B&B answered the phone just as I was pulling my suitcase in the front door. She had an endless (though probably really only 10-15 minute) conversation about the probable weather and recreation conditions 3 months from then, while gesticulating apologetically at me and trying to end the discussion. I felt more bad for her than annoyed because she seemed very young and not well equipped to figure out how to extract herself politely.

              Reply
    2. MashaKasha

      I am wondering the same thing. I’ve worked 24×7 oncall support and would never do that again. And there was three of us on rotation and we were exempt, and were paid quite a bit more than the minimal wage! No it’s not a reasonable expectation for someone in OP’s position to be on call 24×7 with no backup. Not in my world!

      Reply
    3. hbc

      I guess I was technically available 24/7, and it wasn’t that big a deal because I was exempt, pretty well compensated, and the call load wasn’t that intense. If someone called me after hours, they really believed it was an emergency (whether they were right or not.) I remember one weekend where I lost five hours in seven separate calls to a guy who was stuck in a bad situation, but I probably didn’t take another weekend call for another half a year.

      To me, 24/7 coverage can mean a lot of different things and can’t be assessed without looking at the whole package. In the OP’s case, I don’t think it’s ridiculous for the owner to expect better than 5 hour turnaround *during OP’s working time* (though maybe not without other things slipping), but he’s got to set up a better structure if he wants the authors to be guaranteed an answer in 48 hours if they send something in on Friday. (Better pay for OP, more staff, a group voicemail box that other people can answer, whatever.) And he’s crazy if he thinks it’s in OP’s power to make sure he never gets a complaint from some demanding nut that it’s been nearly 25 minutes without a returned call.

      Reply
      1. Bookworm

        My partner sometimes is the 24/7 operations contact, but: a) he and his team are well-compensated – more than what OP describes, b) the coverage rotates, so you know when you’re ‘on call’, and c) the call load is manageable.

        You can get 24/7 coverage if that’s what’s necessary for the job, but as other people have said, you have to pay for it. Also, nothing OP describes sounds like it needs that level of support.

        Reply
  24. Paloma Pigeon

    I find that individuals who are sole practitioners (therapists, authors, etc.) sometimes don’t understand working conditions for people who work in larger organizations or teams. People who have hundreds of emails a day, calls, meetings, plus actual work have a longer response time than someone who is working on one project at a time. I think there is an expectation mismatch of workflow here on the part of the authors.

    Reply
  25. Dr. Johnny Fever

    I have one slight quibble with Alison’s advice, which I’ve pasted below. This is a great script and you should use it except for the last line, asking if your boss would like you to do anything else.

    Your boss has already shown himself to be unreasonable, and he won’t have an unreasonable answer. Present this as your solution to fix the gap. Stick to it. When boss calls you out, use Alison’s advice on standing your ground against those questions. But don’t ask permission to make your job more reasonable – just state that this is how you’re fixing it and don’t give him an opening to pick you apart or demand that you do better than this, “somehow”.

    “Sit down with him and say this: “You’ve mentioned a few times that you’re concerned that I’m not responding to speakers quickly enough, so I wanted to make sure we’re both on the same page about this. I’m vigilant about responding to all speakers within 24 hours, and it’s usually much less. I took a look at my average response time over the past X months, and I’ve averaged responding within five hours, including on nights and weekends. People sometimes get impatient anyway — I know we had one person who complained when it took me only 25 minutes to get back to them. So I want to make sure that you know how I’m handling this, and see if there’s anything that you want me doing differently. I think an average of five hours is really good, especially since I don’t work 24 hours a day. Does continuing as I’ve been doing sound okay to you?”’

    Reply
  26. Meg Murry

    If I’m reading the post correctly, OP doesn’t give out her phone number at all, only her email address and the store phone number, and she is only at the store 3 days a week, and probably not for all the hours the store is open.

    If I needed to confirm an author’s schedule (for instance, is she scheduled at 3 pm or 7 pm, so which flight should I book) I would want to speak to a person ASAP, so I would default to calling whatever number I have, which in this case, is the store. And doubly so if OP had called me in the past or left me a voicemail – usually I communicate back in the method where I received the message.

    So when an author or the author’s assistant calls the store, what happens? Do they say “can I talk to OP?” and whoever answers the phone says “OP isn’t here, can would you like to talk to Manager?” Or is Manager the one who usually answers the phone?

    I think OP needs to work on communication with the authors and the employees answering the phone, which could include:
    -Giving people an email with the details as soon as she has them, and when the details are in progress, a date by which she plans to give them the details
    -A request that she be contacted by email, not by phone calls to the store
    -Giving the store access to the confirmed events so that anyone answering the phone could answer the call to give the most basic details (author is scheduled to speak at from 3-5 on MM-DD-YY). Or train the employees answering the phone to tell callers who call about events to send OP an email or take a message for her instead of forwarding the caller to the manager.

    Also, could OP get a Google Voice number and have it forward to her cell phone when she is “on duty” and to a voicemail that says “I’ll get back to you within 24 hours” when she is off? Or could she get a voicemail box at the store that she could check remotely so when an author calls the person answering the phone?

    I wonder if boss saying “You aren’t responding fast enough” is actually saying “you working from home but not giving out your phone number isn’t working for me” in a roundabout way.

    Reply
    1. Bookworm

      I agree – the Google Voice suggestion is a great one. I think some people may just not be sure that they have the right info.

      I also wonder if OP needs to take a second look at her initial communications. I used to organize events, and found that some proactive effort (a clearly organized .pdf going over times/details) – and then resending that 5-7 days prior to the event….really alleviates the burden on last minute phone calls.

      Reply
  27. Temperance

    LW, I think you can head off a lot of this at the pass if you send confirmation emails at set times (after booking, two weeks prior to an event/1 week prior to an event) and CC the assistant of these authors, too. Do you send calendar appointments? That would also head off a lot of this.

    I think the example you gave about the 1PM email that you didn’t answer until the next day is a bad one, because, frankly, I don’t think that’s a great turnaround time. I triage emails, and I respond to certain people sooner than others, depending on their rank and need and what they’re asking. I would respond to the authors before anyone else, in your case.

    You should have a work cell phone if you don’t already, so that you aren’t giving out your private number but people can still reach you, especially if you are the only person handling these events.

    Reply
    1. Ask a Manager Post author

      I’d like us to trust the OP to know what a reasonable turnaround time is in her industry and to know how to prioritize the authors relative to the rest of her workload, especially because her boss agrees when pressed that she’s doing it correctly.

      Reply
      1. Rusty Shackelford

        Except he also kind of doesn’t agree:

        He kind of vaguely agrees that I’ve responded quickly enough, and, when I ask him how he would like me to respond quicker, he just goes off on a rant saying that I just *have* to respond more quickly. Somehow.

        I don’t really think this is compelling enough evidence to say she’s responding with a reasonable turnaround time. If her boss is truly saying “No, you’re doing your job exactly right. But you *have* to do it differently,” then she’s got a bigger problem.

        Reply
        1. AnonEMoose

          Based on the information the OP provided, I think she has a bigger, or maybe a different, problem. I think that a big chunk of the issue is that the manager doesn’t want to deal with these calls, and that’s the issue the OP really needs to try to address, not her response time.

          Granted, the OP won’t be able to eliminate the problem. I know from experience that people who really feel the need to talk to someone NOW (reasonable or not), can be extremely persistent and creative in getting what they want. But that’s not necessarily the majority.

          If the OP can find ways to redirect people who are essentially reasonable, but a bit anxious, and those who don’t understand her office situation/hours, that may reduce the call volume enough that the manager knows that someone calling him is likely being unreasonable, that may help.

          OP, I wonder if it would be possible to put together a kind of Frequently Asked Questions document for visiting authors that could be emailed to authors are part of their confirmation info package, and/or posted in a Marketing/Publicity portion of the store’s website. This could cover things like: items you routinely provide, items you can get upon request (and you need X amount of notice), items prohibited in the store, an overview of how the process usually works, that sort of thing.

          Not everyone will read it. But some will, and others can be gently directed to it if they’re asking about something covered in the document.

          Reply
          1. KH

            Hm. I’m not sure I agree with that. The boss has already given her a wishy-washy response along the lines of “vaguely agreeing” and then “going of on a rant”. It doesn’t sound like the boss knows what he wants exactly, so it would be highly unlikely for him to give a specific guideline.

            I think it’s worth exploring that the boss has different, unspoken expectations that he’s not communicating to her.

            Reply
            1. Tinker

              I think it’s possible that what the boss wants is their problem solved, but that they’re not really conscious of what the problem is. In this case, to the extent to which the matter is in one’s domain, the next move is to expand out from the immediate issue and find the way to meet the underlying need reflected by it.

              The dialogue seems to be going something like this:
              Boss: You need to respond to this thing faster. (Something is happening and I have the sads, and I think maybe you need to be told to do the simple thing that solves my problem.)
              OP: I’m already responding in thus and such a time to requests that occur during these hours, the problem is when I am occupied doing other work or sleeping et cetera. Is this response time acceptable to you? (I am already doing what you have said you want me to do.)
              Boss: Yeahhhhhhhh that’s okay, buttttt… canyoumakeitfaster? Plz? (Yes, you’re doing what I said I wanted, and yet I still have the sads. Halp.)

              At this point the sensible question isn’t really how the OP themselves can provide one hour response times at any time of the day or night, it’s probably something more like containing the problem of agitated authors calling the boss — some combination of setting hours, automatic response, voicemail greetings, and also probably the boss accepting that when dealing with agitated authors some amount of drama is likely to leak through to them (that point is not within the OP’s domain to solve though).

              Even if there is a response time issue, too, the true solution to that given the nature of the OP’s issue would be to appropriately staff a hotline, not to lean on the OP to never sleep. And somehow I feel like it’s unlikely that a bookstore needs to staff a 24-hour hotline to handle miscellaneous logistical requests like this.

              It is possible that what the bookstore owner is angling for IS something unreasonable, such as that they’re looking for 24-hour on-call service that they know they can’t ask for directly or pay appropriately for, and they’re hoping to boundary wheedle the OP into doing the thing. But the way you test for that situation is by taking them at their word (regarding their statement that the current performance in this narrow task area is in fact to acceptable standard) and seeing if that then fails, not by diving straight away into “what they really mean is something other than what they just said they meant” land. That latter case is ultimately untenable anyway.

              Reply
              1. I'm a Little Teapot

                +1000 for boundary wheedle. I’ve definitely seen that phenomenon – where someone can’t come straight out and tell you to do something because it would be unreasonable/ridiculous/illegal, so they hint and guilt trip without ever saying it explicitly.

                Reply
                1. So Very Anonymous

                  I was in a meeting today where I could REALLY have used the term “boundary wheedle” to describe an issue I’m having. Noting for future use/explanatory power.

            2. A Bug!

              I think it’s worth exploring that the boss has different, unspoken expectations that he’s not communicating to her.

              I strongly agree with this. It seems like the only real expectation he has of OP is “I never have to deal directly with speakers ever for any reason.”

              Maybe he hasn’t realized that this expectation is impossible for OP to meet within the current structure/compensation of her employment, but maybe he has and knows better than to say it straight up.

              Reply
        2. Tinker

          I’d read that as more like “I agree that what you’re doing is reasonable and not asking for you to do differently, but I’m frustrated in the moment when authors call me and am not compartmentalizing that very well.” That probably does indicate that there is a further problem to address somewhere in this process, but I think it’s actually NOT likely that the response time is a problem because that already seems to have been examined. More likely it’s expectation management with the authors and possibly also with the boss.

          Reply
  28. Amanda

    Reading others’ comments, I agree that finding a way to reset expectations and maybe get Boss out of the phone loop (since it sounds like a lot of calls are bouncing to him and it could just be that he’s irritated that they’re coming to him at all) might be helpful.

    As a person who hopes to one day have a bookstore event scheduled, I was thinking I’d like the following:
    -A clear contact person to speak with about setting up the event. If your bookstore has a website, maybe see about putting “publicity and events” contact info on it, if it’s not already there. (And maybe add a note about: “expect a response within 24 hours.”) If I couldn’t find that contact info, I can see how I’d just call the bookstore main line. If the bookstore main line + another contact is listed and they look “equal,” I can see how I might try calling both in a short time frame, unless it’s clear I need to stick just with the publicity number.
    -Side note to the above: It might also help to list an email contact for events rather than a phone number. People tend to naturally assume that email responses will take longer than phone, and it’d be much easier to set up an auto-reply like “Thanks for contacting us! Please expect a more detailed response within one business day” type of deal.
    -Once the event’s set up, it’d be great to have some (ideally written/email) info to refer to: confirmation of event day/time, any important dates leading up to timeline (e.g., bookstore expects to have x of author’s books in by date; if I’m local I’d want to know when/if I could come in early to pre-sign some books); any policies on bringing in items for attendees (e.g., is it OK to bring in cookies, or are no food items allowed?); what size of space to expect for the event. If the letter writer doesn’t have a go-to document to send, maybe creating one to handle that sort of FAQ would cut down on calls.
    -And I’d want to know who to contact in case of emergency (illness right before event; flight delayed, etc.).

    All that to say that maybe the authors just need a little more info on what to expect (esp. first-timers who have maybe never done a signing before).

    Reply
  29. The IT Manager

    Because the speakers call the store when I don’t respond immediately, the calls then get handed over to my boss, who thinks I have an issue responding in a timely manner.

    The problem is not really your responsiveness, but that your boss ends up having to deal with some authors which make it appear you’re not doing your job. You need to prevent that second call to the alternate number, somehow. And now that you’re not giving out your personal phone number (not unreasonable) the first call is going to the store which your boss answers if you’re not in which is probably making it look worse.

    It sounds like messages saying you’ll respond in 24 hours are part of the answer. Part of the solution may be the store providing you a phone. How about a number that rings in the store to contact you that you can forward to your personal number while you’re working and unforward when you’re not? And when you’re not working and there’s no urgent need that phone can go to voice mail instead of being sent your boss?

    Most of the authors don’t sound like they are being unreasonable by choosing to try an alternate number when they don’t get an answer on the first. They don’t understand your office situation and shouldn’t have to.

    You’re boss sounds a bit unreasonable, but if he’s answers calls you should be handling it will appear that you’re not being responsive.

    The situation/technology needs to be changed somehow.

    Reply
    1. Sparkly Librarian

      How about a number that rings in the store to contact you that you can forward to your personal number while you’re working and unforward when you’re not? And when you’re not working and there’s no urgent need that phone can go to voice mail instead of being sent your boss?

      This sounds like an excellent solution.

      Reply
  30. Not Gloria A.A., B.S.

    I know a lot of folks and Alison are saying that OP is non-exempt. But depending on where OP is located “just above minimum wage” could be within the exempt pay minimum. Couldn’t it? $23,600 per year / 2080 hours = $11.35 per hour and some places have a minimum wage near to that.

    Reply
      1. Hlyssande

        This is one of the things I was concerned about. If the OP regularly works nights and weekends (as they mention rarely having time off), and they don’t meet the exempt threshold, I really hope they’re recording hours properly and getting the OT they’re due.

        Reply
  31. jhhj

    5 hours is maybe great, but maybe not — what is the average delay for calls you get during work hours? What is the delay for ones on evenings? Weekends? Split these up, because the complaint seems to be primarily about a lack of response during business hours, and maybe you need to prioritize responding to all these non-urgent emails in a bloc 3 times a day (morning, lunch, end of day), and having an auto-reply that states you do this.

    You’ll always get the person who can’t wait 26 minutes, but at least that way you’ve actually replied to everyone immediately, if not entirely answered their questions.

    Reply
  32. Shortie

    Lots of great ideas in the comments, so I won’t repeat them, but just wanted to say the auto-response idea worked for me with a small twist. I was starting to have a similar situation as you with customers having huge anxiety over non-urgent phone calls, and it was so weird to me because I am a super-fast responder. I chalked it up to our “always on” society. The problem diminished considerably when I changed my voice mail and email to say something like, “Please leave a message. If it’s urgent, I’ll return it as soon as possible. If it’s not urgent, I’ll return it within {insert your time here}.” I think the line about urgency was really important. It seems to calm people down because it sets an expectation and alerts them that they will be prioritized if they indicate urgency. I also think it makes them stop to ponder whether their message is really urgent–I rarely get a message anymore where someone indicates urgency.

    Reply
  33. Hlyssande

    OP, it doesn’t sound like you’re exempt. Are you getting paid properly for the nights/weekends that you work? If you’re hourly you need to account for all of it – and you may be owed a significant amount of overtime.

    Reply
  34. Bookstore Events

    OP here. Thank you to Alison for her advice–I read this blog every day and was very excited to have her take on the situation.

    I actually really sympathize with the authors who want to get in touch with me (and quickly) because, for the majority of them, this is one of the first times they’re presenting their written work in public and are nervous. My concern is mostly about how my boss perceives me. When I (eventually) leave this job, I want a good recommendation, not a recommendation about how I didn’t live up to sometimes unreasonable and unspoken expectations.

    You all had wonderful idea. Just to clarify a few things:
    -This is a non-exempt position, with no overtime (made very clear by boss). Do I end up working more than 7 days a week sometimes? Yes. The working hours/no overtime is all a bit sketchy, but I do my job for love, not for money (I’m lucky enough to have an SO that supports me). It’s one of those ‘we’re all a family here’ stores, which means the employees give the owner more leeway than perhaps we should.
    -The store is a retail store that’s struggling in this economy; I think it’s the main source of my boss’s anxiety about answering on time. Actually, I wondered if the letter a few days ago where they were holding on to a few checks was from someone that works in my store.
    -I would physically work at the store, but there is no space and no wifi/Internet for me (there’s no break area, etc. that I could hang out in either). Bane of my existence! They have no money to upgrade the existing Internet situation.
    -My hours are changeable, and sometimes I’m working the retail side of the store (I’d say about a quarter of my time). During this time I’m not as reachable, as I don’t like checking emails on my phone in front of retail customers–it looks like I’m just playing candy crush at the register!
    -One commentator suggested using a free online phone. Thank you for the idea! I’ll be looking into that.
    -We work mostly with authors direct who have published on either extremely small presses or self-published, so, 97% of the time, I do not work with publishing companies–and, as of yet, no famous or big name authors (fingers crossed, though)! These are local authors, who draw a crowd of family and friends as well as general community members to their talks. An average of 15 audience members.
    -I confirm date/time/details when the event is booked, one week out, a few days out, and then the day before.

    I mostly wrote in to see if I was crazy and unreasonable. I suspect I’m not, but wanted confirmation. Thank you to all who commented! I’ll try to answer your questions as they come in.

    Reply
    1. Bookstore Events

      OP again. One more thing–this is a mutually beneficial relationship with local authors. They reach out to us to see if they can participate, and we offer the space/organizing, and then, hopefully, they bring a crowd into our store!

      Reply
    2. Cat like that

      >-I confirm date/time/details when the event is booked, one week out, a few days out, and then the day before.

      Coming from an event planner– this seems like more than reasonable communication with the authors. The only time I’d think more communication was necessary was if the events were really involved (required food or decor to be brought in, or something similar that required organization and decision making). So long as you are making this communications schedule clear to the authors when you book the event then I don’t see why your boss is making such a fuss. You’re not coming across as crazy or unreasonable.

      Reply
    3. katamia

      Does your store have a website? One thing that could help would be to include more information about setting up an event on your website to help manage authors’ expectations, since many of them don’t seem to have a publisher or someone who can tell them, “No, X is totally normal even though it seems horrible and it’ll all work out fine.” Alternatively, if you don’t want to do that, including more information in your emails about the event procedures and kind of “pre-answering” questions that seem to be common could cut down on the number of phone calls you receive (and therefore probably on the number of calls your boss gets).

      Reply
      1. el conejo de fuego

        This is just what I was thinking! I’ve seen an auto response that had a short list of FAQs included as part of the message as well as a “We realize this might not answer your questions and we assure you that we’ll be responding to your e-mail as soon as possible.” It gave the impression that someone was already answering my questions.

        Reply
      2. katamia

        Actually, come to think of it, even if you do have a website you can put this information on, it’s not a bad idea to put it in the emails too.

        Reply
    4. Anonymous Educator

      -This is a non-exempt position, with no overtime (made very clear by boss). Do I end up working more than 7 days a week sometimes? Yes. The working hours/no overtime is all a bit sketchy, but I do my job for love, not for money

      Is this legal? Non-exempt (sounds like working more than 40 hours a week) with no overtime?

      Reply
      1. Tyrannosaurus Regina

        Probably not. I’ve been there, including the sketchy “comp time” in lieu of overtime pay in a position I’m almost positive was not legally eligible for such an arrangement. I hung in there because (A) I was deeply invested in the mission of the nonprofit I was working for, and (B) I though the experience was worth it.

        I’m sad to say it wasn’t worth it, and my shutting-up and putting-up with sketchy conditions, low pay, and unreasonable expectations didn’t save me from having my position eliminated last spring.

        This sounds like a bad situation for the OP. :(

        Reply
    5. LQ

      Sounds like you’re already doing a lot of the right things here.

      I think there have been some (hopefully!) helpful suggestions about things like FAQs – especially for small press/self pub authors, and a google voice line for calling in with questions.

      I think that you are right about not wanting to look like you’re playing candy crush at the register, but if it was slow and you had 5 minutes, it would be kind of cool to put up a sign that was like “Give me a moment, I’m currently finalizing details with an author for a book signing” and then check your phone, it might also spur some conversation about the book signings. I don’t think it would be necessary to check your email all the time/at all while working the retail side, but if you wanted to that might engage some people in a different way, and not look like candy crush.

      Reply
      1. KR

        From a customer service standpoint this sounds like a not so good idea. Customers don’t want to read signs, they just want someone to check them out.

        Reply
        1. LQ

          Which is why you’d only do it when you were slow and were willing to grab the sign and help someone. But it sounds like the OP would have the time to do it which means there isn’t a line of people a twenty deep that need to be checked out. I wouldn’t suggest doing it when people were in line or waiting.

          Reply
        2. Elizabeth the Ginger

          Yeah, if a cashier is at the checkout counter and not either helping another customer in person, or on the phone clearly for business, I’m going to feel impatient if I have to wait to check out.

          Reply
    6. Temperance

      I think you should definitely check your emails while at the register – it would save you so much time! If a customer gets grumpy about it, you can explain that it’s regarding scheduling for a book signing/reading.

      You already know this, but it’s very likely a violation of a whole bunch of laws to require you to work without getting paid for your time.

      Reply
    7. the_scientist

      OP, I know you said you do this job for love, not money, but I’d just urge you to be really, really careful with that. You can’t predict how you’ll feel in the future. What if your boss fires you and you decide “hey, wait a minute, I’m going to put in a wage claim for all the unpaid OT I worked”? What if you leave this job and then find out your boss is giving you a terrible reference? Would you resent the amount of time you put into the job and change your mind about that OT? Legally, you could do that, and legally, your boss would be on the hook for that, and it sounds like the business is financially precarious enough that a claim for back wages would sink it. What I’m saying is that you think you’re helping your boss out by working unpaid overtime, and perhaps you are in the short term, but in the long term you are exposing your boss and his business to serious risk.

      I know you might be thinking to yourself that you’d never do something as underhanded as changing your mind and insisting on OT payments, but circumstances and personal relationships change. It’s not your responsibility to shore up an untenable work situation. It’s not your responsibility to make this business financially solvent. It’s especially not your responsibility when the financial situation and physical circumstances of the job make it impossible to do your job to your boss’s specifications, putting a good reference and your future livelihood at risk.

      Reply
      1. Tyrannosaurus Regina

        “It’s not your responsibility to shore up an untenable work situation. It’s not your responsibility to make this business financially solvent. It’s especially not your responsibility when the financial situation and physical circumstances of the job make it impossible to do your job to your boss’s specifications, putting a good reference and your future livelihood at risk.”

        OMG, this this this this this. From one who knows.

        Reply
    8. Dr. Johnny Fever

      This is a non-exempt position, with no overtime (made very clear by boss). Do I end up working more than 7 days a week sometimes? Yes. The working hours/no overtime is all a bit sketchy, but I do my job for love, not for money

      Love does not pay your bills. Well, maybe it does now because your SO is covering you, but please realize that no matter how much you love your job, your boss is taking advantage of you.

      He is using your passion to keep you coming.
      He is using his financial struggles to justify a lean ship, including not paying you OT
      He is skirting several labor laws by not paying you in full for your work time, including OT.
      He is not paying you what you are worth for the job requirements you must follow.

      Now,
      He is using your passion, your empathy, and your will to perform to exploit you FURTHER by demanding more of your time without additional compensation, and further diluting your value.

      Look for another job. Get yourself away from this pressure and please realize just how much you are being used here, and used badly.

      Reply
      1. videogame Princess

        I second this. There have been so many jobs where I didn’t realize how much I was being screwed over until I left. There are plenty of opportunities to use your passions, and allowing someone to pull this on you isn’t a good situation.

        Reply
        1. Tyrannosaurus Regina

          I’m commenting a lot, and I’ll reign it in after this, but I have to comment on the “supported by an understanding fiancé” thing. While I was being underpaid and exploited by my last employer, justifying it to myself because of how much I cared about my coworkers and the mission, my spouse was paying way more than his fair share of EVERYTHING because he was the only one making decent money. It stressed him out way more than was reasonable.

          During my time at my last job, I had all the negatives of a stressful, more-than-full-time job—but with almost nothing to show for it, because I was being paid barely more than minimum wage. It almost would have been easier for us if I was working part-time…I wouldn’t have been making much less, and I would have been in a better position to contribute to the household because I wouldn’t be constantly stressed out by my crappy, demanding job.

          Just something to think about.

          Reply
      2. Not So NewReader

        I’ll raise Dr. Johnny’s post by one notch. People who are users/players almost never come around to looking at things logically.
        From the little bit of what you have repeated your boss has said, OP, he sounds like an exhausted person for sure. It’s hard to tell exhausted people from users/players sometimes. Confusingly, they can be a little of both sometimes.

        You are in the situation not me. But at some point, take a look and ask yourself, “Is this guy EVER going to understand the problems here?” It sounds like he might be okay for the most part but he is very distracted or dense when it comes to the work you do.

        Reply
    9. Episkey

      We work mostly with authors direct who have published on either extremely small presses or self-published…

      That is a big thing to me. I have a friend that self-published. The book was awful. Truly awful. To me, self-publishing is basically a scam that preys on desperate people that really want to get their book published and does not equate to real authors. Of course the crowd is going to be their friends & family mainly. I think in those cases, you should have no qualms about following up with them in a few hours or even the next day.

      Reply
      1. Kelly L.

        At this point, with the advances in technology, it’s possible to self-publish one’s book without paying tons of money to a middleman, so I don’t think it’s as much of a scam as it used to be. But I do think it draws people without a lot of experience in the industry, so you see some odd behaviors sometimes (like authors who don’t understand that it’s normal to get some negative reviews, and respond with vitriol). I think that through the traditional publishing system, an author will have experienced rejection letters, slow communication, and all sorts of setbacks and annoyances that will have toughened their skin some, while a self-published author might not have had those experiences and not know what’s normal.

        Reply
      2. L McD

        I’m not going to go into a big derail, but self-publishing scams are a tiny minority of what’s in the market right now. Most self-published authors are legitimately publishing themselves through avenues made available to them directly by major book e-tailers. The fact that they’re indie is relevant to their attitudes about doing these events, but it doesn’t say anything about whether or not what they’re doing is a legitimate business in terms of the publishing side.

        Small presses, unfortunately, can often be pretty scammy. But what they do is usually legal and often accepted by many in the industry. It’s just that the ethics of buying rights in perpetuity for someone’s work when you have no particular marketing muscle or resources to throw behind it is….well….let’s just say it often relies on the ignorance of the person signing the contract.

        Not always. Just…often, it does.

        Reply
        1. I'm a Little Teapot

          +tons (also to Kelly’s comment above) – a *legitimate* small press will pay *you*, up front or in royalties or both, not ask you to pay them. It will also have limited-term contracts (I’ve seen anywhere from one year to seven years, depending on the press) with clauses specifying reversion of rights to the author if the publisher goes out of business. Sometimes there’s also a clause about rights reversion if the book doesn’t sell x many copies within y amount of time.

          Reply
      3. One of the Sarahs

        A friend is a library manager and she talks about this a lot. There are very definitely some very scammy companies out there preying on wannabe authors. 15 years ago it used to be “competitions” where people sent in short stories/poems, and the “winners” were published, and you can buy the book for £50 (erm $80 or something?) but of course they published EVERYTHING – and especially things targeting parents because they’d buy it all. Now it’s people who are targeted by companies that will do that fake self pub thing – they’ll print out books at an overinflated price, minimum order 500 or whatever, and naive, sweet people who can’t write for toffee will spend their life savings on it, then get very, very upset when eg the libraries won’t buy their books (because of space and quality control issues) and they don’t get the fame they were promised from the companies’ scammy sales rep (“oh wow, I’ve never read anything so compelling”)

        Reply
    10. Andrea

      So I am really confused as to HOW you could not have WiFi at the store! Don’t you have to have internet just to make your computers/credit card system work? In which case a cheap WiFi router would only cost you $30 or so. If the company is so close to bankruptcy that it would push them over…well, you’ve got bigger problems than e-mail!

      I work in software, and we get ridiculous requests all the time to work on something they THINK is important…but actually isn’t. A really common practice is to establish SLAs (service level agreements) about how you’ll handle these kinds of requests. If you could get your boss to agree to that kind of a system, at the very least you’ll be much better aligned on expectations, but you’ll also have more standing to ask him to back you up when he brings up complaints.

      Usually these kinds of SLAs are broken down by what kind of issue it is, and when it occurred. (For example, any issues involving access to our application triggers an alert to take action immediately regardless what time it is, but some functional issues only trigger alerts during business hours, and something related to lesser-used features goes into a queue we only pull from once a week.) You might try getting your boss to agree that say, for events more than one week away, you reply within two days, and only during business hours, but for events within a week you’ll reply by COB during business hours or within 24 hours otherwise. Only for events happening the next day will you commit to replying within a few hours! Maybe you’ll come up with different ways to prioritize how you respond, but the important thing is to make sure you are explicit about what does and does not qualify for each level!

      Reply
    11. Anonyby

      Also food for thought: you say you regularly work all 7 days most weeks, correct? Depending on the laws where you are, that may automatically qualify you for OT, even if you don’t work 40 hours. That’s the case for me–it doesn’t matter if I only worked, say, 30 hours. If I worked all seven days in the billing week, then the 7th is automatically OT.

      Reply
    12. AcademiaNut

      I think the word you are looking for is not “a bit sketchy” but “very illegal”. My understanding is that you can’t waive your right to overtime, so even if you are fine with it, if someone else reported your boss to the authorities, he would get in major trouble, and owe you a lot of money.

      You voluntarily work extensive, unpaid, illegal overtime for a job that pays not much more than minimum wage. You provide your own work space, computer, internet, phone, and phone plan for most of your job, because your employer cannot provide you with the resources you need to do your job. You are on call 24/7 for phone calls and emails, and get hauled over the coals for not responding in a timely enough fashion when you’re doing things like sleeping, or working the till. The business is struggling, even with illegal labour, and you wouldn’t be surprised if they weren’t able to make payroll on time.

      I don’t have high hopes for you being able to enforce reasonable boundaries with your boss, because so far he’s been able to get all the unreasonable things he’s asked for. But I would recommend that you keep your resume up to date, and keep an eye out for other job opportunities, because a business that’s using illegal labour and still struggling is probably not a good bet for long term employment prospects.

      Reply
  35. Xarcady

    Part of the problem here is that the correct infrastructure is missing. If the OP had a company-provided phone, they could have an appropriate voice-mail message, that could inform callers of the turn-around time. If the store had wifi, more work could be done at the store, during normal business hours.

    The entire work situation seems to be patched together, and it falls apart with response time to authors.

    If none of the infrastructure can be changed, perhaps everyone at the store can be re-trained on how to handle calls for the OP. Instead of forwarding those calls to the manager, take a message for the OP and tell the caller they will get a response in 24 hours, or on the next business day for calls that come in over the weekend.

    Reply
    1. Kenzie

      +1 This

      The manager doesn’t want to be bothered and takes it out on the OP = create a new system for those calls.

      OP go over your pre-event communications that you are sending to the authors. Do you consistently get the same question that could be addressed in these emails. Can you add a FAQ section at the bottom addressing some of these?

      Reply
  36. L McD

    Okay, so I’m an author and I do events. I think the OP needs to set up a burner number that rings to their personal phone, but can be silenced/deactivated at will. Lots of people don’t feel comfortable “only” doing email for things they deem important. (I avoid phones like the plague, as do most writers I know, but there’s no accounting for taste. Plus I much prefer to have everything in writing, so the phone is kind of an unnecessary extra step for me.) The outgoing voicemail would not give the store number, but would give an expectation for hearing back within one business day. There are lots of different apps and services that do this. Even Skype would work, potentially. I think a local Skype number costs like $13/year.

    Honestly though, if this was an issue back when the OP was giving out their personal number as well, it might continue to be so. There is a certain segment of people who want to speak to a human being IMMEDIATELY!! and will have that expectation when contacting a business. (To them, I imagine, the OP works for a retail establishment so why the hell WOULDN’T they be answering the phone on a Sunday??? People don’t think about the fact that their business contacts are also human beings who don’t work 24/7/365). I think a VERY clear outgoing message that specifies their *personal* business hours and assures callers that their message HAS been received and will be acknowledged ASAP might help a bit. Also, maybe something about how urgent requests will be given precedence blah blah blah. It might mollify the people who think every single request they have is urgent.

    Anyway, unless authors are specifically being told to call the store alongside their emails, instead of as a last-ditch emergency option, it should just be a matter of setting new expectations for those people who go a bit overboard on their own. If the OP doesn’t have super-tight control about how authors are being told to get in touch, this could be a bit tougher. But hopefully not. If the boss truly just doesn’t want to field all of these requests, they should be amenable to these changes.

    Reply

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