my boss is too hands-off

A reader writes:

Earlier this year, I started a new job that is wonderful in almost every way. I’ve been given a lot of autonomy, and I love that about my work. At the same time, I’ve been finding that my boss’s management style is a little too hands-off. We rarely interact (unless I initiate it, which I do). Even during my first week, she didn’t do much to orient me to the company or explain her expectations. She also has not been as inclusive as supervisors I’ve had at previous jobs. While in previous jobs, my managers always took an interest in me and would include me in meetings, projects, seminars, etc.

Normally, this would not be very troubling, but I feel like having more interaction and being included in some of these activities would help me do my job better. Even when we do collaborate on things, I have a hard time getting feedback from her. She mentions that she is very busy, and I don’t want to intrude on that or be too needy. Is it normal for a boss to be this hands off, or is there a solution you can recommend? I know I should probably talk to her, but I’m not sure how to start that conversation.

P.S. If it’s helpful, I work as a Human Resources Generalist, and my boss is the HR Manager. We’re basically a two-person team, although there are other people in our group with more specialized roles (training, payroll).

You need a weekly meeting.

Ask her if you can set up a regular time each week to meet to go over progress on your work, talk about new issues that might have come up, get her input on questions you’ve encountered, and so forth. An hour is ideal, but if all you can get is half an hour, take it. Similarly, if she balks at doing it weekly, suggesting doing it every two weeks.

And then, put the onus on yourself to make sure the meetings happen. If one gets canceled because a higher priority comes up — and it will — reach out later that day or the next to reschedule it. And make it as easy as possible on her to make it happen — meaning, for instance, that you should rearrange your own schedule if needed to ensure that you get the time.

Consider yourself the owner of meeting itself, too. Jot down an agenda ahead of time and email it to her. Include the status of important projects, your top priorities for the next week or two, your progress against your broader goals if you have them, and questions you’re grappling with. You can also use this time to ask for feedback on particular projects and even just generally (“How do you think things are going overall? Is there anything I could be doing differently?”).

If she won’t commit to regular meetings, then request them one by one. Periodically, email her a list of topics you’d like to discuss (similar to the agenda above) and ask to set up a time to meet about them. (Don’t do this more often than there’s a real need, or she’ll grow to dread them — but if you’re like most people, you’ll probably want to do it at least every couple of weeks.)

And on the question of whether this is normal:  It’s not abnormal. Some managers are indeed pretty far to either end of the spectrum that extends all the way from too hands-on to too hands-off. Most managers, in fact, have some degree of trouble getting the balance right. (And some do both, which is even more aggravating — being hands-off all throughout a project and then getting really into the details at the end, when it’s way too late to use the input effectively.)

Give the weekly meeting a shot, and don’t be afraid to simply be matter-of-fact about what you need.

{ 69 comments… read them below }

  1. Joey*

    She’s a hypocrite and shouldn’t be in her job. I know that’s harsh but understand that HR’s job is frequently to teach and coach managers to do these things. Sorry to be a downer, but I hold HR managers to a higher standard because they should be the role models for the rest of the company.

    As for what to do, follow Alison’s suggestions even though its ridiculous you have to.

  2. A nony cat*

    ” And some do both, which is even more aggravating — being hands-off all throughout a project and then getting really into the details at the end, when it’s way too late to use the input effectively.”

    OMG, yes, that is very frustrating (but I am happy to hear that this happens to other people and it isn’t just me). I’ve had a couple of supervisors who have done that. After being managed like that for a couple projects, it makes it really hard to work independently, because I never know when I might touch the micro-managing nerve. But when I ask the boss questions, they either answer but sound annoyed, or flat out say it’s my job to make that decision. argh! In other cases, since I worked autonomously, I weighed the different pros and cons myself, and had to choose the best option. My boss wasn’t involved in the weighing of pros and cons, and finds a way to nit-pick about one of the minor “cons” that I decided was acceptable.

    1. Ask a Manager* Post author

      One thing you can try in response to that is saying at the end of a project where that happened, “It was helpful to get your thoughts on X toward the end of this, and I wonder if in the future there’s a way for us to get aligned on that sort of thing earlier in the process” and then propose an improved system. Or at the start of a new project, you can say, “I know you’ve had strong feelings on things like X and Y before, so I wanted to check in with you for input before I go any further with this plan.”

      It’s not guaranteed to work, but if she’s reasonable it’s worth a try.

  3. ChinaRette*

    Great suggestions! I had a boss like this in my previous job. He was very hands-off, but in reality we needed to meet more often than we were scheduling. I always felt paranoid that I was overstepping my bounds, since I didn’t know where they were.

    I took initiative to schedule bi-weekly meetings (every week was just too much for him). Just going over some basic activities and checking in on his priorities for me gave me more peace of mind than before. It was still frustratingly opaque sometimes–he rarely wanted to share his own priorities or his vision for our department–but at least I knew that I was working within his expectations.

    1. Ask a Manager* Post author

      One thing you can try with that situation is to lay out your own thoughts on priorities and even vision for your area and say, “does that sound right to you or would you change anything there?” You’ll usually either get their blessing or spur some input.

    2. Vicki*

      I had one like that. He’s also cancel the one-on-ones within an hour of the meeting many times. Or not cancel, just not show up.

      When we had meetings, I’d go over what I was doing. We’d talk about priorities. I thought we were communicating.

      And then along came annual review time and Surprise! I hadn’t been proactive enough because there were things I should have guessed I should have been doing that I never guessed (and hadn’t done).

      Don’t just have the meetings.
      Get everything in writing.

      1. Just a Reader*

        Ugh yes. My former boss would cancel our meetings or more often just not show up–then he dinged me on not managing up or giving him enough face time. Asinine.

  4. anonymous*

    A weekly Meeting does work very well. Another tool I have used is to do a “weekly update” at the end of the week. On Friday I would send an email with the same info that would be on the agenda – where I was at with ongoing projects, new issues that came up needed input on – including my plans for handling, new projects or issues that came up, etc. This would then become the weekly meeting agenda. My boss often traveled and was out of the office so more often than not the meeting would not occur. However, this still gave her a chance to see my progress, loop her in on any issues, and allow her the ability to comment if she wanted to. If not and I didn’t make the right move, at least I had the response that I thought it was fine to move ahead since I sent her my plans in my weekly wrap up and there were no objections. Sometimes managers feel too hands off at first, but it may also give you the chance to show what you can do on your own in the long run.

    1. Steve G*

      I like that my current job does the meeting Tuesday. When people in my company used to send out such statuses Friday, it seemed like either nothing was done with them, or they were looked at through rose-tinted glasses. It seems like everyone is more alert and ready to get down to business on Tuesday mornings.

      1. Jamie*

        Smart. I learned a long time ago to schedule the important meetings Tuesday – Thursday. Mondays people are so busy getting caught up the likelihood of rescheduling is much greater and Fridays…let’s just say the mood is different and next week’s follow up seems so far away the urgency isn’t always there.

        I love Tuesday for the big stuff. Plenty of time for a follow up within the week, if needed, but not dealing with a”case of the Mondays” which for some is a chronic and recurring condition.

      2. BHB*

        +1 to Tuesday meetings. My company regularly schedules meetings on a Friday, and to be honest most people are more focussed on the unofficial post-meeting meeting in the pub than they are on the meeting itself.

  5. Anonymous*

    I quit my previous job because of a supervisor like this. Supervisor would take weeks to approve something or forget to do important tasks. Of course, the people working under supervisor were made to look like fools when it was supervisor’s fault that things were not getting done because of lack of direction. Despite asking for meetings and e-mailing, boss would simply not reply, forget or constantly ask to re-schedule meetings.

    Although I spoke to this to the Director of the organization and HR, nothing was done. In the end, I left. So did another co-worker.

  6. Jeanne*

    This could have been my manager. But the advice would not have worked. Whenever we met she would contradict the last meeting’s advice. And even if I followed her advice I was dinged for it in my performance review. The meetings could help or could misfire. But then I guess you’ll know if you’re working for a hands off manager or a really bad one. Take good notes about your meetings and keep them on file.

    1. Not So NewReader*

      Ouch. Very painful working like that.

      OP, if you hit this wall, just repeat back what the manager is saying. Like this “So with this situation you want me to use solution A, not solution B, right?”
      Manager will probably agree.
      Next day: “Why did you do A????!!! I said do B.”
      You: “I will do either solution, I am not invested in one over the other. However, yesterday, I repeated back to you that I should follow solution A and you agreed. I am willing to rework this as best I can, but I would prefer to do it the desired way the first time. It would save the company money. How do you want me to proceed?”

      Yes, this gets to be the workplace equivalent of root canals. And yeah, in this type of setting a person is inching their way toward the door to exit the business permanently.

      1. Zed*

        This seems like a perfect scenario in which to get something in writing. I am a fairly new employee, but I would not be afraid to send a quick summary email after a meeting like this – as in “We discussed Project ABC and determined that Solution G was the best option. I will be implementing L, M, and N.” Then I would tack on a “Please let me know if I misunderstood.”

        1. quix*

          I remember having to do that with one boss after he kept instructing us to do things opposite ways from one weekly meeting to the next. He HATED it. I think he was smart enough to realize why we had to do it, but didn’t like the unspoken criticism.

        2. Jamie*

          This is excellent advice. It works when you’re dealing with someone who just ends to forget things as well as those who practice revisionist meeting history.

    2. Sara*

      “Whenever we met she would contradict the last meeting’s advice. And even if I followed her advice I was dinged for it in my performance review. The meetings could help or could misfire.”

      This describes my manager perfectly. Our meetings go like this:

      Manager: Why haven’t you been doing X like I asked you to?
      Me: Well, last time we talked about it, we agreed that X should be done by Jane so that I can focus on Y and Z. But if you want me to do X instead, I can definitely prioritize that.
      Manger: No, X should be your job. Do that instead of Z.
      *the following week*
      Manager: Why haven’t you been doing Z like I asked you to?
      Me: Last week you asked me to focus on X instead of Z. Would you like me to go back to working on Z and have Jane do X again?
      Manger: Yes, I want you to do Z. Jane can do X.
      *the following week*
      Manger: Why haven’t you been doing X like I asked you to?
      Me: *bangs head repeatedly on desk*
      Repeat each week ad nauseum.

      1. JM in England*

        +1 Sara!

        This has been my situation in a few jobs; it seems whatever you do, you’re in the wrong!

        Your comment is a prime example of why you should get everything in writing.

      2. Vicki*

        Employee: “I’m going to record this meeting to ensure that I don;t forget anything or make any mistakes in understanding. I hope that’s OK with you?”

        1. Girasol*

          Be very careful. A coworker was fired for insubordination for recording a manager’s orders. Of course, she didn’t ask politely first, as you suggest.

        1. Sara*

          I actually do this, but it doesn’t really have an impact because he is totally unmoved by facts. I can (and have) provide reams of emails showing what we agreed to, and in the end he will still hold it against me at review time. And it doesn’t help with these endlessly changing priorities, because even when he remembers that we did agree to something before, he just says he wants to do it differently now. And his managers won’t step in to do anything about it.

          1. Curious*

            So what happens when the manager keeps holding these facts/emails against us? Does it mean our jobs are on the line and the managers are steering us toward the exit door? Sorry for the tone of this post. I am asking because I do not know what this might mean.

            1. Ask a Manager* Post author

              At a minimum, it means that you have a bad and incompetent manager. It might only mean that. But in some cases, yes, it could mean that the boss might take a dislike to you and start pushing you out; you have to pay attention to the signs you’re getting and be alert to cues.

  7. Anonymous*

    I think that “forgiveness, not permission” is the mantra to use. I have been known to conclude emails with “if there are any objections to this, speak now or else hereafter forever hold your peace.”

    1. Vicki*

      I hope you don’t run into a manager like one of the ones I had. I tried something like that _once_ and oh, did he get offended (and let me know it. Loudly and at length.)

    2. BHB*

      “if there are any objections to this, speak now or else hereafter forever hold your peace.”

      I’ve used a more toned-down version – something like “let me know if there are any objections, otherwise I will continue with the plans outlined aboved”. Sadly, he was such a bad manager that even that didn’t work – I’d still get told I was prioritizing the wrong thing. The one trick that did work was to ask for confirmation and say that I wouldn’t move on until I’d had confirmation in writing from him that I was meant to do X and Y and that Z could be put back a week or two. The first time I tried it I spent an afternoon doing precisely nothing other than rearrange my desk as he’d not responded. When he questioned me on it, I pointed him to the email. He never failed to respond after that.

  8. anonymous*

    My past two bosses have been like this and so far, the story is the same: I “take initiative” and schedule meetings, and inevitably, they find excuses to get out of them. After about 6 weeks I get frustrated and quit trying, or feel silly trying to push the issue. Not the right response I’m sure, but it’s hard to be the only one trying.

    1. Ali*

      I am right there with you. I start feeling really awful about my job and my performance when I don’t have regular meetings with my boss, but she repeatedly cancels/forgets/has 18,000 senior staff meetings and refuses to schedule a set time each week because so many other meetings come up. I feel ridiculous pushing the issue too, but the alternative (for me) is feeling crappy about my job.

    2. Janet*

      Yep. Current boss is like this. I’ll be getting a new boss soon and I’m kind of eager for it. I attempted the regular meetings and those never happened. So then I just scheduled special meetings when I really really needed feedback (once a month? Every three weeks?) and she started ignoring the meeting requests – wouldn’t accept them, wouldn’t reject them – just ignored. I’d take it personally but she does this to everyone. It’s not a fun thing to work around though.

    3. Ask a Manager* Post author

      Yeah, you need to push for them — doesn’t have to be formal meetings if she’s too busy for that, could just be grabbing her for 10 minutes as you’re both leaving a different meeting. But with managers like that, you’ve got to put the onus on yourself to get the time, not wait for them to do it.

      Janet, you’re dealing with more of an outright awful boss, which is of course different.

  9. Anony*

    I feel the same way, except as a young professional just starting out in the workforce. I’m so use to having supervisors and managers micromanaging my every move (yep it’s those part-time jobs in college) and now after fortunately landing a real job, I “report” to a lead on the team. We are a very small team and I am too afraid to ask my manager those questions about my day-to-day job, yet the lead is usually too busy to help and I have already bombarded my other 2 teammates enough. I have yet to receive any feedback from anyone and I’ve been there a few months now, but I am waiting for the 90-day evaluation which is coming up soon. I have the worst-case scenerio in my head that at my evaluation, I get a ‘you are on the verge of being fired’ b/c I haven’t had any type of feedback.

      1. Anonymouse*

        The only problem with asking managers for less formal, verbal feedback if they won’t commit to something more formal (and I suspect this is a reason they are evasive with it, thus pushing you to have to be content with informal verbal exchanges) is that YOU don’t get DOCUMENTATION of your hard work. To me, that is the most important element of feedback on a job. I work hard and excel, and I want it in writing: in case someone decides to start vague insidious crap; because these days, especially in this tougher job market, a good recent performance review can help in future job searches; in “at-will” states this is often one’s ONLY form of anything resembling recourse in case of unfair dismissal; and because I want something *on paper* to show that management and I are “on the same page”, literally, about standards and expectations so that I can do the best job possible in a win-win situation with my employer. Notice that “I want to know how I’m doing” isn’t on my list— because that is a fundamental reason for feedback that is so basic as to be unworthy of comment, and also because we all know that aspect of feedback is easily handled verbally, i.e. “you’re doing great, keep it up”. That’s not the point. The point is getting documented proof that you’re doing well. I see more and more articles and opinion pieces online in management circles trying to evade this fundamental cornerstone of employee empowerment— either by trying to insist that formal reviews are “silly”, excessive, a waste of time, or pushing this “let’s just have a chat every now and then about your work” or “I’ll tell you when you’re messing up” approach. I see this as an attempt to avoid being accountable for hiring decisions, raise/promotion decisions, firing decisions, an attempt to strip what shred of recourse employees have left (not to mention self-esteem, in many cases), and an insidious way to perpetuate unfair or discriminatory treatment where it exists. I think this overall trend away from formal DOCUMENTED feedback channels is very dangerous and harmful to employees, and I’d like to hear your further thoughts on it. Perhaps you can make this a question in a future blog post… I know I’d appreciate a good discussion of it.

        1. Ask a Manager* Post author

          In my experience, managers who resist formal performance evaluations (which don’t have to be written down to qualify) aren’t resisting it because they want to avoid having written documentation; they’re resisting it because it’s a ton of work.

          They should do it anyway, but their reasons generally aren’t nefarious, just inept and lazy.

  10. Anonymouse*

    I heartily second this advice. It is a difficult balance. A manager often spends far much more time managing up than they would wish. Your boss may really want to be more involved, but may find it impossible to do while maintaining any semblance of her own work-life balance. The easier you make it on her to have these meetings, the better it will go; I promise.

    Another piece of tangential advice: figure-out as much as you can on your own before seeking her advice. Collaborate with colleagues. Check the kitchen before you ask your boss where the coffee pot is. Bosses love, love, love to hear “Bob, Susan and I got together and came up with this solution – how does this look?’

    1. jill*

      Second this one both counts – I also have a manager who’s pulled in a lot of directions, and what’s worked pretty well for me is to have a concise list of specific questions, as well as a detailed proposal of my thinking. This does require maybe 30 mins of planning for every hour of check in time, but totally worth it!

      Of course, my manager is also EXCITED to give me feedback and check in with me, it’s just a matter of her having time to do so. But think the principles probably apply when the manager isn’t inclined to feedback.

    2. Curious*

      I agree what your post, but I am interested in knowing your thoughts (or anyone else who would be interested in responding with their thoughts) on how and when to find the time to find out things on our own before asking the manager for advice. Do not get me wrong, there are things to be figured out, but I am concerned the manager will come in to the office or area and notice and comment that I am there to do my work and not to waste time doing anything else. In fact, I am precisely trying to figure things out on my own so that I could do the very work I am responsible to do. It’s a Catch-22. Sorry for the tone of this post. I am just frustrated but also want my manager to know that I try to do good work for the manager.

        1. Curious*

          One example would be like the manager asks for an article published in 1962 as part of a feasibility study. It turns out there are so many questions that come up such as which article (there are 4 different articles of various detail and length, two of which are on an external website), when (one of the articles on the external website has the best coverage but it will have to be ordered and will come in a week after the manager needs the article whereas there is an internal article that is of the least detail but it would be available within the date the manager needs it), and how (in hard copy form or in electronic form)?

          Another example would be figuring out which way to follow to do something new for the first time that has two different ways of doing it–the way a colleague taught me or the procedure in the department procedures manual that the manager showed me.

          Or the manager asks to have something done but does not specifiy how, when, with whom, where it is to be done and I end up putting other things in a lower priority and even stay after hours to get the manager’s request done only to realize that a resource I need is in an area outside of my office, after hours, and locked up (and I do not have the keys).

          1. Ask a Manager* Post author

            Most of these are about applying judgment. For the article example, if it’s not clear from the context which article it’s likely to be, you’d go back and verify with the manager, explaining that there are four. With the question about which procedure to follow, again you’d use judgment — does the employee using a different procedure explain that what’s in the handbook is outdated? If so, it’s reasonable to believe that. (And if not, you can ask her why it’s different.) Or with your third example of a manager assigning work without specifying its priority or other details, you ask those questions during that initial conversation when the work is being assigned. Most of this is about bringing your own judgment to bear, checking assumptions that have a high risk attached, and asking your own questions as you go.

  11. Anonymous*

    It also depends on the situation. Sometimes sink or swim is the company culture. When I first started working as a teenager working retail, I had a manager that was totally hands-off (because he was always smoking.) That store eventually closed and that guy got fired. Current position, there are weeks I don’t see or speak to my boss. But I’m expected to trouble shoot my own problems, and decide on the solutions to those problems without the boss’ input.(however this is expected in my type of job). It sounds like you have one of those types of companies.

    So, if this boss is so totally hands-off and it’s detrimental to the company, they might face problems or get fired. If this is expected at this job, you’ll be the one fired, if you can’t figure out a solution that doesn’t include your boss. (not saying this is right).

  12. Beth*

    In my case, my boss supervises 50 people in 20 countries. It takes weeks to get on his agenda. Since I starting working with him in January of this year, we have met twice. I came up with my own work program and as long as I produce results, which I do, he is happy. So there really is a whole range of levels of interaction in the work place.

  13. Suzanne*

    At least I now know that this happens to other people. The past 3 jobs I’ve had have pretty much mirrored this. No direction from above (but you’ll surely be called out if you do not meet the expectations that were never laid out), no training, no sense of how your job fits into the whole. I had one supervisor who, I am pretty sure, never realized I was part-time.

    I like the idea of weekly or bi-weekly meetings, but my experience has been that it usually consists of the supervisor telling me how busy he/she is and asking my opinion on items that have nothing to do with my position or asking me to do something that I don’t have the resources to accomplish (such as “Take student ID pictures” but there is no camera…)

      1. Suzanne*

        Almost all of these meetings had an agenda…which boiled down to “the supervisor telling me how busy he/she is and asking my opinion on items that have nothing to do with my position or asking me to do something that I don’t have the resources to accomplish .” I’d bring things up, but it would always veer back to the above.

        You just can’t make a bad supervisor discuss something he/she doesn’t want to discuss. Good ones, certainly, but I’ve had a run of bad ones.

        1. Ask a Manager* Post author

          There are still ways to respond to that: “I really need to ask about about X and Y. Since we’re running out of time today, can I grab you for five minutes tomorrow morning?” And if things like that don’t work, then yes, you’re dealing with Awful Manager problems that go well beyond the meetings.

  14. OP*

    Thanks so much for answering my question, and for the excellent advice! I think a weekly meeting would overwhelm her (we technically have a weekly department meeting, which gets cancelled 9 times out of 10), but a bi-weekly meeting should be doable.

  15. Bridgette*

    I have a question about “managing up.” Where does the line fall between managing up and doing your manager’s job? I realize the answer will be “it depends” but are there a few general concepts I need to consider? Sometimes I feel like I am doing everything my manager should be doing, except actually offering jobs to new hires (but I do participate in reviewing applications/resumes, interviewing, decision making, etc.). I have a very hands-off manager as well, but it feels like he’s so hands-off he’s to the point of letting me take care of everything. Sometimes my coworkers will even approach me about stuff he is supposed to handle (like requesting time off), and I have to correct them.

    1. Ask a Manager* Post author

      Managing up isn’t really about doing your manager’s job; it’s about how you manage the relationship to get the best outcomes.

      But in your case, I think you have to assume that what you’re thinking of as your manager’s job is in fact partly yours. Managers do delegate pieces of or entire responsibilities to their employees; that’s normal.

      1. Bridgette*

        Thank you! I think what it gets down to is I’m not clear what he is delegating to me and what he isn’t. When I have asked him if I’m supposed to be responsible something, he tells me “I don’t know, I’ll get back to you,” and rarely does. Guess I need to have these regular meetings.

        1. Lily*

          I guess I have pretty hands off managers as I am used to getting together with them every 3 – 8 weeks. What works for me and them is writing up my ideas in the form of a report offering multiple suggestions. They choose what they like and I expand on that idea and again offer multiple suggestions which they choose from. Since I am choosing which ideas to write up in the first place, I am happy with how much influence I have in the decisions.

  16. Louis*

    Speaking from the perspective of the manager.

    I have 18 people im team directly reporting to me. My boss also give me the objectif to log in 50% of my time as billable hours so I only have 50% of my time managing the team.

    Autonomy is my no 1 criteria in evaluating an employee. When I send ne of my people on a projet, I need someone who will be able to go there and represent the team with minimal supervision or I would personnaly explode.

    I prefer an employe that does an OK job with a 15 in a week in management overhead than a superstar that will take 5 hours of my time. (By personnal prefereance is of corse the superstar that doesn’t take my time :))

    Sometime I think it’s a self confidance issue. A lot of good employee just seems to need to have the constant “you are doing good” feedback. Unless you have an eractic boss that will not tell you when you do something wrong until it’s too late, not having regular supervision from your boss is something positive. It means he trust you.

    If your boss was worried about your performance, he would give you feedback… The squeaky well gets the grease.

  17. Ask a Manager* Post author

    Almost by definition, a superstar won’t take 5 hours a week of your time. But a good manager will check in one-on-one with her staff, at least a couple of times a month. I’ve never seen a high-performing manager, even at the most senior levels, who didn’t agree on the value of this.

    1. Louis*

      I agree with you. I normally try to talk to everyone in my team every week (every day if I can). But it’s not a formal one on one meeting because I don’t have time.

      18 people would mean 9 hours/weeks for 30 min one on one meetings. I can’t fit that in my schedule. I do group meeting every two week to make sure everyone is on the same page.

      I talk to everyone in the team each day and I’m always available if someone need to check something with me. But I can’t follow everyone on a very granular level.

      Some people (and I’m not saying this is the OP case) seems to have a need to show their boss every little they do in a day because they want to show that they are busy doing their job…

      1. Ask a Manager* Post author

        I’d argue that in most fields, 18 direct reports is too many! (In part, because of this.) But I don’t know your field — it may make perfect sense.

  18. Jamie*

    What is all this craziness out there? I mean poster after poster talking about how they can’t get an audience with their boss to touch base, get some feedback, and make sure everyone is on the same page – how is epidemic of apathy continuing?

    I’m not often stunned, and if there were one or two posters I wouldn’t be, there are all kinds of bad bosses out there but this is way too pervasive.

    If I assign someone work and they want to check in with me to touch base on the project and I ignore them. Or they send me emails telling me they will do X and proceed unless they hear from me and I really want them to do Y but can’t be bothered to reply to the email. Or a new employee wants regular meetings to to make sure we’re on the same page and that they are understanding expectations and getting the training they need and I’m so busy that I cannot spare 30 minutes every couple of weeks.

    Then the only person who should be getting dinged in a performance review for the crappy work should be me, not the people trying to do their job to the best of their ability in spite of me.

    1. Sara*

      Totally agree. I can’t speak for other places, but bad management seems to trickle down at my company. I see many Awful Managers here, including my own boss, who get away with it because their own bosses are also Awful Managers, as are their bosses’ bosses and so on.

      I think it’s particularly bad here because I’m in California, where employment laws basically protect employees from their own mistakes at the expense of employers, and HR is terrified of lawsuits to the point that they totally take over the hiring/firing process. I knew someone who was an extremely poor performer, who eventually *invited his manager outside* to settle an argument “like men” and still wasn’t fired. The only person I know who was ever fired was someone who actually stole from the company.

    2. Not So NewReader*

      Jamie, I think it is worse than it has ever been. I don’t totally blame the managers. Not only have employers subtracted employees but they have added work. More work with even less people.
      Adding to that technology isn’t doubling- its growing exponentially. There are not enough hours in the work day to learn every new thing. I have seen managers go into nervous breakdowns trying to juggle a crew, plus customers plus a new program that is crashing routinely.
      More and more I am seeing cases of the right hand not knowing what the left hand is doing: “Okay, let’s build widgets today. HEY! Who threw out all the widget material we were saving?” Conversely, I have seen people save everything because of total confusion- this means they are working around mountains of save materials that may or may not be necessary.
      And I think sometimes people give up. And that giving up manifests as “I don’t have time to meet with you.” Or “Here is a five minute explanation about something that needs a week’s worth of training.”
      It’s tough… really tough.

      1. Scott M*

        It get’s worse. Recently we have a new performance review process where the employees set their own goals. This is done with the stated purpose of having more ’employee ownership’ in the review process.

        All we need is for employees to give there own reviews and we can eliminate managers all together. Which would NOT be a good thing because I don’t like performing management duties. We NEED managers, just not hands-off ones.

        1. Anonymouse*

          Howbout when they won’t even answer your request for your own (organizationally-scheduled) performance evaluation? In my organization, there is a kind of weird vagueness regarding performance evaluations— they’re not *required*, yet in the organization’s handbook there are specific timetables, forms and procedures as to how the evals *should* be conducted. But, apparently, no consequence if managers don’t give them (not that I have pushed it— only sent the one email request weeks ago, which went unanswered and unacknowledged). I realize this, in itself, is sadly common practice, but it’s indicative of a larger problem. In my situation, with this kind of passive blow-off and a few other “cues”, it sadly seems like a case of bad management mixed with a low-level dislike/insecurity/turf issue.

          And I tend to think that’s the case in most of these situations. I hate to say it (and hate to say it about my own job) but it doesn’t seem to bode well. These managers are being uncooperative (and just plain unfriendly) in their “hands-off”-ness, and it’s for a reason. I don’t buy that they’re “too busy”, since they never seem too busy to online shoe shop or gossip about employees or whatever. They’re not too busy— they certainly SHOULDN’T be too busy to make sure the people working under them clearly understand their jobs and are on the same page to carry out those jobs most effectively. The only thing that would seem to trump their desire to have effective employees is to *NOT* have those employees be effective, for whatever their sick reasons are. Which, again, I tend to think generally boil down to some kind of insecurity (job-related and/or personal).

          With these people, it’s like trying to get blood from a turnip– they’re never going to give you what you need. The up-side to this situation is that —as long as you carefully manage your words/tone— email and CYA can be your best friend, since by their non-communication they’re basically pushing you into that. Within reasonable limits, keep sending polite emails to ask questions, ask for clarification, ask for feedback, meetings, and to document your hard work if they refuse to do so.

  19. Scott M*

    Hands-off management is the bane of my existence at my job. Alison’s idea of scheduled weekly meetings is a good one. Just be prepared to expend a lot of effort in getting your boss to actually keep the meeting. It appears there is just a disconnect in the expectations you and your manager have about management style, and you aren’t going to be able to change them.

    If you can’t get your boss to meet with you or respond, at the very least email her a status report every week, so she knows what you are working on. Not a long report, just a one-page list of what you are working on and what you have accomplished for the week. Don’t include questions in the status report, she might be reluctant to open it if she see’s it is going to be something she needs to respond to. At the very least, you will have documentation that you have kept her in the loop, and a record of your accomplishments come review time.

    Good luck to you. I know this is difficult, but there’s not much you can do to change hands-off bosses.

  20. Aviva*

    I had a very similar boss for 6 years; I also held her to a higher standard (she is a religious leader). We had a weekly meeting on our calendars, but she rarely followed through with it and I felt weird reminding her. She would cancel or schedule something else during the time we had set aside. I decided over time that she had social skills deficits, and that was part of the reason I was on the receiving end of some strange behaviors. So I withdrew from trying to interact with her because was rejected so many times. I’m not a needy person, but she told me that I needed more than she had time to give. Really? All I wanted was for her to be a human being. Some people just don’t have the social skills even for that. If that person happens to be your boss, my best advice is to get out and find another boss. You will be much happier the day you’re out of there.

  21. Priya*

    I have a hypocritical boss who schedules in a fortnightly catch-up but always cancels or moves it all the time but somehow never cancels or moves any of my colleagues catch-ups. Today I raised this with her in a subtle way but she went on complete defence mode saying that she wants the catch-ups when she books them and they are important to her blah blah and that I was being inflexible. I did say after her moving our catch-up all the time I am hardly being inflexible infact more than accommodating because I have to put everything aside when she finally has time to see me. What makes is worse is 6 months back a colleague complained I could not make a meeting with him on a particular day and she supported him even though I explained I had a client deadline that I was working flat out to meet and that I had explained this to my colleague and suggested an alternative meeting date and time – her stance was that I was wrong to not have had the meeting on the day irrespective of any deadlines and that this goes for everyone in the team not just me so essentially if a colleague asks for a meeting you have it then and there no matter what you have on, yet today she then goes against what she said and tells me that because she had some deadlines to meet that I should be more flexible to account for her having to move the meeting several times. I get so frustrated.

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