my boss is frequently absent and neglects his work

A reader writes:

I’ve been having an ongoing issue with one of my managers that I was hoping you might have some advice for dealing with. I work full-time in a split position, and half of my job reports to a manager, “Bill,” who is the direct supervisor for my entire department (including my boss for the other half of my job). Bill is exempt and is generally in the office for 3-4 hours each morning. He “works from home” in the afternoons, but it’s well known he’s working sporadically at best during that time – he’s often slow to respond to urgent emails, and many staff members, myself included, see him out around town running errands or with his family when he claims he’s working. His frequent absences are a running joke among many of my coworkers, but they’ve also informed me it’s not a situation the higher-ups would be willing to do anything about (I’ve been in this job 2 years, and I’m inclined to agree based on my experience with upper management).

We’re a news organization, and my work with Bill involves maintaining our website: posting stories online, scheduling social media, developing online strategy, etc. Bill is responsible for performing almost all of these tasks day-to-day; my role has been to a) fill in for him when he’s out, b) do more technical tasks he doesn’t have the knowledge to do and c) develop institutional policies, guidelines, and documentation related to this portion of our work. However, he frequently fails to do basic tasks that are part of his job: forgetting to post content items, for instance, or not following style protocols we’ve mutually established and agreed on. I send him emails or quick messages when I notice things that have gone undone, and try to keep my tone respectful (eg. “Hey, I noticed you did X. I’d thought we were doing Y – is this a style change you’d like me to make going forward?”) Every time we have a conversation like this, he invariably says he forgot, he’ll do it right next time, etc., but issues keep cropping up.

Because he’s out of the office so regularly, staff members come to me for things that should be his job because I have a reputation for getting them done, and they don’t trust him to do them in a timely fashion. I’ve addressed this with him, and he’s sent out emails reminding people to contact him before asking me to complete these tasks, but many still come to me (and I don’t blame them, since I’m sitting right there). These requests interrupt my workflow and make it difficult to concentrate on the things I actually need to do, and Bill agrees with me that they’re his responsibility, not mine. I feel like I’ve become my boss’s manager with all the reminders about protocol and checking in, and these habits are increasingly frustrating me, but I don’t know how to have a meta-conversation with him that’s respectful of the fact that he’s above me on the totem pole. I am job searching, which he (and my other manager) are aware of and supportive of. I especially worry about ruining my relationship with Bill because he’s willing to serve as a good reference for me. Do you have any suggestions about how I might discuss his frequent absences and seeming apathy in his work from my position as an employee?

Well, the good news here is that this stuff is clearly his job. This would be more complicated if you shared responsibility for the things people are bringing to you. Because these items fall clearly to him, you have the option of disentangling yourself from them and letting them stay on his plate — which will make his failures more visible than they are now, when you’re covering for him.

But that means that you need to stop stepping in to save him. When people come to you for things that Bill should handle, redirect them back to him. You’ll probably feel uncomfortable doing that because you’ll feel unhelpful, but your primary job is to get your own work done, and as you’ve pointed out, these requests are interfering with that. So just explain that to people: “I’m sorry, I’m on deadline for something else.” Or even a bigger-picture explanation: “I’ve realized I’ve gotten into the habit of doing this stuff for Bill, but it’s getting in the way of my other work, so I’m trying to be disciplined about not fielding things that should really go to him.”

Then, let Bill handle his own work and succeed or fail accordingly. Because as long as you keep stepping in to do it for him, he’s able to continue going AWOL in the afternoons. Consider your backing off from it to be an investment in the long-term health of your department, even if it makes things less comfortable in the short-term.

Alternately, there’s an entirely different option here, which is that you could keep doing his work if you determine that there’s some benefit to you from that. If you’re getting experience in things that it will later help you to have on your resume, and if you’re building a strong reputation as the person in your department who can get things done, those both have real value to you down the road. So if this is just annoying but not really getting in the way of you performing your own work at a high level, that’s an option to consider too.

As for whether you can have a conversation with Bill about the situation, I don’t think it’s your place to address his seeming apathy with him — but I absolutely think you can discuss how your team can improve its workflow in light of his schedule. You could just say, “Hey, your being unavailable so often in the afternoons is causing problems,” and some managers would be totally fine with it … but without knowing enough about Bill and the type of relationship you have with him, I’d suggest this: Assume his schedule isn’t going to change, and suggest ways to adapt to that. For instance: “I’ve noticed that people are increasingly bringing me X, Y, and Z because they’re having trouble getting ahold of you in the afternoons. Would it help to have me more officially be your deputy on that stuff? I’d need to delegate ___ to someone else to make room for it, but it might make sense since I know you don’t always have the time to field that stuff.” (That’s true, after all, even if the reason he doesn’t have the time is because he’s shopping or at a baseball game or whatever.) Or, if that’s not a suggestion you want to make, don’t offer yourself up. Instead say: “Is there someone else who could help with that stuff?”

Or, if you don’t have solutions to suggest, ask for his advice about how he wants it handled: “People are increasingly bringing me X, Y, and Z because they’re having trouble getting ahold of you in the afternoons. I’ve tried to send them to you, but when you’re busy, they end up coming back to me. How should I be handling that?”

Beyond that, though, you probably need to come to terms with the fact that you have a boss who sees nothing wrong with working half-time while getting paid for full-time and letting his team suffer as a result. There’s only so much you can do in that situation, and sometimes accepting that that’s the case can be the best thing of all for your mental health.

{ 80 comments… read them below }

  1. fposte

    Oh, hey, a letter I could have written fifteen years ago. And since it was all print at that point, the unfortunate fact was that I couldn’t just let Bill fail, because that meant subscribers wouldn’t get their print and I’d be on the street along with everybody else.

    Alison, at what point do you recommend going to the boss’s boss in a situation like this?

    1. Letter-writer

      Yup, that’s kind of where I am. “Letting him fail” would translate to not posting breaking news when it happens or otherwise letting things slide that significantly impact out credibility as an organization and source of news. And his bosses don’t care – they’re the types who are more invested in no one challenging authority or existing systems than in making things work, so they’re not going to spot his failures or be interested in changing anything because of them. (Also, most of them are on the older side and don’t view what we do online as an important part of our business.) Since I’m part of our web staff, a bad website reflect poorly on my down the road, and ultimately, I care more about someone doing the job well than I do about work being divided fairly. So I guess I’m kind of stuck.

      1. misspiggy

        Sounds like you might want to work to get some key tasks added to your job then, and ask for some of the other tasks to be delegated to others, as Alison suggests.

      2. Traveler

        I’d also be careful of doing his duties, because when you start doing a lot of them – they start becoming seen as ‘your responsibilities’, and when you don’t have time for them because it’s doing two jobs instead of one, you can be the one that gets thrown under the bus. Especially since his bosses don’t seem to care as long as stuff gets done.

        1. fposte

          In my case, the bosses didn’t really know–they weren’t on-site. But it’s kind of like being assigned to a group for a class project–you can refuse to do Bill’s part of it, but that means everybody gets the D. It’s a tough call. I found some stuff that I was okay with tanking and dropped it, and started intervening in prospective commitments and preemptively saying no, but it was still difficult.

          1. Kelly L.

            Ha, yes, I hated those projects, and in retrospect, I think they did teach me a lesson about the adult world…but I’m not sure it was the lesson the teachers meant to impart.

            1. Dr. Speakeasy

              It is indeed part of the lesson I intend to impart :) But, I also straight up fail slackers on projects as long as the other group members make it clear that they provided every opportunity for the slacker to not slack.

              1. Chinook

                Ditto on part of the reason I would use group projects was to teach people how to work in a group environment. I would reinforce this by having the students grade each other, and themselves, and have that be part of the final project mark. They were discouraged form giving each other all perfect marks by having to use a grading matrix (i.e. pick the phrase that best suits) and then justify it.

                Frankly, learning how to work with stealthy slackers without going bonkers is a vital job skill that can only be taught through experience.

              2. Melissa

                Yeah, one professor I TA’ed for asked all the group members to evaluate each other and made it clear that if the consensus was that Member D wasn’t pulling her weight, Member D would get a lower grade than everyone else.

            2. Melissa

              It actually is. As a TA I’ve supervised lots of group projects and the professors explicitly mentioned to me that that was part of the lesson they were trying to teach students. And inevitably when students complained about someone not pulling their weight, I’d explain to them that they’re going to have to deal with it in their jobs – but that time, it won’t be a grade that’s on the line, it’ll be their job and paycheck.

          2. Traveler

            I was lucky in college, and typically had teachers that also accepted a “vote him/her off the island”. If someone wasn’t pulling their weight, and the rest of the group agreed, we could approach the professor and that individual had to complete the whole project on their own separate from ours. So maybe that skewed my view a bit.

            I just mean, if you take on too much of someone else’s work – eventually you might get the D anyways because you can’t keep pace with two workloads. If that work has been “assumed” as part of your role, when the music stops and the higher ups look down, you might be the one in trouble instead of the person who actually deserves the blame. I’ve found the types that “don’t care as long as it gets done”, can often be the types who “don’t care who takes the blame as long as someone does”, too.

            It’s definitely easier said than done, and not always the right solution, just wanted to point out it’s something someone should be cautious with.

          3. Jennifer

            Hah yeah, this is totally like group projects. It may cost you more in the end to drop it than it does for him. In that case, I think I’d just be asking to take on more of his work officially since (a) I’m ending up doing it no matter what anyway, and (b) nobody has to pretend that Bill is actually going to post stuff or whatever it is he’s supposed to be doing.

        1. Letter-writer

          The suggestions about asking him how to handle it will likely work. Part of me is convinced he’ll just tell me he’ll handle it and then continue not doing so, but it’s definitely worth a shot. (He’s been doing this for years, far longer than I’ve been here, and was doing it in his last job which he was promoted out of to this one.)

          I am basically his deputy, but we have different day-to-day responsibilities, and we’re so criminally understaffed (newspaper and all that) that re-delegating work isn’t really a thing we can do, because everybody is working more than a full-time job already. I am working on training another staff member on my/his responsibilities so we can spread them out more, and I hope that will help.

          Ultimately, I think a lot of what I need to do is just accept that this is how things are, and I don’t have the power to change established patterns in the office that predate me by a decade or more. Alison, a lot of what you said will help me mitigate the worst impacts, but I think I partially just needed to hear that entrenched situations like this are difficult to change, especially if you’re just one junior person.

          1. MissDisplaced

            Ugh! I never can understand how people like “Bill” get to stay in, and even GET PROMOTED when it is so clear they are not doing their job. The working from home and being unreachable, and the frequent “forgetting” is so inexcusable. Any of us peons would be fired if we even had one day of doing that.

            1. Jennifer

              That’s why people get into management: they can do whatever the hell they want and get away with it. Peons can’t get away with peeing for longer than 2 minutes.

      3. ExceptionToTheRule

        OP, dDo you work in my newsroom? I have no advice, but I feel your pain.

        We all have at least one Bill. I wish I could tell you that karma will eventually bite him in the ass, but that’s not true IME. You (or someone like you) will keep doing the job that needs to be done because you have pride and a work ethic and want the team to be successful. Bill will keep working 20 hours a week,getting paid for 40, and getting all of the official recognition and accolades that go with a job well done until there’s turnover at the management level. It sucks. /commiseration

      4. Adam V

        > “Letting him fail” would translate to not posting breaking news when it happens or otherwise letting things slide that significantly impact out credibility as an organization and source of news.

        Maybe I’m a bad person, but personally, I’d still do that. I’d do it with something where it was crystal clear that it was supposed to be Bill’s responsibility, he was “on the clock” at the time, and it didn’t get done. It might be the wake-up call that the higher-ups need to finally start managing.

        (Then again, it’s easy for me to say “damn the consequences” when I’m not the one who’d get hauled into meetings to ask why this was allowed to happen.)

        1. Nina

          That’s what I thought, as well. I’ve worked in print media so I know how important deadlines are, but it might take a missed headline or story for management to see that Bill isn’t getting any work done. This situation also makes it impossible for the OP to be away from the office (vacation, emergency) because Bill isn’t there.

          I can understand the OP not wanting to risk her job, though. I think having some of his tasks added to your job description officially would help. If you’re not comfortable with that, then I would start job hunting.

        2. afiendishthingy

          Yeah, my first response was definitely that you have to STOP doing his work because it’s definitely reinforcing his bad behavior, but your point about your website looking bad reflecting negatively on you makes that very tricky. Do you think there’s anyone in your department who would like to be officially deputized??

        3. MS

          I also work in a news room, with a similar supervisor, unfortunately, (only ours doesn’t admit to forgetting to do things, there’s always an excuse why he didn’t do it/a reason it was actually someone else’s fault) and while I’ve been tempted to just not cover for him and let things go wrong, at least where I am, that STILL wouldn’t reflect on him, even if it was his responsibility. It’d come down on the staff for either 1) not being aware enough of the breaking news and not knowing that this story needed to get up, or 2) not having the drive or concerns for our site to put it up when we noticed it wasn’t there and decided not to just do it ourselves. Fun times for all.

    2. Ask a Manager Post author

      Alison, at what point do you recommend going to the boss’s boss in a situation like this?

      In general, I’d say when the boss’s boss has proven herself to be sane and reasonable, and has a track record of valuing fixing problems over avoiding conflict (which unfortunately doesn’t seem to be the case here).

  2. ser4ph1m

    Just seconding that mentally accepting it as the way things are (if things just really cannot change) really does make a big difference in your mental health at the job. Wishing you the best!

    1. GrumpyBoss

      I once had a mentor who would tell me that when things get tough, you have 3 choices. First is to try to influence change. If that didn’t work, you can accept it. But if you cannot mentally accept it, moving on is the third and final choice.

      It’s great advice that stuck with me throughout my career.

      1. Just me

        My mentor gave me similar advise, and it served me well, too. It helped me move to the next stage in my career.

  3. GrumpyBoss

    I don’t think the problem is Bill. I think the problem is the upper management’s unwillingness to address this. And they have to be aware. If you are not getting deliverables completed by him, chances are his boss isn’t either.

    My litmus test for situations like this: remove Bill from the equation. Pretend you report directly to Bill’s boss. Is everything rosy? Or is there a whole different layer of dysfunction you are dealing with?

    Sorry, I personally would be looking in a situation like this.

    1. AVP

      She commented above that part of the problem is that the people above Bill don’t see the web as an important component of their newspaper business, so aren’t willing to manage it. In this case unfortunately I think I would be looking as well – Bill is taking advantage of the situation, but the real problem is the management and their priorities, which are clear.

  4. littlemoose

    Yeah, my concern would be that letting Bill fall down in the short term could be deleterious to the OP’s reputation. It sounds like their work is pretty closely intertwined, and if things aren’t getting done, it may get blamed on her. It’s not right or fair at all, but I think it’s a potential consequence, unfortunately.

  5. soitgoes

    I think the latter solution could work if Bill is willing to roll with the OP getting a new, important-sounding title. Maybe something managerial that indicates that she is officially taking on more important duties.

    1. CTO

      Good suggestion. Since OP is looking for another job, gaining a better title at her current job might be a nice improvement to her resume. I’m guessing it won’t come with a raise, but that’s less important when OP already has one foot out the door.

      1. soitgoes

        Especially since the “promotion” would allow her to unambiguously list Bill’s old duties on her resume as well.

  6. MR

    I’m in a mildly similar situation right now.

    However, it’s where there are six departments that aren’t pulling their weight, and because I work at a time where it’s convenient that I ‘help them out,’ they all ask me to pick up their slack.

    But I have clear instruction from the person that oversees all of these departments that I am to tend to other activities during these times, so that I let their demands go.

    I would recommend the OP do this. You can’t cover your bosses ass, while you don’t do your job. Do what you you need to do. Let your boss fail and you will be fine.

  7. Allison

    I was in this exact situation, oh, three months ago. My manager, the director of the department, was usually completely MIA – site visits, martini lunches, golfing – you name it, he was not at his desk. I was the person who got completely stuck with all the deadlines, sales team problems, managing problems, and client complaints despite that not being something I was remotely paid for. He was also in a very technical role, and when I started getting stuck doing conference calls to explain our findings to clients, despite having no engineering background and then having them get upset with me for my lack of experience, that was enough.

    On my way out, I did mention to upper management a brief overview of the issues and they brushed it off with a “so?” I really recommend you move on, I have a great boss now who actually responds to email and comes back to the office after going to lunch.

    1. Windchime

      I actually had a supervisor who had been involved in a huge money laundering scheme prior to becoming my supervisor. There were documents, easily found on the internet, implicating him in a very shady operation. He came to our office with no experience and was worse than useless. Long lunches, very little face-time, no guidance or supervision from him at all. When I left, I told this to someone who was in a position high in the organization; the response was basically a shrug. This guy was then promoted to administration! The only reason he was finally let go was because it was apparent that it was only a matter of time before his past made it into the local paper.

      Sometimes there is just no understanding why people like this are allowed to get away with their behavior.

  8. C Average

    PSA for the Bills out there: Everyone you work with sees what you’re doing. They can see that you’re not doing your job. Sure, you’re collecting a paycheck even though you’re not doing your job, but there are other costs. Your reputation is suffering, and I’ll bet your self-respect is, too. You CAN knock this off. You CAN choose to re-engage with your work. It’ll be tough at first. You’ll have to overcome a lot of inner resistance. But it’s the right thing to do and you’ll sleep better at night if you demonstrate some integrity and a work ethic. Or maybe it’s time for you to look for a new job or take a long vacation or seek to formally reduce your role. Think how much happier you’d be if you didn’t have to make this sad pretense of working, and knowing you’re not really fooling everyone. Your colleagues deserve better and so do you.

    1. Not So NewReader

      PS to the Bills out there: Your employees laugh at you behind your back. They have running jokes with each other “Oh, Jane pulled a Bill stunt yesterday.” Yes, they have given the behavior a name… and the name is the same as yours.

      1. krisl

        I used to have a couple of co-workers who were “Bill”‘s. They weren’t management. Eventually they were gone. It did take a while though. We did make fun of them behind their backs. It was our way of dealing with people who made our life harder due to their incompetence and laziness.

    2. Anon-y-muss

      Thanks for posting this today, C Average. This is exactly what I needed to see.

      (That probably sounds sarcastic – it’s not. I’ve been slacking at my work for the past couple of months, for a lot of reasons that aren’t really important. I’ve been “getting away with it” so far, but reading this made me realize I’m probably not. Time to get my head in the game for real. Seriously, thanks.)

      1. C Average

        Good luck! I have been in this position and it’s a tough slog back, but it can be done. Know that it’ll take some time to build up your stamina and re-engaging, but being able to look yourself in the eye again will make it worthwhile. (And if the very nature of the job is part of the problem, which it might be, good luck in figuring out what would be a better fit and getting after it. Don’t stay stuck in the wrong place.)

    3. Clever Name

      Yep. I worked for a “Bill” for nearly 3 years. When I worked for him my mom kept telling me karma would catch up to him, but I know it already has. He is divorced, spends Christmas alone, and lunch dates walk out on him after 10 minutes (this is all stuff he shared openly with our small office).

  9. Alien vs Predator

    Since you are a news organization, you should have one of your staff members do some investigative journalism on Bill’s work habits. Then post it to the website. BOOM

  10. Alien vs Predator

    Seriously, though, if Bill knows you are actively looking for another job and is still seeing the connection between that and his own behavior, I would take it as a sign that you need to find another job. Keep the plates spinning while you are there, and take full advantage of his willingness to give you a good reference. And, all those extra tasks you are doing? Make absolutely sure everything goes on your resume. If you’ve done it once, you’ve done it and it is fair game to put on your resume.

    Good luck in your job search. And don’t beat yourself up about “failing” to fix this problem. When you are on the lower end of the totem pole there is really only so much you can do to help organizations improve.

    1. Mrs. Psmith

      Working in the newspaper business myself, I’m glad you are job searching. There are so many other news organizations out there that would love to have someone who understands and is dedicated to the digital side of the business. It sounds like your current employer is stuck in the dinosaur mode of thinking “online doesn’t matter” and it absolutely does. Do what you can to preserve the reference from Bill, but I highly support moving on as quickly as you can.

      1. Melissa

        I wonder how many news organizations will go under in the next 10-15 years because they have assumed that “digital doesn’t matter.” I’m 28 and none of my peers read paper newspapers anymore – they’re all online. I personally read three periodicals before I roll out of bed every morning – but all on my iPhone or iPad.

  11. Anon for this

    I’m sorry this is happening, OP.

    The problem with the advice to let Bill fail now is that people will wonder why this years-long behavior is just now resulting in disaster, and the OP will likely be blamed. It’s a no-win situation for the OP. Leverage those de facto managerial skills into a promotion for yourself. I’m not saying that would be easy, but it is better than the alternative.

    I just got away from a similar situation, except that my absentee boss was a screamer. She would flit in and out of the office at will, scream at everyone for never doing anything correctly, and flatly refused to pay attention to any of the warnings I gave her about impending disasters. (Nevermind that the work was almost always done correctly, and the times it wasn’t, we were able to correct the mistake before any negative consequences triggered – meaning we had to endure her tantrums because she would NOT be denied the 20-30 min of screaming before settling down and finding a solution.)

    The problem was, as with OP, my reputation was on the line, because we all share the same kind of professional license. I had zero interest in the state board disciplining me because she couldn’t properly manage her company. I had no control, but my fate was at least tangentially tied to her terrible management and decisionmaking. I ended up consulting a professional malpractice attorney to develop a plan to protect myself in the future and got the frak outta there.

    I feel horrible for the colleagues I left behind, but I had to save myself.

  12. Angela

    I could have written this letter three years ago. My direct supervisor frequently “worked from home” while I did all of her work. I ultimately stuck it out until I accepted a promotion which moved me out of her department. Since I was in the same company, it was interesting to see how things played out once I left the department. If the OP sees this, I can assure you that a reputation of being a person who “gets things done” will help you out in your career. I know it’s the reason I received the position I’m in now and why my current supervisor is 100% behind the promotion I’m currently in the running to receive.

      1. Angela

        Less than 6 months later she announced that the job had become “too overwhelming” and she left the company. I’m not sure what she does now. A former peer of mine in that department took her position and that is when I found out that not only had she been delegating out the entirety of her job duties, she had even been reassigning tasks to myself or another person in our department that she had been given by her supervisor for her specifically to do.

        1. Melissa

          I honestly don’t understand people who believe they should be able to collect a paycheck for doing nothing.

  13. Jeanne

    My boss came to work for 8 hours but he read 3 newspapers a day and claimed everything wasn’t his job. I had everyone coming to me for help as well. He is still employed there and no one seems to care that he does nothing.

    What I want to know is how do I get a job where I get full time pay for no work and few hours? People like Bill seem to be everywhere. How do they keep their jobs and no one cares in management?

      1. Jeanne

        I do and that’s why I did all the work I did in that role. I am no longer there. But it’s amazing how much good talent is lost because of bad talent yet the patterns continue.

        1. Windchime

          Yes, and it’s sad that there are so many good people with strong work ethics out there looking for jobs, and they don’t get the opportunity because of the Bills of world who are “working” instead.

      2. afiendishthingy

        Yup. You probably have a conscience too. And the Bills of the world keep their jobs because there are people like the LW who care about their product and will do his work on top of their own. Upper managers see the work is getting done by someone, so why change things?

  14. mortorph

    I’m glad to hear that there are Bill’s out there in every organization. Well, not glad that these type of managers exist exactly – but at least happy to know that I am not the only one experiencing this problem. I have been wanting to write in about this for a couple of months, but basically came to the conclusion that other commenters have already said: “either accept the situation, or its time to move on”

  15. Brett

    Reading the firs paragraph, I thought for a moment that I had written that letter and forgotten about it!
    My boss has been behaving the exact same way for three months.

    Turned out, he was looking for a new job. He announced his retirement last week (after 30 years here) and is moving to a new company. He then took vacation for pretty much the rest of his time here, which is a disaster of a magnitude you cannot begin to understand.

  16. EmmBee

    I see you’ve met my old boss!

    It took literally years, but his boss finally saw the light, and he was let go from the company. My only advice is to document, document, document. I kept a running list and a separate email folder of everything he did (or didn’t, as the case may be) do that fell to me and/or others. I went to him with the list several times (I eventually reached my IDGAF phase and spoke honestly to him about his shortcomings). That changed nothing.

    Eventually I was promoted above him and we shared a boss, who soon realized it was time to do something about him, and she asked for my help. By that point I had literally years of evidence.

    Good luck!

  17. Seal

    I was in a similar situation a decade ago – boss frequently absent but claiming to work from home, ignoring emails, dodging phone calls, even calling in sick to get out of meetings. My coworkers were all but useless as well, so the bulk of the work and problem solving fell to me. People quickly learned to come to me if they needed something done – I always delivered. Since our department appeared to be running smoothly thanks to me, my boss’s boss never questioned his schedule.

    To my boss’s credit, he did acknowledge my work and me as the person who ultimately ran the place. So when he inexplicably got promoted, I assumed he would take care of the person who covered his ass for so many years with a promotion as well. Wrong! The promotion went to someone else. When I complained to HR about his behavior, no one believed me because no one had ever complained about him before; they thought I was complaining because I didn’t get promoted. Furious and humiliated, I left several months later for a better job.

    Several years later, I heard that my former boss got fired for exactly the same behavior he demonstrated when I worked for him – this time, I wasn’t around to cover his ass. Karma is a beautiful thing!

  18. Nina

    Reading these comments, it’s sad that there are so many absentee bosses out there who still get paid while their coworkers are forced to pick up the slack. I’ve had one of those, too. When I worked at the cable company (shudder) I got so many requests to speak to my supervisor but I could never connect them to him. This guy would breeze in and out of the building and only show up for staff meetings. On those rare occasions he was at his desk, he refused to take calls. People would be screaming at me and I would be thinking “Yeah I’d like to talk to my boss, too. Let me know if you see him any time soon.”

  19. Not So NewReader

    One small consolation OP, your boss will miss you when you are gone. He also miss his lifestyle of shopping and dining while collecting a paycheck.

    The thing that slays me here is that if this were a worker at the bottom of the totem pole, all heck would break loose.

    I did have one thought. These folks that are asking for your help can you ask them to call/email Bill to get his approval for you to make the decision? Can you say “When I get the green light from Bill, I will follow up here.”
    This is kind of like inserting an extra step into the process.

    Using a big picture focus, I would start writing down all the Bill-level decisions you make. It will look sweet on a resume. If anyone questions you on making decisions that were above your level just say, “My boss gave me a lot of room to grow professionally.” I think of any of the choices here this is the one that I would probably go towards. A company can encourage us OR force us to develop more skills. Either way, the beautiful thing here is that the skills are ours and we get to take the skills with us when we go.

  20. Pucks Muse

    10 year newsroom veteran here.

    The problem with this is the very nature of a newsroom demands the work gets done, even if one person is missing work, consistently not doing their job or doing it very badly. For reporters, it’s a matter of pride to get the content delivered, because if they don’t they feel like they’re failing their readers/community. There’s also the factor of not wanting to be beaten by the competing news sources. So the work gets done, which is all management cares about. And as long as it gets done, they don’t see the problem. They won’t fire problematic employees. After all, the work got done. If the staff size is shrinking, they won’t hire more. After all, the reporting team managed to do the work with fewer people. They can just continue to do that!

    I hope the LW manages to find another job soon.

  21. Anon for this one

    Oh man I sympathize. I’m dealing with this currently, too. My big struggle (has anyone else been struggling with this?) is trying to not feel resentful and have a crappy attitude, since I’m getting some really good resume experience. That is – if my boss was more on the ball, my resume wouldn’t look nearly as good. I keep trying to remind myself it’s not fair or helpful feeling snotty about the boss’ behavior since I can’t change it and my resume benefits. But I really struggle. Anyone else dealing with that conundrum, or have any advice? I just don’t want to be eaten alive by negative feelings as I search for a better job.

    1. Letter-writer

      Oh man, I totally relate to the resume-building thing. Something that’s helped me not go crazy so far is to just focus on the work itself, which I do really enjoy. So even if something’s technically his job to do, I try to just focus on taking pride in doing it well and not worrying about who “should” be doing stuff. If my workload is really high or I’m getting really distracted, that doesn’t always work, but more often than not, it helps me refocus and stay sane.

    2. Not So NewReader

      The only thing that has even put a dent in it for me is telling myself that I have to live with ME.

      At the end of the day I know I did a crappy job or carried a crappy attitude. And that is not the person I want to be. I want to be able to look myself in the mirror and know I did my best- even if it’s Situation Impossible. I forced myself to constantly look for new things to learn and how to broaden my knowledge pool. This gave me something to redirect my thinking toward when I started down the “boss is an idiot” road.

      If we could cure idiots by thinking about them really hard we would have fixed all the idiots in the world by now.

  22. Ruth

    Just a comment to say there is an ad generating pop up dialogs on mobile versions of this page claiming that android has a virus and click OK to fix it, happened 3 times I open this page, although the dialogs were not exactly the same, two times there was only an option OK, so couldn’t read the post and the third time was option to cancel as well, assuming it isn’t a problem with my phone (not happened elsewhere) hopefully you can find and disable this! Thanks.

    1. Ask a Manager Post author

      Thank you so much for telling me — this should not be happening, and hearing your reports is really helpful. I’m working to put a stop to it.

  23. Angora

    Just curious. Could the OP request to work from home in the mornings? That way you are out of the office when he’s present and you’re not visible. That will force your coworkers to go to him.
    If you’re out sight; you may be out of mind.

  24. Ruffingit

    I’ve been working a long time now in a couple of different fields and one thing that I think I’ve finally learned is that it is what it is. A dear friend and mentor told me that 14 years ago and in the last few years it’s finally really stuck. Some jobs and some bosses just suck and getting out is the only viable option. You can try to effect change, but with management that doesn’t give a damn, that is effort you shouldn’t waste when you could be spending it on job searching. Alison’s wonderful advice to mentally move on while job hunting also applies when you’re in job situations such as the OP describes. Mentally move on from ever thinking it’s going to be any different and spend the energy you save by doing so on getting out and finding a place where you are valued.

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