how to cope with unreasonable deadlines

A reader writes:

I work in a very small office, doing a series of specific technical projects, reporting to a very young, recent-graduate manager who doesn’t have any experience in my area. I am regularly asked to complete projects in ridiculous timeframes. For instance, a project that I (and other peers) would normally budget around 30 days for, I am asked to complete in 4-12 days. My manager is clearly receiving directives from his superiors, who also have no experience in my area, but clearly believe that they need to push their employees. I am constantly going back to my manager to explain that more time is needed for these projects, but it makes no difference. Usually I get a barrage of micromanaging questions: why does it take this much time? Why can’t you do it in the time frame? Why does that take so much time? Shouldn’t it take you x time to do y? Can’t you do y instead of z? For our most recent project, I told him that I was doubtful I would meet the deadline, and if I did I would need extensive help and resources from him. His reply was to simply reiterate my deadline.

It’s a small company. Our department is my manager and me, that’s it. I’m looking for another job (surprise, surprise) but in the meantime I’d love some tips on how to handle my manager so I don’t have to dread going to work.

You can read my answer to this question over at Inc. today, where I’m revisiting letters that have been buried in the archives here from years ago (and often updating/expanding my answers to them).

{ 58 comments… read them below }

  1. rozin

    Lord am I feeling this one. Though my issue is more the other departments not meeting their deadlines, but since I’m at the end of the project pipeline, I’m still expected to meet the “overall” deadline. And I often have to “make up for lost time.” It’s very frustrating.

    1. alter_ego

      I’ve definitely run into that a few times. 95% of my work is done on my own, and the last 5% requires information from another group. We have the same deadline for a project, because we’re each working on different parts of it. So they’ll have it don’t right at the deadline. But that means that I need to take another hour or two to incorporate their information. And now I’M the one making things late, even though the other 95% of the job has been done for two days. Makes me crazy.

    2. Engineer Girl

      Been there done that. I found that tagging my deadlines to inputs helps. I’ll say I can deliver my product X days after these inputs. Then when the inputs are missed I’ll email the higher ups and state that the new delivery date for the product is Y due to late inputs. It helps to be proactive and establish expectations. Many times I’ll still get pushback and that’s where the 2nd conversation comes in – what would you like me to drop to meet the deadline? An unreasonable manager still wants it all, of course. It helps if you can sit down with your manager and show her how the late deliveries affects the product. In their heart of hearts they know that not holding others accountable is wrong.

      1. Jessa

        Exactly, it’s important to let management know that the hold up is outside your control. If you don’t ever tell them that, how are they going to know to deal with the other groups, AND they need to stop blaming you, Alter Ego. But they won’t because if you don’t tell them, then well they couldn’t fix it.

        Either give the deadline with “still needs stuff from Jon in Sales,” or talk to them about making the deadlines successive – Project Due Friday, Dept 1 due Monday, Dept 2 on Wednesday (they need Dept 1) and Alter ego that gives you about two days to do your end on time, let us know by 2 on Wednesday if you don’t get the info.

        But from a management standpoint, I’d be kinda annoyed if I got “It was late cause sales didn’t give me the numbers,” and I had not previously been told that there are issues with how the deadlines are formulated.

  2. Ad Astra

    Assuming the OP is right in describing these deadlines as unreasonable, I feel like a related question would be “How do I negotiate goals when my manager doesn’t understand the tasks involved in my job?” Instead of unreasonable deadlines, I’ve often been on the receiving end of impractical requests or unrealistic goals.

    Or occasionally off-hand requests that were technically doable, but would require more time and energy than they were worth. Like, sure, I can get you a glittery teapot but I’d have to coordinate with the design team and the materials team, and that’s a lot of work for a single teapot that you’ll only use once. Sometimes my boss just didn’t understand the processes or technology involved, and I struggled to tactfully explain our team’s limitations. I imagine it would be a bit of a struggle from the manager’s point of view as well.

    1. anon o

      That’s something I really struggle with because my boss is already kind of unreasonable and I’m constantly pushing back on things on behalf of me and the people in my department. So when we actually CAN do something but it’s just a lot of work, it’s sometimes hard to judge when to pick my battles and retreat or push back. I try a lot of “well we can do that but then we can’t do this” but it only works so many times in one meeting.

  3. The Other Dawn

    There’s probably a lot of pressure on the manager from the higher-ups to get X done, and that’s flowing down to the OP. The manager likely doesn’t have a full understanding of what goes into a project and that’s why he’s asking so many questions. I’ve been in OP’s position and the manager’s position, so I know what it’s like. Managers don’t always know all the moving parts that are involved in a project and how doing A can affect B and C in an unexpected way.

  4. M. S.

    And sometimes the deadlines are from external sources (i.e. something MUST be done by date X or the company will face serious fines.)

  5. YandO

    What is up with recent grad managers these days?

    I am interviewing with a company where my potential manager graduated college the same year I would have, if I did not shave off a semester. That’s 4 years ago. He has total of 1 year experience leading a team and none leading a department. And he came with no industry experience to the company not even 3 years ago. I mean, I know some people are superstars, but even superstars need experience to manage, mentor, and lead.

    I am really struggling with the idea of joining a team where my manager feels more like my drinking buddy than a mentor. How is he supposed to teach me? Guide me? Help me through rough situations? I guess I should give him a benefit of the doubt….but this situation does not help me do that.

    1. Colette

      It’s possible to have life experience (and leadership experience) before graduating from college. I certainly know people not long out of college who would be good managers – and I know people in their fifties who wouldn’t be.

      1. YandO

        I know people in college who will be good managers one day, but that day is not today.

        Some people are naturally talented and there is no doubt about it, but before they come into their own, they still have a lot to learn. I don’t know, maybe he is awesome, but I would be a lot more inspired if his story was “interned at this place three summers, hired right out of school, then led a team for 3 years, promoted to department manager”. That would make perfect sense to me.

        A story that goes graduated college, got random job three months later, fell into a random position, then was hired without industry experience and promoted to a manager within 3 years….it’s just not the same story.

        1. Colette

          It depends on what other leadership experience he has, though. I mean, you’re free to decide that you don’t want to work for him regardless, but it’s possible that he has other experience that make him a good manager. It’s also possible that he’s terrible – but there are terrible managers of all ages.

          Industry experience is valuable, but it’s not the only type of experience that matters.

    2. Engineer Girl

      I have the same issue with systems engineers. How can you be a systems engineer if you’ve never worked the product and understand the issues driving the product? The same goes for managers – how can you lead if you’ve never been one of the troops?
      In this situation it’s clear that the manager is clueless. If the manager is a good person then the best strategy is to sit down with the manager and explain why it takes X days to get a product out the door. They can become your advocate if they understand that you are already delivering a product as fast as you can. A bad manager simply wants to please the higher ups and won’t advocate.
      I remember one project I was on that no amount of explaining worked. Finally one of the engineers exploded by bursting out: “You can’t drive from San Francisco to Los Angeles in one hour no matter how hard you try!” The manager sat there stunned – then refused to move the date. That’s when you try to get off the project.

      1. INTP

        Your last paragraph reminded me of an industry cartoon I saw on a blog (not engineering, but a project based industry): A project manager is someone who thinks nine women can create a baby in one month.

        (No offense to the PMs, I know you’re under unreasonable pressures too!)

      2. NavyLT

        How can you lead if you’ve never been one of the troops?

        Well, you accept that your people know more about their jobs than you do. Then you sit down with them, talk to them, listen to what they have to say, and develop an understanding of what is and is not reasonable to expect out of them. All managers, whatever their work experience, were at some point new to management experience–and having been “one of the troops” doesn’t by any means guarantee that you’ll be good at leading them. You still have to learn how to lead. In OP’s particular case, it sounds like the manager might not be doing a very good job of standing up to his bosses. That is, of course, another important part of leadership–being the “heat shield” between your bosses and your people. OP’s boss may just need to develop a stronger backbone.

        1. Engineer Girl

          No, serving as one of the troops doesn’t guarantee good leadership. But I’d argue that a leader that never served can’t lead well. The best leaders are beat up around the edges because they’ve gone through something similar themselves.
          I agree with you that the OP’s lead doesn’t appear to have a backbone. They’re more worried about looking good to their boss than establishing reasonable expectations – both up and down.

    3. Stranger than fiction

      Hate to say it but proceed with caution. My significant other is in this same situation. Boss’s age (30) wouldn’t be a problem in and of itself but he severely lacks experience, management skills, and business common sense. So now my SO is constantly managing upward and spending enormous of energy doing things outside his job description that his boss should have done long before they hired him..and in his case the unrealistic deadlines are simply because the dude is so unorganized he neglects to pass the request on to my SO until say the day before when he knew about it a week prior

    4. Ad Astra

      I’m sure it depends a lot on the industry, the office, and the job itself, but I don’t think getting promoted to a management position in three years is crazy. I’m four years out of college and have a lot of classmates in positions with some management duties.

      You know how some people excel at their jobs but can’t manage their way out of a paper bag? Some people are the other way around, great at managing people but only so-so as far as technical stuff goes. Remember that your manager doesn’t have to be your mentor.

  6. Vera

    Regarding trading perfection for speed…is this a work trait that can be learned? As a serial perfectionist, I really, really struggle when I am asked to deliver the bare minimum (slides not formatted/white background, data not consolidated into a summary sheet, whatever).

    I have found that being asked to deliver things quickly rather than properly makes me really unhappy and stresses me out, so I end up working like crazy to deliver it quickly *and* to my quality standards.

    I would love to know if this is something I can learn to adapt to. If others have, please share how you do it!

    1. Amber Rose

      Can you set personal standards for the minimum? Like, white backgrounds on slides, but text adjusted to make it look less awful? Data not consolidated, but at least formatted in a readable form? Not the BEST, but the best possible worst.

      Or, as one of my favorite writers put it, can you make it the “cream of the crap” and be happy with that?

      1. Ad Astra

        This sounds like good advice. Decide what your minimum standards are vs. finishing touches that are more cosmetic or stylistic in nature (not sure kind of products you work on). It might even be worth discussing this with your manager to make sure you’re on the same page about what’s a priority and what’s a flourish.

        I’m not sure you can completely eliminate this preference/tendency in yourself, but you might save your sanity by focusing on the practical purpose of what you’re producing and really understanding the needs of the situation.

    2. INTP

      Thinking of it from a business perspective helps me. There are legit reasons when the client may need the final deliverable sloppier but more quickly (usually because they’ve sent us the raw materials later than they should have to make their own deadlines). That means I’m not turning in sloppy work, I’m just essentially performing a different service than I would for other clients. It’s kind of like how a doctor that gives out cold medicine at a minute clinic is not going to do as comprehensive a workup as a GP giving a physical, but that’s not because they are sloppier or less thorough, it’s just a different need for the end client.

      I also have the different tasks that are part of my stages of the project prioritized so I know where to start if I’m under time pressure. This is something I had to learn because I would try to work straight through according to my own perfectionist wishes and run out of time when I first started. When I’m proofreading a document, with a really short amount of time I might run a spellcheck and double spaces check and make sure that all the text is there and legible and be done. With a little more time, I’d read through it to check for grammar errors. With extra time I’d personally research anything that seemed factually iffy and improve the formatting. That way I’m not doing a sloppy job at any one thing, I am just doing the things I have time for as thoroughly as usual.

      1. Kira

        I like the way you put it. The things that are being tackled get tackled up to par, and then you can accept that you didn’t use all your techniques.

    3. James M

      Can you shift your perfectionism onto a process instead of the end result? By that, I mean coming up with a plan to produce the bare minimum deliverable, then executing that plan to a T.

  7. Cambridge Comma

    If the recent graduate doesn’t have any understandingof the technical filed, perhaps the OP could do a sample breakdown of how long each of the steps takes and why it adds up to 30 days. I do this sometimes for editing and proofreading. People think you can proofread at a normal reading pace, for example, and find it unreasonable to have to wait 17 hours for 100 pages. Explaining the different steps makes them realise what is being done. Another thing that helps is linking to independent sources of information online.

    1. Mockingjay

      Exactly!

      Last week I had to drop everything to do a deliverables matrix for my Government Team Lead. I had to list all the unfinished management and process plans for the project, then pencil in dates to get them completed. She didn’t understand why I couldn’t do this on the fly (she pulled me into a conference room and wanted it done then and there). I took the list and gave it back to her 3 days later, because I took the time to give her accurate info. I pulled up each document and assessed its status: completed, needing minor update, entire rewrite, and the best category: never been written. Given all that info, I was able to assign realistic dates for drafts, reviews, and final edits, spaced out for the rest of the year. I also explained that these aren’t hard dates. If I take an extra day for the draft, it’s okay, as long as the end due date is met. Not sure she got that part.

      She’s a nice person, but has no experience in technical writing. (I report to her because that’s where they stuck me on the project org chart.) I don’t mind explaining things to her; she’s been really supportive of me and my coworker, but sometimes I just don’t have the time to teach her and get my own work done.

      (It would be so much better if I could convince the Govie Project Lead to let ME manage documentation, but then I’d have to report directly to him- hmmm, maybe not.)

  8. Amber Rose

    This was a major issue at my last job. Worst part was, I needed my boss (the owner) to sign off on everything. She’d tell me to follow up with her every day on the status of things, then become defensive and angry when I did and she wasn’t done. But of course, it was always my fault when the client complained about delays.

    I still get stomach aches thinking about how stressful that was. Leaving was the best thing I ever did. It’s weird because I hope the company failed/fails, not out of bitterness, but because I kind of worried about my old boss. She was always in way over her head and I know she often locked herself in her office to cry. The best thing in the world for her would be to start over and work for someone else. She made my life hell for a year but I think she suffered a lot too.

    1. YandO

      “She’d tell me to follow up with her every day on the status of things, then become defensive and angry when I did and she wasn’t done.”

      Makes me want to pull my hair out. My boss wants me to sit with him while he is working cause he cannot work otherwise. I refuse. He does not get anything done.

    2. MaNona

      Man, did we work for the same people? Just left a situation like this and working for her was unbearable, only she was more of senior in a publication. She brought so much drama to the workplace and checked up on me and would insult me, telling me it wouldn’t take her long to do what I do, that my work always had issues. Working for her was awful for my moral.

  9. Mimi

    Alison’s advice is stellar, as usual, but it sounds as if the manager is indeed unreasonable (“His reply was to simply reiterate my deadline.”). Which may be an insurmountable problem. And may be caused by the higher-ups, who are even more clueless than Manager, and are making promises and trying to force the OP to fulfill them. No wonder OP is looking for the exit.

  10. AndersonDarling

    If these are projects, then I would treat them as projects. Document the resources needed and create a schedule for each piece of the project. Show how many hours a day can be devoted to the project. Have the manager sign off on the schedule. Keep a list of all open projects that could take time away from the current project.
    (Yes, I just finished a project management class.)
    Or, if this is an ongoing issue, have the manager shadow your department for a few days and see how your department really functions.

    1. AndersonDarling

      To tag on to my comment…I just had a discussion last week with another project based department. Sometimes management thinks all you do is work on the projects they give you, as though IT has nothing to do except set up your desk phone, or marketing does nothing put print fliers when asked. Sometimes you need to explain that project driven departments function differently than regular operational departments. They need time to collaborate, research, and teach themselves new skills. They need to think of solutions and troubleshoot. And they need to devote so much of the day to task maintenance, not just projects.

    2. Stranger than fiction

      Yes and I’ll tag on even if you’re not exactly project managing per se, the programs/tools can still be helpful for helping to get things organized and in this case show boss in a professional format what it takes to get this sheet done

  11. INTP

    My company’s sales department are housed in their own offices far away from the production departments and are notorious for pushing us to accept projects with ridiculous deadlines. Luckily the project managers are pretty good about it, but we’ve also been trained on how to speak to PMs about short timeline issues, and I think this would apply in other settings as well (just maybe with more pushback if they aren’t used to hearing this).

    It’s simple – you just explain what you can do in that amount of time and what you would have to sacrifice to meet the deadline. I.E., if you’re a Teapot Quality Inspector, “With this deadline, I will be able to check each teapot for major cracks. If you can extend the deadline by one day, I will be able to also check for warping and other major defects. In order to conduct a full quality inspection in which I would check for small cosmetic blemishes, I will need the standard time allotment of 1 day per teapot.” That way you are not approaching your boss “from a place of no” (to use a horrible cliche), but you’re also making it clear how the quality of your work will be affected. If the management wants something faster and lower quality, they might have a good reason for that.

  12. Workfromhome

    I think many face this issue. My direct manager is not unreasonable but the higher up you go the more unreasonable they become as they understand less and less the details of what needs to be done. Clients are usually the worst offenders who push these things on the higher ups.

    Why does it take so long?
    You said it takes 40 hours of effort so that means it will be done by the end of the week right? Based on the assumption that we have no other clients that require our attention and anyone involved chains themselves to their desk doing nothing but your project for 8 hours straight ;-)

    My best sucess has been a version of the advice above. “here are things on my plate. I have time for A, B and C which of D,E F G do you want me to NOT do.” While it would be ideal to stay positive I find its often gives the shock value needed when you ask someone what do you want to NOT get done. At the end of the week if someone questions me on why D,E,FG are not done and things dependent on them are behind my response is that my manager told me NOT to do them.

    The conversation usually leads to “how do we get D,EF,G also done this week. My response is: Well if you authorize overtime I can do D and E. If you want them all done then you will need to hire an additional resource. That usually puts things to rest.

    We have been so understaffed and over projected for 2 years now that I simply accept there are things ..important things…that simply won’t get done.

    1. Clever Name

      Yep. At one point, I was assigned to be in the field for two different projects simultaneously. Unlike office work, you can’t just work longer hours, as there are only so many hours of daylight. I told my boss, “I’m at the point where some things aren’t going to get done; I need to know what has to get done.” We hired another person.

  13. justcourt

    I am having flashbacks to my old job. My department supported a specific application and the various projects associated with the application. While the organization as a whole almost doubled during my tenure, my department actually decreased. Our department (of 12 people) consistently worked more overtime than any other department in the organization (10,000-15,000 people) during the early years. As our department took on more work with less staff we were cautioned on our overtime use, yet we were still expected to perform at the same level. The instructions from above were to “manage [our] time better.” It was so aggravating, but our team members were all high performers and wanted to meet deadlines, so people started working through lunch and working off the clock. It got to where people would almost go into hysterics over the stress. One colleague started losing her hair.

    1. Engineer Girl

      Oh, I’m having flashbacks. The appropriate response to “manage your time better” is “Oh, what inefficiencies are you seeing?” At least that opens things up for discussion. An unreasonable manager will get really upset at the question.

  14. Artemesia

    I agree that the first step is to reflect on whether the deadlines are really unreasonable and if the processes being followed are unusually cumbersome or inefficient. I have worked with departments that were just slow because they were in the habit of being slow and used incredibly inefficient processes and were resistant to change. Some people are efficient and some people dawdle and take forever to do simple things.

    And sometimes it really is a case of thinking 9 women can make a baby in one month with a boss who has no understanding of the steps involved. If it is the later then the employee is going to have to manage upward like crazy and teach the boss why it takes so long. If I have to do 3 coats of paint on the teapots and they each take an hour to dry then it is going to take 3 hours plus painting time to get them done. Period. Perhaps literally sit down and walk the manager through the steps of a pert chart with times attached.

    I liked the response earlier that if it takes X time after Y input then making clear that that is so and document that input Y arrived at 3 pm Friday and required 6 hours of further work so the product was delivered Monday morning.

  15. Lizzy

    Forgive the long rant.

    I am going through a situation currently where I am expected to adhere to ridiculous deadlines. I work for a small arts organization and my supervisor, the Managing Director, went on maternity leave last month. The problem is we are so small that there was no one here to cover for her and the dysfunctional board didn’t even bother to create a transition plan to cover her absence. Most of them didn’t even show up to the meeting where they were going to vote on a plan!

    So after 3 weeks with no supervisor, it was decided that the Board President and Treasurer were going to take over while she is out. The problem? They are never in the office to help guide us when we need them, but send bizarre emails at 3am either demanding to know the progress on a project or come up with some new project out of the blue, which they expect to tack on to our never ending workload. And when we have meetings, they want to hear nothing but good things. But the problem is they have to approve everything we do and they take DAYS to get back to us (even after we continue to hound them). When they do get back to us, they nitpick the tiniest things that make little difference to the project, which just continues to hold us up because we have to go back and keep revising until they are satisfied. For example, it took us two weeks to send out a Save The Date e-blast for our fall gala because the President just had to nitpick out the tiniest details. After we had FINALLY sent it out, she tells me that it should have been sent months early (true), and basically blamed me, even though I was consistently told for months we had no information on the gala. I also need a lot of help on a capacity-building grant and was begging for help for weeks. When they finally got back, they expected me to write one, with a budget and implementation plan, in under 24 hours. As I type this, my co-worker is currently on the phone begging some of our performance artists to be available for an event we have coming up next week. They knew about this event for months, but just now told her to go out and find some performers before next Wednesday. Everyone is booked or going to be out of town — it is summer!

    FYI: “Us” means myself (marketing and development) and our production person who also doubles as an Office Manager. I have been here 7 months and I am still struggling with this position. There has been such high turnover with my position and no documentation of protocol or procedure that I have to figure out how to do a lot of this myself. I just got an email for the President today demanding why we didn’t submit an overdue grant report from a governmental agency that needs to get submitted in the next week or we will be ineligible for future grants until 2020. Except that grant was submitted in 2012 and she was one of the people who worked on it. None of my predecessors (likely 3-4 since fall 2012 when that grant was submitted) have documented this grant. I don’t even think my supervisor knew about it.

    I might share the full details in the Friday open thread, but this is what I have been experiencing these past few months and I don’t think I can handle this for much longer. It hasn’t been a full year and I am already burned out.

    Rant over.

    1. Workfromhome

      Since you are already in a no win situation and probably looking for a new job you might as well try something that has worked for me in the past. It will tick some people off but in your case maybe nothing to lose.

      If I have issues getting people to respond to time critical requests especially if its an “approval thing” the email goes something like this.

      “We will be required to purchase x Y and Z for a cost of XX$ by X date for the teapot festival. A response is required by 5 days before X.

      Underlined- If we receive no response by X it will be interpreted as an approval to proceed.
      (If you want to be really snarky have the email request a read receipt).

      Yes its confrontational but they either need to admit that the did not actually read your email or that they read it and chose not to repond which they acknowledge constitutes permission to proceed. If they don’t like this in the future you’ll get emails saying “don’t move forward” which you can then send back at a later date as backup to why things are behind. “Here is the email where I told you the deadline is X. Here is the email where you told me not to proceed. X has now passed and we missed the deadline at your instruction”.

      Its a crappy way of doing business .

      1. Shortie

        Workfromhome, I did this recently knowing it would cause a you-know-what storm, and it did. I received an almost immediate reply from a higher-up who never replies in a timely manner. It said, “NO, YOU CANNOT DO THIS. HOLD OFF! HOLD OFF!” In other words, it worked. I got an answer from someone who notoriously never answers, and all I had to do was be willing and ready for him to freak out. I don’t like doing business that way, but sometimes ya gotta do what ya gotta do…

        1. Workfromhome

          I’ve also done this with the opposite result.

          Said “no response will be taken as approval”
          Received no response
          Went ahead.

          A week later got question “Who gave you approval to do that?”

          My answer:”You did…here is the email since you didn’t respond I moved forward as per the email”

          I was met with silence. It was obvious this person was not happy but was stuck. They said do not do any more X without a email giving approval.

          Next time I sent an email that said” As per our last conversation I will suspend any fruther work on x until I receive explicit approval in an email”

          A week went by and I got question on progress on X. My response “There is none I suspended all work on X last week. “here is the email where I said I’d suspend work until i got your approval..as soon as I get it I’ll start work again”

          That person is now unemployed. There have been 2 more in that position since. I’ve been here over 10 years.I don’t have a lot of fear. I’m perfectly willing to be reasonable with people who are reasonable with me.

  16. Kira

    I know this is a tangent, but this letter reminded me that I’m always curious what kinds of things people are doing when their jobs consist of big, multi-month projects. I’m coming from a place where my job is on the opposite end of the spectrum–dozens of small ongoing projects the biggest of which could each probably get resolved in a couple days if I just focused all my energy on it.

    Do these big projects end up feeling like little projects (do steps a,b, and c today)?

    1. Engineer Girl

      All big projects are broken up into smaller tasks with internal deadlines. Then those tasks are broken up. So yes, you do sub-task A this week.

    2. Kathryn

      yep!

      I work on oversight for multiple multi year projects. It means that day to day, it matters little if I do step A on Project x, or step B on Project z, but every week I know I need to do a certain number of steps on everything that is active, and every month a certain amount of progress should be made. Projects go off my slate for months at a time and I keep track of when I need to pick them up again.

      It can feel like no progress is being made, or like I’m drowning in too much that will never get done, but it all gets done eventually.

  17. Rose of Cimarron

    Count me among your sympathizers. I’ve been at my job for six months in a company that’s doing very well. When I was hired the concern was that I was a “purist” who would have to learn to “let things go” and not be a perfectionist. We’re all working 50-55 hours a week and most weekends, with every task micromanaged by a project management system that determines the deadlines, and still I can barely keep up. I do the best I can while also meeting the deadlines, which has been stressed as critical. Now my boss has doubled down on micromanaging every nuance of every project and demanding perfection and endless revisions with no positive feedback. There’s no time or mental space to think creatively, but we’re told to be creative innovators and aspire to excellence. My role also happens to be an easy one to make responsible for any failings. I’m exhausted, increasingly depressed, and fighting with myself every day not to walk out the door.

  18. not telling

    All of these responses assume that the manager is in fact being unreasonable. Why is that a valid assumption?

    More often than not, what I see in my line of work is a refusal to do something different– people who don’t want to give up paper to go digital, people who don’t want to learn new software programs even though they could save workers half the time, people who don’t want to give up offices to work in an open environment where information could be shared more readily.

    Of course we don’t know all of OP’s details, but I’ve never encountered any organization that couldn’t do SOMETHING more efficiently. Perhaps OP should open their mind, instead of what is very obviously a very closed mind about the new young upstart manager, and consider if he/she could work differently instead of merely faster.

    1. Engineer Girl

      Your post is disturbing. Yes, things could be done more efficiently, but at what cost? Would the benefit offset the cost? I also see an attitude of “it works for me so it MUST work for you!” If you forced me to work in an open office my productivity would not go up due to shared information. My productivity would go down because I would be Squirrel! distracted continuously. I couldn’t come up with deep solutions that come with quiet introspection. Many times people refuse because they see something as not helping them.
      I think many of us are seeing the manager as a problem because of this:

      For our most recent project, I told him that I was doubtful I would meet the deadline, and if I did I would need extensive help and resources from him. His reply was to simply reiterate my deadline.

      Reiterating deadlines instead of asking questions is a problem. Ignoring requests for resources is a problem.

    2. Jenna

      Open environment offices seem to be very fashionable these days, but, businesses seem to adopt it without actually looking at the effects. Large open spaces are full of distractions and noise. Programmers, writers, and engineers in particular tend to resist this because they know that if they are distracted it can take time to get back into the flow and up to speed on projects. People who have to talk on the phone resist because the open spaces get noisy and it gets hard to hear, and hard for the person on the other end of the phone to hear. People who deal with confidential information resist open plan offices because the information becomes hard to hold confidential. Clearing off desks and locking things up becomes a project in itself, and many phone calls now require finding a more confidential space to call from. Open plan offices are not a communication cure-all, and have been used by some businesses as a bandaid for some other communication problem that is ignored and not actually dealt with.
      New technology can be useful, but, again, it can be presented as a cure-all, when the problem lies elsewhere. Technology is often also presented to staff with no or insufficient training, or no time at all to get up to speed. It’s technology, not magic. It’s a tool and there is always a learning curve with new tools. Many of the situations described in this thread might benefit somewhat from technology, but, in almost all of the described situations the staff might need to steal time from projects in order to learn the new technologies, and possibly incur penalties for being late. There has to be enough breathing room or incentives or no, the tech gathers dust because it is faster to do things the way they have been.
      Management has to be able to see the actual benefits and costs, and give the staff time to adjust and learn. Just assuming that the open plan or the new computers will help without actually staying aware of the actual situation is not useful.

  19. Snowflake

    I work as a biologist, and my previous supervisor had a tendency to forget how long it takes to do certain protocols and request data within completely unreasonable deadlines. In my field (and many other technical fields), “shortcuts” rarely give satisfactory (or even interpretable) results and every change to any protocol needs to be carefully optimized, controlled, and documented, so it’s usually not possible to do things any faster, no matter how hard one is working. In the case of my previous supervisor, he had genuinely forgotten the protocols, and a gentle reminder was enough to set a realistic deadline. In the case of the letter writer, since it seems his/her boss has little experience in her industry, it might be an idea to write out protocols and timelines for the most common tasks, and go through them with him to help him understand how long his/her work takes. It might also be necessary to explain the compromises that would happen if the work were to be rushed, and decide together whether the work would still be satisfactory or not.

  20. sellis

    Okay. Can I just say off the top that I think Alison Green’s (“the Manager” of this website) response to this problem in Inc magazine is WRONG??
    It is a typical response from someone who’ve actually not walked a mile in someone else’s shoes.
    The problem for the writer here is that he is working for higher ups who’ve never actually rolled up their sleeves and performed the work themselves to gauge what it takes to actually get the work done.
    Everything always looks easy from 50,000 feet above ground.
    Leaders, not Managers, actually roll up their sleeves and try to DO the work themselves so they know what they are dealing with. Obviously, not forever. But at least when they first start. As a Leader, not a weeny Manager, it is his responsibility to figure out how much resources are needed and how to best utilize them. And if not enough resources are given, work with the team to figure out how to best ways to navigate through the demands against limited resources.
    Why do we expect so much from workers but not from Managers?
    Also, it sounds like the work the writer is doing is fairly technical, which doesn’t help the situation any. Hence even if you answer obnoxious questions like: Why does it take so long? with extensive details, it will just go right over your direct managers head. And of course, because the boss to your boss ALSO has no direct experience in your field, the details will also go right over his/her head.
    This sounds like a corporate culture problem and it would not surprise me if situation does not deteriorate to scapegoating and obfuscating/abdicating responsibility culture. No genuine Leader at the helm.
    Best thing you can do is look for an exit. Best of luck!

    1. Stevie Wonders

      This is so true. Even managers that have technical backgrounds can be amazingly clueless. And those without are often hopeless. Seems clear the higher ups have no idea what the work entails, so why is the poster doubted instead of management? Why is someone not understanding the work providing deadlines instead of the purported expert? Why hire someone, then ignore their judgement? That’s insulting.

      In software development crazy deadlines are par for the course. Even when developers are asked to provide best estimates, management always thinks it can be done faster, shaving 30%, even 50% off is typical. Generally the work gets done around the original estimate, but usually with insane overtime, because the unexpected always happens, especially for new products. Yet engineers are invariably blamed for making the product “late” because they didn’t meet an arbitrary date. Absurd deadlines in tech are so common it is a Dilbert staple.

Comments are closed.