my employees are monitoring my schedule

A reader writes:

My director supports me on this and is on my side, but didn’t offer any assistance, so I’m seeking your advice.

For the last year and a half, I have been working as an IT manager for a large corporation, and oversee multiple locations throughout the Midwest. The company just restructured, and I have taken on the role of three people through a sideways promotion (same title and pay with more responsibilities…it sucks). Part of my job requires me to be on the road A LOT, so I am almost never at my “main office”; rather, I am floating from location to location. I also work from my home one day a week to remove distractions and focus on catching up on paperwork/administrative items (I share an office with one of my employees and can’t have confidential meetings while there).

Three of the six locations that I oversee are rather close together (two are in the same city), and my direct reports at these locations are what you could consider “rodeo cowboys.” In other words, their previous manager was very hands-off, so they are use to doing their own thing and not following the rules. I am the opposite, and set expectations for the employees, which they have contested since day one as “not fair.” They are used to browsing the internet more than working, but I require them to actually work during work hours, and only browse during breaks. My main office is based in one of these three locations.

Last month, one of the employees near my main office confronted me and stated the following: “I was talking with some of the guys (at these three locations), and we agreed that we should talk to you about this…we never know where you are. We don’t know what you are doing. Can you can make an effort to tell us every day where you will be?”

Now, I am not opposed to upward management, and I understand wanting to know where I am and what I am doing. However, I noticed that they continue to monitor my activity by calling each other or sending instant messages with my current location and what I am doing at the time. I know that this is happening because of an insider at one of these locations who has listened in on these phone calls from a distance. Obviously, I am uncomfortable that the employees at these three locations are talking about me constantly behind my back, and I am paranoid that they are spying on me and trying to find a way to get me fired for forcing them to follow the rules that they for so long broke under their last supervisor. I am also worried about my reputation being damaged if they happen to discuss this frustration with operations managers/directors at these locations, or they are overheard by someone else in the business. The employees at the other locations that I oversee are awesome, respectful, and love me/my management style…I only have an issue with the rodeo cowboys.

Since everyone is bound to have a handful of bad employees, perhaps I am just crazy, and this is a non-issue that I should just let slide…but how do I confront these employees and gain their respect? What can I do for damage control? I am putting in 60+ hour work weeks, so I am hurt that they assume that since I am not in my main office that I am not working.

I think there are a few different problems here and it will be more helpful to look at them separately:

* Your staff at these three locations are chafing at the new expectations you’re setting for their work.
* Your staff feels like they never know where you are and they’d like to understand your schedule better.
* They’re spending way too much time talking about their (possibly reasonable) desire for more access to your schedule, and it’s becoming a distraction.

The first issue — that they’re chafing at the new expectations you’re setting for their work — is a performance problem, and if you’re not already taking that on pretty forthrightly, that should be priority #1. That might end up meaning that you need to replace people. In fact, you might already be past the point where you should have done that. (I’m especially swayed by the fact that you’re not having these issues with staff at your other locations, which seems to point to the issue being these particular employees, although it would be worth asking whether there’s anything about their context that’s different from the other locations — like if they’re more skilled or have different workloads or anything else that might explain the difference in reaction).

Now, about them feeling like they never know where you are and wanting to understand your schedule better: That’s actually reasonable. It sucks to have no idea if your boss will be in the office today or not, or whether she’s reachable, or even whether she’s working or taking the day off. It’s especially reasonable when your boss is usually on the road. Making your schedule as transparent as possible in that kind of context makes sense.

So … can you share your calendar? It’s pretty easy to do that with most calendaring programs, and that way people will have a sense of your availability without you having to do a daily schedule email.

(That said, I do wonder if the real reason they want to know is so that they know when you’ll be around to observe them and when you’ll be at another location. If you suspect that’s what’s going on here, I’d sit down and talk with them a bit more about it first. Tell them you want to get a better understanding of what they need from you, ask what kind of problems not knowing your schedule has been causing them, and see what they say. If you get the sense that it really is just about wanting advance notice that you’ll be on-site so they can modify their behavior, you can test that pretty easily by showing up a few times when you’re not expected (cite a last-minute schedule change) and see what you walk in. If you discover problems when you do that, deal with it like any other performance problem.)

From there, if you continue to hear that they’re calling and IM’ing each other with your whereabouts, address it. “Percival, I keep hearing you’re asking about my whereabouts. Now that we have the shared calendar in place, I’m wondering why. What’s going on?” … followed by, if necessary, “If you need something from me, please call or email me. The amount of discussion of my schedule with other people is becoming a distraction. Can you commit to reaching out to me directly in the future if you have a question about my schedule?”

And really, if it reaches the point that it’s really clear that they’re just tracking your days for no real reason, well … at that point I just don’t believe that there’s any way you don’t have a serious performance problem here, so we’re back to the advice at the start.

Also, you want your own boss in the loop on your concerns about this team and how you’re handling them. If your suspicions are right that the schedule-tracking is an attempt to get you fired, you want her fully informed about the situation now — you don’t want to be filling her in after someone complains to her.

Last, you asked about how to gain these employees’ respect. The most straightforward way to do that is to set clear expectations, explain the reasons for them, give people fair and useful feedback, recognize and reward high performance, operate with integrity and transparency, and hold people accountable when they aren’t meeting your expectations. In this case, that means being open to hearing their concerns about access to your schedule, but also addressing it clearly and proactively when people aren’t operating the way you want your team members operating — and being willing to follow it up with real consequences if you don’t see the change you need.

my staff has been held to a low bar; am I asking too much of them now?
managing a team that resents you

{ 192 comments… read them below }

  1. NickelandDime*

    I wonder what employees think the end result will be when they embark on these types of crusades against managers. Do they really, REALLY think this will work out in their favor? I find this kind of stuff baffling.

    1. Not the Droid You are Looking For*

      I worked with someone like this. They took a lower-level job thinking they could take on other people’s responsibilities (not understanding “opportunities for growth” meant in the future, not on week 2) and constantly complained about doing the duties that were part of their role.

      So instead of showcasing their ability and demonstrating they could handle the work they had, they would monitor our boss’s schedule and constantly bring really nit-picky things to HR. Needless to say, our company didn’t put up with it for long.

      1. NickelandDime*

        Right! Even if the manager is doing a poor job, you’ll just look like a trouble maker and they’ll get rid of you.

    2. Mike C.*

      I’ve seen lots of terrible managers either receive help to become better or are “moved on” as a result of efforts like these. A terrible manager can really doom a team and cause a great deal of turnover.

    3. MaryMary*

      I have seen employees with long tenure successfully work around management changes or new processes and procedures. It sucks and it’s dysfunctional, but when someone has upper management’s ear, or if they can convince someone that new management is hurting sales or retention, it can work out in the agitator’s favor.

    4. Ed*

      I’m embarrassed to admit I had a hand in this exact thing at my first “real” adult job. Unlike OP, our manager was legitimately awful. Instead of being adults and discussing issues with him and then his boss, we sort of banded together behind his back and decided to go over his head right away. Needless to say, we looked like a bunch of idiots as his boss had already been warned we were coming. He was fighting back a smirk as we laid out our issues because he already knew our script. It was common knowledge our manager was bad (and he was fired a little later) but we all lost a lot of respect within the organization for the amateurish way we handled it. I was young and inexperienced but I won’t excuse myself for the role I played. I’m a much better employee today as a result of that experience.

    5. Ineloquent*

      You know, I really hope it does work out sometimes. I have a terrible manager – doesn’t know what he’s doing (which, in a highly regulated environment is a big deal, because he gives terrible advice to do illegal things until we correct him), plays obvious favorites, won’t champion our team when we need him to, we don’t know what he does with his time, and no one who meets with him in our org respects him much. It’s really tough. He has managed to piss off all of his direct reports, and we’ve made attempts to address the problem with him and his manager. He has made it so that everyone on our vital team is getting ready to leave. I want him moved or fired so I don’t have to be the one to go. I like what I do, and I like most of the people I work with, but his incompetance is draining!

  2. Connie-Lynne*

    I share my calendar with my staff and my boss (in fact it’s open to the whole company). Every Friday, I update the next week to show which offices I’ll physically be in on what days. I try to actually keep it up-to-date a month in advance, but Friday afternoons are when I double-check for the upcoming week. It takes about 10 minutes, tops.

    Some but not all people in the company do this, and it’s so useful — between being able to better plan meetings (“oh, we’ll both be in Chicago on day X”), to setting up conference room reservations, to just being able to say “Ah, I know I can drop in on you on day Y.” There’s no downside other than the “slackers know which day to straighten up on” scenario Alison describes. And, honestly, you should be able to tell whether your team is doing their jobs regardless of whether you’re on-site or not.

    1. Carly*

      I think that a boss’ calendar should absolutely be viewable to his/her subordinates, and vice-versa. Ideally including the event titles/details, but if not, just the time blocks. Is there any advantage to keeping your calendar to yourself? Transparency is a useful thing.

      1. INTP*

        This. If there is sensitive information inherent in the appointment titles and such, you could easily create a public version of the calendar with blocks like “In a meeting,” “Working from home,” “Available,” etc with the office you will be in that day.

        Now, if they want to know what you’re doing down to details that are irrelevant to where you’ll be, how available you’ll be to them, and their own work, that’s a separate issue. But it might have been created by being private (or perceived as private by not making an effort to be open) about your schedule.

    2. ThursdaysGeek*

      There’s no downside other than the “slackers know which day to straighten up on” scenario Alison describes. And, honestly, you should be able to tell whether your team is doing their jobs regardless of whether you’re on-site or not.

      Excellent point!

      1. snuck*

        Exactly…. if they are slacking then concentrate on that (which it sounds like the OP is doing)… and use the non-in-person facts as the foundation to your argument, and the inperson stuff can be the icing on the cake… Address the (most important and obvious) problem behaviours… and if there’s other ‘non team playing’ behaviours going on (like a pattern calling in sick on team meeting days every time there is one, but never any other time, or sick every weekend making it a long weekend etc, or having an attitude with other staff) then address it as a whole from a “team work culture and values” perspective… and lop this issue in with that.

        And if they are goofing off their numbers should show it. If they don’t look at why they don’t… has this group found a way to cook the numbers, are they star performers who are cruising on low effort, are the numbers being recorded not reflective of what you actually want to see… And address that.. (compliance issues with the cooking of numbers – find ways to report on them cooking them, incentives for performing your best that reward for effort appropriately, review what is being used to measure and whether it reflects what you need.)

    3. AMT*

      That last one is an excellent point. If they’re not getting work done, it should be obvious. Deadlines not getting met, poor quality work being submitted, clients angry. The OP should focus on these concrete results rather than the employees’ butt-in-chair time.

      And if they somehow ARE actually getting things done and delivering what needs to be delivered, then maybe they do deserve a little more autonomy. But from the OP’s letter, I doubt this is the case.

    4. trilby*

      This is a bit off topic, but I’m in a relatively new job (~1 year) and it boggles my mind the degree to which some people do not keep their calendars updated. I’ll send a meeting invite to a dozen people and three may email me back saying “oh I have a meeting off-site then” or “oh I’m taking a vacation that week.”

      Invariably, these people (or their assistants) will send out complicated emails or even doodle polls (!) whenever they want to schedule something, because they assume (I guess?) everyone else is as lax with calendars as they are. I just look at these emails quizzically – like, do these people not understand how Outlook works? The entire company functions on this system pretty well; why do these dozen or so people behave this way?

      It makes my job remarkably more difficult.

      1. penny*

        Lol I know this pain. Try to schedule a meeting and they come back with I’m on vacation that whole week. Well block out your darn calendar,takes 2 seconds. Now I ask if they keep it current and know who I have to call to find out.

    5. penny*

      Our department has a shared calendar that we can all see so everyone will put if they’re on vacation, in late, out of office or whatever. It helps a lot just to know what to expect each day. Our manager travels a lot too and sometimes will be in and out at odd hours so he’ll put that on the shared calendar and it does help because I know how to reach him if I need him even if I don’t know every detail of his day. Besides on outlook you can already see if someone’s time is blocked without them sharing specifics.

      1. Connie-Lynne*

        Yes! We do this as well for vacations and off time. For my own off time, I book the vacation onto the shared calendar and then invite myself, so that it shows up on the vacation calendar and on my calendar.

  3. The Other Dawn*

    I agree that it’s totally reasonable to want to know where your manager is going to be when that manager is on the road frequently.

    My last manager, while not on the road often, would email us her schedule for the week as to which office she would be in and which days. It was really helpful. So, if we emailed her and didn’t get an answer right away, we knew it was because she was traveling between offices or was in a meeting at another location. It prevented us from having to chase her down when something important came up.

    1. L*

      I think it’s also helpful to clarify when you’re in transit what method of communication is best. Could be helpful to put a “free” appointment on your calendar to the effect of Susie in transit – Please call with issues. Available at 867-5309. Or Susie on AA Flight # 123. Please email with issues.

      Plus, it gives you cover in case they come back and say they were having problems but never knew how to get in touch with you.

      1. Not the Droid You are Looking For*

        I had a road warrior boss who used to do this! He would have:
        8:30 – 9:00 Travel To Airport – Available by Cell Only
        9:00 – 11:00 Airport time – Available by Cell or Email
        11:00 – 1:00 pm Flight #123 – No Availability

        It was fantastic because you always knew when you could reach him and how.

          1. Not the Droid You are Looking For*

            It always amazed me to look at his calendar, but I figure the amount of time he put in each week to doing this was worth not getting the “where are?” calls, texts, and emails.

      2. AvonLady Barksdale*

        In my company we’re supposed to do this, but people often slack on it. It’s SO helpful to just put something like, “In car– available by phone” or your flight time so we can gauge when you might be reachable.

    2. Judy*

      One of my worst managers was remote to me. He wouldn’t send out a travel schedule to his employees, only his manager, director and director’s admin. Once the admin called me because manager was supposed to be traveling to visit my location and she couldn’t get him to respond to his cell phone. I don’t know where he was, but he wasn’t with me, and I hadn’t seen him all that week, so I told her that. (He might have reason to meet with others in my location without me, but it would be pretty odd to not at least schedule a face to face when he had traveled there.)

  4. nk*

    I agree that it’s reasonable to want to know whether your boss will be in the office or not, and available or not. The shared calendar is a great idea. In Outlook you have the option of making meetings private, so if you didn’t want them to know that you are meeting for Suzy’s performance review or going to the gynecologist, you can check a box and it will just show up as “private appointment”.

    An alternative we use on our team is a shared mailbox/calendar. How easy this is depends on your company’s IT setup, but we use it here for things that would be helpful for people to know but that people don’t want on their own calendars. So we put everyone’s vacation on there as well as meetings we’re not necessarily invited to, but need to know the timing of (my team prepares a lot of materials for meetings that only involve higher-ups).

    1. Judy*

      My current team has a shared Vacation/Training/Travel calendar that everyone updates. It’s basically an out of office calendar for anything that lasts more than 4 hours.

      1. Jenn*

        We don’t need that most of the year, but do use it March, and then September – December. Those are the times when making sure we have coverage is tricky.

        1. Judy*

          I think in our case, it’s not about coverage, and more about, “Is Bob on vacation or on a work trip that I can expect an answer? Training, so I might get an answer in the evening?”

          At a past job, we had a whiteboard calendar that we would mark the month out, so everyone had some idea generally where everyone was.

      2. AcademiaNut*

        All our travel/leave requests are done through an on-line system, including local travel (at another site in the same city). One of the products is an internal out-of-office listing, which is great – you can see if someone is travelling and when they’ll be back (or what timezone they’re in) or if they’re sick or on vacation and shouldn’t be contacted, or if they should be in, but are out of their office at the moment.

  5. Episkey*

    Agreed that’s helpful to know your manager’s schedule. I also think the real reason they’re so interested is so they can keep tabs on you to know when they are able to “safely” slack off/break rules.

    1. Mike C.*

      If that’s the case, it will show in their results. If their results are still good, then the rules themselves are bad.

      1. Episkey*

        That’s also true. Perhaps the OP is being more rigid than necessary. I agree that enforcing rules simply for the sake of enforcement is not always the wisest decision.

      2. tesyaa*

        Do you want to wait for bad results to take charge of this? In some workplace, there are very real consequences to slacking off/screwing up. It’s not like school where you’ll get a bad grade and learn from the experience.

        1. Judy*

          It doesn’t take that long to measure bad results. If it’s pure support IT, it’s about up time and quantifiable statistics. If it’s programming IT tools, it’s schedule and deliverables. It’s about results vs expectations.

        2. Anna*

          Yes, but you have to balance between addressing something that isn’t actually an issue (which the surfing the Internet when not on break might not be) and getting ahead of a problem. There are some things you can only react to because the data isn’t there. If you freak out and say “Only Internet on breaks or else” and then results drop off…what problem have you actually solved? And in some work places there are NO consequences to slacking off. You can’t really use that as an example when the opposite is true, too. It sounds like nothing cataclysmic will happen if people slack off a bit or the letter writer wouldn’t have needed to write in.

          1. RVA Cat*

            It sounds like what you need to do is set realistic expectations for their results and lay off of the internet issue (I assume that porn, gambling, etc. sites are blocked – if not, do block them).

            I’m posting this on my lunch break, but I have been using the Pomodoro method for productivity lately, and using your 5-minute breaks for a little web surfing might be the mental break that they need.

        3. Mike C.*

          If you constantly change things while not waiting for measurable results, you’re flailing around and ignoring things like the Scientific Method.

      3. AMG*

        Perhaps their results, but maybe there are other impacts to the company. For example, showing everyone else that you can be disrespectful and not follow the rules and it’s okay. Maybe they need to re-evaluate the rules, but odds are most of the rules are justified and need to be followed. Unless they are in Sales, they probably just need to get in line.

    2. Anonsie*

      I propose a third possibility, which is that they’re grumpy about being held to x y and z standards and they’re scrutinizing the LW now because they hope to prove that she herself is not following those standards.

  6. MJ*

    In your role I suspect that your schedule changes hour to hour. In IT, you never know how long something will take. If I were in your position, I would address it by telling them that you share their frustration with your schedule, because you never know where you’ll be either.

    I would not share my calendar, because I think it would encourage even closer monitoring of your activities and questions about how you are spending your time that is not scheduled. Instead, I would send an email at the start of the week with the major items that I know (“I plan to visit these three sites early in the week, I have a meeting at X on Thursday morning, and I expect to be working offsite on Friday. Let me know if you need anything. I am almost always available on IM, and I check email every couple of hours.”)

    I’d also ask what their specific concerns are regarding not knowing where you are so that you can address those specifically. If they don’t know when you are available to meet, agree on guidelines for requesting a meeting. If they think that you are not in their space often enough, agree to an amount of time or a regular time that you can afford which suits their needs (this does not preclude you from dropping in at other times). If they need to reach you in a hurry, agree to an IM strategy.

    I agree that their monitoring is a distraction which is making them costly employees. It is your job to monitor how they spend their time, not vice versa. You already have a boss who monitors your performance; you don’t need three more. I think I would make this clear to them, along with consequences if it persists.

    1. Mike C.*

      I feel like that’s a rather patronizing and passive response, and how is an employee supposed to find time with their manager if they never know where they are?

      1. M. S.*

        Email/Phone the manager and schedule time ?

        “Hi Bob, I need to talk to you about Y, When will you be at this location next ?”

        1. Mike C.*

          I was responding more to this: I would address it by telling them that you share their frustration with your schedule, because you never know where you’ll be either.

          1. Ashley the Nonprofit Exec*

            But sometimes that’s true. If someone says to me, “are you free for me to stop by sometime Thursday?”, sometimes the honest answer is that I don’t know because part of my job is dealing with things that come up and prioritizing in the moment. Now, if they want to set up a specific time, I can certainly do that, although it might be on a different day when I know that I can be available. The manager is not obligated to commit to a schedule and stick to it 100% – it may just frustrate everyone more when the manger is more interested in following a calendar that dealing with things in order of priority. I do share my calendar, and it’s pretty detailed (I include a lot of tasks in addition to appointments). That said, no one should assume that just because there is empty space on my calendar that I’m available to them for anything at all.

            1. AnotherFed*

              That’s what ‘tentative’ is for – the hard commitments get blocked off as busy or unavailable, and things that might change if higher priorities pop up are tentative.

              My calendar is frequently a nightmare and keeping up with it is not trivial. However, I think managers owe their employees at least a minimum set of info like where they physically plan to be, not down to the conference room, but at least what office/city. Even if these employees’ biggest concern is getting caught slacking, there are plenty of legitimate reasons to want to know where the manager will be! There will be way less time wasted on triaging issues or scheduling calendar time for a phone call if employees have some idea of how to get in touch and prioritize whether something really needs a phone call or if it can wait for an in-person conversation that’ll likely happen anyway in two days when you’re at the same location.

              1. Ashley the Nonprofit Exec*

                But to me, there’s a difference in knowing where the manager will physically be, and being able to get in touch. I’m reachable just about all the time, at least within a 1/2 hour. And my admin can get me a message more quickly if needed. If you can get in touch, then you don’t need a full accounting of my location. The “tentative” thing doesn’t really work with my job – While about half of my time is scheduled each week, the other half is basically doing what needs to be done.

          2. MJ*

            Not sure why it is patronizing to tell people that you share their frustration with your erratic schedule, followed by a discussion of how to meet their needs. IT people go where they are called. I am not in IT, but I oversee the tech manager who supports multiple locations. It would be like asking the fire department for a schedule. She probably has 4-5 things officially scheduled in a week, which are susceptible to change, and beyond that she is just on the move. The OP is responsible for 6 sites – I cannot imagine that the day often ends up as it was intended. This must surely be frustrating for all parties, and acknowledging it seems an appropriate start to the conversation about how to get people what they need.

              1. MJ*

                That’s true, it’s not actionable, but sometimes changing reality is not possible. Sometimes I think you just have to accept reality and make the best of it. If the situation is that my schedule changes all the time, then the next best thing we can do is figure out how we make sure you get what you need from me.

    2. Op - Tech Manager*

      Op here–you nailed it right on the head, MJ! While I would like to update my calendar with a schedule, that is nearly impossible as I myself don’t always know what I am doing, where I will be, nor what my next stop will be.

      I think an email at the beginning of the week with a ‘tentative’ schedule might be best. I also always update my status on our company’s IM program to reflect my current location, so in reality, they should always be able to see where I currently am just by opening up the IM window. The only thing is, they don’t know where I am UNTIL I am there, which makes me think that the underlying reason is that they want to know when I will be at their location so that they can modify their behavior in some way.

      P.S.: I can see this reflected on their KPIs within our Service Desk application…when I am traveling, their numbers are low. When I am at their location, their numbers are high.

      1. Ashley the Nonprofit Exec*

        Then address this as a performance issue with the volume of work completed instead of an issue with looking at your schedule. You’ll avoid seeming petty (I’m not calling you petty! just guessing how it will be perceived) and address what you really expect: quality work and consistent output.

        1. Judy*

          This! Just treat this as the performance issue that it is, the KPIs are expected to be X, and they’re not. Don’t tell them not to browse the internet, tell them to do their work.

          1. Op - Tech Manager*

            Would it surprise you if I said the company has policies that make it nearly impossible to discipline/terminate employees? :-)

            I have weekly one-on-one meetings with my direct reports where I address these performance issues, but they just don’t seem to care as they know it’s very difficult for me to fire them. To address commentor Cath in Canada, I also send out a weekly email to the entire team that puts their stats on display, so they can see how they rank compared to other employees at other locations.

            1. Cafe au Lait*

              At my former job, we had a hard time firing student employees. Eventually one of my coworkers hit upon the idea of dropping their hours if they didn’t the bar for acceptable work behavior.

              Perhaps if you can’t terminate, you can drop down to part time (which will also lower their retirement contributions and increase their healthcare expenses). After all, they are only doing part time work on full time pay.

            2. MJ*

              I’d like to suggest a book – Cy Wakeman’s Reality-Based Leadership. She addresses dealing with employees who are in resistance mode and of dubious value because of their emotional expense. I’ve read it twice and am about to start it a third time. It is changing how I talk to people, how I motivate them, how I handle one-on-ones, etc. The goal is to create a culture of accountability, where people have personal responsibility, and people who aren’t responsible and won’t shift into accountability get weeded out. It has seriously changed my outlook and responses, and most notably my response time because I am seeing patterns so much more clearly. And I am seeing good results with people lifting their game even after a short time.

            3. Ashley the Nonprofit Exec*

              Are you sure that is the case? I hear that a lot, and yet people get fired all the time – even from federal jobs. Surely the company hasn’t made a policy of never firing anyone. Sometimes these “rumors” get started because one manager skipped necessary steps and was told they couldn’t fire someone right off the bat so it becomes common to say that “it’s nearly impossible to fire someone”. It might just mean that you have to give warnings, go through a PIP process, etc. If you truly have no authority to discipline or fire, you should look for a different job, because there is no way to be effective in that environment.

      2. Cath in Canada*

        Could you show them these stats? Maybe in comparison to those of other offices? Really *show* them what’s expected of them, and what they need to do to get to the same level as your other offices.

      3. INTP*

        I think that a tentative schedule at the beginning of the week is a great idea. They might be perceiving the fact that you won’t share at least your projected plans as you actively wanting to keep them in the dark about where you’ll be and when, probably so you can surprise them and catch them slacking. And when people are managed like children, or at least they feel they are, they start to behave like it and do things like goof off when they aren’t being checked up on. (I know that’s not why you’re doing it, but I think they’re bristling at the culture change and they’re in BEC mode so they’re going to interpret things that way.) Start informing them of your tentative schedule to show that you’re listening to them, hold them accountable for actual numbers rather than what you observe in person, and I think you’ll see improvement.

      4. Student*

        Service desk requests sometimes require manager-level intervention, approval, or training. When you are there, are you just as hands-off as when you travel? Or do you end up wading into a bunch of tasks, signing off on a bunch of things that have been waiting on your input?

    3. Sadsack*

      Isn’t easier to just share a calendar than try to remember to email your agenda every week? Once the calendar is shared, if they continue monitoring your time off the calendar, that is when you ask why they are asking and you can address whatever is the real issue. I think you are coming from a place of it being none of their business, which is right to some extent. However, offering some transparency in an effort to work better together seems like it will get you to the root cause of their issues, even if it helps you determine that it is time for some of them to go.

      1. MJ*

        I have found that sharing information that I know will quickly be out of date is far more frustrating to people than generalities that I may be able to accomplish. As soon as I put something in writing to people, they “count on it,” so mostly I only share what I know to be true or can reasonably ensure will happen.

        1. AcademiaNut*

          It’s like restaurants with elaborate but out of date websites – it looks useful, but is actually less so than having no information.

  7. Mike C.*

    When I see you complain about the “Rodeo Cowboys”, I really have to ask – are there any actual performance issues going on here, or are you simply enforcing rules for the sake of enforcing rules. If there are concrete measures/deadlines they aren’t meeting that’s one thing, but it’s really insulting to be part of a team that works hard and independently to have a new manager that is hardly ever there and wants to lock everything down for seemingly arbitrary reasons.

    Frankly, I think you and your employees are in a rather shitty situation. You talk about taking on the role of three people – are your employees making similar sacrifices to pay and workload? They already have a manager who (through no fault of your own) is in many ways an absentee landlord so it makes perfect sense to me that they’re wondering where you are. I see this as a major issue though again, not your fault.

    As long as you approach things in a consistent manner, have concrete reasons for how you want to run your teams and are transparent, I think things will improve.

    1. LBK*

      This is exactly where my mind went, and I’m actually pretty surprised that Alison didn’t address it in her answer – what’s the issue with them going on the internet? As long as they’re getting their work done and they aren’t overreporting their working time (for a concrete purpose, like budgeting or payroll) then I don’t see the issue here.

      I also do think it’s 100% valid for them to want to know where you are – even if you’re reachable by cell phone no matter your location, it’s still good to know when you’ll physically be present if, for example, I have a big issue I want to talk out with you and I need to block some time off to sit down. How can I do that if I have no clue when you’ll actually be here?

      I also suspect that part of it is backlash against what they feel is inappropriate tracking of their time. If you’re going to unnecessarily clock them on how they’re spending every minute, I don’t think it’s wildly outrageous for them to feel you should be accountable to the same standard.

      1. blu*

        +1 to LBK and Mike C.

        These could be totally unreasonable, slacked employees, but I do wonder if some of this is backlash to coming into this and making (to there view) sweeping changes without any need. It seems there is a perception that they spend a lot of time not working, but how is actually reflecting in their performance?

        Additionally, change management is a real thing and even though you may be in the right as the new manager, it’s worth thinking through the best way to roll out changes to your team.

      2. JB (not in Houston)*

        I agree, except for where the OP said that they are used to browsing the internet *more than* working. If that’s really true, then it seems likely that they are either not getting their work done, or there don’t need to be as many of them there. Of course, it could be the kind of situation where work ebbs and flows, so they are there for the heavier workload periods. But if not, it’s not a good sign.

        1. Judy*

          But is browsing the internet looking at kitten videos, or looking on stack overflow? There is a difference.

          1. Op - Tech Manager*

            Op here–I don’t have a problem with internet usage related to their jobs. In fact, most IT folks rely on the internet in order to do research on how to solve issues related to tickets assigned to them.

            I am actually pretty lax myself when it comes to this. If they want to browse Reddit, or watch the latest cat video, I could really care less as long as they are getting their work done. I want my employees to love their job, and push a fun culture. The issue is that they are rebelling against very reasonable, industry standard expectations for level 2 support techs, and their performance KPIs show their lack of work.

            Common sense says to discipline/terminate bad employees like this, but sadly, the company I work for makes it nearly impossible to get rid of someone (large corporation problems). I just need to try to find a way to coach them to perform at an acceptable level before the few bad apples poison the rest.

            1. AMG*

              Or demotions. We have a similar issue where I am and that or layoffs are options. Perhaps you can swap some out for other people on other teams to shake up the dynamics.

            2. LBK*

              Can I ask what those “industry standard expectations” are? Just because something is standard practice doesn’t necessarily make it a good idea or reasonable in every situation.

              Overall, though, it sounds like the issue is less about how they’re spending their time and more that their stats are low. That would be a problem regardless of the reason, so that’s where I’d start.

              I’m also always a little reticent about people who say the termination procedures at their company are overly restrictive. While I understand there’s a lot of bureaucratic BS to go through at many companies (mine included), you don’t get to the end of that lengthy process by never starting it. Even if it’s a long-term solution, start doing whatever the termination process requires of you now (documentation, write ups, whatever) so that 6 months from now if it’s clear there’s no option left but to fire them, you’re ready to that instead of having to start the process when you’re already at wit’s end.

            3. Colette*

              Do the KPIs make sense for your business? Level 2 techs may need to spend longer on issues since they should be handling the more complex problems.

              If their KPIs change when you’re on site, that’s a problem. If they’re uniformly lower than you expect, then it’s worth understanding why.

              (Is there a level 3? If so, how do the KPIs compare between levels 2 and 3?)

            4. fposte*

              Can you visibly reward higher performers or provide other incentives, so there’s a carrot as well as a stick?

            5. Ask a Manager* Post author

              It would be really unusual for a large corporation to make it truly impossible to fire people who aren’t performing; more often it’s just that there’s a lot of process and paperwork involved. It would be worth your time to go through that process and paperwork if that’s an option.

              1. Op - Tech Manager*

                Paperwork is in progress. Typically takes a couple of months. Truly appreciate all of the feedback from everyone–that is why I wrote in initially (to help me identify issues and improve). I am the first to admit that I am not perfect. :-)


                1. Ashley the Nonprofit Exec*

                  Also, even starting the processes can help by showing people that you are serious about good performance. It’s pretty unlikely you’ll have to actually fire all of them – more likley that you will get serious with one or two, and then rest will fall in line because they see that they can’t get away with it.

                2. Not So NewReader*

                  Ashley has an important point, OP. You need to be seen looking at policies regarding dismissals and PIPs. You need to be heard talking about such things.

                  The fact that it takes months is not a big deal. It should take time to be fair to each individual. Each person should have an opportunity to understand what will happen if their performance does not improve, then have an opportunity to improve it. We are talking about people’s lives, people’s ability to support themselves. I am not sure it is desirable to be able to suddenly decide to fire someone today and then, boom, just fire them. I would not want to manage people like that and if I worked for a company that did, I would probably quit.

                  Find out what the steps are and start going through the steps. I do agree, that once you start you will probably not have to go too far down the road. People will suddenly start listening to you.

            6. MJ*

              I’d like to suggest a book – Cy Wakeman’s Reality-Based Leadership. She addresses dealing with employees who are in resistance mode and of dubious value because of their emotional expense. I’ve read it twice and am about to start it a third time. It is changing how I talk to people, how I motivate them, how I handle one-on-ones, etc. The goal is to create a culture of accountability, where people have personal responsibility, and people who aren’t responsible and won’t shift into accountability get weeded out. It has seriously changed my outlook and responses, and most notably my response time because I am seeing patterns so much more clearly. And I am seeing good results with people lifting their game even after a short time.

      3. Beancounter in Texas*

        I second the question about the issue with surfing the internet all day. I wonder whether it is a generation gap or just a clash of work values. My 77 year old boss once expressed his belief that “nothing can get done” when people work when they want to (flexible schedule) and work from home (remote access), which to me, as a 30-something that grew up with computers and wrestles a toddler to daycare everyday, a flexible schedule and remote access sound like gifts from heaven that would seal my loyalty to a company.

        LW, you’re within your rights as their boss to dictate when they can surf the internet, but it seems like you’ve come into their office like a bull in a china shop and start enforcing rules “from day one” without observing to see whether they can meet your performance expectations with their current modus operandi. It’s a judgment call on your part whether you’ll modify your management style of the cowboys or whether they’ll mold to your expectations or leave.

        See about off-loading some of your work load. You shouldn’t be doing the job of three people. Good luck.

        1. Op - Tech Manager*

          Op here–I can say that it isn’t a generation gap. I am actually younger than most of my employees and enjoy watching cat videos as much as the next guy. :-)

          I should also mention that I did not come in with both fists a blazing with high standards. My first 3 months on the job were purely observational. I asked questions, I watched, I worked front-line support with the team to gain their respect and show that I was qualified and capable to teach/train/coach them. Once I was established and fully understood how things work, then I started to implement changes to policies, one at a time, until the bar was set at industry-acceptable levels.

          Would love to do some off-loading, but the company does not have the resources and will not offer them. If I was at the way top, then it would be easier as I inherited the job of 3 management-level employees, and cannot delegate my tasks to my directs. Not sure how to get the uppers attention, short of leaving the company for a better, properly compensated job.

          1. moss*

            come on now. I know plenty of very sharp, functional people over age 70. It’s not like they are two hundred and seventy seven.

            1. Snork Maiden*

              I wouldn’t mind a 177 year old boss. They definitely wouldn’t go in for any surprise visits to your location!

            2. Not So NewReader*

              The guy who repairs my computer is 82. He has forgotten MORE than I have ever learned in my entire life!

          2. Al Lo*

            My 76-year-old boss works remotely with the best of them. She truly understands my night-owl tendencies, and doesn’t come in to the office herself until noon most days. It’s lovely.

    2. GreatLakesGal*

      Mike, I totally agree. If the focus is on managing the results, the issues are very straightforward.
      High-performing workers who produce results without a lot of oversight are going to resent the heck out of micromanagement of break times and innocuous internet browsing.

      If outcomes are appropriately managed, a manager doesn’t need to protect herself from her staff knowing where she is, and workers don’t have to waste their time protecting themselves from arbitrary management.

    3. MaryMary*

      There’s another option between outright performance issues and rules for the sake of rules, and that’s an employee or team who could be doing better. I work with a couple of cowboys, and they’re not poor performers. Clients are happy with them and they continue to bring in business. However, their work style is not sustainable. It’s not efficient. They create an inordinate amount of work for other people, which prevents the organization from growing and creates stress and unhappiness for other employees (which has lead to turnover). It’s also not sustainable. There is no transparency into the work the cowboys do, so we can’t create contingency or succession plans.

      Assuming OP isn’t setting up arbitrary rules, maybe it would be helpful for OP to share more of the “big picture” with her cowboys. You can have a team who works hard and independently, who is meeting all their performance metrics, but whose work could be improved by new rules and processes.

      1. LBK*

        I think it depends what you define as a “performance metric”. If you don’t restrict that definition to quantifiable statistics like sales or cases closed, it can certainly cover things like working well with other teams and being organized – and on that scale, someone who’s just hitting sales numbers but failing in every other way isn’t a good employee at all.

        (That being said, I think there’s some leeway to give for someone who’s hitting their quantifiable metrics, but it’s not unlimited.)

    4. AMG*

      Let’s assume the rules are arbitrary and that the issue comes down to management style. Isn’t that the OP’s choice to make, not her direct reports? If there aren’t any good reasons to push back other than just not wanting to be managed, the employees are doing themselves a real disservice. I’m glad her direct supports her.

      1. Mike C.*

        Yes, if we just want to settle on, “It’s her prerogative” then there’s nothing more to discuss and we should all leave.

        But then that will lead to more serious problems down the road, higher turnover and worse results over all.

        1. AMG*

          Turnover of these employees doesn’t sound like a bad thing, especially when their numbers drop if they aren’t actively being watched. Bye, Felicia!

          1. Judy*

            The point is, to treat someone as professional, it’s much better to manage the numbers rather than arbitrary things. There is a slippery slope to timing bathroom breaks.

            “I expect you to keep your numbers above X. ” No words about internet, no words about smoke breaks, no words about fantasy football, etc, etc.

            1. AMG*

              I didn’t get the impression that those were the rules being broken. I agree that if you are monitoring bathroom breaks, you’re doing it wrong, but it seems as though there are other rules at play that aren’t being followed. OP, could you provide some context?

    5. Dasha*

      My mind went to this too and you made some good points, Mike C. Maybe the OP can weigh in with more information?

    6. NtrlGAGirl*

      And in reading the OP’s letter, I had some visceral feelings to some of the wording. For example, “how do I confront these employees and gain their respect?” and the way the OP labels them as “rodeo cowboys” and “bad employees” without really supporting these labels based on performance. Web surfing is the worst rule they’ve broken according to the letter and no mention of actual performance issues. And allowing/condoning spying & tattling by a subordinate, which essentially is setting a bad tone amongst those you manage, should be a no-go. These aren’t children. Set your expectations & goals & deal with how they are accomplished or not. It seems that them wanting to know your location and your reaction to that is a symptom & not the problem. That’s what needs to be addressed.

      In any relationship, personal or professional, both sides play a part in what works well AND with any dysfunction and the OP needs to do some reflection on his role as a manager and how he/she is carrying it out. How has the OP contributed to the oppositional relationship he/she has with his/her reports? Mike C. makes some very good suggestions at the end of his comment!

      1. Ask a Manager* Post author

        But please keep in mind that the OP isn’t obligated to provide evidence in a letter here; letter writers often don’t realize what details people will find useful to include. In general, I’d like us to take OPs at their word. (And in fact, she’s provided more info in the comments that explain the performance problems.)

        It’s fine to say “could it be X instead?” but I’d prefer that people not assume that it absolutely is X without giving the letter writer some benefit of the doubt.

        1. NtrlGAGirl*

          I didn’t make an absolute assumption–just working with the information given. However, point taken. The additional information–not visible when I began typing my comment–is helpful, of course.

  8. Snarkus Aurelius*

    I don’t care about my boss’ whereabouts as long as: my emails get a timely response, I don’t get ripped apart because of something directly related to my boss’ absence, and the work doesn’t suffer overall.

    The only time I started getting antsy and inquisitive, like these employees, is when my boss goes AWOL for long periods of time.

    Again: I don’t care where the boss is or what she’s doing. I don’t even want to know.

    Something to keep in mind, OP.

    1. AMG*

      This. There is an exec higher up in my chain of command, and none of us ever know where he is. But he is largely accessible and we get on his calndar when we need something without issue. I can’t imagine anyone telling him that we need to be informed of his whereabouts. It would come off as disrespectful, and he’s a good, respectful person.

    2. AnotherFed*

      This is a good point – OP says she’s taken on 3 people’s jobs, so is it possible that she’s getting so swamped that this team feels like they aren’t getting responses and inputs they need on a timeline they want? If these employees were used to having their own manager and wandering down the hall to ask questions whenever they wanted, this could be a big change for them that leaves them feeling like the OP is AWOL. In that case, the OP probably needs to both work on expectation management for response times and in-person discussions, but it might help them feel better if they can see a calendar and figure out when the boss will be present or that the reason the boss hasn’t responded today is because she’s on an airplane.

      1. katamia*

        OP mentioned in a comment that the teams’ numbers are higher when OP is there. This seems like an interesting possible alternate cause–I know I goofed off at one of my old jobs when I couldn’t get ahold of anyone who could answer my questions or give me more work. (Never worked in IT, though, so I don’t know the ins and outs of that area.)

    3. Clever Name*

      Yep. We have a PM/Manager who is out of the office much of the time, but he is extremely accessible. He responds to emails quickly and if he doesn’t immediately answer his cell phone because he is in a meeting, he returns calls quickly. I may not know exactly where he is, but I can nearly always reach him.

  9. BRR*

    At first my thought was that they wanted to be able to track you down better for when they need you. I’ve had a manager where I needed to speak in person or get something signed and couldn’t find them for hours when their calendar said they were free.

    But Alison brings up a good point that it might be to goof off. It seems like they’re playing it as my first thought but might have ulterior motives.

    I think you should directly ask how you are hurting their performance by not announcing your location and what problems has this caused so you can remedy the situation if they have valid points.

    I’m also curious if your rules on Internet browsing on breaks don’t fit with the job. I don’t see a lot of office jobs having formal breaks so I’m just curious if they’re doing a good job but just don’t fit into what you want.

  10. AndersonDarling*

    I’m seeing this from another angle. The employees were in a situation without structure: they came in to work, they did x,y,z, hung out, then went home. But now they are held accountable for their work and have goals. This is a good change, but it would be difficult for me to transition to a more corporate style when I don’t have a manager around to support me in my goals. I have a job where I run into problems where I need to ask my manager how to proceed, or at least to keep him informed. If he was on the road all the time, I would be frustrated.
    I can’t find the words to kindly say this- Is the manager really a manager, or just someone who gave out goals? Is the OP providing his team with the ongoing support they need? Solving problems? If not, I may be getting suspicious and thinking that the manager was ignoring me and my team. Then I could see why the team is tracking his whereabouts.

    1. LBK*

      Yes – even if it’s completely unavoidable for the OP to be out of the office so frequently, I can appreciate feeling frustrated that someone shows up, imposes standards you’re not used to, and then disappears. Especially if the standard being opposed is something I usually find unreasonable like monitoring activity while at work instead of results.

    2. Jeanne*

      It can be very challenging to change a workplace culture. That is essentially what OP is trying to do. You have an interesting thought. Could this feel like favoritism and not? The “bad” team might feel like the boss is being “nicer” to the teams she likes better. It’s a tad childish but a lot of our responses happen without being well understood.

  11. @timmelrod*

    Good feedback. Offering an additional item to the conversation. Since the employees are not used to having expectations set , they are likely not used to having s leader to clear the way for them. I think you can also ask them what their expections are of you. It’s a two way street and both lanes need to be open and communication flowing freely.

    1. Jillociraptor*

      I think this is really smart. If the Cowboys are being totally genuine, this will be really welcome. If they’re not above board in their intentions, it kind of cuts that off at the knees.

    2. MJ*

      Communication is definitely a two-way street. I would ask employees what they need from me in order to succeed in their job, rather than what they expect of me. I was not hired to meet their expectations. I was hired to meet the company’s expectations and my boss’s expectations. Employees who report to me were hired to meet the company’s expectations and mine. If they need something, I will explore that need with them and determine whether it is a match for company goals, and I will do my best to help them out. Work is not a democracy, though. Two way communication doesn’t mean the conversation flows the same each way.

  12. Lucky*

    “The most straightforward way to [gain your employees’ respect] is to set clear expectations, explain the reasons for them, give people fair and useful feedback, recognize and reward high performance, operate with integrity and transparency, and hold people accountable when they aren’t meeting your expectations.”

    I want this on a cross-stitch sampler, hanging in my office.

  13. GreatLakesGal*

    I also want to add that if a group of employees worked to expected results under Supervisor A’s direction, they were not ‘ breaking rules,’ they were following Supervisor A’s directives, implied or stated.

    It is not terribly helpful to frame a group of otherwise-competent employees (and OP has given no indication that they are not meeting metrics) as ‘rule-breakers.’

    1. AMG*

      Perhaps–we don’t really know. If these were company policies that that the manager was supposed to enforce, that’s rule-breaking. If the manager had rules but didn’t enforce them, that is too.

      1. GreatLakesGal*

        I can see your point. But I’ll give you an example from my recent experience.

        A few years ago, a corporate directive came down detailing a specific uniform dress code.

        It’s pretty widely ignored by most worksite managers in lieu of a general “no blue jeans, no shorts, nothing sleeveless” approach.

        Ans quite honestly, even 2 to three management layers up, it’s obvious nobody really cares
        about this directive– it’s likely that this was the brainchild of long-gone executive but has never been formally rescinded.
        I’d be more than a bit peeved if compliance with this specific policy showed up on my performance review, even if it is,technically, still a ‘rule.’

  14. YandO*

    Maybe my impression is all off…but what I am seeing here is a team that has their own culture and a new manager trying to change them.

    Are they not meeting deadlines? Are they not meeting targets? Are there actually performance issues?

    Also, I need to know when my boss is in, so I can prepare the items/questions I need his input on. It would be very difficult to have in him pop in and out without heads up.

  15. Katie the Fed*

    OP – I get a really adversarial vibe from your letter, like you’re locked in battle with these people. You can’t lead people if you’re in that kind of a situation. You don’t trust or respect them, and they don’t trust or respect you. That’s not healthy for an organization.

    I think you need to kind of start fresh with them – maybe choose your battles on the rules – focus on the ones that matter most. Praise people who deserve it – highlight their acheivements to upper management. Show them that you’re in their corner and you’re not just there to enforce.

    I feel like if you re-approach this from a position of respecting and trusting them, you’ll make a lot more progress.

    1. fposte*

      It does seem a little like the OP is somebody may be treating a difference as a problem. She’s checking all the boxes and organizing her work at multiple locations and getting things done even when expectations aren’t reasonable, and these employees aren’t interested in being like that. That in itself isn’t a problem–not everybody has to be a racehorse. It’s a problem if that means their productivity isn’t acceptable.

      In Revolutionary War terms, not all teams operate like the British. Some operate like the colonists. And they did pretty well, right?

    2. AMG*

      Interesting…I don’t normay disagree with Katie the Fed, but I don’t really see this. It seems to me that the employees are toxic, and only after their work is at an appropriate standard should they prove the deserve trust. Especially after the OP’s feedback.

      1. LBK*

        That’s only information we’ve received in the OP’s update, though – just based on the letter, I didn’t see anything to indicate that they were problem employees aside from spending too much time on the internet, which isn’t inherently a performance problem.

        1. AMG*

          She calls them toxic/poisonous, they seem to question her authority, ther output increases when she’s on site, and they have an overall dsrespectful tone. Since we have only her letter to go on, I am taking it at face value that they are a problem.

          1. fposte*

            She doesn’t call them toxic, though–you’re the only person who’s used that. She doesn’t call them poisonous, either; she just mentions in an extended bad apple metaphor that she doesn’t want them to poison the rest.

            I don’t think they’re great employees, from the sound of the performance metrics, but I think the toxic/poisonous thing is overreading.

            1. AMG*

              Pretty sure that’s the same as calling them poisonous. The difference between that and toxic is splitting hairs. Yes I am the only one who actually typed that word but the meaning OP is communicating is the same.

              1. fposte*

                It’s really not the same as calling them poisonous, any more than it’s calling them apples.

                1. AMG*

                  Saying someone can poison others in the group isn’t the same as calling them poisonous? Okay, sure. And I don’t think anyone would be so literal as to call them apples any more than we really think they actual rodeo cowboys. However you want to argue the semantics, go ahead, but the OP’s point is still the same. Not sure what you are really after here.

                2. Ask a Manager* Post author

                  I didn’t read that as her calling them poisonous either. Saying that bad apples can poison the whole bunch is a metaphor that often doesn’t refer to actual poisonness. Regardless, I think we can agree to disagree here…

        2. MJ*

          She said they browse the Internet more than working and that they are continuing to spend time communicating with each other as to her whereabouts and what she is doing. There is clearly a performance issue as well as some time-wasting morale-sapping drama.

      2. Katie the Fed*

        Some employees may very well be problems, but it seems like OP is reacting quite strongly and generalizing about them instead of focusing on specific behaviors. So it starts to seem…personal.

        1. JB (not in Houston)*

          Hmm, that just goes to show that one writing will be read differently by different people, because I’m not getting what you’re getting from the letter at all. This is why I like it when OPs provide updates/more info.

      3. Anonsie*

        Until the comments, I was fully in this camp as well. Only with that additional information did I stop being highly skeptical of the LW, in all honesty.

    3. Not So NewReader*

      I did not think of it as an adversarial vibe as much as a fearful vibe. Perhaps along the lines of the best defense is a good offense? It could be that OP’s worries are causing heavy-handedness that is not useful here?

      OP, watch out about your emotions. I see you are concerned that they might try to undermine you with the bosses, you mention paranoid feelings.

      This is the wrong road, OP. Once you start down it, you have lost control of the situation. I will say that it is pretty normal to have these thoughts. Recognize that you need to find ways to override these thoughts and not let them grow bigger and bigger in your head. Let it go, OP.

      Here is something to replace it with: When a person is in a position of leadership it is reasonable to expect criticism of every sort. A wise person told me that sometimes the best leaders suffer the HARSHEST criticism. This is really important to understand, OP. If you are a leader you are putting yourself right out there. If a person is a good leader sometimes that causes even harsher attacks.

      You will find it helpful to expect criticism from all sides. Think of it as part of the job.

      Go back to square one here. When you tighten the range, there is going to be backlash. Cause and effect. You told them they had to meet goals. You ticked them off, or at least some of them. It’s to be expected, there will be backlash in these situations and backlash can wear many different costumes.

      This wise person in my life helped so much with telling me all these things. He totally changed my perspective.

      Some random ideas:
      1) It’s okay to have fears/concerns. It’s not okay to put them in a greenhouse and keep them well watered and fed.

      2) Sometimes we have the storm before the calm. You stirred the pot here, OP. Ride it out. Do not say things that you will not follow up on. That will make you look silly. Only say things that you are actually going to do and that will make you look strong.

      3) Find ways of letting your people know that you actually WANT to hear from them. This can be a calendar, a cell phone number or it can be appointments for listening sessions. Don’t forget to say, “I want to hear from you if you need me.” So simple, but so important. It could be that you delegate one person at each site to make decisions in emergencies or when you are out of contact for whatever reason.

      4) You want them to get their numbers up. Can you expand on that with them? Can you offer tips? Can you encourage them to share their tips with each other? If you are talking about the specifics of the work itself that is another way of saying, “Concentrate on this work.” Quietly, keep an eye peeled to make sure they have what they need to do the job. Nothing says, “I am serious about this goal”, like a boss that keeps people equipped to do the work.

      Lastly, I think that you are overloaded trying to do the work of 3 people and that is your actual worry here. You’re right about that, the company expects too much from you. The reality here is that it’s probably not your people that are messing with you, it’s your company that is messing with you. Try, try, try, not to let all your battles merge into one big battle. Your doubts in your people could be misplaced doubt that should be placed on the company itself. Keep your battles separate. This will help you to see better what is actually going on here.

  16. LuvzALaugh*

    Stop worrying about their intentions to throw you under the bus. Focus on your performance and their performance that you manage. Use your Outlook calendar or whatever shared work calander is availbale so that they know when you are availbale, respond timely to emails, phone calls and texts……then just step out of the way when the tractor trailer they will slip under comes rolling by…….Spending your time trying to throw someone under a bus instead of focusing on more productive tends to end not so well. Just be patient and nail them for their lack of performance which won’t be an issue if they are spending as much time as you state trying to monitor you. If not, if this behavior dies off after they do know when and where you are available then problem solved either way.

  17. Alano*

    In my experience it’s very easy to be overly biased in favor of what you can see in front of you and discount what you cannot see. This is something I try to constantly remind myself. It’s very easy to assume that people located in other offices aren’t as busy as I am (because I can’t see what they do all day). Or that someone must be goofing off if they’re working from home. It’s also very easy to focus on solving the problems right in front of you and ignore the problems you can’t see (even if they’re problems you should address). Immature people in particular are likely to assume that if you’re not in the office where they can see you that you’re not doing real work.

  18. Bend & Snap*

    It’s hard to built trust and respect when you aren’t visible and aren’t communicating about your role on the team. Definitely open up and let them know where you’re going to be on a given day, and what your priorities are in your role/for the week, month, quarter, or whatever cadence makes sense.

    If you’re operating in a vacuum thinking you’re not accountable to them because they report to you, you’re doomed.

    1. AMG*

      I don’t agree at all. Your boss does not need to check in every moment of the day to manage a team. If they can’t behave like adults when someone’s not standing over their shoulder, they shouldn’t have their jobs. You know your manager is good when they are gone for the day and nobody’s w0rk habits change one bit.

      1. Bend & Snap*

        That’s not what I said. The basics of letting your team know where you’ll be/how to reach you, and what your priorities in your role are, do not equal “checking in every moment of a day.” It’s a basic courtesy and guidepost to make sure people know why they’re doing what they’re doing and help them feel invested in their role in the end result.

        It’s very hard to respect a manager when you don’t know where they are, when they might pop up, or what their big-picture priorities are.

        1. AMG*

          There’s a big difference between telling someone where you are (not a basic courtesy in my experience, and never held me back from being able to reach anyone) versus what their big-picture priorities are. And what does is matter where they pop up? If you are working like you are supposed to be, what does it change? It shouldn’t change anything at all.

          1. Bend & Snap*

            Because if her people know she’s going to be in the office they can take advantage of a face-to-face meetings and have interactions that it’s not possible to have virtually. You’re inferring some kind of supervisory motivation here, which is not what I’m talking about at all.

            OP, it also sounds like you could use some positive face time with these teams. Another reason to share your schedule.

            1. AMG*

              maybe, maybe not. Since their output drops whenever she leaves, it sounds like they could use some babysitting. If they need a meeting or face time, then she can schedule that and the rest of the week still should not matter to them. Their focus is waaay off and should be on their work, not her whereabouts.

              1. Bend & Snap*

                We’re clearly talking about two different things. One is an employee performance issue (your point) and one is good management (my point). I’m not sure why you insist on refuting every post I’m making.

                1. AMG*

                  Because I don’t agree and this is a forum for discussing the post. To me these are one and the same. If you’re a good manager, you handle your employee’s poor performance issues (see OP’s feedback above). And it’s not personal–I disagree with plenty of other people.

          2. Colette*

            For one thing, not knowing when you can get in touch with your manager means it’s much harder to consult her on issues or get her input into what you’re doing. I’ve had days where I’d prioritize my work based on when I could talk with my manager.

          3. In labyrinths of coral caves*

            I’m with AMG on this. The important thing is being able to contact the manager. Knowing where the manager is is of minimal value. And these days, you don’t have to know where they are to call / text / email them. This is basically how I’ve done WFH for the past 10 years.

            And the way OP describes this overall situation, I get the definite sense that the mice are playing while the cat is away.

            1. JB (not in Houston)*

              I agree with a little bit of both. It is important to be able to contact the manager, but often knowing where the manager is can be useful for that. For example, it’s very helpful to know if my boss is in a doctor’s appointment or a meeting or a plane or some other place where they cannot be reached and to know when they will again be reachable. It probably depends on the type of work you do, but there are times when it’s vitally important to know that my boss is out of pocket and to know when I’ll be able to get in touch. I don’t have to know GPS coordinates, and I don’t have to know specific details like what kind of doctor they are seeing–or even that it’s a doctors appointment, so long as I know it’s AN appointment or some commitment that can’t be interrupted. But that doesn’t mean I don’t know need to know anything other than their cell phone number and email.

        2. AnotherFed*

          Not just hard to respect them, but hard to figure out what you should be doing. And IT, science, and engineering types can get pretty binary about rules – either it’s a rule and they’ll follow it, or your rule is dumb and therefore doesn’t count as a rule. If the big picture priorities aren’t explained and the reasons for the rules don’t make sense (or just haven’t been passed along), then people are going to ignore them more often. Internet use is one of those things that would tend to show up in performance – if they’re really spending all day messing around on the internet, then their performance will be poor and you handle it as a performance problem, not as a make-more-rules problem.

  19. Three Thousand*

    The way the employee presented the question was more than a little snotty and demanding.

    “I was talking with some of the guys (at these three locations), and we agreed that we should talk to you about this…we never know where you are. We don’t know what you are doing. Can you can make an effort to tell us every day where you will be?”

    He could easily have said, “We’d like to be able to get in touch with you during the day when you’re not around; can you keep us updated on your travel schedule so we know how to reach you?” Instead, he came off sounding confrontational and resentful. Maybe that was intentional and maybe it wasn’t, but I wouldn’t expect to be able to gain the respect of an employee like this by simply doing whatever they ask without any further discussion or understanding of what they actually want from you.

    1. AMG*

      It sounds like they aren’t really treating her like the boss. They do not make the decisions, she does, and that’s seems to be a big part of the issue for them, in my estimation.

      1. NtrlGAGirl*

        But it’s not about their issues, the letter is about his/her issues with them. If that’s the way he/she chooses to manage, then gaining their respect shouldn’t be a concern. Respect cannot be demanded–only obedience. Earning respect isn’t about how the employees conducts themselves.

        1. AMG*

          I wouldn’t care about whether they respect OP, just whether they are performing at an appropriate level.

          1. NtrlGAGirl*

            But that was actually part of OPs question, which is why Allison addressed it. The very first question even.

      2. Three Thousand*

        It’s very possible they just don’t like her or her expectations of them or acknowledge her authority, and they’re just picking on something they think will cause trouble for her. If it weren’t this, it would be something else.

    2. Not So NewReader*

      Maybe it is just me, but I find that a totally reasonable* conversation. Clearly, the speaker sought out opinions of others to add more weight to her words. “It’s not just me saying this…”
      That could be indicative of an environment where employees feel powerless. “No one will listen to just me, so I had to bring buddies along…” Or perhaps it’s just the speaker feels the need for back-up.

      *Granted, I don’t know what else was said and I don’t know the tone of voice/body language. But there is no cussing, no accusations, nothing unacceptable in these words. I would take it as a statement of frustration that is defining the cause of frustration. I’d answer the question- or start to look for answers. If I failed to come up with some things to try, I would make a note to come back to that conversation by a certain date/time.

      OP, people never ask hard/difficult questions of someone who they believe cannot handle the question. Oddly, the more difficult questions you get into the more of a compliment that is- people feel you are up for it. This one is a tricky one. My rule of thumb is do not worry about what they say to your face- play a straight game. Answer the exact question that is asked. When in doubt hold the question in the best possible light and answer with respect and sincerity. If the person is trying to undermine you, that will become very clear later on. Blatant remarks can be handled differently, of course.

  20. LookyLou*

    I can fully understand these frustrations as I can NEVER pin my boss down and he is always on the move. No one is given notice of when he is switching locations, this causes us to often twiddle our thumbs as we wait for him to realize we need him to have the business function.

    I can imagine this all stemmed from them trying to find him. I often need to call other coworkers and ask “Have you seen the boss? I’ve been looking for him.” and they then tell me that they are looking for him to – that usually sparks mini conversations about how he is never there when needed.

    The employees probably had no idea HOW to ask this kind of request and inadvertently made is sound as it did. If we even confronted our boss about keeping us updated on his location I would imagine it would be a train wreck. A lot can be said though for someone having the courage to broach the subject.

    1. Bend & Snap*

      Right. And it’s also helpful to know, okay, I’ll be at X site Monday, Y site Tuesday and working from home Wednesday if employees need the boss to give something particular consideration or have a more in-depth conversation. Sometimes you have to be strategic about when to approach your boss, and knowing whether they’re on the road or sitting at a home base helps with that.

    2. LizaNW*


      My last manager was never around, and while she had “office hours” posted on her office door, she rarely met them. (e.g. her office hours were 9:30-11 M-W-F but she’d email in at 10am two of the three days to say she ‘running late’ and not show up until 11:30, and then the third day an internal meeting would happen during her office hours so she’d be at that)

      People needed her hands-on management more often than that but she was often just … not there. People would come looking for her from outside our department and we’d have to say we had no idea when she’d be in. It made us look dumb and her look …. flaky? Since her ‘hours’ sign was there on the door but the door was closed and the lights were off.

    3. Not So NewReader*

      My boss calls me several times a day. I love it. Although, I am not sure where she is or what she is doing, I know I will hear from her. It changes the whole job for me. Instead of being worried about how to handle X or what the procedure is for Y, I can set these things to one side and move on other things. When she calls, we go over X and Y and I get those things completed, also.

  21. Qlarue*

    They want to know where you are because if they are at Site A and you are 30 miles away at Site B, that means they can slack off and not worry about you sneaking up behind them. (As I am doing right now as my boss called off sick today.)

  22. misspiggy*

    I think in this OP’s shoes I’d be tempted to ask upper management if I should spend more time with the poorly performing team to shape them into a better one (and negotiate what I should spend less time doing). If not, I’d need to make it clear that continuing to spread myself thinly across the whole picture would likely not result in significant improvements to the cowboy team’s results. If I couldn’t get a clear answer, time to leave.

  23. Lizabeth (call me hop along)*

    Any way you can split up the rodeo cowboys between all the sites to “surround” them with non- slackers? Not the greatest solution but if it’s hard to fire someone in your company…and that way they’re not in a single pack, feeding off each other’s discontent. Individually they might not be as bad as they are together….

    1. Not So NewReader*

      There are ways to tap that creativity. It takes a bit of thinking and observing, but it can be done.
      Cowboys have creativity and they have lots of energy. It’s just a matter of figure out how to direct it into something productive.

      Does not work for every cowboy/girl but it can work with a lot of them.

      1. snuck*

        Agree! Find out what’s the real issue and harness all that boredom energy into something productive!

  24. In labyrinths of coral caves*

    I’m late to the party, just two things:

    1. I don’t think there’s anything wrong with exposing one’s calendar. But I think the advantages of this have been overstated. It’s the 21st century – if somebody needs to talk to the boss, they can call him, text him, or send him email on his cellphone. Nowadays you can get internet on the plane – in theory, the manager is never out of touch.

    2. Maybe I missed it, but I would really like to know why this one group of three offices is acting up while the other offices are apparently functioning smoothly. Maybe it’s a red herring – but I can’t help thinking that knowing this might help to solve the problems here.

    1. AcademiaNut*

      I do think it’s important to be able to stake out periods of non-availability. If the boss is sick, or on vacation, you know not to contact her (or only in emergencies). If my supervisor is travelling and is in the Eastern US, I know not to expect a reply during business hours. If someone is driving somewhere, they shouldn’t be on the phone. If they’re in an important meeting, they shouldn’t be glued to their smartphone and ignoring the meeting. And I cringe when I hear people say things like “but you can get internet on the plane”, because of the expectation that people should always be in touch.

      Not knowing where your boss is and when you’ll be able to contact them is a problem. Expecting them to be on call at all times because technology makes it possible is also a problem.

  25. Student*

    I had a boss who was on 50% travel throughout the year. My suggestion:

    Ask your unhappy employees what they think your email response rate is, and whether you are getting back to them in a timely way. I bet their response will vary dramatically from how you think you’re responding.

    The boss felt no need to tell me anything about his travel schedule whatsoever. I tried very hard to be accommodating about it, because I knew he was busy with higher priority projects. However, he barely responded to emails (I was not sending them frequently – I aimed for bare minimum, often 1 per week) and was never available by phone. When he did respond to emails (maybe 30% response rate), it was often very terse. In principle, terse responses are fine; in practice, I was pretty sure he wasn’t actually reading anything past the first sentence of my email. He rarely did anything I asked of him, and I was trying to ask for the absolute minimum things I felt I needed to do my job.

    It was demoralizing and it gave me the impression that he was very disengaged from me and not interested in my projects. I also got the impression that he didn’t care about my career whatsoever. He later told me that he felt he was doing a great job managing me remotely and that he felt that he responded to the majority of my emails and requests. He used his “success” with me to go from 50% offsite to 100% remote work. At that point, I stopped working for him, thankfully.

  26. Jeanne*

    These workers are right and wrong. They should not be trying to micromanage the boss. OTOH, they deserve at least basic knowledge of where their boss is.

    I had a boss who refused to tell us where he was. He could have been in a meeting in another building or out sick. When asked to let us know, he said it was none of our business. I didn’t need to know exactly what he was doing. I asked for “in” or “out”. I was the one who filled in on his tasks when he was on vacation. If someone came to me on a day he didn’t show, I would say I couldn’t help them because I didn’t know if he would be there part way through the day. With work flow, it held things up. After a while, I couldn’t afford to care any more. Why should I help out when he wouldn’t give me a courtesy email or a call from his boss’s secretary if he was sick?

    You need to figure this out a little, OP. You don’t want them to lose what’s important because you can’t do them a courtesy. You don’t know every minute where you’ll be but there must be a general schedule you could share in an email or online.

    1. snuck*

      I had a peer set up this huge elaborate time sheet system (we were contracted project managers who were paid a set amount regardless of how many hours we worked, and had autonomy over our own availability so long as we were generally available during core hours)…. and then get the managers sign off on it (citing health and safety – if we evacuate we have to know who is here or not for head counts). Fair enough… I would just write In or Out on the sheet – she didn’t need to know my work hours and if my manager wanted them I’d have given them to the manager. She was a crazy busy body though.

  27. snuck*

    Some other ideas for managing this is in the usual remote team management stuff…

    Set up a regular time with each staff member for them to bring non-urgent stuff with you – if possible make it in person – so Joe knows every week he can discuss stuff like annual leave requests or where his various long term projects are at or his issue with the glare off the windows with you on Tuesdays 9-9.30, and Jane gets Wednesdays 10-10.30 (or whatever)… this is a regular weekly checkin that allows you to chat through tasks, resolve/discuss non-urgent and administrative stuff etc – it’s not performance review time.

    If you have a regular-ish schedule send it out, put a 10minute 8am appt in as a standing for everyone to see in your calendar that says “working from y location” and send it out occasionally (quarterly) to all staff to remind them where you are when.

    If you are irregular in your schedule consider sending out an email at the end of the day “Tomorrow I can be contacted via the XYZ office”…. Or just tell your team to use IM, email and mobile phone… and if they need you and can’t get ahold of you to talk to a designated person who has your calendar (this is assuming you don’t want to share it). (And if they gripe about this and track you unnecessarily then do as suggested and tell them to knock it off, politely, reminding them that your manager is happy with your performance.)

    Do shake it up a little, pop in and out unexpectedly from various offices… but rely on performance metrics more.

    And ask someone why this team has such a bee in it’s bonnet when the others don’t – a PA or similar in their location who you can trust (or your boss’s PA) … there might be some back story you’re not privvy to yet that might help understand it.

  28. Erin*

    I agree there’s more than one issue here. The main one is your staff is used to being able to goof off, and it sounds like they want to know your schedule so they can monitor where you are for their own personal interests.

    I don’t see anything wrong with sharing your calendar, but I agree with Alison that you should really take a look at these employees and see if they need replacing.

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