my boss is a yes-woman

A reader writes:

My boss is a great person. We get on well and I feel I can have an honest discussion with her. This needs to happen, as I’ve noticed a troubling pattern of behavior that has an impact on my work. When she’s dealing with senior staff, my boss is a yes woman – she agrees with them, regardless of the consequences.

This has a particular impact on me because she will commit my time to things – including agreeing to deadlines and outcomes – without consulting me at all. When I say that I can’t deliver to those deadlines, or that I’d have recommended a different outcome had I been involved in the discussion (I should add that it’s part of my role to make these kinds of recommendations), she won’t go back to the senior staff to discuss this; she just insists I make the best of it. We end up with projects that are rushed, delivered late, and/or of a quality that I think is poor. This reflects badly on me.

This situation also means I can’t commit to other projects, and often have to say no to more commercially valuable ones because my boss has already committed me. I have to turn these projects down, although I can’t explain that the reason I can’t take them on is that my boss committed me to something else without thinking it through.

I know I need to raise this issue, and soon, before my workload becomes unmanagable and/or the situation starts to reflect badly on me. The best solution I can come up with is that if senior managers approach her for my time, she acknowledge the request and discuss it with me before committing. Ideally we’d have a formal booking system for all projects to manage expectations better, but I don’t think this is realistic.

I don’t feel this addresses the wider issue though. I understand that managers sometimes need to take the path of least resistance, but does this have to be at the expense of my reputation?

You’re right that sometimes a manager needs to say yes to a project or deadline that doesn’t seem like the best way to go because of politics or other issues above you.

But when it’s only happening because she isn’t willing to push back in cases where a good manager could and would push back successfully, that’s a problem.

It’s also possible that at least some of the time, it’s happening not because she’s a yes-woman but because she doesn’t have as strong a grasp on these factors as you do: how much time it will take, what that time commitment will mean for other priorities on your plate, and whether the proposed plan is in fact the best way to tackle something. It wouldn’t necessarily be a bad sign if she doesn’t understand those things as well as you do; it often makes sense that the person charged with carrying out the work has a better feel for those elements than the person managing them does. The issue, though, would be if she doesn’t recognize that and so isn’t consulting you before agreeing to things.

In any case, regardless of what’s at the root of this, it’s absolutely reasonable to raise it with her — and it’s good that you feel like you can have an honest discussion with her, because that’s going to make this a lot easier.

I’d sit down with her and say something like this: “I’ve noticed that lately we’ve run into situations where plans have been solidified without my having a chance to give input into whether a particular deadline or outcome is realistic or how it might impact other projects. As a result, we’ve ended up with projects that are rushed, late, or not of the quality they could have been. This happened recently with X project and Y project. It’s also meant that I’ve ended up needing to turn down projects that I think could have had a big impact, because we haven’t had a chance to talk before other priorities get locked in. I know that senior managers often approach you and ask if I can take on various projects. Could we have a system where you and I touch base before committing, so that I have a chance to give input on the deadlines and the outcomes?”

You’ll get one of three outcomes here:

1. She’ll tell you that your proposed solution isn’t feasible because ____ (she feels she needs to be responsive to senior staff and give them an answer in the moment / she feels their requests are more demands than requests / she’s worried about her own reputation if she pushes back / or who knows what). At that point, though, you’ll at least have better insight into what’s going on and hopefully can keep exploring possible solutions with her (and a partial solution is better than no solution, so don’t feel like it’s a failure if that’s what you end up with).

2. She’ll say yes, she’ll mean it, and the two of you can then talk about the details of how this should work. Habits can be hard to break, though, so even with this outcome you’ll probably need to remind her a few times before it sticks.

3. She’ll say yes but not follow through in a meaningful way. If this happens, you’ll need to revisit it: “Hey, we talked about touching base before we committed to this kind of thing. This deadline isn’t realistic because of XYZ. I really don’t want to compromise on quality, so could we propose mid-November as an alternate deadline and see if that will work?” If that keeps happening, then you’ll know that this is part of the package with your boss and not likely to change — but it’s worth trying the above first and seeing where that gets you.

{ 61 comments… read them below }

  1. Snarkus Aurelius*

    Here’s one other element to consider: her ego.

    With the times that you do pull through and make something great, that’s really good for your boss because she gets to take the credit and look good to the higher ups.  That’s a good thing or a bad thing, depending on where you sit of course.  If it’s bad for you, that still doesn’t make it okay, but if it’s good for her, I’m not surprised it keeps happening.

    I say this because I had a former coworker who used to commit me to all sorts of impossible outcomes whenever I wasn’t in the room.  I’d always tell him that I cannot make 100 reporters show up to a press conference in 24 hours on a topic that generates 1-2 news articles a month, but he’d get so into things, it didn’t matter.  If things worked out, then he took the credit, but if they didn’t, it was on me.  (Those situations aren’t the same because he wasn’t my boss, which meant I could go back and reign in expectations even though it’s extremely hard to do after the fact.)

    But the worst outcome of all is that this current method is creating false and unrealistic expectations higher up.  You really don’t want that because you cannot have your abilities and workload underestimated, especially if something big gets dropped in your lap.  Feel free to mention this point to your boss as this could hurt her as well.

    1. Charityb*

      Honestly, I don’t see what the boss is getting out of this either. I mean, let’s say I was the boss and I kept promising the senior VP all these amazing projects that will get done in no time at all, and half the time they’re either late or really low quality. Even if the blame for it was on a subordinate, I don’t see how I’d escape criticism for not managing my team better. I can’t imagine how this can go on for too long before the manager experiences some of the blow back.

      I feel like inevitably they’ll both get to a point where they both come across as sloppy and inattentive and that could be the final impetus for change.

      1. Snarkus Aurelius*

        It largely depends, though, on what the higher ups know and don’t know.  I’ve pulled off things before that I thought were low quality and could have been better but my bosses didn’t think that because they weren’t full of aware of what my efforts were and how good the end result could have been.  Also many higher ups will see the end result and like it but not realize how much money was spent or how many other lucrative projects were put off or how much OT was used or how much bigger the project got after it was assigned because they don’t know to ask those questions.

        It’s not the higher ups’ fault either.  I’m sure they have a zillion other major, critical things to think about that they don’t have time to consider smaller details.  This is all assuming, of course, that things go well.

        As to your other point about things not going well, I’ve seen far more people make like teflon than take actual responsibility.  I’ve seen deflections of responsibility work so well they should be an Olympic sport.  I don’t know about this boss, but if the OP isn’t around for these conversations, it wouldn’t surprise me if the boss throws the OP under the bus.

        1. Lizzy*

          A big yes to this. I was being managed by a Board member over the summer while my supervisor was out on maternity. She had the worst expectations when dealing with deadlines with projects and because she had no idea what went in to these types of projects, just producing an end result was satisfying enough for her (and made her look good). She was especially bad about this when trying to please potential donors, funders, sponsors, etc. But again, she wasn’t aware of what I was fully capable of doing if I had been given more time and since the funders/sponsors were often pleased, it ultimately didn’t matter to her. For me, it was a nightmare since it took me away from my other projects and the quality of the end product was not something I would be proud of showing someone in any other circumstance.

      2. MashaKasha*

        I don’t think she’s getting anything out of it. I think it’s one of those, or some combination of the three:
        – boss is a people-pleaser who can’t say no
        – boss is scared of her higher-ups
        – there’s a toxic environment higher up the ladder that OP might not be aware of. Maybe, when the VPs ask for this or that project to be done in this way by this date, they don’t give OP’s boss a chance to negotiate; the date and requirements are instead set in stone. Just taking a wild guess here, since I’ve never been up the ladder and have no desire to go there.

        1. Not So NewReader*

          It’s short term thinking. “I need to say yes so this person is happy right now.” The future is never brought in for consideration, it’s only The Now that gets considered.

      3. Ad Astra*

        My suspicion is that, for the most part, OP is actually pulling this off. The quality may not be to her satisfaction, but the higher-ups, who I would guess are less experienced in the specific tasks that OP does, may have a less discerning eye and might be generally satisfied with the work. They just have no idea that OP is bending over backwards and rearranging priorities in order to make it happen.

        That’s the only explanation I can think of for how this set-up would continue for any significant length of time before the boss changed her ways.

        1. Snarkus Aurelius*

          This is exactly what I think is happening. The big bosses have no idea how much better and more strategic things could be because someone isn’t telling them.

        2. OP*

          OP here. Thanks Alison and the commentariat for your wisdom. The situation is exactly as so many of you have said: my boss seems to have a fear of confrontation (perhaps based on the quixotic natures of some of the VPs) and the VPs don’t recognize whether the results of my work are good or bad. No doubt there are political things going on that I don’t know about.

          I’m an internal comms specialist. I don’t expect the big bosses to know how best to communicate a message, but I do expect my boss to know that they don’t know, and to build in time to work that out. Part of my job was meant to be to evaluate requests and advise on the most suitable means of communication. However, this isn’t happening at all. Instead, the managers say ‘Jump’ and everyone jumps, without even questioning – to borrow MashaKasha’s wonderful scenario – whether jumping is even the right approach, let alone whether the people they’ve asked to jump can actually do so.

          I thought I had done quite a lot to make my role clear to the senior managers, but on reflection I see I could do more. I do have a flowchart already showing what’s needed at different stages of a project: I’ll ask my manager to use it when she’s fielding requests for projects.

          1. Mimi*

            I know exactly what you’re going through. I was in that same role, and my boss (Marketing Director) would avoid confrontation at all costs. As a result, he was constantly committing my time to various projects with unrealistic deadlines. And the VPs didn’t care about the time or effort involved in pulling these projects off – they wanted what they wanted. They said “jump” and my boss asked how high.

            Ultimately I moved on to another position with a boss who had no issues with setting clear, manageable expectations of deliverables with internal customers. Much less stressful!

    2. AMG*

      Yeah, this is really not a good situation. Working for someone like this would be a deal-breaker for me personally. Please give us an update and let us know how it goes!

  2. MsM*

    I agree that the first step is talking to her, but if it’s part of your role to make recommendations, I wonder if it makes sense for you to go directly to senior staff (keeping her in the loop, of course) and say, “I just learned about this project from Boss. I understand the need to turn this around quickly, but I have some concerns about being able to produce something of this complexity by [deadline], and was hoping to clarify what I should be prioritizing or if there are alternatives we can explore.” At the very least, maybe you can try and get an after-action meeting put together so you can flag the issues for future projects and hopefully get them to understand that they’ll get a better result if they include you in the conversations from the start.

    1. OOF*

      Please don’t do this. If a member of my team went to my boss without having a thorough discussion with me first, it would reflect very poorly on them, because it would be a headache to my boss and cause me to question their judgment and discretion. And I would be irritated as heck.

      OP, please follow the AAM advice and talk to your own supervisor first.

      1. Meg Murry*

        I agree that you shouldn’t go directly around your boss without talking to her first. However, if this is a case where OP is a do-er/make-er and the boss either doesn’t do/make or hasn’t in a long time, it makes a lot of sense for OP to have a meeting with the big boss/project head to iron out the details of the project, and go over the deliverables and schedule. After all, OP may have suggestions that

        Could OP suggest boss say something like “Let’s have a meeting between you, me and OP to go over the project details and deadlines specifically for the teapot marketing brochure.” That way boss isn’t committing OP on the spot to making a brochure by date X, but rather letting OP lead that discussion (“well, we could have a general 3 page brochure by the end of the month, or a 6 page more detailed one by the end of the year, or if you are willing to go with black and white instead of full color that would do XYZ…..”) and all agree to what the final project would be. Or it might be even more likely that OP needs to talk to someone on Big Boss’s team about the details and that person should be in on the meeting – Big Boss is just making the ask via the chain of command, but someone lower on the org chart is leading the detail end of the project.

        At my current job, the big boss is an expert in ABC, and that is something I have some experience with as well. My direct boss doesn’t really do or like ABC, so he is perfectly happy to just have me talk directly to Big Boss about projects involving ABC, and just keep him in the loop as to my workload so he knows whether I can take on other projects at the same time as the ABC projects.

        1. OOF*

          If it’s appropriate to the work and culture (which only the OP knows), the OP could certainly suggest a meeting with Direct Boss and Big Boss. But this goes back to the original premise: talk to your direct boss first. And second. And third. Offer suggestions, see what the boss approves (including talking to the big boss). Then, in case of emergency, think about how to go to big boss.

    2. LBK*

      I think this depends on how directly the OP works with her manager’s bosses. It would be totally normal for me to go to my manager’s boss with clarification on a project my manager had forwarded along to me from her, but I can see how it would be wildly inappropriate and a huge overstep of boundaries (especially if, say, these “senior” people are C-levels who shouldn’t really be bothered with figuring out the details of how a project will be run).

  3. Charityb*

    There’s an old saying about how it’s better to “under-promise and over-deliver” rather than the other way around that I think is applicable here. She probably wants to be a good team member to her overseers but maybe if you frame it in that way she might see how she’s doing more harm than good by over-promising and delivering subpar results.

    Right now she’s taking the easy way out and it sounds like you are taking the brunt of the blame, but eventually the people above her will start thinking that the manager is inept for not noticing this stuff. Hopefully you can stop it from getting to that point.

    In addition, it might be worthwhile to have periodic check-ins where you guys can talk about what’s on the horizon for you as well as what you’re working on now. There will be situations where she really won’t be able to adjourn to come talk to you before agreeing to something, but hopefully if she’s kept apprised of what’s coming up she will have more information to make reasonable decisions.

  4. MK*

    Another difficulty I foresee is that the PO’s boss has “trained” the higher-ups it expect both immediate response and instant agreement. If she starts telling them she needs to check the schedule first, and even more if she starts telling them no, with no explanation, they may well push back or at least demand to know why things that were possible before are now so difficult to arrange. And she doesn’t sound the type to have that hard conversation.

    1. Carmen Sandiego*

      Agreed. It sounds as though she has a pattern of avoiding confrontation. As someone who has been guilty of the same tendency, I empathize, but it has real ramifications for the OP and s/he is right to address it. Is there a way to request a meeting with your manager + the senior staff to discuss reevaluating the system, and get everyone’s buy-in without the boss needing to be the messenger?

  5. Darcy*

    We had this issue at work and we asked my boss to respond with something along the lines of, “let me look into that with my team and get you a reasonable deadline.” I believe it was coming from a place of wanted to provide good internal customer service, but ended up doing the opposite when we couldn’t deliver as promised. It’s still a work-in-progress with us, but raising the issue was certainly the first step.

  6. Pantalona*

    My boss used to be like this so one day I started saying no to her. This started getting her in trouble with management as she was not following through on her promises. Because I was a good employee who was highly skilled, this gave me leverage when having the discussion about how to address future time and project management issues.

  7. NickelandDime*

    Yikes. How is the political climate in the office? Has this been happening since day one, or is this a more recent occurrence? Is there “Change” in the office, maybe some things you may not be aware of?

    I’ve just come to realize that a lot of times, this kind of stuff happens for a “reason.” I think knowing more about what could be driving this could help you.

  8. AdAgencyChick*

    OP — you think the work you’re delivering is poor, but what do the recipients of the work think? If they’re happy with it, then there may not be a problem here (although if you are turning down work that you think is really important, it’s still worth raising that with your manager).

    If there have been complaints, though, I think that’s the place to start. Then the conversation is not about “why can’t you say no?” but rather “When I get committed to these projects without any input on the timeline, the work suffers — what can we do about that?”

    1. Rat in the Sugar*

      That’s true–it may very well be that senior staff just wants the project done and doesn’t care as much about the quality. In that case, if they decide that these projects are more important than those other ones that seem more financially to you, then you might just have to accept that even if it doesn’t seem wise (from your own point of view, which of course is a different outlook than theirs).

      1. Charityb*

        This is a really good point. If the OP simply has higher standards than the big bosses, that’s less of a concern. It’s still frustrating but it’s easier to overlook something like this if the late work and low quality really *don’t* hurt your reputation among the people that review your work.

    2. neverjaunty*

      There’s still a problem, in that OP is having to rush and juggle other projects to get these done, and is unable to handle more valuable work.

    3. Mike C.*

      I think you have to be careful with this approach – the audience may not understand how the lack of quality is harming them. I do a lot of data research and statistical analysis, and I see lots of report where people are happy to make a chart in Excel, right-click “Add Trend line” and leave it at that. Many folks would think that this is perfectly fine, but for most data sets, that’s an absolutely terrible idea that could end up driving the wrong decision.

  9. Golden Yeti*

    I wonder if making a chart might help your boss understand your workload a little better–especially if you’re doing a lot of similar projects that fall into related patterns. You could maybe do an Excel called “Teapot Painting” (and another called “Teapot Design,” etc.) and then break down approximately how long each step takes (maybe with some built in contingency time). My personal experience has been that managers tend to have an attitude that assumes because you are capable, you are also proficient and can do amazing things in tiny windows of time. At least if you lay the numbers out for her, it becomes harder for her to argue with (or to forget about the issue later).

    1. TFS*

      I did something like this because I have a lot of people (sometimes important people) requesting a really short turn-around time on things with no idea of the time or effort required. I organized typical projects into tiers based on how long they usually take, and also set “standard” deadlines for typical projects that would give me ample time to get everything done. So the response to people who requested things would be along the lines of “This is a tier-3 project, which has a standard deadline of 4 weeks, making the due date mm/dd.” Often the response was “Well, I need it tomorrow” at first, but people started to get more educated on how long things take and how soon they needed to request them. If you could provide your boss with something like that, maybe she would feel more confident in pushing back on deadlines.

      Also, do you have the option for going directly to those who requested the project once you’re working on it? When people request what they think they need, and actually something completely different would be more appropriate, I follow-up with something like “I’ve been taking a look at the TPS reports you want, and it occurs to me that XXX might be even more useful. What do you think? Would you prefer I take this project in that direction instead?” If you can take that on yourself, instead of having to go through your boss, that might be helpful. (And eventually some people started including me earlier in the planning stage once they realized I often had solutions they hadn’t thought of!)

      1. alexcansmile*

        When I worked at an in-house design/print shop we did something similar. We met with each office and gave them training on how to use our project management software (basecamp!) and what typical deadlines were for projects. It made a huge difference compared to the year before (this was at a university where student staff turned over pretty much every year at about an 80% rate). We had a lot happier teams inside and out and we had way fewer “do this now” projects.

  10. SMGWiseman*

    In a similar vein, what advice would you give to an Executive Assistant with a yes-boss? I’ve worked with many, many individuals who say yes to everything–every meeting, every client trip, every conference, literally everything. Most times without informing me. And as you might imagine, there is only one of them and they cannot be in three different countries at once.

    I’ve had success with a number of things, but would love other people’s thoughts.

  11. 42*

    My first thought was if the boss is on shaky ground with her own job, and feels that yessing everything won’t rock the boat. Like she’s just keeping her head down.

  12. Mike C.*

    Ugh, this is something I face on a regular basis. I don’t get the insane deadlines per se (well, sometimes), but everyone else gets their request pushed to the back depending on the rank of the person making the latest request. Which is loads of fun, because everyone wants to know at the time of asking when I’m going to be done and who knows when or how often my phone will be ringing at any given time.

    1. MashaKasha*

      Ugh, this is terrible. No one would run a household like that. No one would run a family like that. How can your place plan anything ahead, when no one knows when anything will get done, because no one knows what tomorrow’s new top priority is going to be?

      Sorry. This has just been my pet peeve lately.

    2. Jenny Next*

      I recently quit a job like that (and I’m still dealing with the physical and emotional aftermath of several years of severe anxiety over the constantly expanding to-do list and multiple people breathing down my neck).

      Eventually, I started giving one of two responses to people who weren’t my boss:

      1.) “I’ll put this on my list, but I have no idea when I can get around to it” — to people who were legitimately entitled to ask me for things (of whom there were way too many).

      2.) “I’m sorry, but I now have to make my regular job duties a priority, and I won’t be able to help you” — to people who weren’t entitled to ask me for things, but whom I had been happy to help in earlier times when the workload was not insane.

      Anyone who objected was invited to talk to my boss and arrange things with her.

      (This slowed things down, but by then, burnout had arrived and wasn’t going away, and I was glad to be able to leave.)

      Mike C, I just want to say that I’ve really been enjoying your comments here, and I hope you continue to advocate for the people that someone called “the makers and do-ers”. And no, I’m not a sock-puppet! :)

    3. CM*

      Can you tell them that you need to take a closer look at their request, and you’ll get back to them shortly with an estimated due date? I’ve done that successfully.

  13. Former Retail Manager*

    Assuming your manager is a competent, kind individual, I am inclined to assume that she is behaving this way for a “reason” as another commenter mentioned. Be it dynamics between herself and upper mgmt., her job being in jeopardy, or her being too intimidated by a certain person to speak up. I tend to lean toward the cynical, so this would all concern me because if she isn’t willing to speak about something so seemingly small as a deadline revision before there are any real consequences, if there is ever any real wrath from above about your work or timely completion, it is highly unlikely that she will stand up for you then. I foresee a shrug of the shoulders and a comment about how the employee said she could “get it done.” HONK! HONK! There went the bus. I would do as much as possible to CYA. No doubt it’s no consolation, but I have worked with many of these managers in the past and have one currently. I hope an honest chat with the manager will get things moving in the right direction for you, OP. Good luck!

  14. Wilton Businessman*

    I get this from the people I work with all the time. Management tells me they want X, I will tell them “You Bet!”

    Of course the manager has to re-prioritize the existing projects and if there is a conflict, that needs to be raised to management. But life is not always comfortable. We need to push ourselves to strive to be the best we can be. If you never push yourself, you will never know what you can achieve. If we push and fail, then we know our limit. If we push and succeed, then we know we can do more.

    1. MashaKasha*

      There’s a bit of a difference between pushing oneself (be it to grow professionally, or to work for yourself) and being pushed by other people in ten different directions, just because they’d committed and communicated to somebody else that you would deliver a new model of flux capacitor by January 1, 1985.

      At some point, it becomes less like being a valuable professional and more like herding cats. No matter what you do, something will slip through the cracks, things will fall behind and not get done, and you will not have any satisfaction or pride in your work. Additionally you’ll be left with the feeling that nothing you do is ever good enough. Worst of all, you’ll also be left with the feeling that you have no ownership of the projects you’re working on, and are not in control of them in any way. Management says “jump” and you cannot even tell them “but I’m a fish, I don’t jump, I swim” – instead, you, the fish, who was hired for being a skillful and experienced fish, are supposed to say “how high?” That’s a waste of skills and talent, if you ask me.

      Rant complete.

      1. Claire*

        This is how I presently feel. I have had my lower grade support taken away (after I successfully mentored my previous staff member into an internal promotion to another department.)
        I have been left covering her work as well as a new short term emergency project all at a much lower level than I’ve worked in a decade. Now the short term project has turned into a permanent responsibility for our department but no new resources let alone at an appropriate level.
        My line management is unclear but when I tackled one of my bosses he didn’t get the problem of 1) taking on new work without new resources; and 2) expecting me to work way below my grade for more than 75% of the time. Like I why would I worry about career progressing, furthering my skills and job satisfaction.
        I’m such a mug (British slang). I go in. Work as quickly as possible to get as much done as possible and don’t sit down to work out a strategy or proposal for the future. Must do better!

          1. MashaKasha*

            PS Especially seeing that apparently he can’t prioritize and organize his team’s work, so he actually knows pretty well what “can’t” means.

    2. Ad Astra*

      Well, generally speaking, you’re not wrong. But if we’re taking this OP at her word, then the problem is that she’s being pushed too much and her work is suffering. Everyone has a finite amount of time and energy, and we have to trust OP’s assessment that she doesn’t have enough of either to take on these requests.

      Ideally, the manager would be triaging and filtering requests from higher-ups based on what’s reasonable and what makes business sense. If the manager were doing that, then OP would be able to say “You bet!” to every request. Managers who run interference for their employees are quite valuable.

      1. Not So NewReader*

        I had an interesting chat about time frames with my boss this week. It kind of seems relevant here.

        OP, can you make a chart of frequently occurring tasks? Some tasks cannot be rushed. For example, the chocolate in the tea pot mold will cool at a given rate and it cannot be shortened. You tried setting the filled mold in front of the AC to make it cool quicker and the chocolate came out with an odd texture/color. The chocolate takes x time to cool, period.
        Similarly, you must get approvals for ABCs. This process always takes one week. You cannot ask the approval grantor to hurry up, that request is. just. not. done. It’s always a one week process for ABCs.

        In short, target the recurring problems, the situations that come up with almost every task. Make a list of time frames for these tasks. It seems to me that you arm your boss with knowledge she can push back somewhat with her higher ups. “No, Bob, the teapots will NOT be done next week because we need to get ABC approval and that takes one full week.”

        You can say things such as “Boss, I am paid to know these things. You can ask me, I am here to support YOU. It’s up to me to provide you with information that you need to do YOUR job well. Please allow me that opportunity.”

      2. Wilton Businessman*

        Everyone does have a finite amount of time. But the amount of work done in that finite amount of time varies from person to person. The goal is to get the person working at peak efficiency, which most people can not (or will not) do.

        I will never “filter” my management’s requests. If they say they need X, my team is going to deliver X. Y & Z will slip, but we will deliver X.

        1. MashaKasha*

          What if they tell you today to deliver Y & Z by the end of the week, then follow it up tomorrow with the request to also deliver X by the end of the week, and you all know it cannot all be done by that date?

          Even in my fast-paced, crazy-deadline-driven workplace it is actually encouraged to push back and say, “I can only do three things out of these five by their due dates. Which ones do you want done first?” Better give the management a heads-up than put in crazy hours, burn out, and find out last minute that you cannot deliver on everything you’ve committed to anyway.

          1. Jenny Next*

            Or put in the crazy hours, burn out, get the product out, and then have your work sitting in someone’s inbox for months unread because they’ve moved on to the next shiny object.

          2. Wilton Businessman*

            Won’t happen, because they know that when I told them I could get X done, that Y&Z are going to be on the back burner. You put the information in their hands and let them decide what is more important.

  15. Chalupa Batman*

    I had this boss. Unfortunately, my answer ended up being “your boss is terrible and is never going to change.” Word on the street is that now, without me to cover, Boss has been the subject of no fewer than 2 serious talking-to’s in less than 6 months. My creating magic on an impossible deadline made Boss look great, but ended with me calling in twice because I was crying so hard I couldn’t get out of bed at the thought of going to work, and was a sign of an overall desperate organization trying to fix broken legs with bandaids. I hope this isn’t the case for you and it’s just a matter of retraining your boss, but you may want to start looking, just in case.

  16. Workfromhome*

    We deal with all the time. Its mostly sales people who know little to nothing about products or what our capabilities are saying yes to customers and promising my department to deliver without any thought as to whether we actually have the time or ability to do what they say. The answer is always the same “We promised the customer now we HAVE to do this you guys HAVE to find a way” as if saying you have to to do it changes the reality of the situation.

    Yes you should have a conversation with the boss but I see it going one of two ways.

    1. Prepare a detailed schedule of what you have in the pipeline and then examples of the effort and time it takes to do either upcoming projects or examples of projects that got “dumped on you”. frame it as “I when to the effort based on what has been happening to prepare this. I want your input on how we deal with this in the future. Lets say tomorrow you commit to project x. Which of these other projects y or Z do you want me to NOT do? Would you prefer I cut the quality of A and B by 50% so we can do X. Here is the bucket. If we do X it will overflow please direct me which things to take out of the bucket so it doesn’t overflow.

    2. If she continues to put you in a situation where you can’t accomplish the goal and says make the best of it push back and say I simply cannot accomplish X and Y. force a choice. If she instits on making the best of it pick one do X and don’t do Y. Yes it will blow back when Y isn’t done. When asked why say “I informed you it wasn’t possible so I delivered what I felt was the top priority. How can we ensure that I pick the right priority going forward.

    I have found that often when everything is a priority that if something simply doesn’t get done it turns out its really not a priority. Companies do a lot of stupid stuff that is useless that no one actually uses and they continue to do these things because they always have.

    In the end if your boss won’t say no then you need to get a differnt boss that will stand up for you be at this job or another.

    1. Jenny Next*

      I used to have a supervisor who did the “They’re all important!” response. I eventually settled on saying “They will all take time, so tell me in what order I should do them.” (Implication: I’ll do them all.)

      That got me a response I could work with. And when the next thing came in, I could say, “I’m currently working on Y and then Z after that, so tell me where to put W in the queue.”

      Of course, that only works if you’re working for just one person.

    2. ChelseaNH*

      This is why engineers hate marketing people…

      I had an IT support-type job with a manager who believed that it was our job to give people what they want, which sounds nice until they want something that isn’t feasible. Lovely woman in many ways, but that part was maddening.

      If the manager will go along with it, one thing might be to institute a project request process. “We’re getting a lot of requests and we need to track and set priorities, so new project requests need to follow this process.” That way, she’s not saying no and hopefully the request process gives you enough information to set expectations.

  17. CM*

    One of the best things about my current boss is that she’s the exact opposite of this. When asked to do something, her response is, “Let me check if my team has availability and I’ll get back to you.” And when they say, “I need it ASAP,” she says, “We understand your urgency, and we’ll get this to you as quickly as we can according to our list of priorities.” Makes my life SO much easier.

  18. Cubicle Four*

    Ugh. Hate this. I had a ‘yes woman’ boss, too. I’m not sure if there are any comments about this in the various threads, but one consequence of this is consistently being thrown under the bus by a ‘yes man/woman boss’. This type of leader doesn’t have the nerve to say ‘no’, or ‘slow down’ or ANYthing to the head honcho, so in my experience,, they won’t back you up if you get in a tight spot, either. They will promise things, present unrealistic expectations–all the rest of it. Then, if something happens that isn’t to plan, they won’t own up their role in any of it.

    Hate that….

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