my staff tells me what they’re doing rather than asking permission

A reader writes:

I am a fairly new (five weeks) supervisor for a small team of creatives — we all work together on our projects. I have noticed that when my team has a request, they have almost all have a habit of making it a statement rather than a question. For example: “I have to come in a hour late on Tuesday,” or “I’m modifying the teapot color in this tea set.” To be clear, I have the final say on these decisions, and the team knows this. I find this habit grating, as it assumes that I will always agree and accommodate these requests.

Am I being too sensitive to a harmless habit? If not, how would you recommend addressing this? Virtually all of these requests are either reasonable requests I would approve anyway.

Yep, you’re being too sensitive to it.

They’re not saying “I’m going to do this my way no matter what you say.” They’re saying “Here’s what I plan to do,” and the subtext is “let me know if you want me to do something differently.”

And this is actually a good thing. You will be a much better manager if you treat your employees like responsible, trustworthy, professional adults, and give them maximum leeway to own their work and use their judgment.

In general, when you’re dealing with competent, responsible adults, you shouldn’t expect them to ask for permission for something like coming in an hour late or even taking a day off. You should trust them to manage their own schedules and just keep you in the loop, and you can speak up if something will be a problem. And because there might be times when you do need to ask someone to handle something differently, it’s reasonable to expect your staff to give you advance notice when possible so that you have a chance to speak up if needed — like saying, “Actually we have a client coming in then and ideally I’d like you here — do you have any flexibility on the time?” or “before you change the color, tell me more about why you’re thinking you want to change it” or “we’re actually contractually obligated to keep these teapots blue” or so forth.

There are managers and workplaces that do expect people to request permission every time for things like this. But people who aren’t used to working in that kind of environment will generally bristle at it (and rightly so).

I don’t know if you’re a new manager in general, or just a new manager to this particular group. But if you’re a new manager in general, I also want to mention that it can take new managers a while to get the balance right when they’re exercising authority. It’s not uncommon for new managers to take too heavy a hand with their authority, and that makes them less effective managers. The thing to remember is, you have authority and you can exercise it whenever the work actually requires it. You don’t need it to be present in every interaction; it’s far better to just be confident in your ability to pull it out when you need to. Think of your authority as one of many tools you have in your toolbox to get things done. You don’t need to bring your hammer into every interaction; you just turn to it when you actually need it.

In fact, wanting to preserve a sense of hierarchy in every interaction will actually make you look less secure in your authority. You will look more in control and like a stronger manager if you have a team of strong professionals to whom you give real ownership of their work (to the greatest extent that’s practical — which will vary greatly depending on what type of roles you manage) and don’t expect them to seek your approval for every small thing.

{ 234 comments… read them below }

  1. C.

    I guess to me it matters whether you actually disagree with anything they’re planning to do, or if you’re just upset with how they’re communicating it. If it’s the former, and you don’t have a good way to raise your concerns and/or they don’t listen when you do, that’s an entirely different problem.

    1. Nervous Nellie

      I’m with C on this one, OP. If the office culture is such that you can’t raise concerns or object to their statements and plans, then that’s something you may want to explore with the higher-ups. But…..if it’s just that you’re new & trying simultaneously to get a sense for how things work there, while establishing your authority in your role, then it’s just about giving it a little time, and getting to know your direct reports and the lay of the land.

      I for one want to congratulate you on having found a role where you have a confident and capable team. They’re not that easy to come by! I wish you the best and hope you’ll update us here with news of how it all shakes out.

    2. Noobtastic

      Perhaps you can tell your entire team (via a bullet point in a meeting, or just a memo), that it’s great when they tell you these things, but you need them to hold off on actually implementing them until you reply.

      Your replies will be either “:)”, or else, “No, and here’s why.” The “No, and here’s why” should actually trigger a discussion, ideally face-to-face, so that everyone can be sure they are on the same page moving forward.

      Naturally, you’re hoping that your team will be so awesome, you’ll be typing smiley faces all day, and have lots of time for your own projects, without interfering with theirs.

      Just a suggestion.

        1. aebhel

          God, yeah, just the idea of this sounds so off-putting.

          If there are some decisions that you always (or usually) need run past you before implementing, let them know. If not, don’t. People who are used to working independently find it really, really off-putting to be micromanaged unless there’s an actual reason to run literally everything past the manager.

        2. Ice and Indigo

          Yeah. Also, that could end up wasting a lot of time. What if you’re in a meeting and someone can’t get going on a project till you get out? Or you’re distracted with your own work and don’t check your e-mail for a while? Meantime, if it’s about a project change, they’re just sitting on their hands. OP says herself that most of the suggestions her team makes are sensible, so why cause needless delays in letting them get on with it?

          Besides that, this is a creative team. Sometimes they’ll have an idea that they want to run with while their brains are still clicking; making them go through the process of asking for permission, then waiting to find out of they’ve got it, means you’re building more opportunities for worrying about rejection and inadequacy into the process, which is bad for creativity. Creatives are neurotic enough to begin with! (Creative myself here; I’d have a permanent headache if I had to work like that.) And it’s likely to produce duller results, too: making them wait to start on an idea till their brains have had time to cool off means they’ll be less excited and inspired. That sounds to me like a way to get worse work and a more demoralised workforce.

          This isn’t something tangible where it’d take ages to undo an idea OP doesn’t like, the way it would take ages to undo a new filing system someone implemented. They will presumably keep the old drafts of whatever they do, so if they do something OP doesn’t like, they can just scrap it and boom, problem solved. They’ll have spent the time between notifying her and getting told ‘no’ practicing their skills, which is still time productively used, and it can be undone pretty much instantaneously.

          Creative teams work best when they’re allowed to use their own judgement and initiative. OP can always step in and steer them in a different direction if they’re going wrong, but if she wants a happy and productive team, she can’t subject them to endless, unnecessary stop-and-starts. Creative people are miserable under those circumstances.

      1. Mike C.

        This is a really bad idea. You’ve now taken away all autonomy from the team and turned the manager into a massive bottleneck.

        1. JustaTech

          And it means the whole team will be coming to you constantly, interrupting your train of thought, so you won’t be able to get your own work done.

          I feel like the “I’m going to be in late on Tuesday” thing is different. You could ask your team to give you X days of advance warning when they’ll be out, or have a shared calendar (or both), because that is something that impacts workflow for others.

        1. Way Anon

          The smiley face is…grating, but a manager who struggles to see telling vs. asking as acceptable in a lot of circumstances may also struggle to hit the appropriate tone when approving or disapproving their team’s decisions. I’d rather be on the receiving end of a smiley face than a resentful “Yes, that’s alright” through gritted teeth.

        2. JustaTech

          Oh, I just assumed that was trying to express an actual in-person smile for this text-based forum.

          I sure hope that’s how it was meant.

      2. NotAnotherManager!

        An effective manager does not have to weigh in on everything his/her staff does. The CFO at my last job would not allow anyone one his team to do anything without his permission, and the department was a mess. Nothing got done in a timely manner because it was all bottlenecked through CFO, and things often fell through the cracks. I had mission-critical software subscription cancelled mid-projectonce because CFO hadn’t approved the payment. FOR A YEAR. Despite repeated reminders. That’s not even the worst of it.

        Adults need to be empowered to do their jobs. Setting thresholds for review (“Hey, don’t email the CEO until I have a chance to review the numbers, please!”) is fine; having to await approval to do your day to day job is not.

        And smiley face emoticons are just NO, particularly in conjunction with permission-asking.

      3. Princess Consuela Banana Hammock

        I disagree—this approach encourages micro-managing and bottle-necking, in addition to creating a demoralizing process that takes away staff’s agency. OP has said that most of these statements are reasonable and they would agree anyway. That suggests their staff is competent and capable, with generally good judgment.

        In light of those factors, the current process makes sense and should continue. OP’s opportunity to nix an idea is when the staff first make their suggestion because, as Alison notes, the subtext is “Here’s my plan, and I plan to implement it unless I receive direction otherwise.”

      4. Quietpls

        Ok, please no smiley faces as a code for “I agree”! That just made me shudder.

        As for the overall suggestions her team should know their limits (within reason) and not need micro managing like this. If they don’t then team communication and business knowledge is amiss and requires to be rectified proactively to enable them to make suitable decisions in later instances.

        Attitude also matters: If the attitude is “I don’t care, I’m coming in a hour late” she has a problem. If the attitude is “I plan to come in an hour late, I don’t see why it would be an issue but tell me if it is” then that’s fine.

        The message, if delivered in writing, doesn’t even as such need a reply unless there is an issue or doubt of receipt/reading. A simple “thanks for letting me know” or “thanks for updating me” will help to confirm she is ok with it if she decides that formality is needed.

  2. Yllis

    We have a new boss here that is doing this and it is really affecting the office’s views of her. It’s making her seem pretty insecure and petty

    1. JokeyJules

      I had a manager in the past that told me flat out one time, “you don’t need to ask if it’s okay to do anything, I feel perfectly comfortable telling you when it isn’t, and that’s when we will discuss.”
      It gave me a lot more respect for them, and also for myself. I felt much more valued in my work and opinions after that interaction.

      The next manager after that one was entirely the opposite, and if i wasnt about to graduate (it was a student job in college) I would’ve quit like half of my coworkers did.

      1. pleaset

        “you don’t need to ask if it’s okay to do anything, I feel perfectly comfortable telling you when it isn’t, and that’s when we will discuss.”

        THIS.

        1. Noobtastic

          This is great! Still, it’s good to maintain a tradition of letting the boss know *before* things are set in stone, because on those rare occasions when she needs to tell you it isn’t OK and you’ll discuss it, it needs to happen before the train has left the station.

          But definitely tell them you trust them, and act to maintain that trust, in order earn their trust in you!

        2. Akcipitrokulo

          Yep. We have 1-1 meetings set up every two weeks where we catch up in detail – and chat in between times – and it’s a sprint-based agile setup, so it’s very much a case of “I know roughly what you’ll be doing, and you know best *how* to do it – keep me in loop!”. So if something out of ordinary comes up, will go consult, otherwise, just do my job and give updates as agreed. If there’s something wrong, he’ll tell me. If I need something, I’ll ask him.

      2. Loud Noises

        I ran into this at my job, which requires freqent location/reporting changes, and has a strong focus on hierarchy. As a matter of habit stemming from my personality I would always ask my old supervisor if I could go to lunch, until she finally trained me out of it. She always said that if she had previously approved something that I didn’t have to ask again, and in fact shouldn’t, just as a matter of being secure in my autonomy and not interrupting her workflow. Fast forward to my new job, where my current supervisor requires an exact and rather obsequeious script for going to lunch or anything else. It makes me grit my teeth that he feels the need to emphasize the ranking difference on a daily basis like that.

    2. Triplestep

      Yup, my manager is insecure and petty, and she likes to “grant permission” for things that don’t rise to that level.

      Example: My job takes me to different locations to oversee or check-on construction work. At the end of the day I might tell her “If you’re looking for me in the morning, I’ll be stopping at Job Site on the way in to the office.” And she’ll respond “That’s perfectly fine” or something similar. I’d have to bite my tongue to keep from saying “Really? It’s fine with you if I do my job? Thanks, Boss!”

      My teammate pointed out that at the end of an in-person meeting, she tells everyone in the room (most of whom are not her staff ) “You’re free to go!” I’m so used to this nonsense from her I didn’t even notice!

      1. Duty Free Judy

        Both these examples seem pretty harmless. I mean, I’m looking at it from your manager’s point of view: “Oh, my employee is telling me he’s going to do his job? Duh?”

        1. Anna

          Yeah, my boss past and present phrase things similarly when I’ve let them know what I’m up to. It’s just a harmless acknowledgment most of the time.

    3. I Wrote This in the Bathroom

      Our upper management introduced the policy about a year ago that we have to get our supervisor’s permission about any out of office or work from home plans. We used to notify our supervisor of our doctor’s appointments and were one day told that we now had to ask permission in writing instead. It is so bizarre. People are sending emails to the supervisor asking permission to go to the doctor’s appointment they scheduled months ago, the supervisor responds saying that they approve, and everyone knows this is a ritualistic song and dance because the supervisor needs the paper trail for the upper management. We are all exempt with (within reasonable limit) flex hours. None of this makes sense. What do they expect us to do, tell the doctor, “wait before you schedule this appt three months out in the future, let me call my boss and make sure it is okay” (which the boss would not know at that time)?

      1. GlitsyGus

        That reeks of a situation where one or two teams had a problem with either folks not communicating their schedules with their manager, or the manager not paying close enough attention and ending up short staffed so as a result now everyone in the company needs to operate on the Elementary School model and bring a note for the office when you need to leave.

  3. Dysfunction Junction

    I wholeheartedly agree with Alison’s advice here and also want to add that as a younger woman professional, I’ve actually worked to train myself NOT to ask permission, because it makes me feel like a child asking a parent for a favor, not an adult who can balance her workload.

    If your employees are otherwise completing their work and hitting their goals, there’s no need to address this.

    1. Justme, The OG

      Yes to this. In my former job I would have to ask permission for every single thing that I wanted or needed to do. First day with this supervisor, I asked when I should take lunch. Her response was basically “Whenever you want to” and it was so nice to be treated like an actual functioning adult. We’ve had new hires who asked what the protocol for asking for time off was, and I told them that we don’t ask unless it’s around our busy time (which is like 3 weeks of the year over summer).

      1. uranus wars

        I really had a hard time acclimating to lunch, too! After 2 consecutive jobs/6 years of “this is your assigned lunch time no exceptions” I had a really hard time adjusting to not having to ask permission to take lunch early/late, or it being OK if I still take my full allotted time if a meeting runs into my normal lunchtime.

        After 4+ years here, I still have some stress coming in late/leaving early for appointments or taking PTO. My current boss is like “YOU ARE AN ADULT, if you act like one and are reasonable I don’t care when you come and go”

        1. ZK

          My hardest thing was actually acclimating to getting a lunch AT ALL. Old job I was so busy and I could ask for coverage til I was blue in the face. If I was lucky I’d get “lunch” at 4:30 when I was supposed to be off at 5. Current job they were all, “Go when you’re hungry.” I about cried. Such a little thing, but it makes a huge difference to my day. And I don’t have to ask if I can do something like ordering office supplies. I just do it, because they trust me to know my job and what I need to be able to do it. Because, you know, we’re all (mostly) competent adults.

          Of course, we’ve just gotten a new manager and that could all change, as he tends to be a micro-manager, so by Friday I could be feeling totally different and job searching.

            1. Bagpuss

              That’s what we have. Nearly everyone chooses to go at 1, most of the time, but literally the only people who have a fixed lunch are the receptionists, to ensure that reception is covered, but they are free to make adjustments between themselves if one of them wants to go at a different time from their official break. (and could ask if they had difficulty agreeing, although that’s extremely rare.

              I think showing people that you trust them pays dividends.
              We have more than one office, and unfortunately one of the senior people at office #2 has a tendency to micro-manage (we are working on dealing with this). One of the results s that people don’t do anything on their own initiative. It creates a lot of extra work.

              I think if there are specific things which you feel you do need to have specific input into, then it is better to tell people about those things, and if at all possible, give them a reason (e.g. I do need you to ask me before you make changes to the colour for the teapots, because normally, the specific shade to use is specified in the contract and we do need to update legal if anything is changed” or “for insurance purposes, we are required to have at least two eel-jugglers in the building any time we open the shark tank, so if you are an eel-juggler, I do need you to check in with me about leaving early or coming in late so I can make sure we have enough people, or that we change the time we open the tank”)

              I don’t think that managers can, or should, be expected to explain every decision or instruction, but do think that sharing why you want them to do things a certain way can be very helpful, not least as it means that if a new situation comes up, they are in a better position to judge whether it is likely to be one which falls into the category of stuff they can do unilaterally, or stuff that does need a manager involved.

      2. MCMonkeyBean

        Yep, we know when our busy time is so we already know not to schedule vacations then! I usually phrase PTO requests as “hey, boss, I’m planning on taking X week off to go to NY–let me know if you think that would cause any issues!” But once something came up that I really wanted to do during busy season so that was phrased more as asking (with a lot of assurances on why it wouldn’t be a problem!)

    2. Amber T

      YES. I’m learning really hard to stop asking permission for basic things. I’ve started using pretty much that exact phrasing of your team “I’ll be doing X.” There’s always a silent “let me know if there’s a problem,” and my boss and I have developed an open and good enough communication where, if he prefers that I do Y instead, he lets me know.

      I used to ask “can I” or “should I” a lot when I first started, and I knew it grated my old boss. Now that I’m confident in my own work, I don’t feel like I have to ask permission to do my job.

      (With time off, nobody asks permission either. I’ll check in with my boss to see if he knows of a conflict that I don’t, but usually I just say, “I’ll be taking the X and Y off, any issues with that?” With an hour late like that, just a heads up courtesy is really all that’s needed.)

      1. Noobtastic

        We used to have a community calendar that anyone could view. The admins could actually change it, but everyone else could only view. That way, we didn’t have a high risk of someone “accidentally” changing someone else’s time off.

        The rule was, you tell the admin when to log you onto the calendar to a be out of the office. All day, or just a few hours, or whatever. The admins never questioned why, or “did you get permission.” They just logged it.

        Managers could look at the calendar, and say, “Aaaaah, it looks like we have too many people scheduling to be off the week of X-Y. Let me look into this,” or they could say, “Huh. Looks like we’re going to be short-staffed on the week of X-Y. I’d better be sure not to schedule a lot of work for that period.” It was their choice how to deal with it.

        Naturally, some workers were the type to ask first, but others just logged it, and trusted the supervisors to keep track of the log, and address the issue if and when it became an issue. Also, workers knew their own schedules and work-loads (We used lots of Gannt charts), so they knew when they could afford to take time off, unless the upper-ups decided to move up a milestone.

        If everyone is mature about it, then that system can work quite well, and everyone feels respected and autonomous, and it’s good for morale.

        1. Noobtastic

          Also, since everyone could look at it, project teams pretty much managed staffing on their own. If one member wanted a specific day off, he could check the calendar and see at a glance if the rest of the team would be there. And they could, if necessary, talk to the team members to arrange proper coverage, in advance.

          Did I say it worked well? It really worked well. I rarely heard about any quarrels or competition for time off, and I do know that some of the managers altered the workload to be lighter on certain times, because of the demand for time off at that time.

          1. Green great dragon

            Yep, our method is to send a calendar notification to our manager and team. If manager accepts, this is the agreement.

        2. Bagpuss

          We have an office calendar on the intranet, which everyone can view, and which shows if someone is out of the office. It doesn’t show why, so you don’t know whether it is holiday, sickness, compassionate leave etc.

          For booking time off, this is done online. You are supposed to check the calendar first to make sure that it doesn’t clash ( and we have guidance about what is and isn’t OK, to ensure that we have appropriate cover)
          When you make a request it goes to your dept head to approve, and they are also supposed to check for any clashes, before they approve the time off. The request form has a space for comments so if there is a reason you need the time even though there is a clash, you can let your manager know, and they can authorise it as appropriate. It works pretty well, and the fact that the general chart showing who is in or out is available to everyone means that it is very rare to have to refuse a request.

      2. MM

        There’s always a silent “let me know if there’s a problem,”

        This is the thing that’s baffling me about the entire question. The notification is the request to make sure it’s okay! Just because it doesn’t have a question mark at the end of it doesn’t change that!

        1. Emily

          Exactly! It also should be a demonstration of their competence, because most creative jobs involve dozens of micro-decisions you make every day. The fact that they are only coming to you to let you know about the moderate-sized decisions of some impact means they have recognized the difference between “it’s OK for me to add missed punctuation and do other light editing to the copy I was given without asking for approval” and “I need to let my manager know that I’m changing the copy because it wasn’t punchy enough.” They’re bringing it to you because they know their role makes them the natural lead on making the decision, but they can’t do it completely autonomously without your buy-in.

      3. LizzieRN

        This. In my younger days, and even in my current job, I always felt like I had to “ask permission” for most things. Now? I don’t ask. I like to say I “politely tell” my boss if I need to come in late, leave early, or want to take time off last minute. He never has any issue with it, and I also try and plan NOT to do any of these things when something important might be in the works.

    3. Lexi Kate

      This so much. My first real job boss/mentor pulled me aside one day and asked me if I had ever heard any other employee on our team asking for permission to take PTO. They had never it was only me, the only woman on the team. My boss told me then that if I asked for anything or apologized for being alive and working again he would write me up for insubordination.

      1. Noobtastic

        Awwww! You had a great mentor! Even better that he was a man, teaching a woman to be assertive like everyone else, rather than a woman teaching a woman to be assertive in a man’s world.

        In this instance, at least, your first boss/mentor’s office was ideal, IMO.

    4. Ana

      I worked at a big 4 company and there were things I didn’t like, but I did like how they made sure even interns knew to just state things like this and it felt like they treated people like grown ups – to an extent

    5. Dust Bunny

      I don’t exactly ask (my boss has significantly more experience than I do, so it would be weird for me to do things without checking in first) but I’ll tell him, “I’m going to work on Project X today. I thought I’d handle it in ABC manner, unless there is something else you want done with it,” or “For Project X, should I prioritize ABC set of criteria or LMN set of criteria, or something else?” I mean, I *have* considered how to deal with it so he shouldn’t have to spoon-feed me the whole process, but there is still a chance he might want me to prioritize differently than on some other, similar, project.

    6. Red Reader

      Yes. I think the only thing I’ve asked my boss’s permission for in the last like, twelve months was to flex my schedule for a week to start my workdays at 3:30am so I could be done by 11:30 all week. (I work remotely.) And even that was less “permission” and more “Hey, would it would be a problem for you or anyone that you can think of if I did this?” Her answer, by the way, was “No problem, good luck!”

    7. Dr. Pepper

      It was so freeing when I realized that! Oh I can manage myself because I’m a reasonable adult? Yes!! I admit I got a couple strange looks from my boss before I figured it out. I’d asked permission to go to lunch and he was like, “…um……. have at it…?” like he couldn’t figure out why I was asking instead of just doing it.

    8. Loud Noises

      This. My job is infamous for treating grown adults that handle massive responsibilities like children, to the point where it’s become a massive in joke. There are some people who push it farther by demanding requesting permission for things as a form of kissing ass, but I was lucky to get a strong female supervisor who saw that I was less than confident in my ability to make my own decisions and have the patience to train me out of that mindset.

  4. Erin

    I think asking for permission feels demeaning to some employees, like they’re asking their mom if they can go out with their friends. I’m an adult, I have a doctor’s appointment, and this is when it’s happening.

    When I first start at a new job I usually do frame it more as asking. “I need to leave an hour early on Thursday for an appointment, please let me know if that’s okay or if I should reschedule it for another time.”

    After developing more of a relationship with my boss I feel like the “let me know if you want me to do this differently/reschedule this” is implied. “I’d like to use PTO to take a half day on the 31s”” is more akin to what I say now. I would not be thrown off if she then said something like, “Actually we might have a client meeting that day, is there any way you could move that to another day?” or whatever the issue is.

    But yeah, don’t get hung up on the wording unless someone is really blatantly disregarding your authority.

    1. Dog Person

      This is what I do. I have a recurring doctor’s appontment every four or so months. So I usually email the boss and said “My next doctor’s appointment is x. I know it is four months away but will you added it to the calendar and when it gets closer will you let me know if it becomes a problem.” For time off, I usually say “Hey I plan on taking Friday off. Is that a problem?”

      I do not word my request in the form of a question because I am asking permission. I am just trying to word it nicely and not come of as expecting the boss to always approve it.

      1. Mockingdragon

        And you know…I kind of DO expect a boss to always approve PTO unless there’s a really good reason. Arbitrarily refusing to let people take vacation days was one of the things we talked about when classing my old boss as petty, insecure, and bad at her job.

    2. Kuododi

      What I typically did at previous clinics was let my direct manager know…”I’ve got a committment this Thursday am which will put me arriving at 11am. Is that going to be a conflict with anything coming up in the office?”. The only time I have had to deal with supervisor control issues around scheduling was dealing with the staff rotation for covering the 24 hour on- call pager for mental health/ drug emergencies. That’s a different beast all together…. community mental health centers are required to maintain some form of 24 hr response for after hrs crisis.

    3. Akcipitrokulo

      just realised I tend to say when booking holidays something like “Is x-y OK to take off?” not “Can I take off x-y?” – which is more healthy I think because I’m not asking permission to take my holidays – I’m asking if those particular days work.

      (Often answer is to ask me if there’s anything I need to be around for :) )

  5. Midlife Tattoos

    I completely agree with Alison here (no surprise) — my expectation is that my staff will tell me what their plans are (appointment, PTO, etc) and 99% of the time it’s fine. If it’s not, I will explain the issue and try to come to a compromise.

  6. YarnOwl

    Speaking as someone who used to work for a manager who LOVED to flex her authority, I can definitely say I feel more confident in my work and more secure in my job and my relationship with my manager now that I have one who is confident in her authority and trusts us to do what we think is best. For big decisions, ones that are out of the ordinary, or that I think I might need her backup on, I definitely get my manager’s input though.

    And honestly, I’m way more likely to ask for help or tell my manager that I’m in over my head now that I know she’s not going to use it as an opportunity to belittle me or remind me that she’s The Boss. My team functions so smoothly and we have such good relationships with people outside of our department, where we used to have terrible relationships with most people in our company, and we are much more productive and have higher job satisfaction.

    1. Sapphire

      Yep, I had to train myself out of this at my new job because my old boss insisted that we ask instead of just telling.

      For what it’s worth, I found myself doing this when I was a first-year camp counselor, especially since some of the kids I was now in charge of had been my friends the previous year. I think it’s a common overcorrection among people who have newly been granted authority.

  7. Murphy

    I’d honestly hate to feel like I had to “ask permission” to do anything at work.

    Regarding coming in an hour late and things of that nature…I’m under the impression that my boss understands that I am an adult and trusts me to manage my own time. I don’t think I’ve ever phrased any of those kinds of things as a question, though I may have started off more apologetic like “I have a doctor’s appointment on Friday, so I’ll be in around 10, if that’s OK.” When I did that, he’d always just say “Of course” or “That’s fine” so now I’m pretty matter of fact about it. (I don’t have a shift and no one needs to cover for me while I’m out. Obviously I’d treat it differently if that were the case.) Unless there were a really important work reason not to miss a particular day (though I hope I’d know about that in advance) I’d really hate to think I needed my boss’s opinion on when I could see the dentist or get my hair cut.

    Regarding actual work, you may need to establish what’s a big deal and what’s not. There are some things they may need to get you to sign off on, while others they might be able to trust their own judgement (though I agree with Alison that they’re giving you a heads up so that you have the option to say no). Your employees are there to do a job, so surely they have some skill and knowledge in that area and can use that to make a few decisions.

    1. Murphy

      I don’t mean I never ask permission, just that if I had to do it on an ongoing basis all the time, I would feel like I was able to do my job.

      1. Noobtastic

        Yeah, there is a world of difference between
        1) Hey, boss. Just keeping you in the loop. This is my plan for the day/week/month (however you want to plan it). Any problems?
        and
        2) Ummm, boss? I think I maybe should work on X today, and Y tomorrow, and Z on Wednesday? Please?

        I would quit if I had to do 2 on a continuing basis. Or really, more than once.

        Although, even with a large amount of trust, I do maintain that it’s best to tell the boss in advance, in a “planning mode,” than a “fait accompli” mode, because the boss often has data you don’t, and may really know a reason not to do it the way you planned. But that really is about planning, and not permission. Because maybe another department needs Z by Tuesday, and didn’t tell you directly.

        1. Cacwgrl

          100% agree. I largely manage my own programs but check in with the boss on developments, getting a second opinion, sounding board, etc. I let her know when I have meetings off station, at the customer sites, if I need to shuttle to another stations and when I need sick or personal time and when I plan to be back. It’s mostly so she is able to know where her team is and be aware of what’s going on. I won’t blindside the managers and have a fairly solid idea of our goals, potential issues and where we need to turn attention as times change. We are also subject to mustering drills as well as having a fairly close knit group that genuinely gets concerned if someone doesn’t show up unexpectedly to the office or is gone for a long time and we don’t know where they are, because bad things have happened in recent history and everyone is prepared to help out if there’s an issue. They don’t pry into privacy, but i know if I don’t show up for some reason, they’ll start getting concerned after an hour or two, not a couple days.

  8. Riley

    That’s interesting. As an employee, when I tell my boss something like “I have a doctor’s appointment on Tuesday so I’ll have to leave an hour early” what I mean is “I’m keeping you in the loop but please don’t veto this because this appointment would be really hard to reschedule/I can’t reschedule because I need treatment”. When something is more flexible on my end (vacation time, whatever), I do phrase it as a question . In either case I hope my boss won’t say no but I do use statement vs. question to subtly signal how important it is that my boss not say no.

    1. Riley

      Although obviously I would use words instead of subtext to express how important the time off was if my boss did ask me to reschedule the time off.

    2. whistle

      This is what I do. I don’t ask permission to take time off that I need to take off (because what if they say no?), but I try to phrase things in a more asking manner if I can be flexible. Actually, if I’m flexible, I’m more likely to ask my coworkers (“I think I’m gonna take a week off next month – is anyone else planning to be out?”) and then report my time off to my boss once I get the sense that it won’t impact the workload.

  9. Midlife Tattoos

    Also, I agree with other commenters that asking permission for this kind of thing seems infantilizing. Like raising your hand in class and asking to go to the restroom. As a manager, this dynamic makes me uncomfortable because I’m neither their mother or teacher.

    1. Cat Fan

      Boss, may I leave at 3:30 tomorrow for my doctor’s appointment?

      Yes, you may.

      Yeah, that would be ridiculous. I know when I have meetings scheduled and would avoid scheduling a personal appointment over one. If I’d ask my manager if I could leave for an appointment or even if I could schedule an appointment during work hours, he’d looked at me like I was nuts and tell me that of course I could. I don’t need to ask, I just need to let him know what’s going on with as much notice as possible and keep my Outlook Calendar up to date.

    2. Decima Dewey

      Asking permission? No. But phrasing it so that Boss can say “Chansonetta has training scheduled for that morning so you’ll have to be here” if there’s a conflict? Good.

  10. Elizabeth

    I’ve always heard you should normally tell, not ask, because it sounds more professional and less juvenile. (Exceptions would be if it’s something out of the norm, or if you actually want guidance.) As long as the employees are informing her before they take action, I really don’t see a problem here.

  11. Snezeire

    So glad for Alison ‘s take here. I can understand that being a new manager would be tough, and employees should keep that in mind. But my office has been through 3 different managers in a short period of time. And the roughest transition, by far, was the one who made us formally request to do ANYTHING. By the end we were biting our tongue to refrain from sarcastically asking if we could use the bathroom.

    If I have a big ask (extended leave), especially if it impacts others, I am more formal and ask permission. But I expect to be treated like a competent adult at work. If I approach my manager within a reasonable time-frame to let them know something, I do so with the understanding that they might need to adjust it. When you have to ask permission for every small thing on the job though? It really undermines your confidence, and inhibits your ability to really ever feel comfortable acting autonomously even on things you are supposed to. And that is not healthy for any environment.

    1. Dr. Pepper

      Oh yeah. And I do the same. For a bigger thing I ask permission, but in a “here is what I’d like to do, is there a reason why that won’t work?” way instead of a “mother may I” way.

  12. Kes

    This part stood out to me: “I find this habit grating, as it assumes that I will always agree and accommodate these requests.”

    I can kind of see how OP is concerned that they’re just telling her as a formality, but this sounds like the type of environment and roles and requests where it is reasonable for them to assume that you will agree with and accommodate their requests unless there’s a reason not to – in which case, they’re making sure you know what they’re planning so that you can spot these problems in advance and tell them that it won’t work.

    As Alison describes, making them ask you just to reinforce your authority will actually make you look less secure.

    1. Lance

      On such a point, it would be more than fair for the OP to consider: are their messages something you’d agree to most of the time? Because if they are, it sounds like you’re generally aligned with them putting out good work as needed, and trusting them to be able to handle their own work. If they’re not… well, then it sounds like a whole separate issue that may be worth visiting.

      1. wherewolf

        This. Honestly I don’t really have an opinion on whether employees should have to phrase their request for time off as a question or as a statement. But if you’re going to require it one way or the other, especially if you want to go stricter, you should give a reason for it. “After the big Time Off Debacle of 2018, all leave requests must be submitted verbally or in writing to me 48 hours in advance.” Otherwise it just feels nitpicky.

    2. fposte

      I also think that maybe the OP would benefit from planning her language if she does need to change the plan. For me it would mostly be an “in future” thing–“Okay, I don’t need you to change it this Friday, but in future please check with me for Friday afternoon appointments, because we’re having difficulty with office coverage then.” Or, if it’s concern about hitting a target, identify that: “We’re still aiming for Monday with the Fonebone project–are you on track for getting the documents from Jane processed by then?”

      But frankly I don’t want people checking with me every single time they want to make a doctor’s appointment; that’s exhausting and not a good use of my time. Generally it’s more efficient to make sure people understand times that aren’t available and to let them schedule on their own, and just absorb the occasional misstep.

      1. smoke tree

        I’d like to believe the Fonebone project has something to do with seeking the crown of horns

      2. Mystery Bookworm

        I also think telling people to ask permission for every work decision is going to inadvertendly train them out of proactiveity, you’re increasinly going to have a staff that doesn’t actively problem-solve and needs to be instructed.

        1. Loud Noises

          Absolutely. I had a supervisor force me to do this, and nothing demotivated me faster and more thoroughly. I would skip lunch rather than have to beg to go.

    3. aebhel

      Agreed. Unless there’s a good reason NOT to accommodate these requests (which doesn’t generally seem to be the case), why shouldn’t they assume that?

    4. TootsNYC

      actually, telling the OP before they do it IS a form of asking. It’s creating an opportunity for the OP to override them, or to shape what they do.

    5. Empty Sky

      Yes, that’s a very common professional norm. If I intend to do something but need to be sure my manager is OK with it, I will generally phrase it exactly as described in the OP.

      It might help you to reframe your thinking in these terms and imagine it as a subtle way of asking your permission. It also means you shouldn’t feel any reservations about stepping in and saying “actually, I need you to do X instead.” I do a great many routine things as part of my job that I never even tell my manager about, much less ask permission. If I go out of my way to tell them about something, it’s either because they need to know about it or I feel like I need their approval in order to proceed with it. If they stop me, or tell me to do something different, I am not going to think “Wow, my manager is such a tyrant!” I’m more likely to take it as validating my decision to mention it to them.

  13. BookCocoon

    Yes, thank you for this! I was used to phrasing my vacation requests to my supervisor as, “I plan to take vacation X dates. Please let me know if you have any concerns about these dates.” When I started my previous job, my supervisor said he was very concerned by my tone and that I really needed to be asking permission rather than just informing him. I thought I was acknowledging his authority with my second sentence and really chafed at being asked to show MORE deference. I ended up changing my phrasing to “I would like to take vacation…” which is what I use now, even though I don’t think my current supervisor cares. I appreciate the regular reminders on this site that adults should be treated like adults in how they manage their time unless they give you reason not to.

    1. Det. Charles Boyle

      Ugh, his comment would really annoy me. Managers who require this kind of kowtowing and deference are so awful in so many ways. This just seems like the tip of the iceberg.

    2. Kat

      Ugh. My horrible previous boss wanted us to mother-may-I her for everything – working at home, leaving early, setting a weekly focus, emailing people outside our office, etc. Most demotivating boss ever. It was disturbingly satisfying when she got moved out to early retirement (her dictator behavior escalated to an abusive point). I didn’t put up with much of it but I probably put up with too much. My current boss is like “just put it on the calendar”. #blessed ;)

  14. Lucille2

    Did their previous supervisor specifically give them this guidance? When I have a new manager, I typically err on the side of caution and ask permission rather than stating I’m taking some flexibility in my schedule. Most of the time, my manager says, “just tell me your plans, no need to ask permission on this.” Honestly, requiring your approval is more work for you and, in many cases, it’s really unnecessary. The exception being environments where a certain level of staff available is required, like customer service.

    If you feel a need to be asked, and your permission is to be granted rather than assumed, then you need to set that expectation clearly and upfront. A fellow co-manager I worked with HATED when people didn’t ask for schedule flexibility first. But all the other managers in our department gave their employees that level of autonomy. It didn’t set a very good tone in that environment. Even this little bit of autonomy can be a big deal for people. Taking it away arbitrarily will not win them over. Unless, of course, that action is needed for someone who abuses the flexibility. And in that case, you can be very clear why the expectation has had to change. People can lose privileges if they abuse them.

  15. Prickly Pear

    It would be so demeaning if my boss told me to ask for permission to do my job, honestly I would start looking for another position. As a boss you are allowed to come back and say hey we really can’t do it that way do you have another option, or I was hoping to give all the labradoodles mohawks this month not lions manes.

    It sounds like this is your first supervisor job, and I want to say this as nice as possible but don’t let the power go to your head. Making your employees start asking your permission is absolutely lording your power over them. When I got my first management position at the end of my first week my husband asked me what plans I had to get my reports to their goals. I thought he was nuts and told him my plan was to get them in shape to do our work better, to prove how good I was at my job to my boss. He actually laughed at me and said how would you react to that if you were one of your reports. He was right I need my people to do the work we do and do it well, but as a good leader I need to help my people get to their goals and I was never going to get there running the workplace like a call center. You need the work done and so you need to make sure you have coverage and that everyone is trained and has the resources to do their job, but then you need to help them get to their personal career goal or at least the next one. To do any of this they have to respect you and they can’t respect you if you treat them like your 6 year old.

    1. Foreign Octopus

      I agree with this – be wary of the power you have and how you exercise it.

      I worked in McDonald’s for many, many years putting myself through school (anybody at uni/college out there – don’t knock it, it’s fantastic for what you need to do) and they had an excellent manager training programme that took people off the staff, trained ’em up, and let them loose.

      The problem was that these new managers went to town on shoving their authority down everyone’s throat and it was particularly galling that they had been peers the week before. I understood they had a job to do but they also knew how things worked on the ground level and that, sometimes, the mechanics head office put in place didn’t always work in action but they kept trying to get us to do it that way. There was a lot of friction and a lot of resentment on all sides whereas if they’d come in with a more even handed approach and not treated us like runaway children, it would have been better.

      1. Prickly Pear

        All I could think of while reading this and then Always Anon below was my first job at a drive thru burger place where the manager walked back and forth through the small restaurant barking orders she kept a key to the bathroom so we always had to ask her to go. We called her Sergeant Pooper, it was so demeaning.

      2. Noobtastic

        If the head office mechanics don’t work at the franchise level, then they need to work toward getting those head office mechanics changed, not forcing the stuff they know doesn’t work onto the people who they know can’t make it work (and then probably blaming the people because they couldn’t make the things that don’t work actually work).

      3. Loud Noises

        It particularly grates on me when it’s someone who was just at my rank and all of a sudden they forgot where they came from. I’m not asking for fraternization or boundary crossing, just acknowledgement that we’re people too, and we both put on our pants one leg at a time.

    2. Bend & Snap

      My manager looks at his job as enablement, not supervision, and I love it. He’s accessible, supportive, gives great guidance, and doesn’t sweat the small stuff.

      Perhaps a perspective shift is in order for the LW. Will you get more done being IN CHARGE or enabling and guiding your team?

  16. AliceW

    I always tell my direct reports to put everything in their Outlook calendar that way I can see who’s coming in later one day or who is out or working from home. That way everyone on the team knows where everyone is at- no one has to ask permission or even tell me. I just check the calendar if I need to. Obviously if I had a problem employee who could not make deadlines and needed a lot of managing I would probably not be this flexible with them. But so far, I’ve never had a problem.

    1. CaitlinM

      That’s how it worked in both my old and current job. Because I work in close physical proximity to my boss, I’ll usually say something about coming in late to my boss before I leave the day before, but if I didn’t he could look at the calendar and see where I am. I usually make the appointments on my personal calendar and just invite my work calendar to them (which works for me because my appointments aren’t of a very personal nature–“pediatrician,” “physical,” etc.)

      1. uranus wars

        Oh inviting yourself is a good idea; for awhile I was doubling up on entries and after awhile I just stopped with the personal calendar all together. And I hate not having it.

    2. New ED

      Yes, that’s what I do for all staff on my organization. We are a goggle based office and We have an organization wide Google calendar that everyone is required to enter time off, work from home days, and work travel on if they will be out a half day or more. Then people put all appointments, personal (set to private if they prefer) and work related on their own Google calendar so I can schedule meetings or whatever when necessary. No one even notifies me unless it’s a last minute change and the only time it’s phrased as a question is if it’s truly optional, i.e. I was considering working from home on Wednesday to try to knock out this writing projects, does that make sense to you?

  17. AlwaysAnon

    Although I definitely agree about treat your team like responsible adults (unless proven they need closer supervision!) I think this would grate on me too, on politeness grounds.

    One of my team tends to send me emails or meeting invites saying “I’m working from home on day X” and I do find that rude. She’s currently transitioning to another team (for good, career development reasons!) and her new line manager has remarked on it as well. It’s not that we’d say no, it’s just that we expect things to be framed less directly, which often means as a pseudo-request. All my other team members would say something along the lines of “I’m planning to work from home on day X, if that’s ok?” and I would complete the circle by saying “Sure, just pop it in my diary so I don’t forget.”

    For me it’s the same reason why I email stakeholders and ask them “Are you ok to send me X on day Y as usual?” instead of emailing and saying “You need to send me X on day Y.” Sending me X on day Y isn’t actually optional, but framing it less directly is more effective.

    I never flagged it to her because I could cope with being personally discombobulated provided that all her other stakeholder relationships were effective. Interestingly, in her new role she has been putting backs up by being too direct, so her new line manager will be raising it with her, so context matters.

    If this is just the way people seem to do things in that office then you probably need to learn to roll with it, but if the dynamics overall aren’t working effectively, your team aren’t recognising your actual authority when asserted etc, then you might want to look at the bigger picture and address that.

    1. Erstwhile lurker

      I agree, people in my team frame ‘requests’ in the same way, and it irritates me. To me it feels like using a strong statement to make it less likely that the boss will challenge. Is it really so demeaning to ask permission for some unscheduled time off?

      1. AvonLady Barksdale

        Sometimes yes, it is. If I have a medical condition that pops up and I need treatment and my doctor can only get me in on Tuesday, I shouldn’t have to ask permission. I should be able to say, “I have an issue and can only be seen on Tuesday afternoon. I’ll be leaving at 1pm that day,” without asking, “Is this ok? Is there a problem with this? Am I allowed?” Because sometimes life pops up. I mean, when my car has to be in the shop for an hour or two and the repair is necessary to keep the thing running–and I can be reachable from the shop– I don’t expect to have to clear that with anyone, because I expect to be trusted to look at a calendar and see if it’s do-able or not.

        I actually think the permission should come in with scheduled days off, not unscheduled. As in, “I’m hoping to go away the week of June 4th, would that be ok?” because that’s a much longer time frame.

        1. fposte

          I think managers may feel a knee-jerk alarm of “But what if that time is a problem?” But if it’s a problem you have to make that clear whether the notification was phrased as a question or a statement, so it’s not like a request phraseology gets them off the hook. This is one of those situations where heavier management hurts your good employees more than it helps your poor ones.

      2. Mystery Bookworm

        I don’t think there’s anything inherently demening about having to ask permission for things – we all do, sometimes.

        That said, at a certain level of experience, I think you’re really going to rub employees the wrong way if you request that they ask permission for time off, and you’re going to turn off the higher performers. I don’t think it’s coming from a place of not wanting the boss to challenge, it’s coming from a place of feeling they’ve earned the right to manage their own time, and reasonably judge if they need to be in the office or not.

        1. Mystery Bookworm

          *by ‘time off’ here, I mean things like working from home on Tuesday, or taking an extra couple hours on Friday – not weeks and weeks necessarily!

        2. Way Anon

          You’re quite right, and there’s another nuance here that is important – the people who’ll be the most put out by this are those who need to use PTO for “non-fun” things. Asking permission to schedule one’s leisure time is a bit different from asking permission to take care on non-negotiable health stuff.

    2. Almond Butter

      I would be looking for a new job if everything I did I had to ask you if its ok. Its so demeaning to beg for things you need. I had to do this in my call center days and I still remember my nazi supervisor.

      1. AlwaysAnon

        Framing my comment as making my team beg for what they need is misleading.

        I’m not talking about asking permission for every single action taken, and nor I am expecting my team to grovel and say “Please, Miss, can I go to this appointment, I tried ever so hard but I couldn’t get another slot, and I promise to do unpaid overtime to make it up.”

        What I’m pointing out is that when I want buy-in from stakeholders, both up and down the chain from me, I start by framing things as requests, not as facts or commands. Sometimes you need to escalate to more direct statements, but that’s not the default starting point.

        I perceive that as a general cultural convention around politeness, and I see very senior people (men as well) do it as well. You get buy-in to ideas by asking and listening to the response, not by saying making “this is how it’s going to be” your opening gambit. Sometimes, after you’ve listened, it does come down to “I’ve taken your feedback on board but I’m afraid this is how it needs to be,” but I don’t think that’s an effective starting point for the conversation.

        As a line manager whether or not you want to do something about that perceived rudeness depends on the wider context.

        1. Trout 'Waver

          A manager should be careful with how they communicate down the chain because of the implied power imbalance. By policing how people communicate up the chain, as you are doing here, you are putting in place needless authority and rigid power dynamics that professionals will resent.

          1. Mediamaven

            Implied power imbalance? A manager having more power over a subordinate is not an imbalance. It’s hierarchy and leadership. And requiring someone to make a request for time off is pretty standard in a lot of offices for a lot of reasons and doesn’t necessarily signal rigid power dynamics.

            1. Trout 'Waver

              I think we’re using different interpretations of “imbalanced”. I’m just pointing out that the manager has more power and any communication carries the implied “because I’m your boss” to it.

              I think you’re using “imbalanced” as out of alignment. Which I would definitely agree that it is not out of alignment for the manager to have more power.

              Requiring requests is standard if there is a business need for it. If there isn’t a business need for it, it does signal rigid power dynamics.

        2. Almond Butter

          First off I have been in management in Finance for 12 years at larger companies and have never not once ever heard a man ask if it was ok to take PTO, come in late, leave early, do their job, or go to the bathroom. So just no.

          You are working with the assumption that everyone is out to get you which is probable in your case since you are making everyone ask/beg you to do their work.(ie the issue with your type of management) You are assuming that If you are sent an email saying I’m making girl paper dolls until lunch then I am going to make boy paper dolls that I am daring you to say something about it. When in reality I am telling you what I am doing, because I know how to do my job and I know that I work better earlier. I am emailing you so that if you want it done differently you can tell me. I should not have to ask/beg you for your permission to do my job, go to the bathroom, take a vacation, come in late, or leave early. Now if I am a terrible employee and have been told because of my performance to discuss everything with you then that is a new ball game.

        3. Natalie

          What I’m pointing out is that when I want buy-in from stakeholders, both up and down the chain from me, I start by framing things as requests, not as facts or commands. Sometimes you need to escalate to more direct statements, but that’s not the default starting point.

          Do your employees really need “buy-in” to take an afternoon off or work from home? If you set aside your idea of what polite communication is, what exactly are they losing by just skipping to direct communication?

        4. Close Bracket

          “when I want buy-in from stakeholders, both up and down the chain from me, I start by framing things as requests, not as facts or commands”

          Taking a day off for something is not in the same wheelhouse as getting buy-in from stakeholders. Maybe you need a better way to categorize what types of things should be requests and what types of things don’t need to be. Or maybe you need to start focusing on the message rather than the delivery method. This sounds very much like a “I want everyone to communicate the same way I do” problem.

    3. Murphy

      You may need to clarify your policy on working from home. Some places have a policy where you have to have your manager’s permission, and in others it would be totally fine to do what your employee is doing. Your policy or clarifying of that policy would probably change the nature of that interaction.

      1. aebhel

        Yep. The degree to which employees are empowered to manage their own time should be very clearly laid out.

    4. T

      I agree, it depends on the office and whether the employee is mature or constantly takes advantage of the situation. I had a coworker work from home for an entire week because her son was going to senior prom that week. Our office normally allowed one day a week as work from home so it was totally absurd. My boss did nothing and it caused some disgruntled feelings as it was not appropriate.

      1. Blue

        Wait, what? On what planet does “my son going to prom” necessitate being home all week? I’m sincerely trying to imagine what she possibly could’ve used as justification and am coming up completely blank.

    5. Mediamaven

      I agree. It’s pretty common practice in plenty of workplaces that you have to make a request for time off, or if you need flexibility. I don’t think I have ever declined a request but I don’t want an employee simply informing me they won’t be in. I think it’s courteous to make the request.

    6. AvonLady Barksdale

      This sounds like the same thing that is coming up in Alison’s letter, so the same advice applies. You can still tell your team member if something is not ok. I get that it’s not in line with your office’s culture, but I don’t see anything wrong with, “I’ll be working from home on Tuesday” without the softening. I disagree that it’s rude. But then, I also think, “Are you ok to send me X on day Y as usual” isn’t helpful, because it opens the door to, “No, I’ll need a few more days.” “It’s not actually an option.” “Then why did you ask if it was ok?” “Please send me X on day Y as usual” is direct and clear without being rude.

      I tend to be a language softener myself, but certain things grate on me. I think it’s important to speak directly in the workplace. A former co-worker of mine got into a sticky situation because her boss said taking on a task was her call, she made the call and turned it down, her boss chewed her out and said, “You actually don’t have a choice.” Well… say that in the first place.

      1. TootsNYC

        But then, I also think, “Are you ok to send me X on day Y as usual” isn’t helpful, because it opens the door to, “No, I’ll need a few more days.” “It’s not actually an option.” “Then why did you ask if it was ok?”

        I asked it if it was OK because if it’s not, I’m going to run around and remove the obstacles you tell me about.

      1. Yojo

        AlwaysAnon is talking about the terse directness that’s problematic–I don’t see at all where she’s demanding deference.

        “Just a heads up, I’m going to be out Friday morning for an appointment. I should be in by 11:30.”

        That’s not asking permission, but it’s a lot softer than “I’m out on Friday morning.” It’s not bowing and scraping, it’s just polite.

    7. Det. Charles Boyle

      I guess it depends on the culture. In my workplace, asking, “May I take Tuesday off for a doctor’s appointment?” would be weird and raise eyebrows. It’s much more common to send an email and say something like, “I’ll be taking Tuesday off for a doctor’s appointment.” And, if that doesn’t work for my manager or anyone else for some work-related reason, I trust that they’ll let me know. Perhaps it’s because I work with highly-educated scientists and engineers? We’re all competent adults who can manage our own schedules and get our work done, as needed.
      I would ask yourself WHY you’re irritated by your employee phrasing things in this way? You know you’re the boss; she knows you’re the boss. There’s no need to flaunt your “bossness” or authority by requiring your employees to ask permission for things like this. It’s truly demoralizing for employees.

    8. hbc

      But if the answer will always be “yes,” then why does it need to be a question for politeness’ sake? If you need more notice or it feels like too much, then it’s fine to address it, but in situations where the answer is always yes, humans are going to default to informing rather than asking. Otherwise, people should be wearing a path to the manager’s desk with questions about whether it’s okay to leave for lunch or spend 15 minutes unjamming the printer rather than waiting for maintenance.

      Personally, I would find it much more irritating to be asked “Can you send it on day Y?”, I answer honestly that it’s day Y+2 for Reasons, and then I’m told it wasn’t a genuine question and I must send it on Y.

    9. Lucille2

      I have to disagree with your comparison between asking permission to come in an hour late, and asking a stakeholder if they are “…ok to send X on day Y.” This is essentially setting a deadline for requested work. A manager could tell a subordinate, “You need to send me X on day Y,” knowing their workload and priorities. But the stakeholder scenario is different. Framing it as a question is insuring the stakeholder has sufficient time to fulfill the request, so asking is best.

      The schedule request is simply an employee stating they have a personal need and would like the schedule flexibility to accommodate that need. If lost time needs to be made up, then expectations should be set from the manager and it should make sense for that employee’s role. For example, an hourly paid employee.

      If this is just about subordinates showing proper respect for their manager, requiring them to ask permission for everything is likely to have the opposite effect.

    10. Trout 'Waver

      Ugh, hard pass. Having to phrase everything as a soft request is a huge impediment to clear communication. And flowery indirect language can really confuse people from other cultural backgrounds and non-native speakers.

      Neither of your examples of her communications are in any way rude. Absent any actual rude behavior, I would just think that that is her communication style. I mean, if you take “You need to send me X on day Y.” at face value, it simply means that she needs X on day Y. Personally, I don’t like “Are you ok to send me X on day Y as usual?” because it implies you need X on day Y, but it also requests an immediate update or acknowledgement (are you ok to….). But, that’s really nit-picky over something that’s simply personal preference.

      There are a lot of people out there that share my preference, though. If you find me too direct, please let me know and I’ll adjust how I communicate with you, because I think people should try to interact with people in the ways those people want. But please, return the favor!

      1. Noobtastic

        If X on day Y are not negotiable, because reasons, then you can be too direct, with “You need to send me X on day Y, no exceptions!” and you can be too soft, with “Are you OK to send me X on day Y?” and hope that they are, but know that there’s a good possibility that they will interpret that softness as negotiability. And you really don’t want that, when something is truly non-negotiable, because when it comes out that it wasn’t, you look like a fool and/or a liar.

        “I really need X on day Y, and I’m afraid I just can’t make an exception, because reasons. Please tell me you can make that deadline.” This works. It is polite, while at the same time being firm and direct. For added “softness,” by all means, preface it with Please. “Please, I really need X on Day Y, …”

        If exceptions are possible, but really not a good thing, but you could still manage to deal with them, there’s “Please send me X on day Y. If, for any reason, you can’t make that date, then please let me know ASAP, so I can make alternate arrangements.” You may or may not include “because reasons.”

        It really is possible to be direct and be polite. I find that including “because reasons,” really does help people feel like they are being brought in on a collaboration, rather than being pulled for their work. And “Please,” is definitely the magic word.

        And on Day Y, as soon as you get X, send a “Got it! Thank you!” This lets them know that it was received, and they don’t have to think about it anymore, and is a polite show of gratitude.

        1. Trout 'Waver

          I think you’re touching on a really important point that hasn’t been articulated in this thread yet. But context matters. If someone’s always direct, but has a history of praising the quality of your work to influential people, that’s completely different than if you fire things off into the void of e-mail and never even get an acknowledgement that it was received. Likewise, if someone is brusque on a tight deadline, but then comes back later and explains why your work was so critical, that’s very different than if they’re brusque when organizing an informal luncheon.

      2. Close Bracket

        “And flowery indirect language can really confuse people from other cultural backgrounds and non-native speakers.”

        And people who take things literally, some of whom will be hard-wired that way neurologically.

        1. Mockingdragon

          +1 this is me. I’m trying hard to train myself out of indirect hinting because I so very much prefer being addressed with direct asking. I don’t catch hints, I don’t know why my brain keeps being afraid to be direct.

    11. TootsNYC

      I ask permission when I think it might be a problem, or when I know that there might be difficulty (though if I know I don’t have many options, as w/ a doc appt that’s not reschedulable, I will say, “I have to go to the doctor on this date; I know it’s a bad time.”)

  18. Roscoe

    The only think I can kind of see being upset about, and this REALLY depends on the type of environment, is coming in late certain days. Most of my jobs are flexible enough where if I’m not there, its not a big deal. However, every job isn’t like that. Honestly though, based on what you are saying, it doesn’t sound like its a coverage issue, just you wanting the ability to say no, even if you wouldn’t do so

    1. ACDC

      Maybe I’ve had too many experiences with psychotic managers, but the idea of telling my boss I’m taking a day off or leaving early, etc. seems really inappropriate and gives me anxiety!

  19. Jaybeetee

    Yeah, as a woman in my early 30s, with a string of “entry-level-peon” style jobs behind me where it often *was* expected, I’ve been trying to train myself out of the whole “Mother, may I?” thing if I need to come in late/leave early/take time off. I think one time in my current job I sent an email phrased that way (“Is it okay if I take these two days off for…?”), and my manager seemed actually rather surprised when she spoke to me about it later. She took this tone of “Well yes, of course you can take those two days as vacation days. And any other days you want to take this summer.” At the same time, I don’t want to go too far the other way and start coming across as rude or disrespectful in some way, just announcing my comings and goings. It’s part of an overall process of getting used to more “grown-up” jobs, where managers actually trust their reports to do their work unless something demonstrates otherwise – as opposed to previous jobs I had, where it seemed to be almost *assumed* that people would screw up or take advantage unless they were being micromanaged.

    1. DustyJ

      I’m in the same situation now. I’ve been in this job for four months, and I’m still getting used to not feeling a hand on the reins every second.

      Another observation: any new workers will absorb having no freedom at work as the norm. When they find themselves in a situation where they have to take responsibility, they won’t know how. I’ve never learned how to schedule my own working day before, so every day I have to overcome the urge to just sit and stare at my computer until someone else comes along and tells me what to do.

  20. Tammy

    My default posture as a manager is “I trust you to be a responsible, professional adult, and I will continue to do so unless you give me a reason not to trust you, at which point we’re going to have to have an uncomfortable conversation.” For things like when people want to take lunch, my answer is (mostly) “when you’re hungry”. And for the portion of my team that are salaried exempt employees, my general attitude about such things (as well as medical appointments and the like) is “so long as your work is getting done, I trust you to manage your schedule.” (I have to be a tiny bit more directive for my salaried team members because of my state’s laws about overtime and meal breaks, but I still try to be as hands-off as possible.)

    So, OP, I’d encourage you to think through whether there’s a clear business need that is being served by your team members’ asking you for permission around these things. If there’s a clear business need, figure out the minimum amount of directive control it takes to meet the need while still giving your employees as much autonomy as possible. But if your involvement isn’t serving a clear business need, there are probably more important things for you to be spending your time on.

  21. noizyrakket

    But if you’re a new manager in general, I also want to mention that it can take new managers a while to get the balance right when they’re exercising authority. It’s not uncommon for new managers to take too heavy a hand with their authority, and that makes them less effective managers.

    On a similar topic: how often does this usually last with new managers? Does anyone have experience with a manager growing out of it on their own, assuming there’s no one telling them to lay off a little? I’ve been trying to wait this out with a new manager but it’s been a year and a half now and I’m not sure if it really counts as a ‘new manager’ thing at this point or if this is just how she’s going to be as a manager.

    1. Lumen

      Personally, I think a year and a half is a long time for your manager to not figure out on their own that they’re overdoing it. If no one has told them to lay off, the patterns and habits are getting ingrained and are only going to get harder for them to change when someone finally does.

    2. Foreign Octopus

      I think it’s like with any new job – anywhere from six months to a year.

      I would say eighteen months is a little long but I suppose it depends entirely on how high-pressured your work is.

    3. PSB

      I think this depends largely on how reflective the new manager is. If they’re the kind of person who’s actively looking to improve and examines their actions and the outcomes they produce, it probably shouldn’t take 18 months. Some people don’t make a habit of self analysis and those people might not ever get it on their own. I think the X factor is their level of security and how likely they are to accept (or even seek) thoughtful feedback.

    4. Noobtastic

      As a non-manager, I would hope you’d get it right within six months, because if I have to put up with being reviewed twice a year, so do you, and if you’re ticking me off on a regular basis, you’d better fix it within the first review period.

      That is also assuming that as a *new* manager, you’re getting lots of feedback and mentoring, so that you can actually get a positive review the first time around.

      That’s the ideal, though. Real life? I’d say one year for growing pains, and after that, you really ought to know how to do things.

  22. Matilda Jefferies

    OP, what’s the outcome you’re looking for here? What would be the actual difference if your staff started asking you instead of telling you?

    If you’re feeling like it would be easier for you to say no to a question rather than a statement if need be, I hope Alison has addressed that. Just because something is phrased as a statement, doesn’t mean you can’t say “Actually that doesn’t work for me because X.”

    If it’s more about flexing your authority, something like “they should ask because I’m the boss!” then I would question that as well. In most workplaces, it’s reasonable to assume that your staff will respect your authority simply *because* you’re the boss. In fact, that’s why they’re letting you know what they’re up to in the first place, instead of just showing up an hour late or changing the teapot colours without saying anything.

    You don’t need to answer me specifically, but it’s worth thinking this through a little bit on your own. Start by asking yourself why it’s so important to you, and what’s the actual impact on work if they’re telling instead of asking (or vice versa.) It may turn out that there actually is a work-related reason why this is important, and this really is a hill you want to die on. But on the other hand, maybe it isn’t – which is why it’s worth having the discussion with yourself.

    1. Lumen

      Agreed. OP, are you frustrated because your direct reports aren’t showing you what you expect in terms of deference? Do you ever tell them ‘that won’t work’ just because you want to reinforce your authority, and not because there’s a valid reason to turn them down? Do you avoid telling them ‘that won’t work’ simply because they phrased things as a statement, not a request? Do you make sure to explain why their intent won’t work? If so, are they pushing back?

      Figure out for yourself what your expectations are, whether some of those expectations could be adjusted, and which might need to be tossed altogether. Also, look for the differences between “not being deferential to the degree I would like” and “being subordinate”.

      1. Yllis

        Yeah. Deference for sake of deference reminds me of Cartman on a big wheel yelling “respect mah authoritie!”

      2. TootsNYC

        Do you ever tell them ‘that won’t work’ just because you want to reinforce your authority, and not because there’s a valid reason to turn them down?

        Oh, yeah! This will destroy your credibility rapidly, because they will know.

        I worked at a place where, on a big project w/ lots of approvals needed, we sent something out thinking the Big Cheese had approved it. It turned out that she’d asked to see it one more time.
        “Oh,” we said–“we’re sorry, we didn’t realize. It has already left the building, but here’s a copy in case there’s something really important.”

        She brought it back to us with a change–of one word, which not only didn’t change the meaning, but it made the sentence clunkier. It was so very clearly “pissing on my territory.”

        If I’d been the main project manager, I’d have sat her down and said, “I’m not going to let you do this, it’s so disrespectful to the people who have been working hard to get this confusing project out the door. I’m not even going to show it to them.”

        It was probably just as well we did see it–at least our lack of respect for her was accurate!

    2. Sloan Kittering

      I suspect it’s also that OP doesn’t feel they have the authority to jump in and correct them if she doesn’t agree with what they’re “telling her” – but you do, OP. You should feel comfortable saying, “actually, I would prefer you didn’t work from home on Tuesday, as [x business reason or whatever].” I suspect that when OP truly trusts, believes, and can demonstrate that they have this power, the phrasing will no longer bother her.

      1. Lumen

        Exactly. NOT telling them “that won’t work” when it genuinely won’t work, just because of how they phrased it, is equally bad for keeping the team managed. I would hate to tell my boss about leaving early for a appointment, have her give me a cheery thumbs up, and then find out later that my team really, truly needed me that afternoon and something important didn’t get done… because she didn’t even try to find out if I could reschedule. I would be honestly baffled if she said her reasoning was “well you didn’t ask me, you told me”.

        Just like I know that if she told me “that won’t work” and I fought with her or did it anyway, I would find myself quickly in an uncomfortable conversation, possibly with HR present, about my flagrant insubordination and shiny new PIP. She doesn’t need to reinforce her authority on a regular basis for me to know that it’s there.

      2. GM

        I agree with this. OP might be feeling more awkward about countering it if its framed as a statement rather than a question.
        As a new manager I had struggled with this issue too. My solution was to, in the moment, just request a quick update from them on their current tasks, whether the deadlines of those tasks would be impacted in any way, and if anything specific planned for that day which might clash with their planned time off. And this was not for every request, but certain cases where I felt there might be issues with the planned time off or WFh etc.

  23. Midlife Tattoos

    As a new supervisor (like Alison, I’m not sure if you’re new to supervising or just new to this team), one of the quickest ways to demotivate people is to engage in overt displays of authority-flexing when the situation doesn’t warrant it. To the employee, it feels unnecessarily heavy-handed and will breed resentment. It’s understandable when you’re new to supervising that you feel you should be the decision-maker for everything, but that’s not how supervising/managing works. You’re more effective if you jump in on the big things that do require you to make a decision.
    One other point I’d like to make is that if you require your employees to ask permission for everything, you will wind up being a bottleneck to your employees — “I sent an e-mail last week asking if I could have an hour off today to go to a doctor’s appointment today, but Supervisor never answered me. Should I ask again or just cancel my appointment?”

    1. Noobtastic

      “I sent an e-mail last week asking if I could have an hour off today to go to a doctor’s appointment today, but Supervisor never answered me. Should I ask again or just cancel my appointment?”

      I’d say just go, because canceling a doctor’s appointment within 24 hours costs money! So, unless you’re going to cancel, and then give your supervisor the bill, because she’s the one who made you have to pay that money, then just go. If she complains, then say, “Sure, boss! And next time, I’ll be sure to send you the bill, since it will be your fault” and just see how well that works out for that working relationship.

      In other words, don’t be a bottleneck!

  24. Bea

    What are the odds their scheduling of a doctor’s visit is going to need to be revised? In my life, even the most hectic of jobs where my butt was required to be there most days or things did screech to a halt, an appointment was never at a time that would hurt the company.

    If it’s shift work, those things can be a big deal and need clearance. However this is a creative team, assuming they know not to schedule during an important conference call or client meeting, why are you bothered? I ask to dig deeper at your idea of why they need to “ask”? Is it due to the job or are you kind of power tripping and pulling rank out of spite?

    As noted above, nobody likes a boss who pulls this move. If you can back it with company needs, I’ll soften up a lot. I deal with production schedules and have seen what late arrivals and lackadaisical planning can cause but you have to switch that off if this is an office job where flexibility is acceptable.

    1. Bea

      You always still have the power to say “Monday? I’m sorry, Philip but that’s the day the CEO is doing his once a month presentation. You need to be there. Is this something that can be rescheduled?”

      And some appointments are precious commodity. My dad can’t just reschedule his yearly exams for his cancer screens. Even dentists can have such tight schedules you take what you’re given.

      Why make life more difficult for people by exercising such a heavy hand?

      1. hbc

        Even with the CEO example, I’d trust professionals to check the calendar, see the recurring meeting, and not book a conflict unless absolutely necessary. Someone higher up than them would have failed if the first they’re hearing of a big mandatory meeting is when I say no to their appointment.

        1. Doreen

          I’d trust them to do that right up until they showed me I shouldn’t. Which has happened to me more than once – most recently someone had two months notice of a big mandatory meeting and asked for the day off a month later because he wanted a three-day weekend. Nope , can’t do it. If he had asked for the time off before he was told about the meeting that would have been fine. My approach to the OP’s question is similar- I don’t have a problem if someone says “I need to leave an hour early tomorrow” or ” I’m taking Tuesday off” or even ” I’m taking vacation the last week of December” until they react poorly when I have to say “That won’t work because too many people are already off that day ( or week) and I need you to come in”

          1. Ice and Indigo

            “I’d trust them to do that right up until they showed me I shouldn’t.”

            YES. In big red letters.

            There are managers who treat people like they’re trustworth until proven otherwise, and these are good managers. Then there are managers who treat people like they’re untrustworthy until proven otherwise (and usually no amount of proof is enough), and these are life-ruiners who make everything miserable.

            OP, you’re new to this, so I assume you’re just finding your feet and not actually out to be a life-ruiner. But Doreen’s rule of thumb is incredibly important. Trusting most people to be reasonable and responsible isn’t being a pushover; it’s the way to be seen as the strong leader of a strong team.

        2. aebhel

          Yeah, I’ve never had my boss tell me I couldn’t take PTO in five years on the job, because I know when my presence is absolutely necessary and when it isn’t, and I schedule appointments and vacation time around that.

        3. Bea

          I’ve seen conflicting appointments frequently.

          I don’t distrust my staff, I know they’re human and can double book. My job is to cross check for them.

          So that’s why you have to say “that conflicts with XYZ…can you change it?” then they can say “it’s a hard spot to get, I can’t reschedule easily.” or “oh darn, that’s right…yes they’re flexible, I can go the next day.”

      2. Lucille2

        Also, OP is putting unnecessary pressure on herself to respond to these requests. If someone has to make an appointment with a pretty narrow window, as is common for doctor’s appointments, waiting on a response is going to be a major pain point.

      3. TootsNYC

        And a boss also has the authority to come say, “I know that yesterday you told me you had a doctor’s appointment on Friday. But today I realized that it’s going to be a problem. Can you reschedule? If not, do you have other suggestions for how to patch this over?”

        That’s what authority is!

        It’s not a case of “if you just tell me, I have to go along with it”–the boss can always bring up the problem and work to solve it.

  25. Res Admin

    If I specifically *asked* my manager about every little thing, we would both go crazy. The balance is knowing when to just do something (and authorize on her behalf), when to let her review first (even if I am pretty comfortable with what her answer will be), and things to always hold until our weekly meeting.

    Leave time, in particular: Boss and I are rarely in the same building so I have to email–and she gets a TON of email. Asking requires a response–which is never going to happen. Telling her what I plan so that she has the opportunity to object saves us both time. No response = yes, which is nearly always the answer.

    CW asks specifically for permission and then gets frustrated because she doesn’t get a timely response. CW knows Boss rarely answers that kind of email–Boss reads it and then it gets buried and forgotten.

    1. Bea

      Your first sentence made me think about what my boss said in our annual review session. He was delighted that he knows that I know when to ask or when to just tell him what is going on. He’s not worried about me going rouge and he also knows I’m not wasting his time with the things like “I was scheduled for a dental exam on Thursday. Please sir, may I arrive late?”

    2. pleaset

      I only manage one person and I don’t want him to ask about simple stuff. Its’ a waste of time and energy on all parts. I can only imagine if I had ten direct reports what a waste it would be if they asked to come in late or take this or that day off.

    3. TootsNYC

      The balance is knowing when to just do something (and authorize on her behalf), when to let her review first (even if I am pretty comfortable with what her answer will be), and things to always hold until our weekly meeting.

      For our OP, this is the “calibrating” time period. Great that her employees are alerting her! And this is the chance for the OP to say, “Hmm, I thought about the teapot color, and I think it’s a problem” or “Good choice for that color, thanks for letting me know.”

      So the employees and the manager both are building a sense of what the others’ standards, criteria, decision-making patterns, etc., are.

      But you don’t need “permission-asking” for that.

      I have folks come and say, “Is now a good time to go to lunch?” They aren’t asking permission–they’re asking for forecasting, which is my role as the workflow assessor.

  26. Det. Charles Boyle

    My previous manager wanted us to ask permission for everything. It grated, b/c we were all professionals with at least 5 (and up to 30) years of experience. As you can imagine, that department suffered quite a bit of turnover when she took over. And I found a much, much better job with a manager who treats me like I know what I’m doing. I would have stayed in that job forever b/c I had wonderful colleagues in a great environment. But the manager was terrible, so I had to get out. OP — you have so much power to make your employees’ worklives miserable or energizing! Please learn and become a wonderful manager and leader; you will have an amazing impact on people’s lives, much beyond what you can see.

  27. hbc

    The good thing about being the boss is that they don’t have to make it a question for you to shoot it down. And really, they’re inherently recognizing your authority by letting you know about things that (apparently) would have been fine if they didn’t tell you at all and just did it.

    From another perspective, the more you involve yourself in the minutiae, the less you look like a manager who can manage professionals. You want to look like someone who has trained her people so well that they can manage the small picture and you can focus on the big picture.

    1. TootsNYC

      YES!!

      Also, another good thing about being the boss is that you can come later and say, “I’ve realized that’s not going to work.”

  28. Stuff

    Also who has time to micro manage? If you have time for that then either there is not enough more important work to do or it is being neglected.

    1. NW Mossy

      THIS. One of the traps new managers often fall into is trying to do too much and have input into everything, and it’s detrimental to both them and the teams they lead. The manager gets overwhelmed with trying to do all the things, and the team doesn’t get the practice they need to hone their own judgment and develop for their own career paths.

      Often, this happens because the new manager doesn’t have trust yet. They don’t yet trust that they can do the job, and they don’t yet trust that the team can do theirs. Focusing on trust-building behaviors (one-on-one meetings to build relationships, the manager soliciting feedback from their own boss, etc.) can go a long way towards defusing the impulse to be all up in everyone’s stuff and putting energy into the things that really are priorities.

  29. Nonny Moose

    I had a manager like this and as a younger professional (2 years experience at the time) this really threw me for a loop. It is odd and confusing to be told over and over how much I am expected to show initiative, ownership, and responsibility but when it comes to taking my time off I’m not allowed to be direct. Ultimately that manager had a lot of personal and professional insecurities and while I did like and respect her it was a sticking point that made it feel like she cared more about my deference than my ability to work.

  30. CoveredInBees

    When I was starting out as a relatively young woman in a heavily male field, I was specifically advised to frame things as statements rather than seeking permission or equivocating “I was thinking that I might…” I definitely noticed a difference in my self-confidence when I shifted from asking to telling.

  31. Dzhymm

    As soon as I saw the headline I thought, “Ask permission? Is this a workplace, or a kindergarten?”

  32. John

    So what do you do if you DO have a manager like this? What’s the best way to communicate that I am a competent and responsible adult that can manage my own time without sounding like complaining?

    1. Midlife Tattoos

      Has she expressly said that she wants you to ask permission? Does she ever deny your request? If so, that’s probably a harder row to hoe.

      But, if it just feels like this is something you should do because she never told you not to, I would start shifting my language to telling more than asking (super politely of course) to see what her reaction is.

    2. CupcakeCounter

      I would ask your manager if they have any concerns with your work or schedule. When they say no and ask why you are asking, respond with a simple statement along the lines of “well you seem very involved with X and how I am running the program/scheduling the meeting/whatever is appropriate so I was concerned that you weren’t happy with the work”. Maybe it will click that they are micromanaging (I had this with a prior boss who was used to having entry level, brand new grads he had to teach work ethic to) and back off a bit.

    3. AdAgencyChick

      It can help to present it in terms of how you feel, rather than “you treat me like a…”

      “When I have to ask permission to come in at 10 for a doctor’s appointment, it makes me feel like you don’t trust me to manage my time. Is there an issue with how I’ve been managing my time lately?” (asked in a genuinely curious tone, not a challenging tone)

      If the answer is yes, then you can talk with your manager about how to resolve that issue. If the answer is no, then you can move on to “Can I ask that moving forward, I’ll let you know when I need to adjust my hours rather than asking for permission?”

    4. Micromanagered

      I had a manager who was like this, and one thing I did (with varied success) was to make it part of my request that I’d already thought about the relevant factors that she did.

      So like (in an email):
      Hi Mildred! I am looking to plan a vacation for next month and I’m thinking the week of X. I don’t see anything on the calendar that looks like a conflict but I wanted to check with you before I book a flight. I’ll make sure project Z is cleaned up/handed off as well. Let me know if you think there’s an issue with that! Thanks!

      So my goal would be to keep my tone deferential but I’m not “asking.” Sometimes my manager would respond by basically re-stating what I’d just said: “I don’t see anything on the calendar that looks like a conflict, but make sure project Z is cleaned up/handed off.” and then I’d know like, ok you need this more than I do.

      But when you have a manager like that, I don’t think there’s any sitting them down and explaining that you’re an adult and you’d like to be treated like one, therefore, when you ask for time off, it should be understood that you know how to manage your time. Some managers just don’t think that way.

  33. EditorInChief

    As a manager it would drive me insane if my people were constantly asking permission to do things. They tell me what’s going on, and if I have an issue with it, I’ll say something, otherwise I trust them to make the correct decisions.

  34. AdAgencyChick

    I think you CAN sometimes tell them to ask and not tell, but that, in the spirit of treating people like grownups, that should be reserved for use only when needed.

    Like, if you anticipate a coverage issue on days that are very popular for taking off or leaving early (like the day before Thanksgiving or the week before Christmas), I think it’s fine to say that direct reports need to ask first, and explain the reason why — that there needs to be coverage in the office until X time and it’s your job to make sure that coverage is done fairly.

    I think when you use this approach sparingly and explain why it’s necessary, when it’s necessary, you’re still treating people like grownups while recognizing that you as the manager have a bigger picture view than they do as individuals.

  35. Emily

    Having to ask permission even if it was just to leave early for a doctor’s appointment was up there in terms the reasons why I left my last team. It was out-of-step with norms for my industry and it created another problem because we frequently didn’t hear back promptly. I’m on a different team now, we put appointments on our Outlook calendars, and I’m much happier.

  36. Pearl

    I have a lawyer friend whose old boss was the type who expected all his employees to arrive before him in the mornings and to leave after him in the evenings.

    The day my friend told me that his boss had reprimanded him for telling him (rather than asking) that he wouldn’t be staying late because he needed to leave at the end of the business day (not early), I started circulating his resume for him.

    He got a nice salary bump, a shorter commute, and a boss who doesn’t treat him like a serf.

  37. CupcakeCounter

    It sounds like OP most likely comes from a background where asking permission for all of the things was the normal course of business. That alone could cause her to reject this type of informality simply because it is unfamiliar and feels disrespectful based on her experiences of deferring to the supervisor for all decisions. The other thing that comes to mind is that after just a few weeks being part of the team she doesn’t really know these people yet and their quality of work or time management skills. If I were a new employee coming into this or had a new supervisor I might be a little more reserved in how I go about taking time off or declaring I need to change a process (i.e. “I have a standing appointment Wednesdays at 1pm so I have my calendar blocked off all year for that as it is really hard to move” or “we are out of the blue paint for the floral teapots so I am planning to sub the lilac since it is the closest color we have to the blue”). Not really asking permission but more adding some context to the statement so it seems less abrupt.
    I don’t think there is anything wrong with bringing this up at a team meeting though. Maybe just explain that their way of doing things isn’t what you are used to and it is throwing you for a loop. Ask that while you are getting up to speed on the processes, culture, their skills and talents etc… that it would be helpful if they could loop you in a bit more in the scheduling and decision making processes so you have a better handle on what impact those things have.
    However if you just want them to ask you permission simply because you are the boss…hopefully Alison guided you better above. And all of this is moot if you have any employees who have performance issues – then you absolutely need to be more involved with their schedule and decisions.

  38. ACDC

    My old boss would tell me I didn’t need to ask permission. So I would let her know (i.e. I need to come in an hour late for x, etc.), and she’d say OK. Fast forward to the day of said thing, I would come in/leave early/whatever, and she would be upset about it.

    Basically, my advice for OP is, be consistent in whatever you decide to do.

    1. Midlife Tattoos

      This is why I require employees to put any schedule changes on my Calendar in Outlook. I barely remember my own appointments, so there’s no way I’m going to remember someone else’s. I’d be looking for that person too, because if it’s not on my calendar, it doesn’t exist.

      1. ACDC

        YES! I offered countless times to set up a calendar system for my boss so she wouldn’t forget, but always insisted she would remember. It wasn’t so much an issue of forgetting, I think, but more that she decided she needed me right in the moment I wasn’t available and was pissed about it.

      2. Detective Amy Santiago

        My current supervisor asks for an email about any schedule changes so that when she’s approving time cards every other week, she has an easy record to refer back to.

  39. Orange You Glad

    This was an adjustment for me when I started at my current position. Every job I had before this was either hourly union positions (so time off was requested/scheduled way out in advance) or short-term/part-time gigs in college where I wasn’t asking for time off anyway.

    My boss basically said it’s your time to use as you see fit. As long as the job is getting done to his standards, then he doesn’t have any issues with flexibility/PTO. In addition to not asking but telling him when I’m out, he also made it clear it’s none of his business what I am doing with my time off. I don’t need to say “I’m feeling unwell, I will be taking PTO today” just “I’m taking PTO today”.

  40. Micromanagered

    The only time I “ask” permission is if I want to take a day off just-because and I’m asking like, the day before. But even then, I have already reviewed the calendar for coverage, thought about whether my workload permits the absence, etc. Essentially, I am asking as a courtesy, but I already pretty much know there shouldn’t be an issue–it’s why I want the day off! (And I’m giving my manager an opportunity to let me know if something’s come up that hasn’t yet made it to the calendar or something like that.)

  41. HereKittyKitty

    Oddly enough I had a job interview last week and one of my questions was whether or not I had the freedom to just say what I’m planning on doing, or if I had to raise my hand to leave the desk. (of course, phrased much better than that)

    I usually just tell my manager what I’m up to in order to keep her in the loop. I hardly ever ask permission unless it’s something bigger.

  42. Rusty Shackelford

    OP, does this make you unhappy strictly because you feel they should be asking, even though everything they’re doing is okay? Or are they telling you things that they really should have asked about because the answer would have been no? Modifying the teapot color, for example – how likely is it that you’re going to say “Actually, I need you to keep the teapots the same color?” Because if they’re informing you of a lot of judgement calls that actually have to be undone, I would disagree with the advice you’re being given here. And in that case, you might need an agreement such as “I trust you to schedule your time off wisely, so please just keep me updated, but for these other three areas, I need you to talk to me before making any decisions/changes.”

    1. Micromanagered

      This is a really good point. The examples in the letter are kind of an apple and an orange. Maybe changing the teapot color should be an ask, but coming in an hour late on Thursday should not. Maybe LW is becoming hypervigilant about being “asked” for everything because she’s not being asked for the right situations?

      1. stitchinthyme

        Yeah, I noticed this as well. At my job, I would be pretty likely to say to my boss, “By the way, I’ll be in a little late tomorrow”…but if it’s related to a work project, I’m more likely to phrase whatever it is I want to do as a question, unless I am reasonably certain there will be no pushback or objections.

    2. aebhel

      Yeah, that’s the distinction: if they’re overreaching, or making judgement calls that are outside the scope of what they’re supposed to be doing, OP should clarify job responsibilities. But if it’s just about the idea of it, then they should let it go.

  43. Noobtastic

    OP, in response to “I find this habit grating, as it assumes that I will always agree and accommodate these requests.”

    If you and your team are on the same page, it is a perfectly reasonable assumption that you will agree and accommodate these requests unless you have data that precludes you from agreeing, and then it’s time for “No, and here’s why” or “let’s discuss this.”

    If you find yourself saying “No” or “let’s discuss” a large chunk of the time, then that is actually a sign that you and your team are NOT on the same page. Maybe they need more data, or maybe it’s training, or something else is keeping them from operating at peak efficiency and in the same direction you’re trying to lead them. Then, it is your job to find out what the problem is and fix it, so that you and your team are once again on the same page.

    Their assumption that you will approve is actually a good sign, because it means they do believe that they are on the same page, and are happy to be there. If they start getting antsy about it, assuming you won’t approve, that’s actually a red flag that your team has some big issues to address, be it about trust, or just general knowledge about how you want things to be run, or the direction you want them to take.

    Confidence is a great sign of a successful team.

    1. TootsNYC

      I agree.

      And in the early days, this is “calibration” time–time for the OP to speak up and shape how things are done so that her team can successfully “channel” her when it’s time to change the teapot color.

      And she should also take these opportunities to ask her team to explain their decision-making process, so that SHE knows how THEY think.

      Having them ask for permission doesn’t accomplish this. But it’s a crucial part of being their manager in the early days.

  44. buttercup

    This is so funny because I had the OPPOSITE problem when I had my current job. I kept asking for permission to implement my ideas. My manager clued me in during my informal review that my supervisors actually WANT me to implement my ideas autonomously because it means less work and thinking for them, and asking for permission every time gets tiring. Basically, the OP sounds like a micromanager.

  45. JM in England

    Perhaps the team works on the premise of it’s easier to ask forgiveness than permission? That said though, I’ve had bosses who liked to be kept in the loop. Thus, to cover myself, I said to them things along the lines of “Here’s how I plan to tackle Task X. What do you think?”…

  46. AnotherKate

    As a manager, I tell my (very small) team that they need to ask me about actual days off, but that my only real concern is coverage, so unless we would have no one in on a given day, I’ll say yes. I suppose they could just as easily pop their time on the Out of Office Calendar and “invite” me, but it would serve the same purpose–getting it on my radar so I can ensure we have the coverage we need. Typically at the end of the year I talk to everyone and we work out amongst ourselves which days people will be working, since everyone wants at least a few days for Christmas/New Year/what have you.

    For stuff like doctor’s appointments, I just ask that they give me a heads up as far in advance as they can (obviously emergencies crop up, but if you know on Monday that you’ll be leaving early Tuesday or Thursday, give me a heads up so I can be sure to adjust the workflow accordingly). I definitely don’t want anyone asking me if they can please be a human being.

  47. Lady Kelvin

    I work mostly independently from my supervisor (it’s a bit weird, but I have someone else who “assigns” me work, but not the person who signs my timesheets) and so I usually “ask” in two ways: if I am taking vacation or teleworking I will say “I’m planning on blah blah blah” and that gives him a chance to say oh actually we’re having a training that day can you reschedule, if I’m doing something that’s relatively fixed (sick leave, doctor’s appts, etc) I say “I’m going to be taking blah blah blah.” In my mind, at least, it allows me to differentiate between stuff that I can schedule around vs stuff that really is more important than work and if possible work commitments should be rescheduled.

  48. JSPA

    Yep, look for patterns / if there’s a common thread to the few things that really should not be decided without your input, and send out an email focused on those.

    Maybe it’s more advance notice for planned absences of more than 4 hours.

    Maybe for any teapot changes that will require sourcing and testing new glazes for hardness and food-safety, or require ergonomic analysis, they need to clear a prototype and proposal with you.

    But if they are going to be stacking the teapot boxes in the second storeroom because there’s a leak in the first storeroom (and that’s always been the SOP when the summer rains come), or they’re paperclipping the reports today because the stapler is broken and the new one arrives friday, or they have a dentist’s appointment and will be in two hours late and drooling, it’s appropriate for them to inform you, rather than ask.

    If you’re new, they have a lot of institutional “this is how we do this” wisdom. Spend some time learning it, before you modify it. After all, they may know that stacking the boxes under the stairs instead of the other storeroom leads to a visit from OSHA. No reason for a department to learn that the hard way, twice.

  49. Data Miner

    If your employees need to ask your permission for everything, it’ll follow that they will also put the burden on you to find the answers. So instead of them solving the problem, they’ll come to you for answers and that is exhausting! As a manager, you’re not as close to their work and it’s mentally taxing to jump into the middle of a process/issue and offer a solution. It’s so much easier if they offer a solution and execute. Slippery slope, my friend…

  50. Dr. Pepper

    OP, I was the opposite of you. I *loved* when my reports just told me things instead of asking permission. It made me feel confident that they knew what they were doing and that I wouldn’t need to babysit anyone. The fact that they’re telling you means they respect your position as the manager. Otherwise they’d just do the thing and not bother to keep you in the loop. This is how rational adults communicate, and how you cultivate mutual respect between you and your employees.

  51. Junior Dev

    OP, if you learn by them asking or telling or however else that your employees are planning to do something you don’t want them to, or have questions about, please SAY SOMETHING instead of assuming that because of the way you were informed, they didn’t want feedback. I think this is part of my current issues with my boss–she was generally unavailable to ask questions of but I tried to keep her informed on what i was doing, and it turns out she didn’t like a lot of it but somehow expected me to know that without telling me. (she’s a new manager. We’re working on fixing this.)

    Lots of people have already pointed out it’s not appropriate for people to ask permission to do most of the day-to-day operations of their job…but them telling you instead of asking is a way of making sure you’re ok with those cases that are sort of borderline (not so unusual they should be asking outright, not so typical they shouldn’t tell you at all).

  52. Observer

    I find this habit grating, as it assumes that I will always agree and accommodate these requests.
    . . .
    Virtually all of these requests are either reasonable requests I would approve anyway.

    If these are exempt employees who are hitting their (reasonable) work targets quality and timeliness wise, why would they assume anything else? Why would you consider doing otherwise? It sounds like you are be “nice” in allowing reasonable behavior, but from the outside this doesn’t sound like being “nice” as much as not sweating inconsequentials.

    Am I being too sensitive to a harmless habit?

    This is not a “harmless habit” – It’s a sign of competent adults that are capable of a good level of self management.

    Do you want to be the bottleneck for ALL of the work of the team? Do you want your own work interrupted and negatively impacted by the need to constantly approve things that shouldn’t need approval? Do you want your staff to require your constant management and presence? If you require them to constantly ask permission, that’s what you will get.

    Or would you prefer staff who can take a task or project and DO it? Who are proactive and looking at what they need to do next and what else they can to if they have free time rather than sitting passively waiting for your instructions? For that, you are going to have to give people the freedom to actually work without being treating like untrustworthy children.

    Figure out the things you really DO need permission for and let your staff know what those (few) items are. Figure out how much lead time you need to be informed of various changes, and let your staff know. And then let them do their thing. If they don’t perform, then you take that up.

  53. NicoleK

    Earlier in my professional career, I’d “asked” for permission. Now that I’m in the middle of my career, I inform my boss, rather than ask. I made this change for a very simple reason: as a reserved quiet introvert, people sometimes assume that I lacked self confidence. This was one small way to show that I’m confident and very much able to work independently.

  54. Grand Mouse

    This must be a blue collar vs white collar thing! I’ve worked in retail where I was expected to ask before I go on a break in case they needed something. I was working a position where coverage wasn’t as important so I could mostly go to the bathroom and take breaks as I pleased. But just telling my boss what and when J am doing? Heaven forbid. I didn’t even know that was something you could do!

    Now I work in light blue collar, as Ive come to call it. I handle my own breaks and everything but I still ask about procedures and PTO. I work at a non-profit in a service industry in the government so I have some of the benefits of working in a more flexible, professional environment while still having set hours and tasks.

    1. Oaktree

      It’s definitely a blue collar vs. white collar thing. When I worked in fast food and was hourly, I wasn’t allowed to stand in a certain way, let alone go to the washroom whenever I wanted (who did I think I was, the queen???). Now that I’m on salary in a corporate firm, I can take an unlimited number of sick days (provided I don’t abuse the privilege). Of course, my experiences in the former type of job have left me with incredible paranoia about taking sick days, to the point that I once came into the office with bronchitis and a fever (I was immediately sent home, and rightly so- I was contagious. But, sick, so I wasn’t thinking straight). It’s a wild ride going from Sandwich Bitch (not my actual title at the time, but close enough) to fancy office worker…

  55. Adjuncts Anonymous

    Unfortunately, in some jobs like mine, coverage is crucial. Twice this semester, my department has had problems with teachers, both of which involved me. The first was August 21, when I was scheduled for jury duty. I found out two months before and alerted my boss. That IS a tell-don’t-ask situation. It was also Eid-al-Adha, and my colleague asked for the day less than a week before. TPTB were understandably irked by that, especially as the other three Muslim teachers did not get the day off, nor did my Muslim boss. As it turned out, after I called the evening of August 20 about my jury duty, I was excused, so I went to work anyway.

    I also told my boss about my vacation (unpaid) the last week of September in June and got lambasted about the timing, since two other teachers were attending a training that week, unknown to me beforehand. I just sucked it up and went on my scheduled vacation anyway. I’d never had a problem before, and I’ve worked there since the last century!
    Despite the low pay and lack of benefits (or maybe because of those), the teachers actually have a lot of power about unpaid time off (UPTO?). It is really difficult to replace us, and most of us know that. Any halfway-qualified reliable warm living body is welcomed as an adjunct instructor.

  56. Bowserkitty

    When I finally got to the point of being able to notify of a planned absence rather than ask permission, I felt much more comfortable as a worker and more secure in my work itself. It felt like I was trusted to have the right judgment.

  57. Mockingdragon

    This makes me think of a time at my previous semi-toxic workplace…one of the first big clashes I had with the management team that ultimately fired me was over a morning I took off for a migraine. I woke up with it, I didn’t feel safe to drive, so I called in late and went back to sleep. Apparently, unknown to me, the bigger boss had instructed my boss that we were in all-hands-on-deck mode and no one was supposed to take time off.

    I told her during this conversation, as nicely as possible and stressing that this was about her-the-manager and not her-the-person, that it is not the company’s decision whether I can come in or not. I have PTO, and it is my job as an adult to decide when I need it. Refusing to ask permission to be sick was one of the first ways I broke out of unhealthy deference and into being a true adult.

    This may not rise to that level, but it’s especially worth remembering for time off requests. If I had requests that I could schedule loosely, I’d ask (“I need a mental health say soon, is next Friday okay to take?”). But if something’s necessary, it’s my business why.

  58. Lemonade

    OP here. Thank you all for all your advice! I agree with Alison (and most comments) that the occasional veto is better than constantly needing to approve every choice. I’m not a new manager but I am on the younger side, and I’ve always managed teams that defer to me more often – I’m learning how to work with this group.

    Some relevant context: I work in entertainment, with a tour. This is an industry where hierarchy is more important than most, and where individual choice will affect the rest of the team in real-time (i.e. if the singer wants to change the set, the rest of the band needs to be involved). I absolutely want to treat my team like the adults they are, but I feel like the nature of our business leaves less room than most offices.

    1. Observer

      Again, you need to focus on the things that actually need your permission. Even in a regular office, many of the things you mention affect others pretty directly, but it’s still not reasonable to make people ask permission all the time.

      Now, if someone has a habit of making changes without considering the ripples or working with and informing the people who are going to be affected, that’s a different story. As otehrs said up thread “Trust people till they give you a reason not to.”

  59. P

    It’s much better for employees to just give managers a heads up instead of asking for managers to sign off on a bunch of stuff that are low level decisions that don’t particularly require upper management approval.
    You can focus on actual high level decisions but are still kept abreast of what’s going on. Sounds like the people you manage are really competent, and that’s a great thing!

  60. Still Mostly Lurking

    This drives me insane. Our new manager is finally starting to understand that we are all adults, and any time off requests are balanced with the needs of the team, and any impending deadlines, so by the time any formal requests come through it has been worked out.

    Its been a hard 12 months, she wanted us to tell her first, then she allocate the leave requests for everyone to balance them out, rather than the team members balancing the peak holiday times ourselves (eg school holidays, summer breaks). She’s now starting to let go, and understand that by the time the request comes to her, we have fairly balanced out the times, to ensure coverage and to ensure the holidays are fair.

    She’s still got a way to go though – a team mate is off sick today, and she’d messaged the manager to let her know she was going to be off, and that she’d spoken to me (not messaged, spoken), and that I was covering for her in some meetings today (we alternate who goes). Cue panicked call at 10pm last night from manager, letting me know I needed to go to morning meeting. I had to say, yes I knew about it, that I’d spoken about it with sick team member earlier, and that it was all under control (even though that was clearly noted in the message sick team member had sent).

    She REALLY struggles with us working out solutions ourselves, and not coming to her to sort EVERYTHING out. We go to her with the big issues that we need resolving, she struggles with not being involved in sorting out the small problems too (meeting was not super duper urgent that I attend either).

    1. Aisling

      Interestingly, I had a manager in an old job that was penalized because we, her staff, were so good at working issues out among ourselves for desk coverage, meeting attendance, etc. Manager was told she needed to “manage” more and not let us do it for her. It was a fairly dysfunctional job, but this sounds similar enough that I wonder if your manager is being told the same thing. It might help to ask how your manager wants these things to work – to go through her only, or to just be informed.

      1. Still Mostly Lurking

        This is a fully functioning team, working well, meeting all goals, and getting praise from higher ups (she is also included in the praise). New grand-manager is hands off, and so long as we’re meeting targets, he’s happy.

  61. Oaktree

    … wanting to preserve a sense of hierarchy in every interaction will actually make you look less secure in your authority.

    I can attest to the truth of this. My supervisor is notorious for kind of behaviour- she is hyperaware of her position as a supervisor (not a manager), and once complained to one of our contract workers that the worker “went over her head” and treated her “like a middle manager” by negotiating her (the worker’s) contract with the head of the department. However, the head of the department is the only person with the authority to make those decisions, and when my supervisor is looped in, it’s as a courtesy. The worker has always negotiated her contracts with the department head in the past.

    This isn’t the only example I have, but it’s one of the most striking. And it doesn’t make me feel like my supervisor is an authority figure, it makes me feel like my supervisor is insecure and volatile. Everyone else in the office is aware of this, and it’s super uncomfortable. Don’t be like my supervisor. Trust your reports to be adults and do their work in good faith.

  62. ElmyraDuff

    This is actually something I started doing years ago after noticing that men never ask for permission. Where I would say, “Is it okay if I maybe take off for a hour on Thursday to see my doctor, please?” they would say, “I’m taking off Thursday afternoon.”

  63. Rachael

    Yeah, OP. Asking for permission to do things that your manager should let you do anyway feels like I’m 12 and my “mommy” needs to tell me it’s okay. Here’s an example. My job is entirely “workable” at home. At times, my manager has allowed me to work from home. One day, I had tons to do, but my daughter had a fever and needed to stay home from school. I texted my manager and let her know that I would work from home so I can call into important meetings and get some deliverables done. She then later told me that she would rather I “ask” than “tell” her that I was working from home. So, you would rather me either take PTO for the whole day OR wait three hours before you text back (since I got up early to get ready for work and I’m just waiting around for her answer) that it was okay for me to start working? That just made me feel like she was ridiculous to require me to text her a request in which we both know that she would say yes. That’s how engagement levels are lowered, when you treat your employees like children.

Comments are closed.