my employee interrupts me with unnecessary questions and updates

A reader writes:

I am a fairly new accounting supervisor. Most days, I am completely overwhelmed with projects, data requests, and constant deadlines looming overhead. I am trying to work more efficiently by delegating more projects and workload, but I have one employee who comes into my office several times daily to offer “updates” on the progress she’s making with things I’ve delegated to her. Sometimes she will just come in to ask a very trivial or elementary question about something she should know the answer to. Once she’s in my office, she lingers as if she wants the conversation to continue–sometimes just standing there while I try to ease out of the conversation and return to my work. It can be a little awkward getting her to take the hint and leave.

Having someone constantly appear in my doorway unnecessarily derails my productivity. Of course it’s important to be accessible to my team, but her constant interruptions are stressing me out — I’m trying to save time by delegating, but the updates and hand-holding are greatly offsetting the time savings. She’s a very sensitive person and secretly I think she just wants constant affirmation (which I always try to provide). Also I’m a “softie” and don’t want to hurt her feelings.

How do I explain I really don’t need or want so many progress reports–just give me very infrequent high-level updates or a finished product? Help.

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

{ 107 comments… read them below }

  1. Pay no attention to the man behind the curtain

    As almost always the choice of stock photo is the highlight of my day — I totally want to create a sheet tent in my office now.

    That said, constant affirmation is a terrible thing for a manager to provide. It’s like a drug — the more you give, the more they need. And when the manager needs to actually address a performance problem, even the tiniest little thing, it’s going to feel devastating — like it comes out of nowhere and hurts twice as much.

    1. Nancie

      I was going to say, is that tent AAM approved? If so, I’ll get to building mine right away.

    2. StillWorkingOnACleverName

      I have a coworker who decided to take a nap under her desk. Well, she forgot to lock her classroom. A student came in to talk to her, and thought she had either died or had a medical emergency. The principal and admin staff went running to her room to check on her. Nope; she was just sleeping during her break time.

      1. RandomU...

        I think I would have faked a fainting spell at that point…

        Well I’m not one for napping under my desk, but I guess if I was that type, I’d assume I’d also be the type to try to cover up my naps if found out.

        1. M&Ms fix lots of Problems

          So much better than either of my two nap stories.
          1) Open plan office, co-worker who was really struggling to meet benchmarks just disappeared one day. She had a meeting with the department head that she was late for so I (as something resembling admin support) was tasked with finding her. Eventually the whole departments is looking for her because we were worried, no one had seen her in two hours, but her car was still parked outside. She was eventually found when she woke up from her nap, caught climbing out of a blanket nest under her desk and taking out noise canceling earbuds……I can’t remember how much longer she lasted, but it wasn’t more than a month.
          2) Driver’s Ed class in high school. I was sooo excited because I was old enough to take it as a freshman. First day of class, in late walks the football team’s star place kicker – kid was amazing with what he could do with a football. He picks a desk, drops his backpack, and pulls out . . . a pillow. This was second half of the first semester, so still football season, and this guy apparently needed a good grade to help his GPA, and picked a class the Head Football Coach was teaching. Kicker proceeded to sleep through class every day unless he was driving – and predictably to all but himself, fail the course with flying colors. He even argued that he was 18, had a full liscense, and your my coach – all to no avail, the F stood (teacher told us our grade last day of the class, they had a screaming fight about his grade in front of all of us). Best guess, he thought this would be a high school equivalent of underwater basket weaving.

          1. Workallday

            I’m shocked, around here high school athletes are gods (the male ones, of course) and I guarantee that no teacher would ever have the nerve to give a star player an F.

    3. thankful for AAM.

      There are photos??!! I’m on my phone and never see any photos!
      I had no idea there were photos with each post. I only see cat photos on the weekend free for all threads.

      1. Pay No Attention To The Man Behind The Curtain

        The Inc. site where Alison revisits old letters uses stock photos…not on here. They use the nicer quality Getty images…instead of “shudder”stock.

        On a tangent…the last week I’ve wanted to cry trying to find normal photos of people in common-ish emergency situations like taking cover under a desk during an earthquake or evacuating using the stairs…seems like a normal enough subject…but WTF shudderstock?! Why are they all giving thumbs up or emoting like B-movie extras?

  2. Anononon

    Ugh, I’m so that employee, and I’m constantly working on not being that. Two of my biggest issues that cause it are 1) I want to share anything I find interesting with others immediately and 2) I had a boss who was impossible to get an answer/feedback from, so I had to push. (He would constantly offer things like a daily check in to go over everything at once, but it literally never happened. He sucked.). Fortunately I’m at a place now where I’m confident I’ll get response with a day or so from most people, so I’m less frantic about getting an answer now.

    1. Sloan Kittering

      When I find myself falling into this, I have to set a rule, like, save up everything for one question time at 3PM. OP could tell their employee to do something similar.

      1. Jess

        I find it useful to jot down a list of questions to tackle all in one go. I do have a daily five-minute catch-up with my manager, plus a weekly meeting but if I have a few questions I’m able to pop my head into her office and say when she’s free it’s not urgent but I’d like five minutes of her time.

      2. miss_chevious

        That’s what I did with my employee who was like this when he first started — I had “office hours” (really just a half hour) that I blocked off for his questions every MWF. That way I could get my work done and he knew he had a set time for answers.

        I also had a conversation with him about taking ownership and exhausting independent resources before asking questions, so that he understood expectations, and after about 6 months or so his questions dropped off and now we have a normal one-on-one on a weekly basis.

    2. slow down

      I also tend to ask a lot of questions. I think it stems from having worked with people in the past who were micro-managers, but who wanted me to keep everything going. So it was a catch-22. If I move a project along or even replied to an email without approval, I would get snapped at. But then if I asked questions or tried to get her to sign off on things, I would get told that I needed to “take ownership” of my tasks. I couldn’t win. Funny thing, every micro-manager I’ve ever worked with was like that.

      1. hayling

        Yep, I was thinking that this employee probably previously had a micromanaging boss who didn’t trust her judgement. Those habits carry forward and sometimes the employee needs reinforcement a few times to change the behaviors

      2. Clemgo3165

        Oh god, I’m living with that boss right now! Trying desperately to get out. I can’t even ask for help with solving what she says is a problem with my work without being told that it’s my problem to solve.

      3. Alianora

        Yeah, this reminded my of my grandboss. She wants me to get her approval on things like attending already-scheduled work meetings that I’ve been invited to or how to word answers to questions that I already know the answer to. Often I’ve already checked in with my manager about this, but she wants to be looped in too. But when I forward her an email with a question for her, she wants me to do more digging and answer it myself even though I have zero context and she knows how to proceed.

        She’s a very nice person, but the apparent contradiction in the level of input she wants to have is pretty confusing to me.

  3. The Man, Becky Lynch

    What jumps out at me is that you’re the new manager. It makes me wonder if the previous manager demanded she check in and would create an issue out of her not regularly checking in.

    When I start I remind myself you’re inheriting an office with their own quirks and way of doing things. I’ve had to “deprogram” my crew before. Inheriting an office who used to have their hands tied and excessive micromanagement/overly critical management prior.

    So I make sure to let them know “my way” and use gentle correction at first. “You don’t need me to sign off on these things. I don’t need an update, I know you’ll let me know if you’re not going to meet our deadlines, etc.” Reassurance goes a long way with most people who are generally anxious or suffering from JerkBoss PTSD.

    Then once you’re establishing your methods and expectations,if they’re still wasting time lingering, you tell them they need to go. You’re the boss. You’re in the power position. If she’s sensitive, she’ll get her feelings hurt but you cannot walk on eggshells around a person when you’re being authoritative at moments like shooing a lurker out of your office!

    1. Earthwalker

      This! A micro-managing boss can make a responsible self-directed employee into one who is afraid to take any action without permission. It make take awhile and more than one conversation to build enough trust with such an employee that they aren’t afraid of making a decision and acting on it. That punishes the new manager for the old manager’s errors, but that’s the way it goes.

      1. RandomU...

        I think employees need to be a little careful with this. Yes a new manager will understand if an employee is coming from a not normal environment, but that understanding is going to turn to annoyance and frustration pretty quickly. Unfortunately the employee is going to need to recalibrate as soon as they are made aware that this isn’t a desirable trait by the new manager.

        1. An Amazing Detective-Slash-Genius

          That should still be on the manager though to have the conversation with the employee, especially if the employee is not taking hints on their own. How else will they know that they’re annoying their manager and that they need to adjust their style?

        2. The Man, Becky Lynch

          Sadly most people cannot just retrain themselves in that way. The reason we need managers in general is due to others needing guidance like this.

          If they could self adjust, we wouldn’t need forums like AAM in the end.

          I’m someone who has to fight my natural instinct to try to want others to just change themselves on their own. But that’s not how life works.

          When someone has been damaged by abuse, their trust centers in the brain are burned out and misfire rapidly. They don’t understand that not every manager is the last one who will bite you.

          It’s like when someone is bit by a dog and their perma-scared of dogs.

          I’ve seen this most frequently taking over HR duties. Everyone is waiting for me to try to tell them their a nuisance for a time clock error when I’m like “it takes me 15 seconds, you don’t need to grovel and bring me treats because you’ve got to smoothe my never ruffled feathers…”

          1. Ask a Manager Post author

            I think that’s denying the agency that most people have. Not all, in extreme situations, but most people can retrain themselves. It’s not reasonable to expect managers to do intensive coaching on this. Yes, they absolutely should say “I need you to do X, not Y” — but what you’re describing is a situation where that wouldn’t be sufficient … and it’s not usually going to be reasonable to expect managers to handle this the way one might a paralyzing fear of dogs.

          2. Dust Bunny

            Of course people can retrain themselves . . . but they need to know that it’s a problem first. If they’re used to a micromanaging manager, then micromanagement is the norm. If the new manager wants a new norm, s/he needs to communicate that. Employees can’t read minds.

            1. Pomona Sprout

              Not always. But, speaking from personal experience, it definitely can be. There are definitely crappy managers who take their crappiness to an abusive level.

              1. Pomona Sprout

                ….and there are definitely commenters at AAM who use the word “definitely” too much, lol! Oops.

          3. Dust Bunny

            It depends on how bad the manager is. It’s not *automatically* abuse, but it can be if the manager is, well, abusive.

    2. ThisColumnMakesMeGratefulForMyBoss

      Yes to all of this but especially the last paragraph. Don’t let her sensitivity keep you from doing your job as the manager. As long as you’re not mean to her, you shouldn’t have to navigate her feelings. Being a manager means having the difficult conversations in a constructive way, and you can’t hold back on that because someone may get their feelings hurt.

    3. Quinn

      I think being a little humorous in response can help. I had a similar problem and I ended up making light-hearted comments such as, “See, you already know the answer you don’t need to ask me,” with a smile, and they stoppped asking so much after a few rounds of this. It also helped to let the whole team know where they can access resources to find their answers and announce to the group, “I’ve been unfair to you all and allowed you to ask questions without checking resources first. Teapot Team 1 is has great work output as they have developed research skills and I want us to be similar. So from here on, I’m happy to help with answering questions but I’m going to start asking you all what resource you have checked first”. For my team this approach worked wonders and now I have a team that is more resourceful and doesn’t come ask me willy nilly questions.

    4. thankful for AAM.

      Exactly! I had a . . . difficult supervisor and when I got a new supervisor I found I had all kinds of odd coping skills that were no longer coping skills. It took me about 1 year to root them all out and I am sure I will still find more.

  4. Lisa

    I’m that employee. If you give me a regular weekly check in that will validate that my work is ok, I promise to go away. If you don’t validate or confirm for me, I’m going to continue to linger in order to pick up some scrap to confirm I’m ok

    1. fposte

      Be aware that you can ask for the weekly check-in yourself, too; it doesn’t have to come from the manager.

    2. biobotb

      If you know this is a thing you have, is there a reason you’re not trying to wean yourself off the need for constant validation? It seems like in most workplaces, interrupting your higher-up multiple times a day with minor comments and updates would not be well-received.

      1. Annette

        Yes biobotb. The language in the original comment made me cringe. Intentionally, I hope – sounded like a dog begging for table scraps. Too much emotional investment in the workplace.

      2. Lisa

        Of course I have weaned myself off it but that’s at least partly because my current manager regularly gives me positive feedback. The two managers before that gave me only negative feedback.

      3. RUKiddingMe

        Agreed. I am probably amongst the most easy going, not much gets me upset bosses out there, but if *you need constant validation…and interrupt me/hang out in order to get it, we will have issues. If you keep hanging out while I’m trying to concentrate/work…well then I’m gonna start feeling fluffy (picture a cat with it’s hair raised = “fluffy”).

        *The general you.

      4. Miss Pantalones en Fuego

        Because it’s really damn hard to change your personality and those of us with this kind of issue can’t just flip a switch and change it. It takes time to develop ways to overcome our innate tendencies and we may never fully accomplish it.

    3. Someone On-Line

      I was wondering if that was really what was going on. The employee needed validation and the manager just thought it was an update. So employee is waiting for the validation and manager is wondering why she is still standing around. The two people have different expectations for what is going on in the update meetings.

  5. Fergus

    My last boss was like this. I was a new employee and I would come to him from day one with status. 6 months later to the day he writes me up and the number one thing he didn’t like was status. He said he was too busy and you should know what to do.

    1. henrietta

      My last employer had a Always Be Updating culture. Every little thing required reporting, in at least four formats depending upon the recipient. I got in the habit of what I called The Benediction before leaving at the end of the day. I’d wait for my manager to appear (he stayed later than I did), give him the final update of the day’s stuff, and then go in peace back out to the world. First day at new job, I popped into my new manager’s office at the close of my day to deliver The Benediction. She just peered at me skeptically, ‘Yeah, I don’t really get involved with your department; just go on with your business as you see fit.’ I don’t think I’ve ever felt so free.

    2. The Man, Becky Lynch

      Ah the misuse of written warnings, he must know the dude who wrote me up once upon a time. He waited until he was mad at me for unrelated nonsense after telling me a week earlier I was his right hand man and awesome to crap out a “warning” about jokes I made six months before that he giggled over…not funny when I was moved to Public Enemy #1 though.

      Warnings are for when you’ve discussed incorrect behavior and they aren’t fixed in the allotted time.

      1. catwoman2965

        UGH. That was me early on in my current job. Which had been “shifted” from one part of the dept. to another, which I still contend, to this day, was done only to justify the promotion of my then and still current boss. I reported to him, and he reported to someone else. BUT, it was a bit unclear for a number of months whether I reported to him or his boss!

        And as he had no management experience, horrible people and social skills, and I was thrown into another area where I had no experience and not enough to even know what to ask for help with, apparently i was doing a crappy job. Which was never discussed with me UNTIL my review, where I was blindsided by both bosses, put on a PIP, and not told, but READ in my review after it was over, that if i didn’t or couldn’t improve, i’d be fired.

        nice. great management skills; let’s just save up everything i did wrong, or wasn’t doing that they wanted me to, and bring it up at the annual review. Thankfully i did everything i needed to and am still here, close to 20 years later.

  6. KTB

    I feel like my manager could have written this exact letter two months ago. I realized recently that I am totally that employee, and it’s because I have bad habits lingering from my boss at my last job. I could never be transparent enough for him, so I got in the habit of constant updates on EVERYTHING, no matter how trivial. My current manager is a sane human being, and a good manager who just expects me to get my work done and to let her know if something significant comes up. Otherwise, she really doesn’t need to know. I also noticed that within two days of discontinuing the constant questions/updates, she was much warmer and friendlier to me. OP, please let your employee know your expectations. I suspect that she’s a little insecure/needs validation and could thrive if given some clear direction.

    1. That Girl From Quinn's House

      Yup, I had a (dysfunctional) boss who asked to have a morning check in (when she arrived, she started later than I did), an evening check out (when I was leaving, and she’d grill me for an hour when I couldn’t prepare or even take notes because I was packed up and in my coat) and to be cc’d on every email I sent.

      Thankfully she was terminated before I could be written up for “not checking in enough.”

  7. Amber Rose

    My boss sits like, five feet away, so I find myself just kind of calling out quick questions to confirm things I already know. Like, “the file for Teapots Limited goes in the Chocolate cabinet, right?”

    Is that annoying, do you think? I don’t do it if she’s talking to someone else or busy, but I can’t seem to help myself. I’m not looking for more than a quick yes or no though.

    1. Ask a Manager Post author

      If you already know the answers, yeah, I would stop doing that. You’re asking her to interrupt her focus to give you reassurance that you don’t really need, and it’s likely making you look less independent than you want to be.

    2. fposte

      That’s an “ask her” question. Proximity makes it tempting, but I think you’re right to consider that it might still not be optimal–but it might be fine, too. Just ask what she thinks about it.

      1. fposte

        Oh, I missed that this was for stuff that you already know. Yeah, that sounds like a self-question that’s extended to include her because she’s nearby; I’d stick to asking myself.

        1. Falling Diphthong

          This would drive me so bonkers, and I would deduce that you didn’t actually know these answers–since you keep asking me.

          Plus as Ginger says, if I’m not talking I am probably concentrating.

          1. fposte

            Yeah, I was thinking about my workplace, where I’m pretty interruptable (and people are used to a “hang on” sign), and just read this as a question about out-loud spontaneous questions. If my staff were doing them with things they already knew, I’d ask them to stop that.

      2. GILL

        This may sound obnoxious, but in general I do not like when a person junior to me asks me a question that they could get the answer to themselves easily. My time is valuable. Yes, ask me for specific info that I know, or feedback on what you’re doing. But just general info such as about filing or stuff that everyone should know – look it up or ask someone else.

        1. Amber Rose

          It’s not really stuff that everyone should know though? The filing system is a little more complex than I’m making it sound, and I’m still learning/being trained on a lot of stuff. If I KNOW something, I don’t ask, but sometimes it’s more like “I’m 90% sure and Boss is walking by, so I’ll ask to cover that 10%.”

          I have been working on making more judgement calls on my own though. Still, it’s a tough habit to break.

          1. Massmatt

            Not to pile on, but a key point is you are learning, presumably you are gaining knowledge and ask fewer such questions over time. When I managed people the irritating thing was where someone kept asking the same questions over and over. Make a cheat sheet if you have to, why are you asking me this for the 4th time?

            And while it’s great for a manager to be approachable, that doesn’t mean every question should go to the boss just because s/he is nearby. Surely the manager is not the only one who knows the filing system, or the office is in VERY big trouble!

          2. polkadotbird

            Perhaps you could make a list of things you’re uncertain about, and run through them all at the end of the day? Make a standing time with your manager (or someone else who knows the system). Then you’re not interrupting, which is the annoying part of things. It’ll also allow you to see if you’ve made the right call on filing things, and you’ll be able to see when you have the filing system understood.

    3. Ginger

      Just because she isn’t talking to someone doesn’t mean she’s not busy or thinking/concentrating on something. If you know the answer, there’s no need to confirm. At the risk of sounding harsh, your behavior would drive me bonkers.

    4. RandomU...

      Oh, don’t be that person. :)

      You are reinforcing with your boss that you don’t know things that you should know and you do know. If you can control it when your boss is busy or with someone else, then you can control it (with a little work) at other times.

    5. Hope

      Honestly, if I was your boss, I’d start wondering how you didn’t know the answer to that by now. It would drive me absolutely crazy.

    6. The Man, Becky Lynch

      I wouldn’t care. If I care, I’ll tell you. I’m kind of hard rolling my eyes at how much people want to ride an employee super hard over nonsense that may or may not be annoying.

      I’ve got ADD and it manifests in liking background noise, I need to be stimulated in multiple ways at any given time. I hate quiet time and unless I’m hunting numbers down manually, I don’t lose track of my place easily.

      I’m also used to being interrupted because when you run businesses or departments it’s always going to happen. If I need you to come back, I just say so because nobody can read my mind…if they could, I’m out of a job.

      1. Ask a Manager Post author

        Who’s suggesting riding an employee super hard over this? People are saying they’d be annoyed and it would reflect badly on her, which is true.

      2. Rotate the Vectors

        You seem to react very intensely and negatively to a lot of comments on this site, to the extent that you frequently mischaracterise what others are saying. You also seem to have a lot of difficulty separating your own experiences and preferences from what’s relevant and useful to the OP. That’s a bit worrying. I hope you don’t react like this in real life!

      3. ThisColumnMakesMeGratefulForMyBoss

        Well take it from me, it would annoy many people. And not only the manager you’re yelling to, but others around you if you’re in an open cubicle environment.

      4. Massmatt

        No one is riding the employee super hard, and it’s not a case of something that “may or may not be annoying”. The OP made it clear she found it annoying and disruptive to getting her work done.

    7. Rainy days

      I have a coworker who does this constantly for things that could be Googled…”Hey, does anyone know the capital of Nebraska?” She’s otherwise really competent so I can forgive her this quirk, but it’s extremely irritating.

      1. GILL

        Yeah. Don’t ask questions like this. It shows a lack of respect for other people’s time.

      2. Alianora

        I worked in an office with people who did this, and I didn’t mind nearly as much as I would have thought. They were fine with me asking stuff like that too, and I kind of liked the casual, conversational feel it gave our office. We called it our collective brain.

        If you don’t already, you might try saying, “I don’t know, let me Google it.” (In a genuine tone of voice, not a snarky lmgtfy tone.) Could point her to the other resources she can use to find it. Of course she might turn out to be oblivious to that, but it’s worth a shot.

  8. SheLooksFamiliar

    And then there’s my boss – who really is a nice man. When I started this job last year, my boss told me he likes it when his team asks lots of questions. It shows that we’re thinking, and immersing ourselves in The Company. I’ve been working almost 40 years, and there’s not much I need to know beyond specific company process, history, and inner workings. And that was pretty easy to figure out. I’m here to build specific programs and capabilities; I ask him questions as appropriate, and update him during our weekly update meetings…

    …and he recently told me he was concerned because I’ve stopped asking so many questions. I must be losing my momentum, or enthusiasm, or something important. I thought I was making headway, instead I’m causing frownie-faces of concern. Sigh.

    1. lazuli

      Ooh, that’s annoying. Of course you’re asking fewer questions as you get to know the job better!

    2. Falling Diphthong

      This is a regular challenge for teachers–are people quiet because they got it and you need to be moving on, or quiet because they are lost?

      If your work product is good, that should be sufficient reassurance.

    3. SusanIvanova

      I had a newish manager once who had a script that one-on-ones had to follow, and part of the script is that he’d ask at the end if I had anything I needed to talk about.

      … Er, I just spent the past half hour talking?

      1. Yorick

        Argh, my terrible ex-boss would periodically come by and ask “is there anything I can do to make your job easier?” I know that sounds great, but I asked for help solving problems as they came up, and he never helped with any of them.

  9. NotAnotherManager!

    When I have a new supervisor or inherit a team, I like to sit down with them for a quick meeting to discuss how we can work most productively together. It lets me set expectations and also find out from them if there are things that are important to them. If I have someone who feels the need to run everything by me, I’d want to nip that in the bud and figure out how we could meet their need for feedback and mine not to be bugged every five seconds. If I have someone who thinks keeping me in the loop is a waste of time, I can make sure they know when/how I’d want to be aware of something or included in a decision-making process.

    1. JediSquirrel

      This is like a user’s manual for the new boss. I like this idea, and used to do it every year with new classes when I was teaching. It works! (Mostly, that is.)

      1. miss_chevious

        Yep, I do this, too, when I have a new employee. I call it “Miss Chevious 101” and it includes things like my preferred methods of communication, any special pet peeves I have, and my expectations for their role. I also invite them to share anything I should know about them. It’s really handy to set expectations so my direct reports understand how I operate.

    2. Alianora

      That sounds really great. Clear expectations are the number one thing I look for in a job/manager.

    3. BethDH

      I’m curious about communicating pet peeves — is that generally a good idea? I usually think of a pet peeve as something that bothers a person a disproportionate amount compared to general social norms. So if I’m aware that something is a pet peeve, shouldn’t I try to get over it as part of being professional? I wouldn’t want that to come across as “here are all my personal quirks that you, junior person, need to remember.”

      1. TardyTardis

        Actually, I would love a boss who was that honest. I would take notes, and it would save both of us endless amounts of trouble. It’s much better than finding out the hard way that wearing blue drives Boss nuts.

  10. Sparky

    This could be my manager— we try not to interrupt her, but we send things through her requested method of communication (email) and she ignores it because she’s busy, and we never get the answers we need. So we pop in to give a heads up, and she snaps that she saw it but she’s busy (with something for her other team). Well we don’t know when you’re too busy to talk because you don’t share what your other team is up to, we just know our tasks get back burnered & want to make sure we’re not too held up by your delays.

    1. The Man, Becky Lynch

      Yikes. I would be using my eject button and leaving that place. That’s bad for your health dealing with constant snaps and nonsense.

      I’ve been overworked. I’ve gotten ill over it. There’s no excuse to treat others that poorly…she’s in over her head and that’s on her, argh.

    2. ThisColumnMakesMeGratefulForMyBoss

      Have you had a conversation with her outside of interrupting her when she doesn’t respond to an email? Are you walking into her office for every email you send, or only when it’s time sensitive? I would bring it up in a one on one when she has your full attention. “You said your preferred method was email. If we send something that’s time sensitive and you don’t respond, what is your suggestion? Do you have a different method for time sensitive items?” I get that it’s frustrating, but maybe she sets aside a certain time of the day to tackle emails, and you need to work with her on things that need her attention immediately.

      Of course if you’ve tried these things, I would stop going into her office and if you’re unable to get your work done because she ignores your emails, run it up to the grandboss.

  11. LaDeeDa

    The stock photo is cracking me up. When my offices renovated they took one area as a pilot area and made it open space, pretty much no walls anywhere. They made the very poor decision to do that with the software developers who are quirky, focused, and private. The group was really unhappy, they started making their own walls- one had a refrigerator box that he fashioned into a wall with a door. One woman went to IKEA and got several big green leaf things that I think are supposed to be a canopy for a kid’s bed, and made her self a little cave. One used outdoor blinds hung from the ceiling. Thankfully the leaders took notice and abandoned the idea of open concept and let people keep their cubicle walls.

    1. Close Bracket

      > one had a refrigerator box that he fashioned into a wall with a door.

      lol, I love this! I know it’s not what you said, but I’m actually picturing him lowering the box over him and his computer so he was completely encased with a door in the side of the box for him to enter and exit.

  12. WonderingHowIGotIntoThis

    Ugh, I have this problem, with a big caveat – I’m NOT a manager! I’m just a co-worker with knowledge, and I have, not one, but TWO co-workers who interrupt me constantly to ask questions that at least one of them should know by now. We’re in an open office, and they sit next to each other on a back to back desk to me, so they just turn around to ask me questions all the time.
    So, as much as I like AAM’s script, it’s not one that I can use. I do try to direct them towards our joint manager, but she’s not always available (she spent half of February on vacation).
    Any suggestions for how I tweak Alison’s script for non-management interruptions?

    1. RandomU...

      Here’s some that I’ve used with varying levels of success:

      Thing 1 or Thing 2: “Wondering, where do I find the Giraffe numbers to add to the Animal Cracker Report? You know the numbers I couldn’t find last month and you helped me”

      Possible responses:
      “Where did you find them last time?”
      “What do your notes say?”
      “Where have you tried looking”
      “Hmm, sorry can’t help right now, but I may be able to give you a hand tomorrow, you probably shouldn’t wait for me, though”
      “Who else have you asked”

      It sounds like you are their current ‘easy’ button. It’s easier to ask you then to do the thinking themselves. So the trick is to not be the easy answer. I’ve also used the ‘make it painful’ approach. So instead of answering questions outright, you ask them leading questions to get there on their own. This one takes more of your time, but it does help to get them to think twice about asking you in the future for stuff they either already know or can find on their own.

      1. BethDH

        Can you wear headphones or do something else that creates a visible sign that you are being interrupted? Or even just taking an extra beat to turn around and respond. If they have reasonable self-awareness and have just gotten into a bad habit, it might help remind them that you aren’t part of their process.

        1. Close Bracket

          Being direct and Using Your Words are always preferable to dropping hints and hoping people will notice.

      1. WonderingHowIGotIntoThis

        Ugh, if I could move my desk I would! In theory, I’ve now been “upgraded” to a laptop so I can just take myself off to a quiet place when I need to focus (or even telecommute!). In practice, joint manager likes having me within easy questioning distance (fun addendum to my original query, since now *she’s* started doing it as well!), so it’s difficult to sneak away without a ton of questions that just make sneaking away not worth the effort.

    2. atalanta0jess

      “I’m swamped and am finding I need fewer interruptions. I need you to ask our manager about this, or use other resources like X and Y. I can’t help you unless you’ve tried those things first, because I have my own work to attend to.”

    3. M&Ms fix lots of Problems

      I had that problem once too. My go to that worked best was: “I’m swamped today, but an try and clear you five minutes the day after tomorrow. In the mean time, maybe you could try supervisor or the training files?”

      (Note, I kept my manager in the loop, and made sure they knew I was going this route to wean my questioner off of me and onto his own resources. I didn’t want them blindsided when the barnacle got upset and complained that I wasn’t helping at all anymore.)

  13. Laura H.

    Not a manager, but for one task I did at OldJob- I always asked a manager for help/ confirmation that I did something at the right step so that the action went thru correctly.

    There were two points at which the end objective could be met. Only one would have it in the system correctly! It wasn’t an everyday occurrence and all the other steps were done before I asked. As an aside, I’ll probably want to add that to my list of things to get walked thru since I go back for seasonal employment soon.

  14. amp2140

    Your employee wants time from you and thinks this is a positive way to get it.

    1) Start scheduling 1:1’s and stick to them. It may feel like time you don’t have, but once you have a scheduled 30min a week, your employee will hold the non-urgent/”I just wanted to interact with you and questions are the only way I know how” drop-ins
    2) Coach your employee to either be a “no news is good news” person, with confidence that she knows when to escalate and when not to, or ask for email updates.

  15. De Minimis

    I’ve noticed in accounting it’s often ingrained in new hires to never hesitate to ask questions, and people are often penalized if they aren’t giving regular status updates. She may have come from one of those environments. I know I did, and it’s really hard to get the correct balance right once you’ve moved on to other jobs. I’m currently struggling with it in my current job…

  16. Orange You Glad

    An alternative to a scheduled meeting each week (or maybe in addition) might be to have “open office hours”. Everyday from say 3-5pm your door is open and anyone can drop by with questions/concerns. This lets you close your door and be “unavailable” during the times you need to be most productive with your own work and minimizes the surprise interruptions.

  17. Cat Meow

    This employee sounds like me to be honest. I try not to be annoying but it’s hard – this is good perspective from what it’s like on the other end!

  18. Jennifer Juniper

    I’m guessing that the employee’s last boss was a micromanager a la Fergusia in yesterday’s letter.

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