my boss hardly reads emails and says it’s my job to follow up with her when something’s important

A reader writes:

My boss recently decided that she is way too busy to read emails that she sees as unimportant … meaning if she is just copied on them or … I’m not sure how she decides what is important because we (her employees) all know to write VERY specific subject lines for this reason. Recently she chewed out a coworker and told him that it was his fault that something never got done, because even though he emailed her exactly what he should have, she never read it, and he never followed up with her. She then told him and me (I happened to be with them at the time) that she has so many people emailing her all day that it is our responsibility to make sure to follow up with any “action item” and basically said if you don’t put ten exclamation points or READ THIS, etc. at the beginning of your subject line, she’s not going to read it in any timely manner or at all.

I recently sent her an email, one that I send monthly, for a bank transfer that needs done. I have a reminder to email her to do this transfer. This month, she didn’t do said transfer, and this was my fault — because I didn’t follow up.

I asked her nicely if we could try to work on some type of system or procedure to make sure these things get done because sending reminder after reminder doesn’t seem to work and doesn’t seem to be very efficient (the previous week, I went back in my emails, found what had not been responded to/answered, and resent with a new reminder and still got nothing back).

This was her response: “It doesn’t matter what is efficient and what is not, you need to follow up with emails that need an action from someone. You should print them out and have a follow-up folder. Once you see a reply is made to it (sort by subject line so you can see it quicker), then just shred the copy. Sometimes you can’t wait to see an email, you need to call me or whoever and ask if they saw the email. Again, it’s your responsibility to follow up just like it’s mine if I send one to Bob (her husband/our other boss) for action. We just have too many coming at us all day, every day. So the burden lies on the sender, whoever that sender is. Bob follows up on ones he sends me that need action, so everyone has to do it.”

To me, this is ludicrous. And you notice she didn’t say “just like if I send one to YOU” so she wanted to make it clear that this rule doesn’t apply to her unless it’s going to her husband. I believe if I said that something wasn’t done because I never read the email, and SHE didn’t follow up with me, she would blow a gasket. I understand I am her inferior, but in a small office, I would think you would apply the same rules to yourself that you do your employees.

Also keep in mind that we work at the same office, but we have about 15+ companies here so keeping track of each email I send that requires a reply or action would basically be saving every email.

Am I completely off base?

No. But there are two separate questions here: Is this ludicrous, and what should you do in response?

First, is this ludicrous? Yes!

At least the answer is yes in this particular context, where your boss is routinely not reading emails and then blaming you when she misses her own routine tasks (like the bank transfer). If she were only missing something very occasionally and was asking you to follow up with her on just rare occasions where something was outstanding, that would be fine and understandable. Managers are often far busier than non-managers and have way more stuff coming at them all the time, and it’s not inherently ludicrous for a manager to say, “Hey, I’m leaning on you to let me know when you need something I haven’t answered yet.”

But when not reading emails is her default, that’s ridiculous.

The other question is what you should do about it, and that’s an answer that’s going to be very unsatisfying. You can’t force your boss to see that this is ridiculous or to act differently. All you can do is to hear what she’s telling you and respond accordingly.

In this case, that means that you need to take her at her word that you need to track outstanding emails that you haven’t heard back on and follow up with her about them.

I don’t think you need to do this with every person you work with, just with your boss and others senior to you. (But it’s also not a bad idea to do it with any very important project or question, no matter who the recipient is. I do, and it’s helpful because I want to catch it if a problem is about to unfold with something that matters to me.)

I also don’t think you need to print out emails, which is absurd. You can simply move them to a “waiting for” folder in your email that you regularly check. (I do this even though I’m not working with someone like your boss, and it’s tremendously helpful.)

But your boss is telling you how she works and what you need to do to meet her expectations — and more broadly, what it will take to be effective in your role. Whether or not it should be that way is mostly an intellectual question; the practical reality is that yeah, you’ll need to follow up with her.

I do want to note that in general, it’s not outrageous for a manager to expect employees to do more follow-up with her than she would be okay doing with them. Some of that is because in many cases an employee is there in part to make the manager’s work easier on them — they’re in a helper role to some degree. It’s also about where people’s time is best spent. If most of a manager’s time needs to be spent on senior-level tasks, like big-picture strategy and bringing in money (things that her employees are not in a position to do), it’s not unreasonable for her to lean on people who work for her to help out with organization and follow-up (things that they can do).

That’s grating in your situation because your boss is being ridiculous (and flighty and disorganized and generally a mess), and also because she’s being a jerk. But the basic set-up where you need to do something in your role that isn’t as much of a requirement in hers isn’t an inherently wrong one.

You’ve done the right thing by flagging for her that this isn’t a great system and asking about other ways to manage it. But she shut you down so emphatically that it’s pretty clear this is the way she’s going to operate, and you’ve got to decide whether you’re willing to live with it or not. It would be completely reasonable if you decided that you’re not, and that you’d rather move somewhere else — especially since I’d bet quite a lot of money that there are plenty of other management problems in your organization, and other ways in which working for her sucks. But I don’t think there’s any practical way around the reality that this is how it’s going to work while you’re there.

{ 370 comments… read them below or add one }

  1. Ella

    If it were me I’d just start calling immediately after sending any email to my boss that needed a response. It sounds like you’re going to have to do that anyway, so might as well make it a habit. (I’d say just call and ditch the email all together, but I suspect you’d want a paper trail for these requests.)

    Reply
    1. Jamie

      I agree. Just remember, OP, to drop that habit once you’re working for someone more organized. Few things annoy me more than someone who calls or stops by to tell me they just sent me an email before I even had a chance to read it.

      It’s annoying when people like the OP’s boss force people to develop bad habits in self defense.

      Reply
      1. ItsAFeatureNotABug

        Boss deserves it, but still don’t do it. Or at least not without talking to her first. Because like it or not, she is your performance review and recommendation, so you need her to be happy with your work. My boss is very similar, I add every email I send to her virtual to do list. I also email again after ~3 days if I didn’t get a response. And if I need something urgently, I slack/text/walk to the office when my email is ignored. Talk through some of these measures with her and see how she wants the follow up to go. Then it helps me to think of this convoluted 4 step process as just the way my job works. I don’t agree with all work processes and protocols, but I do comply with them!

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        1. Artemesia

          I would routinely email her and then a couple of days later walk to her office and reminder the action item needs done today. Try that for a couple of months and see how it works.

          Reply
        2. Feline

          I keep a list of outstanding emails because the only way they’ll be addressed is in my not-so-weekly no-longer-one-on-one meeting with her. I’ve come to think of it as my email followup meeting, which I know is a poor use of coworker time now that it is no longer a one-on-one. I don’t think coworker realizes the agenda items I bring to the meeting are all neglected emails, though.

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          1. RJ the Newbie

            I do the same. I flag these items and on the more urgent ones, I enter a task item on my calendar to follow up/call if it hasn’t been resolved by X date. Most of my department is good about responding to emails, etc., but I have a few project managers who are just not.

            Reply
          2. Elysian

            I had a boss with whom I would do basically this. It was a colossal waste of my time, but things got done. I kept 3 running lists and at least once a week would physically corner her and force her to go through them with them.

            The first was things I am doing for her currently, so she knows what I am working on and whether or not I’m stuck on it. Sometimes she would think I was working on something, but she never assigned it to me (because of her issues with email) so this was my CYA that if it wasn’t on this list I wasn’t doing it. The second was things I am waiting for her before I can take a next step. This list was usually long. She would often sit there in front of my and do the thing I needed so that I would be sure it was done. The last was things that I think are complete but I want her to confirm that. Sometimes I would send her completed work and she would totally fail to close the loop with the relevant outsider (client, vendor, etc), so I also got a confirmation that a project was complete once my part of it was complete.

            It was annoying and inefficient and wasteful, but it was the only way stuff got done at all. I sent my list weekly electronically for CYA purposes, and the meetings often didn’t happen because she was so scattered, but at a certain point I had done all I could.

            Reply
    2. Alli525

      Please don’t call IMMEDIATELY after sending the email. This is a huge pet peeve of a great number of people. Give it at least an hour unless it’s time-sensitive.

      Reply
        1. valentine

          It’s okay. She’s not reading the emails. I wonder if she has poor eyesight or zero knowledge of how to fight spam, because her stance is so extreme.

          Is she even responding to multiple exclamation points or all-caps?

          Reply
          1. Escapee from Corporate Management

            Given how the boss treats email to her staff and husband differently, the answer is obvious. She’s an egomaniac who sees herself as far too important to read emails from subordinates. To misquote Leona Helmsley (the Queen of Mean), “Only the little people read emails”.

            Reply
        2. Contrarian

          No, she does not. She has expressed a preferred way for employees to communicate with her, which isn’t by e-mail. That’s her right. Please stop being snarky and start helping your boss earn a gold star on HER review.

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          1. EventPlannerGal

            No, she hasn’t. The OP has said in the comments multiple times that her boss doesn’t seem to like or respond to *any* type of reminder, and that when OP stops in in person she’s waved away or told to remind her differently. That’s not expressing a preference, that’s refusing to express one and blaming other people for the results. It might be her right to do that, I guess, but it’s not a right I’d spend much time defending – and it’s terrible management.

            (And “start helping your boss earn a gold star on HER review” – seriously?)

            Reply
          2. your reader :-)

            No, she prefers different ways every day depending on her mood/ depending on I don’t what… so of course its her right to have her employees communicate the way she prefers, but we can’t keep up with her mood swings and therefore her preference swings so to speak.

            Reply
            1. Norm

              Based on your letter and comments, it sounds as if your boss has unreasonable expectations and so can never be satisfied. It must be difficult to work for such a person. After all, you will never achieve the goals she sets, because they are impossible. Are you looking for a job elsewhere? Because there are quite a few places you can work where your boss establishes objectives that can be met, and doesn’t have a deranged style that prevents success.

              Reply
          3. MassMatt

            Well, it may be “her right” in that it is something she can get away with, at least in the short term, but no, it is dysfunctional to ignore email and have the attitude that employees need to follow up multiple times to get regular work done. Email has been a business norm for at least 30 years.

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        3. Emily K

          Intentionally annoying your boss because she deserves it is a satisfying fantasy but not good advice in reality.

          Reply
          1. MassMatt

            I’ve had co-workers that were unresponsive and ignored email and calls on VM but mostly they got bad reputations and didn’t last. It drove me nuts, fortunately I’ve never had a boss like this.

            I think the best advice is to figure out if the pluses of remaining in this job outweigh the obvious minuses (and if the boss is incapable of handling regular tasks without multiple reminders, and ignores email, I bet there are plenty more minuses). I would start looking for another job. Your boss is a dysfunctional jerk and unlikely to change.

            Reply
            1. only acting normal

              I once worked in a hugely disfunctional place (I can’t actually think of a single aspect that wasn’t banana-crackers) – one guy would only check his email maybe every 6 months and that was just to delete all. (My office mate would suddenly get a pile of “deleted without being read” notifications whenever he did it – that’s how we knew).

              Reply
      1. Llellayena

        Oops. I do this. But it’s mostly in cases where I’m sending an email for the written “please do this” for tracking but I have more info that needs to be discussed on the task than I can write in the email, or something that needs a back-and-forth conversation, or something that will make no sense written but will make sense on the phone or in person. I will also usually indicate in the email that I will call to discuss. If I don’t follow up before someone starts working on what I asked for, I might get something that looks nothing like what I needed. Anyone have recommendations for a better way to follow up on things like this?

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        1. Green Great Dragon

          Call first?

          But a call to discuss, as flagged in the email, is way less annoying than a ‘did you read it?’ call.

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        2. S

          Another way to do this is to schedule a meeting, have the discussion, and THEN send the email, outlining what was discussed.

          Reply
            1. your reader :-)

              I wish I could schedule a meeting – when I suggest that I need to come talk to her, she usually says later and it never happens, and don’t get me wrong, I will always keep trying, to the point where it feels like I am being annoying, when it comes to urgent matters. But she will also say stuff like “I don’t want to think about it right now, or I don’t have time right now, and then its put on the back burner- until she realizes it hasn’t been done and freaks out… after I have tried to take it to her and remind her NUMEROUS times…

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        3. zora

          Can you just put at the top of the email: “Please call me to discuss this when you can.”

          That at least allows me to finish something I might be in the middle of before my phone rings, and I can open the email and understand that I am prepared for a phone call about the stuff in this email.

          This is what my coworkers do, and I feel like it’s efficient for both of us.

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      2. Knork

        It doesn’t sound like that would be the case with this boss, because there’s a 0% chance the email will be read within the hour.

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      3. CR

        I often wonder what’s worse – receiving a call after someone sends an email or someone walking into your office to tell you they just sent an email. I experience both on a daily basis and I want to bang my head on the desk (I am very good at reading and responding to my emails!)

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        1. Cherith Ponsonby

          In my experience the followup call is better, because the caller can’t tell if I’m rolling my eyes at them :D

          Reply
      4. Ella

        oh I agree it’s hugely annoying, but if someone outright tells you they’re not reading your emails I think it’s on them at that point. There’s really no other way for the LW to get the bosses attention when necessary. (Also possibly the boss will realize of her own accord that it’s easier to read your emails than have your reports calling or stopping by in person every single time they need something.)

        Reply
        1. Norm

          Possibly … but it sounds more likely that this boss cannot manage, and is unwilling to learn. What this boss is saying is, “I don’t read your emails, and that’s on YOU!”

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          1. your reader :-)

            EXACTLY!!! It’s not just this one small issue to say the least! I should also mention there is no one we can talk to about this or other issues, because she basically serves as HR in the sense that she pays us and handles our benefits, but there really is no HR department let alone and HR person, which sucks.

            Reply
      5. Rectilinear Propagation

        It sounds like that’s what the boss is actually telling the LW to do though:

        Sometimes you can’t wait to see an email, you need to call me or whoever and ask if they saw the email.

        She’s telling LW to call instead of waiting to see if there’s an email reply.

        Reply
        1. Emily K

          That doesn’t necessarily mean “call me as soon as you send the email” – it means “call me before my not seeing the email causes a problem.” Depending on what the email is about, that may sometimes be immediately (“I just sent you the mock-ups that we owe Big Clients, with all the edits we previously discussed – can you take a quick look and approve them so we can get them out the door this afternoon?”) and sometimes it might be much later. Ex:

          “I haven’t received approval on the grant proposal I sent you last Tuesday. It’s due the day after tomorrow, and if we miss that deadline we can’t apply again for another year, so I wanted to make sure you would have time to review and approve it today or tomorrow at the latest. I can forward it back to you to bump it up in your inbox if you need.”
          [if boss says she’ll do it, but still doesn’t]
          “Checking in again about the grant proposal due tomorrow. If you won’t have time, should I just submit it in its current state, or is there someone else who can review?”
          [if boss says she’ll do it and no one else can, but still doesn’t]
          “The grant proposal is due today. I need to know whether you want this to be submitted today, and if you do, I need you to review the proposal and approve it, or give me your approval to submit it without review.”

          These follow-ups should all happen over the phone or in person, where she will have to give you an answer, and the timing of when you follow up is driven by how soon the deadline is approaching and how much time it will take to complete, so you don’t remind her the day of the deadline for something that will take a lot of time, but you don’t need to follow up 5 days ahead of deadline for a quick task.

          Good managing up means always clearly stating the options so that she has to pick one, and if she doesn’t follow through on her end, you follow up again until either the task is complete or the window during which the task could have been completed closes, at which point you notify her that the window has closed. LW should consider herself the owner of all these tasks and rather than cross them off when she’s done her part of the task, continue to manage the task to completion through follow-ups.

          Reply
            1. your reader :-)

              Except when you follow up in different manners, you still get shut down LOL there is no winning with her… I want to do my job and do it well, but every way that I try, even the ways she tells me, end up somehow being wrong for her mood etc.

              Reply
    3. Ella

      This was my sort of snarky response, but my actual advice here would be to do the following:

      1) If you need something from your bass, call or ask her in person. (And make sure you’re only asking about stuff that actually does need her direct input/response.)
      2) When you call or talk to her directly, explicitly ask if she would like to to follow up later to make sure the task was completed.
      3) After you talk to her, send a followup email outlining what you discussed and decided re: followup.

      That way you know she heard what you asked (since it was asked in person) and you have clear, documented instructions on whether you’re responsible for future followup.

      Reply
      1. Ella

        (Lol at my own typo here. It might be easier if your boss was a talking bass though…. At least it’d be more entertaining.)

        Reply
  2. Sharon

    Ugh, no advice but empathy. I’ve had so many bosses who were so disorganized that they couldn’t keep up with what was going on. It always boggles my mind that they don’t set up Outlook rules to sort unimportant email into a side folder as it comes in. I agree that it’s part of my job to make my manager’s job easier. But I think she could go a long way in making things easier on herself too!

    Reply
  3. StressedButOkay

    Ugh, yeah, that’s a headache but it doesn’t sound like your boss is going to be pull back on this any time soon. While I don’t have a ‘waiting for’ folder – though I think I’m going to start one! – I rely very, very heavily on the task items/follow up flags that Microsoft Outlook has.

    Not only does this send me a reminder when something is coming up on the deadline, it also shows up in my Tasks list under my calendar and is incredibly helpful when I’m trying to keep everything in order.

    Reply
    1. Anastasia Beaverhousen

      +1!

      My work requires a LOT of follow-ups and reminders – pretty much every time I send emails to certain people/organizations, I go over the ‘sent emails’ folder and add a flag for a specific date. Then it’s in my Task Bar, so I can remember which things need follow-up each day. I’ll also flag incoming emails that have a specific deadline or need action by a specific date. I wouldn’t be able to function in my ob without an organized Tasks list.

      Reply
  4. Jennifer

    Printing the emails out and putting them in a folder sounds super old school and weird. I do add a reminder to important sent emails and if I haven’t gotten a response in a certain amount of time I send a follow-up. If it’s super serious, I go find them. I just think this is a normal business practice when you send and receive a lot of emails. Some things are going to fall through the cracks if you don’t have some sort of system to remind yourself.

    Also, if you don’t have to cc her on something, don’t. That’s a problem here too, copying everyone and their grandmother on each email. Many people just ignore those.

    It is also ridiculous that she just isn’t going to make an effort to even try to read at least some of her emails, and the burden does not lie on the sender, but the recipient. That’s why I apologize when it takes me longer than normal to respond to an email.

    Reply
    1. Happy Lurker

      The only good thing about old school paper copy emails is that OP can bring it to boss. Ask boss what direction they want to go on issue and have boss initial paper. OP’s CYA file is intact for when boss blows another gasket.
      The above can only really work if OP ensures they put them self in front of boss daily for follow up to outstanding issues.
      Good luck OP – please updated us!

      Reply
    2. The Man, Becky Lynch

      Yeah, I don’t print too much out these days. I have a sub-folder for “Waiting For Response” to glance at when necessary but no need to print and it’s nothing to do with the trees. It has to do with the money paper costs, why waste money when I don’t need to. Printing is for things that I need to scribble notes about and decipher regulations or whatever have you. I have tried to do that on a computer and I miss too much information and gives me tension headaches [whine/whine/whine].

      Reply
    3. Middle Manager

      Yes, paper is really weird as request. I personally use the flags all the time in outlook to keep track of things I need to respond to or that I need a response on.

      Reply
        1. Steve

          It makes me suspect that OP’s boss doesn’t actually know how to use their email program, which is contributing to the problem. With a boss that accepts feedback graciously, I might try to show them how to use the program / give some tips on setting up outlook filters or whatever. But with this boss, that would probably just be a waste of time.

          Reply
          1. I Took A Mint

            I agree, this sounds like someone who doesn’t know how to sort/use folders and is overwhelmed so the only way she knows how to keep track of things is analog.

            Reply
        2. Friday

          Some people are just paper-centric. Personally I (“elder millennial”) have run into this more often with people older than me, but have definitely had coworkers and managers younger/same age who also have the paper bug. Hell, in my early 20s I was somewhat that way too until I actively trained myself to organize my workload online instead.

          Reply
      1. neverjaunty

        I would bet money that the boss doesn’t really want paper copies. She’s doing what a lot of disorganized, impulsive people when they want to avoid a task – they throw out a “solution” that just so happens to be something you’re not already doing. “You should have done X instead, do X or it’s your fault I ignore you.” When the OP does X, inevitably the boss will tell her that she’s done X wrong, and she should do Y too. Rinse and repeat.

        Reply
    4. your reader :-)

      We basically were told we HAVE to copy her on almost everything, which somehow gives her another excuse not to know about something, because she thought (assumed) the email was just A (example, and invoice approval request she was copied on) so she never opened it, when in reality it also included B, C and D.

      Reply
        1. TechWorker

          Another habit you should be careful to unlearn when working with reasonable people. An IM saying ‘hi did you get my email’ a couple of hours after said email was sent is guaranteed to make my blood boil. We get a lot of incoming, you will always get a response but not always IMMEDIATELY…

          Reply
      1. Cat Fan

        Maybe try subject lines that start with, “ACTION NEEDED:” before the subject for the things you need to her to act on, as opposed to the other emails that are just for her info. Also follow up in person on things that are crucial or time-sensitive, possibly in a weekly, biweekly, or monthly catch up meeting that is just 15 minutes or so.

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        1. Yorick

          Maybe try “JANE (boss’s name) ACTION NEEDED” so she doesn’t think she’s just being copied on something that needs action from Bob or Fergus.

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          1. Pilcrow

            I was going to suggest this. BOSS ACTION REQUIRED: Approve TPS report for April.

            When writing communications to clients, we had a big red ACTION REQUIRED at the top of the document an in the subject line to differentiate them from information-only comms. Then the action item was summarized in a separate line at the beginning of the doc.

            Reply
        2. Today's Mess

          I have read that starting a subject with “URGENT” increases the response rate. It can be like crying wolf, so try not to use it as much as I do so boss doesn’t become immune to it. It does work, especially when there is an unacceptable outcome if something is missed, or a hard deadline. Good luck OP. That’s a lot of pressure on you.

          I must say I disagree with Alison about managers being busier than their underlings. I have had office jobs where I could hardly breathe because the work was nonstop, it was just like a factory production line. Managers may be doing different activities, but it sure doesn’t mean that they are busier. They are usually paid much better also.

          Reply
            1. JamieS

              What are you basing that on though? Have studies been done on the hours a manager works compared to their reports or is that just your personal opinion?

              Reply
              1. Ask a Manager Post author

                The same experience from which I draw everything I write here, which includes my own experience as a manager, coaching a crap ton of managers, and working for an organization that coaches organizations on management. It’s not scientific; nothing here is.

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      2. Hey Karma, Over here.

        Do you use read receipt so at least you know she never bothered to read it and you can make a note follow up on those specifically.

        Reply
      3. Rectilinear Propagation

        Ugh, I was going to suggest that maybe everyone should just email her less often but you’re not even allowed to do that!

        I will suggest that emails either include as little as possible or send email about the related items separately. So if it didn’t make sense to send email A without mentioning B, C, and D, then also send a separate email about each of them.

        But for very different topics, putting them in separate emails is a good habit anyway. We actually had some trouble with that at my job where important action items were buried at the end of what were normally just informational newsletters and people were missing them. Sending, “New policy for [item], everyone needs to do X by date”, emails separately from the, “We had a good quarter, photo of volunteer event, please welcome our new hires”, emails was a good thing.

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      4. Spanish Prof

        I apologize if this advice is given elsewhere … just to say that one thing you can do instead of moving things into a “pending” folder is to cc YOURSELF on stuff you send to your boss. That brings it into your inbox automatically, and then you can flag or code it for follow-up, as StressedButOkay says. You may not like having a bunch of flagged messages in your inbox, in which case this wouldn’t work, but for me, when something’s in my inbox, it means I have to deal with it somehow. THEN it gets moved to the proper course or committee file or whatever.

        Reply
        1. I Took A Mint

          This is kind of what I do. I struggle with getting responses back from people so once I send something, I color code it in Outlook and have a folder called “Follow up” where I check all emails of that color, and pull up the thread to ensure I got a reply.

          Stuff that comes to me gets flagged when I have a to-do, then when it’s completed I check the flag off and sort it into a folder.

          It does make for a large inbox but it helps me triage that way.

          Reply
      5. Akcipitrokulo

        For that, probably best to send it twice… once cced, then immediately after to her, and change subject line to “ACTION on b,c, d required (was a)”

        Which would work with reasonable boss. Unlikely to work here, but adds to your paper trail.

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      6. Norm

        The more you explain this, the clearer it becomes that your boss is never going to think you are doing a good job.

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        1. your reader :-)

          That most definitely how it feels, no matter what approach we take, its not what she wanted in that moment.

          Reply
    5. MassMatt

      This struck me as bizarre also, on a par with the Dilbert cartoon of the pointy-haired boss demanding a hard copy of the internet.

      I wonder if she is either extremely technically inept—as in, can never remember her passwords, or how email works

      Or— is she seeking to avoid any kind of evidence of her decisions, or lack thereof? If she never emails responses and blames her staff for “not following up with me” no doubt she will throw underlings under the bus if they do what she told them to verbally if it turns out to be wrong.

      A manager that cannot handle their email shouldn’t be a manager IMO.

      Reply
    6. Agent Diane

      +1 on the cc.

      I always take the approach that if I’m cc’d I do not need to take action and I can set aside to read another time. I even had an outlook rule to tag all emails I was “only cc’d“ on so I could filter them off.

      And consider setting a reminder on the email you are sending, if you use outlook. It will then automatically remind her the email is waiting for action, and it shows in your sent items with a flag too.

      Reply
      1. your reader :-)

        We HAVE to CC her on almost everything, per her demand. I didn’t realize until recently that she doesn’t read those the majority of the time, I assumed if she HAD to be CC’d, she was wanting to read them LOL.

        She has no difficulties with technology, she is for sure not wanting to take any blame or responsibility. Which to a point I get, but when she has to have her hands on everything, its hard to finish ANYTHING when we don’t have any great way to get information to/from her…

        MassMatt she most def does this – she will tell us one thing, and then when we do that, she will totally be shocked and say something like- this is never how I want it done- and of course this happens when we DON’T have the paper trail… rolls eyes… lol

        Reply
  5. Colette

    It looks like the OP is following up via email – and that doesn’t work – so I’d suggest following up in person or over the phone instead.

    But also, not everything is about efficiency (and, in particular, not about your efficiency). Sometimes you have to do things that are less efficient for you because they work better for someone else. The boss has been pretty clear that what you’re doing is not working for her, so it’s time to look for other options.

    Reply
    1. Ice and Indigo

      She also sounds like one of those bosses who thinks that ‘more convenient for me personally’ matters more than ‘more efficient for the team as a whole’.

      Reply
      1. Colette

        And as the boss, that’s her prerogative. Her efficiency/convenience is what the OP is there to support, especially since it sounds like a small, family-owned business.

        Reply
        1. Partly Cloudy

          It doesn’t make it okay though. This boss is unreasonable/unrealistic and unfairly blaming her employees for not… I don’t know, micromanaging upwards? I had a boss like this too, everything was “remind me” to do this or that or tell someone something. As the employee, you can’t win.

          LW, you should be job hunting.

          Reply
          1. Colette

            If the OP doesn’t find it OK, she can leave – but it doesn’t seem like a particularly big deal to me. It’s normal in a lot of jobs to have to follow up to get what you need.

            Reply
            1. Today's Mess

              I do not agree that requiring this level following up is OK, not for routine, non-recurring tasks. It is unreasonably downshifting pressure from the manager to the staff. The attitude of if she doesn’t like it she can leave isn’t helpful, I’m sure OP knows that already. Are you a manager who totally ignores email also?

              Reply
            2. brighidg

              As someone who has a boss with these tendencies, no the boss is not being reasonable. Having to follow-up is normal but it’s pretty obvious this boss is bad at organizing her own email and may not be adept at technology. Expecting her employees to basically be personal assistants and filter her email for her is ridiculous.

              Reply
        2. Ralph Wiggum

          “[The boss’s] efficiency/convenience is what the OP is there to support”

          I’ve heard this a couple times from Alison, and I’m not sure I agree. The Peopleware perspective is that the manager exists to support the efficiency/convenience of the individual contributors.

          Reply
          1. Ask a Manager Post author

            Eh. The manager’s fundamental job is to get results in their realm, in part by getting work done through other people. In some cases, it makes sense for the manager to do things that support the efficiency/convenience of the individual contributors. In other cases, a different approach will best move you toward greater long-term results.

            Reply
          2. Escapee from Corporate Management

            But a good boss can do this without being such a jerk. I had a disorganized boss who knew it and appreciated when we kept him on track. OP’s boss is being an @ss about this.

            Reply
            1. Atlanta

              I’ve been on both sides of this one. It’s simply not always possible to keep on top of all of the approvals someone else needs to do their job efficiently and it’s very likely not to be a priority. The advice to keep a list of all the approvals, signatures etc that you need is good. Go to her once a week or whatever with a list of everything you need from her and make sure you get it then and there. Treat it as though you’re a project manager and her input is just part of the project. Don’t rely on her to provide you with everything when you need it; ask her for it in the way she wants you to when she wants you to. Might not be fair or right or ideal but that’s the reality. You won’t be able to change it.

              Reply
          3. Colette

            This appears to be a small, family-owned business, which means that the owners are the people the OP is there to support, and the boss is one of the owners.

            If I hire you to mow my lawn and you tell me the lawn mower isn’t working, it’s up to me to get it fixed – but at the same time, I am hiring you to mow my lawn because I have other things I’m focusing on, so you might need to remind me since it’s not my top priority. It’s your top priority – you can’t do your job without it – but not mine. And if you don’t remind me and the lawn gets too tall, you won’t have a job for long.

            Reply
            1. Arctic

              But if your lawn isn’t mowed it is your fault. Sure, you can lash out and fire your employee for not constantly reminding you about information you had. But it’s your fault.

              Reply
              1. Emily K

                Sometimes who is at fault is not really what matters. There’s always the, “In a perfect world with a great boss” version, and then there’s the, “How do you make the real world situation you find yourself in work for you as best as possible?” question.

                You can’t browbeat your boss into doing things differently even if it is 110% their fault. You can make suggestions, you can advocate for yourself and your needs. But if boss is determined to be wrong, you can either adapt to her needs or you can find another job. Nobody is saying that’s awesome. But it’s the only levers that LW has the ability to pull.

                Reply
            2. Rectilinear Propagation

              The problem is the LW *is* sending reminders and it isn’t working. It’s one thing to be asked to do something inefficiently, it’s another to be asked to do something ineffectively and then blamed for it.

              For your hypothetical scenario, you’d have to have ignored multiple requests to get the lawn mower fixed. Sure, you could fire your groundskeeper anyway but you’re going to have the exact same problem with the next person you hire because the lawn mower is still broken.

              Reply
              1. Emily K

                It sounded like she’s sending reminders by email, which isn’t great when the core problem is boss not being able to stay on top of her email. When you don’t hear back from someone you need to hear from in a delayed-response medium like email, you need to switch to a more real-time medium where you can put them on the spot and make them answer you and not go away until they give you some kind of direction on where to go.

                Reply
              2. Norm

                The parade of fired groundskeepers will all have this in common: bad performance reviews, and a bad reference for their next job. The OP has this same problem. Her boss is never going to change, or hire anyone who can work in this impossible environment.

                Reply
            3. I Took A Mint

              Wow I really disagree with this, or maybe it’s just a poor example. If you hire someone to mow your lawn, and you don’t fix your lawn mower so they can’t do their job, you would fire them for not reminding you to get your mower fixed?? It’s your fault the mower isn’t fixed and it’s your job as employer to get the results you want. It’s not your employee’s job to manage the manager.

              I think it’s helpful for employees to remind managers of things too detailed for them to see & remember, but at the end of the day the person at the top is responsible for the production of people below, not the other way around.

              Reply
        3. EventPlannerGal

          To me, a manager that requires her staff to spend a significant amount of their time chasing her for something as basic as responding to emails and misses key tasks when they don’t do that is a bad and inefficient manager. It might be “efficient” for her personally, but other people in their office presumably have other work to do instead of printing out emails to hand to their manager every five minutes and doing this instead sounds incredibly inefficient and inconvenient for the rest of the office.

          Reply
          1. Ice and Indigo

            Plus it’s terrible for morale. Frustrated, miserable employees are not a good business model, and even if they were, owning a business does not excuse you from being a decent person.

            Reply
    2. Kettles

      It’s not efficient period. Part of being a manager is staying on top of this stuff. And if things are overwhelming, putting processes in place. E.g. why isn’t this monthly bacs transfer on a direct debit? Why doesn’t boss have basic project management software to remind her of monthly tasks? Being unable to stay on top of your email intolerable in a junior employee, let alone a manager.

      Reply
    3. your reader :-)

      Problem is, nothing consistently works for her – see other comments but basically whatever way you approach her- is wrong in that moment. This email thing is one example. She will hang up on us, wave us away, not reply to notes or emails, and then is SHOCKED when something (that she HAS to see/touch/do etc) isn’t completed.

      Reply
  6. Colorado

    Why did I get an image of the boss in Working Girl when I read this post? OP – you have my sympathies. Your boss sounds dreadful.

    Reply
    1. Fortitude Jones

      My first thought after reading this was, “The boss in this letter sounds like a loon.” She’s too busy to read any of her emails, but she has the time to be constantly interrupted by the OP and others in the office via in-person drop ins and follow-up calls? It makes no sense.

      Reply
    2. MissDisplaced

      I think that boss did actually call Tess and ask her to do things though. Even though they were also her personal things (going to the pharmacy, etc.). Ugh!

      Reply
    3. Exhausted Trope

      Totally agree, boss sounds like a loon. I’d want to get out of Dodge as quickly as possible.
      And OP, you said that you are her inferior. No, no you are not. (I know you mean this in the business sense that she’s your manager, but still.)
      You are inferior to no one. Chin up.

      Reply
  7. ItsAFeatureNotABug

    My boss is like this. I recommend Boomerang for gmail – any time I send my boss something I need, I have it return to me if there is no response after 3 days (as a default, can be sooner if it is urgent). And every item I need from her I also put on her virtual to do list. She’s supposed to go through it daily, but generally actually does so weekly/monthly. Point being, it is a lot of work for me to get the things I need from her, but it helps me to frame it as a feature of the job. I’m paid X amount, and one aspect of my job is to waste an inordinate amount of time and energy following up on my boss. It doesn’t help that she’s a micromanager, so every little thing I do needs her follow up, which can be delayed for up to months when thing I want is not deemed important enough. But that’s my job!

    Reply
    1. Clemgo3165

      I have this boss too, she’s also a micromanager who initiates the multiple cc:s on e-mails. I send an e-mail, with a red exclamation point if urgent, and if there’s no follow-up (usual) I either text her or go down the hall. Texting works best in my workplace and I usually get a quicker answer that way.

      Reply
    2. vw

      Gmail also has some nice native functionality where you can snooze an email and it will send you a reminder at the exact date and time for you to follow up! I’ve found the native functionality replaces most of what Boomerang does.

      Reply
    3. ooo

      Yes, as vw says, you don’t need Boomerang anymore, if that’s all you’re using it for. The new native Gmail snooze function does exactly this.

      Reply
    4. M

      Came to the comments to suggest boomerang as well, but you’re missing the best version of their features for this particular problem the OP is having: pre-scheduled auto-follow-ups. Will add the link in a reply to this, but in essence: it lets you pre-schedule a follow up email, even a *recurring* follow up email, which it’ll send *unless the person you’re emailing gets back to you* (or you manually cancel it).

      It’s brutal overkill for normal competent people, but it was *made* for OP’s boss. If she insists on being spammed with follow-ups, OP can at least automate that process.

      Reply
    5. Academic Addie

      I love Boomerang for this. I can even schedule the reminder email using Boomerang. So if I’m going to be out-of-office when a reminder comes due, I just schedule it.

      Reply
    6. CM

      +1

      This situation is stupid and the OP’s manager is terrible, but the key to surviving it is to find a technological way to make it less annoying. Boomerang is a good idea. So is software that lets you schedule reminder emails in advance.

      However, in my experience, the complaint “I can’t read any emails you send me because you people bombard me all day!” is a symptom of a different problem where nothing ever gets delegated and there’s no trust in the team or the organization. That’s probably not going to change, though, so until you leave, I think the best advice is still to minimize how much the reminders hassle you and stop caring whether this woman thinks it’s your fault that she’s disorganized. She’s wrong, so just let her be wrong and get out of there.

      Reply
      1. your reader :-)

        I must mention that she would FLIP if i ever sent an email from gmail or anything besides my work email, and we aren’t allowed to download anything or really even be on the internet, so my options are VERY limited LOL

        Reply
  8. AnotherAlison

    I honestly don’t find this ludicrous, for the reasons Alison said about managers being busier, etc. I’m also not 100% sure the manager’s default is NOT reading email, just that she can’t guarantee reading and responding to time-sensitive emails in a timely manner. I go through periods regularly where I’ll have 50 emails that need my attention in one day, plus ~10 FYI emails. I’m not even the department manager, but I manage multiple projects. If you need something that is time-sensitive, email is not the way to get it done. Follow-up by phone calls or in-person. It’s YOUR job. I can’t assume my responsibility for something ended because I floated an email to my boss and he hasn’t responded.

    I agree reminding the manager to make a bank transfer is kind of a silly way to operate, but she told you how she wanted to do it and didn’t care about a new approach. It’s your job to do it. At least you know the expectation. That’s better than the guessing games many managers play where you don’t know how they prefer to operate.

    Reply
    1. Middle Manager

      I don’t find it ludicrous for an employee to “own” the deliverable and keep track of responses and occasionally need to follow up to get something for someone senior to her.

      I think the ludicrous part is that the boss is just routinely unwilling to read email, apparently even if they are repeated and flagged for her in the subject line as something needing a response without creating another system for her people to get what they need for her. If she really hates emails, then make a protocol that requests for response need to be made at a 1-1 meeting or on print out paper (since this boss seems to like paper) or however she wants, but it’s unacceptable to just not have a system and make your people endlessly hunt you down to get work done.

      Reply
    2. uranus wars

      I was happy to see this comment, only because I feel the same way. I do read my emails, but sometimes it might take me a week to get back to a direct report. If its something urgent they walk down the hall, text me if I am out at another meeting or give me a call so I can reply more quickly. Or they remind me in our bi-weekly staff meeting – none of these reminders/follows up bother me, as I want them to feel supported but I also can’t scan my email box for things from them even daily – and particularly when 75% of the time the emails from them are FYI in nature.

      Reply
    3. Jennifer

      I honestly don’t find it all that ludicrous either, it’s just the way the boss is expressing herself that I find a bit odd.

      Reply
    4. OscarJeff

      This is what I was thinking too. If my effectiveness depends on overseeing some particular deliverable to fruition, and that deliverable requires action of some sort from others, it’s my responsibility to make sure I get the needed inputs from others. Yes, it’s incredibly frustrating to be chasing people down for stuff, but the reason one person is often given ownership for a specific process or deliverable is so that someone is responsible for the deliverable as a whole & has the incentive to make sure all of the separate actions from different people are done—b/c those actions are easily pushed aside & overlooked by busy people whose input is required on many different things.

      Reply
      1. MissGirl

        Yes, I agree with you. If a deliverable is my responsibility, I have to ensure it gets done. I can’t send an email and then forget about it until the person responds. I have to track deadlines and responses from people.

        For instance yesterday I sent out several emails for a project with a two-week deadline. If I don’t hear from them by Friday, I don’t forget about it, I call and follow up.

        This is the way your manager works. She could’ve expressed it better, but fighting it is a losing battle.

        Reply
      2. Kiki

        I think the issue for the LW is that there’s no effective avenue for chasing down their boss. The boss gets too many emails to read but their suggested solution for that is… more emails?

        I agree that the LW does have responsibility to ensure that processes they own are executed, but the boss also needs to own that they are trapping everyone in a deeply flawed system. If the boss is too busy to remember and do a monthly duty, they should delegate it. If the boss is receiving so much email that important communications are frequently getting lost, they need to have an alternate avenue of communication for important things. I’ve worked with plenty of bosses who didn’t care for email, but they all made clear what IS the best way to contact them and get things done, which is not happening with LW’s boss

        Reply
        1. EventPlannerGal

          Yeah, I think this is really key – it’s not necessarily a problem that the boss doesn’t like e-mails (although I still think being able to respond to e-mails is pretty basic), but it’s a huge problem that there is no consistent alternative to e-mails being offered.

          For example, in my current workplace I literally *cannot* e-mail my boss, because we all work off one e-mail address – think eventsATanimalcrackers.com – that we all have access to. There are no direct e-mail addresses. But, when I started there, it was very clearly explained to me that if I needed something important signed off I should take it to Aral; if Aral was not available, I should take it to Cordelia; if Cordelia was not available, I should take it to Miles; and if Miles was not available, I shouldn’t do anything. If it’s *really* important I should tell Ivan, he decides if it really is important and sends Miles a Whatsapp if it is. I have never, ever gotten into trouble for following those instructions, even when all three were unavailable and something important didn’t get done, because that’s the system.

          It might not be possible for OP’s boss to delegate like that, but the point is that it’s consistent and that’s what she needs. She cannot be inconsistent herself and then expect consistently good results from her team, especially if they have to spend half their time coming up with ways to deal with her inconsistency.

          Reply
          1. The Gollux (Not a Mere Device)

            And if Miles is off playing mercenary, or dead this month, everything grinds to a halt because he won’t see Ivan’s message. Which seems to be about where this is stuck.

            Reply
            1. EventPlannerGal

              Right! That does happen! It’s not a perfect system, or even a great one! But the point is that when that does happen, none of the people involved get mad that I didn’t, I don’t know, go and camp outside Aral’s office until he turns up or send five follow-up texts with increasing numbers of exclamation marks or whatever. They acknowledge that they have this system in place, we all know about it, we should all stick to it and that if something gets missed or delayed it’s because of flaw like you just described. The answer is not to just have no system at all and expect workers to continue trying more and more methods of follow-up while also dealing with their own workload and then getting mad when things are missed.

              For example, she could:
              – automate things like the monthly payments using direct debits
              – give OP the authority to complete some tasks independently, without her input/permission
              – delegate some responsibilities to other people, e.g. give other managers authority to sign off on simple things where the OP just needs an authorisation
              – set up a separate communication channel for really important things (e.g. text messages to a work phone, a Whatsapp group, a whiteboard in her office, a message pad on her desk, whatever) that won’t get overwhelmed with external e-mails and spam

              etc etc. But whatever she does, she has to actually stick to it consistently and not change her mind every time about whether she wants to be communicated with by e-mail or phone or in person or by carrier pigeon.

              Reply
    5. LadyByTheLake

      I find this totally normal — I’m not even sure I trust the characterization as the manager never reads emails ever but instead needs something in the subject line to alert her that this email needs her attention. I am a senior person and I get cc’d on literally hundreds of emails per day, 90% of which require no response from me. It can be very difficult for me to find those emails that actually require my attention unless there is something in the subject line that calls out that this is for me. I routinely change subject lines for emails I send to my senior colleagues for the same reason. If someone doesn’t call out that the email is actually for me to do something with, and if that person doesn’t follow up — things are likely to fall through the cracks. Maybe this boss isn’t expressing herself well, but I’m not finding her requests anything but ordinary.

      Reply
      1. your reader :-)

        The problem is, she asks us to follow up (which is not the problem, if that is my job, that is my job), but when we call she has someone in her office and hangs up on us, or when we stop by she is on the phone and waves us away. So there are days where I try every way of getting her attention about something important, but it doesn’t happen.

        Reply
        1. AnotherAlison

          This is all normal, too, at least on the surface.

          If she was on the phone with a customer or supplier, or meeting one-on-one with another employee, I wouldn’t expect access right then. I have spent a lot of time monitoring my boss’s IM light or his office light when I’m trying to reach him for something critical. Some days are like that for managers. There are multiple weeks when he is in business planning or at offsite meetings where he cannot have laptop or phone access and has maybe 5 minutes during each day to address our entire department’s urgent issues that only he can answer. The difference is he wants to be responsive, while your boss does not seem to. He usually gives us a chance to let him know ahead of time if we’re going to need something while he’s unavailable and we work around it in advance.

          (Of course, if your boss is talking to her mom or meeting with her office BFF, that’s another issue.)

          Reply
          1. ooo

            Your points are all well taken and apply to lots of well-managed jobs. But I think the simple fact that OP’s manager has an employee remind her to do a monthly bank transfer is honestly pretty telling here, in terms of her sensibleness. That’s the kind of thing you set a reminder on your own calendar for. Or if you need to be reminded via email, you set up some kind of filter or specific subject line with the employee to ensure you don’t miss it. It’s ludicrous to turn that into a “you may need to call or come find me to follow up” task, because it’s not the kind of thing you want to interrupt another task for; it’s a job you take care of when you have a free minute!

            Between that and the other details, I feel very comfortable assessing this boss as not “normal” in the sense you’re talking about. Yes, employees need to track stuff and follow up. Yes, that can involve hovering or coming back when the boss is free. But an effective manager wants to develop effective solutions, not just say, “Continue to send me emails that I am telling you now I do not plan to read.” I mean “It doesn’t matter what is efficient and what is not” is… not true. Business success hinges on maximizing efficiency up to the point where it would detract from quality.

            Reply
            1. Someone Else

              Yeah this manager definitely outed herself as not a normal manager and not a good manager by saying efficiency doesn’t matter. That right there makes everything about this manager suspect. I would never want to work for someone who would come even close to saying something like that.

              Reply
        2. Contrarian

          “The problem is, she asks us to follow up (which is not the problem, if that is my job, that is my job), but when we call she has someone in her office and hangs up on us, or when we stop by she is on the phone and waves us away.”

          …which just reinforces here point that she’s busy. Wait outside her office. If she has a PA, schedule some time.

          Reply
              1. Ask a Manager Post author

                I’m sure you mean that to be insulting, but it’s true that when you become a manager, your perspective often shifts to account for things that you didn’t realize previously. That’s true when you gain any new vantage point.

                (And really, it’s not like most managers don’t have their own bosses.)

                Reply
          1. your reader :-)

            She doesn’t let us wait outside her office and she doesn’t have a PA. Trust that I have tried it ALL.

            Reply
    6. It's Pronounced Bruce

      I don’t find it ludicrous for your manager to let you know that things get lost in their inbox and for them to request that you follow up in another way on action items to make sure they rise to their attention.

      Getting angry every time they’ve missed something in their email because they’re not on top of it, and suggesting some kind of weird printout-of-emails file system that would take a lot of time to manage and be exactly as unlikely to be read by the manager, those are both really ludicrous.

      Reply
    7. Name Required

      I agree. OP, it’s your job to follow up. I’m reading your letter to mean that you don’t routinely send a follow up via email, much less call or walk down the hall or whatever else it takes to get the work done. You think it’s ludicrous that your boss isn’t going to read all of your emails the first time … I think it’s ludicrous that you expect her to rely on email when you know she gets an insane amount of email.

      I think I’m less sympathetic because I’m a project manager. This is just the norm for me and it’s what’s required to get necessary responses from busy stakeholders. Your boss is far from an anomaly. Your boss didn’t handle this in the nicest way, but I’m sensing her frustration that she’s asked her employees to take care of getting a response from her on action items and when they fail to do so, provide the pretty lame excuse, “But I sent you an email …”

      It may help you to propose an escalation plan, which is something I’ve done with clients. What that might look like for you: First step, email. Second step, call in no response in three days. Third step, text if no response to call in 24 hours. Fourth step, hover outside her office if you haven’t gotten a response to email, call, or txt. Fifth step, call her husband if she is out of office. Document each time via email that you take a non-email step, and then you have a CYA if her responsiveness continues to be a problem so that you can say, “I followed our escalation plan through with no response to my follow-ups on a date, b date, c date, x date, and y date. So that I can add it to our plan, what’s another method that could have worked in this situation?”

      Reply
      1. your reader :-)

        False. See my other replies… unfortunately any type of follow up might not please her, depending on the day. And I email her because that is what I was told to do. The problem is not that I don’t want to do my job, follow up, etc. The problem is that she doesn’t have or make time for very important things from her employees.

        And your suggestion is nice and I would love it, but many things can’t wait 3 days or even one. I also can’t afford to waste my whole day chasing her down. I should say she can’t afford that- when I have 50 other things SHE needs me to do. And it sucks the most because I want to do the best and be the best employee- but she refuses to make such plans as you have suggested. I asked her up front if we could try another way- and the answer was no.

        I have noticed that many employers say “bring me your suggestions” & “tell me if you think of a better way of doing something” but in reality, they won’t hear it.

        Reply
        1. Samwise

          Well, LW, you can adjust Name Required’s suggestions to fit the situation. If it can’t wait three days, then shorten up the second step, etc. From your descriptions, it sounds like she wants email AND other kinds of reminders. So give her both.

          I get that you don’t want to hover around her office all day. I suggest setting up tracking as I describe below, or in the other ways a number of other commenters have suggested. Whatever works for you, but make sure you have a paper report to hand her and make sure you email yourself the report after you give it to her to CYA. And I really strongly suggest setting up a regular meeting with her (if you can’t get on her calendar, park yourself outside her office first thing in the morning, before she arrives, and catch her then).

          The yelling, that’s unacceptable and I encourage you to do some job searching, if you can.

          Reply
        2. ItsAFeatureNotABug

          I think that what you’ve talked about is different than what NR is suggesting. With this, you’d develop the follow up plan with your boss and with a time scale that works for your work. My boss is much like yours, and the answer has been that things that seem important to me often aren’t for her. So in situations where I can still do my job, I give her 3 days to respond, then email again and send a message on IM, then walk over to her office. When it’s more urgent, I text, call, and walk over there in that order (I have access to her calendar and make sure she is available). Subject lines also reflect this sort of thing
          URGENT – Need you to send this email to Sally ASAP!
          QUICK IMPORTANT Q – What color should teapots be?
          MUST DO TODAY – Pay rent
          Of note, I have the highest success rate of everyone for getting things from boss, and I suspect it is because I make it as easy as possible to do the thing I want and I follow up a lot. She is not annoyed by what I would consider an annoying amount of follow up. Also, I time things when boss is not in meetings. Calendar access is super important to getting the things I need.

          Reply
        3. Name Required

          To echo Samwise and ItsAFeatureNotABug … if the exact phrasing I provided doesn’t work, perhaps a variation would. It’s not on her to make the plan, and it isn’t a “suggestion”. It’s you taking agency of the situation as your boss has requested you to and presenting a plan about how you intend to get that done.

          However, if you’ve given up on finding a solution to meet your boss’s needs because you think you’ve exhausted everything you can possibly do to meet her expectations, then get another job. If you think your boss is a loon that has unrealistic expectations that can’t be met by any human, find another job. But there is no in-between where your boss is going to see this “your way.”

          Reply
      2. Today's Mess

        It’s not following up that is the problem, it is following up on routine, repetitive matters that is the problem. Boss could self-manage those tasks. I would do whatever she wanted though, and if my productivity went down, so be it.

        Reply
      3. lnelson in Tysons

        I can’t completely agree with you.
        Certainly it is my job to help the manager keep things going. No argument there. But it is still a two way street. There is a point that the manager is not doing their job. I can remind my manager 100s of times in multiple ways to get those performance evaluations done. There is only so much power I can exert. Holding a gun to his head and yelling at him to do it or else is not an option. I can’t do it for him.

        I have witnessed on manager who is very much like the letter writer’s. He did state that email wasn’t his preferred method for communication, which is his right. But he also wouldn’t respond to text messages or answer his phone or reply to voicemail messages from his direct reports. And as he traveled often, he wasn’t in the office so you couldn’t either remind him if you saw him in the halls or go into his office for a “catch-up/touch bases” meeting. But of course it was his direct reports fault that things weren’t getting done. I felt sorry for them. They would be yelled at for not doing things as they had to wait for something from him, then yelled at for going ahead and getting the task done without his approval because deadlines were there (think reserving spots at a conference).
        There was just no winning.

        Reply
    8. designbot

      I don’t find it ludricrous either. I get 60–100 emails a day. Many of them are team members copying me on something as a quick FYI or clients/vendors copying me on something because I manage their project, but actually one of my reports will handle 90% of the day to day requests. In that 60–100 emails a day, there are probably 15 of them that I truly need to read and follow up on. I occasionally need reminding, especially if something is time sensitive (I do a lot of my email responses after hours so that I’m available for meetings during the day).
      Now my bosses, they manage multiple people at my level. I would guess that they probably get 200–300 emails a day. And again, they can only reasonably follow up on 15 or 20 of them themselves, because most of their job actually consists of going to meetings, making presentations, and carrying on the relationship aspect of business development. It is not at all ludicrous to expect that I would need to follow up with them about emails that need their attention.
      One workaround I’ve found to this is that if you start the email with the person’s name, like “Cersei, could you please let us know if…” then that will be in the preview line of their inbox and they’re more likely to respond. But mostly, following up in person or over the phone is okay, and it’s not the end of the world if you have to do it a lot.

      Reply
      1. Kettles

        I find it ludicrous. Part of operating at that level is being able to distinguish between FYI emails and action emails. Or, for example, setting up direct debits, using pm software and telling your direct reports not to cc you on every little thing. Deciding you don’t fancy doing your job is not an acceptable response to being busy.

        Reply
        1. EventPlannerGal

          100% agreed. That’s the thing about routine tasks like reading your e-mail – they don’t just stop being necessary because you have other things on. If you are at the level of seniority where you really genuinely do not have the time do these things, hire a PA. If you do have the time but find it hard to fit it all in, set up *consistent* systems to prioritise or automate the tasks, tell you staff about them and make sure that you stick to them. If you can’t stick to them, acknowledge that some things will not get done and that is your fault.

          Reply
          1. designbot

            That’s the system that your workplace has in place to deal with it—centralize helping tasks to a PA. Many businesses operate without PAs at all, and decentralizes those tasks to people’s reports. Just because you’re used to a different system doesn’t make the decentralized version ludicrous.

            Reply
        2. Penelope Garcia’s glasses

          This is a bit naive. You’re assuming people label and write their emails clearly!

          Reply
          1. Kettles

            If you’re responding to me, I don’t assume anything of the sort. I think it’s a manager’s responsibility to parse unclear emails and file / respond appropriately.

            Reply
    9. Emily K

      Same. The higher up you go in my company the more you have to rely on other channels besides email. The higher-ups spend 5-6 hours a day in meetings, and the other 2-3 hours a day frantically trying to triage their email and push the most important deliverables forward. Some of my colleagues answer all their emails at night because they don’t have time during the workday. Some of my colleagues are ideologically opposed to letting work overrun their personal life like that and their policy is that if they can’t get it done in a reasonable workweek then it doesn’t get done, and they rely on their own managers to tell them how to prioritize within the hours they have.

      Yeah, it’d be great if everyone was super on top of their emails. It would also be great if I could find a 1-hour block of free time for six people to have a meeting without having to schedule the meeting 4 weeks into the future because everyone’s calendars are so full. If wishes were fishes we’d all swim in riches.

      In the meantime, if my emails are not getting responses I try chat, then I pick up the phone, then I march down the hall to their office, because I’m the one who owns these deliverables and I can’t change the culture of my entire workplace to convince senior staff to take on less work and attend fewer meetings and spend more time on email.

      Reply
  9. Not a Blossom

    I would also consider tracking how much time this is taking you, so that if you get bogged down or behind and she comes after you, you have a real accounting of how you are spending your time. She sounds like she wouldn’t really put much stock in “this takes me a lot of time,” so if you can say “I spend X amount of time on this per day/week,” it might get you better results. (Not that she will likely change, but at least it’s a defense.)

    Reply
  10. Ice and Indigo

    A question: is there any possibility your boss has any kind of visual processing problem? I ask not to cyber-diagnose, but because it affects what you can realistically expect. Some people do have visual processing issues of one kind or another, and they don’t necessarily know they have them. They figure everyone else is seeing what they see, but somehow hates it less than they do. So they develop strategies and/or excuses that get them out of reading.

    If your boss, for instance, has a tendency to read stuff out loud while she’s taking it in, or sends badly-formulated e-mails herself, or things like that, it might be an indicator that she’s got processing issues she may or may not be aware of, and is covering.

    This doesn’t mean she isn’t a jerk, but it would mean that you’d need to assume that if you want her to take something in, verbal delivery is the only reliable way to go.

    But either way, I’d look for a new job, because whatever else is going on with her, she doesn’t sound nice.

    Reply
    1. Annette

      Read beyond the headline. Boss does read emails – she just wants them flagged as urgent. Like many people. Why jump to rare disorder when the obvious explanation (busy). Is much more likely.

      Reply
        1. Ice and Indigo

          I should stress that I’m not actually saying this is what’s going on with the boss (and I did read beyond the headline, no need to be like that, we’re all here to help). It’s just a situation I encountered in one working environment and I got better able to predict what would and wouldn’t work when I understood it was going on.

          However, while it’s not correct that such conditions are rare (they’re way commoner than most people think), I do think that it is, at most, an outside possibility. ‘Boss gets bullying when feeling stressed’ is more likely – which is more than ‘busy’, it’s ‘busy and a taker-out of feelings’. But assuming that Boss won’t read stuff, whatever the reason, seems indicated – plus, as I said, finding a better boss.

          Reply
          1. Kettles

            My take was overwhelmed and inefficient. Yelling at a subordinate because you don’t read your emails and blaming them because you didn’t do your job reads ‘bad boss’ rather than any kind of disorder.

            Reply
    2. Yorick

      This is cyber-diagnosing, even though you said you weren’t doing that.

      Many people don’t read their emails, even though they are perfectly capable of reading.

      Reply
      1. Ice and Indigo

        Well, I was trying to stay on the right side of the line, but if I didn’t manage that, sorry.

        Reply
  11. Bopper

    We had a process where to publish a document, you had to get him to sign off on it.
    Regular email didn’t work (just like the OPs boss).
    But I tried the “MUST REVIEW!!” subject and basically got told off for “yelling” in email.
    Stopping by with a paper copy was tough…he was always busy.
    What we started doing is watching his IM that showed whether he was in meeting and when it was green sprinted to his office to get him to sign off. Or we would have a nearby coworker watch for when he was free.

    Reply
    1. Nicotene

      Yeah, for people who refuse email, lurking by their door can work. I always try to catch my boss as she’s walking out, which she hates hates hates, but it’s the only way to get her attention usually.

      Reply
      1. uranus wars

        I LOVE email, but with me sometimes tracking me down in a time-sensitive situation is the way to get it done…because, well, hundreds of emails a day on top of meetings means emails get missed.

        Reply
  12. ArtK

    Question: If she’s “too busy” to read e-mails and rarely follows up, just what does she do with all her time?

    Reply
    1. It's all Sunshine and Rainbows Here

      The rest of her job! She could be in meetings, she could be running workshops or talking to clients, or writing reports, or selling products in the field. She could be running experiments in a lab, manning a booth at sales events, directing a film, doing surgeries, coding websites, apps and other software.

      The list of job duties one can do that aren’t on email is endless. In fact, when I need to get actual work done, I close my email.

      Answering email doesn’t necessarily equal doing work.

      Reply
      1. AnotherAlison

        +1

        My boss has P&L responsibilities for our line of business. He’s looking out for the long-term business growth via meetings with his EVP and other internal partners, building new lines of business, working out deals with external partners, recruiting strategic hires, stepping into projects when a discussion is run up the org chart on the client side, etc. He has 6 other managers under him to handle most mundane questions, but sometimes things have to go through him for approval. I get email responses at 11 pm when he does respond. It’s fine.

        Reply
      2. ArtK

        If her job keeps her so busy that she can’t read her direct reports e-mails and deal with things that she needs to deal with, then there’s a problem. These things are part of her job. She can’t ignore somethings in order to take care of the “rest” of the job. Either she needs to delegate or get rid of some responsibilities, because it’s clear she can’t do her job.

        Reply
        1. AnotherAlison

          I don’t fully agree that she needs to read her direct reports’ emails.

          I find people use email as a way to get issues off their plate without actually solving anything. I can send my boss an email that says, “We need to meet about XYZ,” and then it’s off my mind and becomes his action to make sure we meet. But that never works! I need to wait until I can catch him in person or get a meeting set with his admin (which he’ll be late to, and I’ll sit and wait till he shows up). People feel productive because they shoot off 10 emails asking other people questions or making action requests, but it doesn’t accomplish anything or close the thing that needs to be addressed. Yet, somehow, the work proceeds if some of those emails are ignored. If people were actually judicious in their use of email, you might have a point, but most emails probably don’t need to be sent.

          Reply
          1. MassMatt

            This happens most when upper managers micromanage. Part of being a good manager is evaluating what tasks your staff can handle and what needs your attention.

            Reply
      3. Contrarian

        “Answering email doesn’t necessarily equal doing work.”

        Exactly, and more to the point, your e-mail inbox should not become a de facto agenda for your day or a substitute for strategic planning.

        Reply
    2. The Man, Becky Lynch

      I assume that she’s lacking great time management and prioritization skills more than assuming she’s not working in some capacity at all times.

      However I get paid well to chase after executives and managers of departments who aren’t “this bad” but still need to be poked a few extra times over time sensitive things….while managing my own department. Someone has to herd the cats but you need to know your job is herding cats when you come aboard or else you get this letter.

      Reply
    3. NW Mossy

      “Doing email” isn’t the job, though. Customers/clients don’t pay for someone to do email – email is simply one of many means to communicate the actual job/work.

      I once heard email described as “a to-do list for you that only other people add things to,” and that’s stuck with me. Someone sending me an email sometimes does line up with what I consider a priority based on the goals and objectives I’m accountable for, and those typically get top billing for me. But people can send me emails about things that aren’t my job, aren’t priorities, and are low-value for the organization. If I get myself into “ooh! squirrel!” mode about those emails, pretty soon I’m doing email, not my job.

      Reply
      1. ArtK

        And she’s not taking care of a noticeable part of her job because she’s ignoring e-mails. The e-mail is a red herring. The fact that her employees have followed her directions as far as communicating and she’s still not getting to necessary things is the problem.

        If you employees come to you and say “this is not working”, the response can’t be “just do it more.”

        Reply
    4. MissDisplaced

      Well, my boss travels a lot. So, if you really need something answered ASAP, you’re best to pick up the phone and call after you send the email with something that stands out, such as: ACTION REQUIRED. The call gives him a head’s up something’s urgent. And I use this sparingly.

      Mine still doesn’t always respond immediately if he’s on plane or in a meeting, but he will respond. I’ve also never heard him blame anyone for HIS failure to respond in a timely manner should that happen. I think that’s what irritates me about OP’s boss, she won’t own up that it’s really HER failure, not the employees.

      Reply
  13. Madeleine Matilda

    Would your boss be open to regularly scheduled, short meetings to go through the items needing her attention? Maybe just 5-10 minutes a few times week (or whatever frequency would be needed)?

    Reply
    1. Nicotene

      Yeah, a checklist of your stuff, which you then walk through with her in person at a standing meeting, can work for things like client followup or routine tasks like bank deposits.

      Reply
    2. Madeleine Matilda

      Or depending on your work email program, agree that only emails needing the boss’ action will be sent to her with a particular subject line (like ACTION NEEDED: [subject]) or would be marked as highly important so she can find them more easily.

      Reply
      1. Jules the 3rd

        +1. Would be very interesting to know how she responds to the ACTION NEEDED emails.

        I flat out put the person’s name who needs to do the action (eg: ACTION for DAN) at the end of the subjects sometimes, though a lot of people hate having email subjects change due to the impact on threading.

        Reply
    3. your reader :-)

      No, when I go to her with a list of things, she doesn’t have time (or whatever other excuse she can come up with at that moment). When I leave things in her office with notes – she “has too many of her own notes to read, she doesn’t want to read mine too”. Etc., etc., etc. I don’t think there is even a real answer to my problem here, unfortunately.

      Reply
      1. Today's Mess

        Unfortunately, I agree. Manager sounds like someone who likes to run around and put out fires, while being deemed too important and too busy to be reasonably responsible for the stuff she is truly responsible for. Just CYA until you can land in a better position. These types of email avoiders have no problem throwing people under the bus.

        Reply
  14. Nicotene

    Yes, my boss is like this. She’s a mess and a nightmare. Basically, she refuses to do things that are her job, then tries to make it my fault for not *making* her do it. It doesn’t matter how I flag it for her – in person, phone calls, notes slipped under her door (literally) or email, she will refuse to do anything that doesn’t have a bright red flashing urgent sign, and then she will be mad because she is always in crisis. I just accept that she’s going to do this every time, and that she’s actually mad at herself, not me, and I’m a convenient place to dump those feelings. She truly doesn’t see how she is doing this to herself with her failure to get ahead of things. I’ve long suspected that she is undiagnosed with something. And yes, I’m trying to put in a year and then jump ship.

    Reply
  15. Baska

    Two thoughts:
    1. I am, actually, one of those annoying people who makes a tickler file and follows up with EVERYTHING if I haven’t seen a response. Essentially, as soon as I send out an email, I set myself a reminder to follow-up on a specific date if I haven’t heard back, and also note when the last contact was made. e.g. If I sent something today, I might make myself a note in my tickler file for April 9: “Follow up with Jane about chocolate teapot order (request sent April 2)” It *sounds* like a lot of work, but honestly it’s not, and then I know that stuff won’t fall through the cracks.

    2. However, since your boss seems to chronically not respond to emails, is this the sort of thing you could do in a weekly one-on-one meeting? Like, save up your list of follow-ups or actions needed and have her make a note of them when you’re sitting together in person? “Okay, boss, for this week, I sent you the reminder about that bank transfer — have you done it yet? Also, I wanted to know if you were okay ordering 3 chocolate teapots instead of 4 since it turns out we don’t have the space for all 4 in the display. Is that good with you? We’ve also got the chocolate teapots conference coming up soon and they need to know what size table we want. Same as last year, or bigger?” Stuff like that. Obviously not everything can wait a week, but it might be helpful to do it all at once when you’ve got your boss’s undivided attention.

    Reply
    1. The Man, Becky Lynch

      I gasped that you would lump the tickler system as an “annoying” person habit. It’s responsibility and if your job is to follow the progress of something specific through until the end, it’s a great system to have! If someone is constantly being tickled and needs to be nudged, if they have the audacity to be annoyed, that’s on them not you.

      I do follow ups religiously because otherwise other people get mad. Better to follow up and “pester” someone who gets crotchety than lose a client or vendor over their ineptitude in my experience. X Coworker’s annoyance is the price we pay for good service.

      Reply
      1. uranus wars

        Me too! To me this tickler system is the sign of a great project manager. I appreciate it when I am tickled if something has slipped my mind – puts me back on track as well as gets the person what they need.

        I have never thought that it’s annoying when I have to do it either! I agree that it’s on them, not me, if they get offended. I am just doing my job.

        Reply
  16. Totally Minnie

    I’m going to second Alison’s statement that a boss who doesn’t care about something as essential as checking email is probably a difficult manager to work for in other ways.

    I had a manager at OldJob who was terrible on a lot of fronts (public dress code shamings, joke about employees’ religious practices, speculation about employees’ sex lives, etc) and several of us were keeping documentation on her for HR. One of my folders was a pile of email read receipts (the kind that come automatically, not the kind that require the reader to do something extra to prove the message was read) that came back as “deleted unread.” She opened about 3 of every 10 emails I sent her. It was one of the least objectionable things about her, but a lot of the time a boss who can’t be bothered with minimal requirements also cannot be bothered with big requirements.

    Reply
    1. your reader :-)

      She often tells me to put a reminder on my calendar, to remind her of something… so apparently she doesn’t look at her own reminders. I need reminders to remind her of a reminder… dear Lord!

      Reply
  17. Lucille2

    Manager here – I love Alison’s response. People who have a high volume of emails and requests coming at them on a daily basis often require a follow up. That’s pretty normal. However, OP’s boss is taking this to an unreasonable level. I have coached employees to follow up with me if they don’t receive a response or have asked them to do this and not that if they want to ensure we’re on the same page. I also had an employee who CC’d me on EVERY SINGLE EMAIL despite my asking him not to. He also expected me to read and follow every single email thread. He HATED that I told him if he needed me to follow up with something that he needed to ask me directly because I was not reading all his emails.

    My advice is that, to an extent, OP needs to expect to have to follow up with non-responders to get things done. It’s just part of the world of email. But Boss is being kind of unreasonable here and probably has other issues as well.

    Reply
    1. Akcipitrokulo

      For me, if I cc someone – or get something cced to me – it’s very much an FYI thing with no expectation of action.

      Reply
      1. your reader :-)

        This is true, but its not that she is busy and gets to it later, so if shes CC’d, and disagrees or wants something to happen differently etc., we don’t know that until its to the point where whatever it is is done, we take it to her, and she freaks. If only she had read the email SHE DEMANDED to be CC’d on…

        Reply
  18. That Would be a Good Band Name

    If you use Outlook, I’m a big fan of the to-do flag. If you right click and custom choose a date, the flag will go a pale red until the date it’s due and then the flag is bright red. I choose the date that I need to do something with the email (either follow up again or begin working on a project) then I put it in a follow-up folder that I sort by due date. Each morning I check the folder and see what is showing as due that day and follow up as needed. I communicate with multiple managers and I can’t proceed on what I’m doing until I have some kind of follow up from them so this keeps me from losing my mind.

    Reply
    1. Middle Manager

      Second. Love the flags! Super helpful for me to keep track of what I need to respond to and things I need a response on.

      Reply
    2. Lucille2

      You can also set up a due date on an outgoing email. I’ve done this when I send out a request that isn’t due for a week or more expecting that people will read it and set it aside as “will do when have time” and then easily forget to finish it. I don’t blame people for not following up on their own – we’re all busy. But I find setting a due date in Outlook will give the recipient a reminder without my needing to do so. It’s not 100% effective, but it’s pretty helpful so you don’t have chase people down for every little thing.

      Reply
      1. E

        I need to know, how to set up a due date on an outgoing email. I know how to set up an automatic reminder to myself that I need to follow up, but I’d love to be able to prompt the recipient when a request needs a response by a due date.

        Reply
  19. The Man, Becky Lynch

    Woah, I’m used to chasing down bosses and the ‘reminder’ system. I do agree that you do need to always follow up and assume the worst if you haven’t gotten a confirmation from her that she did the transfer or whatever else. It’s frustrating but it’s part of making sure something is all the way off your plate before just moving on to the next task. However the response is to be kind and just admit you need further hassling and reminding, not treat your employees like they’re incompetent fools for not knowing better…without her frigging guidance at all, jeez.

    This sounds like an issue that if this is a boss you’re never going to see leave or you don’t have a clear action plan of your own to get out of her line of command, you’re going to be miserable in your job. This kind of person never changes and will always use you as their whipping post for their failures, you don’t want to be chained to this person as a supervisor any longer than you have to.

    Reply
  20. Hope

    I get both sides of this. It’s a bit ridiculous for the boss to miss something she’s supposed to do as a routine matter and blame you, especially when you sent a reminder. But at the same time, my boss has a ridiculous email situation, which is mostly not my boss’s fault (it is just the nature of boss’s work that boss gets an insane amount of email), so I know that if I truly need something to have boss’s attention, I need a face-to-face or phone convo with boss(who is busy but is almost always available for a 1-2 minute convo when not on the phone/in a meeting).

    I had a previous coworker that didn’t get that, who would get frustrated when it took boss awhile to get back to her, whereas I never had that problem. When she asked how I never got held up, I told her to stop relying solely on email for the important stuff (as opposed to the lower key updates or non-critical emails) and just talk to boss, she refused, and continued to have problems. When you know what you’re doing isn’t working, and there’s a way to do something different that WILL work…just do that. It’s so much easier.

    Reply
    1. The Man, Becky Lynch

      Ah the coworker that doesn’t get it! If I had a dollar for each one who I’ve known over the years.

      “Why hasn’t he answered?”
      “Did you remind him?”
      “I don’t want to bother him…”
      “It’s not bothering him, just remind him.”
      “Argh but why hasn’t he responded!”

      The squeaky wheel gets the grease, I will bulldoze in and find someone immediately if it’s jeopardizing our timeline or we’re against a due date that will result in penalties.

      Reply
  21. Luna

    I would suggest malicious compliance. Send her an email and, every thirty minutes after you have sent it and she hasn’t read or responded to it, you should pop into her office and ask her about the email. You are following up and doing what she told you to.

    Reply
    1. The Man, Becky Lynch

      Do this only if you have another job and you’re leaving your trail of “trolololol” first.

      Reply
    2. Rectilinear Propagation

      Except from the comments from “your reader :-)”, the LW, they’ve already tried both calling and going to the office to follow-up. They either get hung up on or shooed away from the boss’ office.

      Malicious compliance still requires being able to comply, and it sounds like the boss is preventing that.

      Reply
  22. Kella

    “The problem is that we are all getting far too many emails, so the solution is that for every email you send, you need to send TWO MORE follow up emails, and that will definitely fix the too many emails problem.” *rolls eyes forever*

    So, I actually am a big fan of keeping track of who I have emailed and assuming I need to follow up with them if I don’t hear back within a certain time frame. If you accept that this boss needs you to do that and make it a habit, it’s not so bad.

    The part that sounds nightmarish though is it sounds like following up and/or using all caps titles is not consistently working, although I wasn’t totally clear on which combinations of those things had been tried and failed based on the OP’s letter. Since Alison’s advice is to try to work with the boss’s terrible chaotic style, I would go back to your boss and get really clear on what she expects in terms of follow up. How many times should you follow up by email before switching to phone? Is there such a thing is too many follow-ups? (You don’t want her mad at you because you’re popping into her office every five minutes to say, did you get my email?)

    The biggest problem with your boss’s philosophy is not that follow-ups are inefficient, but that putting the responsibility on you to make someone else do their job ultimately doesn’t work. If someone is determined to not do their job, you can’t fix that, no matter how many follow up’s you do. So I’d also want to be clear on finding out at what point you have to escalate a problem to a higher up so that you aren’t blamed for something not getting done because you don’t have the magical power of forcing someone to do something.

    Reply
  23. AnOh

    Wouldn’t following up with reminder emails just flood her inbox even more? That’s frustrating. I understand following up in person if you need an answer/task done to move forward in your own work and your boss is busy but needing a reminder for everything? I’m not sure what she does that needs following up on, but if it’d fairly routine would she be comfortable with you or co-workers taking that off her plate? For instance, with the monthly bank transfer, is it possible for you to handle that in it’s entirety? If your boss (and her husband) receive so many emails they regularly need people to follow up with them on for things to move forward, I wonder if there’s some micromanaging tendencies at play here.

    Reply
    1. Middle Manager

      Yes. It has to be at least part of the problem with this boss’s inbox that her solution to not dealing with the first email is send me another email. I guessing that this disorganization isn’t just impacting the staff that report to her. So if everyone is sending her requests 3-4 times to get an answer, then she has 3-4x more email than she would need to if she just put a system in place to respond to the first email (or at least a first reminder).

      Reply
    2. your reader :-)

      Micromanaging to the point of no return. She has to have her hands/eyes on everything and therefore can never get to everyone’s needs, which are needs we wouldn’t have if she would trust her employees, instead of her having to do/see everything to either finish it herself or approve whatever it is. For example the bank transfer – I am MORE than capable of doing this, and have done this in the past, at different jobs- but that would require me being given the password to something (gasp) and something being slightly out of her control. Even though I tell her when it needs done and for how much, SHE HAS to do it.

      Reply
      1. Jasmine

        I’m detecting shades of my boss here. We managed perfectly well when she was out of the country for medical treatment for 3 weeks, but when she’s actually in the office the teapot decorator’s weights just have to be double checked!

        Reply
      2. The Man, Becky Lynch

        Ah…sounds like she’s playing a shell game with the business, I wonder what their financials looks like. I always wonder what financials look like when there’s this level of ineptitude and change involved, she sounds like a total scoundrel who doens’t know how to operate a business and is busy pulling fast ones to evade anyone from seeing her real shenanigans.

        Reply
        1. Jane the wise

          While I don’t agree with this woman’s management style, it is unkind and a real stretch to say that she is engaging in any wrongdoing. Please follow the site rules!

          Reply
  24. Lalitah28

    Here are some tips from me, basically a career administrative assistant, from 20+years of working experience:

    * you’re going to have to make peace that your manager has poor project/task management skills and that the bulk of it will have to come from you;

    * to cope with this, I have done the following: schedule a daily check-in to follow-up on items that require the manager’s input/decision; OR

    * Consolidated the multiple emails into ONE list of things with due dates that you need from her into one email, which I would print and put on her desk.

    Both worked for me, but as always, YMMV.

    Reply
    1. Name Required

      Yes to consolidated email! So helpful! I used to send a previous boss an end of week email on all the things I hadn’t heard back from her on. That was the one responded to most commonly.

      Reply
  25. Clay on my apron

    OP has my sympathy. But having very recently moved into a very demanding supervisory role I can see the need for employees to follow up and take a certain amount of ownership of getting things signed off or issues resolved.

    I’m having kinda the reverse problem. I’ve been in this role for two months. My team members don’t let me know when they need something from me, they just wait and hope I’ll figure it out. They don’t follow up when I don’t get back to them, they just let things slide. They don’t send me their work to review, they wait for me to ask where it is, by which time it’s frequently overdue. I’m spending all of my time chasing them instead of the other way around.

    Reply
    1. The Man, Becky Lynch

      Have you discussed with your team about their lack of communication and follow up? It’s only been for two months, so perhaps it’s still a little early but you need to bring everyone together and do a whole “let’s get on the same page and open up the communication channels!”

      They are most likely carrying over how they worked with their old supervisor. Who of course depending on how long they were there had their own way of doing things. They knew what to check and didn’t need a reminder or a poke here and there.

      You can address this as “I’m new and I want to make sure we’re all getting what we need, I may need your help a little more than usual at first because I’m getting the ropes down. I want to make your job easier and don’t want you to stress out, so I want to work with everyone to see the best way to tackle any issues of time management or response time, etc.” [Clearly this is rambling and not a script for you but my way of trying to explain that this isn’t a sit-down and come to Jesus meeting thing but it’s so fresh in your management that you can really come across as a team player manager instead of just kind of feeling frustrated and lost on your end!

      Reply
  26. Seeking Second Childhood

    There are some emails I send where I BCC myself so I can tag them as tasks in MSOutlook.
    Ugly but less onerous than paper copies!

    Reply
    1. E

      There’s an option when you’re writing an email under the Message tab to select the “Follow Up” drop down and then Outlook will put the task on your to-do list just like if you’d flagged incoming emails to remind yourself. I have this set up on an email template to a vendor where I need a response in 3 days, so that I can follow up if they haven’t send approval.

      Reply
  27. Proxima Centauri

    My advice would be to start any e-mail that needs action with ACTION NEEDED in the title. If it’s from someone else, forward it again with ACTION NEEDED in the subjection.

    Reply
  28. Master Bean Counter

    OP–why are you still emailing your boss? This is not a route that works.
    I’d start printing things out that she needs to do. If you need her to do a bank transfer, print out the information and hand it to her. Need an answer to a question, call or visit her desk and ask.–Document the answer in an email afterwards if necessary.
    I have a manager (not mine) that I need stuff from occasionally. He does not do email. He tells me to text him. He doesn’t answer texts either. I either wait until I’m sitting next to him in a weekly meeting to get signatures, or I’ll call him to get an answer. I’ve been known to track him down through the plant to get what I need.
    My manager knows it’s much better to answer my emails, because he doesn’t want me camping in his office until I get an answer.

    Reply
    1. Nicotene

      It’s true that if email doesn’t work after a certain number of attempts, it becomes necessary to switch to phone calls. I’m surprised how often I have to point this out to people in my office!

      Reply
      1. Nanani

        I would bet cash this boss also gets too many phone calls and/or is too busy to answer them and doesn’t check voice mail/paper messages either.

        Reply
  29. LSP

    This reminds me of a former boss who would randomly flip between “I’m getting too many emails. Stop cc’ing me on things!” to “I don’t know what’s going on and am out of the loop. You need to cc me on every email!”

    She almost always felt it was our fault she felt out of the loop after returning from a 2-week long vacation in Puerto Rico or Thailand.

    And she often felt overwhelmed by emails when she was busily trying to meet a deadline, and instead of temporarily turning off email notifications to get stuff done, she would blame us for emailing her about things she needed to know about/do.

    Reply
  30. JJ Bittenbinder

    Ugh, reminds me of my old job where I got dinged for “missing a deadline” on something, when it reality my boss hadn’t followed up on the multiple reminders I had sent (by different methods, not just repeated emailing). I never found a way around it, to be honest.

    Reply
  31. your reader :-)

    Your answer is spot on Alison! There are TONS of other management problems, this is just the most recent one that made me shake my head, question her management style, and question my role here. I agree with you, that I have to go with HER flow. And to a large extent that will always make sense to do with a manager/boss. I have brought up bigger problems with her in the past, and also got shut down, so this was no shock. It does however make me feel better that I am sane, and others can see how some of this behavior/some of her requests are indeed ridiculous (even if there is no way of changing her mind here!). I am also with you when it comes down to the fact that many workers take on a helper role for their boss, and I am all for that. That is the reason many of us here were hired, because she and others were so overwhelmed. Now unfortunately, after only 1.5 years here, I myself am beyond overwhelmed, with no help in sight. This is something I have brought up with her, and asked for help, just to be shut down, as is the norm obviously. Let’s just say, with this issue plus all of the other MANY management issues, I am not willing to live with it for too much longer ;-)

    Reply
    1. The Man, Becky Lynch

      They’re overworking you and you have a manager with this attitude towards you? Nope nope nope, I hope you find something new soon and are in a much better situation.

      Reply
    2. Akcipitrokulo

      From this and your other responses here… I think this is a classic case of “your boss sucks and isn’t going to change.”

      Run, tell bosses that aren’t married to her (also a reason to run like the wind) why, and glassdoor the hell out of it once safely away!

      Reply
  32. SamIAm

    I recommend using the Hamster Revolution (it’s a book, worth the purchase and the read) method for anyone, but especially this boss.

    We include one of these words in the subject line (beginning or end):
    ACTION – means there recipient has an action
    INFO – just to let the recipient know
    URGENT – Read me now!
    RESPONSE- Responding to your request or task

    Other than that, it’s on boss to keep herself more organized… jimmy!

    Reply
      1. Rectilinear Propagation

        Oh, if you can get everyone else on board with this too it would at least prevent her from being able to say she didn’t know an action item was in an email.

        Reply
    1. E

      This method would be so helpful if I could get more folks to use anything similar for their email subjects.

      Reply
    2. Kat in VA

      I literally just emailed my boss and asked him if he’d like to implement this. The subject line begins with INFO/ACTION. (I asked in the email if he wanted to implement it, and if it worked, let’s get his directors on board.) I’m hoping he goes for it. Anything to streamline our communications is useful, in my book.

      Reply
  33. BTDT

    If I were in your shoes I’d look into a totally different way of letting your boss know what needs to be done. A project management site/app, to-do lists, text, whatever. Something other than email. I get super frustrated when people don’t read emails so I get it, but there are truly some jobs in which the amount of email a manager receives is overwhelming. My DH literally gets about 500 emails every single day. It’s insane. He still scans every subject line but stuff definitely gets lost in the shuffle b/c it’s just way too much. Sending more emails as reminders just makes this problem worse. I would actually suggest everyone email less often and keep that for less important/just FYI type of communication. Important stuff – switch to whatever other mode works best for your type of org.

    Reply
    1. your reader :-)

      I agree with this- but in her case, whatever way you try is wrong for HER in that moment. See my other comments- but basically whatever way we bring something to her attention, we should have done it another way. If we call- we should have emailed, if we text- we should have called… etc.

      Reply
      1. Knork

        She sounds like a nightmare. I probably would default to paper. Print something out, put a sticky note on it with what you need her to do. If she’s around, hand it to her. If she’s not, drop it on top of her keyboard and send a follow-up email. It’s not always going to work and it’s probably still going to be “wrong” pretty often, but it might be your best bet.

        Reply
      2. Anon for this one

        Being set up for failure is incredibly unpleasant. I have no useful advice that hasn’t been covered, just sympathy in that your boss seems to be actively sabotaging any attempts to constructively fix a very real problem.

        Reply
    2. MissDisplaced

      I agree, and this is what I do with my boss, who often travels. Email with ACTION REQUIRED header + a phone call or VM to let him know what/why. It may be awhile, but he will respond.

      But my husband has a boss like OP’s who blames his underlings. Thus far, this “manager” had done the following:
      >Arranged a training trip from 2 employees, never followed-up with flight booking, hotel, etc., in spite of the employees emailing/calling/texting at least twice. On the day they were supposed to be at the training, he called them asking why they weren’t there and proceeded to berate and blame them for not following up. Note: only the manager can request this, these are new employees who don’t know the process.
      >Made them buy some expensive books ($200) and test ($200) for an IT certification, and then never approved the reimbursement, in spite of the many reminders the AP system kicks out. So, they’re still out their own personal money for this.
      >Sent my husband on a trip and didn’t place the request for funds to be placed on his corporate declining balance travel card. My husband ended up in a strange city with no money. The hotel threatened to kick him out because the card kept declining.
      >Same manager disappeared at that time on some type of leave without approving any expenses. Blames employees for not “reminding” him in spite of the many emails/calls/texts.
      >Manager gets mad if people call him to remind him, will berate employees for bothering him.
      >Manager put two new employees in an office for 6 months and basically forgot them, and never gave them any training or actual work.
      >The manager kind of got into trouble for this (not training new employees to company standard) and now blames my husband for it.

      Somehow this manager is still there and not fired. No matter what you do, you’ll never win with people who refuse to do their jobs.

      Reply
  34. Kate

    Alison, can you elaborate on what this looks like in your own inbox?

    I know you mentioned it a while back, and I tried to implement it myself, but it felt weird moving an email from my Sent file into a dedicated Follow Up file (and got confusing if I was trying to run a search within my Sent items).

    Do you just BCC yourself each time and move that email to the follow up folder?

    Reply
    1. Ask a Manager Post author

      Nope, I don’t BCC myself. I just go through my Sent folder once or twice a day and, with messages where it’s important that I hear back, I drag them into a “waiting for” folder. I go through the “waiting for” folder once every day or two, and follow up on anything where it’s needed. Once something is dealt with, I move it out of “waiting for.”

      This works for me because I use my mail program to organize my entire life, so I’m in there constantly anyway. But I think it would work even if that weren’t the case, actually!

      Don’t feel weird about dragging an email from Sent over to Waiting For! I don’t know about your mail program, but in mine (Apple Mail) I can do a search that specifies not just contents of the message but sender.

      Reply
      1. Ask a Manager Post author

        But you could bcc yourself if that works better. You might be able to set up a rule where anything you bcc yourself on automatically goes into your “waiting for” folder.

        Reply
    2. The Man, Becky Lynch

      I’ve honestly seen a lot of people over the years CC themselves in emails. You don’t even need to remember to do it from behind the BCC curtain!

      Reading this now just made that practice make sense to me after all the years of just saying “Hmm that’s interesting but whatever their system is their system.”

      Reply
    3. ooo

      If your email program has a snooze function (like Gmail does now), that’s perfect for this kind of thing. I send a ton of emails I need responses on, and after sending, I snooze each one so that it’ll pop up if I haven’t gotten a reply by whatever day. Honestly has been a productivity game changer for me, in terms of keeping track of stuff.

      Reply
    4. E

      Outlook lets you add an automatic reminder on an outgoing email so that it is added to your to-do list as a task. Saves me a step on repeatedly used email templates to have this already added, but you could quickly add it on pertinent emails and then not have the BCC emails adding to your clutter.

      Reply
  35. Sarah Mary

    I do get a strong scent of overwhelmed boss lashing out from this one. You can fantasize about stapling printed out emails to her forehead if you like. No one will know. But as for practical advice, if she’s not answering the first email she won’t answer follow-up reminder emails, so her employees will have to make calls to get things done. However, I dislike calling because it doesn’t leave a document trail to show that at least you did your job. It also leads to a lot of phone calls, and this boss might just decide that she just gets too many calls during the day and stop taking those as well. Same with labeling things “Urgent!!” You just end up with an inbox full of emails that are all urgent.

    Reply
    1. your reader :-)

      Agree! She gets calls ALL day as well, and if she has someone more important with her or something else more urgent, we get the “I’ll call you back” – which never happens, or at times we just get hung up on- no joke. So her “call me to follow up” is just as bad as a follow up email it seems.

      Reply
      1. Sarah Mary

        It sounds like what she really wants is not to have to do this job. I can imagine that she feels like she’s always putting out fires, and this may not be her fault. Maybe her role demands more than any human could reasonably do. That being said, “chewing people out” and “blowing gaskets” is not good boss behavior. I hope you get out of there, LW. I’m rooting for you!

        Reply
      2. Anon for this one

        Am I the only one that finds her habit of literally hanging up on you to be breathtakingly rude and boorish?

        Even a superfast “Can’t talk, gotta go” then *click* is less rude than simply hanging up the phone. Just…wooooow.

        Reply
    2. The Man, Becky Lynch

      Try not to think of calls as “no document trail”, sure you don’t have an electronic trail with that date stamp. I always write notes on the account/document to create my own written trail.

      You’ll see “Called “Person” 4/2/19 @ 2pm, left msg.” note on a lot of my paperwork that requires follow ups. Then when I file it, there’s the notes for someone to see its’ history if they ever wanted to know.

      Just like those are also where I can write down my verbal approvals my boss sometimes gives me. Say it’s a verbal “Sure go ahead and order that gadget for the factory” and so I do up the PO and and write down “verbal OK by bossman date/time.” Then if he did ask “but when did I sign for this?” I say “You didn’t sign for it, you told me to do it this date and time.” and he goes “Aaaaaah yesssssss got it.”

      Reply
  36. animaniactoo

    A few suggestions:

    Okay, so she’s a disorganized mess who isn’t coming up with a plan for organizer herself. Stop asking her for suggestions and start making some. All of these are going to take more work on your part, the key is to make it effective work if possible.

    1) Can you send her a daily summary of things you need her followup on, with urgency statuses so that she can prioritize at a glance?

    2) Come up with E-mail headers that call out the ones she most urgently needs to be aware of? “FINANCIAL URGENT: Bank transfer. Deadline 04/05.” “CLIENT URGENT: Jacobson account. Upper level decision needed.” “CLIENT URGENT: Vorkosigan account. Client wants to end service.” and so on?

    Work with her on what those headers should be and when you should be using them.

    3) Will a shared task list work where tasks she needs to do can be one line listings with deadlines? Using something like Wunderlist that will let you all see them and which ones have been done?

    4) Does she need an assistant to help her sort through her inbox and prioritize things she needs to handle vs things that are more of an “FYI” cc?

    5) When you follow up, do you always use e-mail? It sounds like what she means by “follow up” may be verbal and not written. Can you call her to follow up?

    6) Does one of you have enough relationship to Bob to mention how hard it’s become to make sure deadlines are met now that Guinevere isn’t reading e-mails unless they’re labeled screamingly urgent, and that things are falling through the cracks even with multiple followup reminders? I mean, proceed with caution along this route, but Bob may not be happy at all to understand that Guinevere has declared she’s just not going to read e-mails and want to address that.

    Reply
  37. Nanani

    Isn’t this lack-of-system system just going to lead to exclamation point escalation until Boss’ inbox is nothing but an endless sequence of !!s as every subject line runs out of characters to put exclamation marks in?

    When everything has to be marked urgent to get attention, the actual urgent things fail to get it.

    Reply
    1. your reader :-)

      Exactly, everyone here marks everything as urgent or important, just in hopes that it actually gets read.

      Reply
  38. LaDeeDa

    That is insane and weird!! It sounds like she doesn’t know how to manage her workload and instead of owning that and fixing it, she is blaming LW and expecting LW to manage it.

    I wonder if it would be helpful to have a standing once a week meeting where LW presents all the decisions/actions in one swoop and get it all done at once?

    Reply
    1. your reader :-)

      Oh I have tried this. I would LOVE to have a list of things to go over with her and be done – but this seems to overwhelm her, and so I am told one day to email her, the next day to call her, and then later on to just stop by her office. It’s always changing! No consistency from her, with me or any of her employees, from day to day.

      Reply
      1. LaDeeDa

        Oh good lord!! OK — so my grand boss is decision adverse… here is my formula- I email her 1 week ahead– 1 sentence summary, 3 bullet points of key information, 3 bullet points of decisions- with dates of decision or meeting. But she reads my initial email. LOL! I manage her by giving her chunks… if your boss won’t even read that type of email I don’t know what to do!

        Reply
  39. ughhhhh

    This was interesting for me to read, because it is a normal practice in my industry. I work in a legal practice area that involves managing a very high volume of projects (big and small) all with different deadlines, and many of the deadlines are not extendable. This means sending follow up emails to my bosses, clients, and other staff are essential to making sure nothing falls through the cracks. I have one client who has very specific guidelines for when / how the progression of follow-up emails and phone calls should go to him because he acknowledges, like LW’s boss, that he does not always get around to reading his emails in time. As for how to make this easier to adapt to, my recommendation is to keep a calendar or spreadsheet (I use a paper calendar) to keep track of when to send email (or other) reminders. Every time you send an email to your boss with an action item, mark the calendar for the day that you will follow up. Then, each day, turn to the follow-up calendar and send out your reminder(s) first thing in the morning.

    Reply
  40. your reader :-)

    I should also mention, no matter how you come to her, you should have came to her differently. For example, if you call- you should have just emailed, if you emailed- you should have came by her office, if you text- you should have called, and so forth. There is no pleasing this one. So it’s not that I mind going to her, reminding her, etc., but no matter what I try, I am doing it wrong…

    Reply
    1. Deb Morgan

      I think you probably already know this, but you should be job searching. Either she is an objective mess or your working styles are just not jiving. In either case, I’d be dusting off my resume. Good luck!

      Reply
    2. animaniactoo

      Ah, that’s important information.

      In which case, I think we can safely say “Your boss sucks and isn’t going to change.” You can mitigate that somewhat by knowing in advance that whatever method you choose isn’t going to be the right method du jour so that you’re just expecting it when she tells you that you did it wrong, skip being concerned about it, and focus on getting the end result you need. But really, that’s a level of unpleasant that no one should have to put up with on a daily/weekly or even monthly basis.

      So, how’s that job hunt going?

      Reply
    3. AnotherAlison

      I do think your boss isn’t great, and the fact that it’s a family run small business is a strong indicator that your employer may be dysfunctional. My spouse is a small businessman, and what I see is that he gave himself his job based on his trade. He has never held a formal management position at a corporation and has limited training in that area. How much a small business person gets the “norms” the rest of us employes understand can vary widely.

      That said, I still think you have to keep in mind for future positions that some level of nagging up the ladder is expected and probably increases the more senior your manager is.

      Reply
    4. It's Pronounced Bruce

      This is veeery important information, because it precludes most of the simpler solutions. And by that I mean, I don’t think there really is a solution. She’s decided that she’s too busy to interact with you guys but you still need to interact with her, and when that causes a problem she gets angry at you and makes out like this is your issue to solve.

      Reply
    5. Nanani

      This information makes all the halpful suggestions to try this subject line or that timing of approach meaningless.

      Your boss is going to keep moving the goalposts until you leave.

      Reply
    6. Â

      Maybe you should try bringing a loud horn or a whistle into work and blowing it when something needs her urgent attention?

      On second thought, maybe only do that after you’ve given notice.

      Reply
  41. Arya Snark

    My boss isn’t this ludicrous but he is very busy and gets many emails. We worked out a system where I put UFR in the subject line for things where Urgent Follow-up is Required. It helps him ID things he needs to respond to ASAP.

    Reply
  42. Alli525

    My boss at my last job, who was otherwise the best boss I’ve ever had, was so awful at reading his emails that I and the rest of his team eventually got IT permissions to access his inbox. That way, we could tell what he hadn’t read, and make sure we escalated important client messages in a timely way. I regularly see people with TENS OF THOUSANDS of unread emails, in their WORK inboxes, and it makes me want to vomit.

    I currently have less than 10 emails in my inbox – all read, responded-to, and awaiting replies.

    Reply
  43. SaffyTaffy

    The phrase “her husband/our other boss” explains so much about why this person has poor workplace boundaries and expectations. This wouldn’t fly anywhere except a dysfunctional business, and having bosses who are married to one another is a blueprint for dysfunction.

    Reply
    1. RVA Cat

      I picked up on this too and it sent my shoulders up to my ears.

      In the immortal words of Iron Maiden, “Run to the hills, run for your lives….!”

      Reply
  44. Purplemeg

    I had a boss like this! Eventually one person on our team got access to his email and had their whole job be sorting through his email. (This was his idea, and it worked pretty well, and we had the resources for it.)

    Reply
    1. The Man, Becky Lynch

      Yes, a lot of managers with extreme email flow have administrative assistants that are dedicated to this kind of work. We used to have an office assistant years ago where one of their main tasks was sorting email boxes and controlling spam or just “thank you” responses, automated responses etc. Then it was known that anything left was something that needed attention to lessen their load.

      You can also set up filters but those have bit me a few times so I don’t like to go that route but it does work for some.

      Reply
  45. Mr. Bob Dobalina

    Email is clearly not an effective system of action items or reminders for OP’s boss. I suggest a completely different strategy. Create a periodic simple checklist of the tasks the boss needs to complete. It could be a daily checklist or a weekly checklist. Whatever works. Include a brief description of the task to be done. Indicate the due date or priority for each item. Then print it out, and hand the hard copy to boss on a regular schedule. If she/he still doesn’t respond, follow up in person. OP needs to figure out what method is effective for this boss.

    Reply
  46. InfoGeek

    We had a plant manager who was drowning in e-mails and basically only got around to emails from people higher than she was (so, corporate folks).
    So, if I needed something from her (usually a written approval), I would send the e-mail and then go stand in the queue at her office (or go back later if it seemed like she was in a long meeting).
    When it was my turn, she’d pull up the e-mail and respond. I never left the office before she pressed SEND.

    Everyone learned the trick and that’s how everyone handled it (some groups had standing meetings with her daily, so didn’t need to go stand in line for routine things).

    Reply
  47. Did you read my email?

    I can empathize. I have a boss who is like this too. Is your manager relatively new? I feel like this is a common new manager thing to complain about how many emails you get. Anyway, I will send an email that will very clearly state what I need from my boss (usually only 1-2 sentences tops). My boss will either 1) not answer the question or not answer the right question or 2) walk into my office and say “what’s going on with X?” which means I then have to basically read the email to him. Oh and my boss specifically requests that we send action items via email! It’s frustrating…

    Reply
    1. MissDisplaced

      It’s true. When you start managing people, you’ll get lots of emails… LOTS!
      Approvals for vacations, time off, expense reports, reviews, questions, meetings, etc., etc. That’s why managers get paid more! Top executives get executive secretaries/admins who do this sort of thing for them. However, they have to be willing to give over some approval authority to their admin, and many managers are unwilling to do so.

      Reply
  48. nnn

    My first thought: does she have a calendar? Does your email/calendar system let you set reminders that would pop up in her calendar? (My employer’s system would do that if you sent an invitation – even if she ignores it (as long as she doesn’t decline it), she’d get a pop-up reminding her). I think in Outlook you can also set flags on specific messages that would cause a reminder to pop up.

    If making things pop up on her computer isn’t viable, you could also remind yourself to remind her by making things pop up on your own computer, i.e. send an email then set a flag with a reminder to yourself to remind her. Which, of course, is still tedious, but it’s probably the smoothest possible way to incorporate it into your workflow.

    In terms of your own sanity, it might be useful to make yourself a standard script for following up. “Hi Lucille, as requested I’m following up on my email of last week to remind you that the transfer is due Friday.” I find that having a script makes it feel more like you’re checking the boxes to prove that you’re following the letter of her instructions, and less like you’re begging her to do her job. (I’d also be tempted to schedule it to verge on the ridiculous. “Hi Lucille, to follow up on my email of last week, and Monday’s phone call, and our conversation on Wednesday, and the note I slipped under your door yesterday, the transfer has to be done by the end of the day.”)

    Reply
  49. ThisColumnMakesMeGratefulForMyBoss

    If you use Outlook for email, use the tools of the application to help you keep track of things. I use my inbox as a to-do list. When I’m done with it, I either file it in a folder for reference or delete it. You can copy yourself on any emails that require follow-up with your manager, so it’s there for you to note as a to-do. And use the flag option for more important things. You can also set up tasks for things you do regularly (like the one your mentioned about the transfer), and I’m sure there are lots of other tools in Outlook. I’ve often wondered how managers get any work done when 90% of their time is spent in meetings. Your boss seems a bit unreasonable, since she shot down your suggestion without really hearing you out, but you either need to find a way to make it work for both of you, or find another job.

    Reply
  50. MissDisplaced

    When I read tales like this, it screams to me this isn’t a manager, it’s a someone who thinks because they’re the boss they can refuse to manage! In other words, it’s a BIG FREAKIN BABY pretending to be a business executive.

    I do understand that many mangers travel and are super busy. Cutting down on superfluous email can be way to clear some time. However, it does not mean you don’t EVER have to review or answer your emails! Or respond in some way, such as calling! And if you don’t want to do more of that, well then you need to EMPOWER your staff to approve some of these things on their own without your having to put your personal stamp on each and every thing. Some executives aren’t particularly good at this (and know it), and therefore hire a personal assistant to do it for them.

    But blaming your staff for not following up (when they clearly ARE following up two or even three times) is shirking your duties and generally being a shitty manager (especially the blaming the employee for her own fuckup part). And if you’re that bad as simple things such as answering urgent questions from their employees and reports, and failing to transfer funds, something she knows needs to happen every month, I really wonder about how she runs a business and what else is rotten in Denmark.
    I’d begin looking.

    Reply
  51. Lilith

    Can you have a folder of the day with today’s printed “to do sheets” already in it?
    Monday–magenta
    Tuesday–tangerine
    etc
    So you &she know to look for & sign off on those dailies?

    Reply
  52. almost empty nester

    You need a good management system for following up…try Trello or something similar, whatever works. Also, our team has daily standing 15 minute calls with the manager and we each get a few minutes to give a highlight of what the day looks like for us, and what do we need from manager today. Honestly thought this would be a painful drag, but I’ve gotten to appreciate it for knowing up front that I will have a few minutes at the top of her day to be specific about what I need from her.

    Reply
  53. LaDeeDa

    My direct boss and my grand-boss do not like each other, and I often say it is like I am the child of divorced parents. They won’t talk directly to each other for anything. So I have to be the go-between. Ladee — tell boss I want X” “LaDee tell grand-boss we are here…” They also have very different styles.
    With boss- 30 minutes before a meeting I resend my initial email to tell her- we are going to be talking about this.
    With grand-boss, I don’t have to resend… I know that my email that said — 3 bullet points of key information, and 3 bullets of decisions will have been thought about and be ready to discuss.
    Managing UP is friggin exhausting.

    Reply
  54. Oranges

    Oh boy…

    1) This process would be reasonable with some bosses. This boss? She’s using the follow-up to shift blame away from her (she moves the goal-posts too much for it to be anything else).

    2) You will not get anything done while working for her AND be blamed for everything she doesn’t do. Job search now.

    3) Try to detach. The wild egotistical micromanager in their natural habitat works well for me.

    Reply
  55. A Girl Named Violet

    I almost had a heart attack as this sounds like an upper level person here who does the EXACT SAME THING. I even ran to them to his team and said, does anyone here read AAM? They all had a good laugh!!!

    Reply
  56. Samwise

    I don’t really agree with AAM that the boss is being ludicrous. She’s told the LW, if it needs follow up, tell me in person / on the phone. If that’s what the boss wants, then do it. Clearly it’s a waste of time to keep sending emails that you know the boss is not going to address. Frankly, if my boss asks me to put the info on stone tablets that’s what I’m going to do because she is waaaaaay more busy than I am (and I’m quite busy), her work is important, and she answers to higher up muckety-mucks.

    LW, I’d keep a spreadsheet or other doc on my computer desktop, tracking things that need to be done, when they’re due, when to give a reminder. Every morning (or once or twice a week, or whatever makes sense) print out a report with the most pressing items first, then perhaps a section with of things due within the week, then things due farther out. Give it to your boss in person — perhaps you can have a standing meeting (like, a five-minute meeting even) in which you give her the list, pointing out the most important items. If you’re already using project management or other tracking software, make your printed reports from that.

    And then I’d send one email with the report attached, just to CYA.

    Reply
    1. Eliza

      The OP’s update a little further up (under the name “your reader :-)) explains that it’s not that simple: if she tries following up by phone/in person, she gets yelled at for not just emailing instead.

      Reply
      1. Emily K

        It’s definitely not simple. Difficult bosses really need very experienced people supporting them, and a specific type of person.

        But if you can adapt to it and figure out how to get work done, it can be worthwhile. I worked for an exacting and demanding and super busy boss for a few years. The job was ROUGH and I was frequently stressed out at work, but I did my best to leave it at the door and to do whatever insane thing she wanted me to waste my time on any given day.

        Despite how annoyed she often seemed with me, that was just her Type A personality. She fired the next 3 people who had the role after me and is a great reference now who tells employers I was impossible up replace. She’s on the board of a half dozen organizations in my field and her reference carries a lot of weight, so I feel like in the end I got enough out of that job for what it took out of me.

        Reply
        1. Kella

          It sounds like this boss may not be figure-out-able. From reading OP’s comments, the theme I’m noticing is that her boss is always placing the responsibility for what’s going wrong on someone else, and she’ll adjust the reason for it being wrong to the moment. It’s not that she’s demanding or strict, it’s that there is no right answer. If her goal is not actually to have everything go exactly as she wants it to in a type-a personality kind of way, but to evade any accountability for her actions, then no answer will be the right one, by design. Even if you do something exactly to her standards, she’s not keeping up with her workload so she’s going to find something wrong with *your* work in order to avoid taking the blame for lagging behind, even when there is actually nothing wrong with it. You can’t avoid her triggers if she invents new ones every time.

          Reply
  57. ComeOn!

    We use Trello to track all kinds of things – for ourselves individually and as a group. I use the free individual version.
    While she is suggesting some very old school processes, you might find Trello useful for yourself. And you can set it up to give you deadlines for reminders, etc. I find this kind of organizational software fun … but that might be just me!

    Reply
  58. DoWeHaveTheSameKookyBoss?

    This is so annoying. My boss is the same way and then when something falls through the cracks he gives me this long speech that starts with “I’ve told you several times you need to follow up…” It’s really just an excuse he’s making for himself which as his employee I can’t do anything about. If I send him an email and then I don’t get a response in a day or 2 and then send him a follow up email and still don’t get a response, how many follow ups do I need to send before he takes some responsibility for his failure to complete his part of what needs to be done? In my case my boss is often out of the office and email is our main form of communication – when he is in the office I prefer a mix of face to face and emails. Face to face because I know I don’t get responses to my email but emails because sometimes I need to make sure I pull a CYA move just in case. He hates face to face and will very deliberately keep his door shut all day so I don’t come in! LOL

    I don’t think people should just grin and bear it. I am seriously considering looking elsewhere. This might sound extreme to some but when the staff is so small (I’m the only support staff) I cannot sit here and take the blame for every single thing that goes wrong because he refuses to do his part. It’s outrageous. I feel for you OP.

    Reply
    1. Emily K

      With this kind of boss, behaving like a pushy salesperson is key. You need to Always Be Closing with your boss. Get the boss to commit to specific things. Never let one interaction end without laying the groundwork for the next. “Should I wait here until you’re finished, or come back at 3 when your calendar is currently unblocked? You can’t do it today? How about tomorrow at 10?”

      I’m also a huge fan of putting deadlines in emails, and I will bold them so they stand out at a glance. I frequently say, “I plan to do X with this on Friday, so please send me your edits no later than COB Thursday or let me know before then if I need to delay X to give you more time.” Then at some point that day I have a real-time conservation to let them know about the email and the deadline, and I send one final reminder Thursday morning that I will proceed tomorrow morning with or without their feedback unless I hear otherwise, and again follow that up with a call or chat.

      To some extent this only works because I’m senior enough and have a good enough track record that I’m empowered to make that call to proceed with something unless someone affirmatively objects, but if you do have that level of empowerment it’s an extremely effective tool for getting work done when everyone around you is too busy. It’s probably different in every company but in mine if my boss isn’t giving feedback on something AND doesn’t say, “wait on this, I need more time,” it’s because it’s so far down his priority list that he doesn’t think it’s worth his time. Which means as long as the work product has been proofread and is factually accurate/functions as intended, he really doesn’t care what I do. If he really thought that thing needed his attention, he would say so.

      Reply
  59. Probably Nerdy

    I WAS IN A WORKPLACE LIKE THIS!!!!!!! Not only that, but my boss said that it was my responsibility to follow up with EVERYONE who never read their emails. Consequently, no one ever read their emails because they knew they would get spoon fed. It was so dysfunctional.

    My advice is, your boss sucks and isn’t going to change. I quit and got a much better job.

    Reply
  60. ooo

    There’s something gloriously Kafkaesque about the number of commenters who seem really committed to the position “It makes sense to spend who-knows-how-long chasing down responses, since managers have too much work because of time-saving technology.”

    Reply
  61. Free Meerkats

    I’d handle her the same way I handle my own stuff that needs followup; I have a white board with the things that need followup and mileposts that are erased as accomplished.

    You need a Karen Board with items written on it as you send them. Add dates for first sending and every reminder. Make it visible so when she asks you can look at it and recite the dates you did what she asked you to do. Mush simpler and quicker than a paper file of all the emails.

    Reply
    1. Shoes On My Cat

      Brilliant!! And right there to refer to in black and white! Still won’t resolve ridiculous boss but will likely resolve that piece OP has to deal with!

      Reply
  62. Bob Bob Bobbin

    I send my emails with the Subject line starting with an all caps indication of if action is needed & deadline.
    So rather than having it be

    Subject: TPS reports

    my emails read:

    Subject: ACTION NEEDED: Please sign TPS reports (Deadline: Apr 1st)

    Reply
  63. Jillian

    This is my boss’ system (he gets so many e-mails he literally could not deal with them all properly). It is not ideal but we manage!

    We in the office know not to e-mail him anything – save reminders and discussion items for face-to-face meetings or when you can flag him down for a minute and make sure he actually does the thing while you’re sitting there. He forwards all outside mail on to the relevant assistant, who then either deal with it themselves (where possible) or brings it back to him in one of those face-to-face meetings to make sure it gets dealt with, ensuring that all of the information he needs to respond / action the e-mail is available. The assistants organize priorities amongst themselves for who gets facetime first to deal with what.

    It’s not ideal and I think sounds worse than it is, but I do understand the necessity where potentially important e-mails are coming so fast and furious that you couldn’t possibly manage them all in a workday on top of regular duties.

    Reply
  64. spring sprung

    Your boss needs an admin. Someone whose job it is to read e-mails, prioritize them, and then tell her about them. Having everyone try to track her down for everything is… not gonna work.

    Reply
  65. qvaken

    Workers are really just helpers to managers? Workers do the work for the business, managers enable them to do their work. That’s why senior and middle managers are often the first to go in restructuring, and why everyone would care if all the doctors and nurses went on strike for a day and nobody would care if all the hospital’s board of directors and upper management went on strike for a day.

    This manager just isn’t completing the tasks she needs to complete and is finding someone else to blame for her own failures.

    Reply
    1. Kettles

      This. Even if the workers were entirely at fault her entire job is to manage them and ensure they work well.

      Reply
    2. The Man, Becky Lynch

      That’s a huge stretch and you’re narrowing a huge structural business such as a hospital into a flippant comment.

      Most companies have retooled and restructured to the point that they have downsized their unnecessary management staff long ago, you’re archaic in your beliefs here. Not every business is simply a bunch of managers hanging out in their office to stamp approvals on things as their busy little worker bees buzz around getting the real work done.

      Doctors/Nurses V Board of Directors isn’t even in the same space, without an executive body [be that a board or a person/people] governing a business, it ceases to exist.

      Reply
    3. EventPlannerGal

      Yeah, I’m surprised that that mentality. If anything, it really sounds as though this manager is impeding OP’s work – presumably she was not hired just to follow her boss around asking her if she’s read her e-mails all day, but rather to do some other job which she now is not focused on because of this e-mail thing.

      Reply
  66. Kettles

    Your boss is completely ludicrous, even just on the bank transfer example. For a regular monthly bank transfer, handling it by asking a subordinate to remind you to do it is so inefficient it makes my eyes bleed. You could forget. The email could go missing. It could get lost in the ether. She could not see the email. She could see it and forget. Anything – from giving you the company credit card, to setting up a reminder in her own calendar, to setting up a direct debit… there are so many options that would be quicker, easier and less prone to human and mechanical error that I just think she’s wrong and bad and you should leave as quickly as possible.

    Reply
    1. Rectilinear Propagation

      …to setting up a direct debit…

      Right?! I want to know why a regular, monthly bank transfer is something *anyone* has to deal with at all instead of just scheduling the transfer with bank and be done with it. At a bank or credit union with a decent online system, you can even edit an individual transfer in a series if you need to.

      Reply
      1. The Man, Becky Lynch

        Cash flow problems. Not being cash positive is a huge unknown secret of many businesses, even the ones you wouldn’t think it was an issue given their ‘standing’ and ‘all the business they do’ but yeah, operating at a loss. Seen it, hate it, will never repeat the personal side of that nonsense. I get caught in the struggle of trying to collect a couple hundred dollars from companies all the time with the same stories.

        I had to go un-do all the automatic payments a former accountant had set up prior to my arrival because business started crashing not long afterwards [largest client took a big old sloppy dump cuz economy] and it threw the liquid into a tailspin.

        Reply
  67. BurnOutCandidate

    I admit, this is a passive-aggressive way of handling it, but…

    Type up the email you want to send your boss.
    Paste the body of the email into a memo template in Word.
    Print out the memo.
    Send it to your boss via intraoffice email.

    This accomplishes the point of the email — your boss can handle it on her schedule — and you’re not constantly having to call or see your boss.

    Reply
  68. Not Sayin' Who

    ” …Bob (her husband/our other boss)…”

    Here’s where your problem is. It’s a family business. Run like the wind!

    Reply
  69. Nodramalama

    I actually don’t think this is that crazy. Some of my superiors get so many emails there’s no way they’ll see most of them unless they’ve been flagged as important. The whole thing about printing off another copy and shredding it is excessive but this is why some places use read receipts so you know whether it’s been read. If I haven’t had a response in about a day I tend to follow up- I feel like it’s the smart thing to do when I know that however many emails I’m receiving my superiors are probably getting more than 10 times the amount

    Reply
  70. Iron Chef Boyardee

    Warning: semantic comment in this post.

    “I understand I am her inferior”

    No, you are not. You’re her subordinate. She may be your superior in a work environment context, but that doesn’t mean she is superior to you in the general sense. It’s not like she’s Superman and you’re depending on her to rescue you from a burning building or something like that.

    (Sorry for the rant. I have Asperger’s Syndrome and I tend to take things literally, perhaps more so than I should.)

    Reply
  71. Autumnheart

    It might not be outrageous for a manager to expect more follow-up from her reports than she gives to them. It is, however, outrageous for a manager to abdicate basic job responsibilities like reading her own email and following up with her reports, and to blame them for not micromanaging her. Yes, a manager might have more responsibilities than an individual contributor, that’s why they get paid more money and have a higher job title.

    I’d adopt a CYA method, like 1. Initial email with a subject line like “Bank transfer needs to be performed by April 25th”, followed in a few days by a phone call, followed in a few more days by another email that specifically mentions that you emailed on such-and-such day, and called on so-and-so day. If the manager can’t get it together after two emails and a phone call, then let her own the fallout.

    You can’t MAKE your manager do her job. There’s no system and amount of communication that will ever turn her into a productive employee–you’d hit on a working solution and then after two weeks, she’d be ignoring that and insisting on some other method, I’d put money on it. Your manager sucks and won’t change. The minute this starts to affect your reputation in the company as an effective employee, you need to GTFO. The last thing you need is to be a scapegoat for your manager’s performance problems.

    Reply
  72. SJ

    God, I had a boss like this. She ignored an important email from a board member, didn’t complete the task, and got called out for it at the next board meeting. She blamed me for it. In fact, she found another woman to blame for almost everything. She was overall abusive, likely bipolar, and my life is infinite better without her crazy ass in it. I have no advice other than to look forward to the day when you no longer have to babysit your own boss.

    Reply
  73. Shoes On My Cat

    OP, your boss is ridiculous! That being said, I used to help run the events segment of a large business, so I often had 3-5 meeting planners for the groups/weddings/incentive trip/etc in house, with 8-15 on deck within the coming month plus a hundred or so in the coming year(s) that I’d juggle. (And a LOT of the MP’s were ridiculous!) For any action emails that I needed a response for before proceeding, I would send the email to the right people then used outlook to resend it to myself for delivery on a specific date, at which time I’d follow up. (And each event had an outlook folder for emails labeled by date then name to help me with perspective/priority when putting out fires.) That system worked really really well for me and saved a ton of trees since no multiple/any printouts!

    Reply
  74. Akcipitrokulo

    Only one suggestion to add… if you cc someone, it’s absolhutely reasonable for them to think that no action is required from them. If my name is in the “To” field, people expect a response. In “cc” – it’s for my info/records only (with option to chime in if I want… but with awareness I’m included as a courtesy.)

    Reply
  75. LGC

    I read this yesterday and immediately started reenacting the “flames on the side of my face” scene from Clue.

    I actually had to talk about this letter with my therapist because just knowing your boss exists gives me so much anxiety, LW.

    Anyway. Jokes aside, I’m kind of glad I didn’t reply yesterday (because it actually would have just been me quoting that scene), because…like, it doesn’t sound like your boss is really getting so much email she can’t read it all. It sounds like she’s afraid of her email, as evidenced by the fact that she suggests printing your emails out as action items. Which is fine, I guess – some people have things they’re just really bad at, and your boss just happens to be really bad at something considered fundamental to most offices. And she’s bluffing by saying she’s a Very Busy Person who is Extremely Important and doesn’t have time for fripperies like email.

    She is also…honestly, being a jerk. Not because she doesn’t read her emails in and of itself, but because if I’m on base and she’s actually bad at email, she could just say that she prefers to be called (which I’d still seethe at, but hey), but because instead of acknowledging this flaw she’s transparently bluffing (so much so that I can see it from across the Internet) and putting the LW down.

    So what I’d do (and what I’ve done with people who are Terrible At Email) is just call the lady when you need something. And realize that it’s really their problem, not yours.

    (And yes, I get that higher-level managers may get a TON of messages. But 1) that’s what filtering rules are for and 2) again, I really don’t think it’s the volume that’s the real issue here.)

    Reply
  76. Elizabeth

    So the printing emails thing is kind of insane, and wasteful.

    As for how to flag emails, I do have one trick that we use on my team. We have three people, one outside sales person and then two sales support. Because we have so many emails coming into our team folder daily, things can definitely become lost in the shuffle. To combat that, if one us sends an email that everyone on the team needs to be aware of, we start the email top with a specific word, all in caps. Think “XYLOPHONE” – and then the title of the email. This lets us know “hey this email is something that should be read now and requires action now”.

    Just a thought!

    Reply
  77. Klingons and Cylons and Daleks, Oh My!

    Get out of there ASAP.

    In fact, it would serve your boss right if her whole staff quit and she had to start being responsible for meeting her own deadlines.

    Reply
  78. babblemouth

    Could you and your co-workers agree on a subject line convention that might start getting her attention? Like, if there is something she needs to do, start the subject line with ACT:, if it’s something she needs to know, READ:, and if it’s just to keep her in the loop, INFO. Then collectively all follow the same next steps (ACT gets a phone call the next day, READ gets a follow up email asking for confirmation she knows what’s going on, INFO gets no follow-up).
    I realise it’s a little bit crazy to have to manage your boss’s inbox this way, but it could help train her to look for specific emails.

    Reply
  79. Database Developer Dude

    Stop emailing the boss *at all*. Go to her and talk to her when you need to loop her in on something. This is completely and totally ridiculous, and isn’t a real ‘preference’, it’s a power trip. Oh, and dust off the resume, because you need to go look for something else where the boss isn’t bats*** crazy.

    Reply
  80. SO

    If you guys use Outlook, Google Calendar, etc, try creating calendar events. That way, a reminder would pop up on a particular day. Things that happen monthly can even be set as recurring events. Might save you some trouble for time-sensitive items!

    Reply
  81. Shana

    Dude, get out of there. Your boss is barely competent and also a jerk. Decide how long you’re willing to put up with this mess and make the switch before you can’t take it anymore. Don’t waste your life on it for much longer.

    Reply
  82. John

    I have found that Nudgemail is a great tool and it may help OP in this situation. Send the email to your manager and BCC the message to Nudgemail. When it is time, Nudgemail will send you a reminder to followup. (For example, BCC the email to 2days@nudgemail.com. In 2 days Nudgemail will send the message to your inbox and you are reminded to followup.) This automates the reminder process and you don’t need to print the emails and set up a paper filing system. It’s free. I use it all the time to remind myself of all sorts of things.

    Hope this helps.

    Reply
  83. Avangelis

    Sounds like the Devil Wears Prada. Email itself is convenient for a business. You should not have to walk to someones office for a multiple repeat offender follow up boss or not. Her dismissal of your concerns just shows that she does not care. Start editing that resume. You’ll being cya’ing yourself into the deep end. There’s nothing more hateful about a job than covering your but for simple tasks due to the lack of work ethic from others.

    Reply
  84. derdoodle

    printing out emails? #missingthepoint smh wtf

    having said that – one thing I do when i send an email and really really need a response is put a reminder on my calendar to do so. using your calendar for more than meetings can be pretty effective…blocking time to do something by yourself, etc.

    Reply
  85. boop the first

    There’s got to be a non-email system for “important” items. Maybe manager just needs some inbox filters. Maybe “non-important” messages should be sent another way. Maybe interoffice envelopes are an option.

    Maybe I’m heartless, but there’s a limit to what I’m willing to do, if only because in the past, if I do anything well or efficient, I am usually rewarded by having to take over other people’s unwanted work. My first job taught me the importance of CYA (cover your ass), in which as long as you formally and reasonably toss the ball into someone else’s court, it’s not your ball anymore.

    Workers have lives outside of the office, and we just don’t have the room in our head to also worry about these companies who wouldn’t even notice if we were hit by a truck tomorrow. Who don’t even take care of us anymore after retirement age. Who don’t even let us get to retirement in the first place!

    Don’t take my advice because I feel like a jerk about this, but I’d let the chips fall where they may. If management can’t keep up, then the company needs to respond in order to survive. No one ever fixes problems until it’s theirs. And if the company goes down, another one will spring up after it, and then we all eventually die and we wasted all that time resending emails with red exclamation marks on them into the void.

    Reply
  86. Miley Hemsworth

    Oh my word. I read this and had flashbacks of my previous boss. OP, you don’t happen to be working for an attorney in Texas do you? lol

    By all means, send and email, then print it and put it in a folder. Next she’ll be having you make a checklist so you can mark off all the steps you took to make sure your email was properly followed up on. And she’ll have you email her the checklist. Don’t forget to print it and put it in your folder.

    Geez…. good luck on your job hunt. :)

    Reply
    1. your reader :-)

      Yesss this exactly!!!! Thank you for understanding!!! It’s not an issue so easily resolved as some have offered options that also don’t work, as nothing is good enough or right for her!!!

      Reply
  87. morethanasecretary

    Is your boss open to face to face meetings? Maybe schedule a 15 minute meeting twice a week to give her a heads up on what IS important and should be handled that week.

    She sounds like my boss, but I’m his assistant, it’s in my job description to follow up and remind him to do things.

    Also, does your boss have an assistant? One that can be hired to keep track of her? I’m assuming that she IS extremely busy and is drowning in the minutae of running a business. Maybe (somehow) suggest that they get an assistant/office manager/extremely organized person to simply keep things on track.

    But yeah, your boss is, um, your boss. It’s up to you to mold yourself around her work style, not the other way around. The fact that it’s ludicrious and inefficient is actually besides the point. Once you get that mental block out of the way it’ll actually be easier for you to focus on how to work WITH your boss. She’s a square peg, she’s not going to fit in an efficient round hole.

    Reply
  88. Orange You Glad

    I have a boss like this. He’s getting a little better but for a few years he just wouldn’t read any emails I sent to him. I’m the 2nd most senior person in our dept (he’s the most senior) so a lot of the higher level stuff comes through me and often I need his approval on a lot of my tasks. Ignoring emails from me causes a lot of things to be held up.

    There’s one process that occurs monthly and has a strict timeline to get approval and processed. I’ve explain this issue to him countless times. For the past 3 years my process has been to submit the step for his approval and then walk into his office and ask him to approve it while I stand there. It’s not very efficient, but it works. There’s still at least once a year he misses it and it causes a lot of problems to other depts affected and our customers. He then has a big sit down meeting with everyone to figure out how we can prevent this in the future, I explain it all comes down to his step being completed within a certain time-frame, he decides I need to do a better a job of reminding him to get it done (which I have been doing for years), wash, rinse, repeat.

    It is infuriating to me, but I had to learn to pick my battles. At the end of the day, I need that process to be completed so I need to do whatever I can to make sure he follows through with his step in the process.

    Reply
  89. Lisa R

    We use Outlook where I work and while I would be gobsmacked at someone telling me they ignore my e-mails for business items, I would use the program to help me. First, there is a read notification that alerts you when the e-mails have been opened. I don’t use this, so I can’t advise about how to use this and how well it works. I opt out of most of those when I get them. Second, flags. I believe you can flag things to alert you when they haven’t been done and you are the received. I suspect that wouldn’t be well received by the OP’s boss, though. Third, you can use the calendar – I drag things to my calendar, when I need to remember to follow up on something. You can set your time and date to follow up.

    While technology can help with this issue, I’m sorry you are dealing with someone like this. I wouldn’t be able to do that and I am thankful that my manager and I chuckle about people who expect reminders, but heaven forbid we don’t respond to them in a timely manner!

    Reply
  90. Noah

    Sure, boss is ridiculous, but OP is missing the forest for the trees. Let’s simplify a little: if there is an action item for boss, email does not work. Full stop. (At least according to the letter.) The solution isn’t to do in-person follow-ups to action item emails. That makes no sense because you know the emails are worthless. Skip the emails. Only bring action items to the boss in person (or on the phone or by carrier pigeon or whatever the method is that is working, because the letter doesn’t say what that is). This solution completely eliminates the thing that is bothering OP: that boss isn’t reading action item emails. And it will completely eliminate the real problem: that boss isn’t doing things that need to get done.

    Reply
    1. your reader :-)

      See other comments. No way of communicating was good for her, whatever way you give it to her (in person, email, calls, etc) you SHOULD have done it this other way, which changes daily or more often lol

      Reply
  91. Mary

    She sounds just like a family member of mine who has dyslexia, and who never reads anything except headlines. Her behavior sounds like her own idea of how to work around this problem in her job.

    Reply
  92. Oeg

    I have a boss with similar organizational issues, though luckily she’s the first to admit them and doesn’t try to shift blame. I’ve developed a proactive system to manage her which has been working pretty well and might help you.

    – Next to my own To Do list, I keep a running list of “Waiting For Boss” and star the ones that are most critical. Every time I email her something important, or have a conversation with her about needed follow up that I know she’ll forget, I add it to the list. This includes some things that don’t directly impact my work but that I know are important to her and she’ll kick herself later for not following up on.

    – At least once a week we have a sit down meeting, and I go through my list. Often I’ll try to end these early so she has time right then to take care of one or two critical tasks.

    – For more immediate needs, I use IM, since I know she’s responsive there (phone might work better for you). I troll her calendar and find times I think she’ll be responsive and perhaps even have time to take action right then. Sometimes I even resort to texting her personal cell, but I save that for when I really need it – the key is judiciously helping her prioritize her workload, but doing so in a helpful rather than condescending way. I always follow up a time sensitive email with an IM, since even stuff flagged as urgent with screaming subject lines gets lost.

    – sometimes I’ll say things like “I know you’d like to review this, but if I don’t hear from you by Friday, I’m going to go ahead a send it out since it’s time sensitive. Okay?”. Usually she doesn’t even notice or is relieved it’s one less thing on her plate, and if she calls me on it, I have evidence I warned her (haven’t needed it yet).

    Doing all this has made me really indispensable to her and certainly helped my career, while diminishing my own frustration and getting more stuff done. It still sucks when she asks me to drop everything to get something done and never follows up on it, but I’ve learned to just inwardly roll my eyes.

    Alright… off to go IM her again about a form she needs to sign…

    Reply
  93. SS Express

    I’m a few days late but I wanted to say, OP, I reallllly sympathise.

    I used to have a Ridiculous Boss like this. She didn’t do this exact thing but had similarly ridiculous rules about how things should work. She had a policy of always accepting meeting requests, even if she had a clash or wouldn’t be in the office that day, so you never knew if she’d be available to meet with you or not. But she was a terrible micromanager who needed to approve every tiny thing before we could move forward with projects, and she refused to review or approve things unless it was during a formal meeting!

    She was Ridiculous in lots of other ways too and I eventually realised that it was easier to just go along with her ridiculousness than to try to approach work sensibly, and I’ve continued to use that strategy throughout my career. Yeah, it’s annoying, but like Alison says, it’s part of the job in a way. Plus it can actually be quite entertaining to “trick” your boss into being impressed with you by doing such silly things! A project I “clearly haven’t put much thought into” becomes an incredibly impressive proposal when I print it out in color with pictures. I’m “doing a much better job of staying organised” when I fill some folders with blank paper and prop them up on my desk.

    For your specific issue, I have a system that might help. Whenever I send an email, I BCC myself. With the copy in my inbox, I set a reminder for whatever date I’ll need to check back in, use the Outlook Categorize function to put it in the “follow up” section at the bottom of my inbox, then put it out of my mind. When that date rolls around the alert goes off, and if I haven’t received a response yet I send another email or follow up in person/over the phone (if I have received a response I just delete the email). In your case this could be the point at which you print it out and take it in to your boss. That way I ensure my emails are all followed up in time but I don’t spend time and mental energy keeping track of them. And I don’t need to keep a folder of printed emails.

    Reply
  94. your reader :-)

    UPDATE: I found a new job, making more money, and pretty much told them upfront I want to be somewhere where I am trusted. I have been working for 17 years. I think I can be trusted to make a call or send an email without having to discuss it or get it approved with my boss first LOL. I put my 2 weeks notice in and as expected got vooted immediately, which works out perfectly because the new place wants me to start right away!!! On to bigger and WAY better things. She’ll never get it, and keep losing employees bc of her actions and behavior. I’m currently trying to get my things from my office, as she had to pack them up herself and tell me when I can come get them….. will be glad to never step foot in there as after that.

    Reply

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