I feel guilty that I’m out of the office so much — and I’ve heard grumbling from my staff

A reader writes:

I am the director of a small, established nonprofit where I worked my way up the ranks. Since the organization is so small, I have day-to-day tasks along with more senior responsibilities such as board meetings, weekend and evening events, media relations, and external meetings with other nonprofits, civic associations, and partner organizations. As I grow, I am finding more demands on my time and skills. I have also earned more time off and take work-life balance seriously, since I’ve suffered from burn-out and stress-related health issues before.

The upshot here is that I am often on the run, headed out to meetings and events outside the office. Since I frequently work nights and weekends (usually I at least put in an appearance six days a week), I sometimes take an afternoon off or leave early to keep myself under the 40-50 hour limit established by my board of directors.

My difficulty is that I often feel guilty and worried when I leave the office, even though it’s part of my job. I supervise some people who used to be senior to me, and I also have a group of very young staffers who are working their first jobs. I don’t want them to feel like it’s okay for them to come and go whenever they want, or that it’s okay for the boss to be a hypocrite. I also don’t want the senior staff to feel like I’m not around when I’m supposed to be. I have heard the occasional grumble from some of the senior staff that I’m “never there,” even though I’m always working, just not always in the office or always available immediately when people want me. (I think that’s because the older staff see a lot more value in being physically at the office.) I know it’s important to come and go on time, but I’m simply not able to work the same shifts as the staff.

Should I try to explain what is going on, or would that just stir up drama? As long as my managers understand my irregular schedule, do I just accept that sometimes people are going to grumble about management? Or do I need to do something else?

For what it’s worth, the organization is in really good shape, we’ve pulled in some new donors and grants and I’ve done what I can to promote people and get their pay raised. We do important work that can be emotionally difficult and I want people to be satisfied in their jobs.

Have you named this explicitly for people?

If not, that’s where I’d start, saying something like this to the whole staff: “I want to share some information about my schedule. I’m juggling a lot of demands on my time, much of them outside the office and some of them in the evenings and on weekends — things like board meetings, external meetings, and fundraising events. That means I’m often on the run, heading to meetings and events outside the office. And because I frequently end up working nights and weekends, when I have a chance to leave early occasionally, I may do that too. What this means for you is that you won’t see me in the office as often as most other people here. But that doesn’t mean I’m inaccessible — you should call if something is urgent, and of course we have weekly check-ins if you report to me directly. If you ever find that you’re not able to reach me when you need me, I’d want you to raise that so we can find a solution to it going forward.”

You could also say, “The board has asked me to limit myself to 40-50 hours a week to avoid burnout, which I think is wise counsel for all of us. For me, that’s where grabbing the occasional afternoon comes in, if I can do it. For those of you with more traditional schedules, that means making sure that you’re using all your vacation time and speaking up if you’re ever having trouble staying on top of your work in a 40-50-hour week. The expectation here is not that you’ll work yourself to the bone — there’s a lot of work, but if it’s unmanageable in a healthy number of hours, I want you to flag it so we can find solutions.”

Of course, all this has to be true. You have to truly support people in sticking to 40-50 hours and genuinely tackle workload problems, or this won’t ring true and will rightly cause more grumbling. And you have to make sure that people who need you can reach you in a reasonable amount of time or know what to do if they can’t — and are empowered to make decisions and keep things moving in your absence. If any of those things aren’t true, that would explain the grumbling.

But if the grumbling is more rooted in old-school ideas that you should just be physically present all the time — and a lack of understanding of what your job entails — the conversation above may help.

If it doesn’t, you’d need to have one-on-one conversations with the grumblers to ask point-blank about their concerns. Who knows, maybe there’s something legitimate there that you don’t know about. And if there’s not — if it’s just grumbling — then addressing it directly will help.

As for the junior folks who you don’t want to draw the wrong lessons from watching you, being clear will help there too. They should hear the same explanation as above, so they have context for why you’re in and out. Beyond that, I’d wait to see if you see any actual evidence that it’s a problem. If you’re not seeing that, assume they get it and it’s fine. But if you do see problems, then you (or their manager, if that’s not you) should talk with them, explicitly name the expectations for their hours and presence in the office, and explain that different roles have different requirements around those things (and explain why theirs are whatever they are). Good employees will get that — even if it wasn’t clear to them originally.

But all of this assumes that you’re managing well! If people feel like they can’t get responses or follow-through from you, or that work is being bottlenecked, or that they’re nickeled and dimed over their time or made to feel guilty for taking time off, all of this will fall flat. So take a good look at that stuff at the same time.

{ 165 comments… read them below }

    1. C in the Hood*

      Yes. And even if the calendar isn’t truly “shared”, I know Outlook shows those blocks of time as “Busy”. That way, your staff will at least know that you have a thing scheduled for that time.

    2. ExceptionToTheRule*

      Agreed. “I’ve got X, Y, Z meetings today/tomorrow, but I’m available via email/text/whatever and I’ll be in the office around ” might go a long way.

    3. TootsNYC*

      Or, since I think people don’t look at shared electronic calendars, have a whiteboard with your out-of-office events on it, and write them on there.

      1. TootsNYC*

        and include “IN OFFICE” for time that you commit to being in the office and available.

        It would be good to have some sort of open “accessible if you need me” time, even if you’re away, so write that on there too.

      2. becca*

        This. I work in a university department that has a bunch of student workers who don’t have access to staff calendars for various reasons. Keeping a wall calendar around, or a whiteboard with your calendar written on it, is really helpful in that kind of situation.

    4. Elle Kay*

      Yes Yes yes Yes YESSSS

      (Also: I’m a strong supporter of having a set “office hours” during the week. Where you’re “in” and available from A-B on X day of the week. If this has to be changed then it is explained in an all-staff email. I find a lot of “you’re never here” grumbling comes from people looking for you for things that they fell don’t warrant an email or phone call. If they know you’re in the office on -say- tuesday mornings that will relieve a portion of the grumbles)

      1. Spooooon!!*

        I second the office hours idea. My boss at my old job was in a similar situation with being in meetings a lot. These meetings were often about ways to improve work for the staff, but many of them didn’t see it that way and were very annoyed with her. One very entitled co-worker even said she was “in love with the third floor” where the meetings happened! She just instituted office hours before I left and it seemed to be going well so far.

      2. Rebelx*

        I also agree some kind of office hours would be a good idea. At my last job my boss was in a similar situation. Most of us I think were clear on what to do in time-sensitive situations (which decisions we could make on our own, which needed her input, and how to get in touch with her in those cases), but then there were the perpetual things that were not particularly urgent, and/or we weren’t 100% sure if we could decide without her input. So when she did make an appearance in the office we would all just bombard her with our lists of things, everyone vying for her attention, which was often limited if she had a meeting or something at our location. Weekly 1 on 1s would have been great, too, but her schedule was so variable that they would probably end up constantly being moved and eventually cancelled. Whereas I feel like maybe it would have been more feasable for her to let us know every week a day/time or two that she’d be at the office and available for questions, even if the exact timing changed from week to week, or couldn’t be scheduled with a ton of advance notice.

    5. Kendra*

      This assumes you can get the staff to actually LOOK at the shared calendar, which has not always worked for me. Technophobia is a thing. Personally, I’ve had a lot more luck with hanging a whiteboard calendar on my door; I’d say, use whatever works best for you and your staff, but do find some way of communicating to them when you’re going to be gone.

      1. Psyche*

        I had a boss that did that! She had a giant calendar on her door and you could see when she would be in as well as when she was working but at another location. It helped a lot since she was out often (work related) so you could judge if you needed to call/email or if she would be in before it was urgent.

    6. Seeking Second Childhood*

      YES. Letting them know what you’re doing when has an added benefit for you — when an important client or donor tells your staff she needs to meet with you or wants to socialize with you, your staff can look at your schedule and suggest times you could set up a meeting, or suggest public events that the person might want to attend with you. (Why YES, OP will be hosting our gala fundraiser next week, and I can find out for you if there are still tickets for the llama costume party.)

    7. Public Sector Manager*

      Great recommendation!

      It’s really easy in Outlook to set up a communal calendar that everyone can access and a personal calendar for just the OP. So when I have a doctor’s appointment, I put it on the communal calendar first listing “out of office.” I move the appointment over to my own calendar, fill in the details, and mark it as private.

      This has resolved so many issues on my team and it’s so easy to do.

    8. LGC*

      I cannot emphasize this enough. I’m at the point where I’m about to make a shared calendar for my boss! (I mean, not literally do it unilaterally. But I have seriously considered proposing that to her and walking her through it if she wants because I’m our org’s self-appointed Office guru.)

      Actually, if LW is anything like my boss (or…basically most of upper management at my job), they’re not necessarily that transparent by default. LW doesn’t necessarily have to provide exact accounting for every minute of their day, but having a visual that LW is working 50 hours a week (!!!) versus…say, being in the office 8 hours per week will probably help a lot in dispelling the notion that LW is either 1) not doing anything or 2) a Very Busy Person™ who does not have time for the lowly peons that are their direct reports.

    9. London Calling*

      Yes please. Are you reading this, new CFO who we can’t contact for important stuff? shared calendar!

    10. Transparency is key*

      A similar situation is happening at my job right now. There is no transparency from the boss who is out of the office most days. The previous person in the position was barely out of the office. Our boss was recently talked to by her supervisor and told she had to be more transparent about when she would be in the office. She started sending out a weekly email about her coming and goings. Here’s the problem, the email she sends doesn’t ever match what actually happens. She makes herself look like she’s in the office waaayyyy more than she actually is because the supervisor is copied on the email. She will end up being out for an afternoon that isn’t listed on the calendar and not tell the staff in the office until the last minute. This has caused coverage issues and things not being completed on time because they need her sign off. As mentioned above, if there is no follow through or proper management all the shared calendars in the world won’t help. If they are a good boss and do everything mentioned above then all should be well. If it’s not, then you may have an employee attitude issue.

  1. Washi*

    This is really interesting – the director of my department sends an email out to everyone every 1-2 days giving a rough rundown of where she’ll be; usually something like “I’m at a conference Monday and an offsite meeting Tuesday morning, but will be in the office Tuesday afternoon.” I always wondered why she was giving us so many updates, but I wonder if she is trying to stave off exactly this type of issue.

    Another organization I worked for didn’t have this problem for a very specific reason: our calendars were visible to others within the org by default. So you could adjust the settings to make a particular appointment private, but generally people just put the full details there. If anyone ever wondered where our ED was, they could just pull up her calendar…and immediately see how incredibly busy she was including evenings and weekends. It was also handy to be able to tell when she’d be back in the office or when might be a quieter time to approach her for a meeting.

    1. Toodie*

      It’s also handy for planning: so you can know when the boss might have the answer from the board you’ve been waiting for, or when the boss might need the XYZ report to be prepared for something.

    2. VelociraptorAttack*

      Yep. When I worked in nonprofit world, our calendars were visible and there was a color coding process so a glance could tell you if someone was in a phone/on-site/off-site meeting, etc.

      Now I work for a financial institution and our calendars just show status (so out of office, busy, etc) and in our office we have a weekly huddle specifically to address in/out of office status. So are you out of the office for meetings, are you working from home on a day, etc.

      In my experience it goes a very long way to just have that transparency if OP doesn’t already have some of these systems in place. And I think the point is made below that also knowing who to go to as a backup is invaluable.

    3. your favorite person*

      When I have a busy few weeks, I will do this. For example, next week we are all out Monday, I’ll be in Tuesday AM, and then at a conference Wed and Thurs and taking Friday as a vacation day. Therefor, I’m only in the office Tues AM. We have a shared calendar but I think it helps as a forewarning in case they need something they were thinking they could get from me next week.

      1. Anonym*

        We just got Working from Another Location status added (to Busy, Free, Out of Office) in Outlook and it’s awesome! Do not schedule any in-person meetings…

    4. Dust Bunny*

      This. Our director is out of the office a lot but a) he tells us where he is, and b) if we really need him, we can reach him (or he has already told us how to handle XYZ issue, should it arise). So nobody cares if he’s in the office or not.

    5. katelyn*

      My boss started colour coding her calendar and it really helped! Things in red were unmovable (generally involved higher-ups with even more difficult to book schedules), things in blue were her “team time” (1:1’s, team meetings), yellow were projects, etc.

      It helped not only to sort out where she was, but also how important the prep she was doing was and if it was good to pop in for a 3 minute question now, or if the afternoon or tomorrow would be better for non-urgent things.
      And coloring in a recurring meeting carries through all instances, so once its set up it’s super useful and self-sustaining as long as you add it to the new meetings.

      1. Half-Caf Latte*

        you can use conditional formatting rules in outlook!

        All meetings that involve janet are be color-coded purple.

        All meetings sent to the coffee club distribution list are sunshine yellow.

        All meetings from Grumpy are dark red.

        1. Environmental Compliance*

          I have my entire calendar color-coded with both importance and what “project” they’re linked to. Not that anyone but me pays attention to it, but I looooove being able to look at a glance and see what’s upcoming and how much time I need to allot to it.

  2. Anon for this*

    The big thing is to be sure that you are available for things that need to be done in your office so that nothing is waiting on you. My manager is scheduled for so many meetings (and we understand completely that he’s busy! He’s offloading the extra work onto us!) that he often doesn’t have time to sign my time sheets, and hasn’t had time to receive training on the system that allows managers to approve time off requests yet, which makes for some awkward moments. Even though we understand completely that he is overwhelmed, and that’s why he’s out of the office so very often… the moments where his being out of the office negatively impact our ability to do our jobs, get paid, and get time off frustrate us greatly, understanding or not.

    1. Original Poster (OP)*

      I would never forget timesheets! I’m also very open to people’s requests for time off or flex schedules that accommodate caregiving.

      1. Kendra*

        Same here! I’ve dragged myself in with food poisoning, viral bronchitis (and a face mask), and a number of other unpleasant conditions just so I could sign off on timesheets (and then go home to die); I can’t think of a single thing I do that matters more immediately to my staff than making sure they get paid.

        Can you sic whoever does payroll on him? Chances are, he’s driving them almost as nuts over this as he’s making you, and they might have more authority to deal with it.

        1. Anon for this*

          Sadly all the payroll person at the contracting agency does is suggest I set calendar reminders that I need to turn in my timesheets. Which doesn’t help when I have no idea on any given day whether the meetings I see on his calendar are on site or remote meetings with vendors, or if he’s going to end up working from home today because people keep calling him so frequently he can’t take the time to drive to work.

          1. WellRed*

            Oh, I call BS! This isn’t a busy boss problem. This is a non-functional person/dysfunctional company problem.

            1. Original Poster (OP)*

              Yeah, that’s seriously illegal. Even if the staff doesn’t *turn in* their timesheets, they should still be getting paid on time (that is a discipline issue, not an issue where you stop paying someone).

          2. Kendra*

            Yuck; I’m so sorry you have to deal with that! If you can nail him down for even just a few minutes, it may be a good idea for you and any other staff he supervises to talk to him as a group and point out exactly what’s happening to him, and ask him how he wants to handle the situation to make sure that you all get paid. If you can’t even reach him for 10 minutes for that conversation (or if you do and it doesn’t help), I’d go to either his boss or someone in HR who can point out to him that his priorities need to be rearranged, because the current situation is Not Okay.

            If nothing else, the next time it happens, go stick your head in his boss’ door (if you can; HR if you can’t), explain the situation, and ask them what they want you to do. If that happens more than once, the situation will probably get fixed, one way or another.

            Good luck!

          3. ThisIsNotWhoYouThinkItIs*

            At my place the managers used to be able to delegate to a secondary that could approve as well–any chance of that here? (An HR person, a functional team-lead, etc.?)

          4. Gaia*

            I cannot stress enough that if you are in the US and they are delaying your pay because your boss hasn’t approved your timesheets they are breaking the law. You MUST be paid, on time, for your work. Many states even have late payment penalties that can get very expensive for companies very quickly. This is complete and utter BS and they need to knock it off NOW.

    2. Augusta Sugarbean*

      I think my supervisors are your manager’s identical siblings. We have three! people who are supposed to be our “leadership” and I hardly see any of them. They are allegedly in meetings and trainings but at some point they should be getting down to business and enacting all the stuff they are meeting about.

      OP take the perception of your schedule seriously. If you are supposed to be the manager of your people, make sure you are in the office with regularity and not just “available” electronically. My colleagues and I feel like we have been forgotten by our management and our whole agency. It sucks.

      1. Genny*

        This is a really good point. Meetings need to have a point. If that information isn’t getting back to relevant staff, then the meeting’s been pointless. If there isn’t time to properly debrief staff/ensure that action items are acted on, then you have too many meetings and need to delegate some.

      2. medium of ballpoint*

        I’ve had a boss who also could’ve been a long-lost sibling. They were absolutely wonderful at their job, but having them out of the office so frequently caused a bottleneck with things that needed their input/approval/signature. What we always wanted to know was (1) if our boss was out, when we could expect them back, and when they might have time for a questions, (2) what constituted a crisis in their eyes, (3) how much authority we had to handle a crisis in their stead, (4) when we should bump things up the chain, and (5) how to do so in a way that would get a response. Essentially they left an authority vacuum and a feeling that they were inaccessible and that was what caused difficulties for us. If you can proactively address some of these things, your employees might feel a little different. Good luck, and I appreciate that you’re taking their feedback into consideration and trying to meet them halfway. Way to be a boss!

      3. Not So NewReader*

        One of my bosses created an intermediate position of supervisor who would mostly stay on site and work with us or handle things on site by phone, etc. I thought this was really wise. The previous boss just came and went as he felt like it. My group ended up laughing AT him for anything and everything. He was out so much that he lost touch with the work we were doing. We would tell him x is happening, where x is something along the lines of the building is on fire, and his response would be, “oh is that serious?” This guy was so very mocked by everyone.

        Finally, he was out of the building so much where the group did Y thing. Not an illegal thing and no one was hurt by it, but Y was something that just is not done. Think along the lines of, “Well there is nothing to do, the boss is out of contact. Let’s order pizza and eat pizza for the rest of the day.” The group did this and it caught the eye of TPTB. Boss was moved out after that. (At least the blame was in the correct place.)

        So this intermediary supervisor was just the right thing to do. She made sure there was work to do and no more pizza parties. The group was actually happy about this as everyone wanted to work, not sit around all day.

    3. WellRed*

      You’re being too kind to your manager. Nothing should ever impact getting paid and if you are in the US, it’s the law.

  3. Four lights*

    I had a boss who was out of the office a lot, but just on vacation. The main problem was he wasn’t available to deal with issues. So I would make sure that there is a system to ensure you can be reached when need be for work issues.

    1. The Man, Becky Lynch*

      Constantly out on vacation and nobody else that could do his job/approvals? That’s bad management for sure but I agree with WellRed, most people don’t want to be reached on vacation, that’s the point of said vacation! Why isn’t there a second in command?!

      I had a boss that regularly went to the Alaskan wilderness, talk about unreachable! But we didn’t really need him daily because he gave us all the appropriate authority on things to run day to day.

      1. Chinookwind*

        Ditto on the second in command. General Hillier (former leader of the Canadian military) was once asked why he wasn’t available for comment when something important happen. He said he was on a beach in Cuba, drinking something fun and fully unavailable. When someone said that that was irresponsible, he pointed out that he had full confidence in the people he appointed to cover in his absence and that, if they couldn’t, they knew how to get in touch with him.

        If the leader of the Canadian military can be out of contact for a week, then it is possible for anyone else (short of a country’s leader) to do the same.

    2. Four lights*

      No one’s gonna read this at this point, but it was every Friday and one week a month. He was the owner and sole attorney.

      1. Old Dinosaur Lady*

        I just read it!

        He was “on vacation” every Fri. AND one full week a month? That’s the real problem, right there.

  4. Just Stoppin' By To Chat*

    Great advice from Allison! Really liked the script, and hope the LW can leverage this. I’ve also had concerns in previous jobs about whether I was in the office enough, but ultimately realized that I was managing my schedule and work locations just fine. It was actually anxiety around other parts of the job, and working in a toxic environment, that led to that guilty feeling. Now that I have an amazingly supportive manager, and a trusting team and work environment, I work from home, or from other locations, without a thought. It wasn’t always this way, but if you know you are doing your job well, then I’m guessing the guilt is coming from something else. Maybe dig into the “grumbling” from the older staff that used to be more senior to you (if I understood that correctly). Maybe it’s a case of imposter syndrome or something like that? Your board clearly trusts your work, and from what you wrote here, you’re doing an amazing job for your organization. What if you tried to not feel guilty about your schedule for one week? I bet you’ll notice that your board and mgmt team doesn’t have a problem at all. Good luck!

    1. Original Poster (OP)*

      You are correct–I now supervise people who used to be senior to me.

  5. Hiring Mgr*

    Agree with AAM’s advice and would add (with the caveat I don’t know the first thing about non profits) why NOT let the others leave early at times (not come and go whenever they want), or come in late or whatever..

    Does it reallly matter if every employee is in the office at certain times? (it might or might not..) As long as it’s done fairly/evenly, let good employees use their judgment and you won’t go wrong.

    1. Sloan Kittering*

      Yeah that would be my only addition to Alison’s point. So often it seems that senior people appreciate the flexibility of their own work hours (leaving early for an afternoon, arriving late, working from home when called for) but they so rarely create any opportunity for other staff to enjoy those same benefits. Now I can understand some amount of the “people have to pay their dues first” ethic with new hires etc, but at some point I wish we could all acknowledge that relatively few positions actually need to be physically at their desk from 9-5 every day!

  6. Autumnheart*

    As someone whose manager’s schedule seems to require him to be elsewhere much of the time, the biggest concern I would have is if you’re present enough to develop a work relationship with your reports and to address the challenges they’re dealing with in a timely manner. It’s frustrating when one’s manager barely knows you and doesn’t have a good sense of what the team is doing from day to day. Like, fine, you’re putting in your hours and answering emails and stuff, but you’re not *there* to back up your team. It can be detrimental to them, especially if they’re fielding requests and requirements that you need to sign off on before they can proceed, which means waiting for you to do that after hours or whatever. It’s hard to develop a sense of your reports’ capabilities and strengths when you’re just involved in an accountability kind of way. You’re not just responsible for the development and opportunities that your position provides you. You’re responsible for growing your team. Pretty hard to do when you’re not there.

    Obviously it may very well not be up to you, but if all your responsibilities are spreading you too thin, then maybe you need a manager under you to manage your team in a more present way, while you do the off-site things that take up most of your time.

    1. Anon for this*

      Being yelled at for not handling a delay that happened several weeks ago when you detected the delay the instant it happened, didn’t have the ability to correct it at the time, and had already updated the policy manual to prevent that delay from ever happening again, is not fun. Especially when the fact that this was covered several weeks ago slipped the manager’s mind in between meetings until someone asked about it and he didn’t know the answer to why it was delayed. “DO I HAVE TO DO EVERYTHING AROUND HERE?” is especially frustrating when said by a manager who is constantly in meetings.

      1. Autumnheart*

        Not only something like that, but here’s how it’s been playing out in my workplace.

        Busy Boss is constantly AFK, and tends to rely on “known quantities” in order to have the freedom to attend to the off-site things he’s doing. So he has a lot more back-and-forth with the people who do work that requires a large amount of his attention, and very little interaction with the people whose work does not require much of his attention.

        As a result, when a new project comes up that needs people who are known for strong work, he goes to the “known quantities”, the people he’s worked with a lot. The people he doesn’t interact with are not on his radar. And so on, and so on. So pretty soon you have a team where some people have strong relationships with the boss and lots of opportunities to grow, lots of projects under their belt, and are known to upper management–and some people have no relationship with the boss and don’t get any of those opportunities. It might not be *intended* as favoritism, but that’s definitely the practical result.

        1. Kendra*

          This is important for managers to hear, because it sounds like a really easy trap to fall into, especially for those of us on the more introverted side who might have a tougher time with the whole “getting to know you” thing right from the start. So, thank you for sharing your experience! It’s definitely something I’ll try to keep in mind in the future.

          1. Autumnheart*

            I think it’s a trap that managers can unintentionally fall into. When they’re busy and have a lot of priorities to juggle, it becomes easy to rely on what worked the last time you did something, and to just repeat the winning formula. And that’s okay in the short term, but over an extended period of time it really does segregate the team into “haves” and “have nots” where professional growth is concerned.

          2. Dust Bunny*

            I suspect it might also be a trap for managers in smaller or understaffed organizations, where they are being asked to do a lot of things, all of which they can cover enough to be functional, but which should probably be divided between two managers to be done really effectively *and* with a working relationship with staff. The fact that it’s been working doesn’t mean it couldn’t be a lot better.

            1. Original Poster (OP)*

              Yes, our organization is small and getting promoted doesn’t necessarily mean you can stop doing what you were doing before! Everyone answers the phones. This is a real challenge in the nonprofit world where everyone wants to cut administrative costs but the organization also needs to be adequately staffed and compensated for its work. The “do more with less” ethos can put a lot of pressure on people.

              1. Not So NewReader*

                You know that this is a slippery slope, right? I can see it on a temporary basis but not as SOP. A company will not expand this way and eventually it will unravel. The illusion of taking on more and more is just that an illusion. Like a house of cards it will tumble when one or two key people leave because others will not be able to take up their slack, no one will have the extra capacity to cover.

    2. That Girl From Quinn's House*

      Yes, this. I had a crisis in my department, and my boss was “too busy” to give me the approval I needed to resolve it. The solution involved hosing people, so unfortunately it had to come from someone who knew all the politics involved, not a new employee making a pure-logic decision. It ended with several staff screaming at me and one physically threatening me…and she was also “too busy” to handle that until two days later.

      NOPE on toast.

    3. softcastle mccormick*

      +1,000 to this. We’re suffering a lot with interpersonal issues because our boss is never. around. to view things in real time and address them. It’s like the wild west over here.

    4. Not So NewReader*

      If you are not there to manage your team then you are not managing.
      It’s impossible to be sitting in a meeting x miles away day after day and still be an effective manager.

      I have to wonder how much of the time out of the office is actually relevant to your position. Let’s say your team makes widgets. You should not be out on the road selling widgets, nor should you be out on the road procuring materials to make more widgets. There should be people for each of those jobs and they should be titled as such: sales manager or procurement manager.

      1. Ask a Manager* Post author

        Hmm, I don’t agree with this! There are plenty of people managing remotely who are very effective. The key is to be sure to carve out time for one-on-ones weekly or biweekly, and to have a way for them to contact you outside those (or to be aligned on how they should move things forward if they can’t reach you).

    5. Smithy*

      This is so well put.

      I used to work at a nonprofit with a challenging ED who was also out of the office a lot. As absent as she was, this absence didn’t affect the attention I received as the fundraiser – however other people in the office would note they had items waiting for her feedback for months on end. So it also created a system where some staff weren’t greatly affected whereas others were significantly delayed and often felt their work and contributions were devalued.

      While AAM’s recommendations are all good – I do think it’s worth asking how many people the OP is managing and whether that absence is getting in the way of management? Maybe it’s worth considering a reorg so the OP has fewer people to manage? The OP talks a lot about responsibilities to the organization and the organization’s mission – but not so much as a manager. And it may be that managing fewer people would be helpful.

  7. SuddenlySeymour*

    Good on you for acknowledging that those perceptions really can impact your team!

    This perspective is helpful to hear, as I find myself on the flip side of this issue – with a director that is rarely accessible in person, and always in closed-door meetings or meetings/events out of the office. I know that their job requires that kind of schedule, but what gets difficult is it starts to feel like they are really out-of-touch with the rest of the office/daily happenings. I can appreciate that they now (after two fast promotions) have a lot of obligations and responsibility at the top, but the signal it ends up sending is that their team – the on-the ground people achieving the results – aren’t a priority unless something has gone wrong.

  8. LaDeeDa*

    I strongly suggest setting up a set time each week or every other week that you are in the office, even if it is just for half a day. I think if there is a set time you can be seen and available, some of the grumblings would die down.

    1. Kathenus*

      Yes, this is what I was coming to mention. Having some set office hours that are predictable, whenever possible, can help if one of the problems is accessibility and people not knowing when/if you’ll be around. If they knew that generally speaking you are in the office M-W-F from 11-2, or whatever is realistic, then they could plan if they needed to chat or get your input on something in person. And then if you have an external commitment that conflicts with these, you send out a quick email that you won’t be there on X day’s office hours due to a board meeting, etc.

    2. OhNo*

      Agreed. My boss is frequently in meetings, and I never know where she is on most days. But because she has time set aside in her schedule to be present in the office, it’s never bothered me.

      In our department, that means she takes a 2-hour shift on the public service desk twice a week. Which is actually a two-fer, since it guarantees she’ll be in the office and available, and shows that she doesn’t see herself as “above” helping with the more mundane coverage (which can be boring or irritating at times).

  9. Madeleine Matilda*

    In addition to Alison’s excellent advice, I’d suggest what my boss does to keep us informed about his schedule. When my boss is out of the office he appoints someone to serve as acting boss in case decisions need to be made on the spot. He also lets us know who the acting boss is, how long he will be out of the office, and the purpose of his absence (I’ll be at agency X to discuss Y or I’ll be off this afternoon to attend an event at my child’s school). We can all see his Outlook calendar as well. He purposely tells us when and why is he using leave to model work-life balance. He is also extremely responsive to emails when he is out of the office, which has been helpful when unexpected things come up.

    1. Madeleine Matilda*

      He also makes time for regular one-on-one meetings with his direct reports so there is always an opportunity to have face to face time on a regular basis.

  10. Mouse*

    My boss is out of the office all the time–he’s the CEO and he travels a lot for work. I’m an Exec Assistant so it might be a little different, but he’s made it clear that I can always text him if something comes up and he’ll respond when he can. This has been super helpful for my peace of mind if nothing else–I know that he’s there if I need his input. If you’re comfortable sharing your phone number and taking texts from your reports, that might go a long way to ease the “waiting for LW to get back to the office” pains.

  11. Princess prissypants*

    Yes, I’ve had jobs where I’m in/out or with wonky hours and outside/overnight events, while people still need to find me when they can, or know when to expect a response. I saved face and sanity by posting a schedule and sticking to it. You can be as comprehensive as you want, but a simple listing of “When you can find me here” helps a lot.

  12. designbot*

    I’d be more inclined to follow up with the senior staff directly like, “hey, I’ve heard that you have some questions about my schedule and availability. I need you to understand that since part of my job involves representing us at events outside of regular business hours, that does mean my schedule shifts around sometimes. I get the impression that you’re dissatisfied with that in some way, can you tell me more about why that is?”
    I think addressing it with the whole office seems defensive, whereas addressing it with the individuals who are whining emphasizes that you can hear this and will correct these rumors.

    1. AnonForThis*

      This presumes that they are simply “whining” and the grumblings aren’t because there are legitimate issues they’re having come up and OP being in and out of the office is exasperating them. It seems from OP’s own post that it is possible they haven’t explained these things and there may very well be valid questions about scheduling and availability if staff is in the dark about them. Personally, I think your wording sounds incredibly defensive and I’d find it pretty off-putting. Someone can understand the aspects of a job that put someone off site and still have frustrations that day to day things are being hindered. (Again, we do NOT know if that is or is not happening.)

      I don’t even think OP needs to make a case of saying I know there has been grumbling… I think in this case I’d just start having a little more transparency about when I’m leaving in the afternoon to call it a day or leaving to run to an off-site meeting and whether or not in either case I can be reached by phone or even text. I’d also say you know if you have any concerns or if we’ve had things pop up where me being out of pocket during the day has been problematic, let me know so that we can figure out a solution if it happens again.

      1. designbot*

        While I do assume it’s just whining, this is why I always advocate for approaching the issue with curiosity rather than defensiveness (ex. “tell me more about why that is?”). There’s always the possibility that someone has a real issue that’s just invisible from another perspective.

        1. biobotb*

          The “I need you to understand…” sentence comes off as kind of aggressive, since it implies that you’re presupposing that they don’t understand this, and this lack of understanding is the source of their questions (not a legitimate grievance with a lack of availability and/or transparency). Just asking what their questions and concerns are would seem less defensive and more curious.

      2. Genny*

        Agreed. The way this was phrased makes it sound like the onus is on the employees to justify why they’re unhappy and implies that OP isn’t actually all that open to change. I think this kind of script works better when you’re fairly sure what the problem is and what you need from someone (kind of like Allison’s “the job requires X. Is that something you can commit to going forward?” type script). I don’t think there’s anything wrong with soliciting feedback, but if you want people to be open and honest, you have to make it safe for them to be open and honest.

        1. Not So NewReader*

          Groups want their bosses around. And they really should not have to explain that, it’s pretty basic.

          I like the suggestion of having set times each week where OP is available JUST for her team. Not for her team and ten phone calls that she is waiting on, but rather just to deal with stuff the team is dealing with.

  13. Managed Chaos*

    I think Alison’s advice is good, but there will probably still be some people who don’t “get it.” I had a job where I would be out doing client calls at their offices, and when I would get to the office, she would make comments under her breath about me “having fun” and “staying out.” It didn’t matter that she knew exactly where I was or even that it was 100% work related.

    1. Kendra*

      This is entirely possible, and when the person doing the grumbling is your manager or a coworker, it’s really hard to defend yourself against that. But when you’re the supervisor, not only should you still try to find a way to reach those people, you almost have to; there’s no way they’re going to keep that type of gripe to themselves, and nothing will kill morale quite like your people thinking you’re either shirking your responsibilities, or just don’t care about your staff (or even worse, both!).

      Either way, it’s really hard to talk to someone like that, who knows that you’re out there working and not goofing around, but still grumbles about it anyway. So I hope you’re in a better job now where this isn’t an issue for you anymore!

    2. Boomerang Girl*

      This reminds me of the post about business travel and how some people perceived as a perk.

  14. The Man, Becky Lynch*

    Having a visible calendar that you keep up with regularly may also help because if anyone has a question of “where is the boss?” they can figure it out quickly. In the for-profit world, we regularly have EA’s for this kind of thing to deal with this exact issue. I know that kind of staffing “luxury” may be limited in the NP life though.

    At the same time, I’m flinching at the misconception that bosses are lazy or just breezing in and out just because they “feel” like it. However I know this is rooted in the fact there are some horrid upper level folks that are truly lazy and you sit there wondering what they do all day. Instead the good ones who are busting their rumps are left to explain themselves to everyone who is grinding an axe assuming the worst.

    We’re small enough we have a public calendar for noting if anyone, from production workers to the execs is going to be out of the office. This includes for meetings, training or just vacation. So nobody is thinking “Man, lately that manager has been gone a lot, must be slacking.” when they’re actually just doing mandated training or chasing down sales leads, etc. So we can look at someone’s individual calendar if we wanted to or the group calendar, since the group one isn’t going to list conference calls or something like a vendor meeting because that’s too much clutter.

    1. Elle Kay*

      (Hahahaha. I am the EA in a non-profit and our ED *still* doesn’t tell me where he is! But, yes, that’s how it’s supposed to work)

      1. The Man, Becky Lynch*

        Does he just schedule all his own stuff?! That’s so bizarre and he’s doing it so wrong.

        I’m not an EA anymore but anyone here who didn’t tell me where they’re going or updated the calendar would not last long. Sigh.

        1. voyager1*

          I think the misconceptions come somewhat from biases of working in different industries. I work currently in bank operations, and I see a lot of managers who really no little, do less and are not accountable. And yet in banking if you can get the title of manager behind your name, you seem to be pretty set… no matter how good (or bad) you are.

          1. The Man, Becky Lynch*

            Oh it’s every industry that you get these people in management in my experience. It’s because sometimes people are hired because of who they know, who they’ve stroked the ego of, who likes them for some unknown reason, someone who is isn’t doing their own job so they want someone who just fills a spot, etc. Sadly just like in all walks of life, people find themselves in positions of power without any actual credentials to or skill set to back it up *sobs*

            Then once you get the first sucker to take their shot with you you have your hooks in that title and can bamboozle someone else into giving you another chance somewhere else if you decide to move along or if things shift and you’re finally weeded out by new management/reorganization, etc.

  15. Heat's Kitchen*

    I don’t want them to feel like it’s okay for them to come and go whenever they want, or that it’s okay for the boss to be a hypocrite

    Is there a reason why they can’t come and go whenever they want? Obviously, within reason (i.e. still putting in a 40 hour week/getting their work done. I really appreciate flexibility in my job hours. This, of course, also is determined a lot by the nature of the job. If they have to be able to answer phones, they obviously need to be in by 9am. Just one thing to think about – treat employees like they’re adults.

    1. The Man, Becky Lynch*

      My last [bad] bosses refused to flex ANYONE’s schedule despite their job requirements actually making it so much easier if the international buyer could have come in earlier and left earlier because of time differences…argh. Because they didn’t want to create “resentment” from the customer service reps that have butt in seat times due to their jobs requiring coverage.

      As I said, they were awful bosses for much more than this. Our CSR’s were highly intellegent and wonderful people who understood that different hours for different departments/staff makes sense. But no no no, let’s just assume the worst and take the easy way out by not allowing any flex time. Except for the owners, who happily came and went as they pleased because did I mention they were terrible!

      So I agree, it may be something to think about the “why” if it’s possible that you’re being too rigid. Because another way to breed contempt is to treat staff like you assume they’re not adults who can understand things may be different for one person than others.

      Case and point, I have a flex schedule and it had to be explained to the previous account managers, one of which didn’t understand…however that was something that was just reminded to her every time she brought it up and didn’t mean I was punished for it because as managers, we have to learn to work with these things instead of just trying to avoid the slightly uncomfortable conversations if someone really wants to make it an issue.

    2. Original Poster (OP)*

      I’m a fan of this approach. I’m not in the business of nickle and diming hours, and 98% of the time we can accommodate a change in schedule for an appointment, class, caregiving, etc. However, we do have hourly staff and a reception desk that needs to be staffed at certain hours.

      1. nonymous*

        It sounds like you have two related, but separate issues. One is the staff with seniority complaining about accessibility and a second with modeling attendance/flex time for junior staff.

        There are a lot of really good technical tips in the responses for addressing the first: shared calendar, whiteboard, increased digital presence (do you use a IM/chat program?), regular 1:1 meetings, open office hours.

        For the second I would try to put some policy around flex time. For example, in my group we have core hours and thresholds for: glide in/early departure that requires no notification, glide in/early departure that requires notification but no approval, glide in/early departure that requires prior approval.

  16. LizArd*

    Echoing everyone saying to use a shared calendar! I work for an advocacy nonprofit, so half the staff is coming and going constantly, but if I want to know whether Jim is out sick or running late or at an event or using flex time from another event, I can just look at his calendar. Make one for yourself, make it public, and then circulate it with a friendly email explaining that this will help people keep track of you with your busy schedule.

  17. acorn*

    Another idea- is it critical that OP personally does all of these outside meetings and events? Might want to consider if some can be delegated. There may be staff members who are interested in getting this kind of experience even if it is outside regular work hours.

    1. EPLawyer*

      That was my thinking. Has the non profit grown so much that they need more people for these things? Besides all tje excellent suggestions you might want to look at ypur own workload and see if adjustments are necessary. Especially if you are limited in your hours you can work a week. The job might require more than one person working a max of 50 hours a week.

    2. The Problem*


      The staff probably understands their manager is out working, but may resent that she’s doing the “fun” work and they’re doing thankless/dead-end work.

    3. The Man, Becky Lynch*

      This is a good point! It also mixes it up a bit for those you’re meeting with, it shows depth with the organization if you have multiple “faces” around at times instead of just the one director.

      I go to quite a few seminars/workshops that my boss would go to if he had the time to but instead I get the experience and networking/personal advancements. I then come back and let him know if there was anything interesting/important that we would want to implement in our systems or such and such. So instead of spending all day at an event and being gone all week long with back to backs, he gets a good condensed version from a source he trusts.

      We went to a training once together just because it was a pretty important topic for the organization. It hit home that I knew what he was listening for and the data points we wanted to pull from it when we did a debriefing over the “what did we learn, what should we do, anything we need to change/tweak/look into?”. My list was done and then he looked at his, looked at me and was like “Well…yeah dang that was all my points too and a couple more.”

  18. TootsNYC*

    I had a job once where I worked late A LOT.

    My boss didn’t. One day she sat down and asked me if that was a problem, if it was hard on my morale, or if I was resenting that she wasn’t there. She said she didn’t want to leave me hanging.

    I replied that there was no part of HER job that happened at those hours. She didn’t do what I did, so she couldn’t help me. So it seemed fine and sensible that she went home.

    I pointed out that she DID make sure I was supported–I had money to hire freelancers, I had warning about workflow spikes. And, I said, the one thing that might make me resent her is if she was not good at enforcing other people’s deadlines, so that my job became harder.

    If she was doing her bit, I didn’t need her to stay late just because I did.

    Later I worked with a Big Cheese who always turned stuff in late, who fiddled with things and kept them on her desk too long, who didn’t delegate at times we all thought she could have. She was also out of the office for work things (PR appearances, visits with clients, etc.). All of that was legit. But we DID resent her, and that was because she didn’t expedite the other stuff, but instead made it worse. So we were waiting on her. Or she was changing three words in a document at the very last minute. Her, we resented–and it had nothing to do with whether she was out of the office, actually, except that we knew she did prioritize those activities over the day-to-day. We just thought she should have been honest with herself and delegate more of that day-to-day.

  19. Dracarys*

    Share that Outlook calendar and keep it up-to-date! And make sure to mark the meetings (whether on-site, off-site, or phone) and mark your travel for a daytime meeting off-site too. I also like to mark the times I’m working on a project in my office, but I’m here if you need me. If everyone knows where you are and pretty much what you’re doing, then they can’t complain you aren’t working. Well… they still will, but it won’t be justified. :)

  20. animaniactoo*

    I like Alison’s scripts, and I think there are good suggestions here about shared calendar and set office hours, but I think that there may also be a key here in that all of this is new – which means all of it is a learning experience. And I think that you should use this opportunity to dig into how it’s working for your staff for you to be out of the office as much as you are and what they may be able to use that they’re not getting from you with that.

    Because – they have a different perspective, they may have different ideas or solutions to what they need/want that you may not think of and might be adjustments that you can make from a range of “easy no problem” to “doable”. Taking in that feedback and acting on it where possible will help you appear to be responsive in ways that almost nothing else will, EVEN IF you answer every text/e-mail within 30 seconds of getting it.

    So – put it out there at the end “I understand that some people have felt there are issues with my being out of the office so much. What are the problems you think it’s creating? What do you need that you’re not currently getting with me out on site so much? What would you like to see happen to solve that?”

    Among other things, some of it may be that the answer is “nothing” – but they won’t really see that until they’re presented with an opportunity to think it through. So it also gives them the opportunity for reflection that maybe they’re grumbling about something that isn’t really a problem. If there’s useful stuff that comes out of it though, that’s a bonus and a win for everyone – you for having made it possible to be solved, and them for having gotten it solved.

    Note: I would be sure to use the wording “on site” at the end of that, specifically because it’s calling attention to the fact that just because you’re out of the office doesn’t mean you’re not working. And I would be very careful to use it as much as possible going forward to help reframe how the time you’re out of the office is thought of.

  21. nnn*

    In addition to saying where and why you’re out of the office, make sure you include when you’ll be back in the office. “I’m at a board meeting and then there’s an event tonight” is informative, but is less actionable than “I’ll be back in the office at noon on Wednesday”.

  22. CR*

    Am I alone in thinking you really aren’t required to give people a big long explanation about how you spend your time?

    1. Ask a Manager* Post author

      Not required, no. But in general as a manager you want to operate with transparency and when you spot signs that clearer communication would help a situation (even if only with morale), you need to do that.

      1. Original Poster (OP)*

        I think this thread shows how many people have felt left behind by their busy managers. I’ve ordered a whiteboard calendar for my door to help keep people updated, and I’ll make sure that people understand the chain of command/contact procedure.

    2. CupcakeCounter*

      not really – for the most part I agree with you
      I think a lot of people at more senior levels know what the OP’s job entails and that there is a lot of work happening off site and at odd hours and as long as they don’t have any bottlenecks are probably fine. Keeping in mind the optics is never a bad thing especially with people newer to the work force who are hearing one thing from their bosses (core hours, butt in seats) but see something completely different from senior management. I don’t think OP needs to do a ton to keep people informed of their whereabouts at all times, but a quick email/meeting to address it and give a broad explanation isn’t a bad idea.

    3. The Man, Becky Lynch*

      You’re not alone, that was my kneejerk reaction but I reeled it in after reading the response and thinking about it some more.

      Alison is spot on with the transparency. It’s also important that if you hear a grumbling and rumor about you being unavailable and unreachable, it’s important to bring it to the surface. Letting the grumbling simmer, it may cause a lot of ugly feelings to start coming into play and it’s easier to fix it in the early stages than deep cleaning the deadly mold that happens if you let it sit too long.

    4. Princess prissypants*

      No, definitely not long or detailed – actually no one should be doing this. The long detailed explanations from anyone about why they are sick, or why they need a personal day or whatever kind of irritate the heck out of me.

      But, yes a simple clear expectation – like I’ll be in my office (these times) is private enough and easy to do.

    5. Genny*

      The more information you give people, the more understanding they tend to be. Obviously there’s a diminishing return on investment there, but usually a simple explanation goes a long way to silencing rumors, grumbling, and frustration.

    6. Not So NewReader*

      It’s not a choice between no explanation and big long explanation. There are solutions in between.

      Transparency is a part of showing respect. The days of “I am the boss and how dare you question me” are fading out. People expect more communication and more of a connection with the boss. Employees are more savvy and sophisticated than they were 100 years ago.

      And it’s not just bosses. My friend was telling me today that one entire department did not show up for work today at her place. All they found was a note on the door saying, “closed until Thursday”. Not one single person in that department ever mentioned no one would be there for two days.
      Sure, life goes on. But it would have been nice to hear, “Just so you know, we are out for two days.” Now customers come in, “Where are they?” And others are forced to shrug and say, “Dunno, all we see is the note on the door. No clue what is going on.”
      For whatever reason this department has disconnected from the larger group. Since this has happened many times in the past despite repeated requests by my friend to let others know when that department will be closed, it reads very poorly to my friend and her cohorts.
      As an interesting aside, one of the people in the disappearing group used to routinely ask my friend what her hours were each day. My friend gave the same answer over and over and over. How odd that this person just disappear like this, when she understands that it is nice to know when others are or are not around.

  23. nnn*

    Another thing that might be helpful is telling your employees what they’re authorized to do if they need manager sign-off for something and you aren’t available in a timely manner.

    Examples from various jobs I’ve had:

    “If we need overtime to meet a client deadline and a manager isn’t available to approve the overtime, err on the side of meeting the client deadline rather than waiting around for overtime approval.”

    “If a client returns a product with a manufacturing defect, accept the return even if there isn’t a manager around to sign off on it.”

    “If there’s a time-sensitive issue that requires financial sign-off and your boss isn’t around, go straight to your grandboss or great-grandboss rather than delaying until your boss comes back.”

    They may not ever need this information, but it might make them feel more comfortable with your absence.

    1. The Man, Becky Lynch*

      This is great advice. These are things I’ve always taken for granted because it’s been a total “given” in my life as a professional. Even when I was in a lower position. However after following this blog and also just being around and meeting more people, I’m now understanding that some company’s have business practices that completely handcuff or worse, discourage people from finding work-arounds. There is just “go to manager” as the only option, ever. If “your manager” is hiding under his desk in his blanket fort, too bad…keep waiting because the ONLY! acceptable option is having him approve it.

      So yes, as I have progressed in my life, I have made it a point to tell people things that I have formally thought of as “givens”. Also if it really needs to be signed off on by one person, someone here knows how to get in touch with them. Nobody else feels like they should or can poke at the executives or other managers. I’ll do it, gimme that request and I’ll get this done.

      If it effects your ability to do your job or requires a customer to wait, it’s important to find another way to get it done if possible because there are consequences to irking a customer, missing a deadline or not paying an insurance bill on time, etc.

    2. OhNo*

      Yes, it’s a very good idea to have some back-up plans in place. Exactly which processes to back up will hopefully come out of having this discussion – as long as you give employees a chance to air any issues they’ve run into or any concerns they have, no matter how small.

      For whatever they come up with, either write down a back-up procedure for when you’re out, or say, “I trust your judgement on that. Make your best call, and as long as you can justify it I’ll back you up.” Just make sure that you mean it for those things.

    3. Not So NewReader*

      Adding this pearl I got from one boss:

      “If no one is around and you have no choice, you must make a decision, chose the most conservative option.” For me this also worked into choosing the option that was the easier of the two to fix if it was the wrong choice.
      I cannot tell you how many times this rule of thumb has saved my butt.

      I worked in an environment where everyone was very critical of each other. I used my boss’ advice and I got compliments on how I made decisions on the fly. I have used this advice at other jobs and it has worked well for me.

  24. Princess Consuela Banana Hammock*

    I agree with Alison’s advice and the advice of folks who recommend sharing your calendar (or creating a shared calendar for what can be disclosed), and I suspect there’s a bit of sour grapes, old-school-face-time expectations, and naivete from the new folks going on. That said, I think it’s worth assessing if there’s a need for more hands-on or in-office support for your employees.

    If it turns out that the organization needs two of you to cover the internal and external needs, then it may make sense to advocate for funding an Assistant Director position (kind of like having a VP or COO). That way, you remain focused on the top-level items the organization needs from its CEO (external partnerships, media relations & messaging / spokesperson-ing, strategic vision, fundraising, high-level policy genesis and approval, oversight). The AD, conversely, could focus on things like HR, immediate line management, operations and finance, etc. What you’re describing is tough and so common in nonprofits, especially nonprofits with fewer than 20 employees. But you’re making important and appropriate decisions, and you need the institutional infrastructure to help support your success as well as the success of your employees.

  25. Junior level non-profit employee*

    I work for a non profit and our CEO also has many meetings, lunches and outside activities that she is expected at, even if only to drop by for a few minutes. I would suggest letting your staff know some of the things you are doing, maybe even just a few passing comments when someone asks how your week is going. Our CEO will often comment on the good contact she made at the Kiwanis lunch or how she saw so and so at the Gala. It really gives people that nudge that just because you aren’t physically there, it doesn’t mean you aren’t working.
    Also a good idea to communicate the board’s feelings to your staff. Sometimes we feel disconnected from them and aren’t aware of their sentiments. Maybe if some of the grumblers hear that the board (your bosses) are asking you to work your schedule this way, they’ll be more understanding.

  26. CupcakeCounter*

    Might be time for an all-hands meeting (with food if you can swing it in your budget). Have an agenda with updates on grants, programs, etc… but start out with a “So I know things have been a little different lately with me being out of the office meeting with the board, working on X grant with Y group, and all of the after hours fundraising events so I wanted to give everyone an update on where we are with A program and B grant.”
    This gives insight into how your role is structured differently without sounding like you are justifying why your schedule is different. Make these meetings quarterly if possible.
    If you know your schedule will continue along the current lines, add in to the agenda an “upcoming events” section so people can start adjusting their mindsets about how often you will be physically in the office. If possible, carve out some core hours that you will always try to be available and be sure to have a second in command for times when you really aren’t able to respond quickly. Do some thinking ahead of time about what you want your team to do if something is urgent and you are unavailable. Talk with your senior managers about what they are hearing and seeing in terms of morale and issues around the office.
    Most of all, if you can offer any flexibility with other roles do it. If your customer actually come to your office for services from 10-3 each day, make core hours from 9:30-3:30 and then let people flex their arrival and departure time to fit their life. It would be awesome if I could work 8:30-5:30 because it would save me $40/week in child care costs. My sister is NOT a morning person and starting her day at 9 vs 8 is a HUGE benefit to her. If WFH is an option for a role, allow it making sure that expectations are clearly defined. If any of the events/meetings you attend would be interesting or useful for other members of your staff, ask them to attend (not necessarily leadership but, for example, ask one of the grant writers to attend the counsel meeting where the subject of their grant is being discussed or invite the #1 fundraiser for the year to attend a gala or other event as your guest and let them flex the time if it is outside of normal working hours).

  27. Adereterial*

    Frankly, if the people reporting to you can’t understand that a Director is going to have lots of competing demands, need to be in lots of different places (often simultaneously), and may not be immediately accessible, then I’d be questioning their competence & judgement. Being out of the office a lot is part of being Senior in most places.

    I’d give them one explanation, but I wouldn’t be pandering to grumbling with lots of detailed explanations of my time etc. My calendar is visible – I’d expect them to use it.

    1. The Man, Becky Lynch*

      A lot of positions that are lower on the pay-scale are often in the dark or simply stumped by what a director or executive does when it’s not apparent. It’s hard to know when you’ve never held the role, don’t know anyone in the role or don’t understand the full business structure. That’s not necessarily due to them being incompetent or lacking in judgement, it can be due to a lot of factors, some of it being educational or socioeconomic related.

      I’ve known my fair share of great workers who simply don’t “get” what the CEO is doing and why they make the money they do or so on. They’re not paid to know what we do in the higher offices anyways. So the rush to judgement in competence is pretty harsh to say the least.

    2. VelociraptorAttack*

      I wonder if part of the issue is not that they don’t understand it but that this has not been how things were run before. OP says they are now senior to people who previously were above them so maybe the previous person in the role wasn’t out of the office so much so it is a disconnect there in that things are being done differently now.

      We also don’t know that OP’s calendar IS visible.

    3. Not So NewReader*

      Some grumbling is to be expected with any job and any group of people. People grumble and it’s really unavoidable.

      I question the structure here- why is this such a problem? OP may need a supervisor under her who stays put and handles the day-to-day stuff.
      I will say as the months and years roll by it gets tiring to hear your boss is not available again. At first it’s natural to blame the boss. But after a bit people realize that the company is not well managed and this is what is actually happening. It’s not a good way to retain people, OP.

    4. GS*

      I was so envious of all those lunch and dinner meetings and hours driving around instead of slogging through “actual work” until I had to deal with the meetings and hours on the road myself. “Dinner meeting” sounds great, “dinner meeting with [adversarial counterpart at the Ministry] plus hours on bad roads” is… really not great. I think more context would have helped me.

      1. nonymous*

        Yeah, I am a remote employee and my coworker always grumbles enviously about travel weeks. It’s like “Well, I have two weekends where I have to cram all my personal commitments/chores into one day, and then during the travel week instead of getting a lunch break and a couple hours of downtime with family in the evening I network furiously so that people don’t forget me until the next trip. Plus strange bed. And my husband has to do chores for two during the week.”

        And he’s still like “But Planes! Restaurant food!” sigh.

  28. TheRedCoat*

    As someone who went 5 months without a 1×1, who had an immediate supervisor who had no clue what was going on in her own department, who was trained on what, who was slacking and who was picking up the slack… I can see your employees’ side on this. It’s not her fault- she was also on the implementation team for a huge client, and adopting a teenager.

    It also lead to a lot of accidental favoritism, where she was really close with the other people on the implementation team, but had no clue what the rest of us were doing.

    1. Not So NewReader*

      Yep, younger me worked in larger places where the boss did not even know my name. One place my immediate supervisor did not know my name. I went in one day and said, “I quit”. No one was bothered by that.

  29. Asahi Pepsi*

    If the issue was that the boss was constantly out due to illness instead of meetings, would your advice be any different?

    I’m dealing with a variant of this at work – my boss has a chronic illness that affects her schedule and response time. Sometimes she has to drop things mere hours before a scheduled appointment. I’m her EA, so I’m constantly worried that it reflects badly on me when she drops meetings suddenly or doesn’t contact people in a timely manner due to health issues. I also worry about walking the line between “keeping my boss informed and up-to-date on her calls/emails/etc.” and “stressing her out when she’s seriously ill.”

    1. LaDeeDa*

      OH, that is a tough spot to be in. I would ask her how she wants to receive information. It may be that emails don’t stress her out, or that she feels like she has to check in constantly. She may prefer 1 end of the day summary or something like that.

      When I was off work for weeks due to pneumonia, it was at a really critically time. I would be in bed with my laptop next to me and the volume turned down so I didn’t hear the email alerts, but whenever I would wake up I would read and answer emails as best I could. It helped me feel like I wasn’t totally missing everything, and still staying on top of critical things. But I did have to monitor myself and make sure I was only answering really important messages. People did know I was out and that it could be days before receiving a response.

      On the other hand, when another department head came down with viral pneumonia a few months later (it went around our office like wildfire) she didn’t answer any emails for those first few weeks, because it was too stressful for her. Everyone is different.

    2. The Man, Becky Lynch*

      This is different because you’re in an “in between” position being her EA. I think it warrants speaking with her about how she likes you to proceed.

      It will also be something you’ll have to work on on a personal level in regards to feeling like her cancellations and availability issues reflect on you. Most of us always know that a cancelled meeting isn’t on the EA, especially if it’s constant unless someone somewhere plants that seed [aka if your boss is throwing you under the bus when asked about it instead of saying “I’ve been having some health issues and so often I have to rearrange my meetings, I’m sorry for the inconvenience.”

      It’s still important to be as transparent as possible but this one is still mainly up to your boss. Is it okay with her if you mention that she has a “medical condition” or whatever her choice vocabulary is for her situation is? Or does she want to just ignore any questions about the “why?” something is cancelled/dropped without much notice. In that case, she’s not doing herself much of a service but it’s her health and her privacy, so it’s up to her to navigate that the way she seems fit. It looks bad on her for not showing up, not you as her assistant.

  30. M from NY*

    There is no reason for everyone to have same flexibility at office. It’s not your job to make everything equitable however it is your responsibility to make sure your office is running well.

    A shared calendar and status check in may be needed but then you must check off any grumbling if it’s not about office mgmt and merely grumbling. The Director shouldn’t be sending weekly updates to everyone but you need to make sure your absence isn’t causing unnecessary backlog.

    It may help to include other direct stakeholders if there are meetings that they can attend as long as it’s understood why they are attending (help identify any possible issues executing not replacing you as liaison with the Board). I only mention this if the grumbling is due to one of the other players thinking they should have had your position. You are not looking to share your job, you’re looking for ways to empower your team. Some fixes may be needed but focusing on face time may not point out genuine areas that if improved will make office life better for everyone.

    1. voyager1*

      Hard disagree with this line:

      “It’s not your job to make everything equitable however it is your responsibility to make sure your office is running well.”

      1. Kendra*

        Maybe a different way of phrasing it could be, “It’s not possible to make everyone’s jobs exactly the same, however you can still make the work environment good for everyone, within the limits of their particular job responsibilities.”

        At least, that was my take on it; I didn’t get the impression that M from NY meant “equitable” in the sense of not treating everyone with equal respect, but more in the sense that the work environment is hierarchical and inherently unequal (some people get paid more, others get more vacation time, etc.), and the OP shouldn’t stress too much about those parts of the situation, but more about what’s actually under their control.

        1. M from NY*

          Exactly what you said thank you.

          For example the Director has meetings and different obligations that requires a flexible office schedule. The front desk receptionist doesn’t get to grumble that their hours aren’t the same or having to take messages. However Director needs to make sure to check messages, update outgoing voice mail and/or empower others to take certain calls if situation arises. Feeling guilty because receptionist had to take a lot of calls is misplaced.

  31. LaDeeDa*

    It also isn’t clear in the letter if all the employees report to OP or if there is a chain of command. Some of the grumblings may be from employees who want/need direction or feedback more frequently. In the promotions that have been happening have any of them been into a leadership role? If people are feeling like they don’t have a manager to come to for help/questions or even just some general feedback, they may feel a bit abandoned.

    1. Original Poster (OP)*

      The office is pretty small–10 staffers. The organizational structure is pretty flat; there’s a chain of command but no line managers, if that makes sense. So if I moved to Borneo, there is someone here who could make decisions, and if he isn’t available there is someone else, and after that it just goes by seniority, though we’ve never had that problem.

    2. Oof*

      I wonder if it’s one of those things that just happen. I know I’ve grumbled due to unavailability of our director, even though I understand and support that they are out of the office on other organization business. Why? Because there are still things that have to wait on their presence. It may not just be creating a chain of command, but letting some decisions be the purview of others, without express perusal.

    3. Person of Interest*

      Do you have a deputy who handles the day-to-day stuff on a regular basis when you are out of the office? I’ve worked for several nonprofits and sometimes it’s just understood that the ED has a more externally facing role and the Deputy handles the internal day-to-day, and that person would be more the model of the expectations for in-office time, as well as the go-to contact for executive decisions (or is the person who coordinates with the ED when needed.)

  32. The Problem*

    Is it possible your staff would like more opportunity to participate in the types of events that take you out of the office?

    Would it be reasonable for them to do so?

  33. Beatrice*

    One thing that has helped me, with very busy bosses, is to have a predictable time when I could depend on them to be available every day or two, or a method that I could reliably reach them about quick things. With one boss, it was that he was always in and available between 7 and 7:30, so if I really needed a quick chat, I could find him then (even if it meant calling from home while I got ready). Another one regularly blocked out office hours on his calendar, and I was welcome to stop by his desk at those times for quick approvals or conversations. Another boss consistently replied quickly to text messages, so if I could fit it in a text, that was my go-to.

  34. Anon-Today*

    My supervisor constantly cancels meetings without rescheduling them, or reschedules over and over and over without having the actual meetings. Then she never graces my little corner of the world. I know she’s just busy (and disorganized) and has a demanding boss, but I also know she has some part-time outside jobs, and that her other reports see her more often. She cancels their meetings less often, and more often reschedules and keeps the commitment.

    So…. I’m rather disengaged because I feel like I’m not important until I do something wrong to get noticed. So I’ve been doing less and less in order not to get noticed. She seriously has no idea what I do or how well I do it. My evaluations are based on the few things she actually sees because I bring them to her. She never seeks out any of my work products to review.

    Merely deciding to set aside one morning as meeting-morning day would cure a lot of this kind of thing. Feeling like you don’t matter to your manager or workplace is demoralizing.

    1. The Man, Becky Lynch*

      This is awful! It makes me cherish the fact that our managers make it a point to have that facetime and never cancels a 1:1 unless there’s a serious conflict.

      I’m sorry your leadership fails so hard and this is exactly a reason many people would start job searching. You deserve better, you deserve recognition and you deserve to be acknowledged as an important factor in the company’s success. Disregarding your workforce is a fast way to high turnover and sub par service/product for your clients.

  35. Incantanto*

    How stiff are the schedules of your staff?

    Are they “you will be here 9-5” no exceptions or are they “work 35 hours a week and be in in the core hours 930 to 330” and flex start times/lunches/end times? Can you build flexibility into their work days?

    If your staff are on an unnecessarily strict schedule then maybe theres good reason for irritated muttering, if not less so.
    Otherwise just go to tea breaks/meetings occasionally and talk casually about what you’ve been up to,

  36. voyager1*

    “ I supervise some people who used to be senior to me,”

    That is the part that jumped out at me. I think you have some petty jealousies going on.

  37. Klingons and Cylons and Daleks, Oh My!*

    Your staff is probably thinking that (1) your off-site meetings and events don’t count as actual “work” and (2) you should spend 40-50 hours IN THE OFFICE, just as they have to.

  38. pegster*

    This is off-topic, but I’m confused by how many letters state they work for a non-profit, when it doesn’t seem particularly relevant to the question. Is it at the point now where it’s done so often that people think it’s required in the letter or am I missing how it is relevant?

    1. pegster*

      I guess I should add that I can see how some see it as adding context, but sometimes it comes across as “in the non-profit world things are different”.

      1. Kendra*

        Well, in the non-profit world, things often *are* different than in, say, a for-profit business, or a government job. I’ve only ever been a government worker myself (except for three high school/college retail jobs whose memories I’ve done my best to repress), and there are occasionally things people in the private or non-profit sectors say that confound me a little bit, but that are perfectly normal to them. Telling us up-front that this is a non-profit means we can assume that the job probably involves at least some fund-raising and schmoozing, that the staff are at least nominally dedicated to a particular cause, and that they’re probably trying to make do with fewer staff than they could really use.

        It could also simply have been a part of setting up the scene for us, like saying “I work in a taco truck” or “I’m a lawyer.”

    2. The Man, Becky Lynch*

      Letter writers aren’t asked to keep things to just relevancy. They write their letters with as much or as little detail as they want, what they may think is relevant or just a backstory or foreshadowing reasoning. We don’t nitpick letters because it makes people feel more self conscious and question writing in to Alison in the first place, which then makes the blog struggle for content.

      Why does it bother you to the point of asking about it, honestly? Why does it matter if they say “We work in an office with blue walls and the refrigerator hums in the background, how do I deal with my coworker farting all day long?!” or if they say “My coworker keeps farting, is it acceptable to bring in a gasmask to wear?” It really shouldn’t…it’s just an advice blog and people write/speak/give details that they want to.

    3. Nonprofitgal*

      Small non-profits and non-profits are different world then rest of corporate America. At least in my experience. I worked for a small non profit (staff of 5). Perks were that it was incredibly flexible, I could basically come and go as I please, as long as my work was done. We frequently shut down for weeks, when it was “off season”. Downside, no one could do my job but me (same for other positions). We had no HR, so our crazy boss could do as he pleased. Our board was crazy and about 10000 other things.

      I work for a larger non-profit and it still has some idiosyncrasies but it has a large HR dept and has been in business for 100+ years so that helps.

      Its hard to describe, but in general non-profit is different world.

      1. The Man, Becky Lynch*

        This sounds like a small for-profit business issue as well! So we could boil it down to size in some ways and leave out non vs for profit factor if we really wanted to bicker about it but yeah, every company is different and has different factors to it. I like more information vs less information myself so that we can decide what the advice is.

  39. Ralph Wiggum*

    I wonder how much the inconsistency of your schedule contributes to the problem. Your staff might find it helpful to know there are “core office hours” when you’ll be available.

    Many people mentioned shared calendars, which is good, but it’s also yet another thing for me to check. I’d rather just know so-and-so is available every MWTh morning.

    1. nonymous*

      I’d push back on the idea that people can’t check outlook/whiteboard/etc. Frankly if the duty of a staff member requires checking in with OP and current availability is sufficient and shared in an accessible manner it is the staffer’s responsibility to get the request in during the time frame allotted, or flag the process.

      Now there are technical solutions that increase both the availability and automate the visibility, and the final choice of system ideally reflects the group preferences, but I personally would gladly take a IM system with a status indicator vs. walking over to my supervisor’s office only to find the door closed b/c co-worker got there 2 minutes before me.

  40. Henny*

    My department boss is in a bi-coastal relationship and will often “work remotely” for a week at a time from the opposite end of the country…but won’t tell anyone else outside of the department that she’s working remotely, which means that we have to deal with a constant stream of questions we can’t answer form other departments. It drives me crazy, especially as nobody else is allowed to work remotely for any reason.

  41. Eternal Optimist*

    Our CEO chooses to travel often to conferences. When he’s in town, he spends at best a half day physically in the office and grumbles about that. It makes him appear out of touch. Requests for better communication go unanswered. The result? Support staff are resentful and managers are frustrated. OP: I appreciate your concern about your staff and hope that you will follow the suggestions that others have given.

  42. Maya Elena*

    OP1, I think in this case that’s just resentment and a reason for why “we can’t have nice things”. Somewhere there is a line between “systematic unfairness and hardship on everyone else to favor a privileged few in a big way”, and “small inequities due to different people’s circumstances that you accept as part of reality”. The people with kids always getting top pick of holiday shifts or being allowed to slack all the time – not cool, unfair. The single person being asked to do cumbersome trips because they “have nowhere else to be” – not cool. The “one-time benefit for someone who hits these rare conditions”? Much less so.

    Yeah, ideally everyone would be able to benefit from a “life event” week off, or some other equivalent perk like this one. But it’s not a fundamental short-changing of everyone single in itself on the grand scheme of things.

  43. Rez123*

    My manager is the director of the department and high up in the organiation. She has a lot of meetings and is rarely in the office. She is also the only one with right to make decisions and sign contracts over a certain limit (which is 80% of our work). Since she is “never” in the office it means our work doesn’t get done. Yes, we grumble. Are you available often enough that they can get their work done? Does your employees have support when you are not there? Can you prebooks few blocks in your claendar for being in the offie so no toher meetings can come up there?

  44. Van Wilder*

    Wouldn’t this company-wide announcement coming out of nowhere seem… odd? Maybe even unnecessarily defensive, especially if most people don’t have concerns about her schedule? If it’s just a few grumblers, I would just talk to them directly. Or maybe have the suggested wording but only with my direct reports, with the added context that you’re concerned that people may not understand your schedule, so that they have the information they need to stop misinformation if they hear it.

  45. Michaela Westen*

    My boss is often out of the office for a mix of good and bad reasons, and he used to be here most of the time.
    Originally I was anxious about him not being here, but he’s been pretty good about answering texts. If I text him a question I almost always get an answer.
    He also gave me instructions for how to manage if I can’t reach him.
    If possible, make sure you can be reached by text or call and respond at all times, and that will do a lot for your team’s morale.

  46. Dana B.S.*

    I did not have time (yet) to read all the comments, but I know you have gotten some good advice so far. I just wanted to chime in with my perspective when I had directors that I rarely saw. I did start to resent them, but it was for certain key reasons.

    To start, I was burning out at some point – even with strictly working only 40 hours/week. I was the office manager in a stressful industry (residential healthcare) and a lot happened when I wasn’t at work, so I spent my work hours trying to figure out what that was. Now, what were my directors doing? Yes, they were working, but I never knew when or where and sometimes didn’t know how to reach them. My resentment mostly grew out of the fact that I didn’t really think they were prioritizing things properly. Was that accurate? I don’t know – it was my opinion and nothing they did changed that. For instance, they would be extremely late for appointments (an hour or more) or miss them entirely. They would forget to do simple tasks (like approving payroll) that would cause all sorts of problems, etc. For you, this could mean just ensuring that nothing is slipping through the cracks and you aren’t missing out on tasks that appear trivial to you, but could be a big deal or a big problem to one of your employees.

    I think the key is transparency. If I knew a little more about what was going on and what was expected of them, I might have had a better idea of what their priorities needed to be. Should that matter for someone who was essentially working an entry level role? Maybe not, but that was one of the reasons that I left. (I did report to the facility director, so it’s not like I was making judgments while my manager was there working with me.) Now, I don’t mean a mass email that explains your job description and the board’s expectations of your work hours. This could be a white board calendar on your door. This could be a simple announcement of something good: “Because of the connections I have made at these events, I have made a connection with this new large donor.”

    For the young employees, just ensure the managers know to communicate to them their expected work hours. Different jobs have different expectations. Now, if they don’t have enough work to fill that time, that’s a different issue.

    1. Dana B.S.*

      Oh and another thing! In another ExJob, my great great great grandboss was always in and out of our offices. This was to be expected for his role and what he did wasn’t my business because it didn’t affect me. However, when he did have meetings that I was involved in, he was always so effing smug about how busy he was and how important he was. He’d point out how tired he was from travelling, how little he’d seen his family that week, and how much he had to do that day once this meeting was over. It made me feel like I was imposing on his important time by just existing. So don’t go overboard and act like you’re so much more special than anyone else!

    2. The Man, Becky Lynch*

      There is never an excuse for forgetting to approve payroll ever. That kind of “basic necessity” task is striking here.

      I can forgive and shrug off a lot of things but that, that will make me find the quickest way to get someone fired or leave in a blaze of glory.

      This includes messing up frequently on payroll. My mom deals with this nonsense from poorly trained directors/managers in a similar field.

  47. zapateria la bailarina*

    it might not be that the grumblers just think you should be in the office because it “looks good” to be there, it might be that they or others are having a hard time getting responses from you. i know for me, my boss frequently instructs me to get input on a project or budget from his boss, but his boss is so busy that i can hardly ever track him down. he’s either busy in his office with the door closed, in a meeting, or not in his office at all – whether he’s elsewhere in the building dealing with some issue or other, or because he’s on a different schedule. i understand all this, but it’s also frustrating when i need to talk to him and he never responds to my emails and i cannot track him down in person.

    this might not be the case with you, but at least think about it as a possibility.

  48. Shax*

    At my current job we’ve started planning our weeks on a whiteboard at the start of the week, showing what big meetings/personal leave/training we are attending that week, and then placing our major planned work as post-it notes around those commitments. Sometimes those post-its are even “prepare materials for offsite workshop tomorrow”.

    It’s worked quite well – it’s a lot more visual and tactile for everyone than just sharing an email calendar.

    It also means that everyone knows what other work commitments are occurring when it looks like someone “isn’t at work”. Visitors to our team are invited to look at the board when they want to know why someone isn’t in the office that day. Often seeing a post-it note showing the work they are waiting on, means they know it hasn’t been forgotten.

    Suggesting that a whiteboard like this of your own work near your desk could be a transparent way of letting your team know where you are and the work you are doing when you’re not visible.

  49. CatLady*

    I kind of want to know who doesn’t get it that the person in charge of an organization will have a ton of outside obligations. Like where I work I get it that some people are gone for weeks but they’re at trial. Or if we were at a big organization I’d assume there’s fundraising and networking. Anyhow, I like the whiteboard idea listing the events.

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