how can I fix my boss’s obsessive focus on face time over results?

A reader writes:

I’m a fairly new manager — a woman in my 20s. I manage a team of six other young people in a largely older, more “old school” organization. I was promoted from within after about five years here.

I’m really struggling because my boss, the organization’s executive director, values face time over results. I don’t, and I’m clashing with my boss over it.

It’s at the point where he and his “right hand man” are checking in on my and my employees’ calendars constantly. I’m being asked to provide the whole management team with daily updates on where my employees are — all day, every day. They want immediate text messages when people are sick, on vacation, going to be 20 minutes late, at out of the office meetings, etc. Then they use this information to go around me to discipline my staff, or at the very least make them feel guilty for not being here. Or they discipline me for allowing it.

Another example: as a department director, I’m not allowed to approve it if my staff asks to work from home. I know for a fact that they can work off-site exactly as efficiently as when they are in the office, and that often it’s a benefit to both the staff and the organization. It’s my job to know whether the work is getting done, and it is! Instead, I’m supposed to tell them to send a written request to the ED with a list of exactly what they’ll work on when they’re not in the office and how long it will take them. Often he uses that opportunity to talk them out of working from home and they end up coming in sick, paying extra for child care, having to cancel appointments and meetings that are far away, etc. Just to come in and sit at a desk and worry!

I knew about these sort of policies before I took the job, and honestly, part of why I took it is that I thought I might be able to change them. They create a real culture of fear and anxiety.

Not only do I have real moral issues with showing this lack of trust in employees and adding unnecessary barriers to engagement in the workplace, but I know it’s hurting, not helping, my team’s productivity.

As I said, my team is young and most of them have physical and mental health issues. One has young children. Besides the fact that we live in a world where employees are diverse people with lives outside of the office, I find these stories and experiences really help them do their work well. We do nonprofit advocacy work, and having experience with the issues that we advocate on helps them connect deeply with the work and with potential volunteers.

These things, of course, also often mean that they need flexibility to be able to most effectively engage in a traditional office setting. I want to be able to give it to them, but right now any time I bring it up makes me just sound like a “millennial who is being too soft” (which I’ve been called more than once).

Honestly, I mostly just find myself trying to break the rules and not get caught, and to support my staff in doing the same. I know that it’s a problem, but I feel so strongly about breaking down barriers to do our work, and I can’t find another way to do it. Also, I’m being watched so closely that I do get caught a lot and it’s wearing on me!

I’m pretty well-respected at my office in every other way, and I think if I go about it the right way, I could make some real change. My boss isn’t a jerk — he’s just traditional and, from my vantage point, a bit uninformed.

Frankly, I’m angry, though, and it’s clouding my judgment. How do I help the rest of the organization understand the importance of trusting staff and valuing someone’s results over their ability to sit at a desk for a certain number of hours? Or do I just need an attitude adjustment? Am I thinking about this in the wrong way?

Well … you can and should push back against policies and ways of operating that you disagree with. But once you do that, if your organization’s leadership disagrees with you, then you need to decide if you’re willing to stay and work in the way they’re telling you to or whether it’s not the right job for you.

What you can’t do is continue to argue or ignore clear instructions from them and do it your way when they’ve explicitly told you not to, even if you’re sure you’re right. Or rather, technically you can — but it’s not a healthy or sustainable way to operate, for you or for the organization, and it will take a significant toll on you professionally and emotionally.

To be clear, you are right and your boss is wrong.

I mean, if he wants to have a blanket policy against working from home, or only allow working from home in very narrowly defined circumstances, he gets to do that. That’s his prerogative. You as a manager have standing to advocate for changing it — but he gets to make that decision and require you to abide by it.

But an ED of an organization does not need to receive text messages about the whereabouts of employees he doesn’t manage. He doesn’t need to be alerted when someone will be 20 minutes late (assuming he’s not relying on them for something during that time, of course). He shouldn’t be fielding work-from-home requests from people he doesn’t manage. He shouldn’t be going around you to discipline your staff (!).

The fact that he’s doing this speaks to a fundamental lack of understanding of his role, your role, and how his time should be spent. And I seriously question his effectiveness at the real priorities of his job, if he’s spending this much time on minutiae that other people should be handling.

That makes me skeptical that this is just a matter of you needing to find the right way to get through to him. This isn’t someone who’s just stuck in old-school thinking about remote work and could be persuaded to give modern times a try. This is someone with serious control issues and fundamental incompetence about how to manage.

And it sounds like you’ve already tried to argue your case, multiple times. He’s not convinced. There’s not a magical combination of words that will turn him from a bad manager into a good one — and it’s important that you be clear that that’s what you’re dealing with.

This is someone who monitors employees who he doesn’t manage, scrutinizes people’s time down to the minute, doesn’t listen to his own managers about what their teams need, and has created what you call a culture of fear and anxiety. And this is someone who tells you’re a “millennial who is being too soft” (more than once!) when you push back.

It’s possible that maybe he’d listen if he gets this pressure from multiple people, so you could try enlisting other department heads to speak up too, maybe as a group. (And he might be particularly discounting you because you’re young and because you’re new to managing, so enlisting others could help with that.)

But this isn’t someone you can reason into changing on your own, and I think you probably overestimated your ability to do that when you took the job.

You say he’s not a jerk, and fine, maybe he’s not (although what you describe is jerk behavior). But he’s more than “a bit uninformed.” He’s a very bad manager.

You cannot reason or cajole him into being a good manager. You can speak up, which you have, and then you’ve got to work with the answers you’ve been given.

That means at some point fairly soon you should decide if this is an environment you want to work in, and especially if it’s one you want to manage in. (I’d be particularly wary on that last point. As a new manager in this environment you’re going to learn weird habits you’ll carry with you, even if you’re on guard against that. You’re already sneaking around, which is not good … and being scrutinized as a result, which is also not good.)

{ 263 comments… read them below }

  1. sapebraw*

    I wonder if you could convince him to try a short-term experiment to demonstrate productivity is not affected by giving your employees a normal amount of flexibility.

    1. Heidi*

      The description the OP is giving us is not one of bosses who are open to change. They are choosing to lose good employees who need flexibility, but I guess in their minds, a good employee is one who is in the office all the time.

      1. Person from the Resume*

        I agree. I am person who believes in facts and I often try and fail to convince people with facts which is super frustrating because FACTS. I really admire Alison for being to see below the exact questions and point out the ED’s micromanaging is a bigger problem and one that means he doesn’t want to give up knowing where his employees are. This is another case where FACTS won’t convince someone of the truth even in the unlikely event that he’s agree to the experiment.

      2. A Simple Narwhal*

        “they are choosing to lose good employees who need flexibility…”

        This is what prompted my current organization to change. Apparently enough people turned down job offers/quit that it finally got through to them that why would someone choose to work for a company that allowed for zero flexibility, when pretty much every other company out there does?

        It’s incredibly short-sighted to have no flexibility just for the sake of it. OP you might not be able to benefit from it at this company but you (and others) leaving might help future employees out.

          1. LunaLena*

            I too think it’s doubtful. In my experience people would rather find something/someone else to blame than examine their own practices or attitudes. Change is HARD, ya’ll.

          2. Librarianne*

            Tripling down on “doubtful.” I’ve seen this happen in a neighboring department, and the boss thinks it’s due to millennials being wimps rather than serious, toxic problems with the lack of communication and respect in that department. It kills me to see us lose talented, up-and-coming new workers, but I’m also glad that they can get out!

      3. Adric*

        I don’t remember where this is from but it’s worth remembering:

        You cannot reason someone out of a belief that they didn’t come to through reason.

    2. designbot*

      I was wondering the same. I’d show him research on ROWE (Results Oriented Work Environments), explain what your benchmarks for success are—tangible thinks like response times, project schedules, volume goals, whatever is applicable to you—and ask to run an experiment. Monitor those benchmark goals for a period of a couple of months if you don’t have historical data on them. Then relax those butts-in-chairs policies for a month and compare the numbers to the prior months to demonstrate the effectiveness.
      He may not go for it, but you don’t know if you don’t try.

    3. Maria Lopez*

      I don’t think so, but it is worth a try. The ED does not respect the OP or know how to manage, and would likely not even know how to measure increased productivity.
      The whole time I read the letter I thought that if the OP would think of the ED as a boyfriend, she would hopefully realize that you aren’t going to change your boyfriend’s bad habits, only your response to them. And if the habits bother you enough you have to leave.
      To reiterate, you will NOT change your ED’s behavior. I think you should leave, and upon securing the new job you can then outline why you are leaving this one. Or not.

      1. AnnaBananna*

        hahaha, while reading the letter, I had Dan Savage in my head screaming ‘dump the mutha f***** already!’

        Great minds. ;)

    1. juliebulie*

      Yes! OP sounds like a great manager, who would make another organization, senior management, and employees very happy (and productive).

      Hang in there, OP. And by “in” I mean “someplace where your skills will be appreciated and not thwarted.”

      1. CynicallySweet*

        I actually don’t agree w/ this. It sounds like she could be a good manager at a different company. But at this one, she is not being a good manager. Part of being in management is backing up the higher ups and instead she tells her employees to lie to the ED.

        I’m not saying that this is a good company, or the policies are good. But other than wanting to let her people have more flexibility (which is apparently wildly out of sync w/ the culture), I don’t see a lot of evidence here that she is being a good manager.

        1. Trout 'Waver*

          Blindly backing up the higher-ups when they’re being ridiculous is the surest way to alienate your team. Parroting propaganda or dysfunctional polices is not effective management, regardless of how competent the people above you are. If you find yourself in a positive where you are forced to by the higher-ups, they’re dysfunctional and you’re not able to be an effective manager.

          1. CynicallySweet*

            I would say the surest way to alienate a team is by getting them fired for undermining the ED.

            Other managers there seem to be able to manage effectively just not her. The policy isn’t great, but it also isn’t unsafe or really that unusual (and she knew about it going in). They’re not telling her to lead her team off a cliff, they’re telling her they value face time more than flexibility. Not smart but also not the end of the world

            1. Trout 'Waver*

              I don’t think you understand enough to say she’s not managing effectively. That’s a pretty strong statement from a short glimpse of a letter.

        2. AnnaBananna*

          A manager’s main role is to support the productivity of their team, first and foremost. I agree that sneaking around is…not a good look on OP, but compared to the ED? She’s a dream employee. And I say this as a former manager.

          1. CynicallySweet*

            I would agree w/ some of that, however making sure they’re are following company policy is also a large part of a managers job. How productive can the team really be if they’re constantly sneaking around and having tabs kept on them (not to mention the anxiety surrounding both). I actually think that all this skulking around is a great disservice to her team.

            Think of it this way: your employee disagrees w/ how u want ur company to run, so they talk to u about it. You disagree w/ what they’re saying and make it clear that you want the Co to be run a certain way. Instead of listening that employee repeatedly goes behind your back (and roped in the ppl under her to do the same) to do things the way they feel is right. Do u really think that’s the sign of a good employee?

            1. Blueberry*

              That phrasing makes it sound like a mere difference of equivalently-good opinions rather than one way being distinctly better than the other. If the way I wanted my company to be run were objectively bad for my employees and bottom line, and I were too stubborn to listen to my employees’ well reasoned arguments to that effect, I think that would make me bad at running the business.

              I agree that the LW shouldn’t tell her employees to disregard the rules but that’s only because doing so may get them and her fired. They rules are still terrible and I feel bad for the LW being stuck enforcing them. Just because the boss set them doesn’t mean they’re not terrible rules, but unfortunately because the boss is the boss just because his rules are terrible doesn’t mean they can be disregarded.

              In summary, good luck, LW.

    2. Kes*

      Yeah, honestly, I get that OP wants to protect her employees and be the buffer between them and the ED and make it a better culture, and may be concerned about leaving for these reasons, but this honestly sounds really unhealthy as a culture and it’s not something OP can fix on her own – the ED would have to want to change, and he clearly doesn’t. OP already finds herself sneaking around her boss, which is not good, and may get her fired eventually. I really think her best option is to leave for somewhere with a better culture where she can create the flexible and autonomous environment she wants for her people.

      1. GooseTracks*

        Totally agree. She’s not helping her staff by trying to let them sneak around, too. Everyone should be looking for new jobs and get out of this place!

      2. Just Elle*

        Yes to putting herself at risk of being fired. Trying to be a buffer isn’t helping anyone, because clearly the ED isn’t interested in delegation. But sneaking around could be directly hurting people – because now the ED can’t trust you, and has even more reason to believe he needs to go around you to manage your people / step in to do your job, plus has ‘proof’ that people you manage are willing to skirt the rules and therefor feels vindicated in his micromanaging of them.

        When you try to push back on a policy you disagree with and fail, you have two options: quit, or get on board.
        If you get on board, you can live to fight another day, build up more political capital, etc. Then you can try again. But you just simply cannot disobey a direct order from your boss. Its really bad for everyone. And honestly, its not your call to make. He’s the director and you’re not, at least for now. You two aren’t equals. He gets to make the calls even when you disagree.
        But theres also no harm in saving yourself from this very toxic sounding workplace.

  2. Witchy Human*

    Getting called a “millennial who is being too soft” would be enough for me to peace out. What a domineering idiot.

    I would be frank with your subordinates–if they want to start looking for a new position, you will support them, be a reference, and keep any confidence they share with you. I wouldn’t get between the ED and the information he (foolishly) wants, but if you have to play enforcer, make it clear that it’s not by your choice.

    1. Just J.*

      I agree. I would be preparing my resume as well. OP, you’ve been here five years. Have any other managers had any success on changing your ED on any other topic large or small? If the answer is no, then there you have it: you work in a toxic environment. All of your good-will will not change that and you will burn yourself out in the process.

    2. MAB*

      Same. Ageism goes both ways. I have been told I am too young/inexperienced to know the outcome before by older (typically) men. It stunned them when it not only went the way I expected but I handed in my 2 weeks shortly after.

    3. Hey Karma, Over here.*

      That jumped out at me. Soft? WTF? Continue the beatings until morale improves? Employment is a privilege! You can be replaced!
      This is “Traditional” – as a fiction trope from Charles Dickens or some 1940s corporate America farce. This is not the real world.
      Your little dic, um, tator has created his own dystopia that is not a product of his generation or his upbringing. It’s his personality. And it sucks.

    4. Just Elle*

      I’m not sure I agree with making it clear its not your choice. I mean, I get the incentive, but its really not a good look. It hurts your credibility, undermines your authority, and sounds an awful lot like drama and gossip.

      Plus, I’ve been the receiving end of supervisors who tried to protect me from bad policies but were ultimately powerless. It sucks to cling to the hope of a policy change that never comes, and it puts unnecessary pressure on the supervisor.

      They would have been doing me a much better favor if they had said “I understand that you feel the policy is unnecessarily strict, and its causing you work-life-balance strain. Unfortunately, the company is very clear on their policy and doesn’t plan to change it anytime soon. Knowing that, I have to ask that you abide by the rules. But please know that if you find you need to move to a workplace that is more accommodating, I will be more than happy to write you a letter of recommendation and support you in any way you need.”

    5. NotAnotherManager!*

      Seriously, and I don’t find not wanting to be ankle-bracelet-level monitoring to be a generational issue, either. My team ranges from Boomers down to Gen Z, and even the Boomers would chafe at being expected to check in on their physical location. People have kids, grandkids, partners, illnesses, pets, school, hobbies, life, etc. – everyone has something that requires some flexibility.

      I could not work in that environment. My former head of HR was like that, and the only way it worked was that a lot of the department heads let us stealth around the “rules”, too. (Of course, I am an Xer, and we are not know for following rules that we believe to be stupid and counterproductive. :)

      1. TardyTardis*

        I’m a Boomer, and I’d be in trouble myself–when my husband was having Fun Life-threatening Medical Crises, I was able to take time off to deal with them and was a much more effective worker bee knowing that my husband was in good shape and no longer needing to be life-flighted. (then I realized that I would need to take early retirement because reasons, but it was a very amicable parting). At this workplace, there would have been flames involved *somehow* (husband being a retired chemistry teacher and all that).

    6. Beancounter*

      I’m solidly Gen X and bristling at the generational insult.

      I too worked under an old-school boss (who owned the company) and refused to let his three accountants have online access to the 50+ bank accounts we managed. In 2015, when I left, the receivables were still recorded manually on green ledger paper and not in QuickBooks (which was primarily used as a payables manager) and it took years to get anything changed. I left before my computer skills aged so badly I’d never catch up.

      OP – I think you’ll find yourself happier at another company that values the same things you value.

    7. Jules the 3rd*

      Yep, this. A similar situation is why I got on LinkedIn, and told the people I worked with I was on there, and they could reach me as a reference through there.

  3. CmdrShepard4ever*

    I agree with Alison. I think you need to accept the job as your boss wants it to be (no wiggle room, very controlling) or decide it is not for you and find a new job. I think that if you keep pushing for this you will spend a lot of capital in vein that will not see any positive results. If you keep ignoring your bosses orders and going around them, you can burn a bridge with your boss when you do go to find a new job. Even if the boss gives you a reference that was “OP was great at doing xyz work, but they ignored direct orders when told to do or not to do something.” The would probably make most hiring managers uneasy, even if they were things that deserved to be pushed back on.

    1. a1*

      I wonder how much of the need to have texts when employees are going to be late or out, and run all work from home through him, is a result of OP and her staff going against his request/demand for it to be a “in office” job except in rare circumstances. It’s still wrong and controlling, of course, but would it be this way if he wasn’t getting continual push back? I mean how many times can he say “I want people in the office” “I want people in the office” “I want people in the office” and OP keep saying “No, it’s fine.” “No, it’s fine.” “No, it’s fine.” They are at am impasse and are both frustrated. Boss/ED is not handling it well at all, so still not excusing the behavior, just trying to think it through/understand.

      1. ExceptionToTheRule*

        I was wondering the same thing. Ultimately, OP, this guy is the boss and over the course of your career, you are going to be asked/told to support many things bosses want done that you probably don’t agree with. The only person who can know where your “red line” is, is you.

      2. River Song*

        This is kind of where my mind went. Maybe OP has pushed back so much that her bosses don’t trust her? Which I suppose is fair, since she has said she wants to break the rules and encourage her reports to do the same. I agree that she needs to run the office how the bosses want, or leave. If they lose all their good employees, they will have no one to blame but themselves

        1. RC Rascal*

          I am concerned OP could get disciplined for rabble rousing. Dictators like this ED are notoriously insecure and willing to cut off the head of anyone who continues to oppose them.

        2. Peter Piper Picked a Peck of Pickled Peppers*

          “Maybe OP has pushed back so much that her bosses don’t trust her?”

          I am surprised that Alison didn’t point this out. OP is looking for opportunities to “break the rules and not get caught”, except that she is getting caught. Of course her manager doesn’t trust her.

          Even worse, she is doing her young and presumably inexperienced staff a disservice by encouraging *them* to break the rules and jeopardise their jobs. The moral high ground is no protection when you have blatantly gone against company policy and direct instructions.

          1. Peter Piper Picked a Peck of Pickled Peppers*

            To be very clear, I think the management style and culture at this are hugely problematic, and I am not criticising OP for her dislike of the archaic norms she’s described. Nor would I like to work in such an environment.

            At the same time, the more I think about this the more it concerns me. OP believes that her strongly held beliefs trump company policy, deceives her manager and encourages her staff to put self-interest ahead of company policy (in the interest of “fairness”). This is more toxic than refusing to allow people to work from home.

            1. Trout 'Waver*

              But, common sense trumps company policy. If company policy said the sky was green, you wouldn’t blindly go around telling people the sky is green, would you? Calling the belief that rigid inflexibility degrades productively a “strongly held belief” as if all strongly held beliefs are equally valid is missing the point.

              Also, calling letter writers toxic is against the commenting rules here.

              1. Ico*

                The color of the sky is not within the purview of her corporate leadership, but WFH policies certainly are. You don’t just get to cite “common sense” and flout their authority.

                1. Trout 'Waver*

                  First off, the blue sky thing was a figurative example. Nobody is suggesting that the color of the sky falls under the purview of her corporate leadership. It’s really odd that you would even suggest so.

                  Second, why don’t I just get to cite “common sense” and flout their authority? Authority is very costly to spend. There may be consequences, but everything, including lying to your team, has consequences.

              2. CmdrShepard4ever*

                But if company policy is that the sky is green and to publish tell anyone they can that the sky is green, an employee can’t decide to publish the sky is blue on company time with company letterhead. As an employee you can decide to leave if you are not okay with that.

                1. Trout 'Waver*

                  Third option: Keep saying the sky is blue and not leave. It’s a business transaction: their cash, my labor. I don’t have to agree with everything they say and do to do business with them.

              3. Blueberry*

                I’m with you. I wonder if this is a “Lawful” vs “Chaotic” temperament issue — lawful employees say, “well, during working hours the sky is green,” and chaotic ones say, “the truth is that the sky is blue no matter what company policy decrees”.

        3. LilyP*

          Yeah I hate to say it OP but you probably lost a lot of your credibility on this issue as soon as you started getting caught breaking rules. If your boss was an effective manager you could have lost your job over it. I appreciate that you are fighting the good fight here but I think there’s too much baggage to this situation for you to have any chance of changing minds here. You should find a new job that’s better aligned with your values and be clear with them about why you’re leaving.

      3. Quickbeam*

        “paying extra for child care”

        I hope that wasn’t one of the arguments to support work from home……the whole taking care of children while getting paid thing forestalled WFH at my company for years. We finally got 1 day a week but explicitly not to care for kids or pets.

        1. AvonLady Barksdale*

          That stood out to me too, but “child care” can mean a lot of things. Maybe a kid needs to be driven to a an appointment. Maybe the kid is sick and just needs a parent present at home. There are a bunch of reasons why a parent might want a work from home day once in a while and need to take care of something kid-related. On a regular basis, no, but I think on occasion it’s ok.

          1. Leslie Knope*

            It amazes me how many days the schools in my area have parent-teacher conferences and the kids are either out half a day or all day. I don’t have any kids myself, but there’s been plenty of times my boss has me covering the office alone because he has a more flexible schedule than his wife and can stay home with them. It makes no difference to me because he’s still available by text and phone and we don’t have much interruption in workflow.

            Depending on work they can accomplish while at home, the age of the kids and how much interaction/overseeing they need, or if they need to travel to an appointment, it would make sense to have that flexibility and not lose a whole day of productivity.

            1. Sssssssssssssssssssssssssssssssss*

              Ohhhhhhh, parent-teacher interviews scheduled at 4 p.m. were the worst. Like, I usually work until five and it’s take a half-hour to get home by bus, so I would have to leave so much earlier for a 10-minute conference. I know teachers have lives too but this was not respectful of the time of parents whose taxes pay for the salaries of teachers.

        2. CynicallySweet*

          My company has a policy that if your kids are home you need to have childcare anyways, which I think is fairly common…Obviously this doesn’t apply if an older kids sick, but if you’re going to be taking care of a baby or toddler all day you should be using PTO anyways

        3. Jackalope*

          I interpreted it differently. My job has a similar rule about no childcare while working but many many people have told me that not having to commute to the office, in an area that has horrible traffic, makes a huge difference in their childcare because they don’t have to get daycare before work, don’t have to pay premium costs in the evenings when they can’t make it to the daycare center by 6:30, or what have you. Losing a 4 hour round trip (yes, really) can mean scheduling things with a spouse or other family member so that you can avoid paid childcare without caring for your kids at work.

      4. DC Cliche*

        Yeah, I had a similar thought — how much of this is a really negative/reactive cycle? To be clear: I think the ED is being a bad manager by example, but I would be curious to know how she *knows* that her team is performing well, etc. He could be responding poorly to a fledgling manager learning how to manage/feel her staff is taking advantage of her compassion, etc.

        However, it also reminds me of my first senior-leadership role, at an organization that I spend 5+ years at, starting when I was a baby 24-year-old just out of graduate school. I took it personally that it was my job to *save* the org from the president, who was a bad manager, particularly to me. Knowing what I do now I would have recognized the signs a lot earlier, reminded myself that I had learned and grown a ton, and started job-hunting much earlier. Instead I had a crash landing of an exit, that took me months psychologically to move on from. It was hard to be grateful for what I had learned or to believe in myself as I started a new, exciting role, because I was so focused on the fact that I had “failed” in my goal. You can’t change managers, you can’t save orgs, and even when you believe in the mission and love your team, sometimes it’s just time to be clear-eyed. You can care deeply about your people and purpose, but going to the mattresses daily to buy an employee 20 minutes to go to the dentist is not a good use of your time and talents.

      5. CynicallySweet*

        I was actually wondering that too. The OP doesn’t mention if he does it for other teams. And it doesn’t say whether he started doing it before or after she started getting caught sneaking behind his back.

        Thinking about this as potentially a letter from the EDs perspective, this could be a manager not dealing w/ a rogue manager in a productive way

  4. Allison*

    Sounds like the job I’d just been laid off from. We’d enjoyed a lot of flexibility for years, but a few months after moving to an open office where the whole team sat together, our department head was suddenly getting complaints that too often, too few of us were in, and it looked bad, so he started to crack down and start asking where people were, and we had to put our planned time off, work-from-home days, and sick days in a shared calendar, and discouraged from working from home when too many people were out. It got a bit out of hand, I know he was trying to manage our reputation but it just felt like a bit much sometimes. Who honestly cared if most of us worked from home on any given Friday, as long as we were responding to emails?

    1. Kimberlee, No Longer Esq.*

      I am *amazed* how often resistance to remote working boils down to “we have this office space, and when it’s not full, it looks bad, so no more remote work!” Like, is it my problem you decided to spend money on a bunch of office space? Is this really a compelling reason to eat the (massive) downsides of not allowing that kind of flexibility? Are you really making this decision, which deeply impacts my and my staff’s lives, based on optics?

      1. MissDisplaced*

        That is currently happening at my job! Basically, we moved offices, company spent lots of money to put in the new open office, and now we’re all expected to be here every day. No discussion.
        Thing is no one wanted the new office!

    2. Theory of Eeveelution*

      This is currently happening with my job! And yep, it’s enough to wonder if I still want to work here anymore.

    3. CynicallySweet*

      The calendar bit makes perfect sense to me tbh. Maybe my team is more collaborative then the one you work on, but knowing whether someone is available when out of the office is helpful. I’m not going to call someone who’s sick or taking PTO, but if they’re working from home I will.

      1. MissDisplaced*

        Definitely. If you have WFH the employees need to be much more diligent about updating shared calendars and applying notices through Slack, Skype or whatever COMM tool you’re using. And I would say that if someone begins to be unreachable via message or phone, you’d have to begin watching them. When I WFH I make a point to return calls in say, 10-15 minutes unless otherwise engaged on another meeting or call. Even then, I’ll try to ping them with a “in a meeting right now” message.

        A few years ago I had a coworker who worked from home almost all the time. But when you’d try to email her, it would take a day to return it. Calls went unanswered, and messages/pings would be left unanswered for hours. IDK, maybe she was just busy, but it felt like she was working another job or something. But I wasn’t the manager, so not my business. It was pretty noticeable though.

    4. irene adler*

      Not disagreeing.
      If the work is getting done within the expectations set by management, then why get picky as to how this is accomplished?
      Where I am now, the managers are very afraid of anything non-traditional. They will cite “studies” that show employees are less productive working in a non-traditional setting (8 hour days, no WFH). I think they are afraid of what might happen if the “inmates are allowed to run the asylum”.

  5. Spartan*

    OP kudos for your attempts at reason but it is rare that someone will change this type of thinking without some sort of loss first. Losing a contingent of good employees who tell him directly why they left may be the only way this ever changes. I would continue to fight against it where appropriate and look for a job with the type of rules you are more willing to enforce because as Alison said it may never change.

    1. EPLawyer*

      He wont’ see a whole bunch of people leaving as a loss. he thinks they are a bunch of soft millenials anyway. He will think they couldn’t cut it in the “real world.” Then hire people who value butts in the seats. Things will go on the way they were, and he won’t notice any diminishing in productivity — because everyone is already not producing well due to his micromanaging.

      1. Maxie's Person*

        I had director like that. I was not supposed to work form home. (I ultimately concluded that because they were paying high rents for office space, so she didn’t want to waste it or risk a budget cut!) There were no security or other issues involved and I was required to travel for work, but my butt had be in the seat.
        There was a heavy snowstorm that started ovenight and contuned into the morning. Ultimately 18 inches fell ending after midday. I stayed home – my street wasn’t plowed so my small car would get stuck. The authorities were warning folks to stay off the roads. I started digging out, but I’m an older woman so it was slow going. Then the plow came through and I had to dig through that. By mid afternoon, a brief warmup melted enough to cause concern about a re-freeze at sunset. The governor begged people to stay off the roads so they could be cleared. Did I mention I lived 30 miles from the office? So I responded to a couple of e-mails late in the day after assuring that I could move my car in the morning. The director wrote me up for working at home without approval.
        Another time, she would not allow me to work from home for a few days after a pipe burst at home had me dealing with mitigation and restoration people. I had to run around to get to work late or come home early to deal with the issue.
        The stupid irony in this was the director worked remotely more than 80% of the time. She lived 1,500 miles from headquarters and worked there less than one week per month. She would travel to other company locations on flimsy excuses. She had the same security on her laptop as mine and we both dealt with sensitive and private info. She could work wherever she chose but I could only work off premises after 8 hours in my office or on official travel.
        She finally made a serious, costly, and embarassing error and “retired” shortly after. Good riddance!

  6. Bree*

    If I were on the board of this non-profit, I’d be very concerned if I knew this was how the CEO and his “right-hand man” were spending their time. Not that there’s much the LW can do right now, but perhaps after they leave there might be an opening to express those concerns – this process is deeply inefficient, and may even run contrary to the mission of the organization.

    1. juliebulie*

      Not just the board, but donors too, if this organization receives donations. I wouldn’t donate to any outfit where I thought people were getting paid to micromanage someone to the point where they’re actually interfering with the work. That’s crazy!

    2. Mainely Professional*

      Going to the board with my concerns would not be my first move, but if the OP has a relationship with anyone on the board at all, then it could easily be something to discuss in terms of strategic planning, HR, and operations–all things the board oversees. Their boss may not want to change, but …

      1. Bree*

        You’re right – I’d assumed there wasn’t a way to go to the board while she’s still employed there because usually staff don’t have direct access to board members and it would be a very aggressive move. But if there are such opportunities, she could take them. Honestly, it doesn’t sound like she has a lot to lose?

        Reaching out to a trusted/engaged board member after she’s left is still an option. Still pretty aggressive, but possible. Once, when I left a non-profit a board member called me to ask why, and I was very honest about my reasons. They asked me to join the board (I declined) and let the ED go a few months later.

      2. Ask a Manager* Post author

        Going to the board is a nuclear move, and generally something you’d only do in really egregious situations (illegal/unsafe stuff, real abuse), not for a guy who’s managing his time badly and wants too much face time. Boards generally defer to the ED on this kind of thing and it’s too likely not to end well for the OP.

        1. Mainely Professional*

          Yeah, I know it is. This isn’t something to “take” to the board, but if the OP is part of any larger discussion or reporting to with strategic planning, issues of culture the board is considering, etc…talking about best workplace practices is not out of line in those discussions. Especially if it’s fronted with “We don’t do these things here, and this why we should consider them.”

    3. Qwerty*

      It will likely just sound like a disgruntled employee. The OP has been disciplined multiple times for not adhering to company policy plus the ED has been disciplining her team for not following policy because the OP refuses to do it. By constantly undermining senior leadership, she’s lost any high ground so the focus will be more on her actions than the policies. The ED sounds like a terrible manager, but that is overshadowed by making such a huge stand on allowing remote work when she took the job knowing what the policy on remote work was.

  7. Not everything has to be a battle*

    “It’s at the point where he and his ‘right hand man’ are checking in on my and my employees’ calendars constantly.”
    Reading this, it sounded like things have worsened, perhaps because the bosses keep catching you trying to ignore their clear directives? Maybe I’m reading too much into that paragraph, but I wonder if you’d get farther if you made a good faith effort to support your boss’ policy decisions. I agree that your way of doing things makes more sense, but it sounds to me like you’ve taken a pretty adversarial stance. That’s going to make folks double down on what they’re already doing, not persuade them to your side. I don’t think you’ll get everything you want, but if you focus on one or two things (like how it undermines you when your reports are reprimanded by your boss rather than yourself), I think you’ll get a lot farther.

    1. Colette*

      Yeah, that to me is a strong warning sign for the way the OP’s work is being viewed by her managers.

      I think the OP should do the following:
      – Meet with the boss and lay out a case for working from home:
      “I’d like to have the authority to authorize my employees to work from home when it makes sense for them. I will make sure they are productive by X, Y, and Z. I believe it will benefit the organization through A, B, and C. If someone is unable to meet their usual productivity standards, I will stop approving them to work from home.”
      – If the boss says yes, great!
      – But if the answer is no, she needs to stop allowing her team to work from home. She is outright defying her management, and that is a terrible idea – either she’ll get fired for cause, or she’ll develop some terrible habits.

      1. Hmmm*

        OP needs to also consider how she may inadvertently be damaging her employee’s reputation with their grand boss. Though blame should fall to just OP, if the grand boss and his right-hand-man have a perception that if you aren’t in the office, you aren’t working, then they may think that the employees aren’t productive. It is important as a manager to ensure that your employees are getting the reputation they deserve.

        1. valentine*

          it sounded like things have worsened, perhaps because the bosses keep catching you trying to ignore their clear directives?
          OP needs to also consider how she may inadvertently be damaging her employee’s reputation with their grand boss.
          OP has been giving permission they don’t have standing to give and, rather than using “we” for policy while chipping away at it, has created an us-versus-them that harms the team. It makes sense if the trust is lost and the bosses are corralling this mutinous group.

    2. Dust Bunny*

      I was just thinking this: Maybe the OP would get further if she stopped fighting this so hard. If the bosses are weird about letting people work from home, even if they’re bonkers, stop letting them work from home except on rare, absolutely-necessary, occasions.

      I think the OP is not a good fit for this job, but as long as she’s there, I think she needs to deescalate this. She’s not the boss–she doesn’t get to call the shots, and since she’s a relatively new manager she’s not in a position to make over this organization into her ideal in a short time. But pushing less might get the bosses off her case and might get them to stop looking for reasons to interfere with her team’s work.

      1. Newbie*

        Agree with Dust Bunny– I don’t think the OP is making things better for her team, if anything it sounds like her escalating is making them be more closely monitored.

      2. a1*

        I made a pretty similar point up thread but it got eaten. And yours is much better said anyway. So, suffice it to say, I agree. Boss wants it a certain way, OP keeps saying “nope, my way is better” – they are at an impasse and probably equally frustrated with each other.

    3. Important Moi*

      Maybe providing metrics for remote workers:

      *Provide project(s) parties are working from home to give your boss?
      *Phone availability (& answering the phone during that time frame)?
      *Email check -ins?

      Acceptance of those could pave the way for acceptance remote working.

      1. Important Moi*

        “Often he uses that opportunity to talk them out of working from home..”

        I didn’t see that part. Maybe a continued polite but pointed discussion stating “metric are beings provided, do you just not trust your employees?”

        I think that could open things up…

        1. Peter Piper Picked a Peck of Pickled Peppers*

          I think OP no longer has the credibility to suggest policy changes. She should rather keep her head down and try to regain the trust of her manager, before making any further comments or suggestions on how the company should be run. Doing some damage control with her team would also be a good idea (“I know I’ve been encouraging you to do XYZ but on reflection this was a bad idea because ABC.”)

    4. Marthooh*

      It occurred to me immediately that this was the ED doubling down on his attendance rules after the OP defied him.

    5. remizidae*

      I wonder if there’s a feedback loop happening here, where the boss notices OP being deceptive/evasive/just not enforcing policy, and therefore decides he needs more information about exactly where employees are, which just feeds OP’s perception of him as unreasonable and micromanaging. OP needs to represent management’s policies as long as she is there–not go behind the boss’s back–because if they’ve noticed her trying to weasel out of following direction, she has zero credibility for proposing changes.

  8. Lobsterman*

    Just get a new job. The problem with this kind of abuse is that the victims of it can start to get hooked on the dopamine hit of being mad about this week’s abusive act.

      1. Blueberry*

        Putting one’s employees under a micromanaging microscope designed to make them feel terrible is pretty abusive, I think.

  9. Rugby*

    I’m really curious what kind of discipline is used at this organization. I associate discipline so much more with school than work that I’m kind of surprised that word was used in the letter.

    1. MissDisplaced*

      Many workplaces do treat the employees as though they are in school. Even to the point of have to ask for bathroom breaks and having LAV passes. Sadly.

    2. ExceptionToTheRule*

      Discipline’s not just for school kids. It could be a verbal or written warning for violating a policy, or being routinely rude to a co-worker or termination for something like theft or sexual harassment. It could also be a performance improvement plan with specific metrics. Most companies have some kind of progressive discipline plan.

  10. Trout 'Waver*

    Your boss is a jerk. He does this because he does not see his employees as professionals, but rather as children that must be scolded. Does he hold himself to the same standard? Of course not. These types never do.

  11. Aquawoman*

    Am I reading this correctly that they are disciplining people for using PTO for sick leave and vacations? Are there any labor law implication for that (especially the sick leave). The whole thing reads like they have “benefits” that the director never wants them to use.

    1. pieces_of_flair*

      Hmm, my read was that they are disciplining people for NOT taking PTO. That is, if they aren’t physically in the office they should be using PTO because they can’t possibly be working.

  12. Escapee from Corporate Management*

    “I knew about these sort of policies before I took the job, and honestly, part of why I took it is that I thought I might be able to change them.“

    OP, take this as a lesson for when you leave (and you should leave): If you walk into a job expecting to change policies, you will often be disappointed. A new manager is unlikely to change even a good culture. They will almost certainly fail to change a toxic one.

    1. Kes*

      Yeah, it’s kind of like going into a relationship expecting to change someone. People are unlikely to change unless they want to. It’s hard enough to change behaviour of employees who you have power to enforce consequences on (we’ve seen enough stories on this site of recalcitrant employees to verify that, and it’s why they often end with Alison counselling that the manager should be prepared to eventually let go of the employee if they won’t change). In this case, trying to change the behaviour of OP’s boss when he is clearly firmly set against it is destined to fail.

    2. Sara without an H*

      Yes. Cultures are notoriously difficult to change, even with full commitment by top level management. I give OP credit for wanting to try, but it’s obvious at this point that it isn’t going to work.

    3. KayEss*

      This. Even if you are explicitly hired for the purpose of changing the culture of an office, with the stated full buy-in of your management, it’s an uphill battle. It’s never going to be something you can do on your own through modeling good behaviors or subversive manipulation and sneaking around.

      1. That Girl from Quinn's House*

        YES, this. I’ve been hired to “rebuild” or “change” or “improve processes” and it’s something I’m very capable of doing when given the right resources.

        I have never, not once, been given the right resources to effect the change that needed to be done. I could write up an excellent plan and have all the staff on board and get bupkis from my boss to do any of it.

        Never again will I take that sort of job.

        1. Escapee from Corporate Management*

          I feel your pain. I have been brought in to change things around, and even with the full support of management, it didn’t work out. But at least your job was supposed to be about change. OP thought she could do so without any of that initial support or guidance. That’s impossible!

    4. The New Wanderer*

      It’s tough because OP sees the possibilities of how much flexibility would be appreciated by her reports and not impact productivity, but it is not what the higher ups want and that isn’t going to change. If higher ups want face time above all else, then face time needs to be prioritized and that priority needs to be respected and supported by the lower level managers, regardless of their personal feelings about it.

      I mean, I myself would absolutely leave over these policies and how they’re being carried out! But if I had accepted the job as a manager, then this is part of what a manager has to do. Not work to change the system when it’s this entrenched and valued by the people who promoted me, or undermine the higher ups when trying to change the system doesn’t have the effects I want. It’s a losing battle and unfortunately for OP, the likely result is OP will end up on a PIP or demoted if this continues.

  13. Seifer*

    I’m not a manager, but I’m giving serious consideration to leave my job like this. The worst part is that it’s a small office, but other departments can come and go as they please, work from home whenever, and just… do whatever. My manager, on the other hand, just recently flipped a shit about me and my one other coworker who are busting our asses off and staying late about “getting the 40 hours in” because we left a bbq early. It was non work time, we all worked through lunch knowing that the bbq was going to happen, and left after the eight-hour mark for the day. Oh, and we’re salaried, and had gotten all our work wrapped up for the week.

    It’s getting to the point where we’re like, man, it’s 2019, we’re in a pretty lucrative field, and doing work that’s in pretty high demand. More and more companies are offering more and more flexibility and if this one doesn’t want to keep up, then… why stay?

    1. Pants*

      Don’t. Don’t stay. You owe them nothing. They exchange money for your time and service. That’s all it is. It’s an exchange, not a relationship. Get out of there. And fart in your manager’s chair before you go.

    2. Stormfeather*

      In your case, isn’t there someone over your manager’s head you can talk to? It sounds like they’re pretty solidly out of step with the rest of the office, and are to the point where they’re possibly about to chase away good (presumably ;) ) employees.

      1. Seifer*

        Unfortunately, we have waaaaay too many higher ups in this department. The director is the one that feels this way the strongest (which is hilarious because he works from home), so my boss is just… following his lead. The other two managers are also butts in seats managers.

        I just really hate it because we’re not the ones that sit in the meetings and talk about all the things we didn’t do because we were ‘too busy.’ Those guys get sympathy and understanding because they sit in their chairs and fuck around all day, but we go in and tell about what we’ve finished and we get, okay and why didn’t you get more done???

    3. ThatGirl*

      When I was hired at my current workplace, they upsold me big time on flexible schedules, among other benefits. In my first role I really couldn’t work from home much, but I was looking forward to it in my new role — and then the German MNC who took over decided they didn’t like it (allegedly one group was abusing the policy) and instead of giving managers discretion or talking to the group abusing the policy, it got taken away from everyone. It’s just one thing but it makes us all feel a bit less appreciated.
      And like you say, it’s 2019, many of us are doing the kinds of jobs that can be done flexibly or remotely, why would anyone stay at a company they don’t feel appreciated at?

      1. Seifer*

        Oh man, I know. I just feel bad because my boss used to be a peer and we were good friends. I don’t want to leave him in the lurch because I am literally the only person in the office that does what I do, but at the same time I’m like dude you are drinking the koolaid and I don’t know who you are anymore. We used to have the same frustrations and now he’s just adding to them in the same way that the executives were before.

        Morale is so easy to have at the beginning. But it’s also really easy to lose, and then after it’s been lost, it’s so hard to build it back up. Even if they said hey, you can WFH during the snowstorms, we’d all be like okay, and? Doesn’t change the fact that during the last snowstorm y’all made us come in and two people got into car accidents also the parking lot wasn’t salted so once it got dark and icy, we were all terrified to fall in the parking lot. Ohhhh but NOW we can work from home??? No thanks I will call in sick and you can exactly zero productivity from me.

        …Yeah I need to leave.

    4. Allison*

      Definitely update your resume and start looking, you deserve better. If you’re in a line of work that can be done remotely, and other departments in your company and/or other companies in your field have flexibility, you’re fully justified to find a job elsewhere. I mean, you’re always allowed to move jobs, but in this case you should.

  14. Phony Genius*

    If he’s going around you to discipline your staff, you could actually be sued in some places for allowing it. (It happened to one of my college professors when his secretary was fired by the department chair.) Even if it’s legal where you are, it’s not a good thing. Your staff will act as your boss wants them to, not as you want them to. In that case, you are only managing them in name.

    By the way, we need a phrase for this, which is the opposite of going over the boss’s head. “Cutting off the boss’s legs” seems disproportionate. Anybody?

    1. Angelinha*

      He’s the ED. I agree he shouldn’t undermine the manager by going around her, but as the ED he can discipline whoever he wants. All the staff fall under him.

      1. doreen*

        And in fact, it seems as though the boss is going around the LW because the LW is not acting as he wants her to – after all, if she was disciplining them for coming in late, working from home, whatever it is , he wouldn’t be stepping in or disciplining her for allowing it.

    2. pleaset*

      “you could actually be sued in some places for allowing it.

      I suppose that’s possible, but seems pretty remote in this case….

    3. MK*

      Sued for what? No offense, but that doesn’t sound remotely likely. “I only get to be disciplined by my immediate boss” is not a labor right in any jurisdiction I can think of.

      1. Phony Genius*

        In my example, there may have been a union contract involved, or some other type of contract. I wasn’t familiar with all the employment policies of my college.

        1. MK*

          Hmm. The thing is, if there is any kind of contract involved, you can just be sued for breach of it. I still doubt it would really hold up in court.

  15. Jedi Squirrel*

    This is someone with serious control issues and fundamental incompetence about how to manage.

    This is spot on. And in my experience, you can’t change this.

    In general, the commentariat here are too quick (IMO) to suggest that OP find another job. But this is clearly a case where OP should find another job, and as AdAgencyChick suggests, hire away the good employees if you get the chance. They truly deserve better, as does OP.

    1. Peter Piper Picked a Peck of Pickled Peppers*

      Tbh I think this applies equally to the OP, who is encouraging her team to break company rules, and is so convinced of the rightness and fairness of her own ideas* that she is undermining her manager.

      * Yes, her ideas sound better, but that’s not relevant here because she’s not the boss.

  16. Jamie*

    Overall I favor a results oriented approach but one of your reasons for wanting to allow them to WFH concerns me.

    One has young children.

    I am not sure why you are including that as a reason to wfh, but if it’s a regular thing as opposed to working from home at partial productivity rather than taking a sick day if a child is home from school then it would concern me. If working from home on a regular basis they should be required to have child care.

    Also encouraging your staff to violate policy when they are getting disciplined for it is just going to hurt them.

    It’s unfortunate, but what you describe is really common in a lot of workplaces where butts in seats is what’s most valued. All you, and your reports, can do is figure out if you can work within that framework or look for a better fit elsewhere.

    1. Kate*

      As someone with young kids and a longgggggg commute, I would very much appreciate the WFH policy! No need to assume I wouldn’t have childcare. Three hours that I don’t have to spend slogging to work but I can greet my kids when they come through the door after school? Gold!

      1. Bostonian*

        Yeah, it seemed to me like OP was just listing reasons why people would want a few hours back in their day (WFH = no commute), not suggesting that people should WFH and watch their kids at the same time.

      2. General von Klinkerhoffen*

        Or flexibility to coordinate work patterns with a coparent. A former co-worker of mine worked 7-2 and her husband worked 10-6 (or similar) so they didn’t need any wraparound care outside the school day, but could both work pretty much full time.

      3. NotAnotherManager!*

        Exactly. The fact that my spouse works from home most of the week and does not have to commute is the only way our kids get to partake of afterschool and community sports activities and the only way we’re able to manage special-needs private school for our kid on the spectrum. Spouse actually works MORE now that he doesn’t have to go into the office than he did when an overturned mango truck on the Beltway ate an extra half-hour of his day.

        People who have kids aren’t looking to WFH and provide their own childcare, we’re looking to shave off the 1-3 hours of commuting time that cut into our family time – the same, I would imagine, for people with partners, pets, friends, or family they like to spend more time with.

        1. Colette*

          Some people with kids do see WFH as an alternative to child care (although many don’t), so it makes sense to make sure expectations are aligned on that.

          1. RoadsLady*

            I see moms often asking about WFH opportunities. I feel I need to preface suggestions with the idea that most places will likely expect you to have childcare. It seems most are trying for the best of both worlds–hanging out with the kids while working.

      4. Ophelia*

        Exactly! I work from home (I’m an offsite employee), and I have little kids, but they’re in daycare/school all day. The WFH helps on either end of the day, when it’s much easier to handle drop-off and pick-up, and for the rare occurrence when someone gets sick in the middle of the day or something (at which point I would usually end up taking sick leave).

    2. Rugby*

      I didn’t get the impression that OP wants the employee with a young child to be able to WFH to care for the child. I think OP was just highlighting having a young child as one of the many reasons why an employee would need some flexibility.

      1. Jamie*

        That’s why I mentioned if it’s an occasional thing with partial productivity. There are reasons it could be viable as an occasional thing or due to the commute issue Kate mentioned…but I’ve been in a lot of meetings where people argued for working from home to save the expense of childcare and that’s why I said if it was a regular thing without care it would be an issue.

      2. Another HR manager*

        Right – but if that is also all the information OP is giving their boss about how great wfh is, then that is a problem. For example, we do not allow staff who wfh to flex their hours without notice (unless emergency of course). It makes it too hard to collaborate. Staff work regular hours – whether in the office or at home – some starting at 7:30 am, some at 10 am …. but with individual consistency. We know when our team members are working so we can work together. My boss knows the basic schedule for times he needs to reach people directly – we do tech stuff and sometimes he needs help.

    3. Aquawoman*

      That’s kind of a stretch. She talked about WFH in the context of all types of not-being-on-site, including sick leave and vacation days. It’s pretty difficult to be a parent of young children and never need sick leave or a day off from work.

      1. Tisma*

        She also lists ‘paying extra for child care’ which reads to me as WFH allowing for not paying someone else to watch the child/ren.

  17. workerbee2*

    Up until this year, my department had a fabulous manager that gave us a great deal of flexibility as long as the work was getting done – flexible schedules, work from home (both scheduled and ad hoc as needed), etc. However, we got a new Big Boss this year who put a stop to all of that. Similar to the ED in this letter, she goes around my manager to “discipline” the team. She started tracking – down to the minute – when all of the [exempt] employees used their badges to get in and out of the building to make sure we were all here for 8.5 hours. WFH is limited to one previously scheduled day per week, no ad hoc WFH (bad weather/road conditions, mild illness, etc.) allowed. When she found out that the manager was allowing me to watch my young child when I worked from home, she completely rescinded my ability to WFH as a punishment. Never mind that I was doing what I was doing with my manager’s explicit approval, I was egregiously flouting company policy and that needed to have consequences. The thing that really rankles with me is that all she needed to do was lay out clear expectations and I have no problem adjusting, no punishment required. (Something that this boss has since commented on to me – that I’m easy to manage.)

    My manager, who is still here, has tried to push back against this new micromanaging and punitive culture – to no avail. So now we all just have to figure out if “the new normal” is acceptable to us or not. I’ve been casually looking for a new position for about 6 months, but the type of position I’m looking for is uncommon so it will likely be a while until I line up a new position that’s better than my current one.

    1. workerbee2*

      By the way, I totally get not wanting employees to be a primary caregiver while on the clock. I was actually doing most of my work off-hours to get everything done. My manager was fine with that arrangement. What I took issue with is not giving me a chance to meet new expectations before being disciplined.

      1. MissDisplaced*

        Yeah, like “let’s discipline” before even ASKING them to do something different.
        It’s crappy management. And it’s sad that employees have no recourse but to take it or leave it.

    2. Ursula*

      That level of tracking might be enough to mean you are now misclassified as exempt. You could always see if the threat of actually having to pay overtime makes the Big Boss back off.

  18. Nep*

    OP, you are awesome and I appreciate how hard you’re trying to take care of your employees in an ethical and considerate way. I hope you can find a job that lets you do that rather than trying to drum your thoughtfulness out of you.

  19. Wintermute*

    my labor sense is tingling– let me take a wild-arsed guess and ask “is this obsessive focus on face time at the expense of good employees is probably to the advantage of abled, male employees of a certain race and age, and drastically to the detriment of people that don’t fit into that mold?”

    1. Jamie*

      That’s a huge leap based on the data at hand. One, it’s not at the expense of good employees as to our knowledge no one has left over this.

      Personally I’m not a fan of wfh for myself unless it’s due to weather, illness, or some other reason I need to be home and that has nothing to do with my gender or age.

      1. Wintermute*

        I don’t think that’s a huge leap given that the LW TELLS US OUTRIGHT that he has a diverse team, and that the people that need flexibility the most are disabled or have families while others do not…

        1. Jamie*

          Having children isn’t a reason to work from home, any well run office would have childcare requirements and lumping gender in when there is no need is not helpful. There is enough sexism in the workplace without assuming it’s there without evidence.

    2. Rugby*

      I don’t think it is drastically to the detriment of people that don’t fit into that mold. WFH and flexible schedules really only became common in the past 20 years and plenty of women, racial minorities and people with disabilities held down full-time jobs before that.

  20. Sara without an H*

    “I’m pretty well-respected at my office in every other way, and I think if I go about it the right way, I could make some real change…How do I help the rest of the organization understand the importance of trusting staff and valuing someone’s results over their ability to sit at a desk for a certain number of hours?”

    Short answer, OP: You can’t. I’ve forgotten who said this, but “Culture eats strategy for breakfast.” You work for an organization with a peculiarly entrenched culture. I know it’s tempting to believe that, if you can just get them to listen, you can fix everything. It isn’t going to happen.

    Please assure your staff that they can count on you for references if they want to look elsewhere. Then clean up your resume, update your Linked In profile, and start job searching. You’ve done as much as you can do in this organization. Time to move on.

    1. CynicallySweet*

      I would also maybe tell the OP to reassess how well-respected she is.

      I’m not saying what she wants in wrong, but if I was a manager and my new (to the job) co-worker cause this kind of consistent drama and was encouraging her employees to sneak behind the ED’s back, I certainly wouldn’t respect her

  21. Office Grunt*

    Does the Executive Director also make everyone use PTO for off-site meetings, client visits, and lunch? (I have experienced that.)

      1. That'll Happen*

        In the United States, it unfortunately is. There is no federal or state law requiring employers to give their employees vacation time. As long as employees are getting paid for work it doesn’t matter that they are also getting docked PTO. It is certainly a terrible policy and I’d leave any employer that did it, but that doesn’t make it illegal.

  22. Close Bracket*

    part of why I took it is that I thought I might be able to change them.

    That was a trap! Look, I’ve been hired specifically to bring about organizational change. People purportedly were on board and supportive of the changes I was supposed to make. Oh, Little Close Bracket, how I wish I could go back in time and tell you the fool’s errand you were on! Since I can’t, I’ll tell you, OP, that trying to bring about change that nobody wants is a fool’s errand. Drop this goal. Find a way to make this job work until you can find a better a one.

    1. Jamie*

      I have been there, too! Specifically brought in to manifest major policy and procedure changes allegedly with the full enthusiastic support of management.

      It didn’t end well for me.

    2. Dust Bunny*

      Except the OP doesn’t say that she was brought on board to change things–she says she accepted the job thinking (apparently of her own volition) that she could change things. If that’s the case, she trapped herself. It’s noble but at best a bit naive to assume that a (relatively young?) new employee can take a job and overturn the whole company culture in such a short time.

      There is a lot of agreement here that the boss and his second-in-command are bad managers, but if the OP’s response to their escalating interference is to push her own agenda methods harder, she’s not doing a very good job of reading the writing on the wall, either. If she backtracked and tried other things, she might make more headway, but it doesn’t sound like she has.

      1. Close Bracket*

        Except the OP doesn’t say that she was brought on board to change things

        I got that, and it forms the core of my point. When even someone who is brought on board to make changes can’t, someone who was *not* brought on board to make changes definitely won’t.

    3. The Man, Becky Lynch*


      They must first be willing to change, you cannot force it. And the reality is that people are creatures of habit and looooooooooooooooooooove their habits, they will cry and scream at you and push you in the mud to keep their habits. Even when their habits are setting them back and can lead them to bankruptcy.

      I’ve seen people kick and scream into literally bankruptcy. “But why are we losing so much money, why are we so broke?” “Stop hanging onto that old habit and do this instead…” “NEVAAAAAAAAAAAA *drowns with their wreckage instead of plugging holes correctly and making it to frigging shore at least.*”

      It’s one of those “nice ideas” that people will kick around. Kind of like visiting a doctor and getting a wellness plan…then burning that wellness plan over the fire as they roast their marshmallows for their nightly smores. “Why can’t I lose weight tho? *stuffs another cookie in*”

  23. Another HR manager*

    I find the comments telling people to leave jobs problematic. LW is asking for help in managing the situation – not in leaving.

    LW – you can learn some important lessons here – and you might need to leave. But you and your staff would be better served by you learning from this experience – and by you trying to change your process and seeing if you get a new result. While dept managers need to advocate for what is best for their team, they need to do so within the perimeters of the company. It sounds like you have not put in sufficient structures for your boss — and have not partnered with your boss on making changes possible. And since you did not do your homework on how to implement changes, you are getting some serious and poorly managed pushback. You need to meet with your boss and soon. Ask about their concerns with your management style and then listen. Own up to be insensitive to managements needs. If you want less micromanagement of time (which would be best!), then you need to work WITH your boss. You will need to manage up — for example, “I know you are asking for what we do each day. This is time consuming (and if you can add – not a great practice). What do you think of my reporting to you on the team — I can let you know our weekly goals on Monday and our progress on each Thursday?” And if this is a go — do this for a couple of months and see how it goes before approaching other changes. Or, go with management of sick/vacation time and staff being late. Don’t do everything at once! You will see if your boss is able to adjust to you being more in control – or if they can not.

    Lots of jobs – for good and bad reasons – are not flexible about staff working from home. Your description of working from home did not include any perimeters – maybe you are putting perimeters in place, but I could not tell. Ex – we allow most positions to work from home – but if they have small children, they cannot be the primary caregiver during their working hours. We do not allow every position to work from home. At home staff work specific hours and are expected to answer their phones and emails within the same timing as in the office.

    1. Mockingjay*

      I would add that it is likely that the OP will never get flex time or WFH privileges for her employees. The company values visible, butt in seat time. My company does too. My company is still a good place to work, because managers focus on the rest of our work environment: skilled, qualified team members, clear roles, balanced workload, training.

      Perhaps OP could focus on other ways to give her staff a supportive, productive environment, while ensuring visible presence for the bosses.

      1. Dust Bunny*

        Same with mine: WFH only in absolute emergencies, but controlled hours, good healthcare, supportive managers, active encouragement to use sick time and PTO, slightly flexible hours when possible (we’re patron-oriented so we need X amount of staff during Y-Z hours, but we try to let people wiggle 30-60 minutes on either end to beat the worst of traffic), etc. We have very low turnover and former employees tend to stay in touch.

    2. CynicallySweet*

      I think this would have been much more successful before her and her employees started sneaking around behind the EDs back. But at this point she needs to back off hard if she plans to stay at this company. At this point any time she brings this up it’s going to be an eye-rolling cause of stress for her boss. At this point I think she should focus on re-building her credibility, which because of how she’s handled this before involves going along w/ the way her boss wants things done for a good while

      1. LilyP*

        Yeah haha this is why I am recommending leaving. The OP does not sound willing to give this up and fall in line to the extent I think would be necessary to be effective at (or even tbh keep) her job.

    3. MissDisplaced*

      I think the people who tend to say leave the job do so because we’ve been there.
      I’ve worked at many places over my 30 year career and I have to say that very seldom can you really change things. The organization simply does not align to your ideals. It is the company that holds all of the power. If you stay, you will beat your head against an immovable wall, and likely cause yourself a lot of anguish and stress. Better to move on to a place that is a better fit.

  24. Ted Mosby*

    This might be petty and passive aggressive but I’d be tempted to start texting him every single time your employees go to the bathroom, get their lunch, get coffee, look away from their computers, and breathe in a different direction from their desks. Just absolutely flood his inbox with pointless updates.

    1. ACDC*

      The sad thing is I actually worked for someone who wanted this level of updates. She worked remotely and I worked in the office. If I ever stepped away from my desk to go to the bathroom and she happened to call my desk at that moment, she would get PISSED. She started requesting that I text her every time I go to the bathroom, lunch, etc. I noped out of that place a month later.

      1. NotAnotherManager!*

        Did she also get mad at you for falling behind on your regular work because you were too busy updating her all the time?

        1. ACDC*

          Basically! I would get passive aggressive comments about how she “had to do everything around here” while “picking up my slack”

          1. NotAnotherManager!*

            I feel you! I, too, have played that game before, and noping out is pretty much the only option.

  25. TimeTravlR*

    I hope you can get through to them, OP. We have some offices within our organization that are hesitant to allow telework, but those that do it tend to be happier, with more engaged employees. Some people don’t telework well, but it sounds like you have a handle on your staff.
    Nothing to offer except good luck!

  26. Shadowbelle*

    I may be misreading the OP’s letter, but I am reading a complaint about an “old school manager” rather than a “bad manager”, with the implication being that the manager is bad because he is older than the OP.

    Here are a few phrases that caught my attention:

    *young people in a largely older, more “old school” organization
    *my team is young
    *we live in a world where employees are diverse people with lives outside of the office
    *he’s just traditional and, from my vantage point, a bit uninformed

    OP, absolutely none of this is new and different with your generation. (The sentence about “diverse people with lives outside the office” especially went right up my nose.) I am in my sixties and I have worked for a couple dozen managers over the last 40+ years, and they run the gamut. This is nothing to do with the manager’s age or old-school-ness, and everything to do with the manager’s abilities. I’m giving you the benefit of the doubt as a reliable narrator, so if I’m sensing prejudice where there isn’t any, I apologize. But every single generation makes the exact same anti-people-older-than-me complaints. Every. Single. One. There is nothing new going on here.

    So, stick with Allison’s good advice, but if I’m reading the subtext correctly, I’d suggest you also try to shift your perspective a bit. Focus on the problem, and not on the age of the problem creator.

    1. The Man, Becky Lynch*


      My bosses have been everywhere from old enough to be my grandfather and young enough to be my sibling, soon enough I’ll reach a time in life when they’ll be younger. It’s very much a personal thing

    2. MissElizaTudor*

      “Old school” and “older” don’t have to go together. I don’t see an implication that this manager is bad *because* of his age, rather that he is old school (which has certain implications about values, not necessarily number of years on earth), and maybe that he is old school because he is older. But it isn’t the age that’s the problem. It’s the old school valuing of face time that’s the problem. Plus the inappropriate managing, but that’s neither old school nor age related.

    3. Rugby*

      I read “old school” as out of touch with modern technology that allows for a lot more flexibility in where and how people do work. I actually do think that there could be a pretty big difference in how a someone in their 20s who grew up with that kind of technology would view that differently than someone who started working before flexible working arrangements became popular.

      1. Shadowbelle*

        Possibly, though in my experience, people in their 40s, 50s, and 60s are just as conversant with working remotely as people in their 20s and 30s. We’ve had so many more years to get tired of putting on business clothes and coming in to the office. It’s not an age thing, it’s a mentality thing.

        1. Rugby*

          Yes, older people are definitely conversant in working remotely. I am one of those older people, but something I’ve noticed about a lot of the people who are joining the workforce now is that they are a lot more likely to think of work as “something you do on your laptop” rather than “something that you go to a particular place to do.” I think its harder for older people to embrace that if they started their career when butts-in-seats was a lot more necessary.

      2. Witchy Human*

        Depending on just how old school he is (and industry, region, income, etc) he may also have some holdover expectations from a time when having two working parents in a family was uncommon, and it was less likely an employee would need flexibility for household emergencies or childcare.

    4. knead me seymour*

      It seems that the generational sniping goes both ways (as the boss refers to the LW as a “soft millennial”), and I wonder if it might just be a symptom of what sounds like a very antagonistic dynamic overall. The boss sounds like a bad manager, but I don’t think it’s going to do the LW any favours to get even more entrenched in this war in which she doesn’t have many resources except for sneaking around behind the boss’s back.

      1. Witchy Human*

        I wouldn’t be surprised if he calls himself “old school” proudly as part of his unwillingness to try new things or accept evidence that flexible hours and telework don’t harm productivity.

    5. CynicallySweet*

      I would actually compare it to how annoyed the OP gets when the boss makes disparaging comments about millennials…the OP is pretty much doing the same thing

      1. Seacalliope*

        Except she’s not because explicitly disparaging someone to their face is different from criticizing someone’s stance, correctly or incorrectly, due to it being “old school.”

    6. Lynn*

      I think of “old school” as exactly what OP described – valuing butt in seat time over actual results. My mom is a retired manager that is horrified that I have the ability to adjust my schedule as I see fit as long as the work is getting done. In her mind, 40 hrs a week is the bare minimum and anything above that is just expected sometimes. Even though I have weeks where I work 60-70 hours, she doesn’t understand how I can “get away with” leaving early to compensate.

      Oddly, when it comes to the holidays, she’s suddenly shocked that there are times I cannot take days off because of work requirements.

  27. Kathlynn (Canada)*

    LW, can or have any of your employees gone through the process to identify what reasonable accommodations they need? Because that would/could be one way to get HR and your ED to approve easily accessible flex time or work from home time. Especially if you can get it so he doesn’t need to approve it.

  28. The Man, Becky Lynch*

    I find myself having some nasty AF flashbacks right now. Right back to my only toxic boss that eventually chased me out of the business [even though he didn’t realize he was chasing me out…he just thought I’d fall in line L-O-L NEVER.]

    There can’t be this divide between senior leadership and the department leadership. When there is, you can only do your best to try to convince them that for the sake of staff retention and morale, your way is the right way.

    Then they get to decide if they care. [Spoiler: they often do not care…these folks sound like they won’t care].

    They have to see the consequences. This means you leaving, your staff leaving and low productivity/morale. And then even then, they will say “What’s wrong with these people?! Why can’t we get good staff?! What is happening?! *runs around with their heads in their hands sobbing*”

    And then if they’re my toxic boss, they roll up their business. Or they just continue to suffer. These guys will probably just continue to suffer, most people stuck in their own ways tend to choose to wallow over actually fix it.

  29. Allypopx*

    I completely remembering being a new manager and thinking I could fix everything because I had a young, modern perspective and they would just have to listen to me because it was all logical. Hell it wasn’t even that long ago. Unfortunately, being right only counts for so much, and you can’t flip the system overnight. I’m so sorry OP, I know it’s frustrating.

    I would personally stay and try to get a year or two of management experience on your resume, but you’ll have to play by their rule book, and it’s entirely up to you whether or not that seems worth it.

  30. Probably Taking This Too Seriously*

    I was in a similar situation and that leader was offered early retirement in a reorg after about 6 months of my reporting to him. I’m not saying that will happen here, but if he’s old school and that old school mentality is impacting other areas of his performance, it’s a possibility. Still, I would consider other options if I were OP.

  31. Seeking Second Childhood*

    I’m sorry you’re in this position. Thank you for sharing though, because it’s a reminder for me not to apply for a position that is “an excellent opportunity except…” in my own life right now.
    A piece of advice I got from a much-older friend is ringing through my ears — don’t take a job intending to change the company, any more than you’d marry someone intending to change him.

  32. Qwerty*

    OP, you’ve been going about this the wrong way and are less likely now to get a flexible policy then before you started these antics. I’ve helped implement or expand on WFH policies at most of my jobs and here are the steps that generally work for convincing management to try allowing remote work:

    (1) Build up trust in the work being completed in the office. Work on creating measurables that you can use to track if productivity improves/decreases when policies shift
    (2) Grant WFH in very rare instances for things like extenuating circumstances and/or best workers who will make it look good and the company really wants to retain.
    (3) Convince boss to allow a trial period with strict restrictions (scheduling in advance, having alternate childcare, limited number of days per week/month, etc)
    (4) Pull out your metrics to show how well things are working.
    (5) Slowly ease up on restrictions according to business needs and boss’s comfort level

    The problem is that you have actively destroyed the trust from your boss, which is crucial to getting them to trust your employees. You’ve been caught many times breaking the rules or allowing your employees to break the rules, which only re-enforces the idea that the team can’t be trusted to work independently. When you object to everything, those objections lose their weight. Right now, you need to show that you can work within the parameters that you have been given.

    You are also doing a disservice to your team. By allowing them to break rules that they are later disciplined for, they are now known as rule breakers. They are also probably confused about what is actually allowed because they are hearing different things from different people and are kinda being setup to fail. Even if you leave, there may be an “us vs management” mentality left behind, or your boss may come down extra hard on that team because they are the “troublemakers”

    1. Jamie*

      Those tips are great. Metrics are absolutely the best weapon when pushing for change that makes tptb nervous.

      The only thing I’d add is to make sure that the person advocating change and tptb are on the same page about what success looks like – targets, etc.

      That said, I’ve definitely worked for someone who would never allow wfh even if you could empirically prove it increased profits and productivity and world peace. She just needed the control of being able to see everyone at their desks. I have a feeling the OP is likely dealing with the same type in her ED.

  33. moi*

    I don’t disagree at all with offering flexibility. But I suspect as LW has tried to circumvent rules her boss has stepped in to enforce them as he sees fit. That would explain much of this behavior.

  34. ThinMint*

    OP, it can be frustrating to let go when you’re right. But think about your employees… if some of them are just starting out, show them how a boss should handle disagreeing with upper management. That is a great thing for them to learn as well. And yes, be honest… you don’t agree, you’ve tried X things, and this is still how it is. You can still be ultra sympathetic to the negative impacts this has on all of you. They will respect that.

  35. Catsaber*

    It *might* help if you can do the WFH experiment and show some real data (I mean, real as in, more than you currently have! but have that data as part of an “experiment” makes it more real for some people). But I am skeptical of this. Because to me, it’s not the fact that he’s anti-WFH or prefers face time…it’s that he’s being insulting to you, micromanaging your employees, and pulling guilt trips. My boss is not really a fan of WFH, but he recognizes the benefits and allows my team to do it, and adjusted *his* expectations and views about WFH. I don’t think it’s just a matter of traditional vs millenial – your boss is not a good boss and is treating his employees poorly.

    Another tactic to take is to show how good it looks to allow employees WFH and flexibility. Because some people value face time because of how it looks to their superiors or peers. They don’t care about evidence that it’s better for the employees or productivity. But sometimes they will respond to some ego stroking, getting a chance to show others how “progressive” and “modern” they are.

    But bottom line – it’s an extremely difficult battle to get someone to change their values. The best you can do it try to work around them, if you choose to stay there. I wish you luck!

    1. Allypopx*

      In defense of the ED – and I agree, he’s handling this horribly – she’s a brand new manager who’s judgment as a leader he’s finding reason to doubt, and she’s actively lying and sneaking around to try to circumvent policies she was 100% aware of before she took the job. I can see why he might feel the need to be a little more hands on.

      1. Qwerty*

        The sneaking around probably makes him less inclined to listen to her objections. Changing the WFH policy would be rewarding the OP for her insubordination and risks encouraging this behavior. If he can’t trust her to enforce a basic “work during your set hours” policy, then he’s probably wondering what else isn’t being done correctly.

      2. Maria Lopez*

        Definitely. It is obnoxious behavior from the ED’s standpoint as well as insubordinate. We really do only have the OP’s view of things, but if she turned it around and said one of her employees thought they knew better than her about some work process and actively went against her directives she would not be a happy camper.

  36. LQ*

    It depends on your boss, but here’s what I’d suggest. Go hard on metrics. Figure out a few key metrics that matter for your team, things that are reportable and that will look good. People served it always popular, but people actually helped is better (moved into permanent housing, placed in jobs, placed in jobs above minimum wage, etc).

    Stop the insubordination with your boss and trying to not do the thing he wants. Yes, it’s stupid. But you’re trying to get around him, that won’t change him, it will just make him double down.

    Lean hard into the metrics. Talk about them every week. Make them strong, make them matter, and make them clear. After about a quarter of this then bring up that you want to try a few things to improve metrics. Ask what he wants to try. Try his thing for a quarter. See if you improve or not. Come back, suggest something else. Try one thing a quarter. After you’ve done 2 quarters of other stuff and seen your metrics move (or not) try work from home. OR flexibility. Don’t try both in the same quarter. Try one at a time. This needs to not be a trick to sneak in flexibility or wfh. This has to be about making your team stronger. And if you try out WFH or flex and it doesn’t increase your metrics then you need to stop talking about it.

    If you want to structure this a little stronger the first 2 months of the quarter try the new thing, then return to the old thing, see if productivity drops in the return to the old thing.

    This will take you a good year to change at this pace, but if your boss cares at all about metrics or looking good then this could get you there. And I suspect it has been like this for much longer than a year and at this rate, it looks like it will continue for much longer than a year.

  37. Esti*

    I’m trying to imagine this letter from the ED’s perspective, and I’m guessing it’s something like: “I hired a new manager and made clear during the process that we expect employees to be in the office during business hours and don’t allow working from home. The new manager kept telling her reports they could work from home, and even after I addressed it with her I kept catching her encouraging her reports to violate our clear policy and hide it from me! It’s now at the point where I’m having to spend time micromanaging whenever someone is out of the office, because if I don’t constantly keep an eye on it she goes back to the same old tricks behind my back.”

    If I read that letter, I’d think the ED needed to fire the manager or at a minimum have a very serious conversation about that being where things are headed if she doesn’t change her ways.

    Clearly some people benefit from having the flexibility to work from home. That doesn’t mean that a workplace that wants its employees to work on site is abusive or even wrong. You took the job knowing this was the organization’s policy. You tried to convince your boss it would be better to adopt a different policy, and he disagreed. If you feel so strongly about it, you should seek out a job with a different policy. But as long as you’re in this one, it’s grossly inappropriate to keep trying to unilaterally override your boss’ decision and encourage your employees to break the rules behind his back.

    1. Allypopx*

      Yes, and in this letter WFH wouldn’t be the issue, though we could quibble over the policy. The insubordinate manager would be the issue, and it would be time for a come to jesus conversation.

    2. NotAnotherManager!*

      Honestly, though, if the ED sent that hypothetical letter, I’d think that Alison would at least ask them to assess their policy to see if it really matched up with the requirements for the work, question the micromanagement “need”, and encourage them to be more productivity rather than butt-in-seat focused. And ask, if the manager is otherwise a good performer and the team is productive, to sit down with her and figure out if there’s something to the clear desire for flexibility because you don’t want to lose good, productive employees over facetime.

      1. Esti*

        Even if OP was right about it being a good idea to allow more working from home, I just can’t imagine how a manager who keeps breaking a clear rule and encouraging subordinates to do the same, while trying to hide it from the boss, would be a “good” employee. The problem here isn’t a disagreement about policy. The problem is how OP is handling it.

        1. NotAnotherManager!*

          Well, two things. First, and my GenX will come out here, sometimes when someone who is otherwise productive, smart, responsive, etc. is repeatedly breaking a rule, it means that you might want to look at that rule a little harder. It might be stupid and counterproductive. I have run into this before and darned if the smart, productive people weren’t chafing under something that had no business purpose and was impeding their work and affecting retention. In this situation, there is a disagreement about policy – OP thinks her boss’s view is outmoded and focused on facetime rather than results. She feels the butt-in-seat policy is wrongheaded and took the job hoping to change it. Second, there are multiple dimensions to performance. I have a manager with an incredible subject-matter expertise and fantastic strategic thinking skills but struggles with implementation of said fantastic ideas. They’re a good (but not great) employee, and I’m not going to fire them for not being perfect, I’m going to dig into what’s holding the back on implementation and see what we can do to develop them/remove barriers. OP is a sum of her performance, not just her disagreement on geo-tagging her employees.

          1. Esti*

            If the just disagreed with a policy, I would agree that doesn’t override other skills she might bring to the job. It’s the actively lying to her boss, encouraging subordinates to sneak around behind his back, and continuing to violate the organization’s stated rules. What happens the next time she disagrees with one of his decisions? How do you trust an employee who thinks that’s an appropriate way to deal with being overruled on a policy matter by someone higher up?

            I really don’t think this is about generational conflict. I’m a millenial and find facetime valuable; I generally prefer a workplace where most of us are in our offices most days, because I’ve found that for me it lends itself to more casual collaboration and information sharing, and because I would feel disconnected from the organization if I was working in isolation most of the time. Obviously some people (including the OP) don’t share that preference, and like the flexibility of WFH arrangements. This isn’t “old school boss is clearly incorrect and needs to be shown the error of his ways”. It’s “this workplace has chosen to do things this way, and someone who joined the organization knowing that is trying to unilaterally change it against the ED’s wishes.”

    3. Lee*

      I have been thinking exactly this while reading all the comments. This organization does not support working from home. Many places don’t. You can decide to work there or you can leave. Misinforming the ED and encouraging your staff to sneak around is a huge disservice to everyone. The Ed is trying to “fix” this by micromanaging, which is bad management. A good manager would have fired this person after one warning.

  38. ArtK*

    Like others, I doubt very much that you can get your boss to see the light. Even if you don’t bail immediately, get your resume in order and start working your network to find a new place.

    Although not as bad as the boss in the OP, I had one who valued warm seat time over actual productivity. He even told me that directly. I left that job in great part due to that attitude.

  39. Kiwiii*

    This just makes me think of the joke of a work from home policy that was being constructed as I left my last job. There were entire departments of managers adamant that their employees couldn’t do any of the work from home or be trusted to be productive if granted work from home, and the rest of us being like “yes, it’s true some jobs can’t be done from home, though it doesn’t sound like that’s the case for these employees,” and “yes, it’s true some of your employees probably don’t work well from home, but you don’t imagine that’s true of all employees here, do you?”

    As a result, unfortunately, the WFH policy ended up a lot less robust than it could have been and I know at least two people who had come on before the official policy but were previously given some serious flexibility by their managers, are no longer given the same flexibility under the new policy. They’re losing at least one of them as soon as she finds something that pays in roughly the same range for roughly the same time commitment (their shining highlight was that they were pretty good about 40-45 hr workweeks in an industry that usually asks 60+)

    1. MissDisplaced*

      Two years ago I left a job because the company moved to an expensive downtown area and at the same time rescinded all work from home. I lasted maybe two months and quit. Several other people followed for the same reasons.

      Current job is doing much the same thing. New office, and the WFH has suddenly been heavily reduced, though not completely eliminated (we’re allowed 1 day a week). Some people who were WFH all the time were forced back into the office, even if they live 50-60 miles away. Needless to say, MANY are looking for other jobs, and few have already bailed. I’m looking for something closer myself because the commute sucks at the new address, but the funny thing is, I typically DID go into the office most of the time, at least 3 days a week, but apparently that’s not good enough any longer. I don’t really want to change jobs, but if the company starts being unreasonable, I will. As will the people at OP’s company.

  40. CynicallySweet*

    Yeah you’re not changing this. And continuing to try is going to just play into some dumb stereotype that he has about millennials.

    How have you guys managed to retain staff, esp as a non-profit (my exp w/ them is that they’re normally very flexible)?

    I say, Run Away, run far far away

  41. MissDisplaced*

    I wish the world would change soon.
    Because we’re seeing these types of generational conflicts everywhere: from the workplace to politics. And frankly, it makes me sad that even if changing something is the right thing to do, it can’t be changed because others hold the power to stop it from happening. If authority can never be challenged to change, what’s the point? We should all just shut up and become mindless and accept the given hegemony? No wonder everyone is depressed.

    Perhaps when employees start leaving jobs over it and won’t work for companies without flexibility corporate America will wake up and realize that technology has changed the way we think about work.

    1. Allypopx*

      Generational conflicts are nothing new, we’ll have them with the next generation and they’ll have them with the next. There’s value to the old ways and value to the new ways and over time the best of it tends to stick. Just very, very, excrutiatingly slowly.

      1. Shadowbelle*

        OT moment:

        Robert Frost
        A Semi-Revolution

        I advocate a semi-revolution.
        The trouble with a total revolution
        (Ask any reputable Rosicrucian)
        Is that it brings the same class up on top.
        Executives of skillful execution
        Will therefore plan to go halfway and stop.
        Yes, revolutions are the only salves,
        But they’re the one thing that should be done by halves.

    2. Asenath*

      The world is constantly changing; generational (and other divides) always have and probably always will exist, and the issue of change is more a case of negotiating change among a range of people and institutions which have varying ideas about what kind and how much and how fast and less a situation in which there are only two sides – the all change is good side and the all change is bad side.

      In this case, I’d say if LW is breaking the rules, encouraging the people she manages to do the same, and getting caught at it, her position is untenable in the long term. She’s clearly no longer trying to negotiate change with the powers that be, and would probably be better off with an employer whose policies are more aligned to her own. I doubt she still has the political capital to make changes in her current workplace even if her managers might have been open to some change originally.

    3. The Man, Becky Lynch*

      Generational gaps are like cultural ones. They will exist because we will always grow up in different eras and grow up in different regions.

      What is driving us to realize these differences is the technology and the fact we have other cultures at our fingertips. Instead you had to wait until someone just dropped into your town who wasn’t “From there” and to learn by watching and asking often intrusive awful questions about where they’re from and trying to figure out if the “rumors” are true about their “kind”.

      Depression has always been wide spread. Most had secretive names for it though and hid it deep in their families. We talk about it now because we’re leaning more towards the “no shame” culture.

  42. Mae*

    I think this is one of the letters that fits this question perfectly: If you know that nothing will change, it will stay exactly the same, can you be reasonably happy here?

    In my experience, manager with this type of mindset and control freak tendencies do not change. How much of your mental and physical well being are you willing to let this job and manager suck out of you?

  43. NotAnotherManager!*

    I worked for an organization with a very Theory X HR head who felt that any employee not physically present in the office and being micromanaged was sure to be slacking off and using company time for personal things. The process for submitting overtime was so onerous and convoluted that employees believed that they were being discouraged from submitting it. (When I pointed out how much productive time we were losing to admin processes, Old HR Head told me that only a few people were complaining – yes, I said, the high performers who are working a lot of OT.) Of course, when company time edged into personal time, said employees were expected to, without warning or complaint, hop to the company need. I do not miss that HR head.

    It was so bad that, if you were not physically present in the office, and you ended up having to work, you got paid for the time (only if nonexempt) but also lost the PTO time you “used” by being out of the office. The policy was so asinine that when I explained it to the new HR head in an attempt to get it repealed, it took three explanations AND someone else corroborating it AND a copy of the policy manual before the new HR head understood it and realized we weren’t just badly misinterpreting the policy. It disappeared immediately and, three months later, they rolled out organization-wide updated policies better aligned with business goals.

  44. ShwaMan*

    I have seen a similar thing in the past, and my take was the bad grandboss in question did actually recognize that the specific subteam was high-performing… and wanted to put their fingerprints all over the subteam (yet ineptly) so that they could position themselves as taking credit for leading the successes.

    Now, OP’s boss could either be (A) simply poor at recognizing performance and doesn’t care if OP and the subteam all get demotivated and/or leave; or (B) like my case above. If there’s any chance it’s B, OP could think about taking a risk and say something like “if I can’t get more autonomy, I’m probably not going to be here for long”… but yeah, it’s risky and only worth considering if this is a hill to die on.

  45. NW Mossy*

    To salvage this one, it’s going to require a serious climbdown, which will likely be somewhat painful in the moral injury department. This battle is lost, so retreat and don’t engage on this again until you’ve had a chance to rebuild and regroup.

    That said, this is a super common new manager hazard – you think your political capital stock is more than it is, which can lead you to mismanage its use. It’s also common to overspend it when you are really, really, really sure you have the moral high ground. That may be entirely the case, but being right isn’t worth much if you aren’t effective with it.

    The lesson: be cautious about major changes in the early days of a new leadership role until you learn the lay of the land. Instead, observe your team and your upper leadership closely, without judgment and without trying to change them. Over the course of about 3 months, you’ll gain important insights that will help you understand what’s needed in that organization, with those people, to effectively advocate for change. Even if you’ve worked with the people before or have management experience, every set of relationships has its own unique dynamic. Taking the time to learn it is a good way to save yourself from an early misstep.

  46. Username required*

    OP you say you want the organization to trust its staff but then you say you are breaking the rules, trying not to get caught and encouraging your staff to do the same. The fact that your boss is now micromanaging your staff shows he does not trust you – I don’t know how this can work out for you in the longterm. I hope you find a better workplace.

  47. ThisColumnMakesMeGratefulForMyBoss*

    Just wanted to say you are a dream manager. You treat your employees like adults. Maybe emphasize that he’s going to continue to lose good employees treating them this way because people won’t put up with this for long. Good luck.

  48. RC Rascal*

    OP—experienced manager weighing in. I am concerned about you —you are bright, talented, & concerned about morale & employee culture. These are great things. But the way you are going you are going to get fired or a reputation as a troublemaker. Once this happens it is going to make it very difficult for you to manage your future career.

    Do not fight city hall. WFH isn’t a hill to die on. Your best move is to fall in line with your current manager & become compliant. AnotherHR Manager has great advice for this. Learn to lead in this environment & then negotiate your next career move as appropriate.

    Presently I am watching a former coworker painfully negotiate an unplanned period of unemployment. He got fired (unjustly) for pushing back on our Jerk Boss. It was a power play on Jerk’s part. I am his reference as I have a title & worked closely with him. He is very talented but naive, and paying a high price for that naivety.

    If this was an ethics or safety issue I would advise differently. But it’s not— it’s a work style & work environment issue. Stop the push back.

  49. Kelsi*

    I’m sorry to say, you’re describing my agency almost exactly, a decade ago (literally–down to the fact that it’s an advocacy nonprofit). I was one of the people at your employees’ level, and let me tell you, working in an environment where your boss says something’s okay but then their boss disciplines you for it is HELL. I know you think you’re being kind (at the time I thought my boss was too!) but the constant fear of the big boss finding out that I had done something not the way she thought it should be done made my job awful, for years. (And consider yourself as well–I’m reasonably sure big boss’ treatment of my direct supervisor was a major contributing factor to her becoming an alcoholic. She’s since gotten sober and is doing great several years on–in a new job with a different agency–and I’m very proud of her. But don’t discount how this kind of crap can affect you as well as your employees!)

    Guess how the problem got solved? Top leadership retired or moved on. It’s probably not going to change while your jerkboss (sorry but it’s true) is still the one calling the shots.

    1. Earthwalker*

      Second this. Big boss used a security door as a clock-in/out mechanism for exempt professionals and used it to push for higher butt-in-seat hours, working around his subordinate managers. Employees proposed WFM policies and experiments and baby steps toward flexibility and all they got was the label of troublemaker. At last Big Boss left – yay! – and the hours report was cancelled. Surprisingly, it didn’t make much difference. In an entrenched culture of suspicion that rank-and-file people will get away with anything and you need to watch them like a hawk, nothing changes when the head hawk leaves. If that environment is bothering you, just go. Statistics on the company’s ability to hire and retain good people are the one thing you can affect and the one thing that will eventually push change.

  50. Former Manager*

    Devil’s Advocate Here. Has the ED always been like this. The LW states she has been at the agency for five years.
    Is this something the ED has just starting pushing recently? Step back and think, have been there little incidents, that individually aren’t issues, however as a whole, is an issue?

  51. Anonforthis*

    As someone with mobility & health issues I’m completely for WFH but am quite honestly wondering how Op is still employed.

    1.) They knew the WFH policy when they took the job.
    2.) They had that policy re-iterated when they pushed back.
    3.) They are encouraging their team to break the policy.

    You can’t complain about the ED micromanaging your team and disciplining them, when not only are you not managing them according to company policy, but are going out of your way to put them into a bad position with their grandboss.

    I’m actually surprised at Alison for letting that slide and also letting one of the reasons for WFH slide ‘paying extra for childcare.’ WFH is not a substitute for child care. Sure WFH is a wonderful policy and should be widely embraced but that seems to be clouding what is bad management from Op (and her ED).

    The ED only seems to be micromanaging / disciplining because OP is not doing the job she was hired to do. I agree this does make him a bad manager, a good one would have fired Op by now since she clearly can not follow company policy. The ED really does have better things to do with his time than making sure that Ops team are where they are supposed to be etc.

    Op stop doing your employees the disservice of making them think they can continue to buck policy. It’s fine if you personally want to die on this hill, but there’s no need to take them with you. Try finding other ways to ‘help’ your team. I would have said ‘while you get more political capital / company specific data to try pushing back again’, but I think your bridge is hanging by a thread.

  52. Parfait*

    We had a ruling come down from on high that we were no longer allowed to work from home on Fridays. The reason? Since there were fewer people around on Friday, the canteen cut down on menu items for that day, and one VP couldn’t get his favorite lunch anymore.

    The best part is that we had previously had an edict come down that Fridays should be meeting-free as much as possible. So that was the most sensible day to work from home, business-wise.

    This lasted about 6 months and there was a lot of bitterness.

    1. Rebecca*

      I would purposely brown bag my lunch if my perk was taken away for such a flimsy reason. The VP can more than afford to get lunch someplace else! So, the canteen would still not have his favorite lunch, but disgruntled workers would have their butts in their seats…I do it just to see him complain.

  53. Beth*

    OP, you’re right that this management is bad and makes it really hard for a lot of people to functionally work there. You’re right that it would be much better to be more flexible, especially when there’s no business reason that people can’t effectively work remotely or flex their hours around other needs.

    But your boss is being pretty clear with you that regardless of whether you’re right, that’s not an option in this specific workplace. You’ve tried to change his mind, and it hasn’t worked. The only way you can manage your team the way you think it should be managed, in fact, is to consistently break the rules–which is a terrible arrangement! It’s stressful for you and your team, it eats up whatever credibility you might have to make actual changes, and depending on just how much your boss cares about those rules, it might eventually get you fired.

    You need to decide what’s more important to you: managing the way you know it should be done, or working at this company. It’s pretty clear you can’t have it both ways here. If the former is more important, you need to find a job at a company that supports your approach, or at least gives you the leeway to manage your team yourself. If the latter is more important, you need to accept that your boss’ rules have to be followed; stop breaking rules, stop letting your team members break them (much less encouraging them!), and stick to policy.

  54. Daniel Atter*

    I wonder OP, whether you and your ED are just too far apart on the work-from-home spectrum and whether coming towards him a little might help him come towards you?

    Obviously the most important thing is results, and we should trust our staff as long as they show us that they are performing. At the same time, there are other things, like team spirit, that can be more difficult to obtain if you never see your colleagues. I could totally do my job from home in theory, but it would mean missing out on team building moments, catching the gossip and latest news etc, I’m sure you know what I mean.

    I don’t understand from your post whether you are in favour of allowing your team to work from home when they have a real and pressing need to do so, or whether you are in favour of trusting your team to work from home whenever they want. If the second, I can see how a more traditional manager might have concerns as to how that will impact the team, and might come down hard on it, especially after catching you trying to cheat the system.

    Not saying that manager would be right, just that I can see how it might happen.

    I also wonder, maybe wrongly, if as a new manager, you are finding it hard to say no to your team when they request something, which is a common issue.

    IF that is the case, I would maybe talk to the boss, but instead of pushing the ‘we need to trust our employees’, try ‘I understand where you are coming from, and I agree that it is important for us to have regular contact as a team. That said, sometimes people have really important issues that can only be managed from 9-5, and where that is the case, I feel like we need to have at least some flexibility. From now on, I will work to ensure that only the most important requests reach your desk’.

    And then…you have to actually say no to people sometimes. This is about showing your boss that you get the point, and that you will back him up. You have to make your team understand that this is how it works here and there will be no trying to get around the system. I personally think people should be trusted to decide for themselves, but that isn’t your office.

    Then, once you have shown your boss that you are managing the issue, maybe you will see some flexibility from his side. After all, if you get two requests a month, you will feel more generous than if you get twenty. Obviously this means that you will have to make the call sometimes as to whether something is deserving of a request to the ED or not, and sometimes you might get it wrong.

    Whatever you do, good luck!

Comments are closed.