my boss is working from home with kids — and his schedule is wreaking havoc on my work

A reader writes:

My office has been working from home for about a month. We are fortunate to be among the few for whom this doesn’t really change our business, other than that we can’t be in the office.

My problem is that my boss has become very difficult to communicate with and work with. He and his wife are both working from home with young kids, and I know it’s impossible to work normally under those circumstances. But it’s really throwing off our work schedule. For example, I’ll need something from him at 11 am that I don’t get until 11 pm and I’m then under pressure to turn around the final product on time, even though I’ve lost days. This has resulted in me waiting around all day doing nothing, and then scrambling to finish overnight when I would normally be sleeping. Then I still need to be online at 8:30 am the next day for meetings.

My boss is under a lot of pressure too, but our normally great relationship is under strain now. I feel like he has become impatient and is very much in “just get it done” mode. But there are certain things I cannot do without his input. I don’t want to sound insensitive and say, “Your family obligations are wreacking havoc on my time,” but I am not sure how much more I can tolerate wasting my day waiting for him and then working through the night. I have tried to streamline things as much as possible so that I am not waiting on him as much, but at the end of the day, there is only so much I am authorized to do. Do I just need to get over it since everyone is dealing with similar or worse issues?

You can read my answer to this letter at Vice today. Head over there to read it.

{ 109 comments… read them below }

  1. Putting Out Fires, Esq.*

    It is almost 100% certain the boss isn’t expecting you to work overnight. Sounds like y’all just need to shift deadlines back a day, so that you have an entire work day (day!!!) to address whatever changes he needs (or whatever time period is right for your workload.) Easy fix.

    This is new for most of us, there are bugs to work out.

    1. Justesq*

      That is assuming that the deadlines are arbitrarily set by her employer. Not knowing what kind of work OP does, that may be impossible. If a client sets a deadline, or if it is based on other external factors, asking that it be moved my not be so simple.

      1. Lucette Kensack*

        Right. They still need to find a solution, but that solution may need to be that the boss changes his behavior in some way. If the grant application is due tomorrow and my boss doesn’t send the evaluation data over until 11 pm, I’m either working overnight to incorporate it or we’re not getting the grant.

        1. Snow globe*

          Or, frankly, the boss works overnight to get it ready for the client. If I’m the boss I wouldn’t make this my employee’s problem.

          1. Dust Bunny*

            This. This is what my boss would do if he weren’t able to get information to me on time.

            My impression here was that the deadlines are not necessarily set by the boss, and he may not know that the LW doesn’t have any flexibility here (through no fault of her own). Which is why she needs to make sure that she spells it out for him.

            1. Dust Bunny*

              Or he would say, “I’m sending this now but you DO NOT have to do it now. I just need it by [reasonable date in the near future]”. He’s always very good about giving us stuff as far ahead as he can and being clear about what deadlines he needs.

          2. Triumphant Fox*

            100% this is what I’ve been doing. If my employee’s hours are up for the week or we suddenly need a big push to meet a deadline, I reprioritize what they are working on during the day but I am not dumping it on them in the evening – that is a fast way for me to burn their trust. I’m paid better. I am given leeway in my hours. It is my responsibility – not one I hand off to then.

            Also, then there is no time for the back and forth. You incorporate the edits and then what, hope for the best? Is there any time for final review? Better for boss to incorporate them himself.

            That being said, I have been on the other side of this, not during a pandemic, where boss just refuses to engage until the 11th hour, changes everything and you are still left with that client deadline. Huh, maybe that’s why I don’t do that now that I am the boss.

            1. Blueberry*

              Thank you for not being a boss like that. A lot of people would become the boss and think to themselves, “Now it’s my turn to jerk people around and make them dance to my tune!” I think your employees are fortunate to have someone more ethical and sensible than that.

        2. Putting Out Fires, Esq.*

          If there are immovable deadlines, then the boss needs to get stuff sooner. I actually was picturing boss needing to get things to LW more quickly when I said the deadlines needed to shift back a day.

          1. Emily S*

            Same thing here – unless these are rush turnarounds where the clock starts ticking the moment the work is assigned, usually these kind of processes that require multiple hand-offs have a standard schedule that will assign mini-deadlines for each person to hand off to the next person in the chain, leading up the big deadline for completion of the overall project. And it’s likely there are other projects being juggled at the same time, which is why work might not begin on the same day the work is assigned. The standard workflows will try to limit the number of concurrent projects someone has in hand at any given time, so that you don’t have each person getting 5 things dumped on them at once that need immediate turnaround and then nothing for several days.

      2. KimberlyR*

        And so maybe the information can somehow be sent to the boss the previous night instead. So if Boss needs stats from Marketing to do his piece but Boss can’t work on it until tonight, maybe the deadline needed to be yesterday so that Boss had last night to do it, and OP has today to do their piece. So if there is any adjustment that can be made in the due dates somewhere within the whole process, its definitely worth looking into.

        1. gsa*

          My question is who managing client expectations and why hasn’t that person told the client that there will be a delay due to the current work-flow/productivity of the office…

          And agree with the above comments, if it’s immovable, it’s immovable.

    2. Caramel & Cheddar*

      This. We’ve seen a lot of unreasonable bosses on this site over the years, but a normal boss isn’t going to assume you’re up waiting for his files at 11pm at night!

      Discussion about the nature of the deadlines aside (e.g. how tight/real they are) and after talking to the boss directly about this, this seems like a good opportunity for both the boss and the LW to tweak their habits. The boss can schedule (or save in drafts) the 11pm emails to send first thing in the morning so it doesn’t model the behaviour that people should be working in the middle of the night. LW can see if there’s a way to take control of the “checking email after 5pm/8pm/whatever upper time boundary they’re comfortable with” situation so that they’re not in a position to even know they’re getting an email at 11pm (if boss doesn’t change behaviour).

      1. LovecraftInDC*

        As a night-owl who would ideally work noon to eight who manages a team of people who would prefer to work 6AM to 2PM, the ‘schedule’ button has been a godsend. When I’m doing late night work, I schedule things so they’ll be in people’s inboxes right around when I normally get in. That way, there’s no chance they’ll think I expect them to be reading my 1AM emails and I don’t have to worry about their sitting around for two hours waiting for guidance if they have clarifying questions.

    3. Anonya*

      I could be the boss in this situation, and I would be horrified if my team was working around the clock to accommodate my batsh!t schedule. Ask for deadline extensions. Be realistic about what you can accomplish in your normal work hours.

      Also, please give your boss a break. This situation is impossible, and parents are breaking.

      1. WellRed*

        It sounds like the OP is bending over backward to accommodate the boss, to her physical detriment (lack of sleep). How much more of a break does the boss need?

        1. Polar Bear Hug*

          And doesn’t OP deserve a break? Beginning a task at 11pm then meetings at 8:30??

        2. Newly commenting*

          To be fair, it doesn’t sound like OP’s boss asked her to sacrifice sleep for work or do anything to her “physical detriment”. Instead, it sounds like she has decided on this schedule herself without having a conversation with her boss about his expectations, which is now resulting in tension/resentment towards a boss who also is working in really tough circumstances. So, yea, she could give the boss a break by just having a conversation about expectations and scheduling instead of letting all of this build up. Bending over backwards when no one asked you to isn’t really accommodating in the end, honest and respectful conversations work out better. This obviously would change if the boss were somehow requesting she stay up all night working.

          1. Anonya*

            Yes, that’s what I was getting at, and you said it better than I did. In no way do I think the letter writer should be sacrificing her sanity or sleep, but she may need to have a gentle conversation with the boss.

          2. Tiara Wearing Princess*

            LW said boss’ attitude is ‘just get it done’

            I think there is more to this than the LW pushing herself to do it.

            For sure she needs to have a conversation with her boss and tell him she asleep and not checking emails after a certain time at night and that she cannot turn something around in the overnight hours.

            I think this is all on the boss.

            1. Susie Q*

              I think the just get it done refers to not asking boss a billion questions and waiting for his input. OP’s boss just wants OP to do it. It doesn’t mean do it in the middle of the night.

              1. LovecraftInDC*

                Yes, that was my thought as well. Boss is dealing with a bunch of changes in an not-ideal working environment, and probably wants things done with as little interaction from him as possible.

          3. pleaset AKA cheap rolls*

            “So, yea, she could give the boss a break by just having a conversation about expectations and scheduling instead of letting all of this build up.”
            This.

        3. The Rat-Catcher*

          But there’s no law of conservation of work. Just because OP is working all night does not actually mean boss is getting any type of break.

      2. AnonAnon*

        Same. I fear that I could be the boss (or coworker) in this situation. We have a 6 month old. Both my wife and I have full time professional jobs, no childcare, equal parenting roles, and no family help. We have split the day into 6 hour shifts, during which one of us is allowed to lock ourselves into our home office, and the other is responsive for the infant (who just pushed through his first tooth, so…it’s just been so fun.) Then we switch.
        Honestly, I’m doing everything I can. We set the alarm for 5:50 am every morning, to start our first “shifts” at 6 am. (Baby wakes up during 5 am hour regardless.) We collapse at the end of the day when we just can’t do it anymore.
        Every day. For the last…**checks watch**…oh god, it has been 7 weeks.
        We’re exhausted. So exhausted. We just try to make it to the end of the day, so we can go to bed, and then wake up and do it again. Cutting back is not an option bc of the nature of our jobs/positions. One of us would have to quit, which may be what this comes to, but we rely on both incomes and quitting would mean significant financial hardships and career setbacks.
        I’m leaning on my staff and peers way more than I wish right now. It’s not fair. It keeps me up at night with stress and guilt. I would literally choose anything else. But, I just don’t have another option right now.
        Sorry, this has gone WAY off topic, but my point is – I’m sorry that this is hard on OP. But it’s likely that OP’s boss is living a nightmare all day until finally being able to send this off to OP at 11 pm.
        All any of us can do right now is try our best, try to have each other’s backs if we can, and try to hang on. This too shall pass. (Please please soon.)

        1. Batty Twerp*

          So if your heavily leaned on staff were feeling that you wanted them to work from 11pm *and* make an 8.30am meeting the next day, you’d want to know that was causing them problems though, right?

          1. Cara*

            It’s so strange, having kids is supposed to make you more selfless and responsible. And, yet, it’s incredibly rare to meet a parent that isn’t selfish, over-bearing, or that feels entitled to other people’s time and efforts.

    4. Putting Out Fires, Esq.*

      I realize I didn’t make it clear. I was picturing that the boss needed to get you things a day sooner than what you were used to, not that everything should be a day later.

    5. Archaeopteryx*

      Yeah it’s pretty unlikely your boss expects or knows you’re working overnight- that shouldn’t be something you just do unless you’ve explicitly been told to and get the next morning off! He probably has no idea because that’s not something it’s reasonable to assume would happen. He probably assumes you’ll start on it the next morning.

    6. Captain dddd-cccc-ddWdd (ENTP)*

      But assuming the OP is rational and has a view of the business considerations: I think the deadline is as OP stated, even if OPs boss didn’t realize the need to work overnight on it due to being distracted or similar.

    7. Captain dddd-cccc-ddWdd (ENTP)*

      But OP says: I’ll need something from him at 11 am that I don’t get until 11 pm and I’m then under pressure to turn around the final product on time, even though I’ve lost days. This has resulted in me waiting around all day doing nothing, and then scrambling to finish overnight when I would normally be sleeping.

      … so there is a concept of the “final product” thing being “ON TIME” which sort of implies an externally motivated deadline here.

      1. Uranus Wars*

        I am confused by the wording of this letter a little…she says she gets it 12 hours later but references “lost days” plural. I think the manager is sending at 11 without thinking that means she is checking email at 11. Or if she has been turning things in on time he might not have thought through it enough to realize *oh shit, that means she is working all night”…she should definitely talk to boss about solution to this. If he is at all reasonable he will want to make it right.

  2. HMM*

    It might help, too, to have a conversation with the boss about project ownership and say “given your capacity right now, what can I take on and just make decisions for without your input?” It likely won’t work for everything, but it may remove some blocks and, if you can actually manage it yourself, set yourself up for success during your next performance review.

    1. Nita*

      That’s a good idea, as long as OP has a good sense of when the input is just a formality vs when things really do need to be cleared with the boss. It’s a really fine line sometimes…

      OP might also ask the boss about preferred ways of communication. Texts or short calls may be better than email. You have to be in front of a computer to check email – a text is so much faster to read and respond to.

    2. Code Monkey, the SQL*

      Depending on the nature of the work, I think that’s an excellent conversation – boss might very well need to be in charge of X, Y and Z still, but knowing that OP is willing to handle, say, the approval process for Q and R could be a load off their plate as well as a feather in OP’s cap for later.

  3. Mid*

    I feel like laying out how long things take is the best way to start. “From your part on X to completion, I need at least 5 working hours, so if I’m sent your part at 11pm, I can get it done around 4pm the next day.” You shouldn’t be working overnight, unless you’re also taking time off the next day. Being on call 24/7 is going to burn you out. You can also be more firm about your working hours, in that you’re only available from 8am until 5pm, and anything after that will be answered the next day.

    1. a good mouse*

      That’s a good idea. Sometimes people gloss over the time it takes to finish the other parts. If nothing else, it highlights that if you’re given the needed part at 11PM and they require you to start then, you’ll be up until 4AM. That makes it seem more unreasonable.

  4. Buttons*

    If you know he is taking about 12 hours to give you things you need, can you ask for them 2 days earlier than you need them? I am requesting things from my direct reports 2-5 days earlier than I really need them, because I know they are working odd schedules and hours to take care of their kids. My boss is averaging about 3 days to get back to me on things, so I plan that into my timeline.

    1. sofar*

      I’m wondering if the boss knows the “real” deadline and is therefore using the maximum time allotted to him.

      Plus, there are some weekly reports we do that are based on data that we simply don’t get until Thurs mornings. So if someone is home with kids, they’re not able to do their part until Thursday night.

      But I agree, the LW should NOT be working nights. It depends on the company, but, for mine, the way to deal with these situations is to be super blunt on a case-by-case basis: “I will tackle this tomorrow.” or “I got the information on Thursday night, so wasn’t able to address it until Friday.”

    2. Nita*

      This. If at all possible, the internal deadline needs to be bumped up a day or two in these circumstance.

    3. Senor Montoya*

      Of course, now that he is taking care of small children, he may not be able to get things to you at your early deadline, so that;s a solution that can work under ordinary circumstances, but maybe not now.

  5. Leela*

    “I often see people on your side of this kind of situation think, “ Of course my boss is aware of what’s happening, and since he hasn’t changed anything, he must be fine with how this is affecting me.” But frequently in those situations, the managers have no idea what’s happening because their focus is on other priorities—and they’re counting on the employee to tell them if there’s a problem. So having that conversation is key, and is likely to get you more breathing room.”

    This is such a tough one, I completely agree let’s get that out of the way! I think a lot of employees have had really overtaxed stressed out bosses who just lose it in these conversations and nothing gets accomplished. I’ll admit it’s very hard for me to come forward because I had a nervous wreck of a boss who was putting me in horrible situations constantly, and when I brought them up to her it was nothing but redirecting that stress at me again and acting like I’m just the worst employee for bringing it up and not just dealing.

    1. Fikly*

      Yes, this is a classic “you need to use your words” situation. People so very rarely take the time to think about what it’s like for someone else, or just aren’t able to evaluate it. You need to speak up when something is a problem – not to accuse someone, but to find a solution.

      1. Mockingjay*

        Focus on the problem, not the person. Offer suggestions/solutions that the boss can agree to.

        “Hey, boss, since we’re all working odd hours now, it’s hard to follow our usual process. Can we extend Project A a few weeks? Also, how about we temporarily suspend the weekly team meeting? Everyone’s connecting well on chat and it’s been difficult to get schedules aligned for this time slot in the current circumstance.”

        Try relaxing or suspending little requirements – weekly in-house reports, team meetings – so you can concentrate on the must-do items.

    2. ES*

      It’s true that a lot of advice columns could probably be replaced by one standard piece of advice: Have a polite and honest conversation with the other people/person in the situation. Occasionally it’s more nuanced than that but a lot of the times that’s what it really boils down to.

      I really like that AAM provides examples of actual “scripts” to use in the conversation because that’s a bit part of what makes her advice more helpful than simply, “Have a conversation.” Often the reason that people aren’t having the conversation is because the way they’re conceptualizing the issue in their head, it’s a complaint or problem they have with the other person and they feel that etiquette holds them back from “confronting” the other person (in fact, LWs here tend to use “should I confront Sylvia about this?” language themselves) because it would be rude or complaining. AAM’s scripts help the LWs reframe the situation by showing how you can be direct and honest while still being professional and sufficiently pleasant for a work context, especially when there’s a power differential involved. Once people have the words they see the path forward.

      1. Environmental Compliance*

        All of this! This is exactly what brought me to AAM and exactly why I stayed. It’s easy to say “well, just talk to them!” but knowing what to say or how to say it can be very hard.

        1. Seeking Second Childhood*

          Yes. And it’s one reason I’m so glad that Alison did the podcast series, even if she discontinued it. Hearing her tone helped me match it.

  6. SK*

    The fact that the OP writes “I feel like he has become impatient and is very much in “just get it done” mode” makes me a little concerned that she has raised this with her boss and he pushes back and doesn’t care, since he himself is having to work strange hours. At the very least I hope the OP is successful in getting to opt out of the 8:30 am meeting or have the team find a later hour for those meetings.

    1. tired*

      As someone who is desperately trying to keep working my full-time hours and meet the demands of my workplace, while also now being cooped up full-time with two children under the age of six thanks to the closure of schools and daycares, I more suspect the boss is just at the end of his rope. If you’re working before they get up and after they go to bed, while also taking care of them during the day, at this point you are lucky to get six hours of sleep and you *never have any waking hours* when someone is not demanding something of you. It’s exhausting, no matter how hard you try, and after two months, well, short tempers abound.

      1. ES*

        There are days I finish work and when I get up from my desk to sit on the couch and turn on the TV my dog notices I’ve been activated and comes over demanding for me to play with her, and I find myself channeling my mom when I was a kid: “Dog, this is the first moment I’ve had to myself ALL. DAY. Please just let me have a few minutes of this before making demands!”

      2. Cambridge Comma*

        Yeah, he’s probably pretty lost after all these weeks. I have two under two and this week I’ve fallen asleep a couple of times while working because it’s the only time I sit down all day.

      3. SK*

        Which is fully understandable, but it would really suck as an employee if you were like “hey, this has me up until 1am working, can we figure something else out?” and your boss were just like “you’re fine; you don’t have kids on top of everything.” I really, really feel for parents who have full-time job obligations right now, but he does at least owe it to his employees to have a discussion of how to work around this without totally killing their work/life balance instead of just snapping at them.

          1. SK*

            Sorry, I wasn’t trying to say that’s the exact situation here, just that the OP said the boss has already displayed some impatience. Not sure if that’s in reaction to her concerns about work hours or just in general. In all likelihood he’ll be reasonable.

          2. Ego Chamber*

            “he has become impatient and is very much in “just get it done” mode”

            I mean

            1. Susie Q*

              I think this means that OP’s boss doesn’t want her coming to him with a billion questions. She might think she needs his input on certain things and he is telling her that she doesn’t.

      4. Code Monkey, the SQL*

        That would be my expectation too.

        I’m wfh with 2 under 5 right now, and my husband is working too. We are splitting shifts and getting things done, but I am certainly not as flexible and easygoing as I was in the office. That’s why I was advocating upthread for OP to offer some options for streamlining. Taking one or two things off the boss’s plate will speed up OP’s timelines and probably earn her the unending gratitude of someone who is stretched to their limit right now.

    2. Kabble*

      I took this to mean OP’s boss was telling OP to not wait for their (boss) feedback.

      1. Malarkey01*

        That’s what I’m wondering, and don’t mean to speculate but maybe this is similar to my situation. I have someone that wants my blessing and input more than required. I’ve talked to her about this in the past, but if I have time I don’t mind giving feedback along the way because it does improve the work and is a positive when there aren’t other priorities. However, when I don’t have time she has a difficult time moving forward and I do have to be explicit that she cannot stop for me. I know she hates this and really struggles professionally with that direction. I’m sure at times I sound impatient.

        It could be that a conversation with the boss that says “I’m going to assume you want me to do x and will proceed with that if you don’t reply by x o’clock. If that assumption is incorrect I’ll need y hours to change direction which will move the deadline. Would that work?” Coming with a solution and then moving forward if possible may help him and you out. Worse case you have to redo work but sometimes once the balk is rolling down the hill they approve it.

  7. Erin*

    It’s hard to know whether this is feasible without knowing more details about the nature of your work, but this might be a time to try to change the default assumptions about what needs your boss’s input to move forward vs what you can just move forward on your own initiative (while keeping your boss in the loop, but not necessarily waiting for input before moving forward).

  8. Ann Nonymous*

    I wouldn’t read emails or respond to anything work-related after my business hours are done. You need to stop letting your boss get away with blowing up deadlines. If you tell him you need something at 11 a.m. and don’t get it until midnight, 1) don’t look at or acknowledge after-hours submissions and 2) deal with things only during your business hours. Get things done during regular hours at a regular pace. Let boss be the one who has to deal with blown deadlines.

    1. Sleepy*

      Yes, this. I would log on at 8am or 9am the next morning and say, “I wasn’t able to get X done since I didn’t have Y; now that I have it, I’ll get the final product to you by 5pm.”

      1. Ann Onny Muss*

        Depends on the boss. I’ve had managers who would have absolutely no problem telling you to stay up til the wee hours to get something done (that they usually sat on for weeks). And that was under normal circumstances. I suspect with a few, it’s only gotten worse.

        1. A*

          OP seems to indicate their situation is the opposite, otherwise this wouldn’t be abnormal. I’m not sure I understand your point.

        2. pleaset AKA cheap rolls*

          Then the OP should let the manager say that. Not assume the manager will be that way.

    2. sssssssssssssssssssssssss*

      This. When I’m done for the day, I’m done. I don’t go back to log on and see what came in until my first cuppa at 8:30.

      (And having hubs and kids around helps to make that happen because they want my time. If I were living alone, I know there would be a serious risk of work creeping into all hours of my day.)

      It would be important to check in with your boss in regards to his true expectations about your work hours while at home. I’ve told one of my support team members who wasn’t feeling well one day to take the afternoon off and catch up later in the evening (if she was up to it – otherwise, it’s tomorrow!) as nothing was rush right now but there was no expectation beyond “get well!” that she is to work evenings!

    3. Janet*

      I came here to say this. Unless you’ve been specifically directed to read email late at night, don’t. Log off at the end of the business day and deal with what comes in the next morning. And if he has told you to stay up late waiting for emails, that’s a different conversation where you can use Alison’s script about shifting to work later.

      1. Nessun*

        Agreed. My boss’ work schedule has been destroyed by the new reality of covid (and some federal work related to it…) so he emails at the weirdest hours and he’s online all the time. Realistically he’s sending me things at any time during the day or night except for maybe 4-5 hours when he sleeps. The answer for us both has been clarity on what’s due when – he knows when I log off for the evening, and he also knows that if he needs something after that time, he texts me to look at my email. If I can’t get to it, I’ll tell him right away. Otherwise, he sends me email he knows I won’t look at right away, and I work on them when I see them the next morning. (And he has confirmed that this will NOT be how things work when our offices open back up – which I trust him on.)

    4. Jennifer*

      This is my favorite suggestion. In the Before Times if an email came in at 11 pm, you would have dealt with it once you got to work the following morning. So just send boss a message letting him now that now that you have the needed information you’ll get the work to him by end of day. Period.

      Now, if it has to be done by 9 am that day, no exceptions, then I do think the OP needs to have a conversation with him.

  9. Roeslein*

    Assuming these are client deadlines, building in more time for e.g. the boss to give feedback is absolutely necessary in the longer term, but for the projects that are already ongoing (i.e. the deadline has already been agreed with the client), the deadline is the deadline – in my line of work, if I get input from a coworker or boss on Friday evening for a client deliverable due before the client comes in on Monday morning, I might grumble privately, but I’ll work on it over the weekend. It would be incredibly tone deaf to say “oh too bad, I’m off for the weekend so I’ll only be able to send it through at 4 pm instead” (unless I have, say, a holiday planned or am attending a wedding, in which case this would have been built into the project plan way in advance).

    Of course I don’t expect anyone on my team to work nights or weekends, but in terms of my career, the client is not just “the company’s client”, it’s *my* client too (as in, when I leave I’ll at least try to take them with me), and my field is all about reputation and word of mouth, so there’s no way I’m missing a deadline. I’m a project manager now so it ends with me, but when I was junior not getting the work done at night, or at the weekend or whatever before the deadline also meant someone else on the team (usually the project manager) would have to do my share of work on top of theirs during said time.

    I would still definitely have a discussion afterwards on how to avoid repeating this scenario going forward though – I am also working from home with a toddler so I appreciate the challenges but it’s not an excuse for having your team work through the night. (And if it’s a random deadline set by your manager, Alison’s advice is spot-on.)

    1. introverted af*

      I have a friend who works in consulting, so I get what you’re saying here. The work has to get done, the developers need the input on time, or the project doesn’t happen. However, I feel like the difference is, to a certain extent, you went into your line of work signing up for those expectations. Everybody learns more about their new job after you start, but if you’re going through an ethical hiring process, you should have a pretty good sense if you want to be in that kind of work. In the case of the letter writer though, nobody signed up for COVID-19. Not her boss, working from home with kids, not her clients/etc., and not her, getting materials late from her boss. It’s entirely possible that the LW’s place of work is disfunctional and hasn’t allowed for those things, but I think it’s better to assume otherwise since her letter doesn’t hint at that.

    2. a good mouse*

      My sister is an associate lawyer. This is basically her life – whenever she gets the info the expectation is she’s working. At her old firm there was a client who would regularly send info Friday afternoon and expect the info back Monday morning so they could work on it all week, send an update Friday afternoon, and expect the new feedback Monday morning again. She lost a lot of weekends.

    3. Manic Pixie HR Girl*

      I think having to log hours over the weekend is a very different expectation than having to pull an all-nighter mid-week.

  10. Koala dreams*

    At the very least you should shut off notifications in the evening (maybe around 8 pm), and check if there’s any urgent work the first thing in the morning instead. When I say “first thing” I mean first thing after your morning routine, not in bed when you just woke up.

    Then you need to have a discussion with your boss about the fact that you being on call 24/7 isn’t sustainable, and going forward, you are going to be offline for sleeping, food and other life necessities.

    I don’t think you need to mention your boss’ family obligations. You might mention your own obligations, if you think that will help convince your boss. For example family obligations (calling grandma or a cousin), volunteer obligations (pick things up for neighbours), or household obligations (grocery shopping, laundry, mow the lawn). If you don’t feel those are relevant, it’s of course okay to not say anything about that topic. Everybody has obligations, and if your boss is reasonable they will realize this without needing a list of those obligations.

  11. WantonSeedStitch*

    It seems to me that the easiest thing to start with here would be to simply ASK the boss about the deadlines, before making any assumptions one way or the other, wouldn’t it? I’d probably say something like “Hey boss, I know you’ve got a rough schedule right now, and you’re doing a lot of work late in the evening to get me things I need. I appreciate the fact that you’re putting that time in. But when I get something back that I need for X late at night, I’m finding that in order to meet the deadline, I have to work through the night. I don’t want to miss deadlines, but working through the night and then working again in the morning isn’t really sustainable. Can we talk about whether those deadlines are flexible given the current situation? And if not, can we talk about what we can both do to ensure that the deadlines are met, without either of us having to work in ways that we can’t sustain?”

  12. Jean*

    Alison’s advice is right on, as always. You’re going to have to have a direct conversation to establish clearly what his expectations are. I get that wfh with kids is a lot (I have a 2nd grader at home with me so I know the challenges) – but he has to be able to carve out time to meet with you on this, otherwise it’s not going to get solved, and the quality of your work is going to suffer. Best of luck OP.

  13. Nita*

    It would really help to know what kind of input OP needs from the boss. Can someone else who is not so overwhelmed assist with OP’s questions? Would the problem be solved by OP being looped into more of the project communication? For example, if there is key information coming from the client and OP normally isn’t sitting in on the calls, that’s a pretty easy fix.

    And can I just say the Vice illustration is perfect. This is exactly what is happening in my house. Ouch!

    1. Hobbit*

      The company I work for has cut our hours in half, so recording the voice meetings (with everyone’s permission) and then sending them to the people who were not present for whatever reason has been helping a lot. Heck, it’s even helping the people who were in the meetings, as they can go back and see if they’ve missed anything at some point. We’re also including the entire team on email threads where in the past they wouldn’t be included because someone would have the time to brief everyone else on what was said. Basically, one of the things that has made these trying times easier is to make communication lines more open in any possible way! I hope OP can talk to boss and maybe start being looped in more steps of the process or – another thing my boss did – handle some things that are lower stakes/run on a standard herself with boss’s blessing.

      Suggestion for OP:
      If you can, try writing a bullet point list of your problems, then of possible solutions you can offer your boss! This way, he doesn’t have to come up with those from scratch when you already have some notion of what may make life easier for you! It doesn’t mean he’ll be able to do things this way, but at least he’ll have some ideas to work with.

  14. You can call me flower, if you want to*

    My boss has been sending me her feedback at 3-4:00 am when she finally can dig into the work and her kids are asleep. She absolutely does not expect me to look at it right away. I think you just need to get aligned on the expectations. Just ask. “Hey, I’ve been getting your feedback at 11:00 pm. I’m normally in bed by then. Is it alright if I don’t pick this up until tomorrow? Or do you need me to work on it right away.” I’m sure he’ll be horrified you thought you need to work 24/7. Clear communication will probably solve this.

    1. Anon Anon*

      I wouldn’t ask for permission if it’s okay that it not be looked at until the next morning. I’d say that when you get something at 11p.m., it won’t be seen until the next morning, and see if there is another way to organize the work. And if the work is truly needs to be acted upon at 11p.m., then see about adjusting the schedule, but to me that is the last resort. I’m afraid if the conversation is asking for permission it would become the default, especially to someone who is probably less tolerant these days.

      1. Marika*

        I strongly agree with this… If you ask permission and boss says “No, you need to get on it as soon as I send it”, then what? Yeah, you hope boss will be reasonable, but these aren’t reasonable times. Don’t ask, tell.

        1. James*

          From the boss’s direction, he should be telling you “I don’t expect you to respond to these emails, this is just the most convenient time to send them.” I’ve done it in the past–had insomnia and did some work super early/super late and sent a few emails out. One guy was a little freaked out about it until I explained that I was just sending it at a convenient time; I expected him to respond when it was convenient for him.

      2. Janet*

        Exactly this. Unless you’re in an executive-level position, acting on emails at 11 PM shouldn’t be an everyday expectation.

  15. Anon Anon*

    A direction conversation with the boss is in order, as Alison suggests. I might also have you specifically indicate that you log off at a specific time and so any information that comes through after that time won’t be addressed until the morning (especially if the morning meetings are mandatory). So then it’s clear that anything that gets emailed at 11p.m. isn’t going to be addressed until 8a.m. the next day.

    But, if your boss is in a get it done mode, then it’s probably not even registering that when he gets you the information will cause you an issue.

    1. The Starsong Princess*

      I agree – remind the boss of when you will be working and checking email. As well, every time you send them a request for a decision or a task they need to complete, include an expectation of completion like “I need this decision by 2pm Thursday to complete the report on time.” This shifts the timing and accountability to the boss and provides a paper trail.

  16. Me Myself and I*

    I’m blunt. I’ve been letting everyone who wants something from me know what’s on my plate, what I need, and asking for them to tell me priorities, and I copy them all so they can see who else needs my work. I also stop working and don’t respond after hours. Sometimes I checked my email on my own time, but that’s so I’m prepared for the next day.

  17. BradC*

    I’m surprised not to see what I would consider the obvious solution: ask your boss the best way to communicate with him when you have a time-sensitive request for information.

    Clearly he’s not getting through his email as quickly as he used to (my manager operates this way even when things are “normal”: sometimes he’s busy with other things, sometimes emails get lost in his flooded inbox).

    So if I have a deadline-urgent question I will follow up with an instant message or a text to draw his attention to the email, or just to ask the question directly. Sometimes I do this immediately upon sending the email, sometimes I will wait an hour to see if he gets to it on his own.

    Or maybe he would prefer a phone call or some other method.

  18. PlainJane*

    I think I’d address it by asking, “Hey, would it be better for you if…?” Eg,
    Hi, Boss–
    Since the client in Anchorhead needs those droids shipped by Thursday, would it make more sense for me to have the invoice sent to you on Tuesday, then, if you get back to me that night, I can take care of the work during my Wednesday work flow? Last week, when I did it on the usual Wednesday schedule, it ended up being an all-nighter, with the messages bouncing around at odd hours…

    Not perfect, but instead of “OMG, can you not be so late?” it would be, “Hey, I noticed a problem in the workflow in this new situation. Here’s an idea…”

    1. Manic Pixie HR Girl*

      Ahhh, yes, sorry, someone already addressed this potential workaround! I was thinking the same thing.

  19. TCO*

    In addition to all of this great advice, I wonder if it would be possible for OP to reserve her first work hours each day for dealing with whatever came in overnight. Is there any option to move those 8:30 am meetings to later in the day after she’s caught up? Or skip some of the meetings altogether?

  20. AdAgencyChick*

    If what you’re waiting on from your boss is feedback that you need to incorporate before you can deliver something, I’d propose to him, “Hey, given that this is crazytimes, could we say that if I haven’t heard back from you by X hours before a deadline, I can go ahead and deliver the work without your feedback?”

    This of course assumes that your boss isn’t giving you a ton of feedback every time. If he is, then I’d ask for longer timelines instead.

    1. Agent Diane*

      This! My boss is super overloaded and triaging so simple Y/N emails get quick responses but complex ones disappear. So look at whether you can tweak it so boss is doing Y/N feedback. Or at least highlight where you need their input. For example: “here’s the otter report: I’ve checked most of it but I’m not sure about the fish consumption figures on page 7 so that’s where I need your input, please.”

  21. The Rafters*

    Our employees are all working from home. Some are also volunteering with the state and providers on COVID issues, so our schedules are way off too. We have one another’s cell phone numbers. If there is something that needs immediate attention, we send a text to the staff person asking them to check e-mail. I also gave my cell # to some outside providers who are more likely to need an immediate response. It doesn’t help to keep us on our usual schedules, but it does help to keep us from being glued 24-7 to our computers.

  22. MissMeghan*

    This is so context dependent, but I agree a conversation where you lay out the impact this has is important, and discuss the flexibility of the deadlines if there is any. If not, are you communicating these asks primarily via email? Would it be possible to talk to your boss and ask if you could text solely for the very time sensitive items? If it’s a situation where a couple times a week or so you have to text for a time sensitive item, it’d be easier for him to pull away for a few minutes to address it than it would be for him to have to monitor email all day waiting to see when you send the time sensitive email. It would work for me, but probably very situation dependent.

  23. Ego Chamber*

    Am I the only one who thought LW needed to work overnight because the work that needed to be done was going to be used in the next day’s meetings and/or needed to be handed off to someone else the next day to keep on schedule and meet the deadline (or there were other projects that needed doing and nowhere else to slot this project in later)? Assuming LW is working overnight for no reason is a bit insulting, since they seem to have a level of flexibility in their schedule that implies they’re generally capable of managing their workload.

    The question was how does LW effectively manage their workload now that there are large blocks of time with no work to do and work that (might) need doing during off-hours. Personally, I’d probably try working in split shifts, if there really is nothing to do for large periods of time during the day (turn on email notifications in case anything comes in and go watch Netflix—or do laundry or whatever responsible people are doing these days) and suck it up for the overnights if that work does need to be done before the next morning, and it’s not happening more than once every week or so. (Ymmv depending on your normal sleeping habits/schedule/etc.)

    1. Anon for this one*

      Yeah, I also assumed that the “working overnight” was due to an actual deadline the OP was aware of, rather than just the boss said “jump” and the OP said “how high?”.

      I inferred that the OP is the one with the most “ownership” in this project but needs particular inputs from their boss.

      Occams razor suggests that they are actual concrete deadlines.. as least as far as OP is aware (ask me how I know about the difference between “real” and “communicated” deadlines!) else she wouldn’t work overnight repeatedly just to meet a ‘political’ deadline.

    2. Shan*

      This was the impression I got, as well. And that it was not just a matter of “getting feedback” or whatever from the boss like a few people theorized, but actual reports/figures/etc that OP can’t meet that hard deadline without.

  24. Manic Pixie HR Girl*

    I really do hope this is a case of miscommunication of expectations and not that the boss actually expects 24/7 coverage. I’ve had to answer a lot of emails/crisises/phone calls on nights/weekends of late, but it is pretty well known that I go to bed early during the week and if someone sent me an email at 11pm I will not see it until the next morning.

    I can understand cutting everyone slack right now as we all navigate a new normal, but expecting someone to shift their schedule to accommodate yours, when that requires the employee to literally pull an all-nighter, is a bridge too far.

    That said, I do think the best course of action is to try and get anything that needs feedback from your boss at the end of the day prior – so, for example, instead of 11am on Wednesday, at 5pm on Tuesday. Then he’s providing feedback at 11pm Tuesday and you now have all day Wednesday to address it. I don’t know if this example specifically translates, or if it is even possible if you are dealing with other outside factors, but it is something to consider.

  25. Tiara Wearing Princess*

    Something I’ve been curious about –

    I think Alison’s scripts are always perfect. However I think I’d be afraid that they would not come out of my mouth as perfect. Most times a conversation is necessary, but what about putting it in an email?

    In this case the boss is stressed and is described as ‘impatient’ and he wants things to get done. Would it make more sense to email him a version of Alison’s script so he can digest it and maybe realize how unreasonable he is being? Writer says their relationship is becoming strained.

    1. MommyMD*

      Agree. Especially if he’s just going to interrupt and be short. It’s irritating when people forget the whole world is going through this, not just them. Boss has.

    2. Jeffrey Deutsch*

      Hear, hear! That’s how I strongly prefer to do it, for precisely the reasons you gave.

      Just understand that, unfortunately, many people strongly feel otherwise. They think it’s better to address these things face to face. And if the recipient of your missive is among them — triple word score if he or she signs your paycheck — that may make a bad situation worse.

  26. Des*

    [For example, I’ll need something from him at 11 am that I don’t get until 11 pm and I’m then under pressure to turn around the final product on time, even though I’ve lost days.]

    I would recommend better planning and anticipation. Do you only find out in the morning that you’ll need something by 11am? If you know a day or more ahead, request it early. He’s clearly unable to work during the day, and will turn it around to you in the evening. Asking on Thursday morning for something you need by Friday morning will give him an evening. Basically, create yourself a buffer.

    If you have a deadline of Friday, work as if if the deadline is 24h or more before that, because you’re now dealing with a person who’s working a different shift from you. This is often how it ends up working when you’re in significantly different timezones anyway.

  27. MommyMD*

    Ask your Boss which 8 of the 24 hours he wants you to work everyday. Seriously. Outside of that don’t check your emails or return texts. He has to figure out how to deal with the schedule. Everyone is under pressure, not just him. The entire world.

  28. OP*

    OP here. Thanks for posting my question and thank you to everyone for their additional suggestions and support.

    My boss never expressly said “you must work through the night to finish this” but it was just understood. We work on a high stakes project for the firm and it must be completed on time.

    However, after about 2 months of this, the situation is starting to get better. I am lucky that my boss is a very reasonable person and my hope that if I just hunkered down and dealt with it short term, long term somehow it would work out. He has pushed back to the big-bosses on the rigid timeline to buy us tiny bit of extra time, and has arranged for one of our other team colleagues to rotate tasks with me. So while this is still an issue, I only have to deal with it every other week now, and we have a little more wiggle room than we did previously. All this goes to underscore how lucky I am to have such a great boss… he basically was aware that it was a problem and found a way to improve it once he had the bandwidth to do so.

    As Alison said, boss needed some grace too, and I can’t imagine how hard it is to work with the kiddos around, so I am really glad I didn’t have to bring myself to talk to him about it.

  29. OP*

    Also, I want to clarify…. The project I was referring to is an multi step process. I can’t start sooner because it requires the input of several people and there are specific starting times based on data availability.

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