how can I make sure my staff meets deadlines?

A reader writes:

I manage a team of folks who often say they’ll get something done but then the deadline’s in less than 48 hours and they have nothing sent to me yet (after an earlier reminder). How do I remind them and get things done without panicking or nagging them?

I find myself sending frequent project updates, asking for updates, and doing lots of collaboration. Is there anything additional I can do?

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

{ 100 comments… read them below }

  1. Hey Karma, Over Here*

    I don’t understand your concern, OP.
    So on Monday, you assign a project to me with a deadline of COB Thursday.
    OK, it’s on my list.
    Wednesday, 10 AM you send me an email telling me that the project you gave me on monday is due tomorrow, COB.
    OK. I know. I’m working on it.
    What do you want to know?
    Do you want a status report?
    I can understand that.
    “Hey Karma, where are you on the XYZ project? It’s due tomorrow, COB.”
    Or or you emailing me three times a week (not to mention a day)
    “Hey Karma, the XYZ project is due Thursday by 5.”
    OK, it’s tuesday, going to start it tomorrow after 1.
    Hey, Karma that XYZ is due tomorrow.
    I know, i might be able to get to it by 11 this morning.
    Hey Karma, that XYZ book is due tomorrow.
    Yes, I know. And I might get to it sooner today if I weren’t stopping to tell you I know and I haven’t started it yet. And that I haven’t missed a deadline in my career, and I’ve never not spoken up when I felt there was an issue with meeting deadlines.
    So think about what you really need here, OP.
    Are you managing your team or you own stress?
    Because you’re really only making more.

    1. Hey Karma, Over Here*

      wow, that was long. I apparently have my own issues with topic. And with typing. Sorry about the errors.

    2. Scarlet2*

      This, so much. Most of the time, the PMs I have to deal with don’t start nagging me 2 days before deadline, because they know if I have a problem, I’ll let them know in time.
      However, occasionally, there’s one who just feels the need to “kindly remind me” of the deadline two days before, a few hours before, etc. If your deadline is on Wednesday noon, don’t start asking me about it on Monday morning. If due date is on Wednesday noon, that’s when you’ll get it. If you want it earlier, just say so.
      Otherwise, it’s going to 1) make me feel micromanaged, which is annoying, 2) waste my time.

    3. Wendy Darling*

      I’ve missed deadlines a few times but I am radically honest when I think something is starting to slip.

      “I had X super high priority catastrophe happen, I’m not sure I’m going to make the deadline”
      “Actually this turned out a lot more complex than I expected and I don’t think I can get it done on time”

      There’s no reason to think me not checking in means anything other than “this is on track and I will have it by the due date” because that’s the only thing it’s ever meant!

      1. Works in IT*

        We’re so overworked lately that “it’s due in three days” “it’s due in two days” “it’s due in one day” emails are welcome, because they increase the chance we’ll SEE one of the emails by the deadline.

        But more emails sent after someone acknowledged that, yes, one of us saw it, and is working on it, are annoying.

        1. Koalafied*

          Yes, I don’t mind reminder emails if they’re worded in a way that makes clear it’s just a helpful reminder for busy people and not because the sender is concerned that they haven’t seen any early progress yet. My team juggles a lot of deadlines that don’t follow a regular pattern or have a similar logic to other deadlines. The exception I suppose would be something that was assigned the same week it’s due – I don’t help remembering on Tuesday that something assigned on Monday is due on Wednesday. Something that was assigned last month or two weeks ago, on the other hand, especially if it’s a task I don’t routinely do, a heads-up that I’m down to my last few days is appreciated.

        2. Hey Karma, Over Here*

          I’ve been saved a few times by the “oh yeah, I still have to do that,” reminder message. Definitely message, though not plural.

      2. Hey Karma, Over Here*

        I have a good record of speaking up when I am off track, need help, might miss. So trust me to tell you.

    4. Analytical Tree Hugger*

      Fully agree with all of this!

      One way that I build empathy for folks who send reminders is to remember: They send reminders because not all of our colleagues are reliable. So, while I may be consistently on top of my work*, I know for a fact there are several colleagues who aren’t, so reminders like this feel necessary.

      *At least, I think I am. I should ask for feedback on that…

    5. Time_TravelR*

      Our director’s office doesn’t quite go this extreme but it drives me crazy when they send me something with a due date and then send “just a friendly reminder” a couple days before it’s due. I know. You sent me the original. I put it on my list. If I will need more time I will ask long before the due date!

  2. Elenna*

    So, hopefully this doesn’t come off wrong, I’m just curious – didn’t we see this letter just a few weeks ago? Was it just a super similar letter? I swear I remember seeing this before…

    1. Elenna*

      Nevermind, just realized that I probably followed the “you may also like” links to the original many-years-ago version of this letter *blushes* Allison, could you delete my comment?

      1. Van*

        I was thinking that we’d seen a response to an OP from the other side – someone wondering how to handle a boss who was constantly sending reminders and doing checkins before a deadline, which was slowing down the work

    2. SomebodyElse*

      In your defense this topic has come up multiple times.

      And the answer is almost always… set expectations and don’t have secret deadlines :)

      1. ampersand*

        Ha. :) At this point Alison could just say: Set expectations and don’t have secret deadlines! and also: Here, read my answers at these links!

        Funny that this comes up so frequently–it must be a problem though if the question gets asked a lot.

  3. Wendy Darling*

    The project manager I work with could have written this about me and the rest of the team. We basically never miss deadlines but he starts pestering us about where our deliverables are the day after they’re assigned, when we still have WEEKS left before the deadline.

    I’d understand if there was some evidence that we couldn’t manage our workloads on our own but there isn’t.

    1. SheLooksFamiliar*

      I’ve had a couple of managers behave this way, too. To add insult to injury, one of those managers used to tell everyone involved that the only reason we met the project deadline was because he ‘had’ to stay on top of us.

      1. Hey Karma, Over Here*

        I read a description of that on someone is bossing very bossily!

    2. Anon for this*

      Not that status checks weeks before something is due are OK, but sometimes the sup or PM could be asking because they’re being asked what the status by a higher up. If my manager asks me how my team members are doing on a particular project, I’d like to be able to say something like “I checked in with Jane and she’s on top of it/will finish on time/had some questions but is tracking to get it done early/etc.” rather than, “I have no idea, I’m sure it’s fine.” Sometimes it’s just a question with no motive behind it other than to assure everyone that things are going OK.

    3. Dust Bunny*

      I’m pretty sure people like this believe that the reason you don’t miss deadlines is that they pestered you constantly instead of the other way around.

  4. bananab*

    In my work I occasionally get folks asking for updates that don’t really understand my job well enough for it to even be particularly meaningful for them. And the work doesn’t take very long (waits are more about position in the queue) so more often than not it’s basically either done or I haven’t started it yet. Honestly drives me nuts.

    1. Anon for this*

      I’m guilty of this, only because I want to be able to manage my expectations when I’m waiting on someone to do something (especially when I’m not privy to the process behind my request). I’m usually fine with the person saying, you’re 10th in the queue, so it’ll probably be next week. I realize this is annoying for the person being asked because they’re probably fielding a million emails.

  5. Threeve*

    At many jobs turning something in well before the deadline isn’t a great idea even if the work is done. If it turns out there’s an error, then it’s an error you might have caught if you’d taken that extra time to double-check your work, and you look lazy.

        1. Firecat*


          Happens to salary folks too. The old nothing to do so head home early myth is just that. A myth.

        1. Glitsy Gus*

          Yes, this. “It only took you three days last time You can do it in two this time, right?” last time I had half as many projects and Fergus wasn’t out on PTO, but he is now. No, I can’t do it in two days thins time.

          “I don’t understand, so you really need three days?” No! I need the five you gave me last time! The five days it normally takes!

    1. Nanani*

      It can also lead to your work being forgotten about or misfiled, since all the other pieces turn up closer to the deadline, and getting accused of being late instead :eyeroll:

    2. Uranus Wars*

      I’ve also found it sets bad expectations if you do it too often. I’ve definitely had the “but usually you don’t wait until the day of…” when I have turned something in the day it is due and not in advance.

      1. Alice's Rabbit*

        Yes! I mean, it’s good to be on top of things, but just because you are normally able to get things in ahead of time doesn’t mean you always will.

    3. Koalafied*

      And for a lot of tasks too, it could become obsolete. I’m frequently asked to pull lists of customers who meet certain criteria where the list pulled a week early can be different from the list pulled the day of – like “already made a purchase this year”/”hasn’t yet made a 2020 purchase” or “has responded to an email request within the past 6 months.” As soon as someone makes a purchase or responds to an email in between the pull date and the date of use, the list is obsolete.

    4. Time_TravelR*

      At my office, if I turn it in early they inevitably contact me the day after it’s due to ask where it is. Uh… in your email, I suppose.

    5. That Girl from Quinn's House*

      At a lot of places I worked, the directions would often change at the last minute. So if you were a Good Worker Bee and did your project ahead of time, you’d likely get an email two days before it’s due:
      Sorry guys IT reset the system so you’ll have to reinput all that over again/some people were having trouble with parts A B and C so now we’re ONLY doing part D & E and don’t need to do parts ABC/we decided we’re not doing this at all so don’t do any work on Project!

      So everyone waited until the last possible minute to do their work, lest they waste their time on work that got canceled.

  6. Adereterial*

    If I set a deadline, it will be for the time I want it back. I’ll have built in a buffer for delays if I need one – I often commission contributions from other teams for written briefings and if my deadline is Wednesday COP, the deadline for the thing I’ve asked for will be before that, to give me time to chase or work in contributions etc. I don’t expect the work before the deadline – if I get it early, then great, but on time is what I want.

    Set the deadline you need them to meet to allow you to do your part. Don’t expect people to deliver early, and don’t nag them unless they’re actually late. If you want status updates or acknowledgments they’ve got the ask and are on it, say so when you set the task. It isn’t hard.

    1. Koalafied*

      I have one colleague who often gives two deadlines – one is when the work is due, and the other is the latest she will answer questions or provide assistance, usually about 2 days before the due date. She’s asking people to at least look at the details a few days ahead of time even if they don’t start the work until the last day or two, and if she hasn’t heard anything by 2 days out, she knows it’s because nobody had any questions or needed any help. She does this to head off someone saying on the deadline, “I opened this up and realized there’s X problem I didn’t anticipate,” either causing that person to miss the deadline, or forcing the assigning colleague to rearrange whatever other work she had planned for the day to give that person whatever help or information they need to be able to finish the same day. She used to be a professor and says she picked up the tactic there after routinely getting a lot of last-minute requests for help from students who waited until the night before something was due to start working on it – she didn’t mind if they did the work last minute, but wanted to avoid the due date avalanche mucking up her own day, so she wanted them to at least make sure they understood the assignment ahead of time and knew they’d have what they needed to complete it.

  7. LadyByTheLake*

    My favorite story along these lines is the boss who assigned me a legal research project when I was a young associate — it was the kind of project that routinely would take several days, and with other priorities, would be expected in a week, which is what we agreed to. I walked back to my office, which was just down the hall — maybe a two minute walk. When I got to my office, the phone was ringing and it was my boss, wanting to know what progress I’d made on the project. He was well-known for micromanaging, but even he was sheepish when I pointed out that he’d JUST assigned it two minutes before and no, I hadn’t started it yet.

  8. SusanIvanova*

    You know the old joke that ends “turning the screw, $1, knowing which screw to turn, $99”? There are tasks that work the same way – changing the thing, 30 minutes. Finding the thing to change, 47.5 hours. Managers who ask for updates and can’t cope with “still digging” are frustrating.

    1. Fake Old Converse Shoes (not in the US)*

      Yes. Sometimes a bug that takes three days to solve means it took two and half to find where it breaks, and a couple of minutes to fix.

      1. Junger*

        Thats the majority of bugs in my experience.
        Solving the problem is usually easy. Finding out what the problem actually is, not so much.

  9. Tiny_Strawberries*

    Question – has Allison every written anything about reminding a boss or someone who’s higher up than you about a deadline? I don’t want to nag my boss (especially as not his assistant) about a project, but it seems like I’ve needed to in the past. Anyone have any tips?

    1. Aquawoman*

      Ask him how we wants to do that stuff? I am usually very on top of hard deadlines, but I am juggling a thousand to-dos and invite my staff to remind me that they’re waiting for me to review that letter that I accidentally filed away and forgot about. But I do actively encourage it and let them know that it’s helpful to me. They put a lot of “sorry to bother you” and “when you get a chance” in there.

  10. Heidi*

    If OP really wants something 48 hours earlier than the original, they can make that the deadline. If employees leave everything to the last minute and then hand in substandard work, by all means, set an earlier deadline. If OP wants part of it done by a certain day, they should officially declare that to be the deadline for that part. If the team habitually misses deadlines, that’s a whole separate thing. But it’s a setup for badness if OP sets a deadline and expects their employees to understand that this means 2 days before that. They’re not mind-readers.

  11. Ladycrim*

    As an Admin Assistant, I get this all the time. “X is due by Friday.” “No problem.” Wednesday: “Why don’t I have X yet?” (But they seem to have gotten around that by just making everything urgent and due immediately, so … yay?)

    1. Analytical Tree Hugger*

      Ugh…”When everything is a priority, nothing is a priority.”

      I’m sorry you’re under bad management :/

      1. Quill*

        Lol I’m there but it’s because everything has been delayed due to COVID and other countries are out of patience with us…

  12. Nanani*

    Make sure your deadlines are the correct ones when you assign them.
    If the full project needs to be done by Friday, but that includes editing/proofreading/coordinating with other departments, then the deadline isn’t actually Friday, but the amount of time before Friday needed for those final steps to happen.

    So, if you find yourself concerned by not hearing back because your deadline was for the final thing and not just the piece your employee is doing, then you have given them the wrong deadline.

    Looking at the full picture is your job as manager. It’s fine to tell your contributors “This whole project needs to be delivered to the client by X” but you also need to tell them when you need their individual pieces. You have big picture information that they don’t, so fold it into the deadline.

    1. Lord Gouldian Finch*

      Given how antsy the LW was I do wonder if this was the problem. They said “the deadline is Friday” (meaning, it has to be in the client’s hands on Friday) and the subordinate is thinking “okay I have until Friday to finish” when their manager forgot to include there needs to be time to review and edit, or something like that.

      1. Nanani*


        If Nook Inc. needs the finished project by Friday, then tell Alice and Hornsby their writeups are due Wednesday so that Chadder and Diva can put in the charts on Thursday, and you have time to make your final edits and deliver it to Isabelle on Friday.

        The manager is the one who needs to give those individual due dates out – telling the whole team it’s due Friday and expecting everyone to have the internal deadlines automatically sorted is Failure to Manage.

      2. SheLooksFamiliar*

        I wondered about that, too. My deadline to deliver a project/report/plan/etc was 2 or 3 days after the team delivered their portion of it, for exactly this reason. We had regular check-ins so I knew the quality and accuracy of their work was there. But piecing it all together took a couple of days of re-reviewing in context, editing, and even plain old re-thinking on my part. A lot of my team had worked with antsy project managers before and would ask, ‘Are you sure you don’t need this before A?’ Nope, we’re good!

        On the rare occasion someone got derailed a bit, I still had a cushion of a couple days.

    2. Quinalla*

      Yes, I figure it is either this or the OP really wants some kind of progress report. I like to share when I’m sending something out because transparency, but I will often set the deadline for the team for the day before or the morning of so I have time to do reviews, compile everything and send it. My teams are responsible for having their own internal QC reviews done by the deadline, but some PMs set a deadline for that too especially on big projects to help the team plan.

      If it is something you need to see progress on, set that as a deadline as well. X project due on the 10th, need a progress document to review on the 5th to make sure it is on track. That sort of thing. Some projects or people you assign to will need these, some own’t

  13. Allonge*

    Heee. Sorry, this is timely. I have a colleague managing an internal newsletter who sends out:
    1. invitation to contribute (including deadline)
    2. a reminder a week before deadline
    3. a reminder the day before.
    And starts worrying about not having enough contributions somewhere around 2. And bugging me about it!

    As always, I will send my contribution on the day of deadline, most likely late in the afternoon. And so will 99% of contributors, forever and ever. I need things to be ready before I can send in the text about them! The deadline means everything before that time is good!

    Explaining this to my manager would be… not so pleasant.

    1. WhoKnows*

      See, what I think your colleague is missing in this list is perhaps a Step 1A – Confirmation of contribution, so he knows who he’s expecting from? That could be why he panics. (I say this because I’m interpreting “invitation” rather literally, as if contributing is optional). Then, hopefully, he could remove step 2, and just send a final reminder of the deadline.

  14. MassMatt*

    Re: due dates, I wish we had more info from the LW about everyone’s track records. Are you or people on the team new? It can take time to build up trust. Are you finding that deadlines are missed, or that work is turned in rushed or sloppy? If so, some reminders and status reports are warranted.

    If not, maybe this is really about managing your anxiety. If you need the work earlier than the deadline, build that into your deadline. If you are asking for updates and not hearing anything then that can be a problem, but again, not an emergency if the work has a history of getting done on time. There is probably some room to have some kind of status report without becoming a nag looking for updates constantly.

    1. Observer*

      The basic advice remains the same – figure out what you need and ask for that. If you don’t get it, follow up appropriately.

  15. Laura H.*

    Work your want for communication around that 48-hour mark into the schedule, and if necessary, frame it as it impacts you (you get anxious is a valid reason and if you don’t come across as micro managing, you might get what you want- updates on projects that are due shortly)

    This isn’t a work related example, but hopefully relevant. (still on occasion this happens…sometimes I slip up) I was very very bad about asking for rides in a timely manner. It did partly take the threat of not doing anymore demands lobbed two hours prior and me left with the consequences for me to get it.

    But I was also told how it impacted them and their inability to do what they needed or wanted to do. It did take years on my end but I now know I want to ask 3 days prior to my ride needed date- gives them the option to say no and me time to make other arrangements. And it’s better. Also I phrase more requesting and not demanding.

    Knowing why someone needs or wants something and having enough time to decide and act on the request for info is important. Narrow down why you want it- you trust your team, but if the project is on you to ensure it gets done/ do the next phase, that’s a reasonable anxiety. Politely work a 48 hours out check in into your process. It can be done.

  16. charo*

    Having been in charge of multiple publishing deadlines, which are set up to go through various people, I’d be more direct. “I’m confused — you said Friday but now you want it Wednesday?”
    Usually it was the other way, I had to bug the Editor and staff. They’d lollygag in our small office and then be pushing to finish. It’s hard when you can SEE them goofing off and you can’t really say anything. They KNOW. And act like little kids.

    1. charo*

      And yes, it helps to remind them you work for others too. I’d say, “I can finish this for Hillary and then do that for you — which do you both want?” Then they fight it out.

  17. WantonSeedStitch*

    I’ve occasionally had clients (not customers of a company, but another team in our organization) e-mail or call me to say, “hey, can you let me know when X is going to be done?” And I’ve had to tell them, “Well, when you originally requested X, you set a due date of Y. As far as I am aware, the person working on it will have it done by then. If you need it sooner, we will do what we can, but I can’t guarantee you’ll be getting the same level of work.” It annoys me to no end when people start nagging about things before the deadline. I will only send out reminders if I need to get info in enough time to prepare something for a requester. I know that since our team has a lot of deadline-driven, client-requested stuff, things that aren’t requested by clients tend to get pushed down the priority list and occasionally slip through the cracks. I understand that, and my team, in turn, understands when I remind them “hey, I need this by Friday.”

  18. Todd*

    I had a boss that would call me up and say “hey when you get a moment, could you look at bob’s problem xxx, no hurry, it’s not important”. Saw me later that morning “did you get a change to look at xxx”, “no, not yet, you said it wasn’t important, I’ve been working on yyy”. Later same day while we are in closing out of an IT team meeting with the whole department…, “did you get a chance to see bob about xxx?”, “I will go see him right now”, boss says “no, you don’t have to drop what you are doing, it’s not that important”.
    At this point I kind of blew up at him.. “you say it’s not important and yet you have mentioned it 3 times today, to me this signifies that you do indeed think it’s important”. We needed to work on our communication skills.

  19. NOK*

    Recovering project manager here. I think one solve might be setting two different deadlines: one for yourself and one for your project contributors. If I’m reading between the lines a bit, the stress re: “it’s 48 hours from deadline and I haven’t seen anything” may be arising from “even if they turn it in ‘on time’ I might discover something during proofing/approvals/etc that’ll cause me to miss the deadline.” And that IS super stressful! And is easily mitigated by setting an internal deadline a few days before an external deadline.

  20. Dancing otter*

    Is there a history of missed deadlines? If not, back off! A casual inquiry as you pass in the hall is about all that’s appropriate.

    If only one or two people have problems, address it with them individually. Ask why. Ask what would help them – do they need reminders or to be asked for progress reports, or are they having trouble getting information from others? Are your requests hard for them to understand? Are you asking them to do things on which they haven’t been trained?

    If lots of your reports are having trouble meeting deadlines, maybe there is an overall problem. What do they all have in common? Their manager. Are your deadlines reasonable? Are you providing clear guidance as to what you want? Are you assigning more work than time available to do it all? Are they depending on information from you or other departments, that isn’t available in time to meet your deadlines?

  21. fhqwhgads*

    Is the situation that everyone on the team knows the out the door deadline is 48 hours from now, and that after the other people’s part is submitted to OP, OP needs to do some additional thing that takes X amount of time, before it can go out the door? And that’s why the “nothing 48 hours before” is concerning? If so, I think OP you might’ve given your team the wrong deadline. The deadline to tell them is when they need to be done with their own part, not when everyone needs to be done.

    If it’s not some multi-step each-needs-its-own deadline thing, then unless you know it’s mathemetically impossible for them to finish in the remaining 48 hours, they don’t need to be done 2 days early. They should be able to work up to their own deadline and as long as it’s not a consistent “handed it in 5 seconds before the deadline” type issue, let them use the time you gave them.

  22. Ohlaurdy*

    I wonder if the prevalence of secret deadlines comes from many of our training from school to have basically a constant status update on big projects – starting really early and up through graduate school, if you have a large project, you’d usually be required to provide an outline, first draft, etc. Sure, you could probably procrastinate and start the project a couple of days before it’s due and perform just as well, so the status update assignments kind of instill the idea that if you’re still working on something close to the due date that’s a bad thing when it isn’t always, and it can take some time to unlearn that! Last minute work in school is super frowned upon in a way that it doesn’t always make sense to frown upon in the working world.

    1. fhqwhgads*

      This does not resemble any of my school experiences at any age. I don’t doubt it exists, but it’s far from universal. That said I have no idea whether what you describe or what I know of is more common.
      My only experience with the concept of “status updates on Big Project” is from the working world.

  23. Anonymousness*

    It also depends on how long before the 48 hours the work was assigned. If it was assigned a month ago and it going to take a good week’s worth of working and hasn’t been touched with 48 hours to go, yeah that’s an issue. If it was assigned 4 days ago and will take a couple of hours to do and it’s 48 hours to go…that’s not something to follow up on with anyone that has a good track record. Or if you know someone would usually have turned something in by then and the fact that they hadn’t was reason to suspect they might have forgotten it was due.

    I did once send someone a reminder about something every day from when it came in until it was due (3 or 4 days), but that was because I knew the person wasn’t working on it and was likely to miss it. Sure enough, even with daily reminders they missed the date. They then proceeded not to do it thae day after it should have been turned in when I sent another reminder. It wasn’t until they told someone higher on the food chain than me that this thing was due and that person told them to do it that they actually got it done. But that is an outlier.

  24. That Girl from Quinn's House*

    This reminds me of a boss I had. People would go out on vacation and get their vacation approved. They would post, “I will be out of office from Saturday, August 1 through Sunday, August 9. I will be back in office Monday, August 10” on whatever communal calendars/out of office messages/etc., were required.

    Then on the last few days of that person’s vacation, the boss would be running around. “I haven’t heard from Fergus! Do we even know if Fergus is coming back from vacation! I’m going to line up coverage for Fergus’s core responsibilities next week in case he’s changed his plans and isn’t coming back from vacation!”

    So of course Fergus would show up Monday, as planned because that’s what he put on the communal calendar and his OOO message, and find someone sitting at his desk covering his core duty and then get told “Oh Fergus we didn’t realize you were coming back!” Then of course, they had to duke out who was the “extra” person who got sent home.

    1. Paris Geller*

      For some reason this is always my fear, and it’s completely baseless. I’ve never had it happened before! And yet if a team member is out on vacation for a week, I always wonder if I will see them that Monday. The difference is I realize this is a pretty unreasonable fear and keep it squashed down deep inside rather than doing what your boss did.

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

        find someone sitting at his desk covering his core duty and then get told “Oh Fergus we didn’t realize you were coming back!”

        But it sounds like in this case it wasn’t just unsubstantiated fluff, but the boss actually did put in place a ‘replacement’ for Fergus, although (see my comment below) I feel that this is just ‘theatre’.

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

      This seems like obvious “vacation-shaming”, passive-aggressive variant (as in: boss hopes someone he ran around to exclaiming “I haven’t heard from Fergus!” etc would subsequently convey that on “private channels” to Fergus.. “Oh, btw, boss was all kinds of worried you wouldn’t come back and was making contingency plans, just thought you should know”).

      Now how likely is it that Fergus will take another fully “off grid” vacation, I wonder?!

      1. Dancing otter*

        Sounds like Fergus should start exit planning. Vacations are *supposed* to be off grid, not just working from your vacation location. The O in PTO is for OFF!

        Remember the letter about the boss tracking someone down at their chemotherapy appointments?

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

          I totally agree (sorry, not sure from your response if you thought I put “off grid” in quotes because I disapproved of it or something like that, which is totally not the case! What I was getting at was more that a lot of people, in Fergus’ situation, would then start second guessing themselves, making sure to check in during subsequent vacations etc so that they wouldn’t have a repeat of “Fergus-MIA-gate”).

          Yes, Fergus ought to start looking for a way out, I’d agree.

    3. GammaGirl1908*

      This is a thing?

      I mean, it’s one thing to miss a flight or have food poisoning or something and be back a day later than planned, but is it common that, while lying on the beach, people just … decide they don’t need to work any more? And just never come back?

      Wow, lying on the beach must pay way better for those people than it did for me the last few times I did it. I often wish I could stay there indefinitely, but at some point pretty soon I’m going to need a paycheck again.

      1. Ash*

        I think some people do it so they can take their vacation or whatever prior to resigning. A lot of places won’t approve vacation once you put in your notice. I’ve seen people resign immediately after vacations ended, even after maternity leave ended.

        1. GammaGirl1908*

          Okay, that’s fair. This is one of those times I should recognize that my own workplace (the US federal government) isn’t a place where this happens often, but it very well might elsewhere.

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

      Oh and there should be no need to “duke out” who gets to continue working and who should be sent home… the person (Fergus) who was scheduled to be working that day, agreed with their boss that they would be back to work that day, and stuck to exactly the agreement they had when the vacation was approved…. that’s the person who needs to continue working, not the drafted-in replacement.

      Although I do feel for the ‘substitute’ as I feel like they have got caught up in the manager’s games. Would the substitute just go back to their own job if they are no longer required to cover (because, shock horror, vacation-taking employee returns from vacation as scheduled — STOP PRESS!!) or do they lose hours and pay in that situation?

  25. Caterpillar*

    Depending on the size of the tasks and the number of people that work on it, something along the lines of what my team does might also work:

    We break down every larger task into subtasks of typically a few days maximum length and update the remaining effort of our tasks regularly/close them when they are finished regularly. This allows e.g. for something similar to the burn down chart from Scrum (no, we do not use Scrum) and makes it easy to spot whether you are still on track with a particular task even if it is large/multiple people are involved.

    I know that have to intervene only when the remaining effort significantly deviates from the expected rate – and most of the times, before that happens, I am informed of problems anyways.

    This is similar to regular status updates, but saves a lot of time and adds transparency in a rather large team with several projects with different deadlines and different people from the team involved at any point in time. It is possibly a huge overkill if you are in a simpler setting, though.

  26. LT*

    The way I read this sort of sounded like a communication issue, maybe, too. We’ve all run into that one person who ignores your emails asking for an update until right before the deadline “here it is, lemme know if you have any questions.” Like, thanks for the status update I asked for 2 days ago!

    In this case (or even if it’s not the case), maybe having a regularly scheduled check-in call would be useful. 15 minutes Monday a.m. and done.

    1. NotAnotherManager!*

      I kind of thought the same thing – is the team aware that the supervisor is expecting something before the deadline? If so, it would make sense just to say that with the assignment – “This is due on Friday, but can you check in with me/shoot me a status report on Wednesday AM? I have an afternoon meeting with Bob, and he will want to know how we’re coming along on Project.” Or, if it’s a big deadline and you want interim pieces delivered early, set a schedule for that and share it, don’t just assume people know. Generally falls into that, if you want someone to do something, use your words category.

      It’s also a know-your-boss kind of thing – if my boss asks for something, she want it by the time she said she wanted it and generally only wants to hear from me if there are questions/issues. She does not want routine confirmation that I am working on something, have no problems, and am planning to deliver it on time. I have also worked for people who like reassurance that all is going as planned, and a short, end-of-day email saying, “It’s 5 o’clock and all is well on the Jones account – report will be in your hands by Friday at noon, as promised!” usually does the trick. Annoying, but keeps them from calling me repeatedly and makes them feel more comfortable that I’m on it.

  27. StressedButOkay*

    If you want a check in, let your folks know that when you give them the deadline in the first place. I’m a manager and, trust me, unless some miracle happens, generally all of my deliverables are completed by the deadline and not before. Not because I want to drive someone crazy but a) that was the deadline and b) I have other competing deadlines I have to juggle!

    If my team is working on a critical project, I’ll set up a meeting a few days prior to check in. But I wouldn’t expect the items due 48 hours prior to the deadline. That defeats the purpose of the deadline.

  28. nnn*

    I’m so curious what LW expects people to be sending 48 hours in advance of the deadline. Like, maybe that statement makes perfect sense in their job, but it makes no sense whatsoever in any jobs I’ve had.

    Of course, as Alison and others have said, the solution is to set a deadline 48 hours earlier for whatever it is they’re secretly expecting to be sent 48 hours earlier.

  29. Amtelope*

    The deadline should be when the work is due. You don’t expect work to be turned in before then. If you’re setting the deadline as the date when you need to hand off the produce to your boss or a client, create an earlier internal deadline to give yourself room to breathe. But don’t communicate a deadline, then expect the work to be done earlier.

  30. Betsy S*

    I tend to have more on my plate than I can do at any one time, plus my job requires juggling projects with fighting fires. I will sometimes deal with this by proactively saying “I know you’re waiting for X from me” with a date if I have one.

    I did that this morning on a call to a customer, thinking I owed her an update on task X, and turns out what she was actually waiting for was a doc we’d already written, that she’d never received her copy of! Very glad I brought it up. (I still owe her task X but that’s lower priority)

  31. Lost academic*

    I’m in consulting and manage various project teams who have plenty of other responsibilities to other people and projects, many of which I won’t know about, which can change quickly. I will give the appropriate deadline for them to get me their draft (we always have to assume at least one round of edits) before I get something I can finalize for the client. But the staff can have varying success at estimating when they will get to something and how hard it might be, especially as priorities shift. It’s expected for me to constantly manage communication because if they screw up and don’t allow enough time to get me what I have to have, we can’t just bill more time. If we’re actually late on the deliverable it’s entirely on me and it’s not like I’m awash in staff of the right level with the available time and experience to attempt every project I have.

    So yeah: if I gave you the right deadline but I still haven’t heard anything from you 2 days before I need it, I’m going to follow up to make sure everything’s okay, there aren’t any surprises (you never know) and you don’t need additional support or anything. And that you’ve actually evaluated the task enough to know that. But I also make the level and frequency of communication needed clear… Though of course it really depends how overwhelmed people get/feel.

    I don’t imagine outside consulting that this is the daily dynamic balance that most people experience but it is the norm for us.

  32. Nancy Hammond*

    Regular check-ins could help with this. (My small team is doing daily quickies now that we are all remote, and the larger team meets weekly.) “OK, the llama project is due Wednesday, any issues? OK, good, next…” might sound friendlier to your team while reassuring you.

    Otherwise, yes: I appreciate being reminded and tell people that, because I would rather be reminded of something I remember than not be reminded of something I forgot. But if you need time to review be explicit, “I need this by Monday for review. It’s due to the client on Wednesday.”

  33. Acronyms Are Life (AAL)*

    Venting moment, how many people have the manager that wants the status, but then a few projects later blasts you for giving them the status because you’re supposed to be managing it? Or even better, when they ask you for the status of Part B of project, Part B is being done by another employee so you ask that employee to provide your manager with an email when they are done, (cut out the middle man, I don’t need Bob to email me to email Sam that he finished his part, Bob can email Sam), and you get a “I assigned this to you to manage, so I don’t have to” message. If you want me to control all aspects, LET ME. If you want status reports, don’t blast me when I send them. At this point, I don’t care which way we do it, I just want to be consistent so I know how to manage my time and everyone’s expectations.

    Thanks for listening to my rant :)

  34. Des*

    If the deadline is Thursday 9am, then they really don’t need to be sending you anything before Thursday 9am.
    If there is some reason you need information about the status of the project on Tuesday at 3pm, then put it as a deadline: “Guys, the final completion date for this task is Thursday 9am, and we will have a status check-in on Tuesday so please send me your project status by 3pm that day.” The end. If your team is good at meeting deadlines, they will meet these deadlines. If you want the entire project that’s due Thursday to be done on Tuesday then change the deadline to that. Give yourself a buffer. If you know you’re prone to panic when it’s 48h before the deadline, then the next time set the deadline to 48h before the project is actually due (and bear the consequences).

  35. Coffee Bean*

    There is a better way to handle this. When you give a deadline, ask your reports to let you know of any issues or delays asap if they feel there is anything that will affect the delivreable. Let them know that helps you to manage expectations upstream.

    If you have someone who misses deadlines and advises of issues that prevented them from meeting a deadline after the deadline has passed (I.e., no proactive notification to you prior to the deadline) deal with that individual one on one.

    If you are dealing with long term projects, ask for a project plan advising of status to be provided on a weekly basis.

  36. Amesip*

    My supervisor does this to me all the time. They’re always making small comments here and there about how I wait until the last minute to get things done or that they have to remind themselves that I always get my work done on time. Honestly, if the due date isn’t the actual due date, I’d rather just have the fake due date up front. It would make both our lives easier, and I wouldn’t have to see them look mildly surprised every time I complete something.

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