my manager has a million questions about EVERYTHING

A reader writes:

Please help me identify some strategies to appropriately communicate with my new supervisor (“Jane”), who excessively questions *everything*. For context, I am a mid-level manager in the U.S. government, and she is my new supervisor who has never managed before.

The excessive questioning covers almost all aspects of our work, but a good example is how we’re managing the new schedules we are developing. Thanks to the pandemic, we’re moving to more flexible telework options; historically this has not been a huge part of our work lives. Every single time this comes up, when discussing how I’m managing my team, she will question every part of the decision. E.g. I’ll say “Mary is going to work 32 hours a week in the office, and telework the other eight hours, to help cover childcare gaps/transportation issues/etc.” Jane will then proceed to ask: “Why can’t her husband cover the childcare? Has she looked into getting a nanny? What about a neighborhood pod? Can the kids hang out with some friends for a while? Why can’t she just come in over the weekend to make up hours?”, etc. etc. Jane has older teenagers, and a husband with a flexible schedule, so all of these things may have worked for her in the past; I think she believes that since she could make it work, that Mary should too.

Given that Mary has been recently recognized for her outstanding work, has an advanced degree, and is a veteran of the US Air Force, (and is, you know, an adult), I am pretty sure she’s looked into all options and has come up with the best choice for her family. Again, telework is approved so we’re not trying to get away with anything; I think Jane is trying to help us troubleshoot or something — but as you can imagine, it’s very aggravating.

In my personal life, I have gotten better at not “JADE”-ing (Justify, Argue, Defend, Explain), but this doesn’t seem appropriate in the workplace. I’ve tried to say things like “I trust Mary and I’m sure she’s looked into all options. This will work for our office” or “Those are good ideas, but I don’t think Mary is looking for solutions; I think this will work fine,” etc. In more stressful moments I’ve even said things like, “I’ve discussed this a lot with Mary; I am concerned that you don’t trust my judgement when I tell you this will work fine.” Jane has responded with, “No, it’s not that I don’t trust you, I am just trying to help/understand/find a solution” (and I will say, “I’m not looking for a solution; this is the schedule…”).

I find myself wanting to avoid all conversation with Jane, just to avoid these irritating interactions that happen daily — with 50 people under me, I will get asked 50 sets of questions about each person’s schedule. Please help!

And here’s additional information I received later from this letter-writer:

Since initially writing to you with this question, I have become aware of a facet of Jane’s approach that makes this questioning even more irritating (again, not only on telework, but on pretty much everything). She’ll waste time discussing stuff like this, while not investing time in big picture topics. For example, when she joined our organization this summer, she asked for documents/presentations about our offices to help bring her up to speed. I provided those right away, and as of last week, she hasn’t even looked at them (by her own admission!). She has limited knowledge of our overall mission, but wants to discuss why Mary’s husband can’t leave work early to take care of the kids. I don’t get it, and I want to just tell her: you are focusing on the wrong things, and wasting my time while doing it!

Those two things are almost definitely connected: First, she wouldn’t have time for this if she were occupied with real work. Second, she’s probably looking for a way to feel useful and like she’s contributing and since she’s not doing that on the big stuff, she’s leaning in too much on the small stuff where she’s not needed.

If this were just about nitpicking the details of everyone’s schedules, it would be easier to address. You could say something like, “I’ve noticed that when my team’s schedules come up, you have a lot of questions about what options they’ve considered and how else they could approach it. Most of the time though, they’ve already considered lots of options and what we’ve settled on works fine. I’m not sure if I’m somehow giving you the sense that I’m looking for help troubleshooting, but most of the time I’m not looking for solutions; we’ve set up the schedules in a way that’s working well and there’s no problem to solve. I think our signals got crossed on that somewhere, so I wanted to clear it up.” Or you could ask directly, “From my point of view, the schedules have been settled and are working well, so I’m surprised when you want to dig into them. Do you have a concern about what I’ve arranged?”

But it’s not just the schedules; it’s lots of things. Still, though, you can use a version of that language and just broaden it. For example: “I’m finding it tough to convey to you when I’m just relaying information versus when I’m looking for solutions. We’ve spent a lot of time digging into things that have already been settled and are working well. I think I’ve somehow given you the impression that I’m looking for support in problem-solving, when there’s no need for a solution because things are going smoothly — and we end up spending a lot of time discussing things that are already taken care of.” You could add, “I certainly want to hear about it if you think something isn’t working smoothly — but my sense is that it might be more that I’m somehow not making it clear enough when no solution is needed.”

Another option, if you’d rather not go straight to that big picture conversation, is to address it more directly in the moment when it happens. It sounds like you’re doing that some of the time, but it might be easier to say it earlier on in these conversations — meaning that as soon as she starts in with the questioning, you’d say something like, “I didn’t mean to give you the impression this is a problem or something we need to solve! It’s working fine, this is just an FYI.” Or even, “Can we take a step back here? You sound like you see this as a problem, when I’d considered it settled and working fine. Can you tell me what’s concerning you?” (You could even sound a little alarmed, which might help train her out of doing it because that’s probably not the response she’s going for.)

But it sounds like this is happening with so much of your work that you’re probably going to need to address the pattern itself.

Agggh, first-time managers. (Don’t get upset, first-time managers! We’re all awful for the first couple of years, me included.) Obviously all managers have to be first-time managers at some point, but it would be better if they could manage gerbils or robots within a virtual reality for several years first.

{ 223 comments… read them below }

  1. Dust Bunny*

    “We have a solution: The solution is to have Mary telework eight hours a week. Now, what do you think of that big-picture information?”

    If my mother weren’t retired I’d think you were working for her: She revels in micromanagement but struggles with big-picture planning. In her case, I think it’s anxiety and she feels like smaller stuff is more manageable (but she doesn’t think she has anxiety and thus won’t address it in an appropriate and productive manner).

    You said Jane has not managed before so I wonder if she feels like she’s in over her head and is fixated on piddly stuff because she doesn’t know how to handle the bigger, structural things?

    1. Person from the Resume*

      I suspect to nerves or anxiety as well because that is what happens to me. Focus on the things you can solve or the things that seem easily solvable and not diving into the big picture strategic stuff where you don’t know where to start. OTOH reviewing documents/presentations is actually an easy place to start and doesn’t require a decision during that first step so IDK.

      But I definitely start a lot of conversations with Jane with “FYI” at this point. Can you start asking Jane about the big picture stuff that you need guidance and direction about? Less talks with Jane about things she doesn’t need a say in and more conversations about the things she does.

      1. Diahann Carroll*

        OTOH reviewing documents/presentations is actually an easy place to start and doesn’t require a decision during that first step so IDK.

        This is literally the first thing I do in every new role because it doesn’t take much effort. If she reviewed the materials, she’d probably also feel less intimidated by the big picture stuff because she’d know what the heck was going on in the department and, thus, wouldn’t have to ask so many annoying questions about non-strategic stuff to feel useful or in the loop.

        1. Peter Piper Picked a Peck of Pickled Peppers*

          Hmmm… only if she understands the document contents. If she’s truly out of her depth, she’s probably finding it less stressful to try and rearrange people’s schedules than to understand her new job.

      2. Threeve*

        Yeah, I would have a running list in my head of the things she does need to pay attention to, so that you can plainly redirect her. So it’s not “I’m not worried about schedules,” it’s “I’m not worried about schedules, BUT we’re overdue on updating the department objectives to reflect the new fiscal year, could you read X this week and give me your thoughts?”

    2. Momma Bear*

      I had an old boss who had a lot to say about people’s personal lives, to the point where they critiqued my commute. My opinion was what did it matter what roads I took if I got to the office on time? It made them hard to work with and eventually I pulled way back on office chit chat because I didn’t want to be under their microscope. I’m glad that OP is pushing back on things like discussion of Mary’s schedule. OP has approved this schedule and one day a week is really not that much for Mary to ask. The longterm goal is for the agency to retain Mary in this role, yes? So give her 8 hrs a week to balance her work/family life during the pandemic. OP’s boss is way off here.

      I also do find the follow up interesting. So the new boss has a lot of Opinions about an established employee’s schedule, but hasn’t taken steps to educate herself about the org and the overall goals, so she really doesn’t have the big picture re: Mary’s role. Is this fixation on other people cover for her own shortcomings? I agree to redirect her every time she goes off on a tangent about staffing. “Speaking of Mary – she’s been working hard on x, y, z. Those projects are detailed in the PPT presentations I gave you in September. We have a PDR next week. Do you have any questions before that meeting?”

      1. Karou*

        If Jane is so focused on micromanaging while ignoring big picture stuff I wonder how long it will take for her boss to realize she’s not really doing anything — though of course she could talk up how much work she’s doing fixing people’s schedules so it seems important. Normally I would bet Jane’s job would eventually be at risk, but government could be a different story.

        1. lemon*

          My experience with folks like this is that they are great at convincing their own bosses that all the micro stuff they’re working on is actually Really Big and Important Work, so they get away with this for years. (It’s partly due to the fact my experience has been with tech people who report to non-tech people, so they don’t have deep subject-matter expertise to determine the actual importance of the work.)

      2. mgguy*

        I had a micro-managing boss(or rather advisor in graduate school, who effectively controls your life) who actually had the Wikipedia print-out about micromanaging taped to a filing cabinet next to his desk, and told me “I keep this here because it’s a good reminder of the things I should be doing to keep an eye on you all.” I was completely baffled that he thought it was a good thing!

        On the road, thing, though, more than once he took issue with which sidewalk I chose to get into our building. He would tell me “You get into the building and up here 30 seconds earlier if you take the other sidewalk”-it would have been comical had he not been completely serious since he thought I was “stealing time” from him if I chose to take a more enjoyable route-to me-into the building. He’d make the same comments about routes that I’d choose to get to other places in the building-it would set his blood boiling if I didn’t take a “direct” route never mind that I’d save time by taking an indirect route that let me make multiple stops in one trip around the building.

        Thank goodness I was able to get out and switch to another advisor after 6 months. It was 6 months of wasted work and time in grad school, but I wouldn’t have made it. In my entire time there, he never had a graduate student last more than a year working for him. He’d have been gone had it not been for tenure…

    3. Hey Karma, Over Here*

      I bet Jane was promoted because she was an outstanding employee. Could do every task you assigned to her. She would offer detailed options, effective solutions and excellent schedules…for the one part she was assigned.

      Jane’s skill set is a lot like corn bread. When you double the recipe, you get a big, dense lump.

  2. KWu*

    Is it common that someone would be a first-time manager in a role managing managers? That seems odd to me, for exactly this kind of situation. If not gerbils, she could at least be affecting fewer people while she gains experiences and develops management skills, as opposed to 50+ people.

    1. Guacamole Bob*

      Yeah, that seemed odd to me, too. I’m a first-time manager – I have one direct report. My own manager grew from managing just me 3ish years ago to managing 5, adding one or two people at a time.

      Starting with a whole department sounds terrible.

      1. Bostonian*

        Yeah, that’s ideally how it would start- with a first-time manager having 1 report and going from there. Going right to managing managers seems really bonkers.

    2. Diahann Carroll*

      I haven’t seen it in any company I‘ve been in. I mean, technically, my last manager was a first time manager of managers (me and a teammate); however, we don’t manage people, just projects/technology, so I guess that‘s why they made him our manager – he technically only had two reports to worry about. And he was a great manager, by the way. He didn’t do this endless questioning nonsense – if I told him what I was doing, unless I explicitly asked for his help, he’d just say, “Okay.”

      Jane sounds exhausting.

    3. SomebodyElse*

      It’s weird for sure and I’ve never seen this happen in the wild before.

      Granted a new to managing managers is going to have a learning curve just as a new to managing individual contributors. But that learning curve should be much quicker and easier for everyone involved.

      This sounds doomed from the get-go if you ask me.

    4. Blisskrieg*

      Logged in to ask just that. Every manager has to be first time at some point–but heading a department this size as a first time management gig seems problematic.

    5. soon to be former fed, really*

      Federal government. Very long-time fed here, and problem manager may be a political appointee or other high-ranking person not subject to normal civil service rules. It’s crazy n the Federal service, which is full of micromanagers who know little to nothing about the actual work. It’s all about the butt-kissing. Yes, I am jaded.

      1. doreen*

        The same sort of thing happens in state and local government. There are often just a few points where someone can enter from outside of the organization – for example, someone might be able to enter a police department either as a police officer or in a relatively high level management position with the in-between ranks like sergeant and lieutenant being filled by those who started as police officers in that agency. Which mean that in the agencies I’ve worked for ( which are not police departments) , a fairly large number of the people who manage managers have neither managed before nor know anything about the actual work of the agency.

      2. Anonnie Moss*

        I was going to say exactly this. I’ve been hearing that this is happening a lot right now in fedgov — trying to pressure folks to work in person for political reasons.

      3. Former fed*

        I was coming on to say the exact same thing – it’s actually pretty common in government. I once had a boss who was hired for political reasons even though she had no experience with any of our work or issues. During one of my performance reviews she actually said I could do her job better than she could. At the time I was annoyed by this, but in retrospect I’d rather have her than a micromanager like OP’s new boss. It was nice that she at least had awareness that the staff knew what we were doing and she mostly left us alone to do it.

      1. Brightwanderer*

        I do wonder if part of what’s going on here is that Jane is just… not prepared for the idea that the LW is themselves a manager and making managerial decisions? The pushback on the schedule stuff almost reads to me like Jane is a bit put-out and annoyed that LW has made these decisions without coming to her, or something.

    6. Paulina*

      It’s not unusual in academia, where the qualifications needed to be a unit administrator don’t always include direct management experience. If the unit has enough staff to have a hierarchy, then the unit head could manage managers without previously having had a direct report. It’s the same general idea as the political-appointee possibility: there are other qualifications in play. And it can work, if the new higher-level manager keeps their eyes on their own level of decisions and lets the managers who report to them do their jobs. Jane is not.

      1. Rachel in NYC*

        That’s a good point. There’s a department where I work where tenured professors takes turns being the department chair. (I’m also pretty sure that everything in that department is probably run by the admin staff which is true in most depts.)

    7. cubone*

      A lot of workplaces don’t value managerial skills, or particularly, don’t place a high value on them in comparison to other skills (eg. expertise in your area of work). So, if a Teapot Manager candidate came in with excellent experience managing but hasn’t been painting teapots as long as the hiring manager hoped, they might not be considered for the role. But if someone comes in as a “shining star” with incredible track record of teapot painting for decades, but has very little experiencing managing, some (not very functional, usually) workplaces will be fearful that they’re going to lose out on the perceived value of this person’s expertise….. without evaluating the impacts and losses that usually result from poor management (coupled with the belief that people can just suddenly blossom into a skilled manager if they’re great at the ‘actual work’ that of COURSE they’d be able to manage others in doing it). It’s a very, very unfortunate and common cognitive bias.

      1. pamela voorhees*

        The writers of the Office have explicitly said Michael Scott was meant to be an example of this — an excellent salesman with strong regional knowledge that the company does not want to lose, and therefore promotes to manager with poor results. If the concept’s well known enough to get on a TV show, it’s likely a possibility for what’s happened here. Alternatively, Jane could have been her the leader of a department that solely consisted of her and so she had “manager” on her resume without actually having the skills. It is super weird, and not a great way to go about things, but I can totally see it happening.

        1. pamela voorhees*

          From my understanding, the answer is “technically no, but closely related” – like the difference between vanilla ice cream and French vanilla ice cream. The Peter principle is that people are promoted based on their success in previous jobs until they reach their “level of incompetence”, where they no longer have the skills to succeed. To use continue with the Office example, that would be: “Michael is a great salesman, so he’ll make a great manager of salespeople!” It’s is based on a genuine belief that Michael will be good at his new job because he was good at the job that was a rung below.

          In this case, it might be that they know the employee doesn’t necessarily have the skills, but there’s something outside going on that they promote them anyway. Something like “Michael is a great salesman, but he’s at the top of the salary band and might leave. We know Michael has no management skills, but surely he can learn on the job, and anyway, he has a large list of clients we don’t want to lose to a competitor.” The second one is a more cynical we already all know Michael might not succeed, but we can’t stand to lose him, so we promote him anyway. I hope that makes sense, or someone else can clarify and weigh in.

            1. Hey Karma, Over Here*

              Oops. The excellent was for Pamela Vorheees explanation.
              Thank you, Bat Man Dan, for the additional info.

    8. Fed Too*

      This actually happened to me. In some federal agencies it’s easier to rise higher with technical experience so you get into high positions of power without supervising experience. Then the only promotion potential is running divisions with a couple hundred people. I got very very lucky that I had a group of very competent, experienced managers already in place when I become division director. It could have been a disaster, but I like the big picture over micro details and had people that could respectfully say I was going in the wrong direction in the very early days without ruffling feathers and helped me get my feet wet.

      1. Person from the Resume*

        Yes. This is not ideal, and quite possibly highlights a problem in the interview process which should have focused more on her ability to manage people, but it’s not shocking to me especially for an outside hire. Jane probably has some skill, experience, certificate they want in her position that has nothing to do with personnel management and she moved from a technical position which is how she hasn’t managed people before.

      2. pigeon fan*

        Seconded. I read this and thought that it sounds more like a national laboratory, which would also make it a big issue that Jane hasn’t read any of the documentation on the group’s research!

    9. I Wrote This in the Bathroom*

      This jumped out at me too. How is Jane’s first managing job ever so high-level that *just one* of her reports has 50 people under them? (I assume OP is not the only direct report and there are more.) That’d be VP level where I work. And it does not appear that Jane got into this position for her phenomenal management skills. What in office politics hell happened here?!

    10. NW Mossy*

      I was hired into my first management role by a first-time manager-of-managers. It ended up working out well, but it’s very specific to her unique skills and aptitude. She was promoted into that role from her previous job as an employment attorney, so she’d gotten a lot of exposure to management done badly.

    11. Lora*

      I’ve seen it only in specific non-US cultures where a PhD is perceived to grant management skills and the supervisors in the department were all Masters level education regardless of their work experience. The only time I’ve seen it in the US was when someone came from a very specific previous job like McKinsey or BCG and was working on a particular project for the company that hired them in at Director level to meet their salary requirements.

      It’s a terrible practice. My first hapless direct reports were an intern and a contractor. Kyle, if you’re reading, I’m sorry.

    12. Quickbeam*

      I’ve seen this happen a lot on government. One agency I worked with got a new section chief (manager of line managers) every few years and it was almost always a political appointment or a “friend of the Governor” hire. They would know zero about the agency and usually had never managed before…straight out of law school or an MBA program. It was always awful.

    13. 2 Cents*

      I think we’re missing a key component: this is in the U.S. government. I’m sure the Peter principle is at play.

    14. Sacred Ground*

      I am shocked, shocked I tell you, at the idea that this administration would put people with no experience or qualifications for management in leadership roles.

  3. Detective Amy Santiago*

    I don’t know if this would be helpful, but could you use email for FYI type things (like schedules) and phone/in person conversations for things that actually require a discussion/response?

    1. Teekanne aus Schokolade*

      This. Are other managers also running all their little clerical adjustments by Jane? I think OP should be a bit more autonomous in her role.
      My dad is an engineer who RUINS our family’s social life by nitpicking details of plans to death. We finally just sent him calendar alerts and it actually chilled him out. It was clear his only responsibility was to show up, not “improve” the situation in any way. Apparently, his colleagues figured this out a long time ago and ONLY notify him when it’s “fixing time”.

      1. Researcher*

        To the extent possible, I agree that OP should reign in the communication with Jane regarding these schedule/clerical things. Assume that Jane has other priorities, does NOT need to be bothered with these details, and that she will ask if she needs to know. Because, really, that’s how it should be.

        1. TheLayeredOne*

          Agreed. OP should show up for these meetings with an agenda (if she doesn’t already) and stay focused on high-level projects / questions / planning. There’s no reason the manager needs to be informed of OP’s reports’ schedules.

      2. Lpuk*

        Oh god my father ( also an engineer) does exactly this. But he needs to be in control so he nitpicks every detail and trys to remake plans on the fly. We gave up planning without him on a special theatre trip which involved booking train to London, theatre bookings and pre- theatre dinner. He challenged every decision we’d made from parking to seat selection until he’d completely ruined the evening for the rest of us . Now , years later he remembers the evening fondly and wonders why we never do that thing any more. We remember why.

        1. MCMonkeyBean*

          Hmm, this is a interesting thing I’m going to pocket for later. My father does things like this but I’ve never put it in context before. Anytime I tell him something I’m excited about he offers other suggestions and I’m like, um this wasn’t a brainstorming session this is already happening and I was really happy about it but now you made me feel kind of bad? Like right now I am putting together some pegboards to hang in my home office that I will display my cross stitch projects on and I’m excited about the idea and how it will let me move things around as I make more. I already bought the pegboards and I sent him a picture of my mockup display where I lay some items on the board making sure they would fit as I envisioned. I thought he would think it was clever, but he responded with “why don’t you use a metal sheet and put magnets on everything.” I was very sad.

          But maybe if I reframe this as “that’s just how his engineer brain works” it will help me. So thanks for this insight!

    2. ElleKay*

      Yup. This was my suggestion too. Is there a different communication style that works better for her?
      It seems like in-person meetings = planning meetings/troubleshooting; can a memo or email work for informational stuff you’re just giving her a heads up on?

      An example: when I worked in (state) government my Elected got invited to EVERYTHING. Every invite was forwarded to her -which she required- and was ignored 95% of the time. Weekly a pile of paper invites and list of emailed ones was handed to her (usually on Friday on her way out the door); this would get returned on Monday-ish with Yes or No written in. Then we’d go through the yes’s to see what was possible (and the No’s to see if anything important was overlooked), dig up the details on location/time/whether they wanted her to speak/etc and THEN we’d have the meeting about which events she’d actually go to.
      This seems like a lot more work but it actually streamlined everything!- if we met over each invite she wanted all the info, and all the details but had no idea how things interacted with each other (IE: you can’t be at 2 simultaneous events that are 2 hours away from each other… but a staff member can cover one) and it took FOREVER. Plus it was exhausting.

      Unfortunately, it usually falls to the junior member to figure out these more effective “work-around” systems of communication when a manager is … less than helpful.

  4. Mockingjay*

    The first thing I would do is refocus the schedule discussion from personnel telework hours to the actual project schedule. “We are on track to deliver the agency report due at the end of the month; Mary has confirmed the data, and Bob has proofed the document. A Teams meeting is scheduled for next week for a round robin review of the report; a meeting invite was sent to you yesterday.” Unless Jane specifically asks about individual hours, I wouldn’t bring it up. If she does, “Jane, the team is doing an excellent job of managing their telework schedules. We have a great process for recording availability, and in fact our productivity is up. I’m really proud of how our team has pulled together in this crisis and makes excellent use of the agency tools for communication and file sharing.” (Use kudos and enthusiasm to head off criticism.)

    I’d also start referring to the materials and information you’ve already given her, to reinforce that you know what you’re doing and that the focus should be on the work. “Hi, Jane. Regarding the agency press release, it has been vetted per Official Agency Policy 123 and is good to go, pending your final review. I’ve attached another copy of the policy for your convenience.”

    1. Oh Snap!*

      This is what I was thinking! Tell her you would like to try a new meeting format: big picture/project stuff first, and then FYI updates. Then in the last 5 minutes when you do updates she can go ahead and nit pick all the wants for 5 minutes.

    2. Ann Perkins*

      This! I read this thinking OP could leave out some of the more personal or minute details and that might keep Jane from trying to dig in. For example, if you’re discussing arrangements, “Mary’s been approved to telework 8 hours per week and Joe is teleworking 15 hours per week. Everything’s going smoothly with that since we transitioned to that schedule.”

      1. Dr of Laboratoria*

        I will third this!

        If you don’t go into the minutiae of everything, you won’t give her a toe hold on all of these tiny questions. All your manager needs to know is that the schedule is covering what it needs to, not who is scheduled what hours.

        At your next meeting, just keep to the big picture, project stuff. See what happens. And be sure to update us.

  5. Cobol*

    Do you know somebody who worked with Jane in the past? This may be the way it is, and you should shift your focus to limiting these opportunities (e.g. sending all the schedules together along with other bookkeeping items).
    You’ve described my manager, who’s been managing for 20 years, and doesn’t suffer from anxiety (I don’t think). She just views any output as an accomplishment, so getting 20 inconsequential easy things done is 20x better than getting 1 very important, but hard thing accomplished.

      1. pleaset cheap rolls*

        Frankly, with the way she’s asking questions, I have to wonder about her personal management if she worked in any kind of collaborative or complex environment.

      2. Cobol*

        Others already addressed why she may be doing it from a first-time manager perspective, so I thought it worth considering another angle as well.

        I personally would speculate that Jane has always had trouble with seeing the forest through the trees, which would be evident to a co-worker regardless of whether she had supervised somebody or not.

  6. Kat*

    I bailed on management after 18 pretty disastrous months. I think i’d only consider going back if I could manage gerbils!

    1. soon to be former fed, really*

      I hear you, I had zero desire to manage people, my ego didn’t need the title or power tripping. I was able to achieve a high pay grade without it. Performance reviews, all the rest of it…nope.

      1. Kat*

        I’m still working on the high pay grade part, but the personal satisfaction and contentment I experience by NOT managing people is worth more than money.

    2. KayDeeAye*

      Yeah, I did it (oversaw just a couple of people, fortunately) for several years, and…no. Just no. I guess I didn’t actually suck at it, but it for sure wasn’t something that I excelled at. I worked pretty hard at it and in the end, I’d say I was maybe…adequate? Not good.

      And man, did I dislike it. I didn’t realize how much until I wasn’t doing it any more. And then I was like, “Wow – this is *great*! The only person I have to motivate/chastise/evaluate/keep track of/etc. is meeeeeee!” And while I am not a perfect employee, I am far less trouble than some of the people I supervised. These days I oversee projects, not people, and a project has never once whacked itself in the head in a ridiculous office-equipment accident and had to get stitches right in the middle of a deadline…never acted out ALLLLL the big emotions (rage, sadness, start-of-a-new-life exhilaration, etc.) regarding its divorce right smack-dab in the middle of the office…never come into the office hungover and with a black eye from a mosh pit…never took a “sick” day before virtually every 3-day weekend…

      And so on… It’s fab.

      1. Kat*

        Oof – that would be traumatic! The people I managed were reasonable, intelligent, skilled, thoughtful and compassionate – model employees, really – and it was still a big NOPE from me. I’m not perfect and I make mistakes and screw up sometimes and have to accept the consequences and fix things. Letting my supervisor down is awful, but letting down my employees? I am not tough enough to handle that! The guilt was destroying me.

      2. Anon for this*

        Wow, you have achieved The Dream. I’d love the responsibility of project managing without all the B.S. that is managing people. I’m worried I’ll have to leave my otherwise solid company in order to make that change. So far I haven’t really seen anything that would be worth jumping ship for, unfortunately.

      3. KayDeeAye*

        Most of the people I managed were fine, Kat, but there were these exceptions…
        And Anon, yep, it’s pretty sweet. It does mean that I do most of the work on these particular projects, but there are definitely compensations!

  7. Esme Estrella*

    Is there anything the middle manager can do to push boss’s focus to the big picture? It would be a win to get her to stop nitpicking these resolved scenarios, but that doesn’t mean she’d start doing the higher level work that needs to happen. They can’t dictate what her boss does, but any suggestions that could get those conversations started in their meetings at least? Or can she they something blunt about that’s what they need from a supervisor?

  8. Policy Wonk*

    Some managers have issues with telework in general; that might be part of the case here though, as it extends to other issues, that’s not the only issue. Part of the solution is straightforward. When you aren’t looking for advice or solutions, don’t give Jane explanations. Just tell her Mary is teleworking 8 hours per week. If she asks why, say she and I worked out this schedule, and pivot to something else. Ditto other issues. There may be times when it is appropriate to provide additional information, but wait until she asks. Otherwise you are just giving her things to question.

    I had a boss who was NOT a micromanager, but if I went to discuss something with him, and started with background, he would jump in to problem-solve right away. So I learned to start with the bottom line up front and only provide amplifying info as requested.

  9. Paulina*

    Jane is trying to problem-solve Mary’s personal life to suit what Jane wants at work, which is completely inappropriate. The telework options are there, the OP has already worked the schedule out, and unless the work is unduly suffering there’s no need to quibble. If the work is suffering (beyond the current usual there’s-a-pandemic effects) then that’s what she needs to address, and let people problem-solve their own personal lives. My guess is that Jane is focused on the minutiae because that’s the part she thinks she understands, extrapolating from her own personal life, since she’s unused to management and definitely unused to being the manager of a manager. She’s a few levels up and needs to work at a higher level of abstraction, trusting the OP to take care of the details.

    (I also notice that Jane’s “solutions” all seem to be of the “Mary wouldn’t need to telework if someone else could take care of things during all work hours” variety, which is an annoying and self-centered perspective to take; chances are Mary is already activating significant help to get the telework hours down, and may have to take her turn at childminding when possible. That’s not something to address with Jane, however, but it is another reason for her meddling to not get pushed on Mary. Management needs to keep their noses out of employees’ personal arrangements and just focus on whether the work is being done well.)

    1. serenity*

      The problem is Jane is wasting her time on personnel issues that don’t require intervention because she’s not ready (or not prepared, from OP’s own words) to oversee the work of her numerous reports and their departments.

      1. Sola Lingua Bona Lingua Mortua Est*

        Mary quits.
        Jane is demoted to Mary’s old job.
        Mary is rehired to Jane’s old job.

        Jane gets to control the telework for Mary’s position, OP gets a supervisor who isn’t micromanaging. Wins all around, right?

    2. Troutwaxer*

      This is like the old business about training a Lieutenant in the Army. A couple older officers, trailed by a older couple noncoms, take the new lieutenant out to a field and tell him “this is where the tent needs to be set up.” A green lieutenant will try to set the tent up himself. A more experienced officer will spot one of the noncoms and say, “Sergeant, put up the tent!”

  10. Guacamole Bob*

    I get that the schedules are just an example here, but this particular one is infuriating to me as a parent of elementary school age kids. Yes, both parents are sharing the load. Yes, we’ve scoped out cost and availability of nannies. Yes, we’ve thought about neighborhood pods. Yes, we’ve considered the child care program operating out of our local school. We’ve thought about whether there are ways we could have extended family help out from a distance..

    Parents of school-age kids are barely holding it all together and if we say that a particular thing works best for our family and it’s workable for the employer, then please just believe us!

    1. Diahann Carroll*

      + 1

      When I got to the part where Jane’s, “Well, why can’t she just hire a nanny?” Mmm, what part of global pandemic is unclear here? Maybe Mary and her spouse decided they didn’t want to risk bringing an outside person into their home and around their children right now, or maybe they can’t afford it. Mind your business, Jane!

      1. Miss Demeanor*

        +1. Waiting for someone to report in that they were asked, “well, have you considered ending the global pandemic?” Yes, sure, will get on that.

        This morning I had to decide between helping my kiddo with remote schooling or addressing an unexpected issue at work. I chose the former. I wish I didn’t have to make that choice, but I did and and the world didn’t end. I don’t know what I would’ve done if someone proposed I bring in a stranger and potentially expose my high-risk kid and high-risk partner because people had to wait a little to log into the database. My sympathies to those who have to deal with unsympathetic workplaces.

      2. Guacamole Bob*

        This confirms my sense that anyone who finds themselves using a question with “just” in it should reconsider. “Why can’t she just…” hire a nanny, form a pod, send her kids to daycare, come in on the weekend. It’s not “just” anything! Those things are each a really big deal!

      3. Sabetha Belacoros*

        I’ve considered (only considered!) lying and telling my office my husband and I were on a break so they’d stop asking verbally or by implication why he can’t be the one to run the kids to the bus stop or pick them up from practices or aftercare. But that would open all kinds of other personal intrusions.

        1. KaciHall*

          I’m so lucky that my work understands that my husband manages a bowling alley and I’m in processing, so if one of us has to stay home, it’s probably me – the work will get done if I’m there or not, it’ll just be slower. (Now, if they would just let me work from home like I did for the first six weeks of the pandemic, it’d be fine. But no, we have to be at THEIR terrible computers, not ours.)

    2. LifeBeforeCorona*

      I feel for you. It’s not like you’ve spent the past six months using magical thinking and hoping that this will all blow over tomorrow. This morning as I was trying to leave my driveway a car was parked at the end of the road blocking me. Suddenly another car pulled up and stopped. The very next minute the school bus pulled up and both cars let out kids to catch the bus. Oh my, the coordination needed to do that every day just to get the kids to school. There is a severe shortage of bus drivers here and I can imagine the parents’ relief that they only have to drive a few blocks to the bus stop.

    3. NW Mossy*

      Indeed. It’s exhausting enough trying to balance all the spinning plates without having to bat back unsolicited advice from Captain Obvious: Parenting Edition.

      My father-in-law pulled the “have you heard about pods?” about two weeks before school started. I love the man dearly, truly I do, but sigh. He’s been to my house and knows it’s not under a rock, so I’m not sure why he presented the idea as if I’d somehow managed not to be aware that they’re a thing.

      1. Guacamole Bob*

        And it all sounds so simple to people who aren’t in the middle of it! We thought about a pod situation back in August, but my kids are in a language immersion program so it would mean teaming with families from that program only, the person we hired would need to speak the language, and then you have all the usual things about having to find people who align on schedule and masks and transportation and pay rates and have kids that your kids can get along with etc. etc. Plus we eventually realized that as nice as it might be to have the kids at someone else’s house a couple of days a week, that would mean having a total zoo in our own house the other days (where we would need our wifi to handle 6+ zoom calls at once for all those kids to be in school while we work).

        It’s nice when it works out, but it’s not a magic solution to child care issues.

        1. NW Mossy*

          It is most definitely not magic, and probably best suited for families that already had a pretty entwined life pre-pandemic.

          Being in a pod is basically like being logistically, medically, ethically, and educationally married to other families. You want to think long and hard about whether or not to get pod-married, because getting pod-divorced would be horrendous.

        2. serenity*

          I think we’re all assuming Jane is just a bad first-time manager but I’m thinking about a comment someone else made that this is a US gov-affiliated department and maybe she’s getting political pressure from above to make sure people are onsite as much as possible. That might explain why she’s nitpicking *this* specific issue over and over more than anything.

          In other words, her priority is not to help “solve” Mary’s non-existent problem but to keep harping on all her reports to have their staff in office at all times and to nitpick WFH arrangements.

    4. Megumin*

      I get annoyed when my coworkers ask things like, “The other day cares around you are open, why don’t you just send your kids there?” My day care has been closed since March, and is not opening until next year. I’m not comfortable sending my kids to another day care. I chose our day care for specific reasons and I don’t want to go through the whole selection process again and send my kids to people I don’t know, and then yank them out again when our day care reopens. It’s not that simple, folks!

      1. Guacamole Bob*

        Plenty of people have had to send their kids into child care arrangements they weren’t happy with during the pandemic, so that they can still go to work (and, of course, the same has always been true for lower income parents in particular pre-pandemic). But, managers, do you really want to be putting parents in that position if you don’t 100% absolutely have to? Especially when a high performer like Mary needs such a small amount of flexibility.

      2. Let them eat Cake*

        Day cares in my area are still only taking kids of “essential workers” so for all practical purposes in my area unless you or your spouse are in healthcare or a few other roles you’re stuck with younger than school age kids 24/7. Most of the schools are also back in person fully but that doesn’t help anyone whose work day ends after the school day because there just are no places to send the kids.
        I work in an outpatient clinic and one lady here has gotten permission to WFH every afternoon so she can be home when her daughter gets home from school. The rest of us are relying on spouses and family (and a few on older teenagers).
        The idea that there is a one size fits all solution is so maddening to me. It’s not your family, it’s not your call, and that’s completely before you get into just because a daycare is open doesn’t mean they have space for another kid.

        1. Guacamole Bob*

          Ah, so here it’s different – all the schools are remote but most people I know with kids who are younger than kindergarten have figured out some sort of day care or nanny situation. That’s why my comment above was focused on school-aged kids. Those with younger kids at home full time definitely have a whole other level of challenge right now!

    5. Frustrated OP*

      I share your fury– I am the only manager under her who has school-aged children (the other managers have older, more independent kids). I have to stop myself from snarky responses like “golly, I never thought I could flex my schedule and come in while the kids are asleep!”. Clearly, my personal frustration with her goes beyond just incompetent management.

      1. Terrysg*

        Well, you can be with your kids, then come in to work, and obviously sleep when your dead! Which won’t be long at that rate…

      2. allathian*

        Sounds like you’re at the BEC stage with her. Whatever she does will annoy you, even if it wouldn’t annoy you if anyone else did it. Good luck!

  11. CindyLouWho*

    Isn’t it also inappropriate for Jane to ask why the employee’s husband isn’t available? To me, that’s none of her business.

    1. The Rural Juror*

      Right! I thought the same thing. Half of Jane’s suggestions seem questions or suggestions seem inappropriate. Asking what the other family members (such as Mary’s husband) are doing, suggesting someone come in on the weekends even though teleworking is already approved… She seems extremely out of touch.

      1. Frustrated OP*

        This is a very kind understatement. I can’t share too much because it could possibly ‘out’ her, but in a public forum she did actually say something about managing home and work commitments that was so egregious that even the more laid-back people were shocked and thought they misunderstood her (think along the lines of “well, just rebalance your family budget and one of the parents can quit work!”)

          1. EchoGirl*

            Well, presumably they can then hire someone else into that role whose spouse is handling the kids, or someone who doesn’t have them. Problem solved! /s

        1. Dagny*

          She sounds deliberately clueless.

          The problem with people like this is that they suck you into arguing with them. From her perspective, this is a legitimate debate, because you argue back. “You have GOT to me kidding me. You can’t be that clueless” might be your best bet. Then you just keep repeating it, or repeating her own words back at her.

          Jane: “Has Mary talked to her husband about him rearranging his schedule?”
          You: Burst out laughing, then, “You didn’t seriously ask that.”

          1. Hey Karma, Over Here*

            You can easily play this off as light hearted, too.
            “Ha! Right? Can you picture a conversation like that with your husband, Jane? ‘Guess what, honey, this luxury of eating three meals a day is messing with my work schedule. You stay home with the kids and I’ll work full time. “

    2. irene adler*

      I’m really irritated at Jane. I just cannot fathom how anyone can ask about employee’s home situations like that.

      I’d be inclined to tell Jane something outlandish like Mary’s husband is dead. Let Jane digest that one for a minute.

      1. Sabetha Belacoros*

        Sorry – accidentally double posted
        I’ve considered (only considered!) lying and telling my office my husband and I were on a break so they’d stop asking verbally or by implication why he can’t be the one to run the kids to the bus stop or pick them up from practices or aftercare. But that would open all kinds of other personal intrusions.

  12. Reed*

    Ha – I did the exact opposite as a new manager. I was so concerned about being seen as micromanaging and interfering that after a few weeks my poor team basically had to queue up to ask me what on EARTH I wanted them to do re: prioritising and schedules.

  13. crejitad*

    Is it possible to be less forthcoming about things you don’t need input on? Not in a “trying to hide things”, in a “this is so mundane it doesn’t warrant your time” kinda way? Honestly, my boss’ boss could care less about my work schedule, so I can’t imagine it ever comes up.

    1. Diahann Carroll*

      Yeah, I would err on the side of only mentioning things to Jane that I actually want her to get involved in.

    2. The New Wanderer*

      That’s what I was thinking too. I know the schedules thing is just one of many examples but if there’s a general trend of those examples being stuff that Jane doesn’t actually need to know for her own job, have a draft FYI email of the info ready to go if she ever asks and otherwise try to redirect her to the big picture work.

    3. Malarkey01*

      I was going to suggest this too. Maybe find ways to provide less info. Jane says let’s talk schedules, you say “we’ve got everything sorted out and I’m really happy”. If Jane digs deeper you can say “oh we have a mix of telework and in person work that was established based on individual schedules”. Then if she digs more you can say “do you really want to go through each and every schedule? That’s going to eat up a lot of time that I was hoping we could spend discussing xx”.

      Always say it in a cheerful confident tone like of course I’ll answer your question but make the answers more fluid and harder to latch onto. Your not doing anything wrong, just keeping the details at the appropriate level for his context, by continuing to dig she may see that she’s really in the weeds.

    4. Researcher*

      I agree with this. I also think that naming individual employees tends to invite more scrutiny than if you were to refer to them based on role, etc. Perhaps OP can communicate to Jane that at least X *analysts* will be on site for Y days per week to ensure coverage of Z responsibilities. We’ve also determined that we need X *assistants* to be in the office for Y days per week. Telework has been approved for the remaining hours. Here’s the call tree.”

      That should convey to Jane that there is a systematic approach and a well thought out plan and what’s going on with Mary’s family is not a problem that needs to be solved.

  14. Snarkus Aurelius*

    I worked on Capitol Hill when the whole Syria/chemical weapons thing was happening.

    My boss had multiple meetings over whether or not we could wear headphones in the open office and whether or not the staff contact sheet in the front office, which is open to the public. (If you wanted to read that spreadsheet, you’d have to walk over to the far wall and lean over someone’s desk to do it.)

    But she really didn’t want to talk about Syria for some reason. I’ve tried to block out that period of my work life because she drove everyone up the wall but wouldn’t focus.

    1. SaffyTaffy*

      Snarkus, it is sort of interesting, isn’t it, that people with such extreme maladaptive behaviors can still be really successful?

      1. Snarkus Aurelius*

        Yes! She was a great legislator on her issues that she knew very well. She was an excellent public speaker too.

        But give her something that didn’t have either one of those elements? “We need to have a meeting to discuss where on my desk the mail needs to go.”

        1. Rainy*

          I would go spare in days.

          I had a coworker once who was like that, and the only thing that prevented me from running mad with a staple remover was that she had absolutely no authority over me, so I could just tune her out.

  15. SaffyTaffy*

    A former colleague who does a version of this! I’m going to type an example below, but I want to say that I tried having a big-picture discussion the other day (addressing the pattern) and I got feedback that the person knows they’re like this and doesn’t feel they’re capable of changing. Which… Okay?

    So what my former colleague does is a little different, and here’s an example. I call it “garden pathing.”
    Saffy: We hired new staff instead of renovating our space, which was our Pre-COVID plan. Hopefully we can renovate using next year’s budget.
    Colleague: You need to see where you can save money! Do you use Coupon Browser Extension?
    Saffy: We’re locked into using certain vendors, so those extensions don’t work for us. Which is fine! Waiting a year is no trouble.
    Colleague: You need to tell the Director to shop around and use Coupon Browser Extension!
    Saffy: Um… the entire (giant) company just uses one vendor, so we’re not going to switch.
    Colleague: You need to write to Vendor and tell them to give you a better price!
    Saffy: …
    (Several Days Later) Colleague: Did you write to Vendor yet?

    1. Snarkus Aurelius*

      You can buy AP photos for a fixed price. My charity only wanted a one time use because it was cheap. An unlimited use price was astronomical.

      I bought it, and we used it on our main webpage.

      The head of fundraising must have asked me 50 million times if he could use it, and I must have told him 50 million times I didn’t want a cease and desist letter from the AP and also we want to continue buying from them.

      Then he got all of his direct reports to ask me the same question.

      1. SaffyTaffy*

        Snarkus, as if you’d tell them something different.
        Untreated anxiety is a poison. I wish we had better systems in place for someone in authority saying, “this isn’t good for you. You need to work on it.”

      2. Workerbee*

        There seems to be a deliberate shut off valve in some people where if you don’t give them the answer they want, they will either not compute it and, regardless, keep asking. And then get affronted if you refuse to keep responding. How nice that some of those types get the $$ while doing it.

        1. NotQuiteAnonForThis*

          So feeling this today.

          The answer does NOT change no matter how many times I’m asked, who is asking, and the manner in which I’m asked. Its almost like I’m telling the (gasp) truth or something!

        2. Snarkus Aurelius*

          Yes! And I made the unfortunate mistake of trying to help with the obvious answer: buying another one time use photo from that same series because it’s only $100-200?

          That dude was*stuck* mentally on his original request. He had money in his budget for it – more than my budget. It was him wanting his way.

        3. BubbleTea*

          I have to admit, this has happened to me at least once. I had two wedding events – the actual ceremony, and then a party a month later. One of my closest friends wasn’t able to attend either, which she told me, and my brain wouldn’t accept it. I kept mentioning things that would happen or people she would meet and she had to keep reminding me that she couldn’t come. I wasn’t angry at her or anything, I just couldn’t take the information in for some reason. I did, however, apologise for forgetting each time.

    2. SG*

      This ‘need’ to create problems and then dictate the ‘solution’ due to the person’s own unregonised, untreated anxiety is 99% of the reason I don’t talk much about my life with my mother. I can’t fathom dealing with it at work!

      1. Joielle*

        Same with my mom. It drives me nuts. She says she’s “just a worrier!” Look, there’s no such thing as “being a worrier,” that’s called generalized anxiety disorder, and you need to see a doctor. I moved 500 miles away and we don’t talk much. If it was your boss…… woof. My sympathies.

        1. pamela voorhees*

          This is also my dad. Or the alternative of “there’s a real problem, but I can only come up with one thing, so there is only one right solution and it is my solution, and if you do not do my solution, you are deliberately making the problem worse” (even if said solution has nothing to do with the problem).

          1. Rainy*

            And my FIL, who could not say something to the point if he tried. Luckily for him, he never tries.

  16. SomebodyElse*

    So tactics I would try (and have used many of these in the past).

    1. Limit information – Unless asked by Jane where Mary is on Friday, I’d just keep a lot of the details to myself unless asked directly.

    2. When questioned on things you’ve already sorted out. State that up front. “Oh the scheduling. Sure I worked that out with the team 2 weeks ago. I’ve been monitoring for productivity drops and no impact to be reported”

    3. As others have said, redirection is your friend. Start asking about what you need from Jane, even if it’s not that important to you. Give her a job that isn’t 2nd guessing you and your decisions. (I once had a boss that would avoid decisions like he owed them money. So any time he started to go down the rabbit hole of things I had already covered I would pull a decision I ‘needed’ him to make out of a hat and ask him for one. That usually ended the conversation almost immediately)

    4. Before this working relationship gets too out of sync. have the discussion with her up front. In a 1:1, ask the questions if she is finding a problem with your judgement or your decisions. Do this non-confrontationally. If you get the likely answer of “Oh you do a great job… blah blah blah” then you can mention the pattern of her relentless questioning.

    All of these should be used based on your judgement of course and hopefully you can wait out the new manager smell :)

    1. Zombeyonce*

      #1 is key. Why is Jane even getting such detailed information about LW’s direct reports anyway? It is mostly irrelevant to her job and unnecessary to know unless there’s an issue that needs to be solved. If that’s the case, LW can bring that particular issue up. Even if one does come up, I don’t trust Jane to be able to assist since she’s a first time manager so has no actual experience in that realm.

      LW needs to cut off the flow of detailed information immediately and try to refocus Jane on those big priorities she’s missing.
      Jane: “How’s everyone’s teleworking scheduled?”
      LW: “Pretty well! Everyone’s scheduled in a way that works well for their home life, so morale is the best we can expect right now, and I’ve got it worked out so people are able to meet as much as they need to so work is getting done in a timely manner. I was hoping we could talk about Big Priority. What do you need from me to meet that deadline next week?”

  17. learnedthehardway*

    Do you have a good relationship with your grand-boss? Do you feel you would have credibility to talk to that person? It would be risky, but I think it is time for a conversation, if Mary has been in the role more than a few months. She SHOULD be focused on the big picture, but she’s focused on such a micro level that it’s hard to see how on earth she would have any time to do that, even if she were inclined to do so (which she doesn’t seem to be).

    1. Frustrated OP*

      So, yes– I actually have a very good relationship with Jane’s grandboss (who used to be my boss). I have told him about the situation and he sympathizes but really can’t do anything. People don’t get fired for being a crappy manager around here, unfortunately.

      1. sacados*

        Perhaps not fired, but couldn’t he try and help shut some of this down from above as well? Obviously I don’t know specifics about the hierarchy, but you would assume Jane’s boss has standing to say “Hey Jane, I’ve noticed you seem to spend a lot of time digging into smaller, less-important details but I really need you to focus more on the big picture aspects.”

  18. honeygrim*

    I have a “new manager” manager, and a lot of this letter reminded me of them, except for the big picture focus. They’re so big-picture focused that they are almost completely removed from the day-to-day operations. They’re completely focused away from what the majority of the people they manage are doing, unless there’s something they can criticize or second-guess. Then they switch to micro-managing. I get anxious every time I have to tell them about anything going on, because I don’t know what they’re going to find fault with. Even when they don’t find fault, they still find a way to sound judgmental about my decisions.

  19. That Girl from Quinn's House*

    Would it be possible to not volunteer information you don’t want Jane’s opinion on? Ex: “Our department’s schedule is as follows: Mary in person 32 hours, telework 8 hours; Fergus in person 25 hours, telework 15 hours, Sansa in person 37 hours, telework 3 hours. Here’s the calendar listing which days of the weeks and times they will be in which location.” And then just not tell Jane why each person has settled on that particular breakdown of hours, so she cannot comment on it.

    1. SomebodyElse*

      Actually I would go so far as to say “Ok, schedule sorted, I’ll let you know if anything comes up or if we find we have to readjust”

      I essentially had a similar conversation with my boss regarding my team (I manage managers). I just told him here’s what the conversation looked like:

      Me: “Ok, we figured out a schedule to have minimal coverage in office to use that one piece of equipment that can’t be sent home. I’ll let you know if I need anything from you or if something changes that you should be aware of”
      Him: “Great… let me know if you need anything”
      Me: “K- thx”

      1. Zombeyonce*

        Exactly. Jane doesn’t need all that information! She only needs to know that the schedule is sorted and it’s working for everyone. She doesn’t need all the details of who is doing what and when. Frankly, it’s a waste of her time and she has other things she can (and should!) be doing, and the schedule details are a distraction. It sounds to me like she’s focusing on that because she doesn’t really know how to do her actual job. How did she get this promotion?

    2. Dust Bunny*

      But she can hound you with questions about why people have those schedules. I doubt this would make her less curious.

  20. AndersonDarling*

    I’ve seen this behavior in new managers and in experienced managers that suddenly were in over their heads. They can’t tackle the big stuff, so they focus on the little things that they can handle. Sometimes is unconscious and they just know to be busy so they create work for themselves, and other times they are actively trying to create work so they can say they were too busy to tackle the Big Project.
    It’s annoying when a leader comes by every few hours to ask if you finished the TPS Report when you’re wondering why they aren’t working on the deployment of their systemwide pet project that has a deadline in 3 weeks and they haven’t written a line of code. I don’t have any advice on what to do. When I’ve seen it, this behaviour goes on for a few months until the manager leaves or is terminated.

    1. I Wrote This in the Bathroom*

      Sadly, where I’ve seen it, this goes on for a while, and the best people leave the company long before the manager leaves or is terminated.

    2. Sabetha Belacoros*

      I’ve been through multiple administration changes at my level of government and it’s become a running joke that every new Person in Charge starts with an urgent need to review and update policies. It inevitably ends when they get into the meat of the work and lose interest in the mundane.

  21. designbot*

    I just wanted to thank you to introducing me to JADEing! It’s something I’ve struggled with, and I suspect knowing it has a name/acronym will help me find more resources on it. Heck, even just knowing it’s so common to get its own term gives me some comfort.

    1. I Wrote This in the Bathroom*

      I had to catch myself doing this too. Thankfully, it’s come up more in personal life than at work. Work’s been pretty reasonable.

      I remember chatting with my mom a few years ago and casually telling her that I had hired a plow guy to do my driveway for the winter, rather than doing it myself like I’d done all those years before. Mom was unexpectedly horrified. “No, you cannot do this! A plow will destroy your driveway” (don’t even ask how) I made a mistake of saying “It’ll be fine” and 15 minutes later, I suddenly found myself in a full-blown argument with my mom about why it is ok for me to hire a plow. And mom was winning, because she has infinitely more experience at micromanagement than I do! I stopped myself mid-sentence and said “wait a minute. Why are we having this conversation? I wasn’t asking your permission to do this. I was telling you that I had done it. It’s done. It is not up for discussion.” (Which, of course, is easier to do when it’s a family member, and not someone you, and your 50 reports, are subordinate to. OP has all my admiration.)

      1. BubbleTea*

        I like the extremely versatile phrase “reasons are for reasonable people”. It’s not something you actually say to the unreasonable people, but it is a good personal mantra when dealing with them.

    2. Frustrated OP*

      Another useful part of this mindset is ” ‘no’ is a complete sentence”. Wow, my life got easier when I learned that.

  22. Bostonian*

    I have to say, I’m starting to really resent the constant drum-beating of “first-time managers are awful”. I mean… yes, anyone doing something for the first time is going to make some mistakes. But to paint everyone with a generalized stroke of complete awfulness is really not true. I’ve had PLENTY of awful managers that were NOT first-timers.

    1. Ask a Manager* Post author

      Lots of awful managers have years, even decades, of experience! Saying first-time managers tend to struggle doesn’t preclude more experienced managers being bad too.

      But people who are managing for the first time generally aren’t skilled at it. It’s something that takes practice and exposure to a wide range of situations before you really master it. That doesn’t mean that every first time manager is a complete disaster, but they are learning as they go and there are usually a lot of missteps. Maybe not for every person they manage, but certainly overall. I’ve seen plenty of first-time managers who come in with all the right stuff — good attitude, open to learning, good raw instincts — and they still have a rocky first year or two because it’s just hard and there are a lot of new skills to learn/instincts to hone.

      Most people who eventually learn to manage well learn it through their mistakes.

      1. Observer*

        I think you are mostly right, but I also think that it’s not really relevant here. I don’t think you need to be an experienced manager to know better than to expect your mid-level managers to nit pick their employees’ marriages, etc.

    2. Diahann Carroll*

      Conversely, I’ve had great first time managers that seemed to be naturals. It can go either way.

      1. allathian*

        Same here. My two experiences with first-time managers are very different. My current manager is great and we get along very well and have a friendly professional relationship. She’s also committed to being an even better manager and it shows. The only tiny gripe I have with her is that she’s so busy that she’s not very available, but it’s just something I need to learn to live with. It helps that I’m an experienced IC in my current role and rarely need to consult with my manager, although sometimes when I do, it’s really urgent. So far, it hasn’t come to that, though. I’m betting on a bright future for her as a manager.

        Contrast that with my former manager, who really was too much of a “feelings” person to deal with management well. She also picked me as a confidant, which wasn’t a problem as long as things went smoothly, but became one when she had to actually manage. If I ever get a “feelings” person as a manager in the future, I’ll at least know that I can’t let them pick me as their confidant, because after that, it’s much harder for me to respect them as a manager.

    3. SomebodyElse*

      Unfortunately the only real way to learn how to manage is by doing it. Sure there are classes and seminars that one can take, but it’s rarely enough to make a difference.

      The first time I managed a team I definitely faked it for the first few years as I gained experience and tools. And this is after having years of informal leadership under my belt. I am usually pretty sensitive about the manager ‘bashing’ that goes on here sometimes, but this isn’t bashing, it’s just a fact of life. I’ve been managing for almost 20 years now and there are still things that come up that I’ve never dealt with before! At least now I have those years of experience in other situations to help guide me vs. when I was a brand new manager.

      One thing that it has taught me is to start early with those I see on the promotion track to start explaining things more in detail and some of the hows and whys* of what I do.

      *When appropriate

  23. Darcy*

    I worked for local government a million years ago.
    The City Council would regularly question the office supply expenditures. I was once asked about finding cheaper pens. I am NOT kidding.
    However, I could get a $20 million bond issuance vote through the council meeting without question or comment. Scary.
    The council understood pencils. They did not understand the nuances of bond issuance. Rather than look foolish asking questions about complicated things, they focused n the minutiae that they understood.
    Your boss is doing the same thing.
    You have my sympathy.

    1. Daniel*

      Oh yes, the bicycle-shed effect. I can’t tell you how often I run into this. There’s an entire Wikipedia page about it.

    2. Richard Hershberger*

      There was a MAD Magazine cartoon about this, some fifty years ago. The boss is on a rampage about the bill for long distance phone calls. Someone asks him why a man who handles millions of dollars cares so much about something like this. He confesses that he doesn’t understand millions of dollars, but he does understand phone bills. It is unrealistic in a “everyone saying the quiet stuff out loud” way, but it us entirely realistic in that this is commonplace.

  24. voyager1*

    I am going to have disagree with everything AAM said. This is a job with the US Government, there are resources available in every agency. If there is anything happening that is causing these kinds of issues go above Mary’s head. The questions about the WFH could be send to your agency’s IG level, definitely loop in someone above Mary at least.

    That being said, this whole situation stinks.

    1. voyager1*

      ETA: After rereading that came off a bit harsh. AAM is giving good advice if this were a private sector job. And maybe into the why Mary is doing all this. But the why is really irrelevant.

    2. Frustrated OP*

      No, these aren’t IG-level types of things. The guidance on what is permissible is completely clear– it’s our implementation of the newly permissible that is being questioned. No one over Jane’s head would care about how she chooses to interact with us on this.

    3. ceiswyn*

      Nobody needs to go above Mary’s head for anything. Mary is doing nothing wrong.

      The OP doesn’t need to send any questions about WFH anywhere, they need to get Jane to stop asking them.

      What is it you think is the problem here, and what are you trying to address?

    4. Mockingjay*

      You don’t immediately need to go up the chain of command to resolve things. The OP can try some of the advice offered here and see how Mary responds first. A tentative new manager does not warrant intervention by the Inspector General.

  25. Green great dragon*

    Sounds to me as if she thinks that’s what a manager does – oversees (every little tiny action and decision of) her staff and “helps them do it better”. Lots of good suggestions above for how to minimise that, but also can you ask about the big picture? Ask to spend an hour getting her views about whether you should prioritise streamlining the lily-gilding process over sourcing a better dye for the glass hammer, what improvements she would like to see from your team in the new year, or what she thinks you should be expanding? Bonus points if it causes her to go and read up on the info you already sent about the processes.

  26. Twisted Lion*

    Fed employee here. The fed government (especially my branch) hates telework and has been crabby about it since March. Jane might be trickling down what she has heard from whoever is above her or she just might against it personally. Im only able to keep teleworking right now because Im high risk and our health condition status is still not great. Otherwise, they would never let me teleworking in my current position even though its completely possible to do so.

    I sympathize for your LW. She sounds like my last supervisor who loved to micromanage and harp on stupid items while missing big picture things and miss meetings. She drove me out of that organization.

    1. Frustrated OP*

      Yes! “Crabby” about telework sums it up perfectly. She is definitely trickling that attitude toward the new schedules. Unfortunately this doesn’t explain everything else…

      1. Chance of thunderstorm*

        No it does not! It sounds like Jane needs some help focusing on the tasks that are actually part of her purview. Can you enlist the help of your fellow managers to collectively redirect Jane to big picture tasks? And enlist the help of Grand Boss? I know you said you spoke to him, but if he is also asking for updates from Jane it may lessen the amount of time she has for micromanaging

  27. LifeBeforeCorona*

    Jane has never managed before so her points of reference are what has worked for her in the past. Maybe her style is to try to figure out a solution because it was expected in her former job. Teens can have a higher level of independence than younger kids and it was up to her manager to veto any unworkable ideas. But now she has to manage and not offer solutions to problems that don’t exist. The best course might be to assert that there are no problems with scheduling etc and at the same time ask her questions about the big picture referencing the documents she was sent and hasn’t read yet. You might have to keep repeating yourself until she is more confident in her management skills.

  28. I Wrote This in the Bathroom*

    I just want to tell OP thank you for shielding your reports from Jane’s quirky (to put it mildly) management style. I’ve had managers who did this. It is seen and appreciated.

      1. anonThisTime*

        If your employees know what you’re dealing with, I’m sure they appreciate your work on their behalf!

  29. Cabbagepants*

    My manager is just like this. He micromanages because he isn’t good at contributing to real work. I have started giving him work to do. I am sure to choose work that feels managerial, like setting priority of an activity. It gives him something to do and gives us something useful to talk about.

  30. zooming in person*

    The explanation about how all first time managers are bad because of the learning curve is really comforting. I’m not managing anyone right now, but it’s nice to remember that when I was, it’s not that I’m inherently bad at managing and should never do it again, that it is a truth all first time managers live with

  31. Quinalla*

    Sorry OP, that is very frustrating, I agree with all the advice given, hopefully something works!

    I occasionally work with a project manager at my company who basically creates problems and then swoops in and saves the day. He doesn’t do it intentionally, but it is a pattern that is SUPER frustrating. And no, it isn’t uncovering a problem no one noticed, I’m down with that, it is things like stepping into a client conversation without all the information, saying a bunch of stuff and then causing confusion, etc. and then he will go in and patch it up making us run around doing unnecessary stuff all the while with the implication that others on the team had “messed up” the relationship and he was “fixing it”. UGH!

  32. RZ*

    I’ve had the worst managers. When I was a first time manager, yes I made mistakes. But I would look at the tone and reaction of my staff and adjust myself accordingly. My advice: I would not entertain her questioning. Something like “thanks for the input, we have schedule that works for Mary. Can we talk about the documents that I sent to you? Will need your help with xx.” Managers are people and you need to manage them like you manage your own staff. Focus her on the right things and be a broken record. Many people aren’t qualified to be managers.

  33. Dr. Doll*

    I haven’t read through the comments, so don’t know if this has been addressed – the OP has 50 people under her, and Jane is a NEW manager? Does Jane have other direct reports like this, so essentially she’s responsible for 50 to 300 people?

    Jane has not had any kind of management “tracking,” so what *is* she good at that she suddenly got this job?

    Also it is hugely annoying that she hasn’t tried to do the hard learning. It’s hard, yes, but that’s why they’re paying Jane whatever level salary.

  34. cmcinnyc*

    I have a script I use with the “can’t the wife/husband blah blah?” question, which is my personal pet peeve. I say “Bob’s wife doesn’t work for our company, so I don’t believe it’s appropriate to assign her work.” OR: “Does Bob’s wife work for us? I didn’t know that.” Either approach tends to bring the conversation to a screeching halt, which is my goal. The key is to sit there, waiting for an answer. The answer is usually, “Oh.”

  35. Lady Heather*

    The “excessively busies herself with unimportant easy things while ignoring big-picture stuff” is an anecdote that could come straight out of The Peter Principle (Dr Laurence J. Peter & Raymond Hull, 1969).

    The book is an interesting read – funny, too – and did help me accept inefficient managers/coworkers; rather than “they just don’t realize which things are important, if only I can explain to them what is, they’ll do what I need them to do (to be able to do my job correctly)” I went to “oh, they’re just a bad manager/employee, I’ll ask once or twice and then solve the problem without them”.

    The book is about 8 dollar on Amazon and it took me only about 2 hours to finish it, which was one of the better time/money investments I’ve made in life.

    1. allathian*

      Yes, and unlike many management books, it’s still relevant today, more than half a century after it was first published.

  36. Cake or Death?*

    I’ve run into this with a few coworkers in the office and it always seems to be the same thing: they focus on little details that don’t really matter because they’re overwhelmed with the large items. In fact, I have one coworker who I can always tell is getting over his head on a project, as he starts sending me detailed instructions on how to do things that I do every day, all day, for my entire 10 years in this office. Or he’ll start doing small administrative tasks that are well-below his pay grade, like making forms or spreadsheets. Or if he’s copied on an email sent to me, for a task for me to do, he’ll jump in and start dealing with it, which since of course it’s not his job, he doesn’t know what he’s doing, which means I usually have to send a couple emails correcting what he said and then an email to him telling him to let me handle it.
    I had another coworker that took on an aspect of my role because my main role was expanding and I didn’t have enough time for the full workload. I basically was a defacto manager to this person, as they were never able to complete large projects without incessant prompting and “babysitting” from me. He would spend a ridiculous amount of time over-explaining simple tasks and writing up huge memos detailing every little choice he made. Meanwhile, large projects weren’t ever getting done. I finally sat down with him and figured out it was because he was overwhelmed by these projects, thinking everything had to be done at once, so he would just put it to the side and ignore it. For example, one project was replacing and expanding our current security camera system. We needed to purchase cameras, hire someone to mount them and hire someone to wire them. He purchased the cameras and then let them sit int he box for a year, because he tough that he had to coordinate the camera-mounting and wiring to happen on the same day, and apparently it was just too overwhelming for him to make that happen. My solution? “Why do they have to be done in the same day? Have the cameras mounted and then setup the wiring after.” His response? “Oh yeah, I guess that would be easier.” I had a long talk with him about breaking up larger tasks into smaller ones so it wouldn’t be so overwhelming.

  37. Frustrated OP*

    OP here! I did a quick read of the comments so far and wanted to add: 1- I’m not ‘offering’ this information to her (I’m alllllll about information diets), she asks me directly about the schedules and other picayune details. Given that she asks all these questions, I’m finding it hard to redirect at every turn. E.g. “what is John’s schedule?” me: vague-ish answer, he’ll come in if needed, teleworking going great!. “Why is he teleworking M-W-F? Can’t he telework M, T, F? Why not?” etc. etc. I have tried to redirect to bigger items– eg. we have a new strategy coming out with a piece particularly relevant for our organization. I explicitly told her “as a leader of this group, I think people really want and need to know your perspective on this topic– maybe you could have a meeting and share your views on this?”. Her response was a murmured “oh, maybe…”. I actually repeated myself and may have even used the words “it’s YOUR ROLE to give high-level guidance on this kind of thing” and it didn’t seem to register.
    2- To anyone who is baffled by a first-time manager being in charge of other managers, uh, yeah. Federal Government. This is totally unsurprising. She is very smart technically (PhD in a STEM field), and apparently a good individual contributor. She’s also a Senior Executive. We’re a technical organization, and large enough that it needs to be led by a Senior. Therefore- she’s the obvious choice!/s
    3- Alison’s advice is generally wonderful and I’ve learned a lot from reading this column. The best part of the answer comes from the image of Jane managing a bunch of gerbils — this may have very well saved my sanity, at least for a while. “Why are you chewing on that cardboard tube, and not the other one? Why did you pick up that seed? Are there raisins? How long have you spent running on that wheel?”, etc. Thank you.

    1. animaniactoo*

      I just scrolled down to comment and found your reply!

      I think another thing you can do is dig in to why she’s trying find a solution. When you push back about it feeling like she doesn’t trust your judgement, she says she does but she’s trying to help find a solution. I would push back on that portion of it specifically: “Is there a reason you think this is a problem?” Push her to explain WHY she’s trying to find a solution rather than just accepting the information.

      I think that you’ll find the answer often is some variation of “No, I just think something could be better” in which case you can respond with something like. “Okay, then let’s leave it as is (for now), we can revisit if it becomes a problem. I will make sure to let you know if that happens.” and THEN you can redirect to the last thing you asked her about “Do you have any update on meeting to discuss your views on Topic?”

      If I’m right about this, what happens is that you set up a dynamic where she can’t come to you to ask about minor unnecessary details without failing to receive any “problem-solving satisfaction” and without being reminded that she’s not up on what she actually needs to be up to date on.

      Potentially, you might ask if she’d like help going through some of the materials, from the standpoint of “It’s a lot when you’re not familiar with our particular work/organization, I’d be happy to help get you up to speed.”

      1. animaniactoo*

        Also, if you haven’t already, loop in whoever is above her about the minor details stuff – the level and amount of of it – and possibly this planned response. Don’t talk about what she hasn’t done (yet) – but get your butt covered on the idea that you are being “unhelpful” when she asks you for information or tries to offer solutions.

        Frame it as “I know she’s a new manager, and my previous manager(s) never cared about this kind of stuff or seemed to think it was a problem. I just wanted to check in on whether this is something she needs to settle into or I need to take more seriously.”

      2. animaniactoo*

        Oops. One more thing – to be specific, she’s already said she trusts your judgement so as soon as you give her the info and she asks the question “why can’t he work XYZ instead”? that’s the moment to ask “Is there a reason that M-W-F is a problem?” short-circuit right to it – politely, you’re asking in case there’s a genuine reason, instead of giving her the reason why he can’t do M-T-F.

    2. RZ*

      Good to hear more background and that you have been trying to divert, refocus her. The one thing I find with under qualified management (and that’s not on her, that’s on companies not investing in management training) is if you show you are frustrated or critical, they dig their heels in the sand even further. You heard of the saying “attract bees with honey?” Just as you would with an employee that’s struggling, try to support the things that are important to her while positively guiding her and encouraging her to focus on the things she needs to. She probably feels lost right now and is grasping at straws. Show her you support her and try to influence her in a positive way to focus on other things. Is it fair for you to have to do this when you already have a huge team? Heck no. But as someone who has had many varieties of bad managers, I don’t think you have any choice. Once you build rapport with her you can be more honest. I used to joke to one of my bosses when he was too in the weeds – hey can you try to let the team do their thing? Once you build a relationship you can be more honest with her.

    3. LQ*

      If she was asking intensely detailed questions about the technical stuff it would make more sense given what you’ve said, sort of returning to a place she feels most comfortable. Is most of the super detailed stuff “management” stuff? I’m going to ask a silly question because I totally did this. Is she the kind of person who would have read a management book and then misapplied that information by trying to ask questions and give guidance on “management” stuff? (If so, how about recommending a strategy book to her?)

      “What I really need from you is…” “I’m struggling with getting everyone on board with the strategic direction, the technical direction, the whatever…could you help out by…”

      If she’s up for it, “I’ve really got the basic management stuff handled, but I really need your help in X.”

    4. Observer*

      It sounds to me like you need to find ways to shut these conversations down. But do let your Grandboss know what you are doing and why.

      So “what is Mary’s schedule?”
      Y – In office 32 hours and WFH 8 hours per wee.
      J – Why can’t she come in full time
      Y – That’s what works with her situation. What is the problem?
      J – No problem. I’m just trying to understand. (that’s the hardest one to deal with because it’s so slippery)
      Y – There’s nothing complicated here. This works best with her schedule and is completely within our guidelines. What about Issue X.
      J – But wait! I don’t understand. Why doesn’t she just
      Y – (This is where you cut her off) Mary has considered all of the appropriate options. Our guidelines do NOT include getting into the details of employee’s personal lives. Can we move on to Issue X?

      After that, it’s broken record time. If she gives you some excuse on Issue X, come back with issue Y. etc.

      Also, start documenting this because there is a good chance that she’s actually crossing some lines that are not just about good management and reasonable behavior, but about policy, required procedures and / or inadvertently discriminatory or otherwise problematic patterns of behavior. (eg if her issue with WFH winds up creating problems for women more than for men, that could be a problem even if she doesn’t intend to discriminate against women.)

      Also, and this is not something I would normally recommend, start putting some of this into email follow ups, and CC your grandboss (as well as bcc’ing a personal non-work account).

      1. LQ*

        Don’t start BCCing a personal non-work account on personelle or anything that could be private matters when you work in government. That’s a serious privacy risk and a really bad idea. I know it’s something that gets recommended here a lot, but that’s something that can open up your personal email account to data requests and the like.

        This is the federal government, it’s very unlikely to get the OP fired in a heartbeat which I assume is what this concern is about, but deciding you’re going to send government data to a personal email account can get you fired. Don’t do that.

        1. Observer*

          Create a separate email account that is used ONLY for this, if discovery is the concern. If there are other privacy concerns, then I suppose you can just print out the emails and keep those. Certainly, if there is a legal issue, you shouldn’t bcc yourself. But it’s hard for me to believe that “As discussed, Mary’s WFH schedule meets all the guidelines and requirements of our agency. She has appropriately considered all of her options. I’d like to avoid spending time discussing these details, so that we can focus on Issue X and Problem Y” would be considered private.

          Even in government someone can throw you under the bus if you can’t document what ACTUALLY happened.

    5. AnonAcademic*

      Here’s another managing up tip. May or may not work. Keep meetings short (30 minutes or less), punt these issues by saying “I don’t want to neglect our discussion of XYZ which is a more complex/big picture issue I really need your help with – so can we discuss Mary’s WFH arrangement another time/via email/never?” Keep notes/an agenda and mark time taken per issue. After a few times you’ll have a paper trail to be able to say she spends 25 minutes perserverating on low hanging fruit and only left five minutes to discuss strategic objectives. If anyone has the power to wrangle her, that’s the data they need. If nothing else you will have a beautiful tribute to her ineffectiveness that you can burn in effigy or whatever.

  38. The_artist_formerly_known_as_Anon-2*

    Many years ago – when I worked in computer operations, my management wanted to know what I did in my free time.

    I didn’t think my personal life was that interesting, but they did. This was before William Shatner came up with the now-common expression = “Get a Life”!

    If I ever write my Dinner Table Stories book, I have seven stories in it regarding Nosey Managers.

    1. The_artist_formerly_known_as_Anon-2*

      Well, let me correct that. Your life can be far more interesting that the personal life of the nosey manager. Or some co-workers’ lives, too.

    2. Massmatt*

      Were they asking just to be nosey or get to know you better/make idle chitchat, or were they asking so that they could assign you more work because “Artist formerly known as” doesn’t have anything “important” going on, so let’s have them rewrite the TPS reports over the weekend?

      I have been caught in that trap a couple times, both with professional and especially volunteer work. Umm, my time away from doing this is MINE, you don’t get to decide it’s unimportant in order to assign me more work.

      Whether you spend it disarming nuclear weapons, or seeing how many cookies you can eat in a day, your time away from the job is yours.

  39. DoloresUmbridge*

    This drives me crazy OP! I have a similar issue with someone who is not my direct manager but I report to on certain projects. I remember when I was promoted to management for the first time. I knew it was something outside of my current knowledge base. So I researched tips and came across AAM and other resources. I also talked to other managers. I don’t understand why more first time managers don’t do the same.

  40. AthenaC*

    I really hope all your advice works for OP, because I myself had a Jane and NONE of anything you are suggesting worked. It got so bad that my company had to split us up so we wouldn’t work together anymore. My Jane was great about asking big-picture type questions so that the people above her thought that she was on top of the big-picture stuff, but behind the scenes she would delegate the big-picture stuff to people who were more competent than her, which freed her up to focus on the piddly stuff.

    The worst part is, she would ask questions to cause problems, and then it didn’t matter what I did – I could either propose a solution or ask for her thoughts. Either way she would just respond with more questions. So we would run around and around and around and then we would arrive at the exact same place we were two weeks and 25 chargeable hours ago. About something that didn’t matter.

    Hope you are more successful with your Jane than I was with mine!

  41. O*

    I have a very good friend friend who does this “helping you find a solution” thing. Oh god, I love her, but it drives me bananas. You think you are imparting some banal piece of information, and then within the space of a minute you’re reiterating and justifying every step of your own decision-making process. It’s SO exhausting! My sympathies to you, OP, and I really hope you are able to get shake Jane out of this particular habit.

    1. Oska*

      I also have a friend that came to mind when I read this. And because the solutions are whatever popped into her mind at that moment, they’re not in any way processed through a “does this make practical sense” filter. That’s MY job. So not only do I have to defend my decision, but also argue why I won’t use hers. I can’t imagine having that conversation with someone who’s above me, in a job-context, where I can’t be blunt or downright rude. (But I’ve still picked up some ideas on how to shut it down a bit more quickly here, so thanks to the commentariat!)

      “How is this a better solution?” sometimes works, and that’s the most polite response I can think of for the OP.

  42. ANC*

    I don’t know. She sounds difficult but I also don’t always trust employees opinions as written. I manage someone who is a new manager himself. He is not good at this and I recently had to ask him why he authorized 8 days of vacation in q4 when they have 25% of their goal to close. He said she has over 200 hours of vacation to spend down but she doesn’t! She has 70 hours of vacation and 130 of sick days. Doh! He’s learning, but sometimes you do have to look under the hood of what your direct reports are saying. Again- doesn’t exactly sound like that situation here, but I don’t know if asking questions can really be micromanaging all the time.

    1. Observer*

      All good and fine. But what the OP is describing *IS* most definitely micromanaging. And Jane is admitting that there is no real problem here. (Except possibly around her personal preferences.) So trying to minimize it by talking about employees whose work needs to be scrutinized is massively unhelpful.

  43. Alton Brown's Evil Twin*

    This is an interesting case where we’re using one of those definitions for the word “question” that we ought to be careful about. You say “she has a million questions about everything” where I would say “she doubts everything I tell her, and therefore tries to re-do or nitpick every decision I make.” The fact that she’s framing these as questions is camouflage.

    Do you *need* to get her approval on Mary’s schedule? Or is that something that’s completely in your authority, and you’re presenting the info to Jade as an FYI?

    If the former, provide some context for the decision. “Mary and I have considered 12 different options for her schedule, met 3 times, and have decided that this will be the best for the organization in terms of personnel retention (a big deal for the Feds), coverage, and team interaction.” Also, get some formal, written criteria from her, so that you aren’t making these decisions on-the-fly for 50 people. Document the policy, write the procedure, follow it.

    If the later, stop feeding her the info. Post everyone’s schedule to a public corkboard, send out one email blast to everyone, whatever. But don’t specifically bring it to Jade’s attention.

  44. staceyizme*

    Maybe just continue to draw boundaries? “Why?” seems to be the operative bottleneck. Every time she steps out of her own lane on this way, lead her back through her own reasoning. “I’m wondering what we’re really getting bogged down in here… surely Mary is in the best position to know what options she has…”. Some version of kicking it back to her along with a nudge that the question is unproductive would be my go-to, in your shoes. That said, I don’t envy you the prospect of dealing with this!

  45. X. Trapnel*

    I love the idea of being a gerbil manager!
    However I am a cow manager and have to say that this kind of management frequently exposes me to some of the worst-case AAM scenarios in the course of my supervisory duties. My staff constantly have issues with body odour, antisocial pooping habits, and are almost guaranteed to exhibit a wide range of inappropriate behaviours during team meetings.

  46. Ellie May*

    “Second, she’s probably looking for a way to feel useful and like she’s contributing and since she’s not doing that on the big stuff”

    Adding to this … I’ve found that insecure people ask a lot of questions as a means to put others on the defensive. Fire repeated questions and the other person is stumbling to answer them all. It can be a power thing. Jane may be trying to assert authority.

    Mindfulness of the JADE concept is important – don’t get sucked down that path! Rather, attempt to shut it down: “Jane, this is the plan we’ve agreed on. Do you object?” (and let her explain why she objects)


    1. CommanderBanana*

      Absolutely. I had a horrible boss who did this because she was a bully and it was her way of dominating the conversation and tripping the other person up.

  47. JessicaTate*

    I worked for a Jane. To this day, I believe this behavior was a manifestation of her being out of her depth with her responsibilities, anxious, and 100% unable to admit it to anyone, including herself. So, she fixated on all sorts of little details (often things that she HAD BEEN good at prior to this job), and was evasive and difficult about addressing any big-picture things (which were her CURRENT responsibility). As added evidence, that she would get angry at her staff if we were publicly praised for doing something well — as if our being good at our jobs was somehow an indication that she wasn’t.

    The classic example, which became an office shorthand, came during planning some important stakeholder meeting. And instead of focusing on strategy and agenda, she spent hours coaching the events admin on the meeting’s food menu; including emphasizing, and re-checking repeatedly, how important it was that we ensure the caterer brought Hawaiian Rolls*. Meanwhile, we couldn’t get her to commit to a strategy on anything related to our actual programming work. “Hawaiian Rolls” became our office’s code word for this micromanaging of irrelevant details while ignoring the high-level decision-making that was actually her job.

    Unfortunately, OP, you have my sympathies but not great suggestions for how to fix the larger problem of ignoring big-picture stuff. The closest I came was in diplomatically making Jane’s boss aware of the bigger issue, and she tried to directly manage Jane on this front… but Jane was buddy-buddy with her grand-boss, so it got derailed from above. (And the program/department folded within a year due to lack of direction.) I saw in another reply from OP that your Jane’s boss is sympathetic, but not willing to address it. I’m not sure you can manage up on this if it is stemming from some insecurity. Good luck, OP.

    *To protect the innocent, I have changed the identity of the original, geographically-specific food item in this story.

    1. Funk*

      Uhg, sounds like the only hope is to report up all chains of command possible what is happening, repeatedly, and hope someone with power and sense receives the message XP Until management change or dissolution or new job happens

  48. CastIrony*

    My sister once had a first-time manager cover up the “Why can’t spouse take parent to the doctor far away” with, “Spouse works on a ranch, riiiiiiight?” when my sister asked for time off so she can take my mom to surgeries.

    Want to know why? Family dynamics dictates that’s my sister is the best for that.

    I wanted to strangle her, and now, I want to strangle Jane. It would make me think I can never take time off.

  49. Not One of the Bronte Sisters*

    I once had a boss who, in addition to all other things horrible, would attempt to grill me on incredibly minor things. I would cut it off at the pass by saying, “Let me ask you this. What am I doing, or not doing, that you would like me to change?” And I LOVE the concept of gerbil management! Although, believe me when I tell you, this guy couldn’t have managed a gerbil into eating a peanut.

  50. Workfromhome*

    I can see how this would be annoying. I dealt with a lot in my last job due to heavy upper management turnover. Every time someone new came in who knew nothing about what we did, how or why we did it would ask 1000 questions and make all kinds of suggestions so they could appear to be “improving things” Often times they would make a lot of suggestions before we even had chance to answer the question getting onvested in all their solutions and calling us negative when we explained that “the software simply doesn’t do that thing so we use this process”.

    What you might be able to do is reduce the opportunities or reasons for her to ask these questions and go into these cycles especially now that you know the hot buttons:
    Instead of ““Mary is going to work 32 hours a week in the office, and telework the other eight hours, to help cover childcare gaps/transportation issues/etc”

    Say “Mary is scheduled for 32 office and 8 telework hours (assuming that this even needs to be separated)
    Remove any references to why they are teleworking so that that she does not speculate as to solutions to the reasons why she’s teleworking.

    Maybe consider how much detail your reports to her even need to have. Would” The weekly schedule is complete and we have full coverage and backup ….moving on to the Ilama grooming project.
    If you do have any performance metrics especially those that show your team is performing well use them to head off some of these questions.

    We’ve had good success with this in my current job. One region that has a lot of problems came up with this convoluted new process to assign service people to clients. We knew that we were going to get 100 questions about why we aren’t doing the same and how we will change our process. So we dug up some information that showed that we were the best performing region in the country within our company with our current process. Basically “Did you know that use our xyz process we beat everyone by 2 days in cycle time aren’t we great”. The reponse was a predictable “gee guess there is no reason to fix what isn’t broken”.

  51. CoveredInBees*

    Perhaps looking at The Four Tendencies by Gretchen Rubin would help. One of the “tendencies” is a Questioner. While the boss sounds like an extreme version of this, Rubin offers ways to work with these people. My husband is a Questioner, but nowhere near what OP described and it was helpful.

Comments are closed.