my boss is unreachable when I need him

A reader writes:

I’m on a team that is still working remotely due to Covid. I mention the remote aspect because this problem didn’t come up in person. Often, probably 1-3 times in a typical week, I’ll find myself in the following situation: I finish a stage in a project and need my boss’s feedback before I can progress. I’ll send him a message asking to check in, and I’ll get the notification that he’s seen the message, but he doesn’t answer. We have a weekly scheduled one-on-one meeting that has been in place for over a year, but sometimes he’ll even miss that, with no notification and no response if I send a message about it.

It’s even worse when it happens near a deadline: we agree we’ll check in before the end of the day to get the project sent out that evening, I finish up and ask to check in, and either (a) get no response and so the project goes out late or I have to decide to send it out unchecked, or (b) get a response saying “now works” later in the evening after I’ve already left my desk for the day (but working from home means I almost always respond when this happens).

On one hand, it seems like it’s his responsibility to make sure I have work to do, and if he doesn’t want to make use of my time, then okay. On the other hand, I get kind of annoyed! It’s stressful sitting around wondering what I should be doing or deciding to send the project out late or unreviewed. I get antsy twiddling my thumbs and not having any work to log for that time.

I’m not sure if this is a problem with me or him or both. Does he need to communicate better and manage more, or do I need to be managed less? If the latter, how do I improve my independence? If the former, how do I go about asking him for more reliable communication? How can I fill up hours in a way that’s not soul-sucking busywork? Do I owe him after-hours responsiveness when he doesn’t respond to messages during the day?

For additional context, I’m pretty young and inexperienced, and really want to do good work and make a career in this industry. Overall, I love my job and working for and with my boss. He’s never mentioned anything, good or bad, about any of this – whether or not I choose to send out projects, how I communicate with him about scheduling, the amount of his time I take up, etc. I’ve been proceeding on the assumption that if he wants me to do something different, he needs to tell me. But I’ve also been binge-reading your work lately, so thought I’d ask.

You can and should talk to your boss about this. He might have no idea that it’s causing you stress, and a simple conversation could solve a lot of it.

But first, on the question of who’s behind the problem: I suspect you’re each contributing to it in different ways. On your boss’s side, he’s ignoring previously agreed-upon timelines, so work is going out late and he’s leaving you stuck stressing about whether there’s something more you should be doing to move projects along. He’s also missing meetings without warning and not responding when you follow up with him, and he’s assuming you’re willing to meet after hours without having ever asked if you mind. These are all him problems.

On your side, you’re being pretty passive. It doesn’t sound like you’ve called his attention to the pattern and inquired about other ways to handle it or asked what to do when a project is in danger of being late. You’re leaning a little too hard on “Well, if he wants to pay me to sit around doing nothing, that’s his call.” That’s not to blame you, though — since you’re early in your career, it’s understandable you’re deferring to how your boss wants to do things without raising its impact on you and on the work. In fact, from what I’ve seen, most people early in their careers would respond the way you have, with a combination of frustration and resignation.

But there’s a better way to handle it, and learning it now will set you up well for working with future bosses too.

The thing to know is most managers will assume the way they operate is working fine unless you speak up and explain that it’s not. Partly that’s because managers usually have a lot of other things they’re responsible for, and their attention may be stretched thin. But it’s also not totally unreasonable for your boss to expect that if something is going wrong with projects you’re responsible for, you’ll say so. That doesn’t absolve him of responsibility here, but it does mean there’s room to take action on your side.

So talk to your boss! Explain that because you have trouble reaching him during the workday, projects are going out late or you’re finalizing them without his sign-off, and ask how you should be handling that. Ask if you should try to reach him in a different way (for example, if you typically email, maybe it’s better to call or text) or if you should be more persistent. And ask whether you can move certain types of work forward without his sign-off if he’s unreachable or whether it’s better to miss deadlines in those cases. You might hear that there are different things you should be doing. Or just raising these questions might cue him to realize he needs to do things differently on his side.

You should also mention that once you reach a point where you need his input before you can move forward, you’re often left with nothing to do until he gets back to you, and ask if there are longer-term projects you can work on during those times. Maybe there aren’t, but if he doesn’t even realize this is happening, filling him in might spark a good discussion about ways to better use that time. For example, if he doles out projects to you one at a time, is it possible for him to give you more assignments at once so you always have something else you can turn to while you’re waiting on him?

As for the impromptu after-hours meetings, you can either address those explicitly in this same conversation or handle them separately. If you want to address them directly, you could say, “We often end up talking after hours, but that’s hard for me to accommodate. I don’t mind doing it in an emergency, but can we aim to talk during the workday instead?” Alternately, you can just not be available when those “How about right now?” messages arrive in the evening. I know you’re responding because you are available, but by doing that you’re training him to see those times as working hours for you. Instead, respond the next morning with “Just saw this, had already logged off when you sent it last night” and suggest a better time (or just call him). You might hesitate to do that because it means delaying your work further, but if you don’t, those after-hours calls will never stop. It’s worth accepting some short-term discomfort in order to reset the norms of when you’re available.

If none of this solves the problem, you may have to resign yourself to this just being how your boss works — but it’s very much possible that a straightforward, collaborative conversation will resolve some or all of these issues.

Originally published at New York Magazine.

{ 117 comments… read them below }

  1. Loulou*

    What do the messages you send your boss “asking to check in” say? If you’re not making it clear that you’re checking in *because you need his approval before you can submit something* that could explain why he doesn’t get back to you promptly.

    1. Distracted Librarian*

      This. Make sure your email subject lines are clear and the message is marked urgent if it’s time-sensitive. Also if you have a specific question, put that in the subject and body of the message, so your boss knows exactly what you need from him.

      1. Artemesia*

        Subject line needs to be urgent as in Need Approval to move forward on Ferguson

        And the the first line of the message itself needs to lay out the need for his input before you describe whatever the thing is. Always make professional communication run backwards — conclusion first and justification later. So 1. urgency and need for his feedback. 2. bottom line of the project needing approval e.g. what you have decided to do, what the budget request it (whatever the decision needing his approval is) 3. background and support for that decision point.

    2. stargazer*

      Thanks for this point! Looking back over the messages I’ve sent him, they’re mostly along the lines of “are you free to talk about X now?” instead of “can we discuss X? I can’t move on till we do.”

      1. FridayFriyay*

        This may be key! If he isn’t available right then to discuss it (which he reasonably may not be – it’s normal for him to have other priorities) he should know what it’s in reference to, what you need from him, and when he needs to respond by to meet deadlines. You may want to send these communications *before* the actual go-date of the project to maximize the chances that your boss won’t hold up the process if he can’t speak with you right away.

        1. Anonymous4*

          Yes. I send e-mails, and I make the title VERY clear on why I’m sending them — for instance, “Daisy Dairy complete, needs review for release” or “Issue re Daisy Dairy – need clarification on specs” or “Not receiving Daisy Dairy input data.” That way she can prioritize the various irons she has in the fire and contact me immediately, send me a response later, or poke someone else to stir up Daisy Dairy and get them to send the info they’d promised.

      2. LizB*

        Loulou’s question was also my very first thought, and “are you free to talk about X now?” is really not a message that’s going to catch a busy manager’s attention, or even one that communicates that there’s a time-sensitive item to be addressed. If you were using email, I’d suggest doing something like starting your subject lines with “Approval Needed:” or “Action Required:”. For a chat message, I’d go with something like “I’m done with Y step of X, please sign off so I can move on to Z step”. If there’s a way to mark messages as important/urgent in your system, you could even use that for things with particularly tight turnarounds.

        1. Chashka*

          Agree 100%. I have learned to put the important stuff in the subject line of an email. I would even put something like “Approval Needed Today” or “Action Required by Thursday, X Date.” Then get more specific in the body of the email.

          1. A Non E. Mouse*


            I put “Needs Review Today”; “Signature Needed”, etc. in the subject line of my emails to my boss so that he can see the important stuff at a glance.

            1. KayDeeAye*

              I am also a big user of “For your review” and the like in subject lines. If there is a deadline and I’m not sure my boss remembers this (hint: she usually doesn’t remember), I’ll put that in the subject line, too. I too used to think “She ought to know this,” and the fact is, she should. But there are a lot of things she has to keep track of, so why not make it easier for both of us.

              1. Mockingjay*

                I do the same in subject lines. “For your Review, For your Approval, For your Signature: title of document or project”

                The recipient can do a keyword search to find it (useful as most managers’ inboxes overflow).

          2. a tester, not a developer*

            Same. I use APPROVAL REQUIRED, ACTION REQUIRED, NO ACTION ITEMS, NO IMPACT on most of the communications to my boss. If it’s going to a larger group that won’t enjoy my all caps headers I just ‘@’ my boss in the body of the email so she knows to open it up before other messages.

          3. Lala*

            I feel time needs to be booked early ( if possible to pre-plan ) , if approval is needed “today”

      3. Falling Diphthong*

        This is like the rule “Put the deliverable in the first line of the email.” You need to get the topic line of the email down so that at a glance he can see that the project is stuck around him, vs you want to toss some questions at him about something due in 3 days.

      4. Lady Danbury*

        I like to say that people don’t have time, they make time. In order to properly prioritize your request, your boss needs the proper context to know how soon he needs to make time! I would advise putting even more context in the first sentence, similar to “I need you to approve X so that I can finalize/continue working on Y project or send Y project to the client to meet tonight’s deadline. Can we make time to talk soon?” That provides enough detail for him to know what the project is, where the issue is and why it’s a priority, especially if there’s a deadline attached.

        1. RebelwithMouseyHair*

          “people don’t have time, they make time”
          Yes, when someone tells you they don’t have time, they’re simply saying that it’s not a priority for them.

      5. Sleepless KJ*

        Put it right in the message header: “Need to discuss ASAP” “need immediate response” or some such. That way he knows which items need an immediate response and which can wait.

      6. Cheap Ass Rolex*

        Yes those messages sound pretty casual and low-priority. You should spell it out clearly, and (in a friendly way) ping him a second time if he’s seen the IM but not responded after maybe 30 mins.

        The second message can be along the lines of, “I’ll go forward with X if I haven’t heard anything by [deadline]; let me know if I should do something different instead!

        And don’t be available outside working hours. That will become more and more normalized the more you feed it.

        1. RebelwithMouseyHair*

          “I’ll go forward with X if I haven’t heard anything by [deadline]”

          Yes! I sometimes have to ask my client some questions to get my work done, and they don’t necessarily realise that I need the answers well before the deadline in order to factor them into my work. So now I frame all questions so that the answer I think is most logical will be “yes”, and end my list with “If I don’t hear back from you by [deadline minus X hours], I shall assume the answer is ‘yes’ to each question”. Clients often react more swiftly when they read that, because I’ve spelled out clearly what will happen. If ever I’ve got the wrong end of the stick on a question, they see straightaway what kind of mess there will be if they don’t answer me!

      7. GlitsyGus*

        One other thing, if there is a document or something else to be reviewed that you can attach, attach it to the request. Manager can give it a review and give you the thumbs up right then via email if everything is good. That may help him not accidentally back burner it if he has a lot of other things going on that day.

        1. Uranus Wars*

          Also good advice. This is what my staff does, “can’t move until you approve attached”. 95% of the time I say “change X to Y and it’s a go, no need to resend” or just “yup, go” A lot easier when they need me. I will say, though, that when I cancel one-on-one’s I either reschedule or cancel, I don’t just blow them off.

        2. GammaGirl1908*

          Big agree with this! The way stargazer is doing it, she is waiting for an answer to a vague question that doesn’t even make it clear that there’s an approval needed! Attach the document and BLUF it.

          Also under the heading of making it easier to move things along, if you currently have a once-a-week 60-minute check-in (that Boss sometimes misses), try breaking that up into shorter but more frequent opportunities to meet. Can you do two 30-minute huddles a week, or even three 20-minute ones? Creating more opportunities to meet (with less commitment because they are shorter) may increase the odds that you’ll have at least some of the meetings.

      8. Busy boss*

        @Stargazer This is all great advice to direct your boss to important actions. I would make sure you’re being reasonable about the number and scope of things you’re marking as urgent, though. If your boss has a lot of responsibilities (some of which they maybe can’t let you know about) and other staff to manage, what’s your #1 priority might be your boss’s #47 priority, and you might just have to wait. That’s usually not malicious, but in that moment, making sure that you can keep moving along efficiently takes a backseat to other needs.

        I have a few staff who will even mark their #8 priority as urgent—knowing that, I’m less likely to attend to their “urgent” requests if I have a few minutes between meetings. As you progress in your career, you’ll probably get a lot more comfortable being self-directed and this will be less of an issue. And here’s hoping the discussion you have with your boss will help!

      9. Boof*

        Oh! This is most likely the issue – imagine your boss is the internet and you have 5 seconds to catch their interest before they get distracted and move on XD

    3. LCH*

      agree that you need to get more specific in these messages: “I have completed X and would like [for your go-ahead to send it out]/[to review it with you before I take the next steps]/[whatever other specific step he needs to be involved in.]

      from what you’ve sent, i agree he has no clue you are twiddling your thumbs waiting on him in order to move on with your work.

    4. Aspiring Chicken Lady*

      This is a good point.

      You can send a “I’ve done my input on the TPS report and double checked the figures. I’m ready to send it at 2:30 unless you’d like to check it first.”

      Then boss can take action in a spare moment and you both can move on with your day.

      You can also add on a “I’ll be working on the Teapot file project for the afternoon unless you’ve got something else for me. I’m nearly done — will be looking for a replacement project in a couple of days. Did you still want your Spout research updated, or do you have another priority?”

      1. oranges*

        Yep. Once you have a conversation about the critical parts of your job (because I suspect what you do isn’t the most critical part of your boss’s job), move to a “speak now or forever hold your peace” communication for everything else. It’ll be a relief for you both, I’m guessing.

      2. GammaGirl1908*

        This too. Instead of asking for Boss’ permission to move, say you’ll move unless Boss says otherwise.

  2. bee*

    Oof yeah, do NOT respond to the after hours messages anymore! If you need to, you can have your phone silence notifications from work apps after a certain time, so you literally cannot see them.

    I also fall into the “well technically I am available” trap, but you aren’t! Even if you’re just watching a movie on your couch, you aren’t available to work. Having those boundaries is an important skill, especially working from home.

    1. Xavier Desmond*

      This is my reaction too. Don’t reply to work messages when you’re not working unless it’s an emergency. Making sure you keep the boundary between working/not working is so important for your wellbeing.

      1. Ashley*

        This really only works if you are hourly and not expected to be available after hours. Not all positions are set up this way unfortunately.

        1. LizM*

          I disagree. Salaried doesn’t mean available 24/7. It’s okay to set boundaries around your off-hours, barring certain emergencies.

          Of course, there are times when an upcoming deadline means that you are expecting late feedback that you need to incorporate ASAP, but it’s okay to ask that your supervisor make those projects clear, and not just assume that you’re going to be available late in the evening absent some discussion ahead of time.

          1. Antilles*

            Yes. The issue is just that you need to have the discipline to set that boundary and not fall into the very easy trap of “this doesn’t take much time” or “well, I was just sort of sitting at home so why not jump on the call” or whatever.

          2. londonedit*

            Oh wow, yeah, just because you’re not on an hourly rate doesn’t mean you should be available whenever! We don’t really have hourly office jobs here, the vast majority (apart from sometimes things like reception jobs) are salaried with contracted hours. My contracted hours are 37.5 per week and there is something in there about being required to work additional hours if necessary, but in practice, thankfully in my industry there’s a general understanding that no one is paid enough to do any extra so the culture is ‘if you can’t fit your work into your contracted hours, speak to your manager because that’s a workload problem not a you problem’. Since WFH there are people who work different patterns and who therefore might be working before/after traditional working hours, but there’s absolutely no expectation that I will work beyond 5pm unless there’s a huge deadline looming and things are incredibly squeezed. I’ve done it precisely once in the four years I’ve been at my current company, when we absolutely had to get a set of proof corrections to the designer before the Christmas holiday so he could have them ready for when we got back in January. A few months ago I put Teams on my phone for whatever reason and then replied to a really innocuous non-work message from my boss at 5.30pm, just to get rid of the notification, and he told me to get off Teams and remove the app from my phone so I wouldn’t see things after hours. I’m sure there are bosses who expect/want their staff to be available at all hours, but you’d have to be paying me at least twice as much as I currently earn before I’d consider doing that.

    2. Green great dragon*

      You can choose to respond after hours, if you’d rather do that than have to chase down Boss the next day. But you certainly don’t have to.

    3. Cheezmouser*

      Agree, there’s no need to respond to messages after hours unless this was previously agreed upon and you’re being compensated for it.

      I’m one of the managers guilty of sending afterhours messages. (Whoops) I don’t do it with the expectation that people will respond immediately, and I usually include “when you get in” or “tomorrow morning” to make this explicit. Frankly, the reason I send messages afterhours is because, between being in meetings all day and then rushing to pick up the kids and getting dinner on the table, the only time I have to send the message is afterhours, and I don’t want to risk forgetting if I wait until the next day. However, this is a good reminder that I should use email instead of the chat/Slack message, since email has a delivery delay function. I’m going to start doing that instead.

    4. The Smiling Pug*

      I need to remember this when I start my remote job next week. Even though yes, technically, the tech is at my house, I’m not available after working hours.

  3. AthenaC*

    Here’s what I would suggest – about a day or a half-day ahead of when you expect to need your boss’s input, send him a note giving him a heads-up, or just schedule something on his calendar. If you give him some notice ahead of time, you’ve given him something to incorporate into his plan for the next day / half-day.

    Also follow the rest of Alison’s advice. Generally speaking, the sooner you go from a more passive “they’ll tell me what to do” to more actively taking control of your schedule, the happier you’ll be in the long run.

    1. Chashka*

      Yup. You can probably pretty easily figure out that you will complete your portion of the task maybe a day or half-day ahead of time, so give boss a heads-up then. If all goes well/the stars align, boss will see your notice and be ready to communicate/meet with you once you’re ready for approval or input.

    2. MattLeidholm*

      It also gets it on your boss’s calendar, which is the important thing. In my experience, over-committed (or just under-attentive) managers live and die by their Outlook calendar, just going to whatever event is on there and not having much time for less structured tasks (like reviewing an employee’s work). I bet they’ll engage in a time specifically set aside for it, as long as it’s digitally blocked off.

      1. EmKay*

        Hello, hi! As an administrative assistant to many managers like this, YES. Book their outlook calendar with a meeting invitation :)

      2. MM*

        If he’s not showing up to weekly check-ins and not saying anything when he doesn’t, I wouldn’t bet on this strategy.

  4. Storm in a teacup*

    I think first of all you need to raise these in your next 1-1 with your boss. You may even want to give them a heads up that you want to have a discussion with them on how to manage workflow etc to improve it for them and yourself.
    The thing is, your manager may have many pulls on their time so they may well be making a decision on prioritisation where you don’t see the full picture. But it is worth checking this assumption and also seeing if you can rationalise the process for yourself.
    Go with all of your questions written down – if you have suggestions /ideas on how to solve some of these even better. As a manager I generally found it much more productive when an employee had an idea of how to fix an issue.
    Key questions: what is approval process for work before sending etc… are your primary focus.
    Then consider if you want more support from your manager than the once weekly 1-1. It may be better to have a standing 20-30 minute catch up in the diary 3x weekly so if one does get cancelled you know you still have time with them. Alternatively try seeing if there is a better time for you both to meet.
    Re: after work. My personal opinion is that if it’s not life or death then it can probably wait. However having done the majority of my career in acute healthcare my life vs death considerations are sometimes different to others.
    Finally consider how you are setting out your written comms to your boss. Are you clear and succinct enough? EG Please see attached report on teapot purchases due to be sent to xx client by 5pm today. Please would you review x and y and confirm figures for z
    Or alternatively if you just want to loop them in, you could send to them with a note stating if your don’t hear back by x time it’ll be sent to customer.

    If you have colleagues in your team it may also be worth checking in with them on how they work with your boss – so they also get all work checked? Any tips they have?

    Good luck OP!

    1. stargazer*

      I like the suggestions of being more specific about what exactly to review, and that’s definitely something I can be better about. Thanks!

      The primary other person on my team is more senior than I am, so his work (I think) isn’t usually given the same oversight.

      1. Storm in a teacup*

        Hey OP!
        Also consider that now you’ve settled into the role you may need less oversight than you did initially potentially on some things so this is also a good framing to use to raise it with your boss.

  5. Anononon*

    Oh man, I feel OP because this is my boss. He’s notorious for not being responsive much of the time. This is how I deal with it. He knows it’s an issue he has, so if I ever do have anything urgent, he’s fine with me progressively bugging the crap out of him to get an answer/response. Yeah, it’s annoying and a lot of managing up, but 1) generally speaking, I don’t mind bugging people for answers, so I don’t mind this as much as others might and 2) he has other qualities that I really appreciate in a boss that outweigh the lack of responsiveness.

  6. Free Meerkats*

    (b) get a response saying “now works” later in the evening after I’ve already left my desk for the day (but working from home means I almost always respond when this happens).

    Stop doing that. When your day is done, TURN OFF your work computer so you don’t respond like Pavlov’s dog when the notification dings. And, if you aren’t exempt, you’re owed overtime for the late “now works” stuff. I say to look at your chat records, figure out how much you are owed, and put in a claim for unpaid overtime.

    1. Salad Daisy*

      Agreed. That’s one of the big drawbacks to working from home. You feel like you are always available and so does your manager. I actually unplug my laptop at EOD and put it away so I am not tempted to check my email or do a “little” task that I just thought of.

      1. WoodswomanWrites*

        Same. Since I’ve been working remotely, shutting down the computer and putting it away is the equivalent of what used be my drive home from the office.

    2. The Smiling Pug*

      I need to remember this when I start my remote job next week. Just because the tech is in my house doesn’t mean I’m available.

      1. Anonymous4*

        Yes! Unfortunately, working from home makes it so easy to let work start consuming one’s life — you CAN answer work e-mails at 9 pm, and at 7 am, and so you start doing it, and then it becomes expected, and you start to realize that you’re doing nothing BUT working. Please don’t do that to yourself.

  7. freddy*

    I’ll speak up as a boss who wants to be responsive to my team, but often has about 2.5 total unscheduled hours in any given week (usually in 30 minute scraps of time scattered around my calendar). It is extremely difficult for me to receive a time-sensitive email, involving some kind of review task that requires time and mental effort, and reply quickly. Honestly, most of the time I can’t even do this with 48 hour turnaround, much less by end of day.

    If that’s what you’re asking for, and your boss is comparably busy, then I’m not surprised this isn’t working out. What I ask my team members to do is look ahead and anticipate when they will need my review, with as much lead time as possible, and then book the amount of time on my calendar that they think I’ll need for review.

    I also ask them to make the handoff email extremely clear, easy to read, and easy to act on. That might mean having links to folders with background information; a reminder of any aspect of the scope or budget that I need to keep in mind; a clear deadline; and very clear direction on what is needed from me. “Review/approve” isn’t quite enough in most cases – I need to know if this is an early internal draft where substantive direction or creativity is welcome, vs. a final “fatal flaws only” review, or something in between.

    I’m not sure if this would work with your boss, but could something along these lines get you better outcomes?

    1. freddy*

      p.s. I’d also ask, in a calm moment, how he’d like you to handle this situation when it arises. If you can come up with a common expectation (e.g. “I will give you 2 full business days to review, and if I don’t hear back from you, I’ll send it out without your review” or “…if I don’t hear back from you, we’ll shift the deadline and let the client know it’ll be late.”). Then, in the email in which you request his review, remind him of how you plan to handle it. Me, I’m a big fan of “if I don’t hear from you by X date, I will proceed to keep the project on time.” But that’s only OK if it’s preceded by a discussion with him.

    2. star*

      Thank you!! I was feeling “oh no, it me” as a manager (I am a bit more responsive than the OP’s boss, but do struggle to have time to do reviews), super helpful to have an example of what a manager has done to mitigate this.

  8. lex talionis*

    When the project is late who’s reputation is negatively impacted? Yours? His? The department’s?

    1. Generic Name*

      This is a great question. I will caution the OP to not assume that they will be the most negatively impacted if that is their kneejerk reaction. I have a young coworker who mentally takes wayyy too much responsibility for things she has no control over and that are actually someone’s responsibility who is one or even two levels above her. I’ve tried to convincer her that literally no one is thinking less of her because she isn’t able to move forward because everyone else is a bottleneck.

  9. Summer Day*

    We work for the same boss!! It drove me crazy for a while but I worked it out eventually!!!!

    My boss is super busy and gets absolutely ridiculous amounts of emails. My aha moment was when I sent him a document for a meeting that was in 20 mins and by the time I arrived it had already scrolled off the page. Add a bit of I’ll get back to you lateritis and it can get really frustrating.

    Completely agree with Alison- ask your boss how they want to manage this. My boss actually likes to be reminded. I would find it rude to get lots of emails or resends to the top of the inbox but he really appreciates it. He also asks me to trust him that he is prioritising his own workload. If I’m reminding and he’s not responding it’s because other work has priority at that time. But he still doesn’t mind me resending emails in the hope he will respond (prefers resends than new emails so He know’s he’s responded). I also bold the action I need him to take so he can see quickly if it is an information update vs an action email. He also let me know that he goes through his emails about 930-10 every evening so sometimes I schedule an email to be sent at 930 so it’s at the top of the inbox at that time (not my way of working- but if it works for his stress…). I’ve also had the evening “I’m available now” sometimes I am and I really don’t mind, but a gentle pushback “I’m not available now can we check in at 10 tomorrow” has been fine. It’s definitely not rude to be unavailable after hours but if you have normally responded it’s probably polite to continue to respond- but just say no.

    It’s hard when you are junior but actually open communication about how busy people communicate can be a fabulous learning tool. Interestingly I was needing to communicate with another really busy person for whom I was a very low priority recently and they complimented me on my concise yet polite email communication style which I attribute to my Boss’s training!!

    1. stargazer*

      It’s really reassuring to see how many other people deal with this!

      We mostly tend to use a chat app rather than email for in-office communication. Do you think you’d still do the same thing with repeated sends in a chat? Do people tend to respond better to emails?

      1. AFac*

        I think the boss’ preference re: repeated sends in chat should be part of a conversation with him. Personally, I tolerate multiple emails over multiple texts, because my arrangement is that text is an urgent request, so if I don’t reply to a text it means I am in a situation (meeting, driving, etc.) where I cannot reply.

        Your boss’ MMV.

        1. Summer Day*

          Agreed- it think it is related to office norms and your boss’s preference on that one.

          Personally- if I need a document reviewed I would always email so I can put the link to the doc in it and detail exactly what I need. If I need a face to face meeting I would usually need to book that at least a week in advance so it would be a scheduled meeting. If my boss accepts he turns up. We would very seldom have a spontaneous lets catch up now meeting. If it does happen it would usually be initiated by my boss. But it depends on office norms.

      2. I should really pick a name*

        This is a case where you need to find out what works with your boss specifically.
        Basically, ask him what his preferred method of communication is, and how he’d like you to flag urgent communications.

        Some people are better with email, some are better with chat, some are better on the phone. You need to find out which is most effective in your specific situation.

      3. Manic Pixie HR Girl*

        Definitely depends. My staff knows my email can be a black hole at times BUT they also know that’s my preferred INITIAL communication; and if I haven’t gotten back to them they’ll ping me on chat to say “Hey did you look at X?” So it is definitely a useful tool.

  10. Meep*

    Honestly, maybe it is because I work for a startup and if I don’t do it, nothing will get done, but one of the few things I find is a virtue of mine is the ability to find/make work for myself with often an absent boss. Your boss has other things they need to complete and cannot always stop what they are doing to check your work. Depending on how long you have been working, you should actually be checking your own work. Another thing you can do is check early and often so there are no surprises. You will have to still get them to talk when you are struggling to do that, but by small updates, at the beginning and end of the day in the form of email, it gives them time to step in if you are completely off basis.

  11. Mannheim Steamroller*

    He’s clearly setting you up by depriving you of an essential resource (his input) that you need to do your job.

    The idea is to force you to miss your deadlines, then hold you fully responsible for missing the deadlines.

    1. Casey*

      Whoa, I think this is oddly adversarial. Nothing in the OP suggested that she’s being punished for missing deadlines. Lots of bosses are just busy and rely on their employees to be a bit more proactive/forthright in communicating needs.

    2. Anonymous Hippo*

      This is rarely done on purpose. It is much more likely a lack of efficient organization on the bosses part. Why would a boss purposely want to set their own report up for failure? Methinks this is an issue of perceptions be warped by staying too long in a messed up workplace.

      1. Anonymous4*

        I don’t know that star’s boss has a lack of efficient organization. I work with people who are extremely organized — and completely snowed under by the press of work and the avalanche of e-mails they receive every day.

    3. MM*

      Excellent way to completely freak out someone uncertain and new to the workforce and discourage them from having the forthright conversations Alison and others are encouraging (i.e., from actually doing anything to improve their situation). Really not necessary; the vast majority of the time, other people are simply not thinking about you enough to set up a long con like this.

  12. Person from the Resume*

    I think you should clarify “need my boss’s feedback before I can progress.” You say you need it, but later you wonder if you should send it out unreviewed to avoid being late.

    Get guidance on what’s more important. Then be clear in your messaging.

    If you can send it out unreviewed, you’d say that in the subject line or fist line of the email. “I’m sending this out by 4pm so I need your feedback by 3:45 to incorporate any changes you recommend.”

    If you need a review and it can be late, you’d say “I need your feedback by 3:45 to meet our scheduled deadline.

    Either way make it very clear in the subject (ACTION: Review NLT 3:45 Today) that you need him to do something and the deadline if there is one.

    1. Jake - product and hiking guy*

      I think this is important to consider. In my career I have observed a pattern, especially among younger folks just starting their careers, to assume they need a manager approval to proceed in more circumstances than they really do. Granted, we don’t know enough about OP’s situation, so maybe review/approval is truly necessary, but I would ask OP to consider whether new terms of engagement could be set with the manager such that less work needs review. The manager may view this as an employee taking ownership/initiative and really appreciate it.

      OP, in your next 1-on-1, consider proposing (not asking, but proposing) a stricter set of circumstances under which you will continue to ask for review/approval, and the circumstances under which you’ll proceed under the expectation approval has already been given. If nothing else, your manager’s reaction to this will tell you a lot about your working relationship and the power dynamics of the office.

    2. stargazer*

      Yeah, maybe “need” isn’t the case in every situation. There are often times when I’m confident enough to send the project out, maybe with a caveat “my boss is still reviewing this, so these results may change slightly.” There are other times when sending the wrong results could be disastrous, and those usually wind up being the times when I go back to my desk later in the evening.

      1. Generic Name*

        As someone who is heavily involved in my company’s quality program, this is concerning. I have no idea what kind of work you do and how important it is to be accurate/correct, but please get your boss’ input in general in terms of what needs review and what doesn’t. At our company, we would rather something go out late than unreviewed, but other places have the opposite philosophy.

  13. Boof*

    This is probably overprojection but I can’t help but wonder if your boss is hard burnt out. I mean, maybe they’re just a flake, or wildly inconsiderate, you know them better, but it sort of sounds like someone who knows what they should do, tries to set it up and then… just can’t even.
    Of course root cause effectively only matters if it’s modifiable; would you feel comfortable directly addressing this with your boss? You could start with “how are things going?” then “I feel like we’ve missed some meetings lately, what’s going on with that?” to “hey, I think we need to work out a more reliable check in schedule to meet deadlines effectively, what might work better for you?” (ok to suggest things if you have ideas but ultimately this is on boss to fix)

    1. MM*

      I wouldn’t encourage this approach. It’s too much a reversal of who’s the manager and who’s being managed. Managing up is obviously part of these relationships, but unless explicit agreements have been made about that sort of thing the key is to do it in a way that’s less, ah, managerial than this. How boss is doing (whether they’re burnt out, etc.) is not officially OP’s business or concern,* nor does soft-pedaling in this kind of way make sense coming from them to their boss. (I’ve had some very warm, closely collaborative relationships with bosses, and if I’d ever checked in on them like this they’d have wondered what on earth was going on.) Much better to raise it directly as a workflow/efficiency issue where OP’s simply asking for boss’s preferences/direction. This is managing up too, just not acting like OP’s their manager, counselor, or friend.

      (*Obviously it can be useful to have some visibility on these things with one’s boss. But one doesn’t generally let on what one notices or show overt interest unless that’s what boss wants/is comfortable with; and if they want too much of it that’s a pretty bad sign, usually. “Are you doing ok?” and “I’ve noticed x, what’s going on?” are generally questions managers ask their reports, not the other way around–note how often Alison has recommended the latter for managers trying to figure out a problem with an employee.)

      I say this only since you mentioned projection: I can appreciate feeling like you’d like someone to have this kind of conversation with you, but it really shouldn’t be someone who’s reporting to you!

  14. Kimmy Schmidt*

    When you say you need your boss’s input before a project can progress, what does that mean exactly? Is it like a “legally I must have Boss’s signature” or ” Boss asked me to review the work before it goes to clients” or “someone needs to review this but doesn’t need to be Boss”? Are there any ways to create a workflow where you can bypass a response from your boss on every project every time?

  15. LizM*

    I feel like some of my employees think I’m the supervisor in this situation.

    It’s not that I do it on purpose, but I am usually juggling 100 different things, while they have 2 or 3 projects that are high priorities for them.

    Here’s what’s helpful for me.

    – Be specific. It’s not as helpful for me to plan to check in at some point later in the day – get a time on the calendar. My days can fill up really quickly and completely get away from me if I don’t protect my calendar. The best way to do that is to have something in writing about the time we’re meeting.

    – Find out how much time your boss needs to review something. Last week, I had booked all day Friday for interviews. I had a staff member send me something at 10 am that was due at COB, and send me increasingly panicked IMs because they wanted to leave early, and were concerned I hadn’t gotten to it yet. We ended up missing the deadline (which wasn’t great, but not catastrophic) because I just couldn’t get to it. Contrast that to one of the star performers on our team. If she has something that’s due Friday, she’ll let me know Monday that it’s coming. That gives me a chance to let her know, I’m not really available Friday, is it possible to get it to me Thursday morning? Generally, I let my staff know that, barring an emergency, I need about 24-48 hour turn around for anything needing my signature. They need to build that into their schedules.

    – Be clear in what you’re asking for. Put the deadline up front (or even in the subject line). Be clear if it’s an FYI, if you’ll send it out if you don’t hear from him, or if you need input from him before moving forward. Put all that up front. For example, “Hey boss, Attached is the XYZ report. It’s due COB Friday. We’ve already discussed the main points, so unless I hear differently from you, I’ll send it out around 3:30 tomorrow.” OR “Hey boss, Attached is XYZ report for your review/approval. It’s due COB Friday. To get it out on time, I need your approval/feedback by noon Friday so I have time to incorporate any changes.” Only after that do you want to go into any needed detail or explanation. But don’t bury the ask after several paragraphs explaining what the project is.

    – I would not respond to after hours bings unless your boss has told you that’s an expectation of the job. I would address this in your 1-on-1s. “I generally try to log off around 5:00. I’ve been responding to after hours IMs, but am finding I really need to draw a boundary there. Could you talk about what your expectations are if I’m not able to get the feedback I need from you during regular business hours?” There are some projects where after hours work may be needed (assuming you’re salaried and exempt) but it’s reasonable to ask for some clear expectations about how that will be communicated ahead of time so you can make plans. It’s not reasonable to ask you to sit around at home waiting for your computer to bing in the off chance your boss has time to talk.

    1. stargazer*

      Thanks for your perspective! And thanks also for “it’s not reasonable to ask you to sit around at home waiting for your computer to bing on the off chance your boss has time to talk.” I have done exactly that multiple times and it’s miserable. It’s helpful to hear that that shouldn’t be an expectation (and I don’t think it is, on his end; based on what I’m reading here, and what I know about him, I think he probably just doesn’t know it’s happening).

    2. Camelid coordinator*

      I really agree with this advice and want to underscore how well the star performer is managing this. If you have to count on a busy supervisor finding time, the system is bound to collapse. I manage someone who has trouble finishing things and may not hit deadlines even when I build in some padding. This creates extra stress for everyone.

    3. Katie F*

      You can always communicate deadlines and your own unavailability in your note to the boss.

      E.g X is ready for your review. If you get it to me by 4 today I will be able to send it out before I am done for the day. If not, I will get it out first thing tomorrow since the deadline is x/x.

      Don’t be afraid to put the deadline in your email as your boss may not know what it is w/o completing half their review.

  16. Bones*

    I’d be interested to hear more about OP’s relationship with their boss. See, I have a boss really similar to this. I’m by no means entry-level, and not afraid to push back where I know it will help. But, because my boss is the company owner (and because of his personality), it’s VERY difficult to push anything through without his final approval, but he’s also really hard to nail down. I have complete access to his agenda and company affairs, so it’s not one of those situations where he’s dealing with much more than I’m aware; he’s just somehow simultaneously laissez faire AND a micromanager. So, there’s not much I can do in terms of pushback, and I wonder if OP is in a similar situation, where the boss does things on their own time at their own pace, and doesn’t care how it affects their employees. If that’s the case, I suggest OP might want to do the same as I’m doing and search for a new job.

    1. stargazer*

      I think our relationship is pretty good; I’m not at all afraid to push back when it comes to the actual work. The impression I’m getting here is that I’m not clear enough when it comes to getting his attention. I’m sorry hear your boss is the worst of both worlds!

  17. Marion Cotesworth-Haye*

    This seems like a great time to use the politely-worded “Unless I hear otherwise from you, I will plan to submit at X:00. Please don’t hesitate to reach out if there are any changes you would like me to make.”

    1. Not good at making up names*

      I’ve both worked for and been this boss and that’s what I was about to suggest.

      In the military, people in this type of situation will often use a phrase like “unless otherwise directed…” to inform a superior that they are going to do X or submit Y report or whatever unless the superior weighs in and tells them to do something else. You can even add in “and then I plan to start work on Z” to semi-solve the issue of not having other specifically assigned work.

      Of course, if your boss typically makes changes/improvements/necessary additions to your work as part of their review, that might not work so well, and some more controlling bosses may find this to be a bit of overstepping.

  18. Casey*

    I have a boss like this! He’s stretched pretty thin but part of it is also that he mostly manages senior-level individual contributors, whereas I’m one of the few folks on his team with <5 years experience. So the expectation is that his direct reports kinda do their own thing, and I’ve learned that he’s able to give high quality guidance as long as I’m proactive about it.

    Stuff that helps me:

    – Weekly checkins are pretty sacred. If my boss skips it, I message him a quick “hey, whenever you’re free, can you give me a call to go over tasks for the week?”

    – Use my 1 on 1s to bring a list of all tasks that week and go over the review/submit process with him. Like “alright I have A due Wednesday and B due Friday. I’m feeling pretty good on A but do you want to go over it before submitting? B does need your review, will you be able to look it over if I send it by end of day Wednesday?”

    – Reset my expectations for turnaround time on reviews, block off “review and go-backs” time into all of my project schedules. Try to overlap deadlines so I have something to do while B is sitting around in “Dave is looking at it” stage. Sometimes I also bring this up proactively in 1 on 1s.

    – I wouldn’t do this with clients, but if your work product is going to internal stakeholders you can also get them in on it! “Hi Nancy, I know you’d like to see the teapots report tomorrow. It’s currently in review with Dave but I’ll send it over as soon as it’s ready.” That way Nancy can also bug Dave if it’s urgent, which often works better than hearing it from a direct report.

    1. Sloanicote*

      Yes, one (slightly frustrating) thing I’ve had to do for my boss is give them a longer turnaround time, because “let’s check in when it’s done” doesn’t work for their schedule. It’s hard because a lot of what I do has a one-week turnaround from assignment to submission, but sadly I only get a fraction of that time because my boss really needs 2-3 days to get to review things. My approach with this has been to try to pry lower-priority things out of their queue for review (they have trouble letting go).

  19. Lacey*

    Oof sympathies. I had a boss like this well before covid. She had too much on her plate, but that meant she could never find time to give feedback on or approve my work. It was a nightmare.

    Explaining that it was a problem didn’t help. In fact, one coworker got an informal reprimand for trying to pin down her job description, so they were not about clarity there. But it sounds like this has only popped up since covid, so probably your boss just needs to be told it’s an issue.

  20. Nesprin*

    I work in a meeting heavy culture, so standard practice is to set a 15 min meeting when you need 15 min attention. It may be helpful to request a meeting a few hours before any big deadline where you anticipate you’ll need time, or set up a standing 1:1 meeting to address all the outstanding issues.

  21. Policy Wonk*

    Does your boss have a secretary or aide that manages their calendar? I’d recommend you reach out to that person to get something on the schedule (with an appropriate note on what it’s about) or just send a calendar meeting request to your boss yourself. If something isn’t on my calendar it can easily be forgotten, or missed because my focus is elsewhere. The calendar reminders are a godsend for me.

    And unless you know the boss has been off site all day, concur with others that encourage you not to respond outside of work hours (within reason. I often only get to my inbox at the very end of the day, so not unusual for me to send a message like that at 5:30, though the day is supposed to end at 5:00.)

  22. El l*

    Biggest thing I’d add to what Alison says: To what extent do you have a list of things to do, arranged by priority, rather than just one thing?

    Because it sounds like the pattern is, “Hey, worker, do x!” Then you do x, and wait for him to give you next step y. The problem is that this makes you dependent on him…and my guess is that it’s more dependent than you need to be. Better is to talk through a to-do list: “When you [worker] are done with x, start working on y, and then z if possible. We’ll chat on Friday and we can talk about progress.” Honestly, this style sounds like it’ll fit better with how we works, too. (While it’s true that “go do x, then get my approval” is just how work goes sometimes, it sounds like for you this is the dominant way rather than a sometimes thing)

    Overall, what’s far better for your career – building into an independent professional – is to understand the objectives behind what you’re doing. At first, you’ll have a meeting and put on your list to do x, y, and z. Eventually, you’ll learn to troubleshoot problems and to see the structure, so that even you can figure out x, y, and z with a minimum of conversation.

    Because it’s not really “his job to give you work.” His job (as far as you are concerned) is to supervise what you’re doing and coordinate to meet everybody’s needs. Lists and priorities will fit that better.

  23. Haha Lala*

    This sounds so similar to my situation, and I think I’ve managed to make it a little more tolerable:

    – Keep in mind that Covid might be affecting your boss’s regular schedule too. He might be helping with virtual schooling or grocery shopping for high risk relatives or something else that makes him unreachable for chunks of the usual work day. That doesn’t help the problem, but at least you can reframe it in your head to make it a little more tolerable.

    – Especially if the above is true, your boss might be working atypical hours to get his job done. Can you send him your questions or items to review in an email, so that he can read and respond on his own schedule? If he wants to work and email you back after his kids go to bed, that’s fine– you can read and respond to it in the morning.

    – Talk with your coworkers. Do they have the same issue with the boss, or have they figured out a better work around? Do they need to get sign off from the boss too, or any of them senior enough to review your work instead of you boss (with his approval)?

  24. Spoo*

    Petty me would wait a certain amount of time then CC grandboss with “I am unable to reach boss and need sign off as soon as possible as it is holding up the project” and do it every time

    1. Purple Cat*

      OP mentions they are young and inexperienced and this type of response would be pretty inflammatory. There’s no indication that OP is getting penalized or blowback on missing deadlines, so escalating to grandboss is really unnecessary.
      OP needs to have a more direct conversation with her boss about communication and turnaround time.

    2. Middle Manager*

      Yeah, I don’t really see this as the bosses issue here. I think this is much more inexperience staff not understanding the timeline a boss needs to review. Maybe their culture is different, but unless it’s on fire, it would not be reasonable to expect a same day review/response from your boss where I work. If you went the extra step to email a grandboss because you didn’t get a response from your direct supervisor in a matter of hours (or even days depending on the situation), you would look wildly inappropriate. That all may be totally dependent on the nature of the work and the culture of the office, but I would say it’s dangerous advice to start cc’ing a grandboss here.

  25. C in the Hood*

    Maybe I’ve missed something, but have you tried calling him on the phone? Some people are just phone people, versus email/message people.

  26. Purple Cat*

    You definitely need to have a sit-down with your boss and specifically discuss how the status-quo isn’t working.
    I’m much more senior, so my relationship with my boss is much more hands-off, so he ignores 99% of my emails. So, I learned that when I actually did need his feedback, that’s what my subject needed to be. FEEDBACK NEEDED: TOPIC. That way he knew he actually needed to respond. Followed a short-time later by a zoom message of “I really need you to weigh in on x email from me”.
    Be as specific as possible with what you need and when you need it by. And flat out ask what the consequences are to missing deadlines. You rightly want to be on time, but your boss may know there’s actually plenty of flexibility so he doesn’t have the same sense of urgency that you have. It’s not fair, and he should make sure you guys are on the same page, but it definitely happens.

  27. Katie F*

    My current boss is less available than I would like. He has told people (to their irritation) that he doesn’t keep up with his email so don’t use it for important stuff.
    Contacting him on chat is also less reliable – I can’t necessarily see “read” status in our system, but I don’t always get a response. Since he sits in my building less than 1 day a week I can’t save every task for the times I see him in person or our biweekly check-ins.
    One part of my job is getting capital spending approved per company policy. There are multiple steps and approvals needed for each job and my boss is the final approval before I can get started spending money. This is always a rush job when it gets to him in other words.

    What works for him (and me) on tight deadlines is a text message. “Need your approval on x project, email went to your inbox this morning.” I always get a response, often a response of “will look at tonight after 7 PM” and then a follow-up confirming it’s completed.

    I’ve no idea why he is this way. And I realize that this type of hand-holding is not in my job description, because my 6 previous leaders needed none of this extra care. But if it works I will take it for now.

  28. Alyssa*

    Ugh, I feel you, OP! I was at this stage a few months ago, and it’s only gotten worse. Being more persistent or more clear about approval deadlines hasn’t helped. My boss is extremely swamped due to leadership changes and vacant positions (things I can’t realistically pitch in to help out with). Every time we sit down or get on a call to discuss the X project, her response is along the lines of “I know I’m causing the delay on the X project and that you needed edits by last Friday. I didn’t have time to get to it. But I do need to look at it before it goes out. I’ll do it this week.” And another week passes, and another. The impact is that an annual project is going out embarrassingly late — it’s not a contractual deadline that anyone is holding us accountable to. But it doesn’t look good, and it’s one of the biggest projects my role is responsible for. I’m at a loss as for how to move forward, other than starting to outline next year’s project now! And it’s making me lose motivation at this point, because the timeline is completely outside of my control, so I no longer feel ownership of it. I feel like I’ve exhausted all my options of what I can proactively do to keep it moving along.

    1. Toolate*

      I was in this situation a month or two ago. My boss was so busy she was sitting on my major projects, and I didn’t have enough to do (I did try to present additional projects for me to do, or take the lead on things, but she was so overwhelmed it didn’t really matter one way or the other – I didn’t have a good way to insert myself to take stuff off her plate proactively.)

      I don’t have any good advice, but I have some bad advice for you. The situation somewhat resolved when she learned I was quietly asking about an internal transfer – she blocked the transfer, and then finally pushed out all the stuff I had put on her desk over the past several months out over the holiday period (don’t do what I did, it’s a high-risk strategy!!).

      The other piece of bad advice I have for you – I started to lean *way* out on the job, and work hard to emotionally disengage myself. I’ve been working from home as much as I can and building a richer personal life. I do bits and pieces of work and send them away through email; I then practice feeling blissfully detached about whether anything comes of the work I do.

  29. berto*

    My boss is completely unavailable. Apologizes for it, but it never changes. And she’s a great boss who trusts me. So, I just do my job, remove or eliminate anything that needs her input, and leave it at that. Not ideal, but seems to be more of an issue for my more junior / less capable colleagues who do need her input frequently.

  30. raida7*

    “It’s stressful sitting around wondering what I should be doing or deciding to send the project out late or unreviewed.”

    Simple answer: You agree on the review date, make a meeting for it right then, and it is now part of the process. If you are done sooner – you can still meet on the planned date/time or you can offer an earlier review meeting, which he does not need to accept.

    Separately – if you actually need to be assigned work and have empty time, bring that up at the next weekly catch up meeting. Tell him that you do not know what you should be doing in these times and need some guidance on how he would like to see you using that time. Maybe there’s some training you could do when you have free time, maybe cross-training with a team mate, maybe process documenting/testing/updating. Maybe you could be creating a reporting dashboard that people keep thinking of and never proceeding with beyond a few chats about how ‘that’d be so good!’

    But you should define for yourself what you need, and what you would *like* him to provide you with. Then write that in a way that is you asking him what he needs from you and what he would *like* you to be doing.
    Those two things combined are the conversation you then have with your boss. That’s also a good time to define how your performance is measured and what ‘excellence’ would look like.

  31. meagain*

    My manager is also very busy and not on site a lot, so I will often send him an email with ONLY critical items (things I can’t move forward on without his sign off or input) and title the email, “Joe’s Action Items” so he knows those are the emails where I need prompt answers. It helps if I can put a few different items in the email and ONLY include critical things that need a response.

    Try to touch base with a quick meeting once a week to go over any items. And always send a followup email after the meeting with any items (and deadlines) you’ll need an answer by.

    I have a good relationship with my direct manager and sending him his “action items” has kind of turned into a good-natured thing between us, but it really has helped. Now when we are in meetings together and someone else tells him something they need from him, he will look at me and say, “Put that on my action items!” I’m really not his assistant, so I have to be careful that I don’t turn into his admin (nor does he treat me like one in general), but quite honestly, keeping him organized on what he needs to know or do ends up making my life so much easier, and it really has helped make him more responsive when I need to get my own answers from him.

  32. LadyBoss80*

    I am sometimes that boss. It was incredibly meaningful when a trusted employee pulled me aside and said “you know, the whole team is here and ready to help you make your vision a reality but we cannot make it happen for you and our org without you approving the work. We can’t read your mind. Help us help you.”

    Now I ask the team frequently what I can do to keep their work moving forward. I am transparent that I know that I can stop productivity and expect them to call me on it. Overall, it is MUCH better for everyone now.

  33. A commenter!*

    You can also timebox. “Sending through lama feeding schedule for your review; please send through any feedback, I’ll plan to send out to X/do next step in the process by 3 tomorrow.”

    I love a good time box

  34. Toolate*

    I wish I had read this before. I had a boss like this in my last organization. She was C-suite level, and it was my first job out of graduate school, so the power differential was significant. Theoretically we were meant to have one-on-ones every week, but she would frequently cancel. I was located at a site she seldom visited, and had no teammates/colleagues or line managers there. She really disliked when I used email communication, and did not share her calendar with me – it seemed like an unstated rule that I could not ask for any more time than she was already giving me, since I was so much less important than every other issue or person she handled. Over time, our quality (in addition to the quantity) of communication deteriorated – I was in a position where I had to rely on her for necessary information/tools to do my job. The organization went through a lot of turnover and was pretty clearly dysfunctional. Ultimately I wound up feeling incredibly depressed, anxious, isolated, and destabilized, so I sought an internal transfer – when that didn’t work out, I picked up and left for another job in a different city.

    I really wish I could have figured out a way to make it work with her – I did respect her, loved the city, and felt the organization had great potential. It was so tough to figure out what she wanted. Every single time I tried to anticipate her preferences or use my own initiative, I was wrong.

  35. anonymous73*

    My first question is why do you need your boss’s input before completing projects and sending them to whoever you send them to? Is it because you’re new and still learning? If yes, was this his request or yours? If this was something you asked for to make sure you’re doing things correctly, maybe he feels his input isn’t needed anymore. Or is this an actual approval process that was put into place?

    A lot of managers are crazy busy and not available at the drop of a hat. They have a ton of meetings, are often double booked and have little time free. Not making excuses, but it sounds like both of you are going about your day as you each see fit, and not communicating expectations. Setup a meeting with him. Either use your 1-on-1 and make it clear that you need to talk to him about something important so he doesn’t cancel on you, or schedule a separate meeting. You need to be specific and clear, and make sure you both agree to the expectations moving forward. If he doesn’t provide his input, ask if you should send it without or send it late. If you don’t have anything to do in between, ask if there’s anyone else on your team that you could help, or if there are any other tasks he could give you.

    I have a report I consolidate for one of the big wigs every week, that depends on 6 other managers sending me their input. They’re supposed to send it to me by COB on Mondays, and I’m supposed to send it to the big wig on Tuesday at noon. What happens is that I usually receive 2 of the 6 on Monday, and have to hound the other 4 on Tuesday morning to send their reports. I reached out to big wig and asked for the latest time was that I could send it on Tuesday, and he told me 2pm (clear expectation defined). So I reach out to managers around 11am on Tuesday, asking when I can expect them. If I haven’t received a report by 1:30, I tell them I need it within the next 15 minutes or I won’t be able to include it in the large report. Then I send it to big wig at 2pm and note which reports were not updated. I’ve done my job, and big wig knows who was a slacker, so it doesn’t come back on me that I didn’t do my job.

    1. MCMonkeyBean*

      I think it’s pretty common to have some level of review on deliverables! I’ve been working at my company for almost 10 years but I still send things to my manager for review before sending them to other teams. More important things may even go through two or three levels of review.

      Sometimes if something needs to go out and she hasn’t had time to look at it yet I might send out a report and say “Please note this file has not yet been through final review. We will update you if there are any changes.” or something like that.

  36. MCMonkeyBean*

    I think what I would prioritize in your shoes is:

    1) When you do meet and mention the pattern, ask how he would like you to handle it if something is due but he’s not had a chance to review it yet. Suggest that the options are to either let them know it’s running a bit late or to go ahead and send it with a note that it hasn’t been fully reviews and you’ll send an update if anything changes (that’s pretty common to see during our busy season). This way if the pattern doesn’t change, you at least don’t have to stress as much about it.

    2) Stop responding to him late in the evening. Unless you have been told that being available at all hours is an expectation of your job, it unreasonable for him suggest that is a reasonable meeting time. Working from home should *not* turn into living at the office! Let him know you are working to establish better boundaries and that you don’t plan to be available even if you are home unless something really urgent that pops up.

    Honestly, I don’t think you should need to be available for something “urgent” either if you wouldn’t be in a normal office environment, but I think offering that makes it clear you’re not trying to be unreasonable and hopefully your field doesn’t require it much. Certainly a catch-up meeting with your boss is not urgent!! I have personally told my bosses that I won’t be installing Teams on my phone and am generally not checking work stuff outside of working hours, but I’m happy to help out in a pinch and if they ever really need me to log on for some reason they have my phone number and can text/call me–obviously don’t offer that to a boss who would abuse texting you outside office hours but I work for reasonable people so I think it’s a reasonable line for me to draw.

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