who’s in charge of making sure a scheduled meeting happens?

A reader writes:

Since March of 2020, I’ve been permanently working from home and with the Covid cases in my county way down, I’ve started going back into the office once a month or so. A few months ago, I went in to have a scheduled meeting with my boss’s equal – -the director of a department in which I used to work — and the controller. I had scheduled a meeting so we could put our heads together on how my job was going to interplay with theirs, so I could do tasks that impacted them in the way they liked. I know they’re both very busy, so when our meeting time came and the director said she just needed to finish something, I was patient.

Well, the hours just kept passing. I reminded them both about three times about our meeting, and it never happened. Either one or both couldn’t get away at any given moment, so I just went with my best judgement on my tasks that impact them, and if they change anything on their end, I’m none the wiser. I’d rather give them my work product the way they want the end product to be (as much as is within my capability) but since I haven’t gotten any feedback, I’m assuming everything is copacetic.

A few weeks ago, I scheduled another meeting with the director and my boss. I went into the office and, with my boss advocating to get the meeting rolling and done, we actually met and accomplished something. My boss mostly led that meeting, which I appreciated.

My question is: who is actually in charge when a reporting employee schedules a meeting with the boss? I didn’t feel I had the authority the first time to push the director and the controller to stop what they were doing and meet with me. Without my boss pushing the director to stop what they were doing and attend the second meeting, I think that meeting would also have been a non-starter.

So, who is in charge of starting such a meeting? The reporting employee who scheduled it or the boss who agreed to it? It feels like the boss who agreed to it. If I need to meet with a boss (and genuinely need to meet with them, not just resolve something an email could settle), how can I get my job needs met without nagging them?

And for the record, I’m not a “meet in person” kinda employee; I’d rather just email!

Yeah, your ability to make people stop what they’re doing and attend a scheduled meeting is limited when you’re beneath them in the hierarchy.

What you did was correct, and was basically all you could do: you nudged them a few times, and then moved on when that didn’t achieve anything. It sounds like you had to move forward with your work right after that, but if there had been more time I would have advised following up at the end of the day and saying something like, “Since we didn’t get to meet today, is there another time that would work? I need to start on X by Friday so it would need to be before then if you want me to include your input.” Depending on the project, sometimes it can make sense to suggest other options too, like “would it be easier to send me a quick email with your thoughts instead?”

What you shouldn’t do is just passively let the ball drop completely. Sometimes a junior person will have a meeting scheduled with someone more senior, see that they’re in the middle of something else, not interrupt them,  and not circle back later to try to reschedule. Whether or not to interrupt is a judgment call that depends on the situation ( if your boss is in the middle of being interviewed by CNN, obviously you shouldn’t barge in and expect to meet right then and there) but not circling back to reschedule later is nearly always a problem. The junior person often figures that it’s on the person who missed the meeting to reschedule if they want to — but sometimes the colleague missed the note on their calendar entirely or assumes you’re in charge of managing that project and you’ll let you know if you still need them. Whether or not they should assume any of those things isn’t really the point; it’s that if you want to get the best outcomes in your work, it benefits you to follow up when someone misses a meeting that you needed, whether or not you should have to.

There’s one more piece to your situation in particular, because you’re coming into the office specifically for these meetings, making it a bigger inconvenience if they don’t happen. One option is to try to head that off ahead of time, by emailing the day before and saying something like, “I’m normally remote but I’m going to drive in tomorrow so we can meet in person. If you end up needing to move the day, just let me know before 8 am if you can.” Or afterwards, especially if it’s become a pattern, you could say, “I’m coming in specifically for this meeting, so can we pick a time you’re pretty confident should work?” But you should also factor in your company’s culture around remote work; if there’s been a lot of resistance to it and your work-from-home ability feels in any way precarious, it can be smarter to err on the side of leaving the remote piece out of it.

{ 57 comments… read them below }

  1. Viki*

    The lower you are, the less valuable your time is and it means unless the meeting is THAT important, it will be the one that’s skipped/missed.

    However, when I miss/skip my reports meetings that I’m not really needed in (either because I saw the email/issue before hand and have judged accordingly, or because it’s more of “just so I can say my boss is there behind me”) I do let them know with a quick teams message, and offer a reschedule if it was a 1-1 meeting.

    Other than that, my reports are empowered/know that they can and should follow up with a new meeting if it is important, or send me an email (not a message because I need the email to pull later) giving me the quick run through.

    1. Koalafied*

      The lower you are, the less valuable your time is and it means unless the meeting is THAT important, it will be the one that’s skipped/missed.

      Yep. I’d also add though, that if it happens repeatedly you are either really unlucky or work in the kind of environment I would run screaming from. Even very senior people should be able to make and keep most of their appointments most of the time, even with junior employees.

      Sometimes a conflict arises and it makes more sense to cancel an earlier commitment, but they’re called commitments for a reason. If someone is repeatedly backing out of meetings with a junior because something more important came up, they either need to 1) be up front that they’re too busy to meet with the junior and send someone else as their proxy or do it by email or say it’s just not going to happen, or 2) reconcile the conflict between booking x% percent of their day with scheduled meetings when they routinely have more than 100-x% of their day eaten up by unanticipated/urgent things, by not taking as many meetings or recalibrating their sense of what’s urgent enough that it should bump other priorities.

    2. Spencer Hastings*

      “The lower you are, the less valuable your time is and it means unless the meeting is THAT important, it will be the one that’s skipped/missed.”

      So, I think the LW actually understands this. I interpreted the question as asking “given this situation, how do I make sure *I* am dealing with it the best that I can?” I think there are a lot of questions that boil down to something like this.

  2. Sleepless KJ*

    I’m a big fan of using email for questions like the ones you would like to meet about. That way you get their feedback in writing, and they can reply when it’s convenient for them.

    1. ApollosTorso*

      I agree with this. It depends on the kind of work and what the deliverable is. But if I can just make an example of what I’m delivering and let them comment in word, email or in a pdf, that tends to work.

      And then I just say they can schedule a meeting as I’d be happy to talk through it.

      Again tho, that works well in my type of work and I can imagine it wouldn’t for some things. I’d probably talk through these ideas with my own manager if I wasn’t sure

    2. whistle*

      It really depends. Sometimes you don’t know what questions to ask and need a little bit of back and forth to hone in on the key questions. Sometimes you know the answers will lead to follow-up questions, but you don’t know the follow up questions until you get the answers.

      There are plenty of times where a meeting is most efficient way to get things done.

      1. Spencer Hastings*

        I totally agree. Plus, if you meet synchronously rather than by email, the two higher-up people can also bounce ideas off *each other* in real time, which is often very helpful IME.

    3. A Feast of Fools*

      OP’s meeting points sounded like things that would be better served in person.

      Like, if there are several ways she can produce a work product, it’s going to be easier and faster to talk those through than to try to type out a menu and ask the two senior people to customize their meal, so to speak.

      I know that the times I’ve tried email when I need someone above me to choose between several not-black-and-white variables, they always answer back, “Yes,” even when I’ve offered an A, B, C, D list of choices.

      My email:
      “A = High-level summary in PDF format;
      B = Deeper narrative in paragraph form;
      C = All the work papers from our investigation;
      D = Some combination of all three (please specify which two or all three).

      Their reply: “Yes, that sounds good.”

      1. Antilles*

        Agreed. As a general idea, I’m all for turning meetings into emails, but for this particular case, “How my job interfaces with higher levels” isn’t a simple question and likely to get better answers with a meeting/discussion than an email chain.

        If they’re providing good feedback to that question, there should be plenty of back and forth involved where OP provides an opinion about OP’s own capabilities and how they would want the interfacing to look. There’s likely will include some vagueness of “well, it depends on X and Y” where OP needs follow-up clarification about those cases or hey what if it’s actually Z. There might be different answers to how boss and grandboss prefer the work product to look, requiring discussion to hash out a single unified solution that both can live with. Etc.

        Yes, you can do all this via email, but in terms of actually getting the best answer, it seems to be a question where you can accomplish more with a 15-minute meeting than with a dozen emails.

      2. redflagday701*

        Yep. When I worked in corporate America, I learned to simplify my emails in direct proportion to the level of the person I was emailing. Because as best I can tell, the higher you rise at many companies, the more your ability to read and comprehend basic English declines.

        1. Mr. Shark*

          Haha…Unfortunately sort of true, but also because the higher you go, the more e-mails you have and generally those people don’t have a lot of time to read complex e-mails.
          Quick bullet point information is more easily digestible than a detailed paragraph, although the detailed paragraph may provide a lot more information and context.

    4. Mr. Shark*

      Sometimes there is a discussion with your manager and they suggest setting up the meeting with persons X and Y who are above you, so you set up the meeting, and then they don’t show up.

  3. Person from the Resume*

    Eh, I feel like your director was kind of a jerk in that first example. When the director finished up whatever she just needed to finish, she should have called you and the controller and and had the meeting right then.

    They more senior person has the power, but they have accepted your meeting invitation. They should not just blow it off for no reason. They can say something higher priority came up or they got called into a higher priority meeting. That happens, but they should be clear if your meeting is then cancelled or that they want to finish something up but that it will only take part of the meeting time.

    My bosses are always clear on this. We also are virtual so there’s a lot of I’ll message you as soon as I’m free so that we can have a call. Or we need to reschedule; look for a time later/tomorrow/next week depending on the urgency.

    1. Connie-Lynne*

      Yeah, same. The Director should have finished the thing and then gone to the meeting, not continued on with new things.

      Although, I am now a Director and I always make a point of rescheduling if I can’t make it. And clearly communicating that. But also, because I am a Director, I have zero compunctions about either bothering certain higher-ups to get the heck into the meeting, or if they are remote and not answering DMs, asking their assistants to bother on my behalf and just starting the meeting.

  4. gsa*

    The scheduler and the invitees are the only ones that can make the meeting actually happen.

    If you have to send Reminders then I would do it. It might be an 8 o’clock reminder about an 11 o’clock meeting. On the other hand, if they’re chronically that late, I wouldn’t schedule a meeting I would send out an email or information as suggested above.

  5. Ness*

    I agree that the employee did the right thing, but the director seems pretty inconsiderate. As soon as she knew the meeting time wouldn’t work, she could have directed the employee to work with her secretary to set up a new time, or whatever the appropriate rescheduling process is, rather than expecting the employee to wait around all day.

  6. Charlotte Lucas*

    Do one or both of these people have an EA? They have the best idea of what the schedules truly look like. Make friends with the EA & ask them to help schedule meetings.

    1. kittymommy*

      Yeah, this. I’m an EA and I can typically tell if I think a meeting is going to go longer than the anticipated time, either due to who is in the meeting and/or topic. Since I’ve trained most of my colleagues not to put something on my bosses calendars without going through me, I can sometimes avoid this but after a couple of interruptions I just call it and re-schedule.

      It doesn’t sound like these people may have assistants and that makes it really hard.

      1. Antilles*

        Yeah, if they don’t have EA’s, it’s possible this is just purely unintentional.
        Your meeting is scheduled for 1:00 since I’ve got a big gap in my schedule there, perfect. But then my noon meeting ran over; I figured it’d just be an extra 5-10 mins so I just asked you to wait a few minutes (easier than rescheduling) but actually it ended up running all the way to 1:45, then right as I’m freeing up, the phone rings with a client…which then ties me up until 2:27 and then well, I already have a higher priority meeting at 2:30.
        Rinse and repeat and suddenly it’s 4:55 and well I *wanted* to get this meeting done today but it’s just not happening because every time I SHOULD have time, something high priority must fix ASAP fell out of the sky.

        Still probably would be good to do at least a quick “Sorry, things are piling up, might not get to it” email / text / Teams to keep OP in the loop, but it’s entirely possible that they kept thinking okay things are about to open up and we can finally meet…and nope, fires just kept starting.

        1. Becky*

          I mean…was there no point you could have let the person waiting for you know the meeting wasn’t going to happen?

          Blowing people off, even if they’re low level and thus “low priority” is…not a great way to manage, imo.

          1. Antilles*

            Sure and that’s why I said they should have done a quick email / text / Teams message – at least the update of “Things are piling up, might not get to it”.
            OP would still be kept around waiting because it’s not clear whether the meeting can or can’t happen (in the same way that a baseball team might try to wait out a rain delay rather than hassling with rescheduling), but it’s reasonable to expect to at least keep OP in the loop.

        2. anonymous73*

          The intention is irrelevant. If you can’t make a meeting, you let the person know it needs to be rescheduled. I work with a bunch of higher ups in the government who have days FULL of back to back meetings and they manage to have the courtesy to let me know if something needs to be rescheduled.

  7. Rosie*

    There is only one senior leader at my organization who is so rude that they don’t bother to cancel meetings with more junior managers even a few minutes ahead of time (a majority of meetings) or even pick up the phone when you make the “hey, weren’t we meeting?” call? If you can’t make it, you should at least say so. Ghosting is always rude, even if the senior leader’s time is more valuable. Sure, these leaders are stretched thin—but too thin even to utter the words, “Sorry, can we reschedule?” My personal response is to communicate with the ghosting leader with (ignored) emails as much as possible so that there is at least a paper trail. I would only even attempt to get on their calendar if directly instructed to by my supervisor.

    1. Rocky*

      I think it really depends on your industry and org culture. Here (NZ govt) it’s not uncommon for a Minister to need a discussion with a senior exec right away, so that conversation overrides anything else in the exec’s diary. A good EA will read the body language of their exec, even as they take that phone call. EA then guesses as to whether the rest of the day has gone to hell in a handbasket OR there’s a sliver of hope….but it’s an art not a science :-)

  8. Ozzie*

    I just got done dealing with a director who would chronically ghost meetings, take days to reschedule, ghost again… and then finally just stop putting it on to calendars. It was possibly the most disrespectful dealing I have had with an upper manager, and usually meant you would be blocking out hour times for nothing, but wouldn’t figure out you had the time back until 15-20min into it. It’s definitely on the person with the busier schedule (so, usually the one with more authority, because of power dynamics) to schedule/reschedule, including being upfront about cancellations or reschedules. Not doing this is incredibly rude on their part.

    1. Ruby*

      At Old Job, I was ghosted FIVE TIMES for a skip level meeting with the grandboss. I don’t work there anymore (not the only reason, but it didn’t help).

  9. bean counter*

    Maybe I’m misunderstanding the letter but it sounds like the director and controller don’t have a problem with the way the work is being done. If that’s the case, they might feel like other priorities should take precedent. It’s still rude for them to just not show up though.

    1. anonymous73*

      We can’t know that for sure. OP was scheduling the meeting to get feedback on tasks she was doing specifically for them. Assuming they knew the subject of the meeting, they could have very easily said that everything was fine and they didn’t think the meeting was needed or asked to reschedule.

  10. kiki*

    I think this is a really good reminder for higher-level workers to read– your more junior employees do need to meet with you but feel awkward about pushing it. Make sure you’re not always letting “more important” things trump meetings with more junior employees, but if it does happen sometimes, make sure you’re clear with them about how is best to proceed (reschedule, go forward without my input and pick what’s best, etc.)

  11. Becky*

    Maybe it’s because I’ve been a low-level person up until this point in my career, but I feel like this is a pretty disrespectful thing for the director and controller to do. If the role was reversed and OP didn’t show up, they wouldn’t be able to get away with that.

    Before someone says “that’s because the higher level person is more important”, it’s bad manners (and bad management) to behave in a way that makes that obvious and/or takes advantage of that power differential. If you wouldn’t treat a peer that way, you shouldn’t treat a junior employee (or the janitor or anyone else) that way. Jmho.

    1. CCC*

      Yeah I’m appalled by this letter. I’ve had meetings get cancelled last minute (or after the meeting start time), but if someone in my management chain brushed me off after 3 reminders like that I would need to hear about how she was literally saving lives or something for me to not start job searching. That’s insanely rude, and I think it’s worse when it’s a higher up person, because yes, it is obviously disrespectful of the junior employee’s time. And if you don’t think the time of your junior employees is valuable, how can those people expect to be treated fairly? I’d be out.

        1. Not a cat*

          I used to report in to the CEO/Founder of a large business software company. She was only in the office 1/2 days for a week or two, then out for a week or two. Her schedule was packed. And even she found time to pop into my office or call me if she needed to reschedule or change the meeting to a working lunch because that was the only time she had. LW your boss is unprofessional.

  12. Annony*

    Is there a reason the meeting has to be physically in person? I have found it a lot easier to schedule virtual meetings and that would eliminate the need to go in just for the meeting. The higher ups I work with seem much more comfortable going to a virtual meeting when they have a hard cut off because they can simply hop off when needed.

    1. OP For This*

      Yes, we needed to look at the same data together and possibly draw on a whiteboard (which I know can all be done virtually too), but I suspect a virtual meeting would have been even harder to accomplish, with interruptions taking precedent during the virtual meeting as well. As least in person, we could close the door and it would be evident to everyone “she’s busy right now.”

      My work flows into their work and I know that they review my work, sometimes change it to their judgment, and I wanted to look at the data together with them so they can tell me their end goal, and I could align my process with that. I wanted to be proactive, but since they’re not giving me feedback to the contrary, I’ve just stayed the course.

      In writing this out, I think what I really wanted was her undivided attention. Perhaps it could have been resolved with an email. “Is there anything I could do differently to help y’all have less to change?” And she/they could reply, “Nope!” or “Yes, please do it this way.”

  13. NewJobWhoDis*

    One thing I have found to be effective in the past when I worked at a place where hierarchy was VERY important was to have my manager organize/send the meeting invite when I needed to meet with higher-ups. Those folks were much more likely to respond to the invite at all and show up! My direct manager would mark themself as optional/tentative so they weren’t actually obligated to attend these meetings, but something about having their name and title associated with the meeting made it more legitimate to these upper levels folks. Could be worth a shot if you’re manager is open to it!

    1. Anony445*

      Agreed. Or my manager would send an intro email to the group and I would setup the meeting.

  14. Sharon*

    As soon as it was evident the meeting wasn’t happening at the assigned time, I would have said “Looks like the scheduled time won’t work” and just rescheduled it. It sounds like nobody even attempted a formal reschedule?

    1. LMB*

      Yeah this too. I would have just canceled the meeting invite and started looking for a new time on their calendar or working with their EA.

      1. Varthema*

        This thread makes me grateful for my company which has a *very* strong culture of ending meetings bang on time *even when there’s clearly more to discuss.* At the end of the scheduled meeting, the person running it will always say, “Looks like we’re at time” and follow it up if necessary with “Let’s schedule another meeting to follow up on some of these remaining issues and also we can continue this conversation on Slack.” Once this culture is firmly established, from the lowest to the highest ranks, it’s just so much easier to avoid ghosting scenarios. It also ensures that people have a clear sense of how much material will fit into half an hour, 45 minutes, an hour, etc., so meetings will also often end early.

        1. Varthema*

          Oops, sorry!! I didn’t mean to nest this post and “this thread” meant the comments at large, not this one at all! Aggravating. Should know better than to comment from my phone.

    2. anonymous73*

      If the OP came into the office specifically for this meeting, the director should have suggested a better time later in the day and the OP could have rescheduled. Instead they kept putting her off every time she asked. So yes, the OP did try to reschedule but the director kept blowing her off.

  15. cactus lady*

    I’m an executive and I think this is a case of bad manners. I have to miss/reschedule meetings with my reports and junior staff all the time and I never just leave someone hanging like this. It’s also a waste of company resources (your time).

    1. LMB*

      Exactly! I honestly can’t imagine the executives I work with doing this. They sometimes get busy and turn up late or they need to reschedule, but they communicate that clearly and respect everyone’s time.

    2. Varthema*

      You sound like the people on the leadership team at my work, and we appreciate you so much. :)

    3. allathian*

      Yes, this. My manager is very busy and typically has at least 4 meetings scheduled every day, usually more. Her manager is certainly just as busy. So rescheduling does happen, but usually with at least a day’s notice. If it’s a genuine emergency and she has to reschedule at even shorter notice, she’ll apologize sincerely but without making a big deal out of it, because it’s an emergency.

      That said, in my case it helps that our meetings are typically held on Teams, the only exceptions are the biannual workshops/training days (in person, unless a pandemic prevents it).

      My organization is very flat, I’m a senior SME and 4 levels down from the President, below me in the org chart are only junior SMEs and interns.

  16. LMB*

    The boss was pretty rude in this case. Don’t leave someone hanging—if you need to reschedule, just say you need to reschedule. My company has a pretty formal culture around meetings—everything goes through outlook/teams. Regardless of rank people respect the calendar. It works well without much room for ambiguity. I also wonder if these bosses in question have EAs? If I’m ever not clear on when an exec is available or need help with scheduling I just ask their EA. If they have one, the LW might have had some clarity just asking if the EA if they thought it would be better to reschedule, etc.

    1. jtr*

      I agree – whose time is more valuable is really not the point, leaving someone sitting for half the day when you are supposed to meet with them is very rude, IMO. If the boss didn’t think the time was worth being spent to talk it over, they should have said so instead of setting the meeting.

      Or, if they realized halfway through the day that their time was going to be overrun, they should have messaged, said so, and then either rescheduled OR follow up with an email with any concerns or requests they had.

      Or, just said, “I trust your judgement on this, I’m willing to make any corrections/changes when the time comes.”

  17. Saberise*

    Maybe you should do it like a doctor’s appointment? Try to be the first thing on the calendar that day so they don’t get wrapped up in something else or just get behind.

    1. anonymous73*

      That doesn’t resolve the underlying problem. It sounds like the director doesn’t respect the time of anyone other than management, because they showed up when OP’s manager scheduled something.

  18. Brandon*

    Bad manners but it also is unclear to me if there’s even a meeting needed. It sounded like you scheduled an unsolicited meeting at the behest of your boss without any confirmation a meeting was necessary. So I would confirm with the attendees first and if you hear nothing, send them a summary of changes by email and move on. That’s what I would do!

    1. anonymous73*

      If my boss asked me to schedule a meeting with a director, I wouldn’t confirm with the director if THEY felt the meeting was needed. It’s clear the director had enough respect for OP’s boss because they showed up when boss scheduled the meeting. It’s not just bad manners, it’s disrespectful.

  19. Karia*

    I only briefly managed people, but when I did I would prioritise my employees. The power differential means you need to, if anything, show extra courtesy and consideration to those lower in the hierarchy. Classic example; the waiter can’t afford to call you TA. Nor can your staff.

    So *don’t be one*.

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

    Unfortunately is something that happens, especially if you’re really junior.
    However, a trick I learnt is to add my boss to the meeting as an optional (with their permission, of course). Even if they don’t attend, it sends a “this is important” message and keeps them in the loop, which is useful if you need to reschedule.

  21. anonymous73*

    While Alison is correct, the director was being a jerk. I don’t care how high up the food chain you are, if you have a scheduled meeting and aren’t able to make it, you have the courtesy to ask the person to reschedule it (or suggest they send an email with questions). If you keep circling back and still aren’t getting anywhere, you loop in your boss so it doesn’t fall on you. I have a report I put together every week, and it relies on 6 branch managers providing me with information to complete the report. It is due at a specific time on a specific day every week and there is no wiggle room. I constantly have to ping a few of them and ask when I will be getting their reports. And I always get the “I’ve been in meetings all morning” excuse. Sorry but this is a weekly task and if you’ve waited until the last minute (again) it’s not my problem. If I don’t receive a specific manager’s data, I send it along to the director and let them know which ones are missing. I’m not letting other people make me look like I’m not doing my job.

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