my remote boss wants to know every time I go to the bathroom

A reader writes:

I recently started working under a different manager at the same job. He works remotely, so we communicate over texting/messaging for the most part. A couple weeks ago, we had a catch-up on the phone and he asked if messaging is the best system for me, since he noticed I didn’t respond right away a handful of times. Those times I was either up from my desk talking to the other manager I work for (I report to two) or I was … in the restroom. I told him that, and he said to notify him when I’m stepping away and when I’m back, so he doesn’t think I’ve disappeared. I would rather not tell my boss when I’m going to the restroom. When it comes to walking around the office to communicate with my other manager or coworkers, it feels like I’m now on a leash. I feel pretty weird about this and I wasn’t sure how to respond so I just affirmed that I would do that.

When it comes to a remote/in-office combo work relationship, is this level of surveillance normal? I’ve never had to be so tethered to my desk or phone before. I’m not brand new — I have been at the company for almost three years, but with this manager for a few months. It’s just weird and I feel on edge at work now.

No, it’s not normal. You’re not in prison and your boss doesn’t need to know every time you use the bathroom.

There are some jobs where you can’t leave your work station without alerting someone because they’ll need to cover for you. That’s not your situation. Your boss just can’t handle not knowing where you are at all times, and that’s about control, not work needs.

It’s likely that this is stemming from your boss being remote — he feels like he has less transparency into what you’re doing because he’s not in the same physical space as you, and so he’s grasping at ridiculous methods of countering that. (To be clear: This is not the way to do it! The way to effectively manage people from afar is to agree on clear goals and milestones and check in on progress toward them regularly. It’s not to monitor their bathroom breaks.)

And of course, even if your boss worked in the same space as you, there would be times when he wouldn’t know where you were (because you were  in the bathroom or the kitchen or talking to a colleague or stepping out for fresh air). That’s a normal thing.

It would be reasonable to go back to your boss and say, “I feel really uncomfortable having to alert you every time I use the bathroom or leave my desk for anything. I’m happy to set my IM status to ‘away’ (if you have something like that) but I of course will be away from my desk now and then — whether it’s to use the bathroom or the kitchen or talk with a colleague — so I won’t always be able to respond instantly when you contact me. But I have a track record of being very responsive and accessible, and I don’t miss messages. I’d like to have the autonomy to leave my desk when needed without reporting in each time.” (Depending on your boss, you might also include that it feels infantilizing to have to log your bathroom breaks with him, but that depends on the relationship.)

That might be all it takes. Sometimes managers propose silly things but back off once there’s pushback. But if that doesn’t work, consider talking to your other boss about what’s going on since a good manager will know this is ridiculous and be willing to intervene for you.

Read an update to this letter

{ 322 comments… read them below }

  1. It's All Elementary*

    I would start notifying him/her every time and even include pics of said, um, waste.

    1. TMI*

      “Sorry Jane, but that one looks like it should have taken a max of 2 1/2 minutes…what were you doing for the other 4?”

      1. It's All Elementary*

        “I know!! I’ve scheduled a doctor appt to find out why it took so long ago so I’ll be out on Tuesday from 1-4 for a colonoscopy. Would you like to come hold my hand? I could use some emotional support.”

        1. WillowSunstar*

          Yes! Remember, we should all be counting to 20 like one Mississippi, two Mississippi, etc. Or singing Happy Birthday twice, the posters at my office actually say that. But then the water gets warmer over time and by the time it hits 20 seconds, it’s scalding, so you really cannot wait the full 20 seconds unless you want injuries on your hands.

          1. Database Developer Dude*

            When they said sing Happy Birthday, I did the Stevie Wonder version…I was at the sink for twenty minutes!

          2. Elizabeth West*

            I sing the chorus to “Toss a Coin to Your Witcher” twice, which is about the same amount of time.

      2. Snoozing not schmoozing*

        Don’t forget: “Oops! Tampon got stuck! This is gonna take a while!”

            1. Calamity Jane*

              We need thumbs up (or down) buttons on this site! I would have given your comment a thumbs up!!!

          1. whingedrinking*

            I think it’s very dependent on individual anatomy, but also if you use a very absorbent one on a day with lighter flow, it might, you know, stick a bit and you’d have to give it a good solid yank to dislodge it. (Note for those who don’t menstruate or don’t use tampons: why yes, that is as unpleasant as it sounds.)

          2. no name*

            off topic but ….oh yes….I thought it was an urban legend until it happened to me….

        1. Audiophile*

          I’d start with that one, and that will probably be the last time the boss ever makes this request.

        2. Vio*

          probably just as effective at making them back off, for different reasons, if you’re male

      3. June*

        Exactly. Is wiping time included? I want an update on this one?

        I would have straight up told him, I’m not informing you every time I use the restroom for elimination or menstruation issues. Make him worried you will complain.

      4. Curmudgeon in California*

        “Sorry Jane, but that one looks like it should have taken a max of 2 1/2 minutes…what were you doing for the other 4?”

        “Sorry about that, I had to plunge the toilet again, and it was being stubborn.”

        (Really, every time I have a normal BM I have to plunge my toilet. It’s annoying. I have a callus on my palm from the plunger.)

          1. Reverend Bayes*

            I mean, beyond being a normal American toilet? (Don’t get me wrong, for all its faults I love the US, but I will never understand the national fondness for fundamentally poor toilet design).

            1. AlisonNotAManager*

              IDK, I have an American toilet and I can’t remember the last time I’ve had to plunge it. If ever. Sounds like something is either wrong with your bowels or your toilet!

    2. many bells down*

      Yeah this is major Malicious Compliance fodder. The temptation is overwhelming!

      1. Velawciraptor*

        For the sake of malicious compliance, I’d weaponize the second boss. Every time second boss comes to talk, I’d say “sorry, I need you to wait a sec. Boss 1 insists I message him if anything takes me away from being able to respond to him instantly. Let me just message him.”

        1. Elenna*

          I love this option (and it’s a lot less obviously malicious compliance than bathroom pics, although it’s certainly funny to imagine the micromanager boss’ face in response to those).

      2. sofar*

        OMG I’d have so much fun with this. I might even start my work day extra early to send some 7 a.m. pings.

        “Bob just stopped by to ask questions. BRB!”
        “OK, Bob left. Back now.”

        “Having a brainstorm with Bob and Mary BRB”
        “OK, back!”
        “Oh wait, Mary has a follow up q, BRB.”
        “OK, back!”
        “Oh wait Bob and Mary are both following up. BRB.”
        “I’m back!”

        “BRB headed to bathroom.”

        “Grabbing coffee from break room.”
        “Back now!”

        …. in all seriousness, I’d also ask for clarification of what the manager means by “not responding right away.” Does he want to know if I won’t be responding for an hour? For 5 minutes? Immediately?

            1. JustaTech*

              This is an issue I have now that a ton of my work is on Teams: If I’m over in one folder working on a shared document and I get an IM, when I switch over to chat I’m kicked out of the document I was in and then (maybe because there’s something wrong with my Teams) it’s 4 folders of clicking to get back to the document I was working on.
              So sometimes I just don’t respond right away so I can finish my thought.

              1. anon dev*

                Heck, not even on Teams but I work as a developer and sometimes don’t answer Slack messages right away because if I don’t finish my thought it will take me 15 minutes to remember what I was doing when I go back.

          1. Constance Lloyd*

            My job requires me to respond to any instant message within 18 minutes of it being sent. We are only allowed 18 minutes because twice a day, we have to take a 15 minute break, otherwise we’d be expected to respond within 6 minutes. Gotta love government.

            1. OhNo*

              Goodness, that would be a nightmare for me. At that point I’d just figure out how to set up an auto-responder that would go off exactly 6 minutes after each message was received, just have it send a “hmm…” reply to anyone and everyone that messaged me.

          2. Anon Supervisor*

            Sometimes I wait because people tend to send IM’s in rapid fire sentences one at a time (that’s not annoying at all../s).

            1. MC*

              Rapid fire the answers and say they are not in the same order as the questions… but they can figure it out.

        1. A lawyer*

          This reminds me of when my high school friends first got on Twitter, every single tweet was some version of “heading to the bathroom to poop now.” Just 7 people constantly tweeting that at each other…

        2. Vio*

          “brb contactng T to fx broken keyboard”
          “back but t’s stll not workng”

          “brb reading Ask A Manager to see if it’s creepy that my boss wants to know what I’m doing every second of the working day. would you prefer to be called Fergus, Bob or Boss1?”

          “brb the fire alarm’s going off and everyone is screaming at me to leave the building but I had to type th OH MY GOD I’M ON FIRE I’M GONNA BE OFF SICK TOMORROW!!!”

    3. Goldenrod*

      Yes, agreed. Send a photo and a description of all your poops.

      “This was a good one!”

        1. Curmudgeon in California*

          I have an app on my phone for tracking my poop, including the appropriate Bristol scale. It helps manage my IBS.

    4. Lalitah*

      I had the same thought. Initial IM: “Gotta go and dump a #2. BRB.” Have to include the poop emojis.

      1. whingedrinking*

        I was once late to a social gathering because of a nosebleed, and I almost felt like I should have taken some video because otherwise it sounded like the most pathetic excuse ever. But I was starting to get seriously worried about blood loss before it finally tapered off. I still don’t know what caused it – I just sat up from a lovely nap and whoooosh, out it poured.

        1. Glitter*

          Gave myself a covid test at my desk the other day and caused a massive nosebleed. Told my husband if I ever go missing and the cops luminol our house you’re screwed.

        2. Cohort 1*

          College date #1: went to the airport to watch the planes take off
          College date #2: went to the ER w/boyfriend because his nose wouldn’t stop bleeding.
          Good times.

        3. Bilateralrope*

          If you let the blood drip somewhere, it always looks a lot worse than it really is.

          Though I try to have running water in the sink while my nose is bleeding into it, just to make the cleanup easier. But I had a problem with constant nosebleeds that suddenly went away.

          1. Emmy Noether*

            I had frequent spontaneous nosebleeds as a child. I did the sink thing often, or even just bled into the toilet. Much easier cleanup. And a rolled-up tissue as a plug once it subsided a bit.
            All those tips you read (wet towel to the back of the neck, etc.) are B.S., by the way. You just gotta bleed until it stops by itself, no way to make it stop faster (well, there’s surely a medical way, but not with household means).

    5. Maurynna*

      Exactly. This is the kind of situation that malicious compliance was made to address!

  2. Snarkus Aurelius*

    I apologize, but now I have the urge to rewatch the Shawshank Redemption.

    I was envisioning the grocery store scene after Red gets out of prison.

  3. Pam*

    And of course, you might be answering an email, on the phone, or neck-deep in a project and unable to answer immediately.

    1. Observer*


      We had an issue with one of our managers and even though I didn’t work for them, it made me nuts to watch this all go down. They wanted the wanted the immediacy and direct information that comes from being in one (smallish) space, while taking advantage of the benefits of remote work. And it REALLY stank for their reports.

      One of the reasons it made me nuts was because I had been an advocate of ramping up our WFH capacity, and this was kind of giving the whole concept a bad name. But the real problem was that this manager really just was very, very good and some parts of their job but a TERRIBLE people manager.

      Fortunately, they resigned for personal reasons. They are doing something totally different and I’m pretty sure it does not involve managing anyone.

    2. EPLawyer*

      Exactly. Can we please get away from the idea that all messages must be responded to IMMEDIATELY. Even IM which okay can be real time conversations do not require constant monitoring. People are not tethered to their desks/phones/etc. 24/7.

      This is all part of changing the culture around work. Work is what we do to pay our bills. It might be enjoyable. You might even LIKE working. But it is not our lives.

    3. Koalafied*

      Agreed! I have ADHD, and that’s just one of several neurological conditions that makes it really harmful to my performance to be frequently interrupted. I lose so. much. productive time, far beyond the time the interruption itself takes, because of how long it takes me to get back into a focused state on whatever I was pulled away from. And once I’ve minimized those work materials and started looking at email or IM, I’m highly likely to end up getting distracted by responding to other emails/IMs that are in reality less time-sensitive or important than the work that was interrupted – I thought I’d look something up quickly in the database to answer a question, but then when I opened the database the dashboard was highlighting something interesting or that required my attention, so I forget what I meant to look up and start working on that – and the original work by that point is a distant memory.

      My manager supports me intentionally limiting how often I check Slack and email because she understands that she gets my best work when I’m allowed to focus on one thing at a time and pause at junctures when the work naturally allows it instead of whenever an external demand happens to pop up.

      1. RebelwithMouseyHair*

        This happens to me too, and I’m pretty sure I don’t have ADHD.
        I often end up going down rabbit holes when I’m researching something. Luckily I tend to work quickly and can often make up for that lost time. The rabbit holes are part of what makes my job fascinating actually.

    4. Lacey*

      Yes. I’m pretty responsive, but sometimes I don’t see that I have a new message for a few minutes or I’m in the middle of something and just need to wrap it up quickly before I respond so that I don’t mess things up.

    5. Jean*

      THIS. Unless your literal job description is “watching the screen intently and waiting for a message from the boss,” then it stands to reason that you are going to be focusing on other things throughout the day, even when you ARE at your desk. This boss is like an infant who has not yet grasped object permanence.

    6. Nanani*


      If it needs an immediate answer, IM is the wrong medium. Phone calls interrupt and demand attention so USE THE PHONE when you need someone’s attention ASAP!

      if “you took too long to IM back” is even a possibility, IM was the wrong tool.

      1. Elenna*

        Also the vast majority of questions do not require an immediate answer! They will survive waiting 5 minutes for your colleague to get back from the bathroom, or even 30 minutes for them to get to a natural break point and check IMs.

      2. Inkognyto*

        our company uses Slack.
        I’m in my larger department group and a smaller group. I’ve muted messages on all of them 1.5 years ago. No one has noticed.
        “AFK” every 5 minutes from someone and ‘Back’. Get out of the late 90’s IM rooms people!
        We know you are not here, that unfilled circle next to your name indicates AFK. It fills in when you are at the keyboard.
        Whoa 2010 technology is amazing!

        Focus assist in windows 10 turns it off sound and notifications beeps, when apps are full screen. I love it. Someone told me to turn it off once and I told them “why it interrupts my concentration”

        I report to the Director, 95% of the people in my group don’t. I’ve never been forced to respond faster than when I get time, and I’m getting great performance reviews. He also said he’s very transparent if there is an issue. I’ve never seen it directed at me.

    7. A Simple Narwhal*

      Yes, there are many legitimate business reasons you might not instantly respond to an IM! If someone doesn’t respond instantly, I don’t assume they’re MIA, I assume they’re in the middle of something!

      I see it similar to texting – it’s a moderately asynchronous form of communication, sometimes you get an instant response, other times you have to wait a bit. Unless you have a pattern of being unreliable or your job specifically requires immediate responses, there is no need to tell your boss every time you stand up from your computer.

    8. AnonymousReader*

      “neck-deep in a project and unable to answer immediately.”

      ^ This! I’m remote and I delay answers if I’m very busy or in the middle of a focused task. My coworkers do the “hello!” and will not tell you what they want until you answer back. It annoys me so much! It’s so disruptive and a waste of my time to sit there waiting for them to ask their question after I “hello!” them back. I purposely don’t answer until they state their question hoping they’ll learn to ask right away.

      1. Bexy Bexerson*

        I hate “hello” with no info about what the person wants SO SO VERY MUCH. When I get one of those, I usually wait a few minutes and then respond “Hey Wakeen, what’s up?”.

        There is one woman I work with (really lovely person and I truly enjoy working with her except for this one thing) who takes it a couple steps further. She’ll simply send “IM?” because apparently “Hi, do you have a minute to IM?” is too much work. Now I’m already mildly irritated, because if my Skype light is green, you don’t need my permission to IM me.

        AND THEN…when I respond “yes” or “yeah, sure” to “IM?” she sometimes responds with “Do you have time for a quick phone call?”.

        Good grief, Susan…if you need to call me, just skip the first part and ask for a call!!!

          1. Rain's Small Hands*

            I like Susan. I hate the phone and will avoid it….but if I know that its Susan it isn’t nearly as panic inducing. Its the random suspense of not knowing that causes the most panic. So Susan IM’ing “do you have a minute for a phone call” is exactly what I’d want. And exactly how everyone worked in in a heavy IM culture – none of us answered our phones if they just rang (that was usually salespeople trying to sell us something or some other random interruption) – we’d IM and answer the phone because we’d know it was Fred calling. Plus the IM gave you a chance to say “busy now, should be free in about five, ping me then.”

            1. amoeba*

              Yeah, but I think the problem here is that she first asks whether the OP has time for an IM to then IM whether they have time for a call. I don’t think anybody would have a problem with just directly IMing “Do you have time for a quick call?”

        1. Sfal*

          THIS. I have a awful coworker that does this constantly, just types ‘hi’ and then nothing.
          And because he’s generally lazy and tries to pass of his work to everyone else I know he’s doing it so he can go back to his manager and say ‘well I reached out to Sfal, and they didn’t respond’ They move it off their mental load and onto mine. It’s gross.

          After he did it to 3 members of my team, I finally just told him straight out-I don’t have time to monitor your zoom chats on top of my actual work. If you need something just say it, I’ll respond to the zoom as needed. Same goes for the rest of the team.

          Now he send stuff to his boss to send to all of us. Sigh.

      2. Random Bystander*

        Oh, this so much! I will not reply to a mere “hello” (the IM pops up in a little window, and I usually see it, minimize it, and go on with work). If I’m in the middle of something … job-related (who’da thunk it), I need to finish the task or get to an actual pause point before I respond to the IM. If I am sending an IM, I might soften it with a “hi” followed by a dash and then whatever I need to IM about, but that is all in the same message.

        One of the things that I do like about remote–when we were in-office, one co-worker had the habit of coming over to stand in my space in my cube, and then she had these long-winded 2-3 minute lead ins to the question, then the actual question, and then 5-6 minutes of explaining why she needed to ask even though she thought she knew the answer, etc. When we went remote, I “trained” her into using IM (which in office was what everyone else did if they needed to ask a co-worker something)–she would call me, and then I would bounce her straightaway to voice mail and then send an IM “Sorry, can’t talk on the phone right now, what do you need?” and wait for her email-length IM to arrive (at least I can skim the IM to the question and ignore all the lead in/explaining after).

      3. Flash Packet*

        I have a team member in India who always, always, always just types, “Good morning, Flash!” And then won’t type anything else until I respond to him. And usually his response is, “Do you have a few minutes for a call?”

        I have told him directly and without softening the message that he needs to just get to the question. And that, if he truly can’t live without the pleasantries, he can type, “Good morning, Flash! I have a question, and a phone call will be quicker. Got a minute?”

        We use Teams. He can see that my status is Available. He therefore knows I’m in front of my computer or not very far away.

        I’ve gotten to the point that I ignore all of his content-less IMs. Which sometimes means he has to wait until the next day to get his question answered because my mornings are his nights (and vice versa) and he will type his question into an email during my overnight hours, so I see it first thing in the morning.

        And yet he persists in sending “Good morning, Flash!” and nothing else.

        1. RebelwithMouseyHair*

          This might be a cultural thing, though. In many Asian countries there are quite strict rules about exchanging pleasantries before getting on to the meat of a conversation.

          In my partner’s country, you have to ask after all members of that person’s family that you know before getting down to business. And since people there mix business and pleasure far more than westerners do, this means you know lots of their family members and it can take a while to get through the entire list. I find it annoying, but I’ve noticed that westerners find it very sweet that my partner asks after everyone. He’s learned not to do it all at once upon meeting the people, and basically asks after one more person each time the conversation lulls.

      4. TexasTeacher*

        I am guilty of doing this with my teens, lol. When I just ask the question, if their teenage brains don’t think it’s important, they won’t answer. But if I say, “hey, [name]…” I get a “?” And I know they see my text.
        But yes, I know it would be annoying to do to most people and I don’t do that with others.

      5. The yellow dot doesn’t ALWAYS mean I’m away*

        I’m neck deep in the middle of running a project, and we’re using a Teams channel to manage project-related deliverables in addition to the company’s normal Teams chat use. I get so many notifications about posts in the channel that yes, I will occasionally see the number in the icon at the bottom of my screen and one or two of them are actual chats that I get to within a hour or so. But just this week, I got chastised by my manager in such a way that I could tell she thought I was truly away frolicking on non-work stuff instead of just working on something else. Certainly doesn’t help that I can be working, say, in Excel and my Teams indicator will still go yellow in a very short period of time…and stay yellow until I go back into Teams.

        So I commiserate with you, OP…but you’d better believe I’m keeping chat at the front of my screen for a few weeks.

        1. Karen, but not that kind of Karen*

          I have a couple colleagues to send the “hi” with no context, but as soon as I respond (“hi”) they just call. Not “need to give you a call,” just the phone ringing. And if I don’t respond to the “hi” within 5 minutes, one of them will call first my office phone, then my mobile before giving me any explanation to why she’s trying to contact me.

    9. TG*

      Seriously this is so big a red flag – if the conversation doesn’t go well and your boss doesn’t realize he’s being ridiculous I’d leave. I had a manager like that back in the day who clock watched and micro managed everything and I had such joy giving my notice….

  4. Leo McGarry.*

    The irony in this is that OP is the one who is in the building and the manager is the one who is remote.

      1. The OTHER Other*

        I was just going to say this. The manager is probably taking time to watch TV or do laundry etc and imagines anyone not glued to their desk awaiting an IM and responding immediately is goofing off. If he wants this kind of micro-scrutiny, working remotely is probably not a good fit for him.

        Honestly, lots of actual work requires either concentration or takes someone away from their desk–meetings, talking with clients, talking with coworkers about strategy, etc. Being instantly available for all IM’s is not really a good indicator for how most people work.

        1. A Simple Narwhal*

          My coworkers and I have a working theory that our grandboss hates wfh because they almost never check their email and are never signed into Teams (no IMing or calling them), so they assume no one else ever actually checks their email or uses Teams. And because of that they can’t fathom how wfh possibly works.

          So I’m all in on the projecting theory!

          1. Meep*

            My former manager was like that. I was buying a house during the pandemic, which meant going to see houses. We mainly went on the weekends or after work, but sometimes we went during lunch. She assumed we were searching for a house because she would do that. I literally had to go into work while my husband and mom moved before I told her we had even bought the dang house.

            Surprise, surprise when Miss Thing bought her house earlier this year, she did it on company time and refused to come into the office for a month while they were closing and a month after. I can only imagine what she did during work hours, only because she told me by accusing me of doing it. -eye roll-

  5. Sloanicota*

    I think I would interpret this strange feedback as your boss’s way of saying they’re not satisfied with your responsiveness via IM or slack or text, whatever this service is you’re using. Some bosses have a strategy of using it as a “test” to ping you every once in a while and see how quickly you respond. Has there been any times you haven’t noticed the notification because you’re working on something else / just didn’t see it on time? Can you enable desktop notifications or otherwise make sure it’s top of mind?

    1. Observer*

      That could be. But it’s just stupid. If the OP didn’t immediately respond to a ping because they were on the phone with a client, say, why would that be a problem? Or, as happened, they were talking to another manager or using the bathroom. Why jump to “Oh, OP must have disappeared because they didn’t respond in one second.” Especially once OP reminded Manager that they actually do get up from their desk occasionally even while at work.

      This kind of nonsense tends to be the mark of a very poor manager.

      1. Ms. Hagrid Frizzle*

        Right – I get up from my desk very frequently for all sorts of work-related reasons: popping in on a colleague (we do not have a culture that favors IMs), walking to/from the printer, collecting packages, preparing a room for a presentation, etc. And even my very micro-manager boss doesn’t ask me to poke into his office to let him know where I am going because if I did neither of us would ever get any work done. If he looks for me and can’t find me, he sends me a message or leaves one with my office neighbor and responding to him becomes my priority as soon as I get the “alert”.

      2. SheLooksFamiliar*

        Yeah, this all smacks of ‘If I can’t reach you on demand, then you must be goofing off.’

        1. Everything Bagel*

          Yeah, I cannot figure out what he means by “disappeared” anyway. Does he think she up and quit that day? It doesn’t occur to him that she’s busy doing something else and she’ll respond when she is available?

      3. Aww, coffee, no*

        This, this, this!
        I work on a different site from my direct manager, so if he wants me he’ll ping me on IM asking if I’m there. Sometimes I am and respond straight away. Sometimes I am, but talking to my (on-site) matrix manager, or deep in work on my second screen and don’t notice the ping (Teams’ subtle notifications – bah!) so take 5-10 minutes to respond. Sometimes I’m on lunch and respond up to an hour later, depending on how unlucky his timing is.
        BUT! He is a reasonable person who treats me like an adult, and thus he does not set traps for me on response times.
        When I am slow coming back to him he might leave me a message on what he wanted, or he might just wait until I return and cover whatever it was then. At no point does he demand to know where I was, what I was doing, or why I didn’t tell him in advance that I might not respond immediately.

      4. Antilles*

        To me, it sounds like a manager who legitimately has no clue how to judge people based on productivity or skill or effectiveness, so is instead focusing on dumb things like “how long did it take you to respond to my IM”…which of course completely misses both (a) the reality of hiring humans with biological needs and (b) legitimate business reasons why you’d prioritize another task over answering an IM.

      5. Smithy*

        Absolutely this is the mark of a poor manager – because if the impetus for this directive was micromanagement above the OP’s manager – this is still a relatively poor way to get this information.

        In a case where the OP’s manager is also being micromanaged or has some unreasonable or difficult to determine requests coming to them this isn’t actually the best way to make sure you’re getting information quickly. Because if the manager actually needed the OP around to support before/during/after xyz meeting – or even a situation where check-ins multiple times a day were needed – having standing meetings, even if just for 15-20 minutes would be more effective. Irritating in a different way, sure – but far more effective than putting yourself in a position as a manager to track every time someone leaves their desk.

    2. Two Dog Night*

      That might be the case, but that doesn’t make it good management, and it’s worth pushing back. There are always going to be times when people can’t respond to IMs immediately. It’s life.

      1. Jora Malli*

        And a lot of those times will be for work related reasons! I was managing a bit of a crisis a few days ago and I couldn’t respond to an IM from one manager because I was on the phone with another.

        1. Shannon*

          I ignore IMs from my manager for a little while all the time. My work requires long periods of thought and focus; I wouldn’t be doing my job if I allowed random, non-urgent questions to distract me whenever someone thought to send one. I don’t provide a reason or apology for this unless it’s been an unreasonably long time (like, more than an hour or two) because I don’t consent to a work/managerial structure where that is the expectation, and because it isn’t consistent with my ability to do my job.

    3. Charlotte Lucas*

      I worked somewhere that the VP tried to call a director (on the phone – this was pre-WFH & we weren’t allowed to use IM at the time). He didn’t pick up the phone immediately, & she stormed over & screamed at him that when his boss calls, he Picks Up the Phone Immediately.

      It did not make her look competent, professional, or reasonable (accurate, as she was none of those things).

      She was eventually fired, not for that, but it can’t have helped.

      1. quill*

        I vividly imagine this as a case where she could be prompted to do it again, only to find that the director had been talking to the president.

    4. I'm Just Here For The Cats!*

      If that is the case then that needs to be more clear and that they need to communicate a time frame for responses.

      But the WFH manager needs to realize that 1. people need breaks and 2. that the OP has a 2nd boss she reports to who is in office. So there may be times that the OP gets pulled away from their desk because they are working with the other boss.
      This is why they need to have an IM system like Teams that shows if you are away. It’s also nice because it links to your outlook calendar so if there is any meeting or block on your calendar then it shows that status without you doing anything. I also like Teams because it has the little reaction emojis. in my office we use the thumbs up as a way to react and say I see this but I’m not able to type a response but I want to let you know that I’m here.

      1. Where’s the Orchestra?*

        I will caution only that in some offices Teams doesn’t always sync perfectly. It’s technology after all and not perfect.

        Last night Teams for my Dept spontaneously decided mid-phone call to set my manager to “out of office” according to his little status blurb……

        1. WillowSunstar*

          That and I’ve gone on my 15-minute break and Teams did not automatically set to away. Yet if I get up to refill my coffee, it will switch to away. Go figure. It seems really random.

        2. Emmy Noether*

          I think they changed it recently. For us, it will now sync with Outlook and just show whatever is in the calendar (if there’s a meeting scheduled, it will show occupied, even when you finished early and are now available, etc.). It’s pretty much useless now.

    5. Where’s the Orchestra?*

      In my office the rule is to respond to chat messages (and especially the ones explicitly asking you by name for a response) within a reasonable amount of time. My current manager interprets that to mean 45 minutes at the longest (to account for the chat program not marking you away or busy for dinner or meetings). The only breaks he expects you to announce are dinner (30 mins) and your two shorter ones (15 mins).

      But he also sees us as competent adults, and treats us as such unless we prove otherwise. It’s very refreshing.

      1. BRB*

        I may be in a laid-back department, but even having to announce a 15-minute break (or a 30-minute meal break honestly) would feel overbearing for me.

        1. Where’s the Orchestra?*

          In fairness our MS Teams is being “extra ghostbusters level special” at the moment, and we have coverage responsibilities. The manager is just asking for break announcements for making sure he knows if there are enough people logged into the system. He hopes to get away from them if Teams ever becomes reliable again.

    6. Rainy*

      I mean, maybe, but if so, this is a really elliptical way to express what is quite frankly a stupid piece of feedback.

      Even people who work on their computers are in different applications, different screens, working on stuff where if they lose their place they have to start over, or things that are difficult to put down and pick back up efficiently. Instant responsiveness is not realistic unless your job is solely to be instantly responsive–and not to do anything else.

    7. Pipe Organ Guy*

      I had a church choir director who tried to trip up the choir like that. He lost a bunch of dedicated volunteers, and I quit without another job lined up because what he was doing was abuse. What you’re describing just enables bad managerial behavior.

    8. I'm A Little Teapot*

      If there’s a problem with the work or responsiveness, then the manager needs to use his words and say so. Some managers will send a “test” because they are bad managers. It’s not reasonable.

    9. mandatory anon*

      We use Teams at my job and no matter how I set the notifications there are times where nothing pops up, even when I jiggle the mouse and click on the ‘activities’ icon. Then at some random time I’ll get a notification for something that happened hours ago.
      Luckily my org is sane and no one is monitoring my potty/random wandering around breaks.

    10. Unaccountably*

      Clearly the boss isn’t satisfied with OP’s responsiveness – he said so. But also his expectations are neither appropriate nor realistic. Neither is pinging your reports via IM as a “strategy.” (A strategy for what purpose? Is this measuring a meaningful and important performance metric, or is it a power trip where you metaphorically say “jump” and time how long it takes your reports to ask “how high”?)

      Your solutions aren’t necessarily going to improve anything either, unless the LW’s job is literally “Watch for and respond to boss’ pings” and nothing else. If not, her work should be at the top of her mind, not cutting down her response time on an asynchronous platform from minutes to seconds.

  6. NoviceManagerGuy*

    Boy, I hope as soon as the LW writes back the boss realizes it’s ridiculous.

  7. 'calla-Kid*

    You could simply send a message that you are stepping away from your desk any time you do… no need to say where you are going.

    1. Ms. Hagrid Frizzle*

      That still doesn’t really address the fact that even that would be quite ridiculous when someone is otherwise responsive and responsible in terms of completing their work.

      These are adult professionals, not school-aged children who need permission to leave the classroom.

    2. metadata minion*

      You could, but unless you’re covering a servicepoint or something like that, it’s incredibly micromanage-y for a manager to expect it.

    3. EPLawyer*

      and that takes a lot of time out of the day. Its a waste of time and effort.

      Even if both were in the office, manager would come to talk to OP and find her not there. Because OP is a human being, not a robot attached to her desk.

      1. Ali + Nino*

        Yeah you need an away message with ~*~*~angsty song lyrics~*~*~ à la AIM circa 2004 – minimal effort, maximum mood.

    4. Jora Malli*

      But what number of “I’m stepping away from my desk now” messages is the magic number where this boss decides you’re not working hard enough?

      1. Moonlight*

        It also provides 0 context about how long the worker is gone for – stepping away to go to the bathroom might take 5 minutes or less or you may be gong to lunch for an hour or… or… or… so there’s a ton of things that just saying “stepping away” and no context could mean and it won’t solve the problem that the boss is micro managing on a bizarre infantilising way.

        Side note; I’ve always worked on offices with nearby bathrooms, also add caveats for if you’re taking medications, experiencing morning sickness, or have any number of issues/reasons/barriers that may cause things like a bathroom break to take longer so… grain of salt?

        1. Guacamole Bob*

          Even if you know how long you expect to be gone, you might run into someone in the hallway and chat for a few minutes, or a colleague might flag you down to ask a work related question that turns into a substantive discussion. Or you think you’ll be back at your desk after your 10 a.m. meeting but it runs long and you go straight to your 11 without swinging back by your desk.

          I can think I’m just getting up to refill my water bottle and end up gone for a while on occasion. And that’s fine.

          1. Moonlight*

            Exactly! So when you think about the follow through even if you’re specific, it still leaves a lot of unpredictability and it ends up being unrealistic in addition to being over the top-micro manager-y

          2. Unaccountably*

            Yes, and also: I don’t know about LW’s company, but at mine the excuse for the big push to get people back in the office before a vaccine was even available was that you had to be able to have “water cooler conversations” in order to collaborate or be creative.

            So… LW has to be in the office so she can physically interact with her co-workers because it’s necessary for work? But now she can’t interact with her co-workers because she has to be chained to her desk in case her boss IMs her.

        2. RebelwithMouseyHair*

          And sometimes you go for a pee but the minute your bladder is empty, No. 2 is also sending your brain alerts, so the 1-minute break can suddenly be longer. Then Other Manager grabs you as you walk back to your desk, and answering his urgent question takes a good half-hour. Then you get back to your desk and immediately send the files Other Boss needs before you forget, and your 1-minute pee break has eaten up the good part of an hour, except the vast majority of those minutes were spent working.
          Not to mention that you do often continue thinking about work while in the loo.

      2. Certaintroublemaker*

        You spend one day doing constant pings of BRB / NIB (now I’m back). When he demands an accounting, give the full “9:03, Jane pulled me into a discussion; 10:22, Ferguson needed me to show him how to do something; 11:15, bathroom break;…” Then add, “Frankly, it’s infantilizing to have to report the details of every time time I have stood up from the desk, especially bathroom breaks. If you can’t trust that I’m not throwing 12-minute keggers in the middle of the office while you’re not looking, I don’t know why you hired me.”

        1. RebelwithMouseyHair*

          (tbf I believe the manager is new and OP is not, but that doesn’t change the thrust of your argument, just the last sentence)

    5. I'm Just Here For The Cats!*

      thats such a waste of time! And what if the other boss or someone else comes to your desk? “Oh I have to write a note to Other Boss to let him know that I cant talk to him right now because Im talking to you?”

    6. Grace Poole*

      At my very first job (pre-messaging app,) my toxic supervisor lost their mind when she came by my desk and I had a generic “Back in 5 Minutes” sign up. To cover short errands like going to the restroom, or getting more coffee or making copies, etc. I got screamed at because “what if someone called or was waiting? They wouldn’t know when I’d be back for real. What if I was gone longer than 5 minutes?” Reader, no one had ever been waiting or was bothered by a return call. But after that I had to put specific “Back at 11:15”-type notes up (and toxic supervisor would check on me.)

    7. paxfelis*

      I’d be really tempted to forget to tell him I was back. Not a functional response, but an honest one.

  8. Essentially Cheesy*

    There are some lines that are not to be crossed. I would greatly enjoy finding a polite way to tell him to mind his own business in that regard.

      1. Gerry Keay*

        While that is grammatically correct, it is often not a wise move to simply refuse a request from your boss and can in fact be read as insubordination and lead to serious consequences. The rules of boundaries in personal life unfortunately do not apply to hierarchical work structures where livelihoods are on the line.

        1. Smithy*

          Unfortunately yes. And while this manager is making an unreasonable request and likely isn’t the strongest of managers to begin with – that kind of response won’t help the OP.

          In thinking about this more, I do think that if the AAM’s initial script isn’t warmly received – the fact that the OP has another manager, I do think gives the OP a great moment to raise this concern with the other manager in the context of whether there are any concerns about how the OP is balancing their time between the two managers. Having two managers always leaves the opportunity for one to feel that they’re not getting enough time – so maybe this was a genuine concern phrased ineffectively.

          But if this is just a bad manager badly managing, flagging this to the other manager gives the OP some insight to the larger culture at this company. If manager #2 thinks this is normal and they are adopting a call center kind of model – then that gives the OP a lot of information. Or if manager #2 says this is wild and inappropriate but refuses to engage – also gives the OP a lot of information. I’d hope that manager #2 would use the opportunity to support the OP and also connect with manager #1 to see if they’re unhappy with the amount of the OP’s time they’re getting. But either way, always good to know if this is a case of one unreasonable person or an unreasonable employer more broadly.

        2. RebelwithMouseyHair*

          But bowel movements are a prime example of personal business that cannot wait for the end of your shift. This manager needs a robot not a human report.

        1. Lydia*

          That’s not likely to happen, especially since the OP works for two managers. Either way, though, just saying no is not the right way to go about this. There are less brusque and more useful ways to address the absurdity of the request without being antagonistic.

  9. calvin blick*

    Unfortunately I don’t think this is as uncommon as Alison thinks. When I worked at a call center we were expected to set our status to “Personal” whenever we were not on the phone or doing a small number of other tasks, and that time was tracked and occasionally people got in trouble for taking too much time. We had up to thirty “Personal” minutes a day, so essentially about enough time for a couple of water and bathroom breaks, especially since it was at least a minute or two walk to any coffeemaker, water fountain, or bathroom.

    1. Observer*

      Call centers are their own beast, and they are not typical of a general office set up. Also, in a call center, if you can’t answer the phone that’s actually relevant – you don’t want the system routing calls to you or factoring in your extension as available when you aren’t. But that’s not the issue here. This is just an idiot boss who thinks “Now, WHERE could OP be, since they are not answering my ping THIS SECOND?!” in an environment where it’s actually to be expected that sometime someone won’t be able to respond immediately.

    2. Magenta Sky*

      Call centers are a special kind of hell to work in by all accounts. There are many reasons for such rules, some good, most toxic.

    3. Pomegranate*

      The time limit on this sounds very restrictive.
      However: Not having ever worked at a call centre, I could imagine that setting your status to Personal means no client calls are patched through to you. In that case it would be an important work function to manage your “status”. Which is very different from office work without the coverage component.

      1. Charlotte Lucas*

        Yep. Not great, but a coverage issue. Just like a cashier at the grocery store turning of the light to indicate their lane is closed.

      2. Daisy-dog*

        At least at my call center, we also got 2 15-minute breaks and 1-hour lunch. The “personal” time was for the restroom & water/coffee refills and 30 minutes is usually sufficient, accommodations aside.

        1. I'm Just Here For The Cats!*

          Lucky you! You got personal time on top of breaks! My first call center if we needed to get up for water or bathroom we had to deduct that time from our break time. They then limited our breaks from 15 minutes to 10 and didnt really announce it. Just started calling us out.

        2. Former call centre*

          30 mins sounds magical. In the deep dark ages I was in a call centre that allowed 2x10s and 1×30 minute break (legal minimum for an 8 hour day in my country). They allowed us 18 minutes a day of off roster time. This was applied whenever we were in or out of our correct roster (so logging in to the system 1 minute early from a break = 1 minute off roster time). They rounded up to the nearest minute. It was tricky managing calls because if you were winding up with say 4 minutes to go before your rostered break you knew you wouldn’t have time for another call but also that you couldn’t afford to be ‘off roster’ by 5 minutes so had to stretch the call if you could (while watching your average call length stats didn’t go long).

          I found the mental load quite difficult to manage and only lasted a year.

    4. Daisy-dog*

      I also worked in a call center and had to do the same thing. We had to set our status to prevent calls from coming through. But I do not want to have to set that up in my current role which is dramatically different than my call center role.

      I work with private data, so I just lock my screen when I get up which changes my Teams status to away automatically. If that wasn’t good enough for my manager, then we would have a further conversation. (It is fine.)

      1. allathian*

        Yeah, I do the same thing. We use smart cards with PINs to log on. These are also used as IDs at the office, and it’s basically a warning and potentially a firing offence to let your computer out of your sight with the smart card in. When I’m WFH, I just lock the screen when I leave my desk.

        My closest coworker and I tell each other when we’re taking a break that’s longer than about 15 minutes, because we keep a conversation going in the background, but we don’t inform each other when we’re going to the bathroom. Our manager couldn’t care less about our breaks, although she does expect us to take them.

    5. I'm Just Here For The Cats!*

      Yes I’ve worked in call centers too and that is normal because it is a coverage type of job.

      However, for other jobs that are not coverage based it is not normal. Heck, I even work in a coverage type of job now (Front desk) and I don’t have to tell anyone when I’m leaving to go to the bathroom. I have a bell and a sign and those who are in earshot know if they hear the bell to come up front. The only time I let someone know is if I’m going down to the mail room or something which takes a bit longer than your average bathroom run.

    6. quill*

      Call centers are not known for being ethical workplaces in this regard. They need to know when you’re available, but also thirty personal minutes a day is stupidly inflexible. What happens when someone who’s having cramps has to poop every two hours?

    7. NotAnotherManager!*

      My mom works in a call center, and it truly sounds awful. She’s penalized if a call takes too long because the customer had five questions instead of one or her computer freezes up and it takes longer to get their information. She’s written up for calling out sick or having to leave work early because she’s vomiting in the bathroom (apparently, you’re supposed to schedule being sick at least a week in advance, per their policy). It’s insane.

      1. calvin blick*

        At my call center the sick policy was extremely confusing and did not make much sense. You could theoretically be fired if you had to leave early due to sickness on consecutive days. The work was just mind-numbingly dull as well. Thankfully, I was good at it so no one said anything if I ignored the “Personal” policy. However, your mom’s place seems about 1000x worse.

      2. Aww, coffee, no*

        My sister moved from working in a call centre to working as a cell attendant in her local police station. She said that not only were working conditions about 100 x better, but also that her ‘clients’ were generally far more polite.

      3. CPegasus*

        I mean, at my call center job I got a talk because I was keeping myself off the line long enough to finish typing up the notes from my previous call, to avoid the cascade of having five half-documented calls open from having a call come in when I was still trying to write down what had happened before and forgetting what I needed to write down from three calls ago….that wasn’t acceptable -_-

    8. Curmudgeon in California*

      Ugh. This is why I could not work in a place like that.

      I have IBS, mostly IBS-D, and I can easily spend up to half an hour in the bathroom with waves of diarrhea if I get hold of something that triggers it, like the ubiquitous soybean oil or milk products. Or I could end up semi-constipated and have to “deliver” the turd then plunge the toilet afterward.

      I always assume that that kind of thing would be TMI in any reasonable workplace.

      1. Lydia*

        All I’m saying is if they’re asking for that much information, it’s their own fault if you share.

    9. Lance*

      She does at least mention it’s different for heavily coverage-based roles, which would include call centers.

    10. allathian*

      I’ve only ever worked at call centers that handle outgoing calls (market surveys), and we had no base pay, just got paid for each completed interview. The system at my last call center job was set up so that they calculated the pay based on the total number of interviews per project, so that the company always paid the same amount per hour, but if you got more interviews than the average, you got paid more. There were a few exceptions, some surveys were much harder to get interviews in than others. Needless to say, some shifts were a lot more lucrative than others, but this system also meant that the company didn’t really care if you spent most of your shift in your break room, it just meant that you wouldn’t get paid. They’d only start to worry if a sizable percentage of employees spent more time on breaks than normal, because that would increase the total number of hours required to complete a project.

  10. TEG*

    I read this on the toilet which really emphasized how awkward this would be. Sometimes these things take a little longer, and felling like someone is timing you every time you have to go would be so unpleasant!

    1. wendelenn*

      I think we have a regular AAM commenter here whose username is something like “I’m Posting This From The Bathroom”.

  11. Dax*

    My boss is in another state and we have 1:1s monthly at the very most. Between those, I hear from him when he needs something and not at all outside of that. And I’m totally fine with this arrangement.

    If I were LW, and my boss didn’t respond immediately and positively to Alison’s suggested communication, it would be a deal breaker. It’s just so obnoxious and weird to be monitored this way.

  12. lilsheba*

    Yeahhhhhh that is a big fat nope. I do NOT tell anyone when I’m stepping away to go to the bathroom, it is no one’s business. In fact I find it gross when a manager or director finds it necessary to inform people that they were late because they went to the bathroom. I DO NOT NEED TO KNOW! That’s private, keep it to yourself.

  13. wine dude*

    I would be so tempted to develop a sudden bladder condition such that I need to go every 5 to 15 minutes.

    1. Rainy*

      Gall bladder surgery. Sometimes I spend what feels like all day pooping. I’m told it’ll even out over time, but damn. It’s actually better working from home because at home I have a washroom literally two steps from my workspace. At work I have to sprint the length of the building twice (open atrium from entry to roof means no way of cutting across, and my office is catercorner from the washroom).

      1. jane's nemesis*

        Maybe I was super lucky after my gallbladder surgery, but this normalized really quickly for me. Unsolicited advice: make sure you’re eating a lower fat diet if you want to minimize urgent poos!

        1. Rainy*

          I think it’s highly individual, unfortunately. My first husband had gall bladder surgery and it took two years for things to normalize. Another friend who had gall bladder surgery around the same time was fine immediately. I’m about seven weeks out from surgery, and three weeks out from trying to return to more normal eating practices. I *am* eating a lower fat diet, but I have a massive list of food allergies, so there’s only so much I can change things without ending up back in the hospital.

    2. Cat Tree*

      Ugh, or just pregnant (if applicable). Of course I expected to go more towards the end when a large fetus was pressing on my bladder. What surprised me is that it actually starts pretty early in pregnancy because there’s an increase in blood volume.

  14. Stevie Says*

    This would trigger my ‘malicious compliance’ side…Oh, you want a ping every time I’m otherwise engaged.
    No problem!
    Enjoy me pinging you 500 times a day!
    •blows nose-ping!
    •takes a sip of tea-ping!
    •walks to copier-ping!
    •takes a call-ping!
    •getting ready to write an email to someone else-ping!

    Okay I’ll stop now.

    1. OhSoMe*

      I admit to malicious compliance when a (long since ex-) boss wanted me to copy him on all my emails. It lasted a day before he caved and said, ok, not every email, just the important stuff. Oh, like I’d been doing for 3 years already except for maybe just one small miscommunication that someone made molehill mountain of because you, unbeknownst to me, had already told them something different than our usual response script? MmHmm.

      1. River Otter*

        “I admit to malicious compliance when a (long since ex-) boss wanted me to copy him on all my emails.”

        Wait, what? Are you me? I did this for a month, and then I was the one who caved bc f8ck that guy.

      1. Stevie Says*

        Haha! Hey boos-just pinging you to let you know I’m working on a message that I’ll soon be pinging to you-FYI.
        The level of petty this could be taken to has no bounds, and I love it.

  15. frame*

    i would comply maliciously. not only message him every time i‘m stepping away, but every time i‘m joining a meeting and every time i switch to a new task.

  16. SheLooksFamiliar*

    OP, this is NOT normal! Good managers get used to their team’s work rhythms, like who takes lunch at what time. And they don’t expect an instant response to their IM. Expecting an alert every time someone steps away from their desk is ridiculous. Jebus, people talk to each other about work away from an actual desk all the time.

    Please push back on this. I think you’re on a leash, too, and it’s not right.

    1. Where’s the Orchestra?*

      Yeah – leashes aren’t good in a work setting, unless the setting is animal care and the leash is on the animal.

    2. londonedit*

      Yeah, definitely. The way it works on our Teams chat is that we send a quick note if we’re going to be away for any length of time – ‘just going into a meeting, should be done by 12’; ‘need to pop out to the post office, won’t be long’; ‘I have a doctor’s appointment at 10:30, hoping to be back within an hour but we’ll see’ etc etc. But otherwise, we don’t bother – if someone’s showing as Away then you assume they’ve popped away from their computer or are working on something else, and they’ll respond when they return. My boss doesn’t care whether I’m in the loo or working on a complex job or making a cup of coffee – they know I’ll respond as quickly as I can.

  17. Where’s the Orchestra?*

    The chat system for my office ties into our computers, and because of the nature* of what we do we are required to lock our systems if we step away. When we lock our computers it sets the messaging program to Away. This works for our office – but I willingly acknowledge it won’t work everywhere.

    *we deal with a lot of PII/PHI, so information security is a big deal.

    1. Michelle Smith*

      Presumably though, you don’t also lock the system when you pick up a call from a colleague but are still at your desk, right? Or if a colleague drops by your desk to ask a question? Those are both things I could easily imagine would take 5 minutes or so in which you wouldn’t be “away” but would be unresponsive to IMs.

      1. Where’s the Orchestra?*

        The phone ties in as well – so it cabanas my status to Busy for phone calls/trainings/meetings in my calendar. Or at least it’s supposed to do that – tonight it kept sporadically setting me as out of the office.

        Honestly technology isn’t perfect – and none of it will help this boss, who sounds like he’s on a power trip deal. Wonder if it’s because he has to share this report with another boss who like OP is physically in the same space?

        1. Where’s the Orchestra?*

          Well that’s a truly special mobile posting autocorrect:

          “ The phone ties in as well – so it cabanas my status to Busy” was actually supposed to say “The phone ties in as well – so it CHANGES my status to Busy.”

          Like I said elsewhere, technology is far from perfect.

          1. Emmy Noether*

            I want to lead a life where cabanas are more likely than change… that sounds restful right now.

    2. L.H. Puttgrass*

      That’s fine for setting your status, but it doesn’t help with a boss who thinks, “OMG JANE HAS BEEN AWAY FOR TWO WHOLE MINUTES—WHYYYY?”

      A boss like that isn’t solved by technology, alas.

      1. Koalafied*

        Agreed. This is undoubtedly less about him wanting to be notified every time she’s indisposed and more about him having an expectation that requiring her to report every time she’s away from IM will prevent her from whatever slacking off he imagines it’s possible for her to get away with if she’s able to take breaks without announcing them.

      2. Laney Boggs*

        Yeah, this is what gets me. If OP has a health issue that means multiple 30+ min trips, OK, that’s one thing (but still doesn’t call for announcing that they are headed to the bathroom!)

        But if they’re unavailable for 5-10 minutes at a time, 3-5 times a day? And boss is pointing this out as a problem?

        That doesn’t sound like a reasonable personn…

    3. I've Escaped Cubicle Land*

      Ours does similar. So if I’m listening to a webinar while working it will show me as Unavailable unless I remember to go in and change it. Or it will show me as away and when I come back I’ll have to remember to change it back.

    4. Hapless Bureaucrat*

      Our work requires everyone lock screens whether we work with non-public data or not. It’s a practice more often observed in the breech, especially with remote work, but it does the same thing you mention. Our instant messaging defaults to showing you as “away” after maybe 15 minutes of inactivity. (So I may look “away” on my computer while I’m at my desk reading a paper report.)

      As a manager, I can’t say I’ve ever needed to know my teams’ whereabouts in more detail than the away message on the IM could tell me.

    5. Pay No Attention To The Man Behind The Curtain*

      I use Teams and it does the same except it’s not at all reliable. I share an office with my coworker and it’s a running joke between us to let each other know that Teams thinks we are Away, In a Call or Out of Office when we are very much not. It’s just wonky as hell.

      1. Where’s the Orchestra?*

        Oh yeah – we’ve recently taken to telling our teammates they are now a ghost according to the team chat. The program all of a sudden is spontaneously setting people’s statuses to “out of the office” and sometimes even in mid comment. Oh well.

  18. Magenta Sky*

    This is literally the reason why pretty much all messaging apps have an “away from keyboard” setting (and why messaging apps are a better choice under the circumstances than texting).

    And a boss that needs anything more detailed than “AFK” has issues. And they’re not issues with the employee.

    1. RosyGlasses*

      Right – it seems like this was unclear language on the managers part and misunderstanding on the part of the employee.

  19. fine tipped pen afficionado*

    I know the issue being addressed here is bathroom breaks but the expectation of immediate response is what bothers me. Very, very little work actually needs an immediate response but everyone thinks their message is the most important thing in the world and this kind of thing makes it almost impossible to get things done.

    I support silencing all notifications and only being available during your Available Hours if you do office work. Who can concentrate on stuff when every twenty minutes Jimothy needs to know where the TPS reports are filed?

    1. Data Slicentist*

      After switching to a role that requires more focused, independent work, reducing my responsiveness was a specific goal, encouraged by my boss. Keeping Slack closed felt very weird at first but wow it makes a difference.

    2. Observer*


      There are a bazillion legitimate reasons someone might not respond immediately, and it’s not even always practical to know in advance.

    3. Curmudgeon in California*


      I regularly shut off any and all desktop notifications. I find them irritating and disruptive. I will never allow notifications from websites, and I have most notifications on my phone shut off or set to silent.

      I’m ADD, so a simple desktop notification will disrupt my train of thought. If it isn’t to let me know about an upcoming meeting, it needs to not pop up.

  20. Kevin*

    I had a boss who used to get irritated that I didn’t answer email swiftly. I pointed out that I get upwards of 200 emails a day, and if I answered them all as they came in I would never get any work done.
    He didn’t like that answer, even though I pointed out that it’s simply impossible to do work that requires focus if I have keep half a mind on messages.

    I check messages when I reach a pause point in my work. If it’s incredibly urgent, call.

  21. Mill Miker*

    The whole point of a chat app is that it’s asynchronous. Most people I know – even if they’re at their desk, and even if they’re the type to actually respond “immediately” to chat messages – usually take a few minutes to respond, as they finish whatever small task their in the middle of before responding to the alert.

    And that’s the people with actual alerts set up for all messages. Plenty of people only turn those on for high-priority messages.

  22. Antilles*

    I’m happy to set my IM status to ‘away’ (if you have something like that)
    I know it’s just clicking a single button on Teams but this still sounds ridiculous.
    Like, unless your job involves answering 9-1-1 calls, you shouldn’t need to let the world know you’re away every single time you step away for 5 minutes to use the restroom or grab coffee or whatever. Even if someone messages you literally the instant after you stand up, they should have the patience to live for 5 minutes while you finish up whatever else.

    1. Ali + Nino*

      That’s literally the only job I could think of requiring such immediate responsiveness. That and possibly medical staff in an urgent/critical care setting. If it isn’t death or grievous injury, it can wait.

  23. Ellis Bell*

    OP, I think your boss is completely ridiculous and you should try resetting his expectations. On the off chance this is a “your boss isn’t going to change until you find a new one” scenario, you might find an email enabled smart watch a useful tool. In my job, I am running all over the place but I can’t miss or delay messages as we have a lot of live balls up in the air. You can glance at your watch when something comes in and see roughly what it is about. You can also quickly reply with something like “ok” until you’re back at your desk. If he’s constantly pelting you with messages this won’t work as responding to him constantly means you won’t have time to pee, but if it’s just a case of timing, and catching him one or two times a day it might settle him down while he’s getting used to you, or shut him up at least.

  24. Rainbow*

    He feels entitled to interrupt your flow?

    Uh. I meant creative brain flow when doing your work. Not anything else.

  25. TypityTypeType*

    “You say you’ll ‘think I’ve disappeared’?

    “How strange. Where exactly do you think I might go? No, really — what are the possibilities?

    “Or have you had a lot of employees just wander off during the workday and never come back?”

    1. Chapeau*

      I’m wondering if he is the kind of boss who does have employees regularly tunnel out of the office with a spoon to avoid him…

      (Now I want to watch the Shawshank Redemption.)

    2. SpicySpice*

      Right? Does he think OP has been kidnapped by fairies or something…? Oh no, she didn’t respond within 5.6 seconds, obviously something is wrong! And it’s probably nefarious!

    3. EvilQueenRegina*

      By implementing this nonsense about checking in at all times, he’s probably going the right way about getting people to do that last one!

    4. Unaccountably*

      A previous employer of mine had had two (2!) people say they were going out to the parking lot to move their car and never return. One did this on the morning of her first day. (This previous employer was not ever going to be anyone’s dream job, but it was a pretty decent place to work. I have no idea what would cause someone to flee it as if hellhounds were on their heels.)

  26. River Otter*

    Did he literally say he wants you to notify him when you step away? If so, then you just have to notify him that you have stepped away. You can use the words, “I am stepping away.” Unless he asked you to also give the reason, you don’t need to give the reason.

    Now, whether you should have to is another question. Since your boss is making the request, I think you have to.

    1. Emoo*

      Just because your boss tells you to do something doesn’t mean you have to unquestioningly carry it out. Your boss may have information you don’t, but GOOD bosses will have a conversation with you when something comes up, in order to provide clarity and context if you have questions about the direction. You aren’t an automaton. Pushing back (as much as you are comfortable or able) in a reasonable, polite manner is just fine. Encouraged, even, in my experiences with good bosses. Sometimes you’ll see something they don’t, and that changes the order, or renders it moot.

      And sometimes, what a boss wants is entirely unreasonable. Like this one.

    2. Observer*

      Now, whether you should have to is another question. Since your boss is making the request, I think you have to.

      If you mean that the OP may be required to do this, you could be right. If you mean that it’s something she OUGHT to do because it’s the proper thing to do? Absolutely not. The boss is totally out of line and is wasting everyone’s time. The OP should definitely push back if they can.

      Obviously is Boss is going to be stubborn, the OP is going to have to go along with it, because you do what the boss says if it’s not immoral, illegal or unsafe. But I think I would be looking for a transfer or new job if this is what is going on. I know people who have left jobs over this kind of thing.

  27. Ann O'Nemity*

    It’s most likely that this manager is on a weird power trip, is inexperienced in management, and/or has insecurity issues.

    Though if I were in OP’s shoes I’d also consider the possibility that the manager has real concerns about responsiveness or productivity that are causing the manager to be bizarrely fixated on desk time and immediate availability.

    1. Observer*

      The manager is still wrong.

      I’ve mentioned our one (former) manager who did stuff like this. We didn’t have HR at the time, and for a long time the people on top of them were convinced that a significant “reason” for the unreasonableness was due to problems with the staff being managed. But then we got someone who REALLY could not be accused to slacking off in any way, shape or form. And they were really, really close to quitting over this – I think that’s what made the boss realize that something had to change. Fortunately, the manager’s life situation changed such that they moved on to something else that worked much better for them.

  28. Jean*

    Expecting to receive a response *right away* every time is not reasonable. I have to wonder how your boss would feel if the person he reports to communicated such an expectation to him.

  29. Don*

    Do you want Snow Crash? Because this is how you get Snow Crash.

    Stephenson, Neal. Snow Crash: A Novel (pp. 340-341):

    Y.T.’s mom pulls up the new memo, checks the time, and starts reading it. The estimated reading time is 15.62 minutes. Later, when Marietta does her end-of-day statistical roundup, sitting in her private office at 9:00 P.M., she will see the name of each employee and next to it, the amount of time spent reading this memo, and her reaction, based on the time spent, will go something like this:

    Less than 10 min. Time for an employee conference and possible attitude counseling.
    10–14 min. Keep an eye on this employee; may be developing slipshod attitude.
    14–15.61 min. Employee is an efficient worker, may sometimes miss important details.
    Exactly 15.62 min. Smartass. Needs attitude counseling.
    15.63–16 min. Asswipe. Not to be trusted.
    16–18 min. Employee is a methodical worker, may sometimes get hung up on minor details.
    More than 18 min. Check the security videotape, see just what this employee was up to (e.g., possible unauthorized restroom break).

    Y.T.’s mom decides to spend between fourteen and fifteen minutes reading the memo. It’s better for younger workers to spend too long, to show that they’re careful, not cocky. It’s better for older workers to go a little fast, to show good management potential.

    1. Leems*

      My spouse and I were just discussing this scene the other week in the context of mandatory training completion–it has stuck with me for the past 20+ years since I read the book the first time, and he’d managed to forget all about it. This will probably prompt a house-wide reread.

  30. Empress Matilda*

    I don’t love this response, particularly the “I’d like to have the autonomy” part. OP is an adult, they shouldn’t have to ask to go to the washroom at all, not even in a general sense. The tone of this script suggests the boss’ idea is reasonable, and OP is presenting a reasonable counterargument.

    I would start by rejecting the entire premise. Boss has no right to even be asking this kind of question, and OP has no responsibility to accept it at face value. My suggested script would be more along the lines of “I do need to be away from my desk at times during the workday, but I always check IMs as soon as I get back. My typical response time is X, and of course I’ll get back to you right away if something is urgent.” No asking, no explaining, just “this is the way I work,” as if it’s the most reasonable thing in the world…which it is.

    (You can offer to set your status to Away if you want, but even that feels like too much for me. You shouldn’t need to change your status if you’re just stepping away to fill up your water bottle or pick something up from the printer. But you know your boss better than I do, so this might be a reasonable compromise if you think it’s important.)

    Good luck!

    1. Jean*

      This, exactly. The entire concept of him needing a response to every message *right away* otherwise he might think OP has disappeared (?!) is just… absurd. Boss, I’ll respond to your messages at my earliest opportunity. K bye, gotta get back to work now!

    2. Ellis Bell*

      Informing, rather than asking, is definitely a tool I picked up when working for terrible bosses and having to manage up. I particularly like the inclusion of a response time because that could well reset the timer of an inept manager from “right now, where is she?!” to “x minutes, perhaps I’ll make a cup of tea”. In my experience though, this works better with an inept, unsure manager who is actually rather grateful for a plan. A controlling manager could however take it as an affront to their authority. The first kind of bad manager IS more common though.

  31. Catwhisperer*

    The fact that you have two bosses may be an advantage here. You could mention the situation with your other manager and frame it by saying it’s making it more difficult for you to be responsive to them in person when they need you. I’m sure your other manager wouldn’t like knowing that you need your remote manager’s permission to speak with them when necessary.

    1. Mill Miker*

      This is possibly another path to malicious compliance “Sorry Boss, I just need a second to tell Other Boss I’m talking to you and might not immediately respond, then you can have my full attention”

    2. fhqwhgads*

      Yeah. Also possibly Other Boss is more reasonable? Now that we know Remote Boss has no logic, I’d never mention bathroom breaks again. Only talking to Other Boss, or doing thing Other Boss asked, or on a call with Coworker, etc. Clearly Remote Boss has some weird idea that away for five minutes = shirking. So even though obviously even uses the bathroom sometime and no adult should need permission (save coverage situations), hammer it in with Remote Boss that all the “it took 10 minutes to reply” were doing other actual work things.

  32. Goldenrod*

    My last boss would COMPLETELY LOSE HER MIND if she ever called me on my cell and I didn’t immediately respond. One time, I took a walk in the afternoon (this was when we were all working remotely due to COVID) and she was LIVID when I got back because I’d missed her call.

    To be clear, there was NO urgency to any of it….it was just her need for control. Alison may be right that your boss just didn’t think this through….but if your boss insists on this, I would start job hunting.

    Oh yeah – I just remembered – I had to put a post-it note on my office door to say when I’d be back when we were working in the office. Even if I was just using the bathroom. There was NO need for this. Beware the control freak boss!

    1. SomebodyElse*

      I think I worked with your ex boss :( I’ve told this story before, but the person whose team I took over was nuts… she made her team put the time they left their desk on a post it.

      It was a little rough when I first started, because I was remote from them. So I did need a little more idea of what was going on since I wasn’t located with them physically but I am in no way a micromanager. I was shocked in our first team meeting when they asked if I wanted them to email or let me know in chat when they were leaving their desk. I honestly didn’t know how to answer for a second. I think it came out with “Uh, no. You’re adult professionals. I expect you to manage your day and work, including the time you spend away from your desk” It took me about a year to get them to stop acting like scared bunnies every time one of the old bosses trigger points would come up.

      I knew we turned the corner when one of them stood up to one of her demands and called to tell me what happened. They were completely right to do so and I backed them up with her.

      The hard part is that I did find I had to develop a work tracking system (think IT tickets) because there wasn’t one except for a sad spreadsheet that may or may not have been updated regularly. Let me say I had to tap dance a little to present it as something that was for their benefit and we’d be doing it if I was onsite or not. Luckily after a short time of being in use it became crystal clear we were understaffed so I was able to tell them I’d been able to justify a new position because of the work management system.

      But to the OP, I think this is one of those times you can set a boundary or try to. I would go with the “I understand your concern about not being able to reach me. To my knowledge I’m not out of reach excessively but there are times when I may be away from desk or working on something and I won’t be able to respond immediately. I know that working remote poses it’s own challenges but I hope that we can gain some trust as we work together. You trusting me to get my job done in a timely manner and me trusting that you see me as a professional who doesn’t need unusual oversight”

      That may fail spectacularly, but at least you know what you’re dealing with.

    2. quill*

      I still remember when I got fired… officially because I did not answer my phone “in a timely manner” on a day I was not working, because the boss had just learned about a problem I could neither have foreseen nor fixed but which had been my responsibility. He thought that this would be a less crazy cause to tell the unemployment office than “fired quill because two times in one calendar year she made a mistake on a fedex shipping form that we have no training for and which I have no proof actually caused the delay we had.”

      It was not, in fact, a less crazy “for cause” and I did get unemployment.

    3. Veryanon*

      I had a boss like this. She LOVED to call me at like 7am (before the start of my work day) for non-urgent matters that could totally have waited until I got into the office at 8:30. She *knew* I was trying to get two small children up, dressed, fed, and out the door for the day, and that any interruption to this routine would completely screw up the timing. I asked her several times not to call me in the mornings before work unless it was urgent. In her mind, though, every random inquiry that drifted through her mind was totally urgent and I needed to drop everything to respond to her immediately. I finally just started turning off my company cell phone when I went to bed at night and not turning it on until I came into work; I still don’t even know why I had a company cell phone as I was not in a job where it was urgent that people be able to reach me outside of work hours (this was before everyone commonly had a cell phone).

    4. Me ... Just Me*

      I worked at a very toxic place where I, as the Branch Manager, was told by my off-site regional director that I needed to let my staff know every time I left my office (even to go to the bathroom or kitchen for coffee) because one of her favorite employees (under me) complained that she needed to know where I was at all times. It was a really weird place to work. I didn’t stay long. Imagine having to tell the office every time you needed to go to the bathroom! — I would loudly announce it, as I was walking past everyone’s cubicle (as I found it so ridiculous and funny). I did end up having to fire that employee (and a few others) during my short time there, as they just wouldn’t do their jobs and no coaching and expectation setting seemed to work.

  33. Jenna Webster*

    I think I’d just do this – send a message that I’m going to the bathroom, then that I’m going to the copier, then that I’m going across the room to talk to coworker, then that I’m taking a phone call, then that… – I’m guessing the manager would get tired of that way before I would.

    1. Storm in a teacup*

      And a second message each time you’re back at your desk too
      Malicious compliance at its finest!
      Seriously though ‘Somebody Else’ in the comment above this one has suggested an excellent script to use with your boss

  34. Ellen N.*

    Unfortunately, in my experience it’s more common than Ms. Green realizes in office jobs to be required to let somebody let you know where you are at all times during the workday.

    I worked at four different entertainment business management firms.

    At two of them we were required to use the front door to leave for the restroom and explicitly tell the receptionist that we were going to use the restroom.

    At one of them we were required to clock out on the digital time card system when we left to use the restroom.

    1. Empress Matilda*

      Sure, but just because something is common, doesn’t make it okay. If it’s not a specific requirement of the job (and it doesn’t sound like it is, in OP’s case), there’s nothing wrong with pushing back a bit. The key is to do it politely, along the lines of “X doesn’t work for me, but how about I do Y instead?”

        1. The OG Sleepless*

          Then, apologies for putting it this way, what’s your point? We’ve already established that yes, there are places that do this. The discussion is whether it’s normal (no) and acceptable (also no). It sounds like your company had a very entitled clientele whom they had decided to enable. Okay. It’s abnormal and dumb. Even the emergency animal hospital where I work, where a life and death situation might happen any minute, doesn’t ask people to do this.

    2. Michelle Smith*

      Perhaps it’s industry specific, because I never had to do anything remotely like that in any job outside of retail and food service. Certainly not in an office job.

    3. Charlotte Lucas*

      Also, not sure how legal it is to make someone clock out to use the bathroom. Definitely horrible, but nothing I’ve heard makes me want to work in the entertainment industry.

        1. I went to school with only 1 Jennifer*

          Well, I was about to agree with you, but I decided to do research first. I checked the Dept of Labor website (url to follow)…

          A lot of break-timing stuff is state-specific. Did you know there are a few states with NO required breaks at all? The feds don’t require it. From the DOL website: “Federal law does not require lunch or coffee breaks.” But it does go on to say that if employers offer short breaks, they have to be considered “working hours”.

          OSHA requires employers to supply bathrooms, so I suspect that being forced to clock out to use the bathroom is both abusive and illegal.

          1. Ellen N.*

            I was salaried so clocking in and out didn’t affect my pay.

            One of the partners told me that the time clock was installed so that the receptionist would know who was in and who was out and could relay this information to callers. The receptionist laughed when I brought this up to her; she didn’t have access to the time clock information.

            Also the partners refused to let us use direct lines. All calls had to come through reception.

            If it was a personal call during work hours the receptionist was instructed to find out the nature of the call and have a manager decide if it was important enough to put through.

        2. Gumby*

          It depends on the state. It is not legal in California where a large portion of the entertainment industry is located. I didn’t check other states.

    4. hodie-hi*

      I’m sorry that has been your experience. It’s never been my experience working in any office environment for 30+ years. I think you had bad employers.

    5. Gary Patterson's Cat*

      They might demand it in an office, but it doesn’t mean we have to put up with it.
      I won’t.

      The only exceptions being if you’re in a customer-facing or call center role, or work where someone has to physically relieve you for a break.

      1. The_artist_formerly_known_as_Anon-2*

        Even in a call-center role – the message can just go to voice mail. Whether your line is busy because you’re working with another customer or someone internal — or you’re sitting on the throne, you’re not in a situation where you can take the call, anyway.

    6. Nanani*

      Is this some kind of highly secure facility? High risk of leaking what your clients are working on or needing to make sure paparazzi don’t sneak in?

      Because it’s not normal in other businesses.

      1. Ellen N.*

        No, it was because the partners feared having to make clients wait even a minute or two to have access to their account manager.

        I had a client (male) who was a publicist who would follow his female employees into the restroom if he wanted to ask them a question.

        1. Sacred Ground*

          I somehow doubt that following female subordinates into the restroom was entirely for business reasons.

  35. Emm*

    Perhaps it’s different in your industry, but this has never been my experience. And it hasn’t been this employee’s experience in the three years they’ve been at their company, so I think it’s reasonable for them to think that this is unreasonable for their workplace.

  36. New Jack Karyn*

    “You’re not in prison and your boss doesn’t need to know every time you use the bathroom.”

    Now I’m remembering the escape scene in Cool Hand Luke. “Shaking off, boss!”

  37. The Rafters*

    Eons ago, I had a boss question where I was in a nasty tone, in front of the entire office. In front of the entire office, I replied in glorious detail. My bluntness shocked him into silence – but only for a few days, and I left very shortly after. He was a nut-job though; made boatloads of prank calls to my new office (no caller ID in those days). I quickly figured out who it was and told him if he kept it up, he would be out of a job. That finally worked and he left me alone permanently.

    1. Charlotte Lucas*

      I once ran to the bathroom before running all the technology for a 2-3 hour online meeting (therefore, no breaks for me). When I got back to the conference room, a manager (not mine) asked where I had been. (There was a definite tone.) I gave the same response my mother used to give to nosy kids: “I was in the bathroom. Is that OK with you?”

      She never asked intrusive questions about my pre-meeting preparations again.

    2. Ch lolarlotte Lucas*

      I once ran to the bathroom before running all the technology for a 2-3 hour online meeting (therefore, no breaks for me). When I got back to the conference room, a manager (not mine) asked where I had been. (There was a definite tone.) I gave the same response my mother used to give to nosy kids: “I was in the bathroom. Is that OK with you?”

      She never asked intrusive questions about my pre-meeting preparations again.

    3. Observer*

      I quickly figured out who it was and told him if he kept it up, he would be out of a job. That finally worked and he left me alone permanently.

      Now I’m curious – What did you have on him that made him believe you could get him fired?

      But what a loon.

  38. Veryanon*

    I have to confess that I don’t always remember to set my IM status to “away” if I step away from my desk for a few minutes to go to the bathroom or whatever. I don’t think it’s necessarily reasonable to expect people to track their time that closely unless their phone/desk needs to be covered at all times.

  39. Uncle Boner*


    Include a link to (to a specific turd!) for him to score.

  40. Gary Patterson's Cat*

    Yes this is completely ridiculous level of micromanaging!
    I would say something like you will return messages and calls within a reasonable 10-20 minutes or something like that unless you are on your lunch break. Because even if you ARE sitting right there working, you may just need to finish something up, be in another meeting w/other boss, be on a phone call, or doing other work where you can’t be interrupted by this person whenever they feel like it.

  41. Nanani*

    You could just… not do that.
    Keep taking bathroom breaks like a normal person without announcing them.

    It makes no difference from boss’s PoV if you replied later because you were indisposed, on the phone with someone else, or deeply focused on a task. If something is so urgent that it can’t wait for you to look at your IM program, IM was the wrong medium for it.

    Monitoring bathroom breaks IS NOT THE WAY.

    1. Raboot*

      Yes, I am firmly on team Do Not Do That. Keep Alison’s scripts in your back pocket for sure in case this guy doubles down but hopefully he does not.

  42. DKLKEK*

    I think I would comply with this, but I’d also cc-my bosses boss when I did so.

    “John, per your request, this is my notice that I’ll be using the restroom for the next 5 minutes. Alice, cc-ing you for visibility in case you try to reach me during that time.”

    No way to lose, either the grand boss shuts it down, or she loves the idea and your boss now has to report his bathroom usage to his boss.

  43. the wall of creativity*

    If you’re going for malicious compliance and sending instant messages to your boss every time you’re off laying cables, I find this works best when they’re out doing presentations on their laptops.

    1. Lana Kane*

      Keeping the message short so it’s all visible
      “*poop emoji* per your request”

    2. 653-CXK*

      “I’m taking a nice, long, fat dump! By the way, do we have the budget ready for next year?”

      That will be one Teams meeting that will never be forgotten ;-)

      1. 653-CXK*

        Alison – I just had a moment of instant regret and I might have violated the site rules with the post above. Please feel free to remove my post if it violates site rules…normally I try to keep it G-rated, but IIRC an snarky description of a health activity may be a no-no.

  44. Eye roll*

    Ooooh. Next time just tell the other manager that you can’t step away from your desk to talk to them until you send a message to your WFH manager to tell them you’ll be stepping away from the desk. And ask how long they expect the chat to take so you can tell Mr. WHF how long you won’t be able to respond immediately. And when that time times, tell them you have to run back to your desk to update Mr. WFH because you’re required to be constantly available for his IMs.

    This is so incredibly stupid. What about when you’re in a meeting? Or actually working? Updating your computer? On the phone? Advising a coworker? If telling him you won’t be doing that doesn’t work, I’d escalate this.

  45. MI Dawn*

    I work in health care and any time we step away from our computers, we are obligated to lock them to prevent unauthorized access to personal information. So any time I go to the restroom, into a quick chat with my boss, across the room to network, if my laptop isn’t coming with me, it gets locked. So our IM system automatically switches to “Away” status. (It’ll do that also if you step away too long and forget to lock the computer – switches to Away and automatically locks the computer.)

    Since I live alone and WFH some days, I may not lock my laptop if I step away for a glass of water or bathroom break but none of my managers or coworkers demand immediate responses anyway.

  46. Zipzap*

    Maybe call the manager when you’re in the middle of doing your thing in the restroom, so he gets the descriptive sound effects, and say, “Oops, sorry, forgot to email you, just wanted to make sure you knew I was otherwise engaged!”

  47. AnonPi*

    And they don’t have to be remote to have this kind of problem. Back in the day when I did temp work, the temp office sent me to a place because they’d already gone through 3 other temps that had quit with no real explanation. I was one of the higher ranked temps often sent in to do this kind of thing, or take on computer work which back then there wasn’t a lot of people with that experience. So generally I was pretty trusted to go in and fix things and do a good job, or report back if there were issues. Well I got to this office and turns out the manager kept track of any and all time away from the desk. And no this was not a job that needed someone at all times for coverage sake. He just was determined that by golly they weren’t going to pay me if I used up more than the legally required break time. I was going to call the temp office at lunch and let them know what was up, do my day there, be professional and call it good (because I knew the manager at the temp office would not stand for this kind of treatment of her temps and wouldn’t send anyone back).

    However, mister potty monitor questioned me why I took so long in the bathroom (and maybe TMI but it was your average bathroom break, it wasn’t like I disappeared for an extended period of time). So me being me, proceeded to embarrass the hell out of him by saying something like “oh, you didn’t learn about that kind of thing in school? ok, well see sometimes women have issues with their menstrual cycles during the month…” and yeah, he turned beet red and told me nevermind just go back to my desk. The people in cubicle land behind him popping their heads up to watch the show was just icing on the cake, lol. And yeah the temp agency owner was appalled and cancelled the contract with his office.

    I couldn’t help but think how much they were paying this guy to monitor bathroom habits. I know he did the same thing to others, not sure if it was everyone or just his reports. Or how he got any other work done for that matter.

  48. AnonymousReader*

    The obvious solution is for OP to install a nanny cam so OP’s boss can monitor OP’s every movement. (sarcasm, before you come for me! haha)

    If this is how OP’s manager is while working remote, I can only imagine how he would be, if he were go go into the office (ouch!). I agree that OP should push back and not let Manager get away with that kind of micromanaging.

  49. Anon for This One*

    I’ve had one boss be this type of micromanager. I had to notify work 4 different ways when I was out sick or running late. Four! Because she might miss one. I kid you not. I started texting her, she left that cell phone at home. I’d email her, she didn’t get it until late that night. I put it on her calendar, she didn’t look at it. I tell someone else in the office, she never saw that person so the message could not be relayed. And yes, at one point I tried voicemails, she didn’t check them regularly. I made it clear if I am out sick I am not logging into my work systems anymore to do any of the those options. I simply told one person and if she got message, great, if not, oh well. I started ignoring her ridiculous demands.

  50. bunniferous*

    This is just screaming for Malicious Compliance (if you use reddit, you know…..)

    1. Marthooh*

      Malicious compliance was invented for situations like this.

      “I have to go peepee now!”…”I’m back!”…”I’m going peepee again!”…”I did a poopoo this time, too!”…”I have to talk go to Jane now, but you’re still my favorite manager, so don’t be jealous haha!”…”I’m back! Did you miss me?”

  51. Jedi Sentinel Bird*

    Yes, this is ridiculous. I had a job in which you had to change your status to bathroom break and it would keep exact time. I always disliked they could tell how long you would take. I hope you can push back and flush your boss’s order down the toilet.

    1. I'm Just Here For The Cats!*

      Was this like at a call center? Thats the only time I could see this being a reason why you needed to change your status for a bathroom trip.

      1. Jedi Sentinel Bird*

        Not really. I would answer phones and such ,but even when inputting my time sheet, I would have to account for everything I did in 10min increments. To fill out my weekly time sheet, it would take 30mins just do that. I kept a ledger to track it all. For other people belonging to multiple projects, they would have to input different codes within their time sheets and track their project separately and calculate it. It was ridiculous and dumb, but hey,if they want us to calculate our time rather than focus on the job, that’s on them. My current job doesn’t have this bs and I enjoy it.

  52. Delta Delta*

    So much malicious compliance can happen here. I first thought about sending poop or toilet emojis. But then I thought about the Bristol Stool Sample chart, and letting them know you’re “aiming for a 4” or some such. This could be so much fun.

  53. Alan*

    This is insane! Since covid, our entire project is predominantly messaging-app based. Few of us answer messages immediately because we’re, um, working? Or even on a break! But mostly we’re absorbed by our current task. It sometimes takes me 10-15 minutes to respond. But if I dropped what I was doing every time a message came in I would be wasting a *lot* of time trying to resume what I had been doing, rather than finishing it and *then* checking messages.

  54. Michigan mom*

    SLIGHTLY OFF TOPIC. Last night my boss called me at 5:40PM. I said hey boss what’s up. He said nothing. Then he said actually I’m pooping but I saw I missed your call so I called you back. I’m multitasking. We are not that close.

    1. I'm Just Here For The Cats!*

      EWW! I hope that maybe this was a one off and that he was drunk. I hope he apologizes

  55. Sales Geek*

    If that’s the case then the OP needs to expense any…er…disposable items used in said process. If it’s on company time then the company pays…

  56. In the bathroom*

    Do you want an EEOC complaint? This is how you get an EEOC complaint. You cannot micromanage bathroom habits.

  57. The_artist_formerly_known_as_Anon-2*

    Someone high up in our corporate headquarters wanted us to enter a code when we were going to use the bathroom.

    I was concerned – at the time I was a computer analyst with 30 years’ experience. I interrupted a meeting / conf call =

    “I am a computer professional in my 50s. I haven’t had to ask permission to go to the bathroom since I was in the third grade. What’s with this?”

    All we were thinking is that some bigshot somewhere has a toilet fetish. “Well if your manager says you don’t have to do this, then I guess you don’t.” My manager was on the line and told them = “I’m not gonna micromanage that way.”

  58. Pobody’s Nerfect*

    I used to work someplace where they told us we could have 5 minutes per bathroom break, max. Didn’t matter if you had IBS, weren’t feeling well, had horrible period flooding and pain, they made it clear if you took more than 5 min (which they monitored through computer use somehow) you’d be written up for policy violation. We were all adults, not teenagers. It was dehumanizing and demoralizing and all the other de-things. To all the bosses out there that think this is ok or somehow a good management technique: It’s not, you are idiots. Stop it. To the OP: just don’t tell him, don’t feed into his narcissistic megalomaniac micromanaging idiocy.

  59. Chocolate Almonds*

    So… he’s wfh and wants you to give him an accounting of your whereabouts in the office? What kind of control freak is this? You are an adult and should not need to ask permission to use the bathroom! Could you talk to your other boss about this?

    My immediate boss is super concerned about my Teams status. She actually chases me down (via text, Teams, in person, smoke signals, and carrier pigeons) if my status is anything but green. Basically if it’s not set as green/available, she is right in there messaging me to know where I am or why I set my status as away or offline or busy and then giving me a lecture about it. I’m at the point where I take my phone into the bathroom because she seems to get super anxious if I don’t immediately answer her pings even though I’ve never kept her waiting for more than 5 minutes. Sometimes I’m pooping, Susan! So now my Teams status is green at all times.

    I’ve spent the last two years creating systems to make my workflow a lot more efficient. Deliverables that used to take a week now have a 3-day turnaround, I’ve never missed a deadline, and emails are answered within 24 hours. So hunting me down when I’ve never given her any reason to micromanage my time really kills my morale. Helicopter bosses really need a lot of lessons in effective leadership.

    1. Nanani*

      Your boss needs to be told – probably by a peer or a grandboss, not by you – what IMs and statuses are for, and how managing works.

      llamas on a cracker

      1. Chocolate Almonds*

        Unfortunately, she is friends with our division director, and if I were to go to Director, he’d probably side with Boss or tell her who complained even though I think my complaint is valid. It’s nice to think there wouldn’t be any retaliation but there definitely would be, just not the actionable kind, you know? I just leave my status as green 24/7 now and if she has issue with that, I guess I’m just going to have to ask her what it is she wants me to say so she’ll leave me alone about my damned statuses. It’s such a weird thing for her to flex about!

  60. Mama Sarah*

    FWIW, at the start of pandemic, any time my Sup would call…I’d be in the bathroom. It was just an odd coincidence and we did a lot of communication via email but I brought it up in case it looked like I was dodging her calls.

    1. Elsajeni*

      I’ve always noticed that there are certain people in the office who tend to be on my same “schedule,” as it were — I have one colleague I never run into anywhere but the restroom, but anytime I’m in there, so is she — so it makes sense that there are also some people who somehow end up with perfectly opposed schedules and can never find each other!

  61. Another Anon*

    If you’ll allow me to have the mentality of a 12-year-old for a moment, perhaps at some point you’ll need to broadcast the audio from that scene in Austin Powers where he’s yelling,


  62. RonAndDonAnonAnonAnon*

    It seems weirdly common for grown adults to think they can micromanage other people’s bathroom habitw

    A professional acquiantance of mine worked for a large organization that fired its Executive Director about a decade ago who discipline about a dozen employees for taking bathroom break during a four-hour retreat. The board of directors supported the ED at first but quickly changed their tune after a handful of the disciplined employees got an attorney. ED claimed they “never meant to be disrespectful,” which of course was total horse manure (pun intended).

  63. Ellis Bell*

    If it comes up again: “Oh, sometimes when I need to go to the bathroom it’s so urgent I don’t have time to message you first. Is that not normal? Should I get a medical accommodation do you think?”

  64. RebelwithMouseyHair*

    My counterpart and I used to joke that we hadn’t mentioned the number of visits to the loo in our reports, after the boss freaked because one of us missed his call while in the loo. Looks like I should have been grateful that our boss hadn’t reached this level of micro-managing.

    I would ask whether there had been any problems because of me not responding immediately. Did anybody die? If it’s only him wondering where the hell you are, he needs to get a grip. If something is urgent, he needs to call with his phone.

    Be thankful this guy is not your husband or your father.

  65. Reverend Bayes*

    One approach can be to invert the situation. Ping them with a quick question every few hours and every time they don’t respond instantly, follow it up with, “oops, sorry, were you in the bathroom”

  66. Beebis*

    I don’t WFH anymore but I never did this when I did. Other people I worked with would throw a quick “rr” or “brb bathroom” in the group chat, but I drew a line at telling people when I was going to the bathroom in my own home

  67. DefinitiveAnn*

    My very small team is having lots of fun with this idea now. When we don’t want to be involved in something, we just say, “I will be in the bathroom.”

  68. Nichole*

    Maybe it’s my obstinate side but this would immediately cue malicious compliance from me. “I’m sorry I have an eyelash in my eye. Returning shortly” or “My IBS strikes again! Be back soon!” Literally every single freaking time I left my computer.

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