my boss expects me to respond immediately no matter what I’m doing

A reader writes:

I’m having a hard time with my direct supervisor’s expectations around response time, and I’m not sure how I should adjust or if she needs to adjust. In regards to email, she gets frustrated with our coworkers who don’t respond to her in two hours, and will call if they don’t respond in that window. She also marks emails as “high importance” so often that it’s meaningless. I try to gently remind her that general etiquette is to respond within 24 hours, and when reminded, she gives people the time to respond, which they do. Several people have expressed their frustration with her email response expectation to me.

This morning, she asked me if I was having trouble with my work-provided cell phone because I didn’t answer when she called two days ago. I was deeply focused on finishing a paragraph and planned to call her back as soon as I was finished –in less than 10 minutes. She immediately called my desk phone when I didn’t pick up my cell phone, and I answered because I thought it was an emergency. It wasn’t (she was complaining about traffic on her way to a meeting). We share an office. If we are talking through something, or a colleague stops by to chat about a project and the phone rings, she will stop everything to answer and leave everyone waiting. I find that rude to the people in the room. If I’m not in a meeting or deeply focused, I try to pick up every time someone calls. If I miss a call, I try to respond to voicemails as soon as possible that day. I was chastised for not immediately picking up when she called the other day. She will often call people multiple times if they don’t pick up and leave multiple messages in one day.

I’m not sure it’s relevant, but she has ADHD and I do not. She has a hard time focusing and jumps from project to project while I prefer to focus on one thing at a time. I think setting more reasonable response expectations will improve her relations with our colleagues, who view her as scattered and unorganized. And how do I find balance?

Can you name the issue to her directly? As in: “Is your expectation that I will always pick up immediately when you call and respond to emails immediately? If I’m focusing deeply on something, I generally let calls go to voicemail until I’m at a better stopping place. I do the same with email. I always get back to people within a day, or much faster if it’s time sensitive. But I work best when I can focus when I need to.”

And then, assuming she agrees this is reasonable: “Okay, then I’ll assume you know that if I don’t answer immediately it’s because I’m in the middle of something else, but I’ll get back to you as soon as I have a reasonable opportunity to do that.”

If she doesn’t agree that it’s reasonable, you’ve got bigger issues. If that’s the case — if she actually says that she expects you to always drop whatever you are doing to respond immediately, even if she’s just calling to complain about traffic — then how much to push back depends on what you know about her and what your relationship is like. With some bosses, the right strategy would be to just go on doing what you’ve been doing, answering her when you have time, and then if she complains, just say, “I was in the middle of X, but I’m free to talk now.” With other bosses, you might have success pushing back with something like, “I don’t think that’s feasible when I have projects that require deep focus like XYZ, and when I’ll sometimes be on other calls or in a meeting.” Choose your approach based on what you know about your boss (and maybe partly based how much energy you have for dealing with this, too).

But I don’t think you should spend energy and capital trying to improve her relations with your colleagues and how they view her. You have bigger battles to fight, and her relations with other people are hers to manage. But you absolutely have standing to talk about how you work best, and to try to hash out her responsiveness expectations for you.

One note: It’s not a universal work rule that people have 24 hours to respond to an email; that varies widely depending on the nature of the work and the nature of the email. Some messages do need to be addressed much faster than that. So you shouldn’t keep telling her that’s the rule, as she rightly might not see it that way. (That doesn’t mean the rule is what she thinks it is — to respond immediately at all times no matter what — but if you’re arguing for 24 hours in all cases, you’re probably veering too far in the other direction.)

Read an update to this letter

{ 222 comments… read them below }

  1. Brain the Brian*

    I’m surprised that the advice didn’t end with Alison’s oft-used “You may need to accept that working for someone with this expectation isn’t for you and begin planning to leave” advice. That would seem applicable here: an employee whose work style doesn’t align at all with their boss’s and who cannot either themselves adapt or convince their boss to do so is not going to be successful in their role.

    Alison’s notes about the time-sensitivity of emails varying widely are spot-on. In my company, emails from other internal offices typically don’t need to be answered for at least one business day (sometimes two or even three days hence), but emails within each office usually need an answer within an hour. It’s completely situational, though, and neither LW nor LW’s boss are right that there’s a hard-and-fast rule.

    As a complete side note: this boss reminds me of my mother. I would be exhausted and probably completely shut down working for her.

    1. Princess Trachea-Aurelia Belaroth*

      To me, this letter doesn’t convey that this is at the point where the letter writer is so frustrated that they can’t continue without a compromise. It’s just a disagreement, which could potentially get to that point if the boss escalates, but at this point the LW is just trying to navigate some communication.

        1. Brain the Brian*

          Thanks for clarifying. Perhaps I’m thinking of this as something that’s gone on for quite some time, when in reality it could be much more short-lived thus far. I know several people who have left jobs over long-simmering communication style differences.

          1. ecnaseener*

            I definitely think it’s a “consider that this might not get any better and almost certainly won’t go away entirely, and be honest with yourself about whether you want to stay” situation – just not a “this will cause real problems and you should strongly consider leaving” one.

            1. Eldritch Office Worker*

              And really, MOST interpersonal problems are the former. Not all, but most.

    2. Artemesia*

      What nailed it for me is the bosses urgent need to have her answer immediately so she could whine about traffic.

      It if is ALL important then she is just saying I AM IMPORTANT and must be attended to constantly.

      1. Wenike*

        I have told people (at my job even!) that if everything is important than really, nothing is important. That has helped some people to realize that I have to triage what I’m doing and prioritize things.

      2. Hannah Lee*

        “It if is ALL important then she is just saying I AM IMPORTANT and must be attended to constantly.”

        If that’s the case, and the boss’s expectations, LW may find the job they think they have and the “job” they are going to be managed for and evaluated on are not the same thing. Some people are OK with “my job is to do whatever my boss wants me to do even if it’s not what I was originally hired to do” But for other people, that’s a no go.

        And of course there are the situations where the boss expects you to jump at whatever they say, no matter how disruptive it is to your “normal” workflow and then ALSO evaluates you on your official responsibilities, with no memory of the 30 hours this month they occupied your time with “blah blah the traffic is so bad” time killing phone calls. That’s a no win situation: unsatisfying, stressful and lousy for your career and finances.

      3. CommanderBanana*

        If I wanted to work for someone like that, I’d be a nanny.*

        *I was a nanny, and it was delightful! However, I expect that level of neediness from a toddler, I don’t want it from an adult.

    3. Eldritch Office Worker*

      I don’t think it rises to that level of severity, though given your personal associations I completely understand why that might be your first thought!

      I have never worked somewhere where there weren’t minor disagreements about response time, or best methods of contact, or prioritization – these are such mundane office problems that mostly boil down to preference. I think it’s a perfectly valid letter, because you want to make your boss happy but it sounds like there’s real cultural misalignment here. However it strikes me as a regular annoyance of working with others, not something to leave over on its own.

    4. Relentlessly Socratic*

      In my work, it’s usually flipped–try to get back to an external client as soon as feasible, but internal e-mails, absent a deadline, can wait. But the message is the same: Know your audience and culture.

      1. Brain the Brian*

        External clients are similar where I work — but our satellite offices are not “external,” and usually by the time they send us something, it’s because it needs deep thinking and extensive feedback from us at the central office. We’re a weird company, I know. :D

      2. Miss the 80s*

        Good thing you don’t work in the practice i work in, where 20 minutes is too long to wait for an email response.

    5. RussianInTexas*

      I work in customer service, and internal e-mails about inventory, pricing, etc, need to be answered today as the slowest. In an hour, preferably. Even faster, if you can.
      Order confirmations to the customer must go in 24 hours. Any questions about orders need to go ASAP.
      So it really depends on the job.

      1. Momma Bear*

        And if this is the case, a more judicious use of “urgent” might help LW prioritize what’s really on fire and what isn’t.

      2. WillowSunstar*

        It really does vary, especially if you’re in a customer service or help desk sort of situation. Some things are naturally going to be more urgent than others. I have a half-day expectation on some things where I work, and some things are also “drop everything and do them immediately” kind of urgent.

    6. Cool Tina, Train Conductress*

      If that advices goes on this response, then it might as well go on every response, and thus on no responses (because we can just assume it at all times).

      This situation is the kind where there’s a great deal in LW’s control, and a lot LW can/should do. It’s not a “nothing about this will change except your employment status” situation.

  2. LadyAmalthea*

    This sounds so much like my manager, who calls people when they haven’t responded to an email when only enough time has gone by that if they were in the bathroom when the email came through, they would not have had time to walk back to their desks. In her case, it is motivated by extreme anxiety, which also leads into her inability to remember details, which probably forms a feedback loop for needing an immediate response or it won’t be fresh in her mind. If this is the case for OP’s boss, you probably can’t expect any change based on what you say, no matter how well meaning and otherwise reasonable a person the boss is.

    1. Buffy Rosenberg*

      I relate strongly to the anxiety and memory issues but I can’t ever imagine making people I manage responsible for it in such an unreasonable way! This sounds exhausting and anxiety-making for everyone else, too.

  3. digitalnative-ish*

    ADHDer here and no, she’s just rude. And even if it is related, that’s not your problem. It’s on her to manage it.

    Whether you decide to confront her or not, I’d say keep responding in a normal timely manner, like Alison said, and just accept she’s going to be weird about it.

    1. Teekanne aus Schokolade*

      This. Her ADHD isn’t relevant if she hasn’t asked for accomodations and demanding instant responses and therefore breaking everyone else’s ability to focus is not an accomodation.

      1. Barbarella*

        Her ADHD is relevant whether there is a legal process in play or not. Her ADHD is relevant to understanding what LW can or cannot expect from her boss. If anyone needs a legal process in play to be able to understand why someone is the way they are, well, I guess I just don’t know what to say.

        A physical equivalent would be saying somebody’s wheelchair isn’t relevant unless they have asked for an accommodation. Whether there is an accommodation or not, there are things you can and cannot expect from a person using a wheelchair. You can want things to be different, you can want them to get an accommodation, but their capabilities are not dependent on your wants or on HR.

        LW can want her boss to act a certain way, but her boss’s brain is going to act the way it acts whether LW finds it relevant or not.

        1. Appropriate username here*

          As someone with ADHD: several people here are saying the ADHD is, in fact, irrelevant, so I do not really understand why you are insisting it is. Our behavior already tends to get to be reduced to our diagnosis, so when we push back it would be nice to have that respected.

          Living with ADHD is hard, but most people work really hard to minimize the impact it has on others. Even if this behavior is a consequence of boss’ ADHD it is on her to try to not let other people suffer from it. And if she truly cannot do that she needs to use her words and ask for an accommodation.

          Others do not need to preemptively guess and adjust their behavior, especially not in the workplace. That’s honestly belittling, assuming we are not adults who can be held responsible for our own actions.

          As for your analogy with someone in a wheelchair: everything I learned from them is that they will ask if they need help and they hate it when people will assume they cannot do things themselves because they are in a wheelchair.

          1. IDIC believer*

            Agree 100%. Whether ADHD or anxiety/depression (me), it’s on the person to mitigate impact, and that may or may not include a request for accommodation. A lot of us are fed up, at work and elsewhere, with others infantilizing us.

        2. Also ADHD*

          I don’t think this behavior is inherently related to ADHD though. Her jumping from thing to thing or needing to answer the phone might be (I actually find interruptions horrible for my ADHD so that surprises me frankly) but her passive aggressively asking if someone’s phone is broken or freaking out if people don’t answer a non-urgent email in an hour isn’t necessarily. It could be, but it could more easily be attributed to thinking she’s more important or a difference in communication standards (very possibly unfair). If her ADHD is related, it’s possibly in not noticing how bothered OP is? But I don’t know, I mean everyone with ADHD is different but this isn’t common symptomatic behavior (the demand part) of the disorder AND plenty of bosses who are neurotypical demand reports drop everything to pay attention to them—not saying that’s right but it happens plenty.

        3. DyneinWalking*

          Their capabilities may not be dependent on your want or HR’s, but in a work situation it absolutely is relevant whether their demands are an accommodation that enables them to do their job better or at all, or whether their demands are essentially to be coddled and attended to.

          The boss’s demands are in the latter category – and, worse, the demands impact OP’s ability to do her job. Essentially, boss expects to get her emotional demands met at the expense of OP’s job duties.
          In terms of your wheelchair analogy, this is like someone in a wheelchair expecting their subordinate to drop their work in order to bring them drinks and food from another floor – the demand is 1) not something the boss needs to do her work, 2) hinders OP’s ability to do her own work, and 3) basically expects OP to be a sort of personal (emotional) assistant to her boss.
          While the boss may may have legitimate difficulties (with physically moving around to get something or with regulating her own emotions) this is not their subordinates problem to solve, and certainly not at the expense of the subordinates job duties.

          And besides, this:

          Her ADHD is relevant whether there is a legal process in play or not. Her ADHD is relevant to understanding what LW can or cannot expect from her boss.
          LW can want her boss to act a certain way, but her boss’s brain is going to act the way it acts whether LW finds it relevant or not.

          …which you wrote in response to this comment:

          demanding instant responses and therefore breaking everyone else’s ability to focus is not an accomodation.

          is actually very demeaning to people with ADHD (and other mental difficulties, for that matter).
          As many commenters have pointed out, expecting OP to drop her work regardless of the situation is not a direct result of ADHD. The anxiety around not getting an immediate response might (I repeat, might) be, but expecting that other people solve that issue speaks of self-centeredness and isn’t related to ADHD at all!
          Suggesting that it is is not only wrong, it is also harmful to destigmatizing mental issues.

          And suggesting that others should just roll with any such people’s demands, not matter how reasonable or how hindering to the needs of others, because “their brain is going to act that way whether you like it or not” is also harmful to the these people themselves. It is essentially enabling behavior – it keeps people from acquiring self-sufficient coping methods; instead, they stay locked in a state where they depend on other people to rescue them from difficult situations. It is infantilizing and should only be done if it is truly necessary, and even then only by people who have a personal relationship with them or are who are payed to care for people like that.

    2. Nobby Nobbs*

      I was going to say, don’t focus too much on the ADHD thing. This expectation isn’t universal among people with ADHD, especially since many of us find task-switching and task-initiating to be hell and would totally get not wanting urgent interruptions when you’re rolling on a task.

      1. ursula*

        +1. I have ADHD and my working needs are much more aligned with OP than with her boss.

      2. digitalnative-ish*

        Yeah that’s me. I mean could it be ADHD or something else? Sure. But that’s not really the point. Would I like it if the world revolved around my preferences? Absolutely. Is that a reasonable expectation? Nope.

        LW, you don’t have to accommodate rudeness or whatever is going on here just because you suspect/know someone is neurodivergent.

      3. Shoebox*

        100%. I have ADHD and absolutely struggle with task switching. I behave similarly to OP by ignoring emails/calls when I’m deeply focusing on something and then attending to it once my task is finished. If I break my deep concentration to answer a call, check email, etc., there’s just no telling when that ability to concentrate is going to come back! This boss would frustrate the heck out of me and I would probably feel constantly frazzled.

        1. DyneinWalking*

          If I break my deep concentration to answer a call, check email, etc., there’s just no telling when that ability to concentrate is going to come back!

          Yes, this exactly! Being focused on something I ought to be doing is kind of the holy grail for me. Honestly, the argument “I was in the zone and wanted to finish what I was doing instead of starting all over again” should get instant sympathy from someone struggling with ADHD.

      4. Dusty*

        I can relate to boss. When I’m hyperfocused it makes me want to cry when that hyperfocus is disrupted because I have to wait on someone else. I can’t switch to something else because then I can’t focus. Task switching is so hard and focus so elusive that when I’ve got it it’s devastating to be unable to make the most of it.

        But… I have to deal with it. One of the first things I learned in the workplace was that I just have to deal with it and people have a turnaround time. I cope the best way I can, but certainly not by breathing down people’s necks.

    3. Mandie*

      Maybe also a bit of a power trip? I would never dream of interrupting a direct report to complain about traffic, unless I needed them to cover something until I arrived. Seems like she enjoys people being on high alert and being at her constant beck and call.

      1. Tupac Coachella*

        Even though this is definitely possible, I can also see a universe where it’s more obliviousness than a power thing. My partner has a recurring rant about “if no one is going to answer their phones why do we even have them??” and has to be reminded that just because HE is available and wants to talk doesn’t mean that everyone else is. Furthermore, we can’t drop everything to find out if every call is important, so even time sensitive things may require more than one attempt. Whenever we have this conversation, it legitimately didn’t occur to him that other people do stuff that might take priority. He doesn’t expect the whole family to be at his beck and call, he just gets wrapped up in whatever he’s thinking about in that moment and gets annoyed sometimes when he can’t talk about it until he’s…ahem…gently encouraged to see it from our point of view. (He’s lovely in lots of other ways, I promise.)

    4. Peanut Hamper*

      Yep, agreed. Thank you for pointing this out.

      Even if someone (above, below, or at your level) has ADD/ADHD, it’s not on you to manage the condition. You can only point out how their behavior is affecting the workplace, and leave it up to them to figure out how not to let the behavior (regardless of its cause) affect the workplace.

      Boss needs to focus on having appropriate expectations of both her employees and herself. And this is what LW (and commenters) need to keep in mind.

    5. ferrina*

      Yep, this. I’m ADHD, and while yes, I have a quirky working style, I don’t have weird expectations like this.
      Getting distracted? Yep, totally an ADHD thing. Demanding everyone else stand around while I answer a phone call? Nope, definitely not. Randomly calling because I had an idea? Yep, that can be ADHD- I’m excited and ready to take action. Immediately calling on a different line to complain about traffic? Um, no, that’s just needy.

      1. Brain the Brian*

        What if the traffic complaints were the manager getting distracted from the awesome idea she needed to share immediately and about which she had initially called? :D

    6. Gerry Keay*

      Yup. A bit tangential, but this is a good example of why revealing neurodivergence/mental illness at work is so risky — people assign any flaw to that diagnosis, rightly or wrongly (though more often wrongly), which in turn creates misconceptions and assumptions about our communities.

      1. Brain the Brian*

        Good point. I have epilepsy, and although I’ve been seizure-free on medication for years and lead a very normal life now, I still have work trips pulled from me over management’s fear that I could have a seizure on the plane. It’s not like I could get out of telling them, though, since I once had a seizure in the office and had to be carted out in an ambulance…

    7. Lulu*

      Agreed. I don’t have ADHD, and find myself totally wrapped up in my current thing and raring to get a response to whatever thought I’m having at that moment. It’s something I have to be aware of and rein in, and it’s not ADHD related.

      1. rebelwithmouseyhair*

        yes, my partner is like that too, constantly interrupting me and needing an answer now, only he doesn’t rein it in, because he is completely insensitive to the fact that you might be trying to concentrate on something else. He certainly doesn’t have ADHD.

    8. Jaydee*

      I can imagine her ADHD manifesting with a combination of impulsivity and difficulty with the task switching that she does. Sometimes I find it frustrating not to get an immediate response to a question because I want to keep going with that task, I need the answer to keep going, and I’m worried if I switch tasks, I’ll forget where I was on the first one (out of sight = out of mind). But I try not to be a person who demands an immediate response for things that aren’t truly urgent and important because I find interruptions even more annoying and frustrating than delays in finishing a task. So I just have deal with my frustration and write myself a note or set a reminder to follow up, and then switch to task B.

      1. Ochre*

        I can also a imagine a type of rules-based though process that I’ve seen in people who have ADHD, though maybe it’s not related. It goes like this: When there is a Rule, you don’t break the Rule and also believe everyone else knows the Rule. Breaking the Rule is something that Is Not Done. So if the boss thinks “always answer the phone” is a Rule, then she will always answer the phone herself and will also think that everyone else also knows this rule and follows it.

        I think this method of thinking shortcuts some tedious decisions (if I “always lock my desk drawer”, then I don’t need to hem and haw about how long I’ll be away, I just lock the drawer, every time). But it’s a challenge when others don’t know the Rules and/or when two Rules conflict (“always answer the phone” vs “don’t interrupt a conversation”).

        This doesn’t change anything for the OP, but could be an origin of the boss’s perspective.

    9. I have RBF*

      Ditto. I’m ADHD, and I don’t expect instant responses to my email, much less dropping everything to answer the phone. I suspect that something else is going on with her, and this is just part of it.

      IMO, it’s rude to call people with something trivial and not time sensitive, but I work in a field where head-down work is common and respected. Yes, I have some customers where calls and immediate email or phone responses are vital, because their systems are billable time based, and downtime is measured in dollars. But otherwise, no, I don’t answer a lot of phone calls. If it’s important, they’ll leave a message.

    10. Former Gremlin Herder*

      Another ADHD’er chiming in-this boss is wildly off base and has unrealistic expectations. I get where it comes from to an extent-my brain prioritizes things like a ringing phone or new email above whatever task I was doing because novelty, but that doesn’t mean I get to be rude to other people!!

    11. Rainy*

      Yup. I have ADHD and I 100% do not act like this. I don’t have expectations about immediate responses, I don’t jump from project to project, and I don’t abruptly exit conversations for no reason.

      LW, your boss is just rude.

    12. Jane*

      Her ADHD isn’t relevant, but it, combined with some awareness of how ADHD often manifests, might give the OP an easier way to get her to realize how disruptive this is.

      ADHD doesn’t just lead to distraction, at all. And one thing that it can do is make disruptions and sudden task switching disproportionately hard to work through. If I were in the OP’s shoes I’d lean into that, *without* mentioning ADHD.

      Admittedly, as someone with ADHD, I’d need this as an (informal or formal) accommodation to work for a supervisor like this, but in the OP’s shoes I’d talk with my supervisor about calls like this disrupting my work-flow and making it hard to refocus on what I had been doing, and the need to chunk out my work in ways that allowed me to focus on one thing for a while at a time. And in my case I would emphasize that sudden task switching like answering the phone immediately can break my ability to be productive far beyond just the time on the call. If the boss is reasonable at all, *especially* considering she has ADHD, I would expect that discussing it in that way would likely help somewhat (though given her behavior so far I’d still expect random phone calls to complain about traffic, sadly).

      Whether she’s reasonable at all or not I can’t say…. But ADHD could be as much a contributor to this being problem for someone as it could be to someone doing it to someone else. And that fact might make it easier to help the boss understand the impact, regardless of whether both parties have ADHD.

    13. Cool Tina, Train Conductress*

      I think we can maybe even de-escalate from rude, possibly: she’s a weirdo. Her expectations/understanding of norms are way out of whack.

      LW’s are a little off, too–you should respond to your boss’s emails within the same workday at MINIMUM. 24 hours is a decent (very general) norm for someone at another company, but not from your own boss. And it’s not particularly wild for the boss to pick up her own office phone during an unscheduled chat with a colleague.

      But obviously the rest of boss’s behavior is very silly and annoying! And Alison’s advice about it is great as usual.

      1. amoeba*

        Oh, yes, true, didn’t even notice that! Yes, of course I’d pick up my phone if it rings while I’m chatting with my office mate or a colleague who stopped by. I mean, not during an official meeting, obviously, but an informal chat? For sure!
        (And as the colleague in question, I wouldn’t wait but leave them to their phone call and come back later…)

      2. fgcommenter*

        LW’s are a little off, too–you should respond to your boss’s emails within the same workday at MINIMUM. 24 hours is a decent (very general) norm for someone at another company, but not from your own boss.

        LW writes:

        “I try to gently remind her that general etiquette is to respond within 24 hours, and when reminded, she gives people the time to respond, which they do.”

        Taking LW at their word, 24 hours is correct, and the boss knows it well enough to adhere to it when reminded.

    14. Chrisssss*

      I had a boss without ADHD, and if you didn’t answer his emails in 5 minutes, he would storm in your office and demand what is going on. His problem was that he was very authoritarian and rude in general.

  4. Nom de ploom*

    Oof I do sympathize, though am equally stuck. My boss sends people after you if you don’t reply to their texts fast enough.

    The last reply time was 3 minutes according to the time stamps and still sent someone after me to get an answer who only called me 90 minutes after.

    Maybe it’s impossible to ‘make it make sense’ with people like that, as the impression it leaves me with is that, to them, only their schedule and priorities matter.

    1. Humanitarian*

      I think the OP’s boss might not be cut out for a management role. Constant knee-jerk reacting just doesn’t seem like a good fit for that.

  5. Ellis Bell*

    I have ADHD and my practices are quite similar to OP’s; however her boss really reminds me of some of my ADHD students! I’ve had so many conversations about how it’s not rude to wait to respond to a text. The fallings out between friends that it causes! Not to mention the unauthorized phone use in class. I’m inattentive type, so I want to shut out the world (well I don’t actually get a choice) from distractions and max out my ability to hyperfocus. I also don’t care about waiting for something because I have time travel (or rather time loss) abilities. To a certain type of ADHD person, the chance to connect with people is an all consuming catnip (I diagnosed her when she called you about traffic) and waiting is torture. I think there’s an argument for getting back to her a bit more quickly than 24 hours when you can. It’s probably genuinely more efficient for her work practices and I’m imagining she hates waiting for stuff when the iron’s hot. That doesn’t mean you need to do it all her way; ask her to only call you in emergencies for example is probably wise. Something like “Oh if this isn’t an emergency do you mind if I call you back because I really am on deadline with something.” Or whatever you think would go over well.

    1. TypityTypeType*

      “To a certain type of ADHD person, the chance to connect with people is an all consuming catnip (I diagnosed her when she called you about traffic) and waiting is torture.”

      Hey, that’s me! When I call or text someone, I am all amped up and ready to communicate, and it can be very difficult when I can’t reach them right away. This manager might have the same issue, where a thwarted need/desire to speak with someone can in itself become an intense distraction.

      There are ways to deal with it, and I don’t think I’d make the demands this manager does, were I in her position. But I might really really want to.

      1. Eldritch Office Worker*

        I also have the type where I get really frustrated when people don’t respond to me, especially if it interrupts a workflow that I’m really tuned into. But, alas, the world doesn’t revolve around my needs and I’ve learned to live with that.

        However the people who DO respond quickly are my favorite people.

      2. Twix*

        Woo, me too! If I have “Discuss mecha-llama assembly process with Dwight” on my mental to-do list, it’s going to stay there and bother me and occupy a portion of my mental capacity until I’ve completed the entire task, so Dwight not getting back to me quickly can be very frustrating. Fortunately I can manage it pretty well, but I could definitely see someone with a more aggressive personality deciding that the best way to address that is to always DEMAND peoples’ attention RIGHT NOW.

        1. Red Reader the Adulting Fairy*

          And for me, once I send Dwight the email, it’s off my mental to-do list until Dwight gets back to me, for good or ill — like, unless I specifically bcc myself on the email to keep it in my inbox and on my radar, I will probably forget I was waiting for a response if Dwight doesn’t bother to get back to me. (I BCC myself a lot.)

      3. Alanna*

        That’s a perfect description of me, too, and I am a boss, and you just have to be really aware that you’re the boss and you can pressure people without meaning to. An old boss of mine (who also had ADHD, we were diagnosed around the same time) used to want to chat with me on slack every single day right as I was about to head out, for 20-30 minutes, often about things that weren’t important. I stuck around a lot of the time for it because she was the boss — I enjoyed the conversations, but I would have rather been doing other things at that time, but she was my boss and I didn’t want to make her mad. I try really really hard not to be that boss.

        Sometimes I will send the DM but will say “just a random thought to discuss later” or “no rush on this, just wanted to flag while I was thinking about it” but I also often try not to send the DM. Or sometimes I will annoy my own boss if I just really need to talk something out with someone.

        Anyway, it’s one thing to have a communication preference for yourself — I definitely tend to treat every Slack message like it needs to be answered RIGHTTHEN, which is actually a huge problem for me as I’ve moved into more senior roles — but it’s a whole other thing to impose it on the people who work for you. As everyone said, boss is rude.

        1. Lizzo*

          Scheduling emails/posts for later is your BFF to help resolve this…I sometimes think of things early Monday mornings when my colleagues won’t be online for another few hours, so I schedule them to send (either via email or Slack DM) at a time when they will be online and can respond.

          1. Random Bystander*

            For email, I’d rather it already be there when I get in. I’m somewhat reminded of a few times when my team lead (who starts work a half-hour before I do–these are both our standard working hours) must have been sitting there waiting for my Skype light to turn green before she hit me up with an IM (not that urgent a thing, but it was a relatively quick question/answer). I mean, when I clock in, I have to hit three variations of “accept” for the time to populate in the time-keeping program, start up the program where my work is actually done, start up email and scan the subject lines–and I’m not starting any of that before my actual start time. I wasn’t even 100% clocked in when she sent the IM. Made me feel like a mouse with a cat just waiting to pounce.

  6. Charlotte*

    Something I articulated to my boss is that he has a tendency to act immediately on his thoughts because he’s the kind of person who easily forgets or loses track of tasks if they’re not done right away. I’ve been able to reassure him through words and through my actions over time that if he leaves me a text or voice message with an idea or task, he can trust me to triage it appropriately and follow up. It wasn’t until I named it for him explicitly, “I think you’re often in a rush to get things done right away because you’re scared they’ll drop otherwise, but it’s okay to hand them to me and they won’t vanish,” that he learned to let go and stress less about losing track of great ideas or important but not urgent tasks.

    1. Princess Trachea-Aurelia Belaroth*

      Not saying your boss has ADHD, but to connect back to the LW’s boss, that can sometimes also be an ADHD thing. People with ADHD can sometimes get so used to dropping tasks that they don’t do immediately or write down, that they can be very wary of letting things go. They are so used to the niggling feeling that they are forgetting something that they get control issues and overcorrect.

      And by they, I mean me.

      1. Alanna*

        The biggest breakthrough I’ve had recently is realizing that my ADHD-inflected lack of working memory is connected to all of my greatest frustrations at work, which is basically that I don’t think things through and then regret it later.

        I’m afraid that if I don’t make a decision or deal with a task right then, I’ll never be able to come back to it, or if I do, I won’t be able to complete it.

    2. Eldritch Office Worker*

      Where can I get one of you, that sounds very much like a person I need in my work life.

      1. Charlotte*

        My workplace is big on using CliftonStrengths, which is a sort of personality test that figures out what strengths you work out of most prominently. It’s helpful for working to build diverse teams! My boss is high in strategic thinking and influencing skills, but low in executing skills. I have a ton of executing and some strategic thinking skills, which makes us a good match – basically, we have enough overlap to be on the same wavelength but mostly we’re very different and support each other’s weaknesses with our strengths. I highly recommend this tool or others like it when trying to find the right person to expand your team! When we wanted to add a newbie, we looked at our collective strengths and realized we were missing out big time on relational skills. So we found someone highly relational who also has some executing strengths and she’s been an incredible team member.

        1. Lizzo*

          My spouse took the Clifton Strengths assessment while I was away for a couple weeks. When I came home, they handed me a printout of their results. I looked at the top ten, and said to them, “Yeah, that checks out.” They said, “You should look at the bottom ten.”

          The bottom ten skills were all areas I excel in. Guess this is why we make a good team.

  7. Charlie Rose*

    I would really struggle to report to a supervisor like this. I am in a client facing role, that has both scheduled appointments and drop-ins, and those meetings are followed up with a minimum of an hours worth of paperwork. In my office our expected reply times are 2 business days for phone calls and 3-5 business days for email replies, processing incoming paperwork is 7-10 business days.

  8. N7 Librarian*

    One thing I did with my department that was incredibly useful in clarifying expectations like this was developing a team agreement. In it we set the expectations around communication for our department (and other things, but that’s the aspect most pertinent here). For example, we set the general expectation for email responses to be 48 hours and if it’s more urgent then the expectation is to put something in the subject line and that we use IMs for quick questions and things that are more urgent and expect people to get back to you as soon as viable within their day. We have pages outlining the different circumstances and modes we use regularly so that we all have the same expectations, and it’s been so helpful! It takes a lot of those implicit office norms and makes them clear to everyone, and it’s been a great onboarding tool as well.

    I’m the manager so I had the authority to jump in and do this, but I think it’s a reasonable suggestion to make to a supervisor – especially if this would help others in your department as well.

    1. Goldenrod*

      I think clarifying expectations in a team agreement is a brilliant idea. I noticed at my last job, when we all were working at home due to COVID, that people made wildly varying assumptions about how long was a reasonable amount of time to respond.

      Personally, I would never assume 24 hours – that seems like a very large window, especially with one’s boss – but my insane boss immediately became enraged when we did not INSTANTLY respond to her (emergency or no), which is clearly unreasonable.

      My boss was just bonkers – and no amount of communication was going to change that – but in this case, it does seem like there is potential for everyone to get on the same page. It may just be a misunderstanding and a lack of shared assumptions.

      1. Clisby*

        I agree that, in general, 24 hours is too long to wait. I’d at least respond that I got the message; was looking into the issue; and would get back with them with an answer as soon as possible.

        1. Humanitarian*

          What about people who need focused concentration? They’d never get anything done because they’d answer an email – and possibly do some related work – as soon as it came through. I’m not sure how things could get even decently prioritized with a work flow like that.

          1. Jaydee*

            There’s a lot of time between “immediately when it hits the inbox” and “24 hours.” You could set the expectation as 4 working hours or something like that, which has the benefit of accommodating lots of different reasons why an immediate response might be unreasonable – different working hours, meetings, focusing on a different project, etc.

            1. Jaydee*

              And that 4 hours is not the time frame by which you need to have a full answer to the question necessarily, just the time frame by which you’re expected to respond with “Hey, I’m in meetings all morning. I need to look into whether llamas can be included in that metric or just vicuñas. I’ll look that up this afternoon and get back to you.”

          2. rebelwithmouseyhair*

            I need to focus to do my job and I have never had a boss who recognises this much less respects it. I just learned to do my jobs in between interruptions.

      2. Respond Immediately LW*

        I should have clarified email response time. For external emails, I try to respond immediately. If it’s my boss, within an hour. Coworkers, at minimum 3-4 hours, but could be the following morning. She frequently asks her peers in other departments to help her with things that take some time (querying reports, calculating costs, etc.) and wants a response within the hour. I try to encourage her to check their calendar before picking up the phone to follow up on an email (in case they’ve been in meetings), realize it’s going to take time for them to do what she’s asked, and to give them up to 24 hours to respond before following up.

    2. Rara Avis*

      We have a written policy — emails within 24 hours, but if the desk phone rings with an internal number you pick it up immediately. However, I have plenty of coworkers (management included) who will send an email about something urgent — but most of us aren’t desk/computer based for large chunks of the day. The written email expectation is to check it at the beginning and end of the day.

  9. Jenny*

    I work in an office and deal with emails that need to be addressed or at least acknowledged immediately (or at least within 2 hours), or the requestor will find someone else and then it will look like I dropped the ball. OP, would it be possible for you to have a canned response ready for your manager, or have a rule to say “I see your email and I’ll get to it ASAP after [other thing]?”

    1. Relentlessly Socratic*

      “Hold please. Your e-mail is very important to us and will be answered in the order in which it was received. If you’d like to listen to some hold music, we suggest enjoying your favorite Pandora station.”

    2. MigraineMonth*

      I think responding within 2 hours to a normal-priority email has been the expectation most places I’ve worked. It’s interesting that it’s so different across different industries!

      1. 'nother prof*

        Meanwhile, two hours in my industry is possible, but only because it’d be a hit-or-miss situation. Email one of us in the summer? Officially, you shouldn’t expect a response until the fall. Email during the fall and you may get a response right away (because you happened to email me during a period where I was checking my email), but then you may get a response in a couple days, or you may not get a response at all (if your email met certain conditions).

        24 hours as a blanket rule struck me as overly stringent. I aim for a goal of two business days for those emails that warrant responses (though, in fairness, I do bump my supervisor’s emails up the priority chain as much as I can).

    3. NotAnotherManager!*

      Yeah, I was surprised by the “24 hour rule” because I’ve never worked somewhere it would be acceptable to do that. And I would certainly never tell my boss that “general etiquette” was anything.

    4. Moonlight*

      So I think you would want to be sure that you actually work in an office like this. I’ve worked in both situations.

      1 example was client based and I set the expectations with the clients of 24 hours, that I don’t answer in my “off” hours and let them know that I worked both morning and evening hours depending on the day and that I wasn’t online at all on the weekends; and yes, I needed to spell it out once I noticed how demanding some clients could be

      2nd example was a place where llama data requests needed to be done within a 4 hour period with a deadline of 2 pm, while llama investigations typically had a 24 hour turn around but sometimes required more immediate acknowledgement (eg “I see this, I’m busy, I’ll get to it” or “I see this, I recognize it’s urgent, I’m looking into it”), which I mostly did so that people wouldn’t hassle me by phoning prematurely or, worse, appearing at my desk (sometimes it was all I could do to me like “did you seriously just walk all the way across the department moments after you emailed me? When did you think I had time to look at this? Piss off!”)

  10. Ginger Baker*

    I think you are tangling up some different things here unintentionally: interruptions of your work to call and complain about traffic? Big problem, definitely should discuss/try to solve. Too many red exclams on emails? Annoying but I have some folks who do that and I know to just ignore them (same as the folks who use read receipts on EVERY SINGLE EMAIL they send, just, why…) – this is not a hill to die on. Email response time…tbh two hours sounds pretty reasonable to me, unless there’s some specific type of work you do that requires very heads-down focus time. Four to six [business-standard hours, meaning I don’t expect a reply an hour later if I sent it at the end of the day but instead mid-morning-ish the next day] would be unremarkable to me for almost all things (and if it’s an emergency, I would just call at that point) but for the vast majority of emails I send I definitely would be concerned and negatively impacted if I had to wait 24 hours for a reply. I usually can’t move forward with my own work before the reply so that’s a LOT of stall time for each action item and I would…well, I would be looking to move on quite quickly if everyone in my company used “a whole day is fine” for their responsiveness measure. (Note I internally adjust for time zone differences; I don’t expect anyone to reply at 2am their time just because that’s when I sent an email! But by 2pm their time if they first saw it in the morning? Definitely.)

    1. QRT*

      I think the response time topic is very industry and role dependent. For me, emails from our end users require an acknowledgment (and/or solution) within a couple hours, but internal emails can usually wait at least a couple days, depending on the scope of the ask. Probably 95% of the emails I get are just FYI notifications that don’t require any response.

      Anything that requires an immediate response is usually sent via Skype or Teams, and the expectation is you acknowledge/respond ASAP.

    2. Twix*

      This was my read as well. I know response time expectations vary by industry, but 2 hours is pretty standard for mine. It’s not such an unrealistically short window that you could miss it simply by being in the bathroom, so even if it’s not standard for LW’s industry I don’t think it’s necessarily an unreasonable expectation unless the nature of their work precludes it. (Which is not to say that LW is wrong to find that it clashes with their preferred work style.)

      Whereas my boss calling me while I’m working just to complain about traffic at all would be pretty off-putting, much less calling on multiple lines if I didn’t pick up the first time.

      1. Relentlessly Socratic*

        I’m cool with boss/peers/reports calling me to decompress if they hit a frustrating snag like traffic. But, and it’s a big but, they can’t harangue me–especially via multiple channels!!!– if I don’t pick up.

        1. Kyrielle*

          This. But they *can* harangue me via multiple channels if I didn’t pick up and they were calling to alert me to some major issue that I needed to switch to immediately, or take an action to avoid having it impact me, or whatever.

          Complaining about traffic is not a high-priority item. But some things are. (Admittedly, my current job rarely has anything that high priority. It can happen, but it’s not super common.)

          1. Relentlessly Socratic*

            Yes, absolutely!

            Fortunately, my work also doesn’t typically have emergencies that would escalate to that level very often. It’s much more common to have the “I wanna vent” call while I’m trying to do head-down work (which I can safely ignore).

          2. Twix*

            Yeah, that’s totally reasonable. I work in a role where 99% of the time a phone call is going to be a question about my area of expertise or scheduling or something, but that other 1% is “There is a capital-P Problem and we need you to fix it Right Now because the production line being down costs us hundreds of thousands of dollars per hour.” My boss has my personal cell number for that 1% of cases, and I know if I see a call from her on that line it’s drop-everything-and-answer important and she already tried reaching me through normal work channels. But I gave it to her because I trust her not to abuse it.

            1. Kyrielle*

              Yup. And this is where LW’s boss is shooting herself in the foot, because now LW has no reason to assume that a double-call is an emergency, it might just be traffic. If you know that it’s probably an emergency if they push past polite boundaries and waiting, then you’ll respond as such. If you know that it doesn’t mean anything except maybe that it’s Tuesday, you aren’t as likely to – and that’s reasonable.

  11. Survey smurvery*

    Your boss is unlikely to change. She might, but if she really thinks it’s reasonable to call every ten minutes, it’s unlikely. I’d hate to work for her. Her time and comfort is more important than yours, all the time, and she can’t distinguish priorities.

    I’d have a hard time not ignoring her all the time after the second time she called me about traffic or something else inane. Why should you respect her when she doesn’t respect you?

  12. 3lla*

    I work with some extremely type A people, and I’ve found it incredibly helpful to reply ASAP to their emails with a message that just communicates “I received your request and will work on it.” This approach doesn’t require significant focus or even for me to put down my main project, and it alleviates the other party’s worry about their request. I wonder if something similar might work for the LW.

    1. Emily*

      I think this is a great idea, and I was going to suggest something similar. I know for me, it can be frustrating to have sent multiple emails/left multiple voicemails (over a reasonable length of time, which varies greatly from your boss who is being unreasonable) only to finally reach the person only to be told, “Oh I was working on it, I just did not have an answer yet”. (This is people outside of the office who I can’t just walk over to and ask). How was I supposed to know that? When there is no response at all, it seems like nothing is being done, and sometimes that is indeed the push. Your boss is being so pushy that I am not sure if this would work if only getting a true answer will appease her, but I think it’s worth trying.

      Also, I think Alison makes a great point about how quickly emails need to be responded to and it stuck out to me reading the letter. There really is no norm. Also, I think sometimes when people are acting obnoxiously, like LW’s boss is doing, it can be easy to subconsciously not be as responsive as you should be to them because you are so irritated by the person (I would be super irritated to have every single email marked as “highly urgent”). Obviously you cannot trust what your boss marks as “highly urgent”, as she is doing that with everything, but I think it’s worth taking her emails on a case by case basis and responding in an appropriate length of time, which may be less than 24 hours for some emails.

    2. Pine Tree*

      I’m not super type A, but I really appreciate when people acknowledge the request and let me know they will work on it. Even if something is taking longer than expected, I wish more people would just say “hey, I know I said I’d get this to you by the end of the week, but it’s looking more like mid-next week, hope that’s OK”. At least I know and can adjust my workflow, or decide whether I need to pull someone else in to help on a task if it can’t wait.

      1. I have RBF*

        Yeah, I’ve had to learn the hard way that I need to respond to a “We’re seeing this problem” type email pretty fast, even if it’s just “It shouldn’t do that, let me check into it.”

        That lets them know:
        A) I’ve seen the email,
        B) that they are correct in seeing a problem, and
        C) I’m now looking into it.

        I have a harder time with phone calls or Zoom, because they aren’t in writing, but I just have to try to take notes.

        If it’s a trivial or inconsequential thing, like “Have you seen the new Llama Styling Procedure?”, I’ll beg off with something like “Not yet. I’m working on an urgent Yak Shaving project, but I’ll review the new Llama Styling Procedure when I’m done.”

    3. NotAnotherManager!*

      This is how we handle it – quick acknowledgement with anticipated time you’ll be able to turn to it, if it’s not immediately. It’s a client-service business, though, and responsiveness is a job requirement.

      I was filling in for a colleague who was out on medical leave, and I was surprised by how many people’s feedback on his team was, “I would love it if so-and-so could just acknowledge that they got my request and if they can work on it, even if it’s later.” That’s just standard in my world, I was surprised that people had to be told that.

  13. BL73*

    Wait, I don’t understand one point. Your boss called you two days prior and you hadn’t yet called her back? If that’s accurate…that’s not professional on LW’s end at all. Maybe I misread it because that part is really confusing.

    Also, agree there is no universal 24 hour email rule. If you boss needs you to respond sooner or feels she does, then you respond sooner.

    1. Baron*

      It read to me as if the boss was just following up two days later on a situation where the LW didn’t answer right away.

    2. sdog*

      No, my understanding is that Boss called cell, OP didn’t answer. Then Boss called immediately on desk phone, which OP picked up. So no need to reply to the VM from the cell call at that point.

      1. kiki*

        That was my understanding too. The boss just followed up on it two days later because they were still thinking about it/upset.

      2. Respond Immediately LW*

        This is correct. She was bringing up the fact I hadn’t answered my cell phone two days earlier –not the fact that we never connected.

    3. Not my real name*

      No, Boss called OP’s cell and then called the desk phone, which OP answered, assuming that two calls in row like that meant an emergency. Boss is just complaining about it two days later.

    4. starsaphire*

      I read that as, “Two days ago, this thing happened where I didn’t call her back right away,” not “I haven’t called her back in two days.”

    5. Kindred Spirit*

      I had to read that part again – It sounds like OP let a call from her supervisor go to VM on their cell phone because OP was in the middle of something and intended to return the call 10 minutes later after their task was finished. The supervisor didn’t wait for a return call but called the OP’s desk phone, which OP did answer. Since they connected, there wasn’t a need to return the call.

      1. Miss the 80s*

        Good thing you don’t work in the practice i work in, where 20 minutes is too long to wait for an email response.

  14. Barbarella*

    “Okay, then I’ll assume you know that if I don’t answer immediately it’s because I’m in the middle of something else, but I’ll get back to you as soon as I have a reasonable opportunity to do that.”

    She will probably agree that is reasonable — BUT — that doesn’t mean anything will change. I’m picking up on this from the letter:

    when reminded, she gives people the time to respond

    Since she needs reminding to give people time to respond to emails, she will probably need reminding that you need time to respond to phone calls and voicemails.

    You probably have to learn to accept — and I mean truly accept, not resign yourself to while you continue to try to change her — that her neurology is what it is, and you do not have the ability to make her otherwise.

    1. Peanut Hamper*

      when reminded, she gives people the time to respond

      Yes, this struck me as well. It sounds like the boss knows but also forgets. If it were boss writing in, I would recommend that little CBT trick of putting a rubber band on your wrist.

      But that’s on the boss to figure out, and her behavior is not likely to change permanently, at least in the short term. What LW needs to figure out is if she wants to continue working under these conditions.

  15. Baron*

    I think much depends on the type of work you’re doing. The nature of my work is such that I’m usually doing solitary, not-really-time-sensitive work, and that when someone reaches out to me about anything by phone or e-mail, I drop whatever I’m doing and answer the call or e-mail immediately. If you e-mail me, I respond literally within the minute. And I can’t imagine *not* doing that.

    But if you’re doing work where you have to focus on stuff, where your projects can’t be interrupted to take a call, it’s important to communicate with your boss about what’s reasonable. In my field, I cannot imagine someone taking 24 hours to respond to their boss, but maybe you’re in a field where that’s the norm and your boss needs to recalibrate expectations.

    1. Eldritch Office Worker*

      Yeah that’s where I fall too. I also tend to check people’s calendars (something I know isn’t universally at every workplace) and see if they have mostly booked days that might make it hard to respond. Context makes a lot of difference.

    2. QRT*

      I’m the opposite – I spend 90% of my day on calls, and we have regularly scheduled touchpoints with everyone we need to be in close contact with, so the expectation is that emails are reserved for things that are not time-sensitive. If I receive an email from one of our end users, I need to acknowledge/respond within a couple hours, but for internal emails, I can take several days to acknowledge/respond, depending on the scope of the ask.

      If someone needs a response immediately, they can send via Skype or Teams or just bring it up in one of our scheduled meetings.

  16. sdog*

    For emails, I wonder if it would be helpful to send a quick reply noting that you are reviewing and will be in touch [by end of the day] would help. I have found that to be helpful when I recognize that someone’s expectation for a response is different than mine. To be honest, that sometimes complicates things for me because I use the fact that I haven’t replied as a bit of a to-do list, but I’ve recognized that it’s hard to change other people’s expectations and easier to just adjust on my end .

    1. Relentlessly Socratic*

      I use e-mail as a to-do–if I’m worried I’ll forget, I will re-mark an e-mail as unread or tag it with a color. It’s an extra step for me, but it helps when my brain goes off without me and I forget where I was.

    2. Humanitarian*

      I think that would have to be very field specific. Part of my job requires me to write narratives, and having to constantly break my concentration just to acknowledge an email would be so frustrating.

      Fortunately, I have a boss who doesn’t pull ridiculous stunts like interrupting my work to complain about traffic. Good lord…

  17. Eeps*

    A lot of folks in the comments are calling the boss here incredibly rude, and I honestly don’t see it that way. It sounds mostly like the boss just sees the projects and the nature of OP’s work differently than OP does. And considering that they’re the boss, it’s possible that they’re right, and email responses should be expected within two hours. The phone call about traffic is weird, sure, but not horrifying.

    1. Kate*

      Agreed. 24 hours for an external emailer, sure, but my boss? Two hours is about right, and yeah, I guess I expect the same of my employees unless I know they have a meeting or something.

    2. Peanut Hamper*

      This is true, but marking almost all of your emails as “important”? No, just no. Boss has some skewed ideas of what is important and what isn’t.

    3. Survey smurvery*

      You don’t think it’s rude to go against the norms of the office for responsiveness (as evidenced by all coworkers disagreeing two hours is a necessary response time); calling a cell, then an office phone quickly, to complain about traffic; and getting so upset your report didn’t hop to your traffic phone call that you ask her why she didn’t answer immediately TWO DAYS later?

      I’m curious what would be rude to you. Taken all together, along with marking everything as “urgent,” LW’s boss reads as rude and entitled.

    4. Dawn*

      I disagree, the phone call about traffic is horrifying.

      I am working, please please please do not call what is essentially my emergency line because you want to vent about traffic, that doesn’t end well for either of us.

      1. Delta Delta*

        I had a coworker who would do this. Sometimes she would have a court hearing far away and just feel like chitchatting on her drive back so she’d call and sort of demand that I talk to her. Zero f’s given about the fact I was working.

        I hate her like poison.

      2. Betty Flintstone*

        But here’s the thing – OP screened the boss’s call before she even knew what it was about. I just can’t imagine seeing my boss was calling me on my work cell and thinking “oh I’m busy, I’m not going to answer that.” I know it ended up being a stupid call but what boss learned was that OP will ignore her calls even if she’s not in a meeting, away from her desk, etc.

        I just don’t think answering your boss’s calls and responding to her emails is that big of an ask and I doubt she’s going to get very far trying to get boss to change.

        1. Clovers*

          But a contact/vent about traffic doesn’t belong on a phone call, or should be an IM or just a verbal comment in person.

        2. I'm Just Here for the Cats!!*

          I think it really depends on the job. There are places where a call from the boss does not mean it is urgent and I must answer right this minute. Especially if the OP knew that she was not in the office/working because she was in traffic.

        3. amoeba*

          Eh. She was planning to call her back 10 minutes later. I mean, I usually pick up when my boss (or anybody) calls and I see it, but it’s also be no problem at all to call back – happens a lot if I’m in the bathroom, out of my office talking to other colleagues in person, etc…

    5. KitKat*

      The rudeness, for me, was the answering of the phone mid-meeting or when talking with another colleague.

    6. Samwise*

      Maybe, but it sounds like the boss is calling and calling and calling and calling, and it’s often not for work reasons.

      Or marking every email as “urgent”. Even in an emergency room, not everything is urgent.

      Hard to see the boss’s communications as important or urgent when very often they’re not.

    7. GammaGirl1908*

      I think what people are calling rude is the seeming assumption on Boss’ part that:

      a) if something is on her mind, it should be on LW’s mind, no matter how trivial, and no matter how actually important LW’s current task may be;

      b) anything Boss-related, no matter how trivial, is worth LW dropping everything else, no matter how important; and

      c) LW can’t so much as attend to a bodily function without dropping everything for Boss.

      This is all compounded by Boss having cried wolf enough times that LW knows good and well that it all can wait five minutes.

      You have an inflated idea of your own centrality to someone else’s life if you think your traffic-related annoyance (which is in itself compounded by your short attention span) is worth multiple urgent-seeming calls and chastisement that the employee wasn’t immediately available for you to eat up her valuable time to be your sounding board.

      It IS rude to expect your team to keep dropping everything for your trivial non-emergency when they are doing something important and they have a track record for answering you reliably (if not immediately).

      1. GammaGirl1908*

        I’m reminded of the scene in the movie Jerry Maguire when Rod, a football player who himself has an inflated ego that doesn’t quite match his results on the field, calls Jerry, his agent, at some ungodly hour to shout about how he should be on Jerry’s mind at all times. “You should be dreaming about me, baby! I should be on your mind constantly! I need to BE my agent! My agent and I should be one!” Woof.

      2. Respond Immediately LW*

        This is how I’m feeling. I work in corporate and foundation fundraising at a university. I have to do a lot of grant and proposal writing and development where I get in a writing and editing zone. I respond to her emails as well as those from colleagues within 2 hours, and if I’m not in a meeting or deeply focused, I answer the phone immediately. I answer external calls immediately and external emails within the hour. I spend most of my day fielding random interruptions from my boss.

        She uses the “important” designation on emails so much that it is like the boy crying wolf, and she told me that a colleague called her out on it last week. She plans her work so close to real deadlines, she expects everyone else to drop what they’re doing to get her what she’s asked for to meet her deadline. We have a new EVP, and I’m trying to help her look good so that I look good.

        1. Exme*

          “She plans her work so close to real deadlines, she expects everyone else to drop what they’re doing ”
          This is the crux of the issue. It’s not really about her email response expectations – she can’t change just her expectations on others because she’d still be pressed for her deadline and need the info. She’d also need to change her approach to work planning to allow more time for collecting info before the deadline.

          I doubt that you have much ability to ‘manage up’ on this. It’s something that would require coaching and monitoring with someone you *managed*, which you can’t really do for your boss.

          Are the portfolios you work on similar enough that you could create a template timeline for your projects that you could share with her? To show her how you set earlier milestones for yourself to have collected info from others. Ask her for feedback on it and maybe she’ll find it useful for herself. I’m not optimistic that approach will work but maybe worth a try

        2. UrbanChic*

          Ah, now that I know you work in fundraising and have the new EVP that helps. How are the team’s numbers? In my experience people that hit or exceed goal tend to get a lot of leeway, while those that don’t tend to not do well (no matter how scattered they come across).

          1. Respond Immediately LW*

            We’re doing very well this year thanks to some multi-million dollar proposals that came through. Our numbers are usually half of what they are this year and unlikely to be replicated next year.

    8. Gerry Keay*

      I dunno, I think calling to complain about traffic is pretty egregious. I’m pretty positive OP isn’t being paid to be her boss’s therapist or counselor, so I don’t really know how that could possibly be interpreted as “seeing the nature of OP’s word differently,” unless the boss thinks it’s her direct reports’ jobs to soothe her discomfort and boredom — which is actually pretty dang rude and honestly a little exploitative.

  18. kiki*

    Where I work, the expectation *is* that I will put down what I’m doing and answer a phone call pretty immediately, unless I’m in a meeting, but that’s because a phone call is the last resort after other more asynchronous methods of contact (email, Slack, etc.). I think it may be worth bringing up that since she calls you frequently for non-emergency matters, you’re not treating calls for her as emergencies that you have to drop everything for. If she wants you to drop everything for calls, calls should be saved for real time-sensitive events.

    And while 2 hours may sound like a long time for a response to some people, people have back-to-back meetings sometimes. I’m generally very quick at responding, but when I have a three hour block of meetings, I’m not getting back to anyone until that’s done.

  19. Alton Brown's Evil Twin*

    You boss is outsourcing her scatter-brained-ness to you. Since she can’t mentally stash stuff away and deal with it at a later time that’s more convenient to you, she’s forcing you to adhere to her thought processes.

    If she were (insert wildly successful person here), and was willing to pay you enough $$ to deal with her quirks, AND you knew this was your job description going in, then this would all be fine. But she isn’t, and she doesn’t, and you didn’t, so it’s not.

    1. Madame X*

      Outsourcing her scatter brain-ess is a really good way to describe how her boss is managing her tasks. Her boss is terrible at prioritizing her tasks.

    2. GammaGirl1908*

      …or if being the one to catch Boss’ dropped balls was LW’s actual job, it would be fine. This is why wildly successful people have, like, two or three personal assistants whose job it is to manage the little things so the WSP can do what they do so well.

      Related: Heh, I saw Janet Jackson in concert a few years ago, and she told a story about her young son sweetly asking her for some little thing, and her having no idea where to get it and having to outsource by sending one of her assistants out to take care of it. When you’re Janet Jackson, who is by any definition a WSP, you have three people ready to run your errands, so you can be attending to the business of being Janet Jackson. I also had a similar conversation with someone who was backstage as Taylor Swift — another WSP — was performing, and he mentioned how there were, like, 7 people milling around back there whose full-time job was taking care of Taylor in some way — her lawyer, her manager, her assistants, et cetera.

      But that does not seem to be LW’s job.

    3. Respond Immediately LW*

      This makes a lot of sense. I work in corporate and foundation fundraising at a university. We collaborate a lot on larger grants and proposals because I’m the better writer (acknowledged by both of us), and we each have our own portfolio to work with. Her job is to supervise me, but we are essentially doing the same jobs, just with her managing higher-tier corporate and foundation donors and me lower-tier. I do not have any administrative support duties for her listed in my job description.

  20. Rosie Posie*

    I think you probably do need to be a bit quicker to respond to your boss’ emails. My suggestion is, if you need uninterrupted focus time, to block out an hour to focus without checking your email or VM, and then pivot to responding to emails or calls for 10 minutes. Without knowing the specifics of your job, it seems a few hours to respond is likely a pretty reasonable request that you should try to meet. If you build up quick-response-time-goodwill, then you would have more capital to pushback on unreasonable expectations in this regard (like the double call about traffic thing). Ultimately, if everyone had at least a day to respond to all emails, not much would really get done.

    1. Humanitarian*

      “…to block out an hour to focus without checking your email or VM…”

      But the OP is doing that, and it sets off the boss.

      1. ecnaseener*

        Sounds like the boss is fine with a one-hour delay on emails, but not voicemails.

      2. Rosie Posie*

        It sounds like the OP is not responding for up to several hours. My suggestion is to block off shorter chunks of time. OP should allow themselves to disconnect from email and calls during those intense focus times. So if the boss expects an answer within 2 hours, they can focus completely for an hour or 90 minutes and then turn their attention to the correspondence.

  21. Mia*

    I had a boss like this and it was exhausting. She was always IMing me or calling me and breaking through when what I do requires a lot of concentration, and then it would take a while to get back to where I was. The way she would say things was very demanding and I would freeze. She would break in multiple times a day. She always felt like her stuff was the most important and I was always worried she would start demanding answers. I’m not saying her stuff wasn’t important, but my current boss always asks me if I have a minute for him. He allows me to ask if I can call him in 10 minutes or something to that effect. The funny thing is with my current boss I will usually stop what I’m doing because if he is breaking in then it actually is important.

  22. Pool Noodle Barnacle Pen0s*

    I’m the type of person who would not miss the chance to interrupt her traffic complaining to say “I’m sorry, I misunderstood and thought when you called twice in a row that this was an EMERGENCY and not just a catch-up. I have X deadline coming up right now but I’d love to chat later!”

    Sometimes, people like your boss feel emboldened to continue this behavior because no one calls them out on it or pushes back. But you don’t have to risk being confrontational if you’re not comfortable with that. Framing it as a “misunderstanding” on your part and then highlighting that you need to get back to work (responsible employee!) can help you keep it from coming off accusatory.

  23. Humanitarian*

    I wonder what her reaction would be if she can’t reach you right away, and you told her it was because you were in the restroom.

    Because her reaction is just so over the top. I know I wouldn’t last long with her as a boss, so more power to you.

    1. Delta Delta*

      I had this boss! I had an internship in law school where I had a co-intern and a manager. Co-intern got in 1/2 hour before me so she left 1/2 hour before me. Manager sometimes worked from home. One day Manager was working from home and co-intern had left. I went to the bathroom, and apparently missed a call from Manager (there was this whole other thing about how we shared an office that had a phone with voicemail that nobody knew how to re-set so we couldn’t access messages). She was absolutely spitting bullets the next day, accusing me of leaving early and I had no idea what she was talking about. Finally I figured out when she called and told her I had gone to the bathroom. She hadn’t considered that possibility. She was not a good manager.

  24. Michelle Smith*

    She’s being unreasonable. 24 hours is probably a bit excessive for some/many email responses from your boss, but I’m not taking my work cell phone into the bathroom in case my boss wants to talk about something when I need to go. There is a balance here, and I’m not sure either of you are hitting it quite right (with her expectations being way, way farther off).

    1. Eldritch Office Worker*

      ” I’m not taking my work cell phone into the bathroom in case my boss wants to talk about something when I need to go”

      And yet that’s always when they call somehow

  25. Samwise*

    Re ADHD: a disability may give you a right to an accommodation, but it doesn’t give you the right to be obnoxious.

    Even if the boss got an accommodation, it may not be: everyone has to respond to my communications immediately regardless of what else they are doing. ADA allows for reasonable accommodations.

    RIP Judy Heumann, you made the world a better place.

    1. September*

      I think the boss’s ADHD is a red herring here. There are a lot of bosses who expect people to pick up their calls immediately, etc., without ADHD being involved at all.

      1. Barbarella*

        Even if the boss got an accommodation…

        Accommodations are a red herring. LW needs advice on how to respond to her boss, whose ADHD related behavior is making their life difficult.

        1. September*

          Agreed that figuring out how to address the boss’s behavior needs to be the focus – whether or not ADHD is the cause.

  26. Lizzo*

    Re: the answering the phone while everybody else is waiting in the room thing, I had a boss who did this, and it was totally a power play. She would answer the phone, respond to IMs, or talk to anybody else who stopped in while we were meeting, and I had to sit around and wait for her to be done because she was my boss. It was demeaning and discouraging. The rest of your boss’s behavior is consistent with this as well. Alison’s advice is excellent, but be aware that if your boss’s intent is to wield their power in a way that makes you feel smaller, she may react very poorly to you pushing back, even in the measured and professional manner that Alison suggests.

    1. A Non E Mouse*

      My take on this was a little different. I noticed that the OP did not explicitly mention that these are meetings – they are in their shared office discussing something or “someone stopped by” to discuss something. I wonder if the lack of clear purpose of these conversations (signaled by a scheduled formal meeting) means Boss feels she needs to be responsive to incoming stimuli because she’s not officially meeting.

      As someone who shared an office (with a peer), we were constantly talking about our shared/related work, but if someone else appeared or called, the interruption took precedence because we were always together and could pick back up at a later time. If OP wants uninterrupted attention from her boss, she may need to get more formal about requesting that attention so that boss understands the need to focus.

      Also, while my C-suite direct boss rarely calls with urgent things (because we don’t do rocket surgery) and generally understands that my days are as meeting packed as his are so we are always coordinating to find a time to talk usually at the end of the day, it was generally known that if the previous CEO called, you dropped what you were doing to answer unless you were currently presenting/talking to a client. So, if she’s needing to be responsive like that to HER superiors (but doesn’t use or have caller id) that may be contributing to this behavior.

      Not saying it isn’t all coming together as potentially power trippy (or at least power oblivious), but it may just be that the dynamics are reading differently to Boss and OP. Or Boss comes from “Boss gets to command attention whenever wherever” culture and OP comes from “the work is the most important thing culture”.

  27. Punk*

    How is this company structured? Has the supervisor been there a long time? It doesn’t sound like the supervisor is the founder or CEO, but she reminds me a lot of the CEO at my previous job, who refused to adjust his “family company/started the business out of his garage” mentality when the company started getting too big for the CEO to realistically be part of every single communication or email chain. Like there are just some, say, financial processes that just aren’t up for debate when a company crosses a certain threshold, but we were getting constant emails demanding immediate responses, about nitty-gritty stuff that a CEO shouldn’t be involving himself in. This seems to be pretty common among small business types who find early success with a good product/service, but then struggle with handing over the reins once the demands of the business outpace their knowledge/education/experience. If the supervisor was with the company before it showed significant growth, it would follow that she might be falling into this pattern.

  28. RussianInTexas*

    “I try to gently remind her that general etiquette is to respond within 24 hours, and when reminded, she gives people the time to respond, which they do.”
    This has never been my experience. Ever. The higher up the person, the faster they want your reply. Any of my bosses would blow a fuse if I waited 24 hours to reply.

    1. RussianInTexas*

      Even if it means “Brian, I saw your e-mail, I’ll get to it by 4pm” or whatever.
      No unknowledge a manager’s e-mail for 24 hours? That would never ever work.

    2. Eldritch Office Worker*

      Especially if you report directly to them. They expect to be prioritized.

        1. September*

          Same. Really don’t think this is a widely held/accepted rule. I can’t imagine waiting that long to respond.

          1. Maple Bar*

            The number of people in here saying 24 hours is too long to reply to an email is honestly blowing my mind. I get that there are situations where it’d be normal to do it faster, but I have never in my entire life encountered a group where same-day email turnaround was expected.

            1. September*

              Do you use Slack or Teams or something like that for things that need a quicker response? I was wondering if that explains some of it because I know some workplaces use email only when there’s no real time constraint, but my office tends to view email and slack messages similarly.

            2. amoeba*

              I also really, really think it depends on the email? I mean, if it’s something that requires a long, typed out reply, maybe finding some data/doing some actual work, etc., then I’d never expect a response even within 24 h. I’m completely happy to receive one within a few days. Although sure, it’s nice to have a “will look it up, will come back to you later in the week” reply, it’s not necessary and “blowing a fuse” because you don’t get it seems really over the top.

              If it’s actually urgent and/or can be replied to within 30 s (“the reports are in folder XYZ!”, “sounds good, go ahead with that!”) then waiting 24 h seems unreasonable.

              LW has made it clear in the comments that the bosses emails to her coworkers are of the first kind (actually requiting substantial work on the recipients part), while she generally answers within an hour to quick questions etc. This certainly seems reasonable to me.

              Although anyway, wouldn’t want to work in a place where my boss would “blow a fuse” about stuff like that in the first place… I mean, maybe if it causes actual problems, a talking to would be required, but getting angry? WTF. And if it isn’t actually a problem and they just feel like they’re too important to wait, that’s a whole other can of worms…

    3. Respond Immediately LW*

      I respond to her emails within 2 hours max. I was referring more to her asking others in different departments to do things for her and expecting the task done and a response within an hour, without checking their calendar. For example, she asked the database admin for 10 years of data summarized and wanted it within 2 hours.

      If I’ve emailed someone asking for something that isn’t urgent, I give them up to 24 hours to respond before I follow up.

      1. September*

        Oh, gotcha. That makes a lot of sense. Expecting such a quick response from people in different departments would be very weird in my workplace too.

        1. September*

          And now I feel like I understand your issue with her better — contacting someone in another department with a red-exclamation-point email and then following up with a “did you get my email” call a couple of hours later? No. That’s the worst.

      1. amoeba*

        Very much. Although I’m missing the option “never”.

        (Or rather upon follow-up. I’m not that bad and I don’t do that regularly, and not for urgent things, but it happens.)

  29. Camellia*

    Different offices work in different ways. In my current job, I always warn newcomers that emails and IMs in Teams need to be answered ASAP. That’s just how this office functions; information and answers need to flow quickly. However, we are polite in that we don’t just CALL people anytime we want. We always message first asking if the person is available for a call. If they respond, great! If they don’t respond, then that means they’re not available.

    And I can see where some people might not thrive in this culture and would need to self-select out. Because believe me, if you don’t respond quickly, you get a bad reputation very fast.

    1. RussianInTexas*

      Yes, in my office, we live and die by e-mails. They need to be answered ASAP, unless there is a specific longer deadline.

      1. Humanitarian*

        In my work, we troubleshoot, and that’s the priority. But my boss would never expect an immediate answer to anything else, unless a situation calls for it, and those aren’t the norm.

  30. vic*

    24 hours feels so wild to me – I work in media so our rule is generally 1 hour to answer an email at the absolute max and often closer to 20 minutes is expected (especially for clients).

  31. The Formatting Queen*

    My workplace actually has guidelines for how to contact people based on how urgently you need an answer from them. If you need to know:
    Immediately/urgently: TALK (in person, Teams call, cell phone)
    Within an hour: Teams message, text message
    Within a day: Email

    Obviously every boss-employee relationship is different but it’s nice to know that in general, we expect emails are a 1-day turnaround. Most people will actually message you on Teams before calling you, which is great, and makes me pretty grumpy at the one woman who just calls without warning. Funniest thing, I rarely seem to be available to take her calls right then.

    1. allathian*

      If there’s one thing I hate at work, it’s unscheduled phone calls. My organization has nearly 2,000 employees, which means that most people I work with aren’t in my contacts. I suspect that I have some kind of auditory processing issue, because I don’t catch people’s names, and I can’t remember them unless I see them written down. It’s a bit easier with closer coworkers, because then I can identify who’s calling by their voice, but my close coworkers also rarely need to call me. In fact, I can’t remember any of them calling me out of the blue since the start of the pandemic at least…

      Teams calls are a bit better because at least I can see who’s calling. We also have Teams on our work phones, so IMing on the move is just as easy as texting. Fortunately for me, my organization expects people to IM first before calling unless it’s a truly dire emergency and the person you’re trying to reach isn’t responding to the IM. Our calendars are also visible to all employees, so if someone’s busy, we know to expect a longer response time to non-urgent contact requests.

      I’m probably more responsive to IMs and emails than I’d need to be to do my job, but I hate unscheduled phone calls to the point that I’m willing to do pretty much anything to avoid them. Scheduled phone calls are a completely different matter, I like talking to people, but I find unscheduled calls much more disruptive than IMs.

  32. Neeul*

    Sounds like my old boss from a couple years back. She once took a WFH day and emailed me with a request to look up something (non-critical) that I didn’t immediately know how to pull, so I headed over to the next bank of cubicles to ask someone who had previously handled that data. He was also stumped so we were taking a look at it together when less than 10 minutes later the asst manager comes out and loudly asks “Where is Neeul? He isn’t answering [Boss]’s email!” I explained I was in the middle of getting the answer for her and that it hadn’t even been half an hour but I still got chewed out about needing to respond immediately to all emails.
    Best solution I found was to quickly reply with an acknowledgement of receipt and a “will look into this and get back to you once I have an answer.” I wanna say it worked but then again, I was fired a few months later. (It was honestly a relief because that was only one example of a series of unrealistic expectations and artificial deadlines she demanded.)

    1. HitThatReplyAll*

      This is interesting. Many moons ago I worked with a three letter company who were a monumental IT company during that time and one of the first things we learnt was to do that.
      Acknowledge every email that will take time and then follow up on it.

      1. Gerry Kaey*

        I feel like that would just add sooo much clutter to people’s inboxes, no? I totally understand thats a norm in a lot of offices but I so prefer environments where the norm is to just… trust that people will prioritize emails appropriately and reply with full information. I’m also bad at context switching though, so the idea of having to engage with an email that’s essentially just a read receipt would drive me crazy.

      2. amoeba*

        I mean, that makes sense if it will take days or at least hours (depending on the urgency), but for under 30 mins just to have a quick look on how to get the data? I’d be super annoyed by the clutter in my inbox, indeed. (“Have gotten your email, will come back to you in 20 mins with the reply!” OK thanks, I guess?)

  33. Lynn*

    I had a customer of vehicle parts like this once who would call me 5 times in a row (literally almost back to back), never leaving a message. I ignored it the first few times and called him back when I could (within an hour).

    One time (on his third or fourth call in 2 minutes), I picked up and answered with urgency and concern: “Hello! Are you ok? Are you in a safe location?” He was kind of surprised and asked why I would ask him that. I said “I figured if you were calling back to back like that it must be an emergency and I was concerned”.

    He never did that again.

    In his case I was willing to lose him as a customer, so I overacted more than I would choose to with a boss.

    But still, maybe if you treat the repeat calls as This Must Be Serious, with a side of Oh, That’s Odd Then That It Wasn’t, she’ll teach herself?

  34. theguvnah*

    Wow, I would never not answer my boss’s call even if I was in the middle of other work. That’s so strange to me.
    If I was on another call or in a meeting, sure, but just in other “deep” work? No, you answer your boss’ call.

    1. nnn*

      It really depends on the job.

      If your boss calls you to complain about traffic, you might be a lot more comfortable not answering when you’re busy.

      1. allathian*

        Yeah, this. Thankfully I’m not expected to be my manager’s therapist or support animal.

    2. amoeba*

      Do you take your phone to the bathroom with you? Because otherwise, calling back within 10 mins (as the LW was planning to do) should always be an option…

  35. Keymaster of Gozer*

    She’s shown she *can* change – when complained about she’s been better for a while – but obviously prefers not to put in the effort unless someone kicks off about it.

    That’s not being neurodivergent, that’s being an arse.

    There are people who honestly believe that their words and life experiences and opinions are of immediate and fascinating knowledge for others and they must stop what they are doing to hear it.

    It’s harder to ask your boss “look, unless it’s work related and urgent please don’t call me on my phone” than a coworker but it might help. You say she’s acted better in the past when she’s been confronted.

    Not going to get into the emails thing because in my line of work some emails do have to be read immediately (system outages) and others can be easily left for a week (most things from my manager).

  36. Enginerd*

    For what its worth I was in the same scenario with a friend a few years back. He has severe ADHD and was undiagnosed at the time. We’d worked at several companies together for years but it wasn’t until we ended up working directly together that it came to a head. His attention was such if he didn’t get whatever task done while he was focusing on it he’d get distracted by another one and forget to circle back. It was to the point where it was hurting his reviews with out boss but luckily we were close enough to be able to discuss it. Turns out he thought his behavior was the same for everyone, he didn’t realize is very typical to be able to sit and focus on a specific task. He ended up going in and getting diagnosed/medicated and has really done well in his career since then. We no longer work at the same company but we’re still really close .

  37. the cat ears*

    This reminds me of my mother, honestly. She gets anxious if she has a problem to solve and doesn’t receive some sort of instant gratification the minute she expresses her thoughts to another person. I have ADHD and I suspect she has some as well but it wasn’t caught or medicated because of the generation she grew up in.

    I don’t think I could work for someone like this. Regardless of their internal emotional state when someone acts like this, it doesn’t change the fact that it’s stressful for me to navigate around.

  38. Free Meerkats*

    If you think your boss would react well to data, spend a week or so documenting the time they took away from you doing your job to respond immediately to them complaining about traffic and other stupid stuff (don’t call it that…) And log the amount of time it takes you to get back on track for what you were concentrating on.

    I was writing a new ordinance and it was taking For. Ever! Then I went away to assist my Mom in caring for an ailing relative and was able to sit in the quiet basement, undisturbed. I finished it in less than a day of work after spending literally weeks on it before because my boss was a verbal processor and needed someone to process at.

    1. Respond Immediately LW*

      This is a great idea. I do a lot of writing for my job, and I would definitely describe my boss as a verbal processor. I enjoy sharing an office with her, but I need to find a way to manage the interruptions.

  39. Gravey*

    In my very first office/Customer service job we were taught that the phone was our number 1 priority.
    If the phone was ringing, you answered. Didn’t matter what we were doing or who we were with, you excused yourself from the face to face customers and went and answered the phone, you stopped data entry and answered the phone, you walked out of meetings and answered the phone! The only people who actually liked this was the person calling, we often had customers walk out because of it but my boss wanted it this way and so that’s the way it was.

    Your boss sounds like this was an expectation for them at some point as well, and has decided it’s the norm.

  40. Dusty*

    As someone with ADHD the most frustrating thing I often have to deal with is focusing on something and being essentially “cockblocked” because I have to wait to hear back from someone else before I can continue it. It’s frustrating because it’s so hard for me to focus as it is, so when I get that focus and I’m stopped? Makes me want to cry.

    But when it happens, I deal with it and use my coping strategies to, well, cope with it. It’s not okay for me to disrupt other people because of my own issues. It was one of the first lessons I learned in the workplace — deal with the fact people have a turnaround time.

    It sounds like she’s hyperfocusing and doesn’t realise that’s what’s happening.

    1. Same*

      I have ADHD. I think you deal with all of this a lot better than LW’s manager does.

      Worst manager I’ve ever had was painfully neurotypical and had all the traits and behaviours that LE describes. Again, she was neurotypical, she just lacked patience and empathy, and was a bad manager. That’s what LW’s manager sounds like to me.

  41. Madame X*

    I think the 24hr TAT is being taken a bit too literally in the comments. Not every email should be responded with that much of wait time. If you are able to respond as soon as you see an email, then of course do so. However, not every email request is so urgent that it can’t wait a day if I have to gather some info (or if I just don’t have the time to respond at that moment). For example, in my office emails from client should be responded to within 48HRs. Of course, most people respond sooner than that, especially when it is urgent.
    You use your best judgement to respond as soon as possible and apply the industry (or office) standard as needed.

    1. Respond Immediately LW*

      Thank you. I usually respond within two hours and to coworkers within the work day. I respond to external emails as soon as possible. Her expectation is to get an email response with any lengthy information requested within the hour, which is not always possible.

  42. UrbanChic*

    Echoing what several people above have said – in my experience, boss’s expect people to answer their phone calls during work hours on company provided cell phones, and 24 hours to respond to an email is not standard in many contexts. How is your boss viewed by her higher ups? If she’s successful in the company and in good standing, chances are you and your peers just have to adjust. Anytime your boss emails, you may just want to reply quickly with a “working on it” or something to that effect to acknowledged you received the message. Finally, even if she describes herself as having ADHD, I would not mention it to your peers, certainly in the context of trying to explain her behavior.

    1. Respond Immediately LW*

      I’ve clarified my response times in other comments, but I did want to address your question about how she’s viewed by higher ups. She’s viewed as scatterbrained and unorganized, and with a new EVP that started two weeks ago, I’m feeling on edge about how she is perceived will possibly negatively impact me. A peer of hers pulled me aside and told me not to worry about her but focus on making myself look as good as possible.

  43. Same*

    I have ADHD. The majority of my neurotypical managers have displayed all the same frustrating behaviours that the LW’s ADHD manager does. I think this is indicative of the sad fact that too many people ill-suited to management roles keep being promoted or hired into them.

    The best managers I’ve ever had were either ADHD or otherwise neurodivergent, with the exception of one. None of them displayed these aggravating, counter-productive traits.

  44. LobsterPhone*

    This is my colleague…whatever is on her mind must be addressed that instant, regardless of what anyone else is doing or if it has any relevance to them. She once called me 10 times in a row from a different building (I was counting them on the caller ID) before I emailed to say I was on the phone and if it was urgent please email me. The issue? Where should she put a package that had just been delivered. If she calls and I don’t answer, she will call again, leave voicemails, emails and chat messages until I respond. I’ve been able to shut it down a bit by setting some boundaries around when and how I respond but she is all reaction, all the time. It’s exhausting.

  45. Inkognyto*

    LW – there are some people that whatever happens in the moment is the ‘next fire’ they need to put out. They just always do that. People will only change if they decide they want too.

    Often the lack the social skills to tell what is rude and what isn’t they see it as “Hey I helped that person” and mis the queue that you are interrupting 20 people in a meeting to answer a cell phone call about what you want for Dinner.

  46. Office Gumby*

    Sounds like your boss is confusing Urgent with Important. Things can be urgent without being important. A ringing phone is urgent. But that doesn’t mean it’s always important. I think you realise this, underneath, and have adjusted your work pattern accordingly. If you’re in the middle of something important, you tend to finish it, unless you know that the interrupting thing is also important. (fr’ex: you have an important email you need to get off within the next ten minutes, but you’re interrupted by the fire alarm. A fire alarm is both urgent and important. I doubt you’d remain at your PC to finish it in the face of a fire alarm.)
    That said, it might benefit you both to define what is urgent and what is important. Her calling to complain about traffic wasn’t Important (at that time). Her not realising this is her downfall.
    Her downfall may lead to your downfall unless you two get this sorted out. If you and she don’t work out a system of defining urgency vs importance and when to escalate, you’re probably going to end up ignoring something that is Important and Urgent, and that could be disastrous.

    My team has a system: anything we need to know gets emailed or chat-messaged to us, on the presumption that we’ll see it the next time we’re at our computers (and leaves a paper trail). That means we could see it in five minutes, or it might not be until the next day. If we need to know that info before we can get to our computers, it’s a txt message to our mobile phones. If it’s important that we know this info AND the person asking requires an urgent reply, it’s a phone call.
    We understand that if it’s not urgent to know an answer RIGHT NOW, a phone call would be inappropriate.

  47. Matt*

    This is what’s the culture at my workplace (and the only thing I hate about it). If someone calls, everyone picks up immediately, regardless what they’re doing at the moment. Doesn’t matter if it’s a boss or another coworker or whoever. I’m the only one who tries to push back against this culture and make myself consciously unavailable sometimes. (At the same time, everyone loves phone calls and will default to the phone for every issue of communication. Or since 2020 – Teams calls.)

    1. Stressed Streudel*

      There’s a similar culture at my workplace, but it’s limited mostly to executive types and very senior staff. They expect 5-minute response times to every message or email, and most times the question is “hey, can I call you?” (which is irrelevant, they’ll video call you anyway if you don’t respond). If you send them a message, they’ll respond the next day by calling you about it.

      My manager is one of these people, and they’re a 24/7 workaholic. They open every message with “are you working today?” and they phrase every question as a demand and every demand as a question. Even better, they save up their most ‘urgent’ concerns to send them in bulk 15 minutes after office hours and then get upset if you wait until next morning to respond.

      All of my performance reviews revolve almost entirely around my ‘poor communication’, which, when asked for examples, boils down to my manager not paying attention to the work chat or our project management tool where all of our work is recorded. When shown where the information was, complete with times and dates, I’m told “okay, but this is general advice to keep in mind for the future”, to stop making excuses, and still ‘poor communication’ is written on my review.

      All of this from the person who takes a whole day to respond to my messages, and responds by initiating a video call to ask for ‘clarification’. What is ‘clarification’? Well, it means conveying the exact same message, but with my voice instead.

  48. TimeTravelR*

    I recently had a conversation with an executive who complained his assistant didn’t always answer right away when he called and she was teleworking. I said, if she were in the office and not at her desk every moment, would that be a problem? Of course, he said no. I just looked at him. He got my message. I don’t think he liked it, but he got it.

    1. Chickaletta*

      Yeah, I’m an assistant to an executive, and of course I’m not available every second of the day (bathroom breaks area thing) but it would be unprofessional for me to not respond to my boss within 5 minutes or so, and if it’s longer than that to give him a heads up (“I’m going to get lunch, I’ll be back at 1, is there anything you need before I go?) This is true whether I’m in the office or working remote. I also answer the phone and texts from him and anyone else who calls, no matter what I’m doing, even if I’m fully concentrating on a writing assignment or whatever. It’s literally my job. I also respond to emails within 1-2 hours at the most (often sooner). It’s a fast-paced office and to sit on a request any longer than that would drag everyone down. So there are jobs where a 24-hour turnaround time is not the norm, and would eventually be grounds for a PIP probably, mine being one of them.

  49. Mama Llama*

    I would sometimes pitch in when a co-worker was out as we were the only two who worked in the same subspecialty. I would drop off finished work to her direct boss and walk back to my desk across the office. (Think 2 minutes, tops.) Before I would reach my desk, her direct boss would have called my desk, left a voicemail, then called reception to have me paged because I hadn’t responded. I would have lost my mind inside of a week.

  50. Long Time Fed*

    When I worked onsite my boss would send an email and then immediately walk to my office (from two doors away) to watch me read it and then discuss.

  51. fgcommenter*

    I was deeply focused on finishing a paragraph and planned to call her back as soon as I was finished –in less than 10 minutes.

    This alone makes it clear that the boss is the problem. She can either expect you to focus on work, or focus on responding to her constant interruptions.

  52. laser99*

    For me, the key in determining if behavior is deliberate or unstudied is if said behavior is applied to everyone. If this person also calls up HER supervisor and bellows “Why didn’t you pick up? I called you two minutes ago!! Did you pass out at your desk, or what??” this is a completely different diagnosis, if you will, than if she only does this to underlings.

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