an employee 2 levels down refused to meet with me

A reader writes:

I am a division director at a large organization. I have three direct reports who collectively oversee about 30 staff, at levels ranging from entry-level, hourly office admins to seasoned managers earning six-figure salaries.

Every year, I meet once one-on-one with everyone who is not on my leadership team just to check in. I send out the questions in advance — they are designed to get feedback about the experience of the individual staff member and perceptions about what is working well and what isn’t in the division overall. There are a few questions I always ask and then I might throw in a couple of more topical questions.

I don’t consider these meetings to be optional, but it was never something I needed to enforce. My expectation is that when I request a meeting with someone on my team, they will meet with me. (I would personally never dream of refusing to meet with my boss!) Maybe not at the specific time I suggest, but they won’t just decline to meet. But that is what has happened and I don’t know what to do!

I sent a skip level meeting request to a manager (he has two young, new staff members who report to him.) He declined the meeting with no comment. When I followed up about finding a more convenient time to meet, he responded, “Thanks, but I’ll pass. I don’t need to meet.”

My irritation flared when I got this message, “Who does he think he is to just refuse to meet with me?!!” But once I got over that gut reaction and considered it further, I was conflicted. On the one hand, these meetings are important for me to get insights from across the division about what’s working and what’s not. In the past, themes have emerged that I’m then able to address to make the workplace better for all. Further, I don’t want this staff member setting an example for his direct reports that they can just opt out of meetings they aren’t interested in. On the other hand, these meetings are meant to give staff the chance to share their experience with me and something I’ve learned not to do thanks to reading AAM over the years is to force people to take part in “elective” activities (for example, when we have a holiday gathering, we schedule it during the normal work day but let people know that they are not obligated to attend and if they would rather just duck out early and take couple of hours of personal time, they can do that).

This meeting seems to straddle the fence on whether it’s primarily for me or for the employee. The staff member in question isn’t new to to the workforce or new to our organization. When I interact with him, he’s technically polite but generally sullen. That said, my understanding is that he’s fine at his job and his staff like him, but I have had to ask his supervisor to talk to him about participating appropriately as a manager. (For example, last year, he and his direct reports just … didn’t show up … at our division annual retreat. It was in our city, but away from our organization’s office, during normal work hours. He said he thought it was optional and he and his staff just went to work like normal that day.)

So, is this a hill to die on, where I I insist that he meet with me and share his feelings about his job? Or do I put this in the category of elective activity and give him a pass?

This is a work activity, and not an elective one.

You are doing due diligence on the management of your department, collecting information and creating opportunities for you to spot problems and areas for improvement. It’s a work duty, for you and for him.

Yes, it’s a chance for him to share things with you if he’d like to — and sure, he can opt of doing that piece of it if he wants to (although it would be pretty impolitic of him to make it clear he’s doing that; generally the wiser way to do that would be with bland answers rather than outright refusal). But he can’t opt out of you using the time to ask about things you’d like to know. It’s your meeting that you want; you get to call it and you get to expect him to show up for it.

And it’s not about dying on a hill; it’s about expecting him to comply with normal professional practices. Of course he needs to show up for a meeting that his boss requests. Not because you’re lording your authority over him, but because it’s reasonable to expect employees to comply with things that help you run your team effectively (within reason, of course … and this is within reason). It’s different from a holiday gathering; it’s a work meeting.

Years ago, I took over a team that had barely been managed previously, and I set up recurring regular meetings with each of the people who would now be reporting to me. One person told me she didn’t think it would help in her work and so I should skip her. I had to explain that the point wasn’t just to help her in her work — although I hoped that would happen too — but to help me in my work. To do my job well, I needed to know what was going on in each person’s realm and have the opportunity to give input, ask questions, make adjustments, and so forth. She had a fundamental misunderstanding of what the whole point of the meeting was — and, as it turned out, something of a fundamental misunderstanding of our relative roles as well. I suspect the latter is true of your employee, too.

Which I say because: something is going on with this guy. Sure, in the most generous reading it’s possible that he misunderstood what you were asking for. But I doubt it, especially combined with the rest of the info you provided about him. It’s worth digging in more deeply with his manager about exactly what’s going on there, because something is off.

{ 470 comments… read them below }

  1. Eldritch Office Worker*

    Something is definitely off here, and you have an obligation to address it. He didn’t just miss your department’s annual retreat, his reports did too. That means whatever stick he has wherever it may be stuck, it’s impacting them, their opportunities, and their own understandings about professional norms.

    He’s given you information about what to address, even if it was indirect.

    1. Observer*

      He didn’t just miss your department’s annual retreat, his reports did too.

      Yes, that’s very significant. Part of what you need to be doing is to talk to him to get a real sense of his attitudes. I suspect that he doesn’t treat his staff well.

      1. Alton Brown's Evil Twin*

        Or he’s warping his reports to think that OP, and the rest of the management chain, is not to be trusted, and should be actively avoided at every opportunity.

        1. So they all cheap-ass rolled over and one fell out*

          I have worked at places where some of upper management were in fact not to be trusted. OP’s letter doesn’t make it sound like that, but maybe the employee has baggage from previous jobs and/or grandbosses?

          1. Decima Dewey*

            I’ve had bosses and grandbosses I didn’t trust further than I could throw them. I met with them when they asked to meet, and took what they did tell me with a grain (or box) of salt.

            1. So they all cheap-ass rolled over and one fell out*

              I had a head of HR who I knew was actively trying to get “fresh blood” in my department. After I gave my notice, she ran into me in the kitchen and said she wanted to do an exit interview. If she had sent a meeting request, I would have taken it and gave bland answers to every question. But she didn’t and I definitely wasn’t going to proactively seek out one-on-one time with her.

              That said, even if I was going to try and avoid such a meeting, I am politically aware enough that I would just have come up with conflicts for every time she proposed until it was too late.

              1. UKDancer*

                Yes. I have had to have an exit interview with a boss I neither liked nor trusted when I was leaving my first company (many years ago). I wasn’t going to give her anything that would be ammunition she could use against people still there, but I knew it would be better to have the meeting than try and turn it down.

                So I gave her blandly positive comments and praised the colleagues I worked with in general terms and talked about the things that had gone well and what I’d learnt. As a result I left on good terms with her and she spoke well of me in future.

                Sometimes it’s better to go through the motions of things rather than push back on them.

              2. Sweet 'N Low*

                What stood out to me the most about the employee’s “no” is how blunt it was. If for whatever reason you’ve decided you’re not going to attend a meeting you boss requested, the average person would make up some BS about why. Hell, I feel like pretending you didn’t see the email or saying you need to check your calendar and then “forgetting” to get back to Boss are better than just saying no.

            1. Candi*

              Sometimes the people objectively can’t be trusted. But the political and diplomatic game still has to be played, and sometimes that means meetings and giving polite answers.

      2. Love to WFH*

        I can think of one reason that I’d find _somewhat_ legitimate for this — avoiding what was likely to be a COVID superspreader event.

        1. The Shenanigans*

          Agreed but then he should have brought up that concern with his boss or the OP. Just deciding to skip for reasons isn’t professional behavior.

          Yeah, I agree that something is going on with this guy.

          1. UKDancer*

            Yeah. One of my staff was worried about Covid ahead of one of our major events. He didn’t just not show up. He mentioned to me that he was worried and asked if he could dial in. We found a work around for it.

            If the risk of Covid is a problem for him and his team then he should flag this or mention it, not just fail to show.

          2. Jade*

            Yes. Definitely. I’d send back “let me know what date works for you. This is a mandatory meeting”. It’s very ok for a boss to say that.

        2. Observer*

          can think of one reason that I’d find _somewhat_ legitimate for this — avoiding what was likely to be a COVID superspreader event.

          No. Because the it’s one thing for him to decide to avoid what might be a superspreader event. But that’s not his decision to make for his employees.

          Also, the OP says that people can take off instead of going to optional events. So why didn’t he let his staff do that, it he *really* thought it’s optional.

          Lastly, given that he thinks he can just “pass” on a meeting requested by his grand-boss, I can’t imagine that he would have any hesitation making his objections known. But clearly he did not say anything like this to his manager or the OP.

          1. Uranus Wars*

            This stood out to me. For the optional events, people have the option to use the time NOT working. His entire team chose to work instead of going to this optional event?…Maybe. But seems off to me, too.

          2. Office Lobster DJ*

            I read the time off piece as people have the option to use their personal time to take the afternoon off if they don’t want to go to the party. If you don’t want to go to the party and you don’t want to “waste” your banked PTO for some random afternoon (possibly an extra quiet one, with everyone else off), working through it makes enough sense to me.

            1. MassMatt*

              But LW says annual retreat, not a party. Some retreats are where a lot of new strategy, organization, etc are unveiled and are very much not a party nor optional.

              1. Office Lobster DJ*

                LW mentions two separate incidents, I think. There’s the retreat, but there was also a holiday party that people can either attend or skip by using personal time.

                1. Uldi*

                  I think the holiday bit was just an example of elective work events employees can choose not to participate in. The retreat isn’t such an event.

            2. ScruffyInternHerder*

              I’ve been in a place where TPTB scheduled an off-site on a day that we had a critical deadline in my department. Therefore, yes, my entire department ducked out of the off-site hours early.

              Yes, there was pushback from TPTB, because they were THAT out of touch with the department that brings IN work.

          3. Miss Muffet*

            I think the thing that was optional that they could have time off for was the holiday gathering, but the division annual retreat wasn’t one of the optional things. So it’s like, he’s not making this person show up to literally everything, but something things are optional and some are required and he’s still not coming to them.

          1. Mystery Mongoose*

            I don’t think Love to WFH is saying it’s the case, or even likely – just that it’s the one slightly-almost-if-you-squint plausible explanation for the guy’s behavior

        3. HonorBox*

          It is a meeting with the grandboss. It isn’t attending an indoor football game. IF health was a legitimate concern, the employee could suggest meeting via Zoom, not just decline.

          1. Lydia*

            I think Love to WFH was referring to the department-wide retreat where this guy and his entire group just didn’t show up, not the one-on-one meeting. Either way, this guy is not on the same page as everyone and perhaps he needs to be reminded what page that is.

          2. I'm just here for the cats!!*

            I think Love to WFH says a superspreader event so I think they were referring to missing the annual retreat, not the 1 on 1.

        4. OMG, Bees!*

          I can agree that might be a concern, but that wasn’t voiced by the guy. When asked for a time to meet, he answered “No” instead of something like “I have too many important deadlines coming up” or “I am concerned about Covid”

        5. FrivYeti*

          That’s certainly a reason, but I find it unlikely that everyone on his team would be sufficiently cautious about Covid for there to be blanket non-attendance, especially if you weren’t seeing similar rates of non-attendance from other teams.

          It’s not impossible, but it is unlikely.

        6. Yorick*

          This is a stretch. It sounds like they work in the office, since LW says they went to work as usual that day. So the event may have actually been safer if it was outdoors, etc.

        7. Enai*

          So meet over Zoom or Teams or whatever? Or wear N95 and run air purifiers? There’s solutions to the problem of airborne infections.

      3. Richard Hershberger*

        ” I suspect that he doesn’t treat his staff well.”

        Perhaps, but it is also possible that his staff consider annual retreats a slog to be endured, and he is their hero.

        1. Richard Hershberger*

          To add: This isn’t to say his behavior isn’t problematic, but I don’t think we can infer anything about the specific question of how he treats his staff.

          1. Kit*

            Yeah, I would not infer more than I had to – but I’d schedule skip-levels with his reports too, because it would be extremely valuable context for his behavior and exactly what impact it’s having on them.

        2. Not Tom, Just Petty*

          I agree. But did they come up with that? Or did he tell them that?
          What if they change their minds and want to go hang out with coworkers and eat a “free” lunch instead of working in the office?

        3. Working*

          There’s a log of slig to be endured.

          That doesn’t mean you get to skip the three our session on Aligning our Values With Our Mission.

        4. Smithy*

          I do think it’s right that we can’t necessarily tell how his staff are feeling – but if he’s not new to the organization but new to the OP (i.e. new in this managerial role or new on this team), I do think a greater worry for his staff is that they’re getting this guy’s perspective on the team’s culture. Which given that he had the whole team skip the retreat in addition to the holiday party, and passed on this meeting is more concerning.

          Maybe they do see this guy as their quiet quitting hero, and are happy to take the hit to any of their professional capital as well. But, maybe they also aren’t aware that the culture of this team is that not only does everyone attend the retreat unless they have an announced absence, but a lot of key decision makers also attend the holiday party. And so they’re seeing announcements for workplace social events and getting cues from their boss that they’re a slog or stupid and/or optional and no one cares. When clearly the OP does care. Or maybe not even seeing them, or seeing them super close to the date when they happen – because again – this guy doesn’t care.

          Had he accepted the meeting, the whole team skipped the next holiday party but made the next annual retreat – then I think it’s fair to assume a slight different work culture on that team around socializing. However, in combination it’s worth interrogating further.

          1. Chocolate Covered Cotton*

            If they’re taking their cues about company culture from a guy who thinks he can opt out of a skip-level meeting with his grand-boss, then OP definitely ought to check in with them.

    2. ferrina*

      Yep, this is a serious issue. Part of a manager’s job is to enforce company norms with their team. He can bring disagreements or alternatives to his boss or you, but giving a countermand (“just don’t show up”) is insubordination.

      You can give him the benefit of the doubt that it genuinely was a miscommunication, then tell him clearly that these are not optional events. He should assume that all events are mandatory unless it clearly says optional. If he has questions, it is his responsibility to bring it to his manager or you. If he continues to opt out of non-optional events, it’s PIP time. This may seem harsh, but it’s possible that this is the tip of the iceburg.

      1. sparkle emoji*

        In addition to your point about insubordination, it’s also just awkward. If his reports understood that they were expected to attend a company event and their direct boss insisted they do something outside the company norm, that’s an uncomfortable situation to be in! If I was the LW, I would want to meet with his reports/ensure someone else above this guy met with them to hear about their experiences with him.

        1. BlueStarGirl*

          In my company, invitations to all-company retreats come FROM our managers.

          I wonder if his team even knew about the retreat (or that it was intended for them, rather than only higher-level staff).

      2. Hills to Die on*

        Which is why I’m not confident that this person should be managing people. This is not a leader in the company.

    3. Not Tom, Just Petty*

      This thread is nailing it. Where/how/when-ever his issues originated and whatever they are, he needs to meet with OP.
      Nip it in the bud. He’s a manager. He needs to work WITH management.

      1. Miette*

        And he needs to ACT LIKE management. He’s supposed to be upholding the management norms and policies in your company, not making up his own. And if he has issues with any of it, it sounds like you’re the kind of person to allow that kind of dialogue–which is what your one-on-ones are about.

        There’s definitely something up with this guy, and this is borderline insubordinate behavior in my opinion. I would take Alison’s advice and try to suss it out.

    4. Lea*

      Yeah I think the annual retreat this is the bigger flag although this is weird behavior too.

      Does he not thing the writer is his boss. Is there a sex or racial component?

      I’ll admit I found this a hilarious way to decline thoigh “ Thanks, but I’ll pass. I don’t need to meet.”

    5. Tiger Snake*

      Let’s keep in mind that it’s entirely possible that there’s not a malicious answer to this. Maybe their work is separate enough to everyone else’s that they feel disconnected and so have found the experience to be ‘the hangers on to the cliche’ and genuinely hasn’t been beneficial or even positive for them in the past.
      Maybe there’s some sort of exemption or agreement that came into play during lockdown that’s very convenient and they think still applies.
      Maybe they’re overworked and feel that they don’t have time, that the direction of the organisation to get that work done by the deadline is the greater priority and authority. (It’s pretty common that while all teams in a department are working hard, there’s one team that’s doing well over its share.)

      Those would still all things the LW needs to know and address, and so the first course of action is the same. But LW’s already had to make sure she takes her “because I said so crown off. Its best that the LW go in with an open mind, so she gets the real scoop instead of a confirmation bias.

      1. Anax*

        I guess I could see that. I’m currently IT embedded in HR, and I feel some of the disconnection you’re describing.

        I don’t get a chance to work with the IT department regularly – any kind of IT-related permissions I need have to be fought for tooth-and-nail, even though they’re obviously necessary for my job. You hired me to code SQL, you need to give me the software to code SQL and the permissions to see the database, for goodness sake.

        Meanwhile, I’m often invited to “all HR” meetings and events, but… well, I’m NOT an HR professional – I’m a coder who happens to have a job in the HR department.

        These “all HR” meetings usually have very little to do with my job – probably 95% of the HR department are actually HR professionals in the traditional sense (recruiting, benefits, payroll, etc.), so naturally, the content is tailored toward them. It makes sense, but it does lead to a sense of disconnection from the rest of the department, and I wish we were treated like the IT professionals we are, rather than being kind of ignored by both IT and HR.

        (For instance, all of IT was given access to Pluralsight, a skill-building website for IT professionals – we weren’t, because no one thought of it. Actually, we’ve literally had HR executives boot us from meetings because they thought we were invited by mistake – we’re so disconnected that they forgot our team existed.)

        And, well… to be honest, those meetings can be a little grating, especially the ones which are meant to be more “fun”, like the semi-annual retreat.

        Many HR folks seem to be pretty upbeat, extroverted, and focused on people skills – as they should be!

        Coders… well, a lot of us like to sit in the corner alone with our headphones on, and a cheery brainstorming session about future events is pretty much our worst nightmare. At least, I can confirm that’s true for the other coders on my team! We would all skip and work instead if we thought it were politically feasible.

        I’m not sure if something like this is relevant for LW, but if so, it might be worth considering whether there’s some major culture clash – are these folks disengaged because of managerial pressure, or is there some other reason that these folks feel disengaged from the team at large? Are they doing a different kind of job than other members of the department, do they come from a different background, are they under a very different level of stress?

        Obviously, this manager’s behavior is still not acceptable – you can’t just say ‘no, I don’t want to’ when your grandboss makes a meeting request!

        But… if there’s any sensible reason for this manager and team’s behavior, I’d put my bets on something like this.

      2. JM60*

        I was wondering if the type of work they do may be the type of work that attracts people who would rather skip company retreats (when they’re optional).

  2. lurkyloo*

    I’m concerned about his employees feeling that they’re not able to attend things like the work retreat as well. It may not be that he’s setting a bad example only; he may be actively preventing them from participating. As we often hear – many people don’t feel able to do things contrary to how their manager does.

    1. Mount Pleasant*

      I agree–I would be concerned that the manager in question is not providing adequate direction and professional development opportunities for the two staff whom he supervises. As a manager myself, I need time periodically with my supervisor and department lead (equivalent to the skip-manager calls the letter writer describes) to provide sufficient information about my staff’s successes, challenges, and professional-development goals.
      If I were the letter writer, I would do everything Allison suggests and ALSO meet with the manager’s two direct reports. More information is needed here.

      1. sparkle emoji*

        Yeah, I wouldn’t want these two reports thinking this guy’s warped perception of norms is an example to follow.

        1. MassMatt*

          Yeah, he may or may not be well liked by the staff, but even if he is, it may not be for the right reasons. I.e. he allows unprofessional behavior, or is otherwise lax when he shouldn’t be.

          And I bet they have not considered that if they are following his lead on not going to the retreat, they may be isolating themselves and hobbling their careers. If a big opportunity comes along, it’s more likely to go to that Jane person the other managers have seen and gotten to know than Nancy no-show.

    2. Minerva*

      This is exactly what I was thinking. It’s possible he is telling his direct reports that because its optional that they *can’t* go, he is their boss, and they need to work.

    3. Daisy*

      Yes, long ago (80s) I had a supervisor who specifically told me not to attend the HR onboarding meetings – because I needed to be present to do my job. This is the same guy who ordered me not to attend a national conference (in my specialty), that was in the next town over even at my own expense/time. He was a very lousy supervisor (although nice person). Not surprisingly this was higher education and he was faculty.

    4. Miss Muffet*

      If I was someone who was kinda green to the work world, and my boss was like, yeah there’s this thing but I don’t think it’s really all that important, but you can go if you WANT, but I’ll be here working … he may not be actively keeping them from going, but would YOU go if your manager was like this about it?

      1. lurkyloo*

        Exactly. I rely on my managers to say ‘Hey, there’s this thing, I’m not going, but I think you should’ or ‘You go ahead. You’re new so you might get something out of it.’ Or…y’know, VERIFY if it’s optional or not?

        1. UKDancer*

          Yeah, especially if you’re new, you need your boss to tell you and encourage you to attend things, because you don’t always know if you’re allowed to.

          So I don’t go to the “llama combing techniques for beginners” course that my company runs regularly but I expect all the new people to attend. I didn’t go to the last company awayday because I had pre-arranged to speak at a conference in Germany that day, but I encouraged all my staff to attend if they didn’t have something else on and to make sure that the new people in the team knew that attendance at the awayday was expected.

          1. Hastily Blessed Fritos*

            Do you communicate that it’s expected of everyone even if they’ve been combing llamas for 15 years and are just new to the company, not to the field? Because I wouldn’t at all expect that a “for beginners” course would be expected of a senior new hire.

            1. Candi*

              Even new-to-the-company with years in the field should probably attend it if it’s “How we groom llamas at Alpacas and Other Ungulates” vs “Basics in Llama Grooming.”

    5. Hannah Lee*

      Good point!

      His decline of this skip level meeting might lead me to a) call him to reschedule the meeting, conveying that it is not optional, not something that he can just say “nah, I’m good!” too.

      But then also to b) schedule skip level meetings with each of his direct reports to get insight into what’s going on with them.

      Because this is odd behavior. Just breezing past his grand boss’s meeting request is one thing (especially not mentioning to HIS manager, even in a “hey, I got a meeting request from OP. Any idea what’s up with that?” ) But that combined with his demeanor and bailing with no comment on the retreat, with his direct reports is … a bit not good.

    1. Distracted Librarian*

      Or Bartleby got promoted. If this were higher education, I’d say that’s a plausible scenario.

  3. Respectfully, Pumat Sol*

    His whole team didn’t show up to an all-hands event because he thought it was optional? Something smells here.

    1. Resident Catholicville, U.S.A.*

      To be fair, that’s only 2 direct reports who are new- they might not have realized this was a non-optional affair and they were following the lead of their manager. Three people out of 30 is noticeable since they were all from the same team, but not an over abundance of people skipping out.

      1. Ama*

        Yes, I could definitely seeing the manager saying something like “oh you don’t need to worry about this, our team isn’t going to attend,” and the reports thinking that the manager must have cleared it with someone.

      2. Respectfully, Pumat Sol*

        I’m thinking more along the lines of this manager is isolating his team from the rest of the organization, not that OP is a bad manager. That the under-manager smells like an insular, potentially abusive situation.

        We had this on a team I was part of a few years ago. New manager comes in and immediately started isolating his team from the rest of the department. As things came to a head and we began unraveling his nonsense, he had been lying and manipulating his team in a really abusive-relationship flavored way. It was really gross.

        I get the same vibes off of the under-manager here.

  4. Antilles*

    This is so far from the norm that if I were OP, I’d be making sure I found a time to meet with his subordinates too and get their perspective on things, along with his direct boss. Especially with the other context of him skipping the required retreat, “technically polite” (not the same as actually polite), and his general refusals to participate in normal managerial things.

    1. Green great dragon*

      Yes. One person choosing to miss an annual retreat? There could be reasons. All three missing? Not good.

      I would most definitely be having a conversation with his boss, including what his boss sees of his management style, and if you haven’t discussed the absence from the retreat I’d want to know what his boss was doing to stop that happening again. And talk with his staff members of course, though if they’re getting their info and guidance from this manager it’s very possible that they will assure you everything is fine whether it’s true or not.

      1. Candi*

        “it’s very possible that they will assure you everything is fine whether it’s true or not.”

        That’s where open-ended and “tell me about” questions come in. You don’t ask them if X is fine, you ask them to tell you how X is normally handled.

      2. Zelda*

        “it’s very possible that they will assure you everything is fine whether it’s true or not.”

        Yep, likely, even. IMO this calls for some open-ended “describe a typical day,” “describe a recent work problem and how Manager resolved it,” “describe how tasks in your department are allocated” (in case he’s offloading some of his responsibilities or showing favoritism), “describe what you would do if you ever had a complaint about a coworker or about Manager” (in case they’ve been told that they can’t talk to HR or the LW without Manager’s approval), that kind of thing.

        1. Zelda*

          (The point being, none of those ask his reports to say that anything’s wrong. They can just report things that happened, and if it’s not how *LW* wants the department to run, LW can make that call.)

    2. Myrin*

      OP says she’s meeting with literally everyone except for her peers, so she’ll be meeting with his reports and his supervisor either way! I’m more musing about whether it would be better to have the conversation with him first or last.

  5. fanuel*

    Talk to your direct report, his manager, also. I’m sure there are more red flags that will tell a larger story.

    1. ferrina*

      This guy’s manager is likely struggling with him- make sure you’re in the loop on what’s going on and supporting the manager (and coaching if needed). You may learn a lot more as well. I’d be surprised if this was the only questionable thing he was doing.

    2. Sparkles McFadden*

      I was wondering about this. Does the guy do this with his own manager? Did his manager address the no show of the all-hands meeting and OK that?

      I think the first discussion needs to be with the manager, because, yeah, something is off here.

    3. Annony*

      I would also talk to his reports. Why did they miss the retreat as well? Did they feel that they could go without negative repercussions from him?

  6. Bubble*

    I’d resend the appt with a message that “these are yearly meetings for feedback. This is required. Let me know if this date and time do not work. Otherwise see you then”. Period. You’re the boss. He’s not. He needs to show up. It’s fine for him to ask for the reason and an agenda. But you’re the boss. He’s not.

      1. Observer*

        Forcing him to go isn’t going to result in honest feedback either.

        True. But how he reacts to the invite and how he behaves in the meeting is going to be telling, regardless.

      2. MG*

        True. But the OP can ask the questions he needs answered as a higher up. And it establishes that this is not an optional event, and will start to shift things into proper alignment (hopefully).

      3. m2*

        It is WORK! If your boss asks for a meeting, you take the meeting. OP needs to talk to him about this and have his manager also give him feedback/ check on him.

        Does he WFH? You sure he doesn’t have multiple jobs? I would check on that and if he WFH and is doing this maybe call him back into the office.

        I would also talk to his reports.

      4. wordswords*

        Nobody can force honesty out of another person. He still doesn’t get to just opt out of a work-related meeting with his boss.

        Bland non-answers in response to questions soliciting feedback is one thing, and is certainly something that might happen (from him or from anyone else). Going “oh, I think I’ll pass” is a power play, whether or not he thinks of it as such, and one that gives me serious pause about his professional judgment in general, as well as making me wonder if he’s seriously misconstrued his role at the company (or, you know, is one of those people who habitually misconstrues his role to be “in charge of everybody around”). Maybe, maybe not — but it’s a red flag, and OP needs to both follow up on it and shut down the power play.

      5. Willow Pillow*

        I’m to respond to my comment instead the separate replies here individually… This is Alison’s advice to LW was to meet with their direct report:

        “It’s worth digging in more deeply with his manager about exactly what’s going on there, because something is off.”

        This doesn’t mean that Mr. Decliner doesn’t have to attend the meeting, it just makes LW’s goals of getting Decliner’s feedback more likely. Having him sit there under duress isn’t in anyone’s best interests.

        1. Kella*

          It’s not putting him under duress to give clear feedback about your expectations around his work! That’s literally a manager’s job. Work involves doing some things you don’t want to do. It’s not reasonable to expect a manager to try to avoid that happening without a more explicit reason.

          1. Willow Pillow*

            “It’s not reasonable to expect a manager to try to avoid that happening without a more explicit reason.”

            Right, and the most explicit reasoning won’t come directly from him – he wouldn’t have declined the meeting otherwise. Digging in with his manager doesn’t replace the meeting, it provides context to make it more productive.

        2. hbc*

          I would think that finding him to be sullen and unresponsive would be good information for OP to have. Likewise, if he says, “I dunno, I just prefer to do my actual work, I don’t really have any big-picture thoughts,” that’s good to know. Each duress response could spur a different next step from OP.

          And don’t underestimate the importance of having the meeting so you have given 100% of your staff a chance to give feedback. Makes it a lot harder for him to go whining to peers, “They show no interest in hearing what anyone has to say.”

          1. Willow Pillow*

            This was LW’s recounting of the situation:

            ‘I sent a skip level meeting request to a manager (he has two young, new staff members who report to him.) He declined the meeting with no comment. When I followed up about finding a more convenient time to meet, he responded, “Thanks, but I’ll pass. I don’t need to meet.”’

            He’s already provided that information. The “different next step” Alison suggested was to talk to his manager about what’s going on, which would also be good information… That doesn’t replace the original meeting, as I’ve already said, it provides context to make it more productive.

            1. Enai*

              Yes, I’d expect the answer to “Thanks, but I’ll pass. I don’t need to meet” to be something along the lines of “I do, though. Please let me know which of times #1, #2 and #3 is most convenient to you. If you don’t, I’ll expect you at time #1. If travel is a problem, I’ll open a video space on (platform)”.

        3. Boof*

          I’m not understanding this take that an employee can just nope out of meeting with a boss, or grandboss. That is such a huge red flag that the grandboss is then obligated to figure out what ELSE is the employee just noping out of. This is not something to let slide without some kind of very clear explanation from the employee (I think we already would have had that in a reasonable situation, something like “I’m already overworked and swamped with meetings, is this meeting really necessary?” would be very different than just “no thanks!”)

          1. Willow Pillow*

            That’s not my take so I can’t help you understand it! My take is that talking to Decliner’s boss first to get more context is more likely to meet LW’s goals than what Bubble suggested. As I’ve said elsewhere, this doesn’t replace the meeting.

      6. Tio*

        Probably not honest, but there is value in sitting down with him and hearing what he’s saying (or, more pointedly, not saying.) H’s saying there are no troubles, no improvements, no nothing? That’s not true. What about his future plans? Thoughts for the department? He has to say something

      7. Dinwar*

        Manager Tools states that there are three types of power: Role Power, Relationship Power, and Expertise Power. What Bubble is talking about is Role Power. Sometimes in any organization you have to assert authority and say “This is going to happen this way because I say so.”

        The whole point of a manager is that they have a broader perspective than the people working under them. The direct reports may have more knowledge about the specifics of their tasks–like, a driller will know more about drilling than I do–but I know how their task fits into the broader picture and can make calls that seem counter-intuitive to them, but which make sense when you see the full scope. Sure, it’d be great to get everyone on board with the full scope, but that doesn’t always happen–there are time constraints, and sometimes it’s just not worth arguing, you know? And ideally you’d convince them to do things your way via trust. But sometimes a manager needs to be able to say “I’m the boss, this is my call to make not yours, we’re doing it this way.”

        And frankly a skip meeting is so common that refusing is setting off alarm bells in everyone. This is absolutely a case where the manager has authority to step in. If their reports don’t agree, well, they’re wrong–in ways that are damaging to the company (which is always where the manager’s first loyalty lies).

        1. Willow Pillow*

          I understand what Bubble is talking about, and if it comes to addressing the issue with Role Power, sure. It’s still more likely to get that broader perspective with Relationship Power. LW had time to ask Alison for advice so that doesn’t point to this being an emergency.

      8. MassMatt*

        The meeting is not optional. He can be childish and pout if he wants. He is skating past a big bold sign saying “WARNING! Thin ice ahead!!” at breakneck speed.

        If he did this to me his systems access would be revoked and badge deactivated before he got back to his desk.

      9. commonsensesometimesmakessense*

        It is going to be a reminder and a clear signal to him that he doesn’t get to call the shots or refuse meetings with his boss’s boss! And that is an important message to send to him and his direct reports.

    1. Violet*

      Alison’s response is designed to teach and guide an employee (“it’s not just for you, it’s for me”). This phrasing is designed to put someone you don’t like in their place. No one here replying sees the difference?

      1. hbc*

        I would say it to someone I liked and who I thought liked me if there might just be a misunderstanding of the purpose, regardless of the org levels. My boss thinks I’m setting up a Widget Purchasing Contract meeting to check over my work, he declines saying he trusts my work, and I reply back “This is for me because this isn’t a standard contract and I need a second set of eyes for this big a deviation.”

      2. el l*

        There’s a difference, yes, and if OP thought it was just a misunderstanding I’d completely agree with not using this tone.

        But there are additional reasons to believe this is an attitude problem. Not out of line.

    2. DivineMissL*

      I’m wondering if OP holds these meetings every year, did she meet with this employee last year and this is the first time they have refused? OP mentions that the employee didn’t come to the retreat last year so they must have been employed then.

      1. What's Changed?*

        This is what I’ve been wondering!

        It doesn’t sound like OP or this employee are new to the company – has he participated in these feedback meetings in previous years, and only is declining this year? If so, what’s changed? Is this the first year he’s been a manager himself?

        Or was this not applicable last year because he was on a different team, etc?

    3. Erin*

      But, what if he doesn’t have any feedback? Or, if he’s attended feedback meetings in the past, only to experience no change. I decline those meetings as well.

      This guy is doing his job well, and doesn’t feel compelled to get mired in the quicksand of draining feedback meetings & company pep rallies. Big deal. Leave those things to folks who care about them.

      1. Rose*

        He’s “fine” at his job but he’s sullen and she’s also had to talk to his supervisors about him needing coaching.

        This meeting isn’t just about sharing suggestions; it’s a way that OP gathers important information about what’s going on on her team.

        One meeting a year with your skip level is hardly draining. But this is not about benefiting him or his needs. Sometimes at work you have to do things that you don’t like.

      2. londonedit*

        It’s only once a year, and it’s important for the OP in order for them to do their job properly, so he should go. We have a yearly appraisal system where I work, and it always feels slightly pointless to me personally because I work on a really small team and my boss and I share any issues as and when they arise. But it’s an official HR directive, so we do it. And usually it turns into a good opportunity to review the year and talk about the future. We can’t just unilaterally decide not to take part because we can’t be bothered.

        1. allathian*

          The same thing is true for me. That said, nothing that comes up in a yearly appraisal should ever be a complete surprise to either party in an organization where people actually communicate with each other.

          1. Ticotac*

            Yeah, you want yearly appraisals to bring up no big surprises, but you don’t want to skip yearly appraisals because you expect no big surprises

          2. commonsensesometimesmakessense*

            This is also a chance for someone who is a couple levels above on the chain of command to talk to those people they do not get to interact with every day. As someone who once worked in the large corporate world, it could be frustrating that huge changes would suddenly be announced about changes to how we do our jobs by people who knew absolutely nothing about the intricacies of our day to day jobs. OP is actually showing a good business practice and showing respect for those lower in her chain of command by ensuring she gives them face time and a chance to tell her directly about their observations and experiences.

      3. Steve H*

        “This guy is doing his job well”

        Refusing to meet with your boss’s boss and having your team skip a mandatory all hands is not doing your job well.

      4. Critical Rolls*

        Do you really just say, “Nah,” if your grandboss tries to schedule an annual one-on-one that they do with everyone in the division?

        OP clearly explained what these meetings are for, and that they have produced useful, actionable information, so I’m not sure why you are choosing to assume they don’t. But frankly, it’s not up to Mr Nah to decide if the meetings are valuable; his boss’s boss believes they are, so they will be happening.

      5. commonsensesometimesmakessense*

        This guy is insubordinate. It is not his call to refuse a one on one meeting requested by his boss’s boss, nor is it his call to decide if this meeting is a “draining feedback meeting” or “company pep rally.” If your boss or someone above you in your chain of command requests a one on one meeting, you do not refuse. And this is a once a year thing, so hardly a quicksand situation. Also, if a retreat is mandatory for all employees, you attend. I hate my current employer’s all staff training event, which is not even mandatory, but my management team has made it clear they expect us to go. So I go.

        This guy needs to learn his place regarding the chain of command and internal office politics.

      6. Sacred Ground*

        If he sees an annual skip level meeting with his boss’s boss as “draining” or “quicksand” then he doesn’t belong in management.

      7. rollyex*

        If the meeting request was phrased as “an opportunity for you to share ideas or concerns” (or some other language implying the meeting was an offering to me) and I didn’t have any to share, I’d probably try to decline the meeting. Not with “I’ll pass” which is way too blunt and confusing, but with “Thanks. I don’t have much to share; could we please skip the meeting?”

        I wouldn’t just accept it if I thought it was going to waste both our times.

      8. Sacred Ground*

        “Leave those things to folks who care about them”

        As a manager, he’s expected to be one of those folks who cares about such things. That’s the job.

      9. Manglement Survivor*

        It really doesn’t matter if the employee doesn’t have any feedback. OP is calling the meeting to get information that she needs. She is the boss and if she says the meeting is mandatory, this employee needs to comply.

    4. Manglement Survivor*

      I agree. I would resend the email. I’d give him several dates and times to choose from and say that this is a mandatory required meeting, it is not optional. Then I would schedule my own meeting with his manager, and most likely meetings with his reports. You need to get as much information as you can to figure out what’s going on.

  7. She of Many Hats*

    Based on the additional details you provided about his performance and attitude, I would assume he’s trying to hide something. Many (most?) employees under reasonable leadership would appreciate time with their bosses & grandbosses that didn’t require the employee to fight for the time or bringing the boss emergencies.

    I would make sure your time with his team delves into his leadership & attitudes and how it impacts them. Make sure they know the company norms and expectations beyond what their boss says.

      1. Not me*

        I would not dare to decline it, but if there was any possibility to get out of it I would do so. I find them irritating and do not believe they actually have interest in checking in with me.
        Not meeting == less room for political missteps.

        1. Office Lobster DJ*

          I think this dynamic is far more likely than the employee trying to hide something by skipping the meeting.

        2. Hastily Blessed Fritos*

          You go, you keep all comments blandly generic and positive, and if specifically asked if there’s any changes you want to see you say you’d like more communication from management about overall strategy.

      2. Kit*

        I can think of exactly one reason to avoid it at my old job, and that was because my grandboss was the VP of Sales and wore way too much cologne, being in an enclosed space with him was challenging, given that you could smell him coming down the hallway.

        The rest of the c-suite, I would happily have had a skip-level with any time, although the ones I did have weren’t formalized so much as ad hoc. Then again, I had a lot of issues at that job but management approachability wasn’t one of them.

      3. Lea*

        Oh goodness I would not want this

        Please just let me do work in peace

        That said I would never refuse it!
        Different strokes

    1. Hannah Lee*

      The possibility that he’s hiding something would have me digging a bit into what that group is doing, not just in 1 on 1’s but in general looking at the budgets, expenses, output, etc just to make sure all that looks like I’d expect.

      If OP has a trusted ‘runner’ somewhere on their team, someone who knows the organization well enough to sniff around in all the likely places to see whats going on … maybe not quite as thorough as Ben Affleck in The (forensic) Accountant and with a lot more subtlety, finesse and discretion than the Only Murders In the Building trio.

      1. Observer*

        The possibility that he’s hiding something would have me digging a bit into what that group is doing, not just in 1 on 1’s but in general looking at the budgets, expenses, output, etc just to make sure all that looks like I’d expect.

        Yes. Something is up. And while the OP needs to talk to this guy’s direct reports, they might not tell them everything. They also might not be aware of all the relevant stuff. So the OP needs to dig deeper.

    2. Keeley Jones, The Independent Woman*

      This just came up with my grand boss. Apparently four times in the last month people have straight up missed their 1 X 1 with him. I was floored. He’s either your boss, or your boss’s boss, and he makes time to meet individually with everyone. He’s a great department head, but even if he was a jerk, I can’t imagine thinking of ever ghosting someone at that level.

      1. Bruce*

        Whoa, if this site had emojis I’d be going “RED-FLAG” a few times… Wonder if they are on the same branch of the org-chart?

      2. Alan*

        I’m not a manager, I’m just a lead, but I have heard enough weird stories about fellow employees (not typically by name) that nothing surprises me anymore. One had his supervisor replaced by a woman and refused to work for a woman; he got moved to another group so they could keep his expertise. Another refused 5 or 6 different work assignments because he didn’t like them until he finally just resigned. People routinely refuse to show up for group meetings. People blow off required training. All sorts of things. It doesn’t surprise me at all that people would blow off a 1×1.

        1. Fergus but Not*

          I blew off required training one time because it had nothing to do with my job. I am a soft engineer the training was hardware the company produced.

          1. Bruce*

            I blow off training too, I’m so old that I’ll never use some of the tools they want to train me on. But I would not blow off a meeting with my VP…

  8. ThatGirl*

    I can’t imagine declining a meeting with my manager, much less someone two or more levels above me! I agree that this is a bigger problem than just this meeting invite, but also… what’s with the attitude??

    1. soontoberetired*

      If we opted out of meetings asked for by our boss, our boss’s boss, and that person’s boss, we just might be opting out of working for this company. This is wild.

    2. The New Wanderer*

      “Technically polite but generally sullen” does not make for a good manager, peer, or report. This person is making A Point of declining a once-a-year meeting with someone with more authority.
      If you think it’s a waste of time, you still do it and get through it however you need to.

      I expect the agenda of this particular meeting has gone from “what changes would you like to see?” to “what needs to change if you still want to work here.”

      1. ThatGirl*

        Right. The VP of my division requests a lot of things that I don’t think are the best use of my time but guess what… I do them anyway because she’s the VP!

      2. Distracted Librarian*

        Exactly. And his direct reports are opting out of the annual retreat. OP needs to ask them some probing questions about their unit and how it’s led. Also ask, as nonconfrontationally as possible, why they didn’t attend the annual retreat. Methinks their boss told them not to.

      3. Absurda*

        Exactly! My grandboss once told me he feels terrible asking people to do status reports or status updates because no one likes to do them and everyone feels they’re a BS waste of time, but he (grandboss) genuinely found them valuable and useful.

        I told him if he really looked at them and found them valuable in his job, he was the boss and entitled to ask for it. The rest of us would just suck it up. If he never looked at them or just wanted them done to make it look like he was managing, that would be different. But that wasn’t the case. It’s the same situation with this call.

    3. Kevin Sours*

      I honestly can. At some level “this is a bad time, can we do X instead” or “these meetings are disruptive to my workflow, can we find an alternative” is at least worthy of consideration. But I wouldn’t dream of responding to a meeting with my bosses with a “nope, I’m good”.

    4. CountryLass*

      I know! I’ve had several bad bosses that have left me with a general anxiety of being summoned to meet with my boss, even her calling my phone and asking me to pop upstairs to see her gives me a sinking feeling, but it’s nearly always to be passed some work or have a quick catch-up about a client where we work on different aspects of their account that overlap occasionally, but still impact each other’s actions.

      So whilst the thought of being summoned by the CEO (my direct boss is a Director, I’m classed as a manager but have no reports and am basically a team of 1 in my office) makes me want to run to the bathroom in a cold sweat, I would never dream of refusing!

  9. Hiring Mgr*

    I think you also may need to check on whoever is the manager between you and this guy. It sounds like that person could be doing a little more managing themselves.

    1. Sloanicota*

      Agree. OP says “I have had to ask his supervisor to talk to him about participating appropriately as a manager.” I would go back to that person on this issue. First, make it clear that you expect the manager to ensure this person comes to the meeting and is prepared (and reasonably behaved). Second make it clear it’s that person’s job to manage this person’s attitude better.

  10. the bat in the office popcorn machine*

    You need to meet with his reports, not him. He’s not going to be helpful at all – if you get him in, he’s essentially just a body in a seat, mechanically answering questions until you let him leave.

    1. pally*

      Yeah that’s a good idea. Probably find out some interesting things.

      He might view this as intruding. But really, it’s not. No one “owns” a department.

    2. ferrina*

      Or his manager could do the skip-level meeting (if I’m understanding the chain of command correctly). His manager should already be doing skip-level check-ins, so make sure that’s happening.

      1. Sloanicota*

        Yeah but if this guy’s a problem and being allowed to go unchecked, I’d kind of want to hear from him myself (and possibly his direct reports) more than I want to hear from his manager, who would presumably filter their responses through the lens of wanting to be seen as a good leader.

    3. The Shenanigans*

      I agree that she needs to speak to his reports and manager. But she does need to speak to him. If he refuses to engage, she needs to tell him engaging in meetings is part of his job at this company. If he doesn’t want to engage, he needs to consider if this culture and company are for him and act accordingly. He needs to engage or resign, frankly, by the end of that meeting.

      1. Distracted Librarian*

        Exactly this. I’m not big on flexing managerial power, but you just can’t let something like this slide. Even if the meeting nets no useful information, you need to make clear to this guy that attending a skip-level meeting is a normal work thing and isn’t optional.

    4. Green great dragon*

      This is true, though I’d be inclined to do it anyway, and have a few factual questions up my sleeve that a mechanical answer to might still be useful. Staff members may or may not be willing to answer honestly, but it’s worth a try.

      The main person that LW needs to talk to is sullen’s boss.

      1. Charlotte Lucas*

        Agreed! And. I would find a way to use up the entire time scheduled for the meeting.

        I don’t generally like to be petty, but I can do a great job of it when needed.

    5. ManagerMom*

      Well, LW needs to meet with him too, because that’s part of his job. And if it gets to the point where it seems like he can’t or won’t do the job, LW will need to be able to talk to him about it, and then possible take action. LW will need to be able to say: I scheduled this meeting, you are expected to show, and you didn’t. Or you did, and were combative, or you did, and didn’t act on any of the things we discussed. If LW allows him to skip the meeting, it lets him think a) he can call the shots and b) that meeting was important after all. And it will be harder to hold him accountable later.

    6. Observer*

      You need to meet with his reports, not him.

      I don’t think it’s an either / or. I think they need to meet with BOTH the manager *and* his reports.

      if you get him in, he’s essentially just a body in a seat, mechanically answering questions until you let him leave

      That itself will be hugely telling. But also, even mechanical answers can be very informative, even if the information is not what the person thinks they are telling you. I could think of a lot of scenarios, but a couple of examples: If the OP asks a question and gets an answer that is accompanied by eye-rolling, that’s useful information. If the OP asks about challenges, and he answers dismissively, that’s useful information. etc.

  11. Bubble*

    You could also open the meeting with “there’s a perception you do the minimum to get by”. That perception comes from me. So it yea. There’s that perception.

    1. can't think of a name*

      He’s not even doing that! Meeting with your boss(es’s boss) and going to required events is the minimum!

    2. Sloanicota*

      Although I think OP needs to be clear to themselves if the meeting is about evaluating/correcting this person’s behavior versus getting a general assessment and insights as part of the annual review, because those seem to be different goals to me with different approaches.

        1. Sloanicota*

          That’s fair. But in that case, the request to this person (and probably their manager) is different and not tied to the annual review. Perhaps select someone else from the team to interview for the 360 and move on with whatever the disciplinary process is at this company on a separate track.

      1. Distracted Librarian*

        I think it’s both. Ask the standard questions, get what feedback you can. Then ask him why he declined the original meeting invitation. His answer will tell you what you need to do next–coach on professional norms, set clear expectations, move toward a PIP, etc.

  12. That1guy*

    May I please pre-book a seat for the update on this one? I definitely want to hear how this plays out!!

    1. ferrina*

      I want an update too! My money is on this being the tip of the iceberg, but there’s definitely a chance all will end well.

      1. Hannah Lee*

        Maybe this guy is running a whole other operation behind the company’s back?

        Maybe he’s the manager who was subletting his employees out to other companies but only paying them for their ‘official’ jobs?
        Or he’s running an underground gambling establishment, with his reports outfitted like characters from The Sting, with the old-timey green visors and sleeve bands.
        A spam/disinformation bot boiler room?
        A puppy daycare?
        A coffee house where sullen misguided libertarians come together to be glum and discuss The Fountainhead and the evils of altruism?

        1. Jojo*

          I know people complain about comments that seem to be AAM fan fiction, but THIS is how you do AAM fan fiction. I’d read several of these if they work books. (And show up for the puppy daycare.)

    2. ZSD*

      Yes, we need an update, please! I really want to know how this dude responds when the LW explains that the meeting isn’t optional.

    3. Slinky*

      I was coming here to say the same! Alison is right. Something is up with this guy and I want to hear what the outcome is.

      1. Call me St. Vincent*

        Yes, please! I would like to enter into the lottery on Ticketmaster to be able to buy tickets to the update to this!

  13. pally*

    I work with this guy. He’s protecting his kingdom.

    He’s wanting to run his dept without input from higher-ups and doesn’t want to share what the ‘goings-on’ are within his department with said higher-ups.

    Meeting with the OP risks interference with his dept and how they get things done. Can’t have that.

    1. can't think of a name*

      I have to wonder how this ends up reflecting on his department/subordinates. That kind of power play doesn’t just go up the chain…

      1. pally*

        In my case: not a positive reflection. But he gets the work done so the behavior is tolerated.

        And everyone walks on egg shells around this person and his reports.

        1. Sloanicota*

          That’s why I agree with others that talking to his reports may reveal more than talking to him or his manager. And honestly for a 360 type review as OP describes, the more junior people may have more interesting observations to offer.

    2. Venus*

      We have a guy like this and discovered that his employees were told not to communicate at all with anyone in the company except for him. He was bullying them in other subtle ways and they were too new to understand that his management style wasn’t normal. Thankfully it only took a few months to identify the problem and resolve it, yet that was a few months longer than it should have been.

      1. Overnight Oats*

        This. When someone is isolating their direct reports from the rest of the organization, bullying and harassment are likely there, too.

    3. Distracted Librarian*

      That’s my read too. Or he’s a sullen contrarian with a bad case of “you can’t tell me what to do.”

    4. Sacred Ground*

      My first thought as well. Junior manager with only 2 reports refused a meeting with the grand boss, a meeting whose purpose is to keep the boss informed about the team? He doesn’t want the boss to be informed. Hes hiding something.

  14. Observer*

    OP, I’m going to agree that the meeting invite is the tip of the iceberg. Look at what you have described here:

    * Decided to “pass” on a meeting that you clearly want to have

    * He’s *generally* sullen (ie this is not a single interaction when he was having a bad day)

    * He not only skipped the annual retreat, but *his staff skipped it*. And they *went to work* even though you indicate that if people don’t want to come to an event, they can take some time instead.

    You need to do some real digging. Realize that his reports are not necessarily going to tell you the truth, because they don’t know how you are going to handle the information they give you. And given what you are seeing, I could easily see them worrying that what they say gets back to him, and he retaliates. You say that his staff likes him. How do you know that? Is it possible that the feedback you are getting is incorrect or tainted by that fear?

    Also, I hate to ask this, but are you female? Are you of different ethnicities? The whole being sullen with you is just so odd, especially for someone who is not new to the workforce, and this could help explain that. Of course, that wouldn’t explain the fact that none of his staff showed up to the retreat. But it’s also quite possible that more than one thing is going on here.

    In any case, you have a problem that’s bigger than this one meeting. As Allison says,*something* is off here, and it could be quite significant.

    1. snoopythedog*

      Adding to the alarm bells here because his staff are *new*, meaning they have no ties to anyone else in the company and this manager is their lighthouse for navigating all things corporate. He could easily been steering them into the rocks. I’d keep an eye out for them and make sure they have opportunities/are encourage to attend larger corporate events or trainings. To the point of potentially tailoring future learning events to something so specific to this group it would be very weird if they missed it. These people need integration into the larger company culture.

    1. Insert Clever Name Here*

      “You may not need to meet with me, but I need to meet with you. Do you prefer (Time 1) or (Time 2).”

        1. Enai*

          Hm, maybe? Open insubordination can be grounds for immediate termination complete with being walked out even in Germany with its normally mandatory lengthy period between termination and actual departure if the former employee. Depending on what else the dude has (not) done, no gardening leave for him!

          But of course, the LW is not quite at that point yet. Hopefully, the situation and employee can be salvaged yet.

    2. Boof*

      I like it tho that’s probably a level or two of escalation more than one should start with.
      “this isn’t optional. I’ll see you ___, or find a time that works within the next 2 weeks if that does not”

  15. too many dogs*

    Many decades ago, we got a new manager in our department. She set up one-on-one interviews with all of us, asking about our job duties, the department, you name it. Besides being nervous about meeting with “the boss”, we were all so impressed that somebody above us would want our opinions, that ALL of us took that tactic with us when we moved up in the organization. Thirty years later, I still meet with my staff individually. I learn a lot; they learn that their opinion has value. The LW states that the person in question is not new to this organization. I would also be concerned that he refuses to meet. It is not a good example for the people he supervises. I would insist that he meet.

    1. LCH*

      yeah, i’m in a new position. my supervisor set up meetings for me with a whole range of people, including those several levels above me, so i can get introduced to the organization. i can’t imagine telling them, nah, i’m good.

  16. Skytext*

    My first thought, when he responded with “I don’t need to meet” was “well, I DO, so I’ll see you then”.

    1. Clare*

      Exactly. This isn’t for his personal benefit, it’s for the benefit of everyone. Think of it as analogous to the census. The letter writer says that in the past these meetings have identified themes that needed to be addressed. If most people decided to opt out, then there wouldn’t be enough data points to tell if an issue is a theme or just something bothering one individual. Therefore, it’s part of everyone’s job to do this and nobody can opt out.

  17. Bertie*

    This guy is my hero. I’d love to snub all of my bosses all the way up. If it was mandatory I’d just show up and give the most generic answers possible. OP sounds pretty full of themselves. I don’t know why, but anyone who refers to staff as ‘my team’ gets a huge raised eyebrow from me. But I’m old and burned out and have nothing but bottomless cynicism for American work culture.

    1. Fluffy Fish*

      I look at it as I get paid the same whether I’m attending a particular meeting or not.

      I’m sorry your experience with managers hasn’t been great but OP doesn’t sound full of themselves. The sound like a manager trying to do their job. In fact they didn’t immediately call the person and ream them out – they’re trying to be thoughtful and asking if their read is correct.

      None of that is the behavior of a person full of themselves.

      1. Eldritch Office Worker*

        Strongly agreed. Along with the reflections of why this has been helpful in the past and whether it’s necessary now. If anything OP isn’t putting enough weight behind their asks.

      2. Distracted Librarian*

        Exactly. This guy is hurting not only himself but his reports. A good manager deals with that situation pronto. Letting these things fester is one way you get work cultures that create burned out, cynical employees.

      3. Hastily Blessed Fritos*

        “I get paid the same whether I’m attending a particular meeting or not” sounds like a great argument in favor of skipping meetings. I don’t think that’s what you’re trying to say, so can you maybe clarify?

        1. Lucia Pacciola*

          The meeting isn’t an unpaid distraction from your job. The meeting is the job; you’re getting paid to be there just like you’re getting paid to be at your desk doing other parts of your job at other times.

        2. Fluffy Fish*

          Not at all what I’m saying. It means when I’m annoyed with something at work whether it’s a task I don’t like or a meeting I think is pointless, that it doesn’t matter if I don’t like it I’m paid the same to do it. We’re all paid to do parts of our jobs we like and don’t like.

          It’s a way of reframing that annoyance so that you don’t end up bitter and angry like Bertie over normal things that happen at work. I may not want to attend a meeting but I’m paid the same whether I’m at the meeting as expected or sitting at my desk so I might as well go.

        3. Enai*

          Is this an “reading comprehension on this site is piss poor” — “how dare you say I piss on the poor!?” joke?

    2. CommanderBanana*

      This is really interesting – I kind of had the same reaction. I agree with Alison’s advice, and the commentariat that have pointed out that something else seems to be going on here, but I also had a flashback to my awful grandboss making us meet with him for 30 minutes once a year where he’d demand “honest feedback,” despite being an untrustworthy, two-faced liar who avoided us the rest of the year. I don’t know why he thought thirty minutes once a year warranted honest feedback from his underlings.

      1. WantonSeedStitch*

        And yet, it’s also something that a perfectly reasonable boss will ask for. I don’t meet with all my indirect reports individually, but my boss and her boss both meet with everyone in their divisions individually once a year. Both of them are warm, trustworthy people who advocate well for the folks under them and who legitimately want to know where our pain points are and what management can do about them, as well as what keeps us engaged. But if someone turned down the meeting, I think both of them would have the same “EXCUSE me?” reaction the OP had, because it’s simply rude to refuse a non-optional meeting with your grandboss or higher without a good reason.

        1. CommanderBanana*

          Oh, I totally agree. And based on the context the OP provided, it sounds like there are possibly layers of weirdness going on here.

      2. Fluffy Fish*

        This comes up a lot here – people who have bad employment experiences have it color their perception of normal.

      3. Hrodvitnir*

        That is interesting. I had a very negative reaction to this guy due to all the behaviours described, and the OP questioning herself when the way he is acting is so incredibly disrespectful. I view my work superiors as my equals, that are in charge of me only in as far as that makes sense for my job, so this is definitely no innate belief that your work superiors are due more respect than other humans.

        And I say it is interesting, because I know and respect your opinion CB, which gives it more weight. Some people are better at sitting with their emotional reactions than others.

        1. Charlotte Lucas*

          I think some people do performative management, where they do what looks like the right thing like meeting with all the staff. But it’s really just for show or because they somehow found out it was the Right Thing to Do. But they either don’t know or don’t care what the real purpose is, so it ends up at best being useless and at worst being a trap set for unsuspecting staff. Many of us have been there.

          However, the OP sounds like she sincerely wants staff input in order to make the organization work for everyone. And even if she were one of the bad managers, the report still needs to accept the meeting. (Weirdly, the fact that he seems so OK with saying he doesn’t need to meet makes me less likely to think the OP is someone to avoid. I’ve seen those kinds of managers, and they don’t write in to advice columns. They react badly and immediately.)

      4. Justin D*

        I wanted nothing to do with my manager’s manager who wanted to meet with me when I was new to the job. She put it on me to set it up (on a huge list of onboarding tasks), I just “forgot.” She never followed up.

    3. June*

      I think saying ‘my team’ is super normal. I refer to the team I work on as ‘my team’ and I’m not a manager or anything. Not sure what other phrasing you expect people to use.

      1. UKDancer*

        Yes. I call the people who work for me “my team” because that’s how I consider them. They are the team that reports to me and that I work with, therefore they are mine.

        1. snoopythedog*

          And also, I am on their team. We are a team. We are a team when we work on a project to achieve it’s goals, we are a team when we work towards the company’s goals.

      2. HonorBox*

        I feel like “my team” or “the team” makes it much more about us versus me and the rest of the people who work for me. When I’ve been a manager, I’ve tried to actively embrace the fact that we’re all a team. We play different positions on the field, but each person is important.

        1. Uranus Wars*

          I use “my team” when I am talking about the individuals I manage, “my team” when talking about the people at my level who all report to my boss…”my team” when talking about people from other departments who are all working on the same project as I am.

      3. Stuckinacrazyjob*

        Yes we have numbered teams since everyone in this part of the company does the same job but if you had twenty direct reports it’s be too stressful

    4. Insert Clever Name Here*

      I mean, you could refuse. You would just have to deal with the consequences which you may not enjoy as much as your power trip.

    5. metadata minion*

      How would you prefer people to refer to the team they manage? Is it the “team” or the “my” that gets your goat?

    6. Former Young Lady*

      Have you ever managed other people?

      Bosses get to direct people under them. They get to use the first-person possessive pronoun to describe the team they’re leading. That’s how that works. OP doesn’t sound full of themselves to me at all — they sound perplexed that a grown man thinks he can overrule his boss’s boss.

      Anyone with that attitude is going to have a miserable time in any workplace.

    7. Bertie*

      Like I said, I have both eyes set on retirement in a few years and am just completely over everything to do with work. It’s just so exhausting and I don’t care about anything but the paycheck anymore. A manager two or three levels up that got all in a huff about me not jumping at the chance to meet with them would get nothing but eye rolls from me. I’d do it because it would just be easier to get it overwith and tell them what they wanted to hear than it would be to make a big deal about not doing it.

      To those who have asked, the ‘team’ mindset and language has always bugged me. We are not a team, we are a staff, and I don’t belong to anyone but myself (hence my hackles getting raised at OP saying ‘my team’). I just trade time here for the paycheck and benefits.

      1. Fluffy Fish*

        You are assigning things to OP that aren’t there. They didn’t get in a huff. It is normal to request a meeting with your subordinates. When you work with others on something you are part of a team. A manger referring to the team they manage as my team isn’t stating ownership of humans. It’s stating they are the manager of said team.

        I get you feel how you feel and I’m not actually trying to convince you otherwise because you’ve made it very clear you are not interested in viewing things differently

        However I do want to be clear for people in different stages of their career – this attitude will not help you at work. If you are this miserable at your job then please look for another.

        1. Distracted Librarian*

          “If you are this miserable at your job then please look for another.” Exactly. And this is one reason why it’s a bad idea to stay in a toxic workplace. It can warp your sense of employment norms and turn you into a cynic who thinks everyone in management is either evil or stupid. Most of us work for a paycheck, sure, but being bitter and miserable while doing it is neither necessary nor advisable.

      2. Resident Catholicville, U.S.A.*

        I’ll use the “team” label and I know how people mean it usually, but I’m not a fan either. Team usually implies sports or a game to me and none of the jobs I’ve worked have been very sporty or game-like. This goes double if somehow, sports metaphors get thrown into the mix when talking about a job. I don’t rail against the term, but I’d prefer to use something else if given the chance.

        1. Les*

          I’ve found “my team” to be irritating because it implies an egalitarianism that isn’t there. My manager and I are not equals and pretending that our respective viewpoints (to say nothing of our paychecks) somehow carry the same weight can feel patronizing.

          It’s only ever irked me when I’ve been in positions where the terminology is used by nominal “leadership” that loves hierarchy and only pays lip service to the ideas of underlings. I got over it once I reframed my relationship with work to be entirely transactional; I’m here to finance the aspects of life that I love and nothing more.

          1. saskia*

            If a coach called their football players “my team,” would you think that implied egalitarianism, though?

            1. Les*

              No, but then I’ve never heard anyone call the Dallas Cowboys a “football staff.”

              Words and phrases are funny things. They have definitions, but they don’t always mean the same thing to different people. I don’t think my interpretation of “my team” is the only way to see it, but it’s how I see it.

          2. amoeba*

            Ha, that’s interesting because I’ve heard the exactly opposite explanation from people who don’t like it because “my team”, according to them, implies ownership. Seems to be surprisingly controversial for a phrase I’ve always considered very normal and harmless!

      3. grapefruit*

        If anything, “my staff” sounds far more hierarchical than “my team” to my ears. And it doesn’t sound like this person is expecting everyone to “jump at the chance” to meet with them…they just expect that they follow professional norms and meet this (very standard, reasonable) work expectation of not refusing a meeting for no reason. How else would you suggest people in director-type roles get insight into what’s working and what’s not among the people they’re responsible for overseeing?

        1. Weaponized Pumpkin*

          It does to me, too. My staff = the people who work under me, only the boss of those people says that. My team = the people I work with, can be said by either the boss or members. My staff is way more hierarchical. Does it only sound icky when a boss says it, versus if I say it about my peers?

          It’s ideal to avoid “my” if you can because it rubs some people the wrong way, but most of the time there are not better alternatives. This is the clearest and least imperious way for the OP to say it in a letter. (IRL they might be to identify the group they talk to by their function / program, but in a confidential letter you lose that ability.)

          1. allathian*

            For me, staff is a sign of a highly hierarchical organization like the armed forces or emergency services, or indeed K-12 education, but as far as I’m concerned it absolutely doesn’t apply to knowledge workers.

            It’s the mass noun that gets my goat.

            A manager says my team, and they mean their direct reports. Sounds completely ordinary to me and isn’t a sign that they’re on a power trip. As an IC, I usually talk about our team because I’m not claiming sole ownership.

      4. skadhu*

        But “staff” doesn’t describe every kind of job, so you’re making a lot of assumptions. I’m retired now, but never in my entire working career could my position and that of those I worked ever have been described as staff. “Team” is the best word to describe how we worked in our context.

        Of course there are people who apply all kinds of faux jargon to manipulate others, and it sounds like that’s been your experience—if so I can see why the phrasing puts your teeth on edge. But we don’t have enough info in this case to make a judgement on that.

      5. Gerri’s Jaunty Hat*

        You need to stop getting your hackles raised by totally normal and neutral relationship terms. It’s silly and nothing but an impediment to yourself and those around you. Save your hackles for something remotely sensible.

      6. Observer*

        A manager two or three levels up that got all in a huff about me not jumping at the chance to meet with them would get nothing but eye rolls from me

        Except that this has nothing to do with what the OP wrote. They are not “in a huff”, for one thing. For another, they are not complaining that this guy didn’t “jump at the chance”. They are puzzled – with good reason! – that someone they manage *refused* a meeting request. Not the specific time, which the OP is perfectly willing to accommodate, but is refusing to meet at all. That’s just not how the workplace works.

        Why on earth would someone who makes it clear that he doesn’t think he needs to actually do his job (meeting with your boss and grandboss when requested *is* part of the job) be your hero?

      7. Firefighter (Metaphorical)*

        This is really region-specific but as a Brit, “staff” sounds like “domestic servants” to me and I can’t use it!

    8. Ask a Manager* Post author


      “my team”
      “my sister”
      “my friend”
      “my employer”
      “my boss”
      “my coworker”

      None of these imply the problematic ownership you seem to be reading into it.

      1. Clare*

        Good point. Bernie, you seem to be conflating the possessive noun with ownership. But to possess is just to have. I.e. “Sam is my friend” means that I have a friend, not that I somehow own Sam.

      2. Charlotte Lucas*

        Thank you! My organization has had deep philosophical conversations about use of possessive pronouns, and it drives me up the wall.

        Well-meaning people sometimes take things to the point of silliness.

    9. Jennifer Strange*

      OP sounds pretty full of themselves.

      Someone here is full of themselves, but it’s not the OP.

    10. Sparkles McFadden*

      This is how my cynical self feels too, but I’d still suck it up and go to the meeting. There are ways to side-step the nonsensical part of business-land hierarchy without being a jerk about it. Telling your grandboss: “No thanks…I don’t need to meet” is someone who wants to annoy everyone around and make the point that he’s above it all or somehow a superior person who doesn’t need mangers telling him what to do. (Full disclosure: I fired a guy who was just like this, so that’s where I’m coming from.)

      I also agree on the “my team” phrasing. I would say “our department” or “our group” or the name of our section. Usually, I’d refer to people by name, saying “Fergus is working on that” not “My team is working on that.” Saying “My team” or “my staff” felt weirdly proprietary. Kind of like guys who refer to their spouses as “The Wife.”

      1. WantonSeedStitch*

        See, for me, “department” would refer to a much larger piece of the organization than the one I oversee. “Team” is generally the term for a group of people headed by someone in a Director-level position where I work. “Department” would more accurately refer to the group of people headed by my grandboss, which includes my team and many others that do entirely different kinds of work. I use “my team” to talk about anything that covers everyone who reports directly or indirectly to me, but no one who doesn’t. “Group” just sounds weirdly disorganized to me.

        1. I'm just here for the cats!!*

          Yes I agree that department is much larger. I’ve worked places where the offical name was teams. So I worked in an education company that created and sold professional development classes. I was on the real estate team, which supported students who were getting their real estate licenses or had to take continued education to keep their licene. There was also the insurance team which supported students who were taking courses to get insurance licenses, and a CFA team which took care of people getting their CFA licenses and othe financial planners. That was all under the Student Support department, which also included records and student tech support. We weren’t the real estate departmetn we were the real estate team.

      2. rollyex*

        ‘Telling your grandboss: “No thanks…I don’t need to meet”’

        I feel we have a responsibility to say if we don’t think a meeting will be useful. Otherwise we’re wasting people’s time. I’m not sure I’ve declined meetings from grandbosses directly, but I’ve certainly told past bosses I was worried about a meeting they requested with me not being useful. And I’ve certainly told my boss about a request for my time from higher up in the organization that I did not think about be useful and asked about how necessary it was.

        No “I’ll pass” but an explanation of why I didn’t want to spend multiple people’s time on things.

    11. HonorBox*

      From what the OP writes, I got no sense of them being full of themself. They actually say that these meetings have allowed them to make changes to make things better for everyone. If it was just meeting to meet, then sure. But if they’re taking feedback, actually hearing people, and then enacting change that helps efficiency, productivity, culture, then they’re using these meetings the way a meeting like this is intended.

      Sorry your experiences haven’t been awesome, but I don’t think giving this employee a crown for snubbing the boss’s meeting request is helpful.

      1. Distracted Librarian*

        Even meeting just to meet has value when it’s a skip-level meeting. Having face time with a grandboss, building a relationship, getting to know them and have them know you–these are good things. They help senior leadership better understand the staff, and they help employees feel like an important part of the–I’m gonna say it–*team*.

        I meet with my grandboss quarterly, and I enjoy the opportunity to ask him questions about campuswide initiatives I don’t have direct exposure to, ask for his guidance in areas where I feel I need it, and brag on, ahem, my team and the great work they do for the library. I don’t feel compelled or coerced even a little bit. But then my grandboss and all our senior leaders are good people trying their best to do difficult jobs. They are not evil tyrants.

        1. amoeba*

          Yup. Maybe my judgement is equally coloured, but in the opposite direction – because I have a great, very friendly, very approachable grandboss, who semi-regularly has skip-level meetings not just with me and my peers, but also our direct reports (so, n-2 for him). Nobody is scared of him, nobody is sucking up to him, and he’s genuinely interested in hearing how things are going so that he can work to make our lives easier.
          Now, is every grandboss like that? No, of course. But they definitely exist. (My boss is the same with my direct reports!) So assuming it’s automatically a useless waste of time is… weird to me, for sure.

    12. wordswords*

      Whereas I’ve worked with people like this guy before — or, at least, people who might have responded to an email that way — and it was invariably because they were arrogant, possessive, and inclined to direct that especially towards women and/or non-white people. (And generally were firmly set on doing things their way even though it was absolutely not the best way at all.) So, even though I’m fairly cynical about American work culture too, I would definitely not call him my hero. Sometimes sticking it to the bosses is great; sometimes it’s just being an asshole. And I really didn’t get “full of themselves” from OP — “my team” is pretty standard phrasing these days, for one thing, and they seem like they’re generally making good-faith efforts to manage well and treat their people well.

    13. Hiring Mgr*

      I don’t agree Bertie, but I do get part of what you’re saying – we’ve all been there with the VP level boss who comes in once a year and thinks he now understands what’s happening on the ground and we roll our eyes until he leaves (I’ve been that guy too btw)

      I don’t think there’s anything to indicate that’s happening in this letter, but keep fightin’ Bertie

    14. Bertie*

      Man that caused a stir. I go through the motions at work and am generally pleasant and all that stuff. But you guys seem to really like care about jobs and stuff. Which is fine, I guess. I’ve just resented every job I’ve ever had and generally hate the whole idea of having to go to do boring things for money and don’t really understand anyone who doesn’t. I do it, but I don’t like it and don’t really want to.

      I’m usually a lurker, but this letter just got to me for some reason. I identify way more with the sullen guy that doesn’t want to meet with the director or go to another freaking retreat. Like I said, I would do it and just go through the motions and not refuse like this guy did. But I figured nearly everyone would side with the OP in the comments so thought I’d say something.

      And none of you can never make me like the work ‘team’ or especially ‘my team’ in job contexts and I’m willing to die alone on this hill LooooL. No ill intent or animosity to anyone in the comments, thanks for a lively discussion!

      1. Eldritch Office Worker*

        I mean this genuinely – what appeals to you about this blog if that’s how you feel? It’s all about workplace culture and trying to make work more workable.

        1. Bertie*

          I’m generally with you, but I do think there is a pretty big difference between authority in the workplace and in other areas like transportation and public safety. The first is often arbitrary and doesn’t make much sense (and too often it’s someone on a power trip), while the latter is there for a reason and can put others at risk if you don’t comply.

        2. Bertie*

          It helps kill time at work and lets me see how other people think. I genuinely don’t understand people who take work super seriously and not just a means for a paycheck.

          1. LCH*

            it depends on the job. trying to mitigate climate change (assuming you believe in that), pretty serious. helping people escape domestic violence (again, assuming DV is something you consider to be a bad issue), very serious.


            it sounds like you’ve just had jobs with no meaning.

            1. Anon for this*

              Yep. I am a person who struggles deeply with motivation and has very much found themself resenting work and doing the least possible. I now have a job that is mainly investigating child abuse and finding evidence to help survivors get justice. I still don’t always want to be there, and it’s obviously not always uplifting work, but I don’t feel “this is so pointless” any more.

          2. Distracted Librarian*

            Well, to be equally cynical: taking work seriously has resulted in me getting bigger paychecks. Consistently. For over 30 years.

            I’m sorry you find no joy in your work. I’ll be honest, if I could retire today I would, because working full-time takes such a big chunk out of my life. I’d like to see shorter workdays and shorter work weeks so we can have healthier, happier lives. But I enjoy most aspects of my work, like and respect most of the people I work with, and value the mission of my organization. I’ve had jobs that suck, and I’ve made every effort to move on as quickly as possible. Staying and hating it just isn’t worth it. 1/3 of your life is way too much time to spend miserable.

          3. jane's nemesis*

            You actually sound like a really good friend of mine, and he and I just don’t see eye-to-eye on this topic, though we get along really well otherwise! I just don’t see the point in being bitter and miserable at work and he doesn’t see how I can be cheerful and enjoy my work. Shrug emoji? People are different. It’s okay if you don’t understand. But it doesn’t mean this letter writer is full of themselves just because they take work seriously, which is the only part of your original comment I found truly objectionable!

            1. ABC*

              I agree with this. I understand that Bertie is leaning heavily on his own experiences here, but projecting all of that onto the OP is really unfair.

      2. Kella*

        While it’s not that uncommon to dislike your job (and plenty of others *do* like their jobs) the degree of resentment and cynicism you are communicating about anything work-related is both unusual and is an indicator of a problem. There may be nothing in your control to fix that problem at this point and that’s not your fault but what you are experiencing isn’t normal and it’s not what people should expect of work. It makes perfect sense that you relate to the sullen, checked-out manager but that in no way means that his sullen, checked-out behavior is something that should just be ignored. That this attitude was ignored in your working experience, it sounds like for a very long time, is an indicator that your employers failed you. This manager is trying to *not* fail their employee.

        1. MissElizaTudor*

          It may not be “normal” to resent your ability to live being dependent on a lifetime of doing things you don’t want to do to make other people money, but it’s entirely reasonable. It isn’t an indicator of a problem, it’s an indicator that someone realizes how messed up things are.

      3. Former Young Lady*

        I hope you get your retirement soon, for your own sake and others’. You sound pretty burnt out.

      4. Samwise*

        The sad thing here is (aside from having spent such a large part of your life feeling resentful and bored) that the people who have to work with you and for you have to deal with your resentment and anger and snarkiness.

        I’ve worked with you. On jobs that I too thought were boring and/or unpleasant. And the person like you I had to work with made that boring unpleasant job *worse*

        1. GythaOgden*

          Also, I presume Bertie consumes the product of other people’s labour. The slogan from Marx is not only ‘to each according to their need’ but ‘from each according to their ability’, so if Bertie wants others to support him, not even socialism can really help here.

      5. Working*

        Why are you here?

        I mean, seriously.

        You had corporate work culture, you’re not interested in being a better employee or manager, and you’ve sdpent the last few posts talking about how bitter and burned out you are.

        Maybe stop reading managemeny blogs and go outside?

      6. Swansonesque*

        Hey Bertie. I get it and I’m not terribly far off from your mindset. Our employment-based economy is nothing short of dreadful. I’m burnt out and worn down myself, but a few years short of the finish line or retirement.

        I consider myself extremely lucky – the salary and benefits of the slog I call a career has enabled me to raise an amazing daughter who has become a great young adult with no college debt, find a mate who loves me as much as I love her, accumulate some hobbies and toys that bring be great pleasure, and most importantly, maintain my health so this body will allow me to have plenty of years of enjoyable retirement.

        In the meantime, what gets me through each day is remembering the above things that really bring me happiness. If that means I have to smile politely and use the nomenclature some 30 something PhD finds important, so be it – I’ll do that respectfully and hold up my middle finger in my pocket when I have to. I show up at the meetings/retreats/ice-cream socials and act the part as little as I need to. My immediate boss is a sweet woman with lots of enthusiasm and great intentions, which I find nauseating, at times, but I think she understands where my head is and respects my space when she can. My days of working long hours, lapsing vacation time, and lying awake at night because I care too much are far behind me. I do my part and earn my keep to the extent I can and get on with the joys of life outside of work as much as I can.

        Good luck to you, my friend. I hope you find some happiness as you wind down your career or that it’s waiting for you once you wrap it up!

        1. Bertie*

          Thanks and same to you! We do sound very similar, I love my life outside of work. You are more diplomatic than me on the comments here, I’m probably a bit too abrasive and my comments don’t reflect my behavior on the job. My bosses and coworkers would probably describe me as the quiet but reasonably pleasant person who just does what I’m asked and goes home. I probably overstated my original point for effect and wasn’t charitable enough to the OP, but I do genuinely identify more with the employee they are writing about.

          1. Polly Hedron*

            Yes, Bertie, you were undiplomatic, abrasive, overstating, and uncharitable to the OP; and yet I want to thank you for starting this entertaining thread.

          2. Magdalena*

            Keep in mind that sullen employee you identify with is also someone’s boss. That makes his attitude really matter. I’d worry he’s making it worse for his own employees and that’s not something I admire.

          3. What?*

            You sound a lot like one of my coworkers, who literally cannot find even a speck of joy in her day-to-day life, which is fine and her choice and sure, not everyone has to love what they do. I mean the paycheck is the point right? It seems silly to ME to actively find nothing to enjoy about something I have to do for a BIG part of my life, but you do you. The thing is though, NONE of us respect her even a tiny little bit. We’re pleasant to her face, sure, gotta get through the day and all. But I would place bets on “my bosses and coworkers would probably describe me as the quiet but reasonably pleasant person who just does what I’m asked and goes home” being more off base than you think. Something to think about.

          4. MissElizaTudor*

            People are grumpy with you, but I appreciate seeing a different take (that resonates with me even though I like a bunch of things about my job), so thank you for delurking.

      7. Susie*

        Haa Bertie I feel you so much on this! My workplace has an annual morale survey and then makes us go to meetings to brainstorm how we can improve morale (because obviously low morale is not management’s fault), and I just cannot anymore…

        I do relate to the LW’s employee who is probably good to do his work and figured it was worth trying to decline the meeting. I’ve erred on the side of assuming something was optional before myself.

      8. Sunny*

        “you guys seem to really like care about jobs and stuff” – I mean, this is a workplace advice column, so… yeah, people care about “that stuff”. Obviously, we don’t all have to agree on everything or this would be a far less interesting – and useful! – site, but that’s an odd take given the purpose of this space.

      9. Lizzo*

        I would make the case that most of us don’t find our jobs boring, and we don’t harbor resentment that lasts the entire length of our career. It sounds like a miserable existence, quite frankly.

        If any of those things are true, we’re probably on this blog looking for ways to get out of those situations…and maybe you should too?

        1. somehow*

          I always feel sorry for people who can’t deal. We all have bad days, but to never have found meaning in one’s work is just sad.

          LW, joining the chorus here to say that your role lends you the right to require meetings as you so wish. He can go elsewhere if he doesn’t like those terms. How unfortunate people don’t move on when they’re unhappy, which he seems to be.

          1. RussianInTexas*

            I mean, meh. The meaning in my work is for me is to get a paycheck. I don’t really look for any other meaning in my work.
            I am not burned out like Bertie, and I like most of my coworkers, and my work is fine, sometimes boring, sometimes stressful, but it’s ain’t something meaningful. Nor do I care for it to be so.
            If I won a lottery, my office would have me-shaped hole in the wall the next day.

            1. Susie*

              Exactly! I have coworkers who are very vocal about how they love their jobs, and I find it kind of exhausting to be around. They’re usually the ones who expect me to put in lots of overtime to help them, because I should love it.

              I think my job has some meaning, and there are certain aspects I enjoy (problem solving, in particular, and there are colleagues I really like), but the idea that we have to love our jobs is problematic to me. I wouldn’t stay in my job if I didn’t need the money.

              1. RussianInTexas*

                I work as a CSR and contracts specialist. There is nothing to love here. And the company isn’t generous with the PTO or pay.
                Yet I have a coworker (also a CSR), who would not take more than 2 days of vacation in a row because the company will suffer if she isn’t there! And she won’t take all her allocated PTO per year.
                No, it won’t suffer. Your PTO is a part of your pay. You setting yourself on fire for your employer won’t make any difference. Did you notice that the company owner drives a new Mercedes Benz and you drive an old beater car?

              2. somehow*

                I didn’t write that people have to love their jobs. I did express pity for those who don’t see meaning in what they do for a living. Not even an ounce of it.

                Just an opinion, of course, so not to be taken at heart if it doesn’t apply, you see.

          2. EL*

            This is needlessly condescending. I don’t like my job, I’ve come to accept that I probably never will, and I’m basically fine with that. I have no need or desire to “find meaning” in my work because I find plenty of it in other areas of my life. Work just provides me the paycheck to do that. I’m glad you like your job, but feeling oh-so-sad for us poor suckers who don’t isn’t the compassionate response you think it is.

        2. Kella*

          It sounds like you’re doing a lot of externalizing your personal experience as universal. Based on all the comments I’ve read over the years, it’s not the primary motivator of readers of this blog to find a way to avoid work.

        3. edda ed*

          I mean, job satisfaction is a thing. Just because you broadly find no meaning in the work you do doesn’t mean that literally nobody else does. AAM recently did that interview with a person who basically managed the domestic life for a f- off rich family, and even though the pay was fab, the job wore them down and it felt so meaningless to do that work. They left for a different job at lower pay where they’re helping new parents, especially for families who are high-risk for COVID (and something about maternity? I don’t remember, but it was in that ballpark). They found the new job to be fulfilling, worthwhile work. So yeah, in a hundred years we’ll all be worm food, but all work is not equal.

  18. WantonSeedStitch*

    I would have responded to this with: “I might not have been clear: I am booking these meetings with everyone on the team because I need to be able to get direct feedback from everyone about what’s working well here and what isn’t. This meeting isn’t optional, it’s expected that all staff attend one. Please let me know which of the following dates and times will work for you.” If the response is anything other than “Oh, sorry, I misunderstood! I thought it was just an optional session in case we had specific things we wanted to bring up. I’m free Monday or Tuesday afternoon,” there is a problem here.

    I have to wonder about how well your direct report is managing this person. I would have a discussion with them about this staff member’s attitude and participation.

    1. Kesnit*

      Thank you for putting my thoughts into words better than I could. As others have said, this guy sounds like he could be someone one just wants to go in, do his job, and go home. (Yes, I know meetings with management are part of the job, but they are not the main focus and can easily be seen as a distraction from “everything else that has to get done today.”)

      I think it is telling that the guy’s response was “I don’t need to meet.” Not “I don’t want to meet.” There is a difference in the meaning of those statements. “I don’t want to meet” is self-explanatory. “I don’t need to meet” can be “everything is fine. We’re cool. I don’t have anything that needs to be discussed with management.”

  19. Fluffy Fish*

    Yeah most people are fully aware that a request like this isn’t optional. Maybe there’s a misunderstanding, and it should definitely be approached as such until proven otherwise.

    But I would also be concerned with a manager that thinks they can just say no thanks to a higher ups request and consider perhaps there’s other things that might not be great going on as well.

  20. True Faux*

    “Who does he think he is to just refuse to meet with me?!!”

    He thinks he is someone who gets no value from meeting with you or going to retreats. The feedback you are getting on what’s not working is, these meetings are not working.

    The advice here really centers enforcing your position as manager and basically bringing the hammer down. You could that. Or, either instead or in addition to that, you could approach his refusal with curiosity and find out why he doesn’t need to meet. If he feels that this is all a waste of his time, there is something to dig into with him.

    1. WellRed*

      Yes to this. I was speaking with coworkers just yesterday about the latest round of “what are your suggestions for company improvements?” Handed down by management and it came up that one improvement would be for the company to stop asking and start implementing. However, I’d certainly never just ignore this sort of mtg request.

      1. Anon autist*

        Our most recent employee survey polled us on what issues we felt management should concentrate their strategy on. I would have loved to put “Um, don’t ask me.” I’m sure there are plenty of people with useful views but my job is a) not at all strategic (it fulfils a legal function) and b) so specialised that it has little bearing on the company’s main mission, except in an ancillary way. I really felt quite at a loss!

        I did my best to fill it in, though. Thankfully it was multiple choice.

    2. Spreadsheets and Books*

      I mean, there are many parts of my job that I’m not getting any value from, but that doesn’t mean that the people around me, like my superiors, aren’t getting value from these things, or that they’re a part of my job I can avoid simply because they don’t please me. I did not, for example, get anything out of the mandatory annual compliance training I just had to complete, but I still had to do them.

      Flat out refusing to do things because you don’t want to generally isn’t a thing you get to do when at work, unless you are at the top of the pyramid (and this dude clearly is not). I agree with digging into why the employee is behaving this way, because there may be something OP isn’t seeing, but just refusing to take a meeting with a higher up, especially when this is something that literally happens once a year, isn’t normal behavior.

      1. UKDancer*

        Yes, I don’t always enjoy every meeting I have to attend or activity I undertake but that doesn’t mean they’re not valuable to other attendees. I have to sit through a regular meeting with one of our corporate project managers which is incredibly dull and involves death by spreadsheet. But I do it because it’s valuable to him when he’s planning his work and deliverables. This is more important than whether I’m having a good time.

        Last month I had to do my company’s annual fraud and corruption awareness training. It’s an hour of my life I won’t get back and the training is dull as ditchwater. But I need to get the tick in the box that I’ve done it so I do it and then have a really good latte as a reward after.

        Sometimes we have to do things because they’re a requirement or our bosses want to do them.

      2. Firefighter (Metaphorical)*

        I mean, there are many parts of my job that I’m not getting any value from, but that doesn’t mean that the people around me… aren’t getting value from these things

        …. thank you! Brb, just have to go and email this to like three of my direct reports

    3. Green great dragon*

      The feedback is that the person thinks these meetings have no value, but from the other evidence it doesn’t seem like his judgement on such matters is particularly good (“sullen” is not really appropriate for a manager).

      I totally agree that finding out why he didn’t think this or the retreat were an appropriate use of time would be good. But it’s hard to see how you can do that if he doesn’t want to tell you, and you certainly can’t if he’s refusing to discuss it.

      1. WantonSeedStitch*

        This. Also, even if the employee thinks these meetings have no value, the OP DOES. Some meetings you attend in order to get information. Others, you go to in order to provide information. For the employee, this is the latter kind of meeting.

        1. Guacamole Bob*

          And the value to OP may not be visible to the employee but may still be very real. I only manage about 10 people and I do regular skip-level meetings with everyone. I get a sense of training needs, overall workload and stress level across different parts of the team, how I need to think about team needs if we have a hiring freeze, what funding I need to ask for on projects for future fiscal years, what positions and skills we need to recruit for if we have a vacancy, what projects to say yes or no to for our team, how tasks could move around across teams, whether the front-line managers reporting to me are doing a good job, how I can improve communication about agency-wide strategic issues, etc. Yes, a lot of this comes from the managers reporting to me, but they’re mostly pretty new and they can’t communicate all the intangibles all the time.

          I try to make it feel worthwhile by responding to needs that people raise in these meetings (someone had an IT request that was stuck in purgatory that I unstuck, for example), but there’s a lot of it that’s kind of abstract and that may not feel like an immediately valuable use of time to the employee.

          1. Green great dragon*

            There can also be things that have no value this time, but you do just in case. I seldom get much actionable feedback from my skip level meetings, but I will keep doing them so that if I ever have a terrible manager as a direct report, their reports have an opportunity to say something to me directly, and hopefully making me more approachable and therefore more likely to hear early if something’s going off the rails.

    4. Doc McCracken*

      I agree with you general sentiment here and I would agree with it more if the person had replied with an explanation that their group had a big deadline and they didn’t need to bring anything up right now. OP is not asking for something that is unusual in a business setting.

    5. JustaTech*

      But in order to dig into it with him, he would have to meet with the OP.

      In work life there are sometimes meetings that you have to go to or trainings you have to do that don’t seem to have any value to *you* but are important or necessary for the business. (Hello mandatory safety/ ethics/ business conduct training.) For Refusal Guy to unilaterally decide that none of these meetings have any value without having the bigger picture is making some pretty big assumptions.

      I think that everyone would be more sympathetic to Refusal Guy if he’d given a reason for declining the meeting (and the retreat) like “we’re too busy” or something more specific about how last year’s meeting wasn’t useful. But to just say “nope” is an issue.

    6. Celeste*

      If I only went to meetings I found beneficial, I would have hardly any meetings. I go to meetings when people need my input because that’s part of my job.

      This guy is being weird, and “bringing the hammer down” is an odd way to characterize going ahead with the meeting. There’s no reason the OP will need to get confrontational.

    7. Blue*

      Honing in on the part where the OP quotes themself and acknowledges that it’s not the attitude they want to be approaching this with seems a bit of a bad faith reading of the letter…

      1. Myrin*

        I was gonna say! The quote is literally what OP says was her first knee-jerk reaction, which she then examined after she’d gotten over her initial surprise.

        1. Bruce*

          Had a knee-jerk reaction this week myself: The other day I got a response from a guy 2 levels down from me after I asked him to make a table to clarify an issue. He not only had not done what I’d asked, but suggested I’d not read the previous material that caused me to make the request. It was copied to a whole team, part of a longer email that included some good news as well as the aggravating response.

          I had “steam coming out of my ears”… I counted to 100, replied-all to say

          “Good news about item #1! Yay!
          I’m replying separately to you about item #2”

          Then I wrote an email asking again for the #2 request, and made it clear that it was not a request based on ignorance. I copied him and his manager, and I was civil but told him to confirm he understood and to ask questions if he did not.

          Then I emailed his manager and asked him to follow up.

          Finally the steam stopped coming out of my ears and I got on with the day (this team is in the antipodal time zone anyhow)… Next day he had mostly done what I asked, and I sent it back with some finishing touches that he’d still missed. But now I wonder if this guy is really the leader we are training him to be, will have to see…

    8. sparkle emoji*

      These meetings may not be working for this one guy (has he even been to this type of meeting with LW before?), but he is not the only person attending these meetings with LW. If the meetings are working for LW and the rest of their team–which appears to be the case– then this guy might be the problem.

    9. Distracted Librarian*

      I agree with approaching his refusal with curiosity. That’s a good approach when dealing with any performance issue. Ask why. Really listen.

      But OP also has to make clear that meetings and retreats typically aren’t optional. Setting clear expectations is fundamental for managing performance. That’s not quite the same as “bringing the hammer down.”

    1. TPS Reporter*

      My own boss (male, VP level) is extremely direct and would definitely give this retort without hesitation. I (female, sr manager) do feel a reluctance to be this direct. I see men generally being more comfortable with this assertive communication. women seem more prone to worry AITA and hesitate to give orders. Even just writing “orders” was weird for me. But I can almost guarantee my boss would not think twice about giving what he perceives as an order.

      1. SnappinTerrapin*

        Flaunting power just because it’s there is not a good look.

        On the other hand, failing to exercise authority when warranted is an abdication of responsibility.

        LW needs to continue with her survey of her staff, and then decide whether the sub-manager is acting from ignorance or spite. Ignorance is curable. Spitefulness toward a senior manager is a very different problem.

  21. BellaStella*

    OP, I agree with Bubble, on re-sending the invitation with clear direct ‘required’ wording. Also, set up time with this guy’s manager, too, and discuss this issue, his deliverables, quality of his work, etc, and what that person thinks could be the root of this. And, of course talk to this guy’s reports directly too, and ask them directly if they were told they could not attend the retreat, did they know it was required? and how are these invitations sent – make it clear in next retreat it is required, and it comes from you/your office. Ask the reports about his management and if it aligns with the company’s policies etc for managers. Make sure they know you are trustworthy especially if they are suffering from this guy being a jerk to them.

  22. It's Marie - Not Maria*

    As a long time HR Professional, this seems like it may be a power play on behalf of the employee. They have likely been allowed to behave in this manner before with previous Managers, and they think they can continue to behave in the same way with you. You are their Manager. You need to provide feedback to them, and you are obligated to at least attempt to get feedback from them, This is not optional, and this individual needs to understand this.

    1. knitcrazybooknut*

      I agree. This is past experience with crappy management influencing how they interact with you, OP. And it’s likely that they’re influencing their team as much as they were influenced!

      When an employee sours on their job, even for valid reasons, it’s easy to let that carry over, manager after manager, owner after owner. But just because nothing changed in the past doesn’t mean nothing will change in the future, or even right now. I’ve had plenty of experience in taking over teams that had crappy situations, and there are some people who will just wallow in their own unhappiness, regardless of the opportunities you lay before them. You can’t fix that. But you can help them ease out of their current positions, not by force, but by pointing out their unhappiness, and trying to figure out a position that will work better for them. To me, this is the job of a good manager.

      1. Hannah Lee*

        “But just because nothing changed in the past doesn’t mean nothing will change in the future, or even right now.”

        And for sullen dude, one of the things that could change is that there could now be some negative consequences to him for his choices to ‘opt out’ of required work activities.

    2. Cat's Paw for Cats*

      This is my take on it as well. I suspect the employee simply doesn’t want to be supervised. He’s turf protecting. I further suspect that his direct manager is not dealing with him appropriately.

  23. New Senior Mgr*

    Definitely something this up. I wouldn’t want him to be setting up an Us vs. Them mentality with the newbies.

  24. Standing with my employees not against them*

    I had two employees (thankfully who have now left!) that hated feedback meetings with me. They would be so obstinate that it became a real sticking point with me that ‘yes, I am your boss’ and ‘yes, you will meet with me’. They felt that the meeting had no point or that ‘nothing would change’. The first couple of times, they didn’t say anything to me but ‘yes’ and ‘no’. However, the other staff members were really opened to the idea because prior management had not taken the time to ask them anything. I not only listened to the other staff members, I willingly made a lot of changes that they asked for. But for those two they could never see the good that was coming from an honest exchange of concerns and that I welcomed ideas to fix those concerns. They were miserable employees and I honestly feel they were miserable in life outside of work is well. One of them resigned last November and the other at the end of December. My work life is amazing awesome right now! And the replacement staff are just wonderful human beings that I am actually glad to see every day. The OP should state that it is mandatory and maybe even bring his manager in for the first one to discuss why they think they have the right to refuse. This needs to stop and in a hurry. Just my two cents.

    1. saskia*

      ha, this mirrors my experience with an apathetic employee almost exactly. I had weekly check-in meetings with him and our boss (and technically I was also his boss, so she was more like his grandboss), and one of the reasons she instituted the meetings was because he seemed frustrated at work. The boss and I spoke openly about issues and proactively worked to solve them. He sat there like a lump during the problem-solving discussions week after week, though he was much more personable when not discussing work topics. Once, he even showed up wearing a shirt that said something like “LIFE SUCKS” in huge gothic letters down the arms lol. It turns out he hated his position and would complain about work to employees when I wasn’t there even though my shift was much busier and more difficult than his. Things are a lot better now that he’s gone, and he’s hopefully happier too.

  25. bunniferous*

    I would have replied to him ” I’m sorry, you misunderstood: this meeting is not optional. See you at 2pm!”

  26. Uldi*

    There are several layers of ‘off’ here. The most obvious being what you wrote in the letter, but there are a few others as well.

    One is, of course, what this manager is modeling in terms of behavior and professional expectations for his direct reports.

    The second is why his own direct supervisor has not addressed these issues before you ever noticed them. They should, at the very least, have addressed why this manager and his direct reports did not attend the mandatory retreat.

    You need to dig down, and it’ll likely take a very firmly worded message stating that a meeting will take place at [X] time on [Y] date. To both this manager and his own supervisor.

  27. Tesuji*

    While I agree with a lot of the other comments, it feels like the first step should be to move on, and schedule meetings with his reports before circling back to deal with him.

    Feels like whether his reports also decline the meeting and/or what they say in such a meeting could provide some context that would be useful in understanding what’s going on.

    Something has obviously gone wrong here, but whether it’s this guy or this guy’s manager isn’t necessarily clear to me. Talking to the people *he* manages might produce some useful information.

    1. Fluffy Fish*

      I can see this in addition to scheduling an immediate meeting with this guys manager, however I do think if OP does it this way that he should still contact the individual and let him know this meeting is not optional and schedule it for a future date.

  28. AreYouBeingServed?*

    There is no “hill to die on” as Allison noted. You are his *boss’s boss*. That means, if you want to meet with him, he meets with you. No opting out. Period. End of discussion.

    Further, this has become a pattern. Not only do you have the “right” to address it, you have the *obligation*. And, if it keeps up in any way, to bring up directly with his boss.

    I would send him one more meeting invitation, with the note “this is not optional”, and if he declines, doesn’t show up, or acts inappropriately, it’s immediately PIP time (at the very least). And if he does show up, I would explore both the sullenness you mention and the reasons he thought it was appropriate to decline the meeting.

    It is utterly bizarre to me that anyone would even THINK of declining a meeting request from their boss’s boss. If it not addressed, such insubordination (which it is…I cannot possibly imagine another reasonable explanation) will certainly spread and undermine you as a leader.

    1. Hannah Lee*

      That means, if you want to meet with him, he meets with you.

      Yeah, even the LW who oversaw a church group with an ex-deacon/pastor who kept dodging the board’s attempts to meet with him to fire him eventually cornered the guy and fired him.

      If Mr Sullen keeps trying to dodge OP’s meeting, the next meeting he may be in is an impromptu one, in which HR and his manager show up at his office with his walking papers.

    2. Double A*

      Yeah, literally the only time you decline a meeting with your boss is if you have an already scheduled immovable conflict and then you propose another time.

  29. BellyButton*

    You have an engagement issue with this employee. Apathy is worse than someone who is angry or unhappy, and he sounds completely apathetic. The fact that he AND his direct reports did not attend the company retreat is troublesome. I would let him know he is required to meet with you and I would speak to him about his engagement, his participation in company activities, and his need to set an example for his direct reports. There IS a different code of conduct for leaders than there are for ICs.

  30. Jessica*

    LW said they meet with everyone in the organization annually, so that would include the two staff who report to Bartleby. In this case, I would try to meet with both of them AND Bartleby’s manager before meeting with him, for maximum information.

    1. BellyButton*

      I would be very interested in knowing from his direct reports why they didn’t attend the company retreat. Did they feel like they couldn’t? Were they told not to? Has their boss set such an apathetic tone to the company culture they too don’t feel a need to engage?

      1. HonorBox*

        Not only hearing why, but also taking time to point out that there are certain things that aren’t optional.

      2. Ess Ess*

        Agreed. I once had a boss that was horrible. We were overworked (most of us doing 80+ hours each week for many months straight with no time off allowed) but we still put forth our best effort. At one point, upper management above our boss threw a thank you party for our entire department, with the specific goal to reward and spotlight my team’s efforts. The party happened but our entire team was not allowed to attend by our boss’s order because we had too much work to do and tight deadlines. I’m still disgusted that none of us were allowed to attend the work function that was specifically for us and that the upper management didn’t do anything about it. I finally just quit.

      3. Drowning in Spreadsheets*

        I’m curious about that as well. I’ve never been in a workplace where a staff retreat was optional, much as I’ve wished it so (those things are hell on many introverts).

  31. STG*

    Yea, I never would expect that I could decline a meeting with my manager or someone higher and I’ve made it clear to my reports that the bi-weekly check-ins are not optional. I had to enforce it when someone decided they’d just be conveniently away from their desk during the meeting time and not show. It was his first professional job though so we had a long talk about expectations after that.

  32. Former Young Lady*

    I always find it so weird when grown adults think they don’t answer to any higher authority.

    We had a guy in my college algebra class who embarked on a long “we’ll never USE this! Why do we have to LEARN it?!” rant the first week of school. The professor did not have an epiphany and run away with the circus; the college did not revise its policies in response. We, the classmates, whose time was wasted, did not stand up and clap.

    Thanksgiving 2021, I watched a guy get frog-marched off a plane after refusing to abide by crew instructions. The airline did not revise its masking rules. The law enforcement who met him at the gate did not give him roses and champagne. We, the fellow passengers, who were already delayed BEFORE the aircraft did a 40-minute doughnut on the tarmac and then required refueling, did not stand up and clap.

    This guy sounds like another such person. Does he think he can become the king of the hill by acting like he doesn’t answer to his higher-ups?

    I get that there are people like this. I don’t get how they manage to stay in the workforce for any length of time.

    1. Bertie*

      I’m generally with you, but I do think there is a pretty big difference between authority in the workplace and in other areas like transportation and public safety. The first is often arbitrary and doesn’t make much sense (and too often it’s someone on a power trip), while the latter is there for a reason and can put others at risk if you don’t comply.

      1. Former Young Lady*

        I harbor no illusions that employment is a pure meritocracy, and that all bosses are qualified and competent, and that all hierarchies are fair.

        But a boss, by definition, gives orders to their direct reports. If you think your manager asking you to complete a task is “on a power trip,” or that no one could ever possibly be qualified to manage YOU, ask yourself whether that has affected your marketability. In my experience, people with this mindset often end up in especially toxic work environments, because healthier ones ./

        1. Former Young Lady*

          …Cat jumped on the keyboard. “Healthier ones will not accommodate them,” is what the last sentence should say.

      2. Double A*

        The TSA is 90% arbitrary rules that were just reactively made to single threats. Like seriously you think it’s going to make anyone safer that you take off your shoes before you get on the plane? No. It’s stupid and pointless but you do it.

  33. It Rolls Downhill*

    Look, the idea of layers of management is to roll stuff downhill and making his supervisor uncomfortable with his non-compliance seems like a good bet to light the appropriate fire.

    He’s got a set of brass ones, so make sure to have a comfortable chair for the meeting.

    1. Dancing Otter*

      But not for him! He gets the chair with uneven legs that tries to dump him out. Maximum discomfort, like an interrogation room.

  34. HonorBox*

    I’ve seen some suggest that they feel like the employee may find these meetings and the retreat to be unimportant. But it isn’t the employee’s right to say that. The LW meets with everyone 1:1 annually, and it sounds like there have been some good insights pulled from those meetings that have allowed them to implement change, so my read is that this isn’t just a meeting for the sake of checking a box to say you’ve met with everyone. From what LW says, it sounds like they’re thoughtful in what they ask and also in how they process what they hear. There are plenty of things in our jobs we don’t WANT to do, but simply opting out isn’t feasible.

    For the LW, I’d say you need to have a different kind of conversation with the employee’s manager. Figure out what is going on and why this sort of thing has been unchecked for awhile. Why did they feel like they were able to opt out of an all-hands retreat? Why did they feel like they can decline a meeting with grandboss? What else is going on here that needs to be addressed? And then insist on the meeting with the decliner. Give them no option. Part of that conversation should then be asking them why they felt like they didn’t need to meet. You’ve heard others and made changes based on the feedback you receive. Maybe there is actually something that you’ll hear that helps you understand why they’re feeling the way they are. Maybe not. But you should definitely ask.

    And then definitely meet with their direct reports, too. It needs to be a safe space for them to actually talk about their experiences, especially with their manager, because if they’re hearing that opting out of all-hands retreats is acceptable, you need to know that. But you also need to let them know that opting out of these conversations with you isn’t a thing.

  35. Thatoneoverthere*

    My guess is this person is done and checked out with the job. I have been there before. Although, I have never outwardly declined a meeting with a Senior Manager, I have wanted to. Just didn’t have the guts too.

    I still think OP, needs to push back and please ask to meet with them. I would also meet with his supervisor too.

  36. Gerri’s Jaunty Hat*

    Yeah, this ain’t it, chief. You don’t just get to decline like that. OP I would suggest when you do meet with him, ask a lot more questions than usual. Something’s up with this guy.

  37. anon for this*

    My company does skip level meetings too.

    Do I *want* to go? NO. Do I have anxiety dreams leading up to them? YES. Do I feel every nerve in my body urging me to run away and never look back? YES.

    Do I decline the meeting or refuse to show up? Absolutely NOT.

    1. Retired Vulcan Raises 1 Grey Eyebrow*

      I’m surprised several people expressed this anxiety. I always enjoyed skip meetings, which were sometimes with far higher levels than grandboss. A great opportunity to exchange views with people I’d never normally even see from a distance.

      1. Parakeet*

        Yeah, I’m getting that a lot of people’s instinctive responses to this letter reflect their own experiences with meetings and the value of meetings. Which makes complete sense! The only reason I’m not doing the same is that I’ve been in different workplaces that effectively cancel each other out for this purpose. I’ve been in workplaces where meetings in general were boring and valueless to me, workplaces where meetings with anyone in my levels of bosses (immediate boss, skip-level boss, whatever) caused me a lot of anxiety, and workplaces (okay, one workplace, my current one) where I consistently enjoy and get value from the meetings. Only natural that if someone’s experience is mostly in one of those buckets, they’ll base their answer on that. If I’d seen this letter while working a couple of my previous jobs and not having had the experience of my current one, I’d have had a different reaction to it.

      2. allathian*

        Yes, that’s been my experience as well, although so far, I’ve only had 1:1 meetings with a grandboss. My great-grandboss makes time to attend our development days and makes sure she talks at least 5 minutes with everyone.

    2. RussianInTexas*

      I work for a small company now, but I still don’t want to have meetings with the owner (thankfully it’s only twice a year). The meetings are useless, the owner doesn’t even remember what each of us does, as it’s always surprised by “you do these accounts too??? huh you are not useless”, and he is always super pleased at giving you a small bonus, as he is the magnanimous ruler here.
      I worked for a large corp before this, and a skip meeting invite would rob me of sleep for days. I would only expect something bad from them.
      Would I ever refuse such meetings? Absolutely not.

  38. Sara without an H*

    The staff member in question isn’t new to to the workforce or new to our organization. When I interact with him, he’s technically polite but generally sullen. That said, my understanding is that he’s fine at his job and his staff like him, but I have had to ask his supervisor to talk to him about participating appropriately as a manager. (For example, last year, he and his direct reports just … didn’t show up … at our division annual retreat. It was in our city, but away from our organization’s office, during normal work hours. He said he thought it was optional and he and his staff just went to work like normal that day.)

    Well, all this may not be a set of red flags, but definitely yellow flags. If I were you, I’d schedule a meeting with this fellow’s supervisor and dig in hard about how he’s adjusting to the culture of your organization.

    That he has two very junior people reporting to him is an indicator that you need to do this sooner, rather than later.

    Alison is right. Something’s up with this guy, and you need to find out what it is.

  39. Anonosaurus*

    I can understand someone being cynical about a skip level meeting if they perceive that nothing meaningful results from it. I think OP means well but it might be worth reflecting on whether the value they see in these meetings is as apparent to subordinates.

    That said, it doesn’t make you a power tripper to object to his response which is borderline disrespectful especially against the background of the other issues. I think OP might be getting a bit too hung up on not wanting to be seen as a power tripper, and I sympathise as I sometimes have issues with this. However, he needs to be told that the meeting is not a request and as others have said, OP also needs to dig into this a bit as there’s clearly something going on with this guy. There’s no way I would find this behaviour acceptable and I am not particularly hierarchical.

    1. Observer*

      I can understand someone being cynical about a skip level meeting if they perceive that nothing meaningful results from it. I think OP means well but it might be worth reflecting on whether the value they see in these meetings is as apparent to subordinates.

      That might make sense if this guy behaved reasonably the rest of the time (being “generally sullen” does not qualify) *and* he actually showed up and then was blandly polite but informative. But from someone like this? It’s hard to really see this as a reflection on the usefulness of the meetings. It’s also worth noting that the staff involved don’t necessarily need to see the value of the meeting – if the boss wants a meeting, they get a meeting. And if you know that your boss is generally competent and thoughtful, it’s sensible to assume that the boss is not just trying to waste everyone’s time.

      However, he needs to be told that the meeting is not a request and as others have said, OP also needs to dig into this a bit as there’s clearly something going on with this guy.

      Exactly. He can be as cynical as he wants. This goes well beyond that, and the OP needs to figure out what’s up with this.

    2. sparkle emoji*

      I agree there might be some value to looking at the results of these meetings and thinking about whether changes should be made, but I also would urge the LW to not overgeneralize based on the opinion of one stick-in-the-mud.

  40. Whyamihere*

    What I would give for a one on one with my manager let alone one with his (I type this as my one on one has now been rescheduled for the 3rd time).

  41. Cat's Paw for Cats*

    I’ve run across something similar to this, and it came down to someone who simply did not wish to be supervised and did not understand or agree that I had the right to do so. It was fairly easy to correct but significantly, I was following behind a very weak manager.

    1. Lisa Simpson*

      I had this happen too. “You can’t tell me what to do!” because they had gotten too comfortable having no manager. (Yes I can? I am the boss? And furthermore I wasn’t even issuing an Order, it was more of a “Could you please slide down one seat to make room for Sally, thank you!”)

      I did not stay in that job.

  42. Jenny F Scientist*

    I have declined a skip level BUT it was only because I had an appointment that wasn’t on my work calendar and I proposed another time! How odd to just… not.

  43. Seashell*

    I suspect this guy read an article about how there are too many meetings and why can’t this meeting be an e-mail.

  44. me me me*

    If you have good relationships with those that are peers of this guy’s direct reports, I’d suggest checking in what the gossip/frank assessment of this guy is – his direct reports may be uncomfortable “snitching” on him to you, but something is definitely up here

  45. Anon E. Mouse*

    Counterpoint that I’m not sure has been said elsewhere (I skimmed on my way down)– OP (as grandboss) scheduled a skip level meeting… did the person’s direct boss communicate the expectation? Or is the employee thinking “no way I’m going into a skip level meeting without my supervisor’s approval/some kind of heads up”? (it’s mentioned that the employee isn’t new– has he skipped them before?)

    OP says the employee isn’t new and that there may be an attitude problem (skipping the retreat does seem to indicate there might be a problem)… but before demanding the meeting again, maybe route the request through Direct Boss? This way OP gets a sense of what’s “required” and Direct Boss can manage their employee. Perhaps if there’s something keeping him from meeting with grandboss one-on-one, it will surface in those conversations and folks can make appropriate changes if they exist.

    1. Jennifer Strange*

      I’m not sure why having communication from the direct boss would make a difference? This is the boss’s boss. If my grandboss asks for a meeting I don’t think I need to reach out to my boss about it.

      1. Anon E. Mouse*

        I’m gonna copy from my reply below– I’m guessing it might just be a workplace culture difference? In my experience (which sounds like it might not be the norm!), you route everything through your Direct Supervisor. I should not just jump to talking to my grandboss, and the reverse is true– grandboss should not request a direct meeting with me without looping in direct supervisor. If he did, I would bring the meeting to my Direct Supervisor’s attention before it was held. Please note I don’t mean that the grandboss isn’t entitled to meet with me at his discretion– he can, and should, schedule meetings with me… but there are “stairs” to get to that point. Again, probably a cultural thing and reading others replies it does seem like it’s abnormal!

        1. Charlotte Lucas*

          I would never get anything done if that were the way it worked at my job!

          That seems especially hierarchical to me. And kind of inefficient.

    2. Observer*

      Or is the employee thinking “no way I’m going into a skip level meeting without my supervisor’s approval/some kind of heads up”?

      That’s an extremely odd thing for someone to take. But also, not likely. Because his response “Thanks, but I’ll pass. I don’t need to meet.” is clearly not about needing his supervisor’s permission.

      OP says the employee isn’t new and that there may be an attitude problem

      There is no doubt that there is an attitude problem. There is simply no way that someone who is generally sullen with their boss and refuses to meet with them does not have an attitude problem, whatever else may be going on.

      but before demanding the meeting again, maybe route the request through Direct Boss?

      Why? It simply makes no sense to require any and all communications and requests to be routed through an employee’s direct manager. Sure, smart bosses don’t assign projects to their skip level team members without looping in the direct manager. But that’s very different than saying that the Grandboss needs to have the manager’s input before talking to the managee. In fact, that’s a recipe for a toxic workplace where managers can abuse their employees.

      This way OP gets a sense of what’s “required”

      What does that mean? What could be “required” of the OP in order to speak to someone on one of the teams they manage? I totally don’t understand what you are saying here.

      1. Anon E. Mouse*

        You make really good points, and I see where you’re coming from. I wrote my reply quickly, and I definitely wrote my response with my own bias. I’m guessing it might just be a workplace culture difference? In my experience, you route everything through your Direct Supervisor. I should not just jump to talking to my grandboss, and the reverse is true (grandboss should not request a direct meeting with me without looping in direct supervisor). Please note I don’t mean that the grandboss isn’t entitled to meet with me at his discretion– he can, and should, but there are “stairs” to get to that point.

        The employee in this letter definitely should meet with grandboss, and I only said “may be an attitude problem” because the OP didn’t outright say “this dudes a total asshole!” My statement was supposed to say “This way the employee gets a sense that it’s “required”…” I guess I’m saying maybe looping in the direct supervisor will help make “required” hold more weight. If employee in question doesn’t really appreciate grandbosses authority but DOES appreciate his own direct supervisor’s authority, then his supervisor stepping in and saying “look, this is an issue and you need to meet with grandboss” might be a less confrontational way to approach the situation. I apologize for not making much sense there.

    3. fhqwhgads*

      This “did the person’s direct boss communicate the expectation? Or is the employee thinking “no way I’m going into a skip level meeting without my supervisor’s approval/some kind of heads up””

      Is not a thing I’ve ever encountered or heard of before. Reasonable people shouldn’t need their direct boss to tell them they approve of their meeting with the boss’s boss. The boss’s boss is MORE in charge than the direct boss.

      1. Anon E. Mouse*

        I hear you. It definitely sounds like my work situation is “abnormal” compared to what most readers here experience, and everyone else’s experience is probably more in line with what the letter writer actually establishes within his company. My original comment was a counterpoint thought based on (admittedly) my bias and experience– probably not what’s actually happening here!

        However, I don’t think it’s fair to call someone who wants to make sure the hierarchy is followed “unreasonable.” Some workplaces are different– in fact, I can definitely see how someone with a less than stellar grand boss (again, not saying that’s OP at all!) would want the cover their ass in all meetings.

        IMO the meeting should still happen, because yea, he’s the boss… but maybe communication flowing up and down the “chain” (rather than jumping a level) would make things move more smoothly. That’s all I was trying to say.

  46. Michelle Smith*

    Your report is wildly out of line IMO. Part of me wonders if there is some kind of bias at play that needs to be sussed out (e.g., are you a minority and your report is not? are you a woman or gender minority and your report is a man? etc.).

    It’s pretty easy to tell when a meeting from a boss is mandatory. When my grandboss reached out to me for feedback on my manager, it was very clear that the meeting was optional. She said (I’m paraphrasing): “Hi Michelle! I’m preparing for end of year reviews and I’d like to get feedback from the people your manager manages. I’ll incorporate it anonymously into her performance review. If you have any, can you send it to me by this date? Happy to also meet with you or for you to provide her feedback directly during your end of year review with her.” That meeting was obviously optional. I didn’t have anything constructive I really needed to share, so I responded to the email to tell grandboss that and moved on.

    Your situation is different. It’s very obvious that you want to meet. I get invited to meetings all the time that I don’t want to attend. If I really, really don’t want to be there and don’t see a business need for it, the way I push back (gently!!!) is to confirm with the person who invited me whether I need to attend. This is super unnecessary though in a one-0n-one with a grandboss. Clearly they want me to attend or they wouldn’t have send me the meeting invitation. If I’m unclear on the purpose of the meeting, all I have to do is ask. I generally frame it like “Hi Boss’s Name, I just wanted to ask about the meeting invitation for Friday morning. Would you be able to provide me with an agenda or broad overview of what you’d like to discuss so that I can prepare accordingly? Thanks in advance!” But AGAIN, you already said you send out the questions in advance so if I was in your report’s situation, I would not even need to do that. I just can’t understand why he’s reacting this way and definitely think it’s a good idea for you to dig deeper. Don’t let this go. It’s WEIRD.

    1. Mjones*

      My gut told me OP was a woman. Then, I thought there may be some kind of neurodivergence at play. Regardless, I’m in alignment with you, as in situations like this, there’s almost always more to the story.

  47. Retired Vulcan Raises 1 Grey Eyebrow*

    Meetings with higher managers can be rescheduled if necessary, but are not optional.
    Retreats may be optional, but then this manager shouldn’t decide his reports will work instead.

    This guy needs to be gone.
    Either he is so fed up with his job that he is in open rebellion – and we don’t know what other instructions he is ignoring – or he is up to something sketchy and fears questions from the OP might reveal this

    1. Retired Vulcan Raises 1 Grey Eyebrow*

      and you must meet wih his reports to check if he is managing them properly, e.g. helping them to grow their skills, not requiring excessive hours , not unreasonably denying vacation days, or whether he is teaching them bad work habits; worst case they are afraid of him.

    2. Cat's Paw for Cats*

      There is a chance he can be corrected with a firm hand. If his managers in the past have been weak and allowed him to act inappropriately, a new manager who sets the tone that he will behave himself or else, may be able to save him.

  48. Awkwardness*

    It never occurred to me these meetings might be for the manager but always for the employee either to help them structure their workload (with 1:1 meetings) or to offer them the possibility too meet their grandbosses.
    Such an interestingly different angle to look at those meetings.

  49. CLC*

    The LW seems like a reasonable person from what is here, so it’s unlikely to be the case, but I once had a horrible grandboss who would take every opportunity to spew personal insults at me claiming it was “feedback.” I HATED having to do 1:1s with her, like I was actually fearful of them, especially since she had no interest in anything work related and took everything a person could possibly say personally. My direct manager didn’t know how to approach it either and told me to just run out the clock asking her questions about herself and making bland chit chat. I honestly wish I had been as brave as this guy to just say “I’ll pass.” So while it is probably safe to assume something might be going on with this guy, or that he just might not understand the meeting or the appropriate response, it might be worth it to think about maybe he was made uncomfortable at the last meeting or something you did on the other end that it would make him just nope out like that. Couldn’t hurt to spend a few minutes just trying to recall previous conversations and interactions.

  50. Zolk*

    I will say I have gotten a boss to cancel 1:1s with me (gently, politely) in the past but it was for specific reasons:

    1) the boss couldn’t and didn’t want to understand my work (think we make teapots and she didn’t know what glaze was despite me explaining glaze every week)
    2) she never offered any support
    3) she would openly say she didn’t need anything from me
    4) she openly hated me and the more time we spent together the more her anger and irritation seemed to increase

    Admittedly this was an unusual situation, but considering she was someone who called me to scream at me for several minutes straight for “disrespect” (I had asked questions in a meeting that are within my job function and she didn’t like it), it was the right move for me.

    If OP is operating in good faith, then Alison’s advice makes sense and it may just be a growing pain for a relatively new manager below them. If OP isn’t operating in good faith, or plays favourites, etc, then they need to really re-assess.

  51. Pizza Rat*

    I had to reread the bit about this person and their reports just ‘going to work like normal” on the day of a retreat. Wow. My gut response was, “that’s a mutiny right there.”

    My more thoughtful response was, asking his supervisor to talk to him about “participating appropriately as a manager” is the tip of an iceberg that would have sunk three Titanics.

    1. almost retired*

      Maybe I’m cynical, but I’ve found most work retreats to be a waste of time. That said, you are his boss, so you have to make it mandatory to meet and go to the retreat and spell it out. My guess is you’ll get bland answers from the guy.

      1. almost retired*

        And, the retreat was framed as optional. Not going to a mandatory meeting, yes that’s a problem. But a retreat which was optional, and he and his team put their work in instead of taking personal time off? I don’t see that as a big deal whatsoever. You got free work when the rest of the staff were out doing bonding exercises or whatever. (As I said, I think work retreats./away days are generally wastes of time)

        1. Dancing Otter*

          Where does it say the retreat was optional? The holiday stuff was optional, but I don’t see anything to indicate that the retreat was.

          1. Charlotte Lucas*

            I read it to say that he claimed to think it was optional.

            So, unless he had an immovable conflict or time off scheduled, he was supposed to be there.

            1. almost retired*

              Sure, but why would he *think* it was optional? People are quite quick to frame that as insubordination, rather than him thinking it was Ok for everyone to put in a work day; it might have been miscommunication or a norm at the company that was vague/unexpressed.. Then again, I’d admit I would see an extra work day rather than a retreat, etc, as more important. I’ve been on loads of these away days, etc, and they haven’t accomplished much.

              Generally the poster admitted the guy is good at his job and his reports like him, so maybe they were totally fine with working. Maybe he and his reports are there to work and not schmooze and make the boss feel better about himself.

              I also think one on ones with a grandboss are pretty stressful. There is a huge power differential there, and as another poster suggested, why not an anonymous survey? You can get an outside company to run it, and then the comments are honest, not just bland and agreeable. Also saves time for the boss too. How many people would tell their grandboss their manager stinks, or the company has problems? I’d think not a lot, particularly for a grandboss upset about people working through a retreat. He got an extra day of work out of them and the economic imperative was fulfilled, after all.

        2. Awkwardness*

          And maybe they are coming from a very stressed place. Maybe there is genuine frustration work their workload and felt lack of support through management.
          Maybe they actually felt it was more useful to put in the work?

  52. Dorothy Zpornak*

    I agree that there’s an issue with insubordination here that sounds like it’s becoming a pattern and since you’ve already instituted this action, I think you need to follow through and clarify that it’s an expectation and not optional.
    At the same time, I have to say I’m not comfortable with the practice as you describe it. I don’t think you’ve adequately accounted for the power dynamic at play here. I can imagine many employees finding this a stressful and/or pointless experience, wondering if they’re allowed to be honest or just tell you what you want to hear, and if honest HOW honest, and if what you want to hear, how can they be sure what you want to hear? This is a minefield for more junior employees.
    Have you considered incorporating some level of anonymous feedback. You could still have the conversations, but pitch them in a way that seems more process-based (you want to understand their work), and anything that’s more evaluative they can provide anonymously.

  53. Laura*

    My impression here is one of false assumptions. Maybe the guy comes from a place where these kinds of meetings or retreats are offered often to improve team spirit and communication, and are optional. Or he is in another way not familiar with upper management calling for “give us feedback” meetings not because they are offering something to employees, but because they want something from them. Might this also be an issue of how the invitation is phrased?

    So, when his reports say, “Boss, do we need to go, I mean, we have work to do…” he might say, “nah, it’s optional” or “it’s a waste of time, just skip it, it’s what I do” and believe that he’s saving everyone – including you – unnecessary effort.

    If this is the case, he and his reports should get the info in no uncertain terms that these meetings are regular, mandatory, and serve [reasonable purpose]. Do not let it slip, or it will spread, because it’s a rare employee who’d rather have a chat with their grandboss than get through their daily tasks.

    However, if you are considering to let it slip, maybe there is a general issue with this way of feedback gathering, and it could be improved?

    1. Retired Vulcan Raises 1 Grey Eyebrow*

      “it’s a rare employee who’d rather have a chat with their grandboss than get through their daily tasks.”

      I always valued and enjoyed skip meetings, which sometimes involved higher than grandboss e.g. as an SME in a huge multinational I once was in a small group that met with the CEO (who earned several million) and was umpteen levels above me. It was genuinely interesting and a rare opportunity to exchange views with someone so senior.

      I expect that those who clam up in meetings with their grandboss don’t get invited to the more rarified skip meetings with much higher levels because they would learn little from a clam.

      1. Weaponized Pumpkin*

        Yeah, I’m kind of stunned at this assertion. I’m sure lots of people don’t want these meetings, but I’m equally sure that lots of people do. Besides, daily work is by definition what I do every day and it will be there tomorrow as well — I appreciate a break from the norm.

        1. Laura*

          This strongly diverging experience with the time criticality of daily tasks and whether they are what an employee actually signed up for and what their performance is measured against, or not so much, might be driving the false assumptions that I suspect here.

  54. Nicole*

    This is an annual skip-level meeting, so has this guy participated in the past? If so, why would he suddenly think it’s optional?

  55. BeClear*

    “something I’ve learned not to do thanks to reading AAM over the years is to force people to take part in “elective” activities”

    “This meeting seems to straddle the fence on whether it’s primarily for me or for the employee.”

    “He said he thought it was optional”

    There is no need for all these comments attacking and negatively speculating about the employee for treating these activities as elective/optional when the LW hasn’t even decided that they’re not.

    LW: decide whether these activities are or aren’t mandatory, and communicate accordingly.

    1. Retired Vulcan Raises 1 Grey Eyebrow*

      It’s extraordinary for an employee to think that a meeting invitation from a senior manager is optional.
      The OP sounds so taken aback that she is questioning what are very normal assumptions she made, trying to understand why this guy is behaving so out of work norms

    2. baby pterodactyl*

      Totally agree! I am a bit surprised by the comments here. I couldn’t tell from the letter if the meetings were optional or not, so maybe the employee doesn’t know either!

    3. Observer*

      There is no need for all these comments attacking and negatively speculating about the employee for treating these activities as elective/optional when the LW hasn’t even decided that they’re not.

      Except that the OP says that these 1-on-1 are not option – they just never thought that they needed to spell it out.

      “This meeting seems to straddle the fence on whether it’s primarily for me or for the employee.”

      That still doesn’t make it optional. Even if it were *completely* for the employee, it still wouldn’t be optional, given what the OP says earlier. And given that it seems to be intended for both, it *certainly* can’t be seen as optional. The OP’s question here is whether to insist on an exercise that the employee doesn’t see value in.

      Given the rest of what the OP reports, it’s not speculation to say that the employee has an attitude problem, at the very least.

      1. Kesnit*

        “Except that the OP says that these 1-on-1 are not option – they just never thought that they needed to spell it out.”

        OP is assuming everyone is reading their mind about how they view these meetings. I am not a mind-reader. I doubt the guy in question is either.

        His response was “I don’t need to meet.” He could be saying “I’m fine. There is nothing that needs to be brought to management attention. Thanks.”

        1. Lydia*

          When my boss’ boss says “let’s meet”, it would be a very weird world where I would take that as a suggestion. In cases like this, it’s not asking to read minds; the intention is pretty clear.

          1. rollyex*

            If my boss said “Let’s meet so you can share any feedback about [something]” and I legit didn’t have feedback (it being about something I work on directly or have any strong ideas/opinions on) I’d certainly say “I don’t have much to say about that; could we skip the meeting?” I feel a responsibility to do that so as not to waste both our times.

            That doesn’t happen often. I have had bosses ask me to meet with 3rd parties to so I can share thoughts on fairly rare things (new strategies, new CEO ideas, fact-finding on some internal conflicts) and many times I’ve written back saying “Could I skit that? I’m really busy. I can send a few thoughts in writing if that’s helpful. Please let me know.”

      2. rollyex*

        ” Even if it were *completely* for the employee, it still wouldn’t be optional,”

        I don’t understand this. If it’s for the employee and they feel it won’t help them, why spend time on it? What is the benefit to the organization? Do you mean the employee doesn’t understand that it’s beneficial to their work and the OP does?

  56. Coyote River*

    Letters like this make me miss the military, where you could deal with this issue quickly and directly.

      1. Peanut Hamper*

        No, but direct communication and clear expectations (which are more common in the military than elsewhere) certainly are the answer.

        Protip: the military is not about blind obedience. (Nuremberg taught us that.) You need to check your assumptions and/or prejudices.

      2. This_is_Todays_Name*

        No, but even the military (ex AF here) doesn’t require “total blind obedience” anymore. But there is whether military, or commercial, or whatever, a chain of command. There is a protocol to how one interacts with those higher up that chain. Not sure what YOU think the answer is since all you did was say what you thought it “wasn’t” but, respect for authority is NOT just a military thing.

  57. Susannah*

    I don’t understand why it matters (at least at first) to figure out *why* he is doing this. It’s just… unacceptable. Who refuses a boss’s direct request to meet, and keeps that job for long?

    The only approach if he says “no” to a meeting is, “actually, it’s not optional. I need to meet with you. I can be flexible on when, though, which is why I sent the meeting request.”

  58. H3llifIknow*

    I think this guy used to work for me! It felt almost like a power struggle, along the lines of “Yeah I’m fine; I don’t need YOUR input into what I and MY TEAM do.” I do wonder if you’re making the invitation SOUND too optional. Like there’s one thing if you send a calendar invitation, but it depends on the WORDING of the invitation like “at your convenience” or “I’d like to talk about” versus “Let’s meet to talk about” etc… I think you need to be firmer and BE THE BOSS. “Sorry, if I made this appear optional, I will be meeting with everyone under me, including you. If THIS time doesn’t work, please propose one that does.” You’re letting this guy off the hook too easily!

  59. Cohort 1*

    “…When I interact with him, he’s technically polite but generally sullen. That said, my understanding is that he’s fine at his job and his staff like him, but I have had to ask his supervisor to talk to him about participating appropriately as a manager….”

    Why do I see this guy moving on to a new opportunity in the near future? “Generally sullen,” declining meeting requests with the Grandboss, skipping the division annual retreat and keeping his reports behind with him just doesn’t spell a super employee. He sounds more like a place holder ready to be replaced. He sounds like a C-, and who needs that?

  60. Lady_blerd*

    I literally screamed THE GALL [of that manager] when I saw his reply! I have a new section head since last summer and had to meet him when he arrived. Mind you I don’t work in the type of org where I could refuse for any other reason then me not being available but still, it would never occur to me to refuse. If anything I wish I had more time to prepare what I’d have to say. It is a recurring theme recently that many younger workers have a warped view of what a workplace structure is like and for the two younger reports, they may see their manager as comforting those assumptions. So I’ll join the choir and say needs to handle that ASAP.

  61. stratospherica*

    On top of just smelling fishy, I can’t imagine why someone would want to skip a meeting like that! As someone who has experienced a manager who took the time to meet with us periodically, had individual meetings with us when he joined to get to know us as people, our work and what we would like input on, and a manager who didn’t even bother with any kind of initial announcement that she had taken the position, I’d leap at the chance to meet with a manager who is that engaged and invested in us as employees.

    1. rollyex*

      ” I can’t imagine why someone would want to skip a meeting like that! ”

      They many have a history of higher ups asking for feedback/info and then not doing anything with it. Or even worse, retaliating for negative feedback. In either case, not believing their is any value in the meeting.

      This is not a rare experience. By no means universal (as you can attest), but certainly not rare.

      1. stratospherica*

        Ugh, that’s fair, and I can see why that would leave a really sour taste in someone’s mouth. I’ll just count myself lucky I had good experiences with skip-level meetings (for the most part)!

  62. Chris Hogg*

    You say, “But that is what has happened and I don’t know what to do!”

    How about doing this:

    Immediately go to the person’s desk, work site, or Zoom them, and say, “Jimmy (or Jennie), when I set up a meeting and ask people to attend, it is not optional. These meetings take around forty-five minutes to an hour. Please look at your schedule and give me a time either later today or tomorrow when you will meet with me.”

    And then?

    Stand there (or stay connected) until they give you a time, and if after 5 minutes they don’t, walk away or disconnect and initiate whatever the process is for firing people.

    1. Lydia*

      Please don’t diagnose people. We don’t know anything about this guy, and it is in no way helpful to comment on his potential mental health.

  63. Isabelle*

    There’s another possibility: he had a very negative experience with feedback in the past, in this job or a previous job.

    For example, I worked for a company where people 2 or 3 levels above a team would ask team members for feedback, and then punished them for giving honest, measured and accurate feedback.
    If you’ve ever experienced this, you become vary wary of upper management and you don’t want to share any feedback with them.

    It’s unfortunate that he passed this “upper management can’t be trusted” attitude on to his own team, which is not fair on them.

    As for being sullen: what does that mean exactly? The LW acknowledged that this employee is polite and does his job well. Not everyone has a sunny disposition.

  64. Llama Auditor*

    This thread is fascinating because we were just informed our boss’ boss wants to do 1:1s and I desperately wish I could decline the invite if it is made. I read the OP’s letter four times to see if it was possible they’re working in my department but the circumstances don’t quite match.

    In that case, let me lay out why someone might behave as described in the letter for reasons that *aren’t* just being a bad manager or cheating the company. Although much of this feedback is giving me reasons to think about how I am dealing with our very toxic environment differently, so that’s something.

    In my case my boss’ boss is a vindictive, dangerous person who says all the right things but has in their brief tenure fired all (yes that’s right) ALL of the directors who were there before they arrived (many of whom were long-term employees with sterling records of success whose only crimes were to politely explain why we couldn’t do things that our boss’ boss demanded, due to those demands being impossible for architectural and procedural and in some cases legal reasons!). They have also been the cause of about 40% of a >100 person department leaving.

    We also have gotten a new layer of management under the boss’ boss who for the most part are all new and don’t yet realize what they have entered, despite reviews on job sites that make our department sound like working in Mordor (accurate). All we can do is be quiet until they understand where they’ve landed and protect our people from capricious and malicious decisions handed down to them from our boss’ boss until they catch on.

    But even I, who pray daily for my boss’ boss to be fired as they do richly deserve, cannot think of a way to decline that invite for a 1:1 if and when it arrives. I wish I could.

    It doesn’t really sound like the OP is in my situation, but I did want to provide context on why someone would act in ways like the person declining the meeting and yet still care very much about their work and their team.

    1. Lydia*

      The thing is, you know quite well if you did decline what is going to be an awful meeting with a horrible person, you would be fired. And your reasons for not wanting to attend are not “I just don’t want to,” as they are with the person in this letter. What I’m saying is that if your situation were different and your grandboss weren’t an absolute piece of shit, it wouldn’t seriously cross your mind to turn down the meeting, even if it weren’t high on your list of best ways to spend an hour.

    2. rollyex*

      “cannot think of a way to decline that invite for a 1:1 if and when it arrives”

      “Thanks. We’re really pressed with [project]. Also, I don’t feel I have much to offer and know you are very busy too. Could we perhaps skip this this year?”

      Might work. Long shot but might work. I’ve written this kind of thing in the past, though do not work in a place nearly as toxic as you do.

  65. Silverose*

    Honestly, you should probably also schedule skip meetings with this guy’s direct reports based on everything said in the letter…get a full picture of what’s going on with his team. Something is not right and it could be poisoning an entire branch of your department.

    1. Lydia*

      I think it would make more sense to direct this guy’s manager to start getting an idea of how his team feels about him rather than stepping in at that level. There’s a lot here that feels like his manager should be taking care of it and just through circumstances the grandboss is now involved.

  66. cardigarden*

    With letters like this, I always wonder if Allison answers them and thinks “wow, the commentariat is gonna love this one”.

  67. Lydia*

    Throwing my vote towards getting an update on this one. There’s something very interesting happening and I want to hear how it works out.

  68. sofar*

    I had an employee who did similar to this. It wasn’t an “attitude” thing, but an “out of touch” thing. He’d been freelancing for years, and experienced a lot of anxiety about having meetings on his calendar all of a sudden. And often expressed to me his frustration with “being in meetings instead of doing real work” and asking “do I have to?” go to meetings. He complained that some larger meetings did not have anything relevant to him, and that in a 30-minute meeting, only 5 minutes was relevant to him. And, he’d decline meetings altogether, including our 1:1s because he had “nothing to discuss.”

    I had to explain very clearly that it’s his responsibility to go to meetings (even if it’s not 100% relevant to him) because if he misses, then I have to take time out of MY day to relate relevant info to him. That his presence was needed, if questions from other teams arose about his work. And that our 1:1s were as much a time for me to communicate priorities/info to him as it was a time for him to ask questions to me.

    For the record, his workload was very reasonable even with the meetings. I think he just liked the idea of finishing his day early (like he could do as a freelancer), and meetings were in the way of that. And he had this fixation on “wasting time” in a meeting that wasn’t 100% relevant to him, vs. the “real work” of heads-down time.

    I can totally see him declining a a skip-level meeting request with my boss before I had these discussions with him.

    LW needs to talk to this employee’s manager, so the manager can set expectations.

      1. sofar*

        Not really. That’s just your average weekly standup, which everyone knows the drill for. You present and take questions for 5 minutes and spend the rest of the time gleaning relevant info from other teams’ updates.

        1. rollyex*

          ” spend the rest of the time gleaning relevant info from other teams’ updates.”

          That’s different than 25 minutes not being useful.

  69. learnedthehardway*

    May I suggest that the OP not attribute motives or emotions to their 2nd line subordinate? This reminds me of the advice to assume incompetence rather than maliciousness, unless proven otherwise. In terms of the manager’s overall “sullenness”, consider that they may simply lack social skills or may come across as prickly or unfriendly. Perhaps they can’t handle change of leadership or routines very well or perhaps they are highly anxious and that comes out as annoyance, etc. They certainly lack relationship management skills and probably lack judgement about business relationships. That’s a weakness, for sure. It doesn’t mean they’re a bad person or a bad employee, though.

    I would err on the side of assuming that the person is not understanding the point of the meeting. I would tell them that the meeting is for business purposes and for your own ability to understand their work better, and that it is not optional. Also, give the individual’s manager the heads up to talk to their direct report about the purpose of the meeting and to tell them that this is a requirement. You don’t want to cut out the person’s direct manager – and that could be a piece of what is happening here – ie. maybe the person is uncomfortable meeting with you because they are concerned their manager will feel like they are doing an end-run around them. They may be interpreting your request as a demand for dirt on the manager, for example. It’s possible they have had a bad experience with this sort of 2nd line manager meeting before, and really want to avoid a repeat – you never know.

    I would see how they respond once the reasons and importance of the meeting are explained to them.

    Also, have their manager also manage the person’s attendance (and their team’s attendance) at mandatory work events – that direction really should come from their own manager.

  70. Not This Again!*

    Simple solution not yet mentioned: Mark the meeting invitation as MANDATORY.I know Outlook allows invites to be marked optional. Can put mandatory in the subject line also. End of discussion.

  71. DB B*

    I would be concerned with this behavior, especially if he works in accounting or the supply chain. The missed retreat could be indicative of some under-the-table behavior. Does he take his allocated vacation days? If not, this is another red flag that he feels the need to be there unnecessarily.

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