update: my boss is pressuring me to be more “visible”

It’s “where are you now?” month at Ask a Manager, and all December I’m running updates from people who had their letters here answered in the past.

There will be more posts than usual this week, so keep checking back throughout the day.

Remember the letter-writer whose boss was pressuring them to be more “visible”? Here’s the update.

I wrote in because my big boss, Eve, wanted me to take part in a live webinar. I emailed her and explained that I did not think it was the right thing for me at the moment with my mental health. She accepted that without pushback and no more was said of it.

About a month after my letter, things deteriorated with my boss, Adam. In my monthly catchup, he complained I was not “visible” enough again. I had been coming into the office a lot that month for various meetings, so that didn’t seem justified. But he retorted that was not what he meant — but then could not really explain what he did mean.

He was then annoyed that I was not visible enough as I had been so busy working on a very complicated, important project (which was a part of my job), and so I said “What do you want me to do??” with exasperation. The temperature in the room dropped dramatically and he looked very annoyed with me. I eventually told him I felt “lost” as I was getting no direction. I bit my tongue and didn’t say that I never heard from him apart from these monthly meetings, and he was supposed to be my mentor.

After that meeting, I felt that my job was at risk. I spoke to several members of my company about how I could work better with them and increase “visibility.” This was helpful to a degree, but I knew that the situation was not sustainable. A month later, I was one of six people made redundant. I felt very relieved, to be honest. In my last meeting with Adam, he gave me lots of glowing feedback. I had not received more than two positive comments from him within the last 12 months before then, and it felt like too little too late.

In the midst of my redundancy, as it was World Mental Health Day, I chose to wrote on LinkedIn about my experience of mental health. It was the first time I’d spoken publicly about it. The senior people at my company mentioned it to me in my final meeting with praise for sharing it. I think they finally understood why I had found work difficult, and perhaps even felt guilty on reflection for pushing me so hard. Also, at the time, research came out that managers affect people’s mental health more than any other person in their life. I really think there is a responsibility for managers to remember the impact (good and bad) they can have on an individual’s well-being.

I am now at a new company where I receive huge amounts of positive feedback, and my “visibility” is never questioned. As a manager, the experience has reminded me to give regular positive feedback (even if it’s just to say thanks for all the hard work this week) and to also let my reports know that they can take sick leave for mental health without question.

I never really found out what Adam wanted from me or what “visibility” meant. I have seen my old team now producing a wave of marketing blogs, so perhaps what was needed was more fanfare and an overt display of passion for my field. It’s easy to say that in principle, but when you are already deep in your assigned work and up against office politics, it’s hard to then see how you’re supposed to find the time or drive to go above and beyond without any guidance from your — quite frankly — invisible mentor.

{ 73 comments… read them below }

    1. Princess Sparklepony*

      Just thought you might enjoy this, I do love that movie. Although I thought 17 was the minimum. :

      Stan, Chotchkie’s Manager : We need to talk about your flair.

      Joanna : Really? I… I have fifteen pieces on. I, also…

      Stan, Chotchkie’s Manager : Well, okay. Fifteen is the minimum, okay?

      Joanna : Okay.

      Stan, Chotchkie’s Manager : Now, you know it’s up to you whether or not you want to just do the bare minimum. Or… well, like Brian, for example, has thirty seven pieces of flair, okay. And a terrific smile.

      Joanna : Okay. So you… you want me to wear more?

  1. Jenny*

    This reminds me of my last boss. No matter what I did, if a client complained it was a “communication problem” on my end. It didn’t matter if they had egregious demands (ride in the trailer WITH THE SICK HORSE two hours to the university; see a call for a non-client 50 miles out of our service area) or were complaining about actually having to pay for services or just ignored my repeated attempts to get in contact/listen to the multiple voicemails I left. Nothing was ever good enough.

    I now work in a different field of vet med that requires a lot of clear, concise communication on a daily basis and I’m excelling. Funny how I didn’t change anything I did, but all of a sudden I’m a superstar.

    1. ferrina*

      I’ve had a boss like that! If she didn’t know something about what me or my team was doing, it was immediately “ferrina has a communication problem.” Even when the update was sitting in her email (unread) and had been stated at the regular status update meeting (she was posting gifs to her friend). I was responsible for ensuring she was paying attention, I guess?

      Definitely the best move is to go somewhere with reasonable people.

      1. Jenny*

        Did your boss’s eyes glaze over when he asked you your “side” of the complaint? Did he automatically give 25% discounts to anyone who complained about anything, even deadbeats who were previously sent to collections?

        For some reason he was livid when I quit. I thought he considered me entirely incompetent and would be thrilled that I peaced out. If you can imagine there has been a lot of turnover since I left.

        1. Filthy Vulgar Mercenary*

          Truth! You just described Reason #12444 why you don’t contort yourself around their unreasonableness … you just leave to find normal.

    2. goddessoftransitory*

      I’ve found that bosses like this often turn out to be human versions of the “I Have No Idea What I’m Doing” floating space dog meme. They insist you must be the problem, but it’s really that they can’t understand what their job is.

  2. Rowan*

    The push for more “visibility” may have been related to Adam sensing that layoffs were coming, and that you might be part of them. When I’ve heard that in the past from managers, it’s been code for “the higher-ups don’t understand what you do or how it provides value to the company, and if you don’t educate them on that, they might lay you off”.

    1. Analytical Tree Hugger*

      This is a very, very generous take on Adam, given that he had no actionable feedback when asked what he wanted OP to do.

      In my read, Adam demonstrated incompetentence manager:
      *No clear goals or guidance
      *Vague complaints without an action plan or even a real idea of what he wanted changed
      *Giving conflicting priorities (“He was then annoyed that I was not visible enough as I had been so busy working on a very complicated, important project)”
      *Witholding praise and recognition.

    2. Ashley*

      I could see this possibly being true, combined ironically with Adam not knowing how to navigate the situation. Obviously, if this was the situation and he saw the writing on the wall, it wouldn’t typically be recommended to outright say that. But giving clearer direction could still be helpful (even a more clear “I want to make sure other teams understand the work that we’re doing and I’d like your help in communicating that on a consistent basis” would at least be something). Can’t just keep repeating “be more visible” and then be annoyed when people don’t understand wtf you’re looking for, haha.

      1. CommanderBanana*

        Yeah, and tbh “visibility” sounds like one of those buzzwords that could mean anything. If you’re a manager and are telling someone they need to do or be more X, you need to be able to define what you mean and what steps you want them to take. Otherwise, you may as well wander around the office saying things like “visibility” and “synergy” and “innovate.”

    3. kanzeon88*

      This was my first take too. That doesn’t mean he handled it well at all, of course – he should have been creating and communicating that “visibility” for his team, and should have given the LW specific ideas for what to do differently. He was (possibly) frustrated with the LW for not doing for him the work that he was supposed to do, and making him feel bad for laying them off.

      1. Heather*

        Tbf, from the original letter it sounds like LW had a pretty good idea. “What this seems to translate to is talking about and presenting to anyone who will listen about how amazing our writing is and what is happening in the writing industry. Adam would love me to be speaking up about all things writing in company meetings, to clients and in public forums.” So maybe Adam just gave up because from his point of view, he couldn’t push it due to LWs mental health boundaries.

  3. Dhaskoi*


    ‘I personally don’t care for you regardless of your professional ability but I know I can’t say that so watch me repeat this buzzword over and over’

    1. BellStell*

      similar to ‘be more strategic’ and when asked…. crickets so yeah. bad management all around.

      1. Girasol*

        I’m “too democratic.” Boss didn’t know what that meant. One of my coworkers had said that and he just copied it into my evaluation.

    2. Lenora Rose*

      I had former management that always said I had “an edge”. And I’m pretty sure it was their way to say the same thing.

      1. Princess Sparklepony*

        Possibly it means that weren’t nice enough to them. An edge seems to translate in the workplace to Person has a wicked sense of humor and I don’t get it…. and Person does not compliment me all the time and kiss my keyster.

  4. Kali*

    I feel like this is what happens sometimes when an extrovert (who also cannot manage well) is given a position of power over someone who is an introvert/quieter. Just because some people are quieter doesn’t mean they don’t enjoy their job. Sounds like Adam wanted a cheerleader, not a true employee.

    1. Green great dragon*

      Maybe here. But visibility in better run places is more about making *work* visible, so that might be contributing to a newsletter or trade journal, or work message boards, helping organise the company-wide annual picnic or making good suggestions in the departmental slack. There are definitely options for introverts too.

      Again, that may not have been the case in this specific example. This is a suggestion for any introverts or remote workers who want some options.

        1. uncivil servant*

          But you’re not the manager of that team, and the LW was. Understanding the value of what her team did for the organization sounds right in the wheelhouse of the manager of a team.

      1. ChantyTown*

        Agreed. In my area this would mean creating a dashboard, recurring report or communication that provides status updates, and
        /or setting up steercos with leaders in your area to ensure folks have line of sight to your work/output. I think extrovert/introvert is moot in this regard.

      2. Heather*

        Agreed. And I’m guessing that Adam was annoyed LW turned down the opportunity to represent the team in the live webinar but didn’t want to bring that up since LW had referred to their mental health when they turned it down. He should have articulated this and also been more specific about alternative venues for increasing visibility.

      1. CommanderBanana*

        This is so true. I’ve also learned that saying things like “don’t come to me with problems, come to me with solutions” is a red flag. As is interpreting any raising of concerns or potential issues as “negativity” and getting angrier at the person raising a problem (because then you may have to – gasp! – do your job and deal with it) than the actual problem.

  5. Bookworm*

    While I’m sorry that happened to you, OP, I’m glad you’re in a better place.

    “Also, at the time, research came out that managers affect people’s mental health more than any other person in their life. I really think there is a responsibility for managers to remember the impact (good and bad) they can have on an individual’s well-being.”

    Oh boy, did this resonate with me. They do, OP, they really do. You are absolutely right and I’m happy to read you’re trying to do things differently.

  6. Michelle Smith*

    I don’t respect or appreciate the way you were treated at your old job. It seems patently unfair to say “I have this expectation of you” and then not explain what that expectation means when asked. Whatever the hell was going on with Adam, I’m glad you are now in a better position with more supportive managers and a work environment that meets your needs. Onward and upward!

      1. Ellis Bell*

        I think this is true, but I also think ‘do a lot of free marketing and PR’ felt like something he couldn’t say out loud, and he felt better sticking to vague inference.

  7. Raida*

    man, sorry about your crappy ‘mentor’ boss!

    I had to learn a long time ago that if my managers couldn’t define an issue then I had to put that on them. “You told me to wanted the place ‘cleaner’ and I’ve done done a, b, c. You now say that’s not what you meant. So from now on, you’ll actually *tell me* what you mean because I’ve done, let’s be quite clear here, a very good job of making the place more clean. Now, (pull out pen and paper) let’s go through what specifically you are looking for over the next month.”
    and the *one* manager that got pissy about it? They stopped when I used the term ‘retaliation’. as in “Hey Snapper, I’m sorry *you* didn’t do a good job in our previous catch up but you can stop being a b*tch to me right now for pointing it out, because that’s totally retaliation. And you *know* I’ll tell the Store Manager that you didn’t do a good job and then punished me for it. You know I will. So we can be civil and chatty or civil and barely speak, I don’t care.”

    Aggressive? yeah, but a 17 yr old, still in school, with another casual job? I’ll fckn quit before I take sh*t from a KFC assistant manager – but I’ll definitely quit via their boss with a written complaint.

      1. Zweisatz*

        That’s not what I am taking from this comment. It makes sense (and is generally helpful) to request clarification from a manager if you think you did your job and they come back and say you didn’t.

        1. allathian*

          Agree, although I also agree with Siobahn that aggressive pushback is easier to do when you’re willing to risk being fired or to quit if things don’t change.

        2. Insert Clever Name Here*

          Yes, it is helpful to request clarification but aggressively telling your boss “you didn’t do your job so stop bitching to me about it” is probably not going to fly in most office — even if your boss is actually a reasonable person. I’m glad it helped Raida in their specific situation, but that form of aggressive push back is unlikelygoing to transfer.

      2. Not Australian*

        There’s a difference between being aggressive and being assertive, and IMHO it’s situational: therefore, how about cutting Raida some slack?

  8. And I'm the alchemist of the hinterlands*

    Sigh. Sounds similar to a former job where I was always being told to “take ownership” of my projects, with no explanation of what that meant and no raise or incentives when I inquired about them. Glad you are out of there.

    1. Unkempt Flatware*

      Totally. Two ex-bosses ago told me I needed to train myself at the same time as saying I wasn’t meeting expectations but I won’t tell you what those are because I expect you to know.

    2. Heather*

      Taking ownership generally means to be more proactive, to stay on top of things and preemptively reach out to stakeholders to smooth the way for things that might otherwise become stumbling blocks or cause delays. It helps to think of how you would run the project if it was something you were really passionate about and you were eager to see it implemented.

  9. LoV...*

    “but then could not really explain what he did mean.” This is never a good sign. I’ve been in a similar situation where the manager wouldn’t/couldn’t give me specifics on ways to improve. It was a sign that they were unhappy with me generally and couldn’t cite specifics because they had decided I wasn’t a good employee.

    1. Dimity Hubbub*

      ‘It was a sign that they were unhappy with me generally and couldn’t cite specifics because they had decided I wasn’t a good employee.’
      Oooooh. This update is very interesting because I ended up in a similar situation with FirstJob for my last 6 months there. I had kinda sniffed out that Manager wasn’t that happy with me, but she kept giving me this vague advice which I kept trying to follow, to improve, right? Wrong. She was STILL vaguely unhappy and steadily more annoyed because why wasn’t I getting what she meant?! It never really occurred to me, being fairly oblivious sometimes, that she wasn’t really giving me actionable advice or guidance on how to meet it! I just thought I wasn’t understanding her properly. Turns out she didn’t really want me to improve anyway, she was annoyed about the style I’d learnt to paint teapots in but couldn’t complain about that. What a waste of time all that angsting was! (Yes I got the idea eventually and left. Weird thing is, she was totally surprised.)

        1. Dimity Hubbub*

          Short version – it was a regime change problem, and I belonged to the old regime of more individual work. I painted, let’s say Impressionist style teapots which customers liked. Her ultimate Vision for the department had everyone working in a Modernist style in a palette of six colours with a list of approved patterns. Easier to train staff, quick to turn out. Officialy this hadn’t been approved, management let us use our professional judgement and customers would ask for our individual work, but it was what she wanted to happen. I worked out later with the help of a smart friend that I was an obstacle to this. It also meant me looking for advanced painting techniques classes, as official policy encouraged me to, was totally pointless! So if your manager’s demands makes no sense, see if they actually pass the sniff test before deciding you’re the problem.

  10. Brevity*

    Ten bucks says that Adam had no idea what “visibility” meant in real terms either, but was just repeating what some grandboss said. In his mind, he doesn’t have to understand it; it’s your fault if you don’t know what it means. I have totally worked for people like this.

    1. Awkwardness*

      “Ten bucks says that Adam had no idea what “visibility” meant in real terms either, but was just repeating what some grandboss said.”

      You might be onto something.
      My sympathies, OP. This is such an annoying situation. You cannot win with the goalpost constantly moving.

  11. Amber Rose*

    Ah, my husband had this boss. What he meant was flashy. It’s not enough to do your job well or to be working on a big project. You have to do it with attitude, in a big and flashy and dramatic way. If you’re typing on a computer, you must be loudly telling everyone what you’re doing, do it for as little time as possible, and then dramatically rush away to complete an important task. Swirling cape optional but highly recommended.

    If you are merely quietly competent, then as your mentor he doesn’t get any benefit. If everyone knows your name as the VIP of various projects, then your mentor can brag and get accolades for doing nothing at all.

  12. Monkey's Paw Manicure*

    You are to be commended for not deciding to be “visible” by wearing chaps without pants to the office.

        1. Seeking Second Childhood*

          Chaps are are a layer of armor over whatever clothes you wear on your legs. I’ve seen authors write that the character pulled on his chaps without ever mentioning jeans.

          1. Watry*

            They’re also often called, ah, “buttless” chaps. All chaps lack a butt, otherwise they’d just be pants/trousers.

  13. Danish*

    At my previous job, “Visible” meant “get the work you do to fit in the neat little metrics-boxes Leadership looks at”. My team did an insane amount of work that brought in a lot of revenue, but because our tasks were largely ad hoc, and done outside the general “structure” of other work, every month we’d get feedback from our managers that “Leadership has no idea what you do”, despite us trying to tell them, and write reports, and do meetings, over and over.

    Sometimes people simply cannot see outside of the boxes they’ve erected.

  14. Captain dddd-cccc-ddWdd*

    What does visibility mean? This is something I’m currently working on, myself and on behalf of my team. To me it’s some subset or combination of ideas like:

    People in the company know what we do and know the value it provides

    People involve us in relevant projects early as the ‘experts’ in that area

    Senior management see us as competent and respect and seek out our opinion

    We communicate regularly to relevant people with things like “here’s what we did in the last quarter and what benefit that brings for you”

    We are “outward facing” (to the rest of the company) rather than “inward facing” (to the team).

    Now that I write all of this, I see (as other commenters suggested) that these are all quite extrovert concepts. My company is mainly introverts at “individual contributor” level and a mix with probably more extroverts including me in leadership roles.

    1. Heather*

      A lot of this can be done in “introvert” ways though – making a deck summarizing the ways you bring value to the firm, talking to people one on one about what they are working on and seeing if your team could help them in any way, using LinkedIn or writing to publications… The philosophy might be “extroverted” but there are lots of ways to work with it. And if LW was hired as a head writer there was probably a base expectation that they help represent that team internally – as you say, “outward facing to the rest of the company.”

      1. Cyborg Llama Horde*

        There are definitely introvert ways to get the same effects, but I do think that doing this kind of thing comes more naturally to extroverts, and introverts are more likely to need to a) realize that this is important and that it’s not enough to just do good work and b) deliberately put time and effort into making this stuff happen.

        I’ve worked on several teams made up of introverts that were, in many ways, entirely invisible to the rest of the company, because the whole team was introverted and task-focused, and even if team leadership was aware that the political/visibility aspect was important, if it was a choice between “write up a paragraph for the weekly email summarizing the team’s accomplishments” or “throw an extra set of hands to help fix the thing that expires in two days,” the task focus took priority over the relationship focus every time.

      1. Schrodinger's Cat*

        Can’t get much more visible than that! Unless you bring your Bedazzler to work and bedazzle your hi-viz vest along with the rest of your outfit, lol.

    2. Annie*

      Yes, this is something my manager has spoken to me about. Being a more visible leader, making sure that people know your impact. I tend to work behind the scenes and will just feed my manager the information. But she wants me to step forward and just send out the information myself, at times, so there’s no question it came from me.
      Other times I’d provide information and she would dress it up a little and send it to our next level manager and other managers, and my name would not be attached, which was annoying since I did most of the legwork. So I can see how having “visibility” is a good thing.
      You have to have other people, even outside your department, know your worth.

  15. kitto*

    ohhh my goodness i’m so glad LW got out of there. at my first big-guy job, i was doing really well – described as a superstar worker, etc. right up to when the application to renew a grant that was subsidising my salary was rejected. i got moved onto lower-priority projects, and given non-useful feedback the boss (“show me what your superpower is! where’s your shine??”). i tied myself in knots for months trying to figure out what he needed (as the frustration with me escalated) and eventually quit without anything lined up because i was being berated on the daily for not “shining”. just lets you know that sometimes, despite your best efforts, a piece of confusing feedback might not actually be actionable at all!

  16. Rondeaux*

    I can understand a scenario where the Head writer of a team has to present at conferences, present internally, champion what the team is doing and so forth. So I don’t think wanting OP to be more visible is wrong, but yes they certainly need more guidance

  17. Bastet*

    I’ve had a situation last year where we had a week of being short-handed when the night shift person was out sick I. our lab. We were so backed up, so I focused on. thelarger volume items that had earlier deadlines and did my best to try to keep up. I was called into the office bt my supervisor and manager the end of the week for being too slow and not keeping up my numbers. After taking a week to cool off. I talked to the manager, because after all, she is directing the dept. She tried to bring up the old argument, but I held firm to my question of how the standard was determined. she gave a vague answer, to which I asked, “How the hell can I adhere to a standard that I knew nothing about????” When I transferred to the office either the same dept, I made sure to tell my replacement about it so they would not be blindsided like I was.

  18. Jane*

    So happy you found a job that was a better fit! Very often positions grow so visibility was becoming an actual expectation of that job. For example, I was promoted last spring to a job position that didn’t exist (think: director to VP, when no VP existed in that department before). Now it is outlined as an expectation to network and be visible more.

  19. Tiger Snake*

    Ah, so “Visible” as in “You need to be Seen, you need to be Seen to be Busy, you need to be Seen to be Busy Doing Very Important Work the Executives Want, and you need to be remember by the executives as “that guy I see all the time working super hard and jumping into everything I need him to do, we can’t possibly afford to lose him”.

    Yeah, I don’t really know how to do that either.

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