how can I get what I need from my flaky boss?

A reader writes:

I graduated from college last year and since then I’ve been working at my first full-time job. I am in a client-facing role at a small-ish nonprofit, and mostly I love it.

Lately, though, I’ve been having some issues with my boss, Gillian. She has always been kind, open, and accommodating; in a lot of ways I’m grateful because I’ve heard so many boss horror stories. But she’s flaky, and it’s becoming more and more of an issue. For example, she recently implemented a weekly standing meeting for the two of us, which I was happy about because previously our meetings had been inconsistent. However, she’s usually at least 30-90 minutes late to our meetings. It becomes hard for me to schedule meetings with clients on the afternoons I know I’m meeting with her because I know it will inevitably be pushed back and I’ll have to either be late for my client or miss the meeting with my boss and then not be able to pin her down for another week! She is always apologetic but the trend hasn’t changed. This isn’t a huge deal because I know things come up … but also it’s hard to get her to commit to help with anything without a face-to-face discussion.

My primary issue is that every time I meet with Gillian and ask her to do something, she promises to do it (often by end of day) and almost always forgets. This becomes frustrating to me when it harms my work with clients. For instance, I have to clear any big purchases with Gillian so she can order them. We have no issue communicating about what’s feasible/affordable and what isn’t, and she is generally supportive of the bigger purchases I suggest making for clients. But while she promises to purchase things, then she doesn’t do it! My role doesn’t have the budget to make the purchases myself, so I can’t just get her permission and do them on my own – I have to wait for her to make the transaction. I’ve learned not to promise things to my clients until I’m holding the items in my hands, but I feel guilty for taking such a long time to get their needs met when it could have been done so much faster.

Gillian tends to respond to about a quarter of my emails during the week, generally the ones that involve outside stakeholders. She’s a little better over text and phone but has still left my texts unaddressed for days until our next meeting. I don’t think I’m communicating an inappropriate or overwhelming amount – maximum once a day and only about things she’s previously promised. To her credit, she is generally reachable when something urgent comes up with a client and she has been more supportive in those situations.

None of these things are huge problems on their own, but I feel like they’re building up and together they’re really frustrating. That’s especially true because I am generally super organized and committed to meeting my deadlines and I hate to be perceived as unreliable for something that isn’t my fault!

I feel like I have no idea what’s normal and what isn’t in a postgrad workplace and boss-employee relationship. Is this something I just need to take in stride and continue to work around?

You can read my answer to this letter at New York Magazine today. Head over there to read it.

{ 102 comments… read them below }

  1. urguncle*

    I fear I could have written this, but in the future.
    I recently got word that a coworker who has these same issues, specifically problems around not responding to emails or skipping meetings or not fulfilling their portion of a task that can only be fulfilled BY THEM, is going to be my boss. I got calls during my leave of absence asking how to work around them because of this behavior.

    1. Throwaway Account*

      My dream is to be a fly on the wall when someone in your situation says, ideally as a group:
      “Congrats on your promotion. Let’s talk about how you want to set things up and how we can work around the issues of not responding to emails, skipping meetings, and what to do when waiting for you to complete a task.”

      All in a tone of, of course we would talk about all that. We are all human and all have things we do, we just want to know how to handle them.

    2. ferrina*

      I could have written this with OldBoss from a few jobs ago. We had a weekly 1:1 (it was super necessary- I usually had 6-10 items to discuss with her), and she was regularly 30-90 minutes late. One time she was late because she stopped at Trader Joes to buy cookies. Literally walked into the office with bags in hand.

      Some tips- get in writing what portion belongs to them. Do a gentle follow-up semi-regularly. This follow-up won’t get them to do anything, but it will show that you haven’t forgotten about the task (so they can’t accuse you of not reminding them). I’m the reigning champion of the cheery “hey, I know you’re busy, just want to see if you have a timeline on X!”
      Anything that you seriously need done should be done in front of you. Can they purchase the item during the 1:1 meeting? “Since we have some extra time, can we do the purchase now so I can show you exactly the item I’m thinking?” This tactic should be used sparingly.
      Finally, be clear on what the result it. There’s a big difference between “another department will get annoyed but move on without us” and “we won’t deliver the product to the client on time, and we will lose the contract”. Spell out exactly what the end result is. “If we don’t order the part by Wednesday, we won’t be able to deliver the client product on time.”. Conversely, by telling them when they have extra time (“we need to get this documentation filled out, but that can be done any time in the next month”) it lends more weight to when you say something has a hard and fast deadline. I’m also in the champion’s league of “when I say it needs to be done TODAY, you know there is no wiggle room left”.

      At the end of the day, you can’t make them do their job. All you can do is your job and regularly remind them what their job is.

  2. Happy meal with extra happy*

    I had a boss who was notorious being awful about responding to email. Generally, if you didn’t get an immediate response, you never would. However, he was 100% aware of his issue, and he was fine with us using other means of communication (IMs were best and texting or calling for emergencies) so that we could get responses. He was actually a pretty good boss, but it was definitely helped by him acknowledging the underlying issue and having a solution in place that actually worked.

    1. Sloanicota*

      These skills we’re talking about are also partly what people mean when they talk about “managing up” – switching up your preferred communication style, finding times and opportunities unique to the target, scheduling more advance warnings, day-of-reminders, and emergency deadline reminders … to be fair these same skills often serve me well when dealing with peers, outside stakeholders etc. It’s annoying but everyone’s busy and overbooked.

      1. Butterfly Counter*

        Exactly. OP’s boss sounds like she’s most responsive on the phone, so OP needs to make calling Gillian her go-to means of important communication.

      2. Happy meal with extra happy*

        Yup! I do my best work when I take my ego out of it and just focus on getting the task done, however is most efficient. Honestly, I may sometimes internally grumble about it, but I think there’s a real personal benefit in knowing where to “give in” and where to push back.

    2. Beth*

      Switching up communication methods can definitely be helpful. I have a little running list in my private notes about the best way to reach people I work closely with when I’m struggling to get an update or an answer to a question from them–phone, email, slack, throw a meeting on their calendar, I’ll do whatever works for them.

      I’ve also found that it helps to share context on why I need something and when I need it by. I’m client-facing, and a lot of my colleagues aren’t–they don’t necessarily know the timelines I’m working on, or why the thing I’m asking about matters. Most of them do want to help (our clients are our source of money, we all know they’re important), but sharing my context is important for helping them prioritize.

      And, frankly, sometimes being a pest is just how things get done. If something isn’t urgent, then I can accept waiting a while for a response. But if something is truly holding up a client, or frustrating them to the extent that it’s damaging our relationship, then it’s my job to stay on it until it’s handled! Nagging isn’t something that comes naturally to me, and I’ve had to learn that sometimes I SHOULD be communicating with annoying frequency and urgency. I save that for when a problem really is a big problem (either because it’s a crisis, or because delays and procrastination have let a small problem spiral into a big one)–but when I need to do it, I do it.

      1. MigraineMonth*

        I worked at a (admittedly toxic) workplace where nagging was embraced as part of the culture. I’m not even joking; if you needed X from a coworker, you were expected to email, text, or drop by their office until you got it from them.

  3. Ama*

    I do wonder if Gillian is a person who can’t stay on top of her email — I had a colleague like this years ago (he wasn’t my direct boss but he was the senior person on several projects we worked on together), my organizational system on tasks is dependent on email but it was not working with him at all, so what I would do is send whatever email I wanted to send, then either call him or walk over to his office to say “I just sent you an email, here’s the situation I need your input on.” (The email was just so I’d have record later that we talked about it.)

    It absolutely annoyed me to no end that I had to do that, but the alternative was him not ever responding or responding and then forgetting all about the exchange and making some plan that contradicted the decision he’d made later. If I talked to him that never happened — he just had a much better memory for phone/in person conversations than he did anything he read.

    1. Ama*

      I should add as a note to OP, though, that he was not personally aware that this was how he worked. If I had asked him how best to communicate with him, he probably would have said “oh email is fine.” It took my own observation that when we were meeting regularly on a project he always remembered everything we said in the meeting but ignored any email I sent in between to figure his pattern out.

      1. ferrina*

        Truth! I had a manager that thought she was on top of email. I’ll admit she was consistent- I always knew that she’d never answer the email. I’d email her something just so I could say I did, then mentally assume I wouldn’t get an answer until our weekly meeting.

    2. Heffalump*

      I have an analagous sitch with “Bill,” my manager. He isn’t a flake, but he’s legitimately slammed, with many things on his plate at any given time. I’ve learned that he’s much more likely to see a Teams chat than an email. Sometimes he’ll respond to one of my chats with a chat, and Teams tells me that he’s in a call or a meeting at the time, so he’s multitasking. If I have a concern that really requires an email, often with attachments, I’ll also send him an “I just sent you an email about this topic” chat.

      1. AnonyLlama*

        As a “Bill”, THANK YOU! I am added to, forwarded, copied and sent so much email noise that I cannot possibly read everything. While I have rules on my inbox to try cull the noise I 100% prefer for my team to flag me on a “hey, look here!” that they need. In a perfect world, I’d thoroughly read and consider every email that comes through my inbox but the world is far from perfect.

        I do tell my team – “if you need something from me, email is the worst possible way. Teams, text or call my cell”.

        1. Heffalump*

          When we started working remotely because of the pandemic, Bill said his email volume had quadrupled, and I assume that was from an already high baseline.

        2. Elizabeth West*

          I work with different PMs and I very much appreciate when someone lets me know what is best for them.

      2. a clockwork lemon*

        My boss is like this. He’s fantastic in basically every other way, but he’s double or sometimes triple-booked from 8am-6pm most days and gets, like, 400 emails a day on a light day. My team routinely jokes about “ambushing” him on his in-office days and half the time the only way we can get what we need from him is if we have a walking meeting when he goes for lunch!

        Teams is better than email but realistically speaking the way it works is that half of my job is triaging asks he gets from other departments and making sure the task is appropriately delegated to the right people, and the other half is working as an execution lead on stuff that can’t be delegated.

        1. Cinnamon Boo*

          When we used to work in the office my old boss used to get SO angry with followups, but…its holding up business, but if you casually ran into her, the bathroom, she would get right on it. I would literally follow her to the bathroom and stand at the sink pretending we ran into eachother. I later learned that people in her other departments also stalked her….like hanging out at the copier when she passes by to catch her on her way. I’m so glad I don’t have to do this type of thing anymore.

          The major issue was that she refused to delegate. Even awful, boring things that she easily could have sent elsewhere. She knew it, she just has a lot of anxiety I guess and can’t let go, but sheesh, so hard to work for.

    3. Your Mate in Oz*

      My current boss(es) are great with the first few words of an email but after that you might as well lorem ipsum it. We know it, I’m pretty sure they know it, but it’s a very real thing.

      Subject: email will be down 9am-11am
      Body: email will be down 9am-11am because we are replacing the email server setup to add fault tolerance and redundancy.

      Boss wanders over to my desk “why don’t we have redundant email servers to stop this happening”

      It’s not just once, it’s 99% of emails. Bob help you if you have a list of points or are explaining something complicated that they got confused about in a meeting. “why can’t we put llamas through the car wash explained in eight easy to understand bullet points”

      Some of us are very good at terse email subjects and bodies. Others of us just accept that we will repeat the same points in every meeting until eventually management understand that (in this case) you can’t put llamas through a car wash.

  4. cindylouwho*

    I also have a boss who is typically 30mins-3 hours late for meetings. I had to learn to just go on with my day and plan not to meet with him after an amount of time that makes sense for my day. And nothing infuriates me more than when he comes back around 3 hours later and is put off that I no longer have time to meet with him.

    1. CoffeeIsMyFriend*

      this boggles my mind. 30 minutes is late but I’d argue that 60+ is no show/canceled meeting…

      1. Christmas Carol*

        5 min for a TA, 10 min for a Grad Asst, 15 minutes for a full Professor……………..

    2. Antilles*

      If it’s some sort of regular weekly meeting, one way I’ve found that can really help is to try to schedule such meetings for very first thing in the morning to stay ahead of the snowball effect of “the meeting at 8:30 ran late so her 9:30 meeting started late and then also took longer than expected so welp, so much for my 10:30-11:00 slot…”

      1. cindylouwho*

        This is very good general advice, but these are one-off meetings (I no longer do standing meetings with him because of this problem) and happens even in the morning. He’s very busy and stretched thin, but man does it drive me crazy.

        1. ferrina*

          Is he in a role where he needs to be somewhere at short notice? When I work with VP+, I mentally put my meeting with them as tentative, since they may suddenly need to be somewhere else (I’m always shocked when the CEO makes a meeting with 0 reschedules). There’s also the neurospicy possibility- I’m ADHD and time blindness is real. Of course, this person could just be inconsiderate (or a mix of these).

          In any case, it can be helpful to think of parts of your day as flexible. I used to have 3 categories of time- Meetings, Head Down, and Available. Head Down is when I’m doing focus-driven work that I need uninterrupted time to do. If I think I might be interrupted, I will block my calendar and physically move to an empty meeting room so I’m more likely to be able to focus. I also tended to keep the documents I needed for the meeting ready on my desk so I could grab and go when my boss was available. I still would have preferred my boss actually show up when she said, but accepted that this was just going to be part of the job. (This boss was also inconsiderate in other, worse ways — this was one of the more manageable issues)

          That said- this only worked because it’s sort of how my brain works anyways. I can switch gears for a meeting most days pretty quickly, and I don’t do well when my time is highly structured. If you are someone who strives on high structure, this isn’t going to feel good no matter what..

          1. The dark months*

            The part that stood out for me was OP saying she was super organized and obviously her boss doesn’t/can’t operate the same way. You being available for a block of time so you can grab and go when your boss shows up seems like an excellent work around. Annoying? Yes. But for this particular example I would say it’s on the OP to accommodate her boss within a reasonable amount of time – like 3 hrs is lots of flexibility to be available for your boss.

  5. Michelle Smith*

    This letter was so stressful to read. I got flashbacks of the boss I used to have to essentially stalk, hanging around well after hours just to catch them finally coming down the hall and basically stampede after them with files in hand that desperately needed her input before moving forward.

    I don’t miss that.

    1. Throwaway Account*

      I wonder if impromptu meetings are the only way for OP to manage this.

      Be prepared and walk up and say, do you have 5 minutes and then hold the meeting OP needs to have for however long it needs to be. And make at least one meeting a week/month for ordering. Send an email with a list of the orders, then walk up and say, do you have 5 minutes, let’s do those orders.

      All said in a cheerful tone.

    2. Ally McBeal*

      YUP. I’m grateful now for all the years I was stuck in admin hell, because it taught me (by trial and error) all the different ways to work around flaky bosses. I ended up having to give my notice to my favorite boss of all time over the phone because for several days he kept saying he was coming into the office and then last-minute decided to work from home.

      I also created a rule: if you cry out of frustration at work, calories don’t count for the rest of the day. I once treated myself to steak and mashed potatoes for lunch because it had been that kind of day before noon.

  6. Jess R.*

    Whewwww this is a whole mood. I had a boss who did the same thing — promised to handle something “by end of day” and just… didn’t. Responded to about a quarter of my emails. Just fully ignored 80% of Teams messages and never acknowledged it.

    I admit, I didn’t really name the problem to her because it felt too big for me to do anything about — because she was doing this to everyone, and even when we said things like “Hey, can I take [xyz thing any of us could absolutely do] off your plate?” we’d get a promise of “No, I’ve got it, I’ll do that today.” And of course didn’t.

    Do I wish I’d said something more clearly to her? Yeah, I think I do. But also, learning to work around that got me the skills that ultimately landed me in her job when she left, and I’m not even a little mad about that. YMMV because it depends on how much you *can* work around your boss given the organization’s restrictions (like purchasing rules), but it’s worth considering, as Alison said.

  7. BBB*

    I had a boss like this, it’s so frustrating!
    for me, our one on one’s devolved into the only time I could reliably get him to do anything! so it was an hour of me standing over his shoulder like a babysitter, watching him type up an email (usually an email he had promised to send a week prior). it was a huge waste of everyone’s time. I have no advice, only sympathy.

    1. Sloanicota*

      I will GLADLY convert one-on-one time to a work session if that’s what it takes, but like OP my office has an (unofficial) “internal meetings are tentative unless and until the boss actually shows up” policy so I can’t always even do that most days.

  8. unimpressed peon*

    Of course the inevitable answer is the LW should suck it up and work around the flaky boss because God forbid managers be held accountable for anything.

    1. HR Friend*

      Not quite. LW is literally holding Boss accountable for her actions by having a conversation with her. Boss probably has more on her plate than LW realizes. So they need to come to an understanding about what’s realistic and efficient for communication and completing tasks that require Boss’s input. But sure, manager bad, employee good.

      1. unimpressed peon*

        Sure, the first thing the LW should do is sit down with their boss and layout how their boss’s lack of prioritization impacts the LW, their work, & the clients.

        But 9 times out of 10, the boss will not change or be held accountable (because what power does the employee have over the boss besides the power to quit) & the employee will be stuck working around this iceberg in the shipping lane that is their boss.

        If this wasn’t the case, the closing advice wouldn’t be:

        this comes up with enough managers that working around it is a useful skill to have.

        1. Uranus Wars*

          I still don’t see it as this black and white. I have been the flaky boss as a working manager…and if MY boss tells me I have to finish a project/items/deliverable and the choices are a) work doesn’t get done and b) one-on-one with employee…well, I’m forgoing b to make sure a gets done.

          Of course, I let my employees know and we rescheduled but it’s harder than it seems sometimes to manage all the things and all the people. And like individuals, leaders get burnt out, get too much on their plate, don’t know how to ask for help, aren’t sure who to ask for help, are afraid if they say “I don’t have time”, think the expectation is that they’ll never say “I don’t have time…” and that they’ll look incompetent or will get fired if they do.

          And yes, in the end flaky is worse for EVERYONE but when you are just trying to keep your head above water you don’t even know where to start with offloading crap.

    2. Happy meal with extra happy*

      Well, no. Put simply, managers are generally worth more to a company than their reports, and it is more important for managers to be accountable to their higher ups. Does this mean it’s right to blow off their employees or constantly be late or what have you? Of course not, but the most likely explanation is that they’re very busy, and they need to prioritize. It’s not right, but it is what it is, and if you accept it and work around it, your (general you) working life will be much less miserable.

    3. Roland*

      What is your better suggestion for the LW, the only one in the situation who will be reading Alison’s answer?

    4. Not Tom, Just Petty*

      I think unimpressed means “the inevitable RESULT will be…that your boss sucks and will not change.”
      And I feel that because from what I’ve read here about non-profits in particular, people running the place feel they ARE the mission so what they are doing at the moment is the most important thing.
      And OP writes that her manager is kind. I don’t think it is kind to pretend to listen/hear and acknowledge what OP tells her but makes no effort to follow through. By follow through, I mean, set expectations.
      It is what Alison always tells managers about transparency. Don’t let your employee think they are succeeding if they are not. Don’t let your employee think you are on something if you not.

    5. Lenora Rose*

      The only person I saw suggesting that the LW “Suck it up” was in the comments at NYMag. Alison specifically suggested some strategies to head off that possibility. Being realistic that the possibility exists that this is going to be the case is not telling someone to “suck it up”.

      1. MigraineMonth*

        That comment section was wild to read after being so used to AAM! One managed to get in a dig about entitled Zoomers always complaining and not “understanding her role in the hierarchy”. About someone who wrote for advice on how to do their job better.

    1. Throwaway Account*

      But to someone who can be/is a mentor and do it by framing it as, OP is still new to professional work, how should she manage this, etc.

    2. Happy meal with extra happy*

      Yeah, no. At this stage, that’s a “don’t pass go” ticket to tanking your relationship with your boss.

    1. #1 Catherder*

      This is the Askamanger Fanfic I want to read! We all slowly realize that we work at the same dysfunctional place for the same horrible boss who treats people terribly in many different ways.

  9. A Simple Narwhal*

    A former grandboss seemingly never checked his email, refused to sign into Teams, and was rarely and randomly in his office. I have no clue what his actual job entailed, but there were a few mission-critical fixes only he had access to make when a specific system went down, and it was frustrating to have a problem we had no way of fixing ourselves and he was nowhere to be found.

    The only working solution we came up with was to leave a post-it note on his monitor that said “please come see [name]” so whenever he was back at his desk he would see the note, go find that person, and could be told what he had to do.

    The only somewhat happy ending here is that his role was eliminated in a restructuring. How he was employed here (and making $$$$$$) for 20 years I’ll never know.

    1. Sloanicota*

      Hahaha doesn’t it just kill you when you realize how much more money the higher-ups make in this time of income inequality? I was at a small nonprofit doing my best every day and my boss was this kind of guy. Then I finally realized I was making $35K and he was making like $250K! To update his fantasy baseball team online and throw nerf balls at his staff!!

      1. A Simple Narwhal*

        It kills me to think of what certain higher ups can get away with (while getting paid a huge amount of money), especially when I think of the things I got absolutely skewered for while being at the bottom of the org chart and making next to nothing.

    2. Generic Name*

      I had an old boss who would forget conversations, and apparently never thought to look back at his emails/didn’t read them. I once got in trouble for coming in “late” when I was at a medical screening appointment FOR WORK that I had sent him an email about and reminded him about the afternoon before. We settled on me putting a paper note on his chair in addition to the above steps in the future. Do not miss that boss.

      1. A Simple Narwhal*

        With all of the technology available, I can’t believe we have to resort to leaving a physical note for some people!

      2. Shsndra*

        @Narwhal: You should have seen the time I ended up taking a written list of restaurants to my boss in a meeting.

        They’d initially emailed me a request to reserve a place that turned out to be FCFS. Then they were incapable of suggesting an acceptable alternative by email.

    3. Artemesia*

      LOL – in the 70s I worked for a guy we referred to as the ‘Pam Am Chair’ — he had a huge salary, a prestigious title and spent his time being whisked by the Ford Foundation and other big moneybags around and yet we never saw him do anything — he didn’t write anything interesting, he didn’t seem to get projects off the ground. He could talk though. It was just so strange. The kind of job you had to be an elite educated old white guy to have.

  10. Sloanicota*

    I’m going to add one more thing … you can’t care about your job more than your boss does. OP sounds like a conscientious person who can’t bear to disappoint her clients or be seen as flaky. That’s a great quality, but … you may just have to adjust a bit to the expectation that your boss is the one disappointing clients sometimes. If you can’t reliably schedule your afternoons because of your boss, it’s okay to hold that space and spend it catching up on the AAM archives – apparently your boss is fine with holding your schedule in this way. You can tactfully make it clear that ordering is beyond your scope of work but you’ll elevate the issue and clear it off your list.

    1. Aggretsuko*

      Yeah, maybe OP just can’t schedule any other meetings with people on Gillian-supposed-meeting days.

  11. ecnaseener*

    I do think it’s worth responding to this part:

    I am super-organized and committed to meeting my deadlines and I hate to be perceived as unreliable for something that isn’t my fault!
    I feel like I have no idea what’s normal and what isn’t in a postgrad workplace and boss-employee relationship. Is this something I just need to take in stride and continue to work around?

    I would say yeah, partly this is something to take in stride. Definitely use the strategies in the article to get better results, but it is fairly normal in the workplace to have your work delayed by busy / flaky higher-ups no matter how conscientious you yourself are. It’s an adjustment from school, for sure.

    You can’t tell clients “I’m not the problem, my boss is!” but you can frame expectations accordingly (“I don’t have a good estimate for turnaround time on this, but I’ll be following up weekly about it and I’ll keep you informed of any updates”).

    1. WorkerDrone*

      Well, depending on the phrase used, you kinda CAN tell clients “I’m not the problem, my boss is!”

      “This has to get approval from [Boss], which can take up to X days depending on how much is on her plate. I’ll update you as soon as I hear from her.”

      “I’ve submitted this to [Boss] for approval, but unfortunately I can’t give as estimate as to when I’ll get that and the product will be ordered – I’ll be in touch as soon as possible.”

      “This has to get approved at a higher level, so I’ve sent the request as of [date] and I will be in touch with you as soon as I get that approval.”

      And so on and so forth. I do this all the time when I know someone else is going to delay completing a task, whether because they’re legitimately busy and this is legitimately a low priority, or whether because they’re flaky.

    2. RVA Cat*

      This. As much as I despised them, the one part of school that prepares you for the working world is Group Projects.

      1. Aggretsuko*

        What, that you’re the only one that does the work and nobody else does?

        See, a thing I do like about my job is that if we’re all assigned to a project, everyone actually DOES it. Nobody can just flake and bail.

  12. Generic Name*

    When your boss is late for a meeting, do they give you any kind of heads up they aren’t available on the agreed-upon time? Or are you expected to sit around and then they arrive at your desk and expect you to drop everything and meet with them hours later? Maybe I’m just brutal with my scheduling, but if someone doesn’t show up for a meeting after 15 mins, I’ll send them a message asking if they’d like to reschedule. I certainly don’t cancel other meetings to accommodate flakiness. As a first step, I’d stop moving other things around on your calendar/cancelling other meetings when Flaky Boss deigns to show up for the missed meeting. You can either request to move the meeting to a mutually convenient time, or just consider this week’s meeting missed.

    1. Elsa*

      Yeah, I also came here to say that you shouldn’t cancel other meetings to accommodate flakiness. I’d suggest that if your meeting with Flaky Boss is scheduled to be from 2:00-3:00, then if she shows up at 2:45 you can meet for 15 minutes. If she shows up after 3:00 then she missed the meeting and you can let her know when you have time in your schedule to make it up.

  13. thedude*

    I’m just so happy that you said “graduated FROM college”. :) Thanks for making my day.

    1. Throwaway Account*

      Merriam-Webster says:
      “I graduated from college” is the most accepted use of graduate in this context. You can also say “I graduated college” or “I was graduated from college.” Both are frequently used, but to some people they are considered incorrect.

      There is still another way in which graduate is used, and this one does still produce ire in some people, in which the word is used in a transitive sense and with the meaning “to be graduated from” (“I graduated college this year”). This use is not uncommon, but it is frowned upon by some guides.

      Mr. Moore, who graduated college in prison and now works as an information technology specialist, was evicted again.
      —Michael Schwirtz, The New York Times, 5 Feb. 2013

      1. Throwaway Account*

        Nope, did not show up AND I cannot post it again, I get a “you already posted that” message.

    1. Ask a Manager* Post author

      I removed a thread that was obviously trolling (the one about candles and incense and bright colors).

      To you though: Please do not use multiple user names in the same post since it looks like sock puppetry (and I will remove that if it’s done in a way to make it look like there are more people supporting your position than there actually are!).

      1. Throwaway Account*

        Me? I only have one user name right now. And the post I commented on is still there. Confusing!

        When I originally hit submit, it did not really load, I got the blue circle and it just sort of spun.

  14. HonorBox*

    I think it would be worth the LW’s time and may help reduce frustration overall by using the next 1:1 to discuss specifically what issues are occurring, and importantly, how those things are impacting LW’s ability to do their job. It may very well be that they have to figure out how to navigate around the boss. For instance, if the boss’s schedule is such that their regular meetings can’t be prioritized over other things, then boss should be able to tell the LW to just proceed with the day. When it comes to the delays that are caused for things that clients need, the boss needs to understand the impacts of their inaction. Is there a different way to get things? Or maybe just asking the boss the right language to use when client deliveries are delayed. But it will help the LW to navigate better by having a direct conversation with the boss and asking for help.

  15. Ellis Bell*

    OP, you say you need more face time with your boss; this is out there, but is it possible to just interrupt her when necessary? I know lots of people prefer set meetings and loathe interruptions, but this isn’t universal. If she struggles to plan ahead, or to make the meetings, it might be more time effective to just approach her desk and ask for the purchase (or whatever has come up in the moment, rather than saving it for a proper sit down). She’s more likely to do it, than if she’s got one actionable thing on the table, instead of she’s still got the rest of the meeting to go through. If she’s said she can do it by the end of the day, and it’s getting close to the end of the day, can you approach her and say “Can we still do that today or do you want me to set it back with the client?” Another idea is, when you do have a scheduled sit down to have meetings with her, is it more helpful to have them be “do the work” meetings, as opposed to “talk about the work” meetings. I.e, if you want the purchases made, sit side by side and purchase together rather than leaving her with a to do list. Good luck, and if none of these are actionable, you can’t care about the clients more than she does.

    1. daffodil*

      As a flake who is trying to find ways to improve, often my flakiness is because of too many competing priorities, forgetfulness, and burnout. One thing that definitely works for me is having the person who needs something stay in front of me until I do the thing, we both confirm that it’s done, and can move on. I’ve started bringing a laptop to meetings because of this. I won’t follow up but sometimes I can do the follow-up thing immediately and then it doesn’t become an item on my never ending “to-do” list that I may or may not actually get to.

      1. Stuckinacrazyjob*

        The first one is why I think my boss flakes on me. she sees an emergency and decides that ” eh I’m sure Random is fine” ( I am not fine)

    2. Uranus Wars*

      This is great advice, IMO. If she truly does have too much on her plate, even if she writes it down a list might get buried or overwhelming.

    3. HonorBox*

      I like this a lot. Sometimes word to paper to action is difficult, especially if you’re being pulled in numerous directions.

  16. Stuckinacrazyjob*

    I’m glad someone else has the same boss. I’m like please don’t leave me to my own devices

  17. Brain the Brian*

    Similar situation here — except that I cannot purchase *anything* without approval. Not even $10 pencils. So you can imagine how slowly we operate…

    1. LCH*

      i’ve been in situations where i’m like, currently have run out of any sort of work because those supplies i requested x months ago and asked about again x weeks ago are not here. please advise on status. like, literally cannot move forward on anything at all without the supplies.

      status is that they were not yet ordered. come TF on.

      1. Brain the Brian*

        I mean, I do understand the impulse where I work to be careful with money, given the number of regulations with which we have to comply in multiple countries and somehow maintain consistency in our cost principles. But… there’s a point where requiring a VP to sign off on every single purchase means that no VP will ever have the time to properly review any of them anyway. It’s a dumb setup, IMO.

  18. Artemesia*

    On the purchases could you institute a system where when she signs off in your meeting or whenever, you have her signed authorization for THAT purchase and you then put it into the system? She still approves but you make sure it gets done.

    I sympathize. I had a boss who was terminally vague about what our agenda was — it was extremely anxiety inducing. but in your case — ‘how can we tweak our systems since you are so slammed with the details’ is probably the right approach. come up with workarounds you can DO when she has agreed. Have a way for her to literally sign off on the decision.

  19. Blue*

    Do you have reason to believe your boss expects indefinite availability from whenever your scheduled meeting time is? Would you get static for saying, when she finally pops up, I have a meeting with Client in 5 but will be free again starting at X? I realize that might not get you something you want (facetime with your boss) but could reduce the overall frustration/feeling that your boss’s disorganization is making you look flaky to clients.

    1. Uranus Wars*

      I think this is a good practice in general. You are correct it doesn’t solve the facetime issue but I do think it will solve a frustration issue!

  20. Mopsy*

    I had a direct supervisor just like this, and she had lots of other direct reports. Turned out she didn’t just not answer me, but literally everyone. It took us all a while to figure it out. She was fired within 9 months of being promoted into the role, thank GOD.

  21. Shandra*

    Some flakes are just flakes. At a PastEmployer, the day-to-day manager of Project X couldn’t get his boss to approve large invoices that required boss-level approval.

    DDM finally bypassed Boss, and got an exception authorizing them to approve invoices for Project X only. It was the only solution.

  22. McS*

    Honestly if I were to speculate, I’d say Gillian sounds like she should have stacked her team and assigned you to a more junior manager a long time ago. If Allison’s advice isn’t enough, look around for senior team members you could set a biweekly 1-on-1 with for guidance and ask your purchasing department if there are others who can execute your purchases for you. You don’t need to be isolated with your boss as the only path to get certain things done. And if you give her the feedback that you would like more direct and attentive management overall given you are so early in your career, there might be a path for that.

  23. Liz HD*

    Another consideration, if she’s a higher up manager with a lot on her plate, especially in nonprofit world where she’s juggling a lot of demands w few resources, make sure you’re making things as easy for her to do as you reasonably can. For instance with purchases, if you don’t already, provide links to the items you want her to order, or even add them all to cart and have a shared account so she can login and complete the purchase easily. You may already be doing that or there may be reasons that won’t work, but I wanted to throw it out there, as someone who has been on both sides of this experience. When you have a manager or senior level person who needs to complete a more nitty gritty task like that, as is particularly common in nonprofits (and I’m sure small businesses too) just try to make things as simple as possible for them to do it. And when you do have those check in meetings, maybe doing those tasks together during the meeting could help when possible.

  24. Cinnamon Boo*

    Literally my entire life at jobs I have had. And I think I’m fairly assertive. I used to laugh that my boss would take all kinds of notes and as soon as I walked out the door would rip off the paper and throw it in the trash! She also would get annoyed with followups, so I had to be persistent, but not annoying. I’m no longer in that particular job, but how exhausting.

  25. WeveAllBeenThere*

    Sadly, this is all very common. We’ve all had this boss. My version involved the boss flaking out entirely about 2/3 of the time and telling me he would be with me in a bit then almost never do it, often resulting in my hanging around for hours longer than anticipated before finally sending apologetic emails that I couldn’t wait any longer. His issues delayed my pay at times, it caused errors to go out on public websites, and all sorts of other issues. Plus it was ultra super frustrating.

  26. OP*

    Thank you so much Alison for taking the time for my question and to everyone for the constructive comments!! I am still new to the full-time workforce and am really appreciating reading all of the comments and hearing from others who have been through similar situations. I feel like things have been on a better trajectory at work even since I sent this email, and I’m gathering so much good advice on how to approach this conversation in a solution focused way. One thing that is helping so far is doing tasks together in meetings. Thanks all :)

  27. DJ*

    I am so worried that I’m the boss in question. I was recently promoted from a part of our agency that literally operates 24/7 to a more traditional hours structure. In addition, we’ve been short staffed for months. I’ve had a newly graduated staff hanging in there with me from the beginning and I adore her, but I also constantly feel like I’m letting her down as I also do case management/manage the purchasing/screen clients for intake/attend the higher up meetings.

  28. Lou*

    I can relate to both LW AND Gillian all at once. Re: getting answers and progressing jobs – how about a Microsoft Planner or Trello Board that outlines where projects or specific tasks are at and where they are being held up?

    More work initially than just sending email, sure. But it’s so refreshing to open a board and be able to see where something is at without sifting through millions of emails. And brilliant when a colleague asks why a project is being held up and you can open the board and say “oh it looks like that’s in your bucket” ;). Plus they send relentless reminders until the job is done. Win.

  29. The answer is (probably) 42*

    The comments on the New York Magazine website are appalling! Most of them are some flavor of “Suck it up, buttercup. You’re a lowly peon and you should just accept that bosses are there to make your life difficult, not easy!”

    What on earth is wrong with those people.

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