does my staff resent me for being frequently out of the office?

A reader writes:

I am the director of a small organization. Since we’re so small, I have day-to-day tasks along with more responsibilities such as board meetings, weekend and evening events, media relations, and external meetings. As we grow, I am finding more demands on my time, and I am often on the run, headed out to meetings and events outside the office. Since I frequently work nights and weekends, I sometimes take an afternoon off or leave early to preserve some work-life balance. (In fact, my board has encouraged me to stay under 50 hours a week for that reason.)

I often feel guilty and worried when I leave the office, even though it’s part of my job. I also have a group of young staffers who are working their first jobs and don’t want them to feel it’s okay for them to come and go whenever they want, or that it’s okay for the boss to be a hypocrite. I also don’t want the senior staff to feel I’m not around when they need me. I have heard the occasional grumble from some of the senior staff that I’m “never there,” even though I’m always working, just not always in the office or available immediately when people want me.

Should I try to explain what is going on, or would that just stir up drama? Do I just accept that sometimes people are going to grumble about management? Or do I need to do something else?

I answer this question over at Inc. today, where I’m revisiting letters that have been buried in the archives here from years ago (and sometimes updating/expanding my answers to them). You can read it here.

{ 73 comments… read them below }

  1. learnedthehardway*

    I think that if you’re available to people by email / phone / text, and if relevant people (eg. your EA if you have one, or your direct reports) have access to your calendar so they can see that you are on the job, then your team is going to know that you are, indeed, very active on the organization’s behalf.

    From a people development and mentoring perspective, I would make a point of having a staff meeting every 1-2 weeks and would make specific time for 1:1s for your direct reports. That will ensure everyone has visibility to the overall goals / strategy for the organization, and will ensure that your reports feel supported and developed.

        1. I am Emily's failing memory*

          I’m having palpitations at the mere thought of someone this busy with off site meetings not using a calendar to keep track of them!

    1. ArtsNerd*

      Yeah I’m definitely suspecting there’s a bottleneck happening because LW’s schedule doesn’t overlap with their staff much (and when it does, they’re not available to chat because they’re in other meetings / on calls.)

      I went a month or more without seeing my direct supervisor in a previous role, and getting her attention via other means (email / IM) was hit or miss at best. We had staff meetings on the calendar but she wasn’t able to attend most of them. She was legitimately busy! But it felt like her work and our work were totally divorced from each other, and there were frequent problems when things hadn’t been communicated clearly (in either direction), simply because that time and attention to getting aligned was not a priority.

      1. Jane*

        Did you find a way of resolving this with your previous supervisor, or was it part of the reason you left that job?

        1. Bast*

          I also had this issue in my Old Job, and it was a contributing factor in a long list of reasons why I left. The owner of the company was never reachable, but wanted to have his thumb in every pie, so to speak. There were many, many things that others could have done, or were qualified to do, yet he insisted on doing them himself. The issue was, he WASN’T going home and working; he was going on vacations and otherwise not working/not responding to anyone, and then would get angry about how backed up things got, blame everyone else, without realizing he was a major contributing factor. All in all, he was in the office MAYBE 15 -ish hours a week, and for over half of them he’d go in his office, shut the door, and tell you to go away if you tried to ask him anything — yet again, he left NO BACK UP to approve certain items. This led to extreme customer dissatisfaction, as they’d be told that only Boss could approve certain things, “Well, when will Boss be in?” And no one knew. The only thing I knew for certain is that if it were Friday, he wouldn’t be in, because he never came in on Fridays.

          This is a little different from LW and more in response to the comment, as my Boss actually did not really work much and refused to delegate, leaving things bottlenecked.

          Bouncing back to LW — I was in a management role in that company and frequently worked “off hours” — my schedule was different, so I came in a good 1.5- 2 hours before everyone else and frequently got the “must be nice to leave early” comments, which I usually shut down with telling them they were also free to come in early and leave earlier if they wished — but they didn’t wish, and at the end of the day, they chose their schedule. They also did not see the reports I’d be up running, or “quick emails” I’d be answering at 10 PM. One thing that did help is that I generally overlapped everyone by at least 5-6 hours a day, so if they did have concerns or questions, they knew I would be there between certain hours. I think even just having a few days a week, if they can swing it, with some “core hours” when they will be available– like a professor’s office hours — will limit frustration. It’s very difficult to never know when someone is available, or if they even will be.

    2. Kes*

      I think being available and making sure you’re not being a blocker are the most important aspects. If staff are complaining OP is never there that makes me wonder if there are things they need from OP that they aren’t able to get. (Now, the answer to that might be that OP needs to find a better way to be available for this or it might be that the process/who they need it from needs to change)
      I also think it’s worth making sure you are visible in the office at times and mentioning things you’re doing (ie. that conference/client/etc you’ll be travelling to next week). That occasional visibility helps so that when you’re not there people will be like ‘oh yeah, they’re probably off doing x (work related thing)’ instead of just wondering where you and and what you even do.

    3. another fed*

      I would also add that it may be time to start discussing with your Board the development of a Deputy Director or Chief of Staff position that likely would be in the office more frequently and could take the lead on daily operations. This might be toward the end of a 5 year plan, but if you’re truly in growth mode, this discussion can be started now.

      1. Lizzianna*

        This was my thought too. I’ve been in a role roles with Deputies, and part of their job was to focus internally and on operations, and allow me to focus on more external parts of running an organization.

        The other thing that I know my team appreciates is having predictable times that I am in the office/available. Part of it is having 1:1s with my direct reports, but my team (include 2nd line reports) know that I try to block out Wednesday afternoons as “office hours” when I’m in the office and try to avoid calls/meetings during that block. I think a lot of it is perception (with our hybrid environment, there are members of my team who can go weeks without seeing each other despite working 40+ hours per week) – it may not be that I’m “never there,” I’m just not available on the 2 days a week that employee is in the office, and the rest of the week, it’s out of sight, out of mind because they’re not one of my direct reports.

  2. Nesprin*

    So it sounds like you’re balancing long term development, staff development and routine keep the lights on stuff.
    It might be worth asking your staff if they’re getting the latter 2 from you -i.e. do they know what they’re working on and do they have enough guidance? Are urgent things falling through cracks? If not, who else could you delegate authority to?

  3. Melissa*

    Alison gave great advice here, and like so many of the letters, the advice comes down to “Communicate often and clearly.” I worked in a clinic once where there was almost no top-down communication at all (it was a disaster). This meant that gossip and rumors were constant; for example, if a C-level person wasn’t in the office for a few days, floor-level staff would be saying “She doesn’t even do anything; she’s probably off playing tennis; why do the executives get paid so much not to work.” When if that C-level person had literally just announced “You won’t see me much this week because I am attending meetings in (town) followed by a conference on Friday”– it would have brought everyone into the loop and taken the nonsense down a notch.

    1. New Jack Karyn*

      This is weird to me! If someone wasn’t in the office for a few days, I’d assume they were sick or on vacation. Snarking about executives playing tennis wouldn’t occur to me–unless there was a whole lot of other stuff going on.

      1. ariel*

        A lack of communication leaves a vacuum and causes snark – not the OP but in an org filled with backchannels and unhappy judgement because our C suite is checked out. Mentally, but sometimes also just literally not here, for reasons unknown.

    2. ferrina*

      It really depends on the norms of the office. There are some places/roles where it’s just understood that you’ll be out of the office. If our sales team were always in the office, there would be a lot of questions about whether they were really doing their job.

      If being out of the office is a new norm, then yes, a casual “fyi, you won’t see me physically but I’m here via email. Physically, I’ll in meetings in [PLACE]” really sets expectations. But ultimately it comes down to trust- if someone isn’t doing a good job, it doesn’t matter how much they say “I’ll be here/there”, there will be rumors. If there is a toxic work environment where someone(s) is fostering an us vs them mentality, there will be rumors. If there is mutual trust and respect, the conversation tends to be more of “hey, are you okay? I didn’t see you last week- were you sick? are you feeling better? Oh, you were traveling? how did the meeting go?”

  4. Bunny Girl*

    I think it’s wild that the senior staff are grumbling! Any job that I’ve worked I normally expect the upper level (directors, CEOs, etc.) to have a schedule and office time that looks radically different than mine as a junior or entry level employee. I’ve never thought anything about it. I figure it just comes with the territory. I think as long as you’re reachable, then it’s your senior staff that needs to make some adjustments. Not you.

    1. Pretty as a Princess*

      I think this really is situationally-dependent. Are the senior staff members getting the responsiveness they need from the boss in a timely manner? Are things sufficiently delegated that the boss being out of office/delayed in responding does not interfere with the conduct of the business? And are the senior staff getting appropriate 1:1 conversation opportunities with the boss for purposes of their own growth/development, or working through normal issues/priorities?

      And, is the boss ensuring that they are responsive/available to their staff somehow during routine business hours? Recently had a long talk with someone about how “I am always available to speak to people in the evenings” does not constitute actually being available to staff, because it requires the staff to now be cutting in to family/out of work time due to the leader not making time during the business day.

      I absolutely expect a senior leader’s schedule to look different. However, a senior leader should also not be an absentee landlord. If people are saying that the lack of presence is a problem, the leader in question ought to be looking into why that is. What is the lack of presence during the business day interfering with? Are things late? Are people not getting timely information? Is the leader being perceived as unapproachable? Are the people the leader is supposed to be mentoring, actually getting that mentoring?

      1. doreen*

        I think this really is situationally-dependent.

        I agree. The times I’ve complained about my manager being out of the office, it wasn’t that I thought they weren’t working. It was because neither they nor someone covering for them was in the office for a week or two which meant that some of my work was going to miss deadlines ( and I couldn’t just submit it earlier because every report had a short window between the earliest it could be completed and the deadline)

    2. Optimus*

      I do wonder how old the original question is. My first thought was “this was pre-pandemic and OP has a lot of managers who think work=butts in seats.” Of course, even today plenty of managers STILL are convinced work=butts in seats…

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

        But even before covid it would be odd to have a memver of senior leadership grumbel that their boss is not in the office because of outside meetings, conferences, etc.

      2. M*

        I’m betting that it’s a public library, in which case most of the rest of the staff have jobs that can only be done in-person on a set schedule.

    3. Echo*

      I agree with Alison’s suspicion that this is actually about accessibility. At my (huge) organization we have many execs who are mostly unavailable during typical work hours. Some have clear processes to get in touch with them; others it’s a big challenge to figure out how to get an answer to a question. I can tell you which ones I grumble about.

      1. ferrina*

        Accessibility and education. If the staff tend to be young professionals, they may not know what a CEO does. Many CEOs simply can’t do their job if they have to stay in the office all the time, even if their staff have to be physically in the office to do their job. At that point it’s on the middle managers to provide that initial education- “ED will be in donor meeting all next week. You couldn’t pay me enough to be her- she’ll be working 12-hour days schmoozing, working politics and securing funds. No thanks, I’ll stick to doing X”. (I got my early education on CEOs from the Executive Assistant. She was amazing, and she patiently educated my very young and unaware self. That education has been invaluable)

  5. Caramel & Cheddar*

    I do agree with spelling it out to make it more clear, but I’m kind of surprised your senior staff don’t know that this is often the nature of a director or higher role (unless senior means tenure with the company, not role in the hierarchy).

    I do think that in addition to spelling out why you might not be in the office at any given time, giving people procedures for how to manage their work around you would be helpful, beyond just “You can contact me!” It’s one thing to know that your boss is offsite somewhere, but at the end of the day if I just need you to sign the TPS report, explicitly stating that stuff in your inbox gets signed by 3pm every Tuesday and Friday will help me manage my own expectations and workflow.

    1. Serious Silly Putty*

      Yes exactly!
      Most people don’t begrudge their boss having work/life balance; they begrudge their own work being hindered by their boss’s actions.

      If I need the answer to a quick question to move forward on my work, the ideal situation is to pop into boss’s office and ask. But if I can’t do that, I need to know what backup will work: Should I take my own best guess and let him know what I decided? Should I wait 20 minutes because he’ll actually be in today after his meeting ? If I email can I trust a reply will come in 24 hours? If I need an answer sooner, will he be annoyed by a text?
      If THOSE answers are clear (and standards for work/life balance are uniform for all) I suspect grumbling will evaporate.

    2. New Mom (of 1 7/9)*

      > I’m kind of surprised your senior staff don’t know that this is often the nature of a director or higher role

      You don’t know what you don’t know, honestly! Every time I (senior-level) look at my manager (director-level)’s calendar I am truly humbled by all the stuff she’s doing. More communication is rarely a bad thing. If you have to spell it out for them, so be it!

      1. AngryOctopus*

        Well, and I suspect the grumbling is less about not being in the office, and more about inability to get what they need when they need it. “I’m available by email or phone while I’m at this offsite!” isn’t helpful when someone needs a signature by 3 on Wed and it hasn’t happened yet, and the OP is in a meeting until 3:30 at the offsite. “I will check my email at X and Y times during the day and sign off on anything requiring that” is helpful because then the staff member can get their request in an hour before X and know they’ll have it on time.

  6. My Useless 2 Cents*

    Something Alison doesn’t touch on in her response that I think is important, is try to carve out time in the week dedicated to being at the office. Be that Tuesday’s, Wednesday mornings, Thursday afternoons, whatever works best for you. That way employees can know they will see and be able to get ahold of you during that time. (Not saying, never schedule a Wed morning meeting, but as long as you are there Wed mornings a majority of the time, it helps.)

    As a peon, I know the director is busy and working when out of the office but I don’t necessarily need or want to be responsible or “empowered” to make the decisions, however, it is a HUGE help to know that I’ll be able to get an answer or discuss a problem at some point in the week. If the director’s schedule is that chaotic and I never know when I’ll see them next, it becomes very stressful which leads to grumbling.

    1. Peanut Hamper*

      Agreed. It really does help, if you can do it, to have some sort of “office hours” a couple of times a week when people can come to you with anything and you can set aside your own stuff if need be and prioritize their questions.

  7. WellRed*

    My thought is in such a small organization there should be a certain awareness of it visibility into your schedule. To me, it would be obvious that someone who’s working nights and weekends would take an afternoon off. I also heartily second the advice to make sure folks are empowered to make decisions.

  8. Assistant To The Regional Manager*

    I made this comment on a post, I believe in the open thread last week, and will again here. I’ve worked for my boss twice now. When he moved on from the first place we worked together, I was promoted to his role. Several times, staff had wondered where he was all the time (though he was very responsive to any of our needs) and when I had been in his role for a few months, we chatted and I sort of chuckled and apologized for ever wondering, because that was a similar organization to the one LW is with, I assume. I told him, “I get it now… you have all kinds of people pulling on you for different things, asking for meetings, etc.”

    I think the advice here is great. Have a conversation and lay out the reality of your job and the pull on your time. And by all means, talk about what the board has set as expectations of your time, too. If there’s transparency and honesty, staff will recognize that. Make sure you’re available to them in a timely fashion and ensure that when you’re in the office, you’re actually freeing up some time to be available too.

    Sharing a calendar helps with this. While you shouldn’t NEED to note all of the evening and weekend events on there, it might help others see that if you duck out for a personal meeting on a Wednesday afternoon, you’ll have had four evening meetings that week, or you attended a Saturday function for work.

    1. The dark months*

      Ah yes, this was me. As a junior widget counter I truly thought that was the end all and be all at the widget counting company and wondered why the sr widget expert never seemed actually count widgets. Now that I am at that level I also get it and apologize mentally to my past boss. What may help though is naming what the junior folks do and explain how it contributes to the larger picture. Thanking people for the latest inventory and explaining that it gets added to the regional widget database and forms the basis of the quarterly report helps illustrate the larger picture and how they are contributing to the work of the senior staff.

    2. Ama*

      When I reported directly to the CEO at our org, it was my boss’s transparency about the demands on her time that helped me very quickly realize I had NO desire to be a CEO/ED myself.

      I wish our board would tell her to limit herself to 50 hours a week, except knowing our board they’ll say that and then all think they can ask for “just one thing” every weekend. (Our board is very committed to our cause but that means they might think about the org even more than our staff does.)

  9. Beth*

    It’s normal for a director, C-suite member, etc. to have a different schedule than your average individual contributor. Yes, it’s worth spelling out schedule expectations for new employees–organizations differ, people’s backgrounds differ, so setting expectations clearly sets everyone up for success. But it’s very common for different roles to have different schedule expectations, and specifically for high-profile people to balance the demands on their time with flexibility.

    The only thing I see in here that’s actually concerning to me is that you’ve heard grumbles that you’re never there. It might well be that people are just grumbling about management! But that does make it sound like you’re viewed as inaccessible.

    Obviously you can’t be available 24/7–but there are ways to make yourself accessible without that. Do you have office hours where people know they’ll be able to find you? Do the people reporting to you know when you’re going to flex your schedule, so they can get anything they urgently need from you before you head out? Have you set expectations about how long a turnaround time your team should expect when they reach out to you–and do those expectations accommodate your flex time, or are people often waiting longer than they expected when you’re out? How do you connect and build relationships with your team, given that your in-office schedules don’t always align?

    1. Ama*

      This is good — I’d add to it that the CEO should ask themselves if their senior staff are truly empowered to make decisions about at least some things when the CEO isn’t available or if everything is bottlenecking at their desk. Obviously there are always going to be some things the CEO needs to approve but the more they can tell their senior staff “you don’t have to wait for me to finalize X, I trust your judgement,” the better.

    2. Noodles*

      Office hours are huge, as an individual contributor I like knowing there is a set time I can run things past my boss. and as a leader I like that I’m not fielding questions randomly and getting pulled away from other work. Also as a leader if you don’t have enough time to answer every question staff has in your office, it’s a good sign for you to assess if your staff isn’t empowered or trained well enough to function in their roles.

  10. Frodo*

    As a former senior level employee who witnessed the boss/general manager come and go and had a total of 2 senior staff meetings in the 4 years I worked under her, I would advise full transparency as related to work. So many junior level employees would take her random abandonment as not caring about the work that oftentimes they just wouldn’t show up. It was frustrating. I quit.

    The boss was also notorious for fearing confrontation, so this method worked for her. She simply hired new people when the old ones quit. She’s still the general manager at the company.

  11. Michelle Smith*

    How I feel about the executive staff and their work schedules/face time in the office is so situation dependent. I had a boss once (who wasn’t an executive, for the record) who was constantly on the go the way LW was. Problem was that I was at the bottom of the decision-making chart and couldn’t act without her prior approval. That meant staying late and hovering in the hall h0ping to catch her on her way to or from an event or meeting. That was stressful and frustrating. It was compounded by the fact that she was not readily responsive to texts and asked us to limit emails because her inbox was overwhelming. When you were able to reach her, there was often a need to stand there while she made a decision in real time – otherwise, you’d just have to chase her down again and remind her what you needed the next day. I liked her very much as a person, but she was so, so annoying to work for.

    If your people are not empowered to make business decisions without your input and you are difficult to reach because of your schedule, it might be time to hire someone like a chief of staff and delegate that authority to them and/or get an executive assistant to take some of the day-to-day administrative/coordinating tasks off your plate so you can be more responsive.

    As far as not wanting to give staff the impression that they can just leave early if they want, why can’t they? As a junior staff person at a previous job, it was absolutely appropriate and expected for me to manage my calendar how I wanted within reason. I was a trial attorney in a government office (0 years experience, very much entry level despite having a law degree), so my schedule and in-office time varied wildly from week to week depending on what was happening with my cases. There were times when I would be preparing for hearings or drafting briefs and might spend the entire weekend working (and this was before WFH, so I would go into the office physically to do my job). There were other times when there was a lull in work – I didn’t have upcoming trials, I didn’t have new motions to draft, and I didn’t have to be in court anywhere. I worked in government so there was no need for me to proactively drum up “business.” I and my colleagues were expected to still be reachable by cell if needed, but could leave the office if we truly didn’t have anything going on.

    If there is no reason your junior employees *need* to be butts in seat until 5 or 6 pm every day, say that explicitly and relax your requirements. If there is a genuine business reason for them to be present for whatever reason, say that explicitly too. It’s not your job to model what you think are business norms for everyone in the company – I’m sure you’re not coming in at 4 am to demonstrate your expectations for the janitorial staff. It’s your job to be transparent about expectations and hold people to reasonable standards that make sense for your business. That’s all.

    1. Jen*

      Yeah, I was really expecting part of the answer to be to deputize someone else to make many of the big decisions and be a go between.

  12. Lexi Vipond*

    There’s a real difference between ‘never there’, which is fine as long as you are or have been somewhere else useful, and ‘never there when we need you’, so that things are held up for the want of your signature or approval or quick decision, or people feel like things are falling on them unexpectedly. If it’s the latter, that’s what you need to find ways to sort out, ideally involving people who are there.

    1. Dust Bunny*

      This. This is what makes the difference.

      My boss is out pretty often for work-related stuff, but we know that if we really need her we can get ahold of her reasonably quickly (not immediately, necessarily) and that for things that need attention NOW, we can either go to (other designated person) or we can handle them ourselves and explain later without getting in trouble.

  13. Tradd*

    I don’t grumble when the owners of the smaller company I work for are out of the office. I prefer it!

  14. MassMatt*

    I am thinking about how many letters, it must be in the hundreds at least, where the LW outlines some extremely dysfunctional situation–an employee not doing their work, incompetence, bottlenecks, personal issues exploding into screaming matches, etc–and immediately says “The manager is never here (or works in another building) so I can’t go to them…”.

    Your staff deserve actual management–someone assigning duties, resolving disputes, evaluating performance, giving feedback, etc. Whether you are attending board meetings or company events etc, the reduction in hours to get you down to 50 or fewer per week (which is a great goal) shouldn’t come at the cost of the office going without a manager.

    LW sounds conscientious IMO your management of the office is sounding like an afterthought. You are thinking about whether the staff thinks you “work enough” but maybe whether you travel to a fundraiser etc is not relevant to them if they are not getting the management they need.

    Maybe it’s coming time for this very small business to expand, and separate the duties between those in the office and outside?

    1. B*

      10000% — I have been a “lower level” employee in this position, and I could not care less what the boss was doing. But the boss made it clear, through their actions and priorities, that *whatever* they were doing was more important than what we were doing. The work languished, and quotidian workplace problems festered and multiplied, while they were “meeting with stakeholders,” attending conferences, etc.

  15. Lauren19*

    There are some senior people who are still old school – if you’re not in the office you’re not working. When I started at my organization and was going to be out of the office, I left a note on my door stating where I was, how to reach me, and when I’d be back in the office. Shared calendars are great but I know there’s a group of people who like tangible things.

    1. Aspiring Chicken Lady*

      This strategy also provides that instant answer if staff has gotten up to look for you.

  16. BellyButton*

    Is it that you are “never there” or “never there when I need something”? Is there proper coverage, is there an Assistant Director who makes decisions, signs off on things, and handles any conflicts or confusions in your absence?

    I think it is important to have the transparent communication Alison scripted, but I also think you need to have a check-in with employees to see if they feel they are supported and getting what they need from you.

  17. Lola*

    I think the key here is ensuring that your staff feel and know that you know what’s going on in the office – are there key areas that need troubleshooting, do you have a sense as to how the dynamics are and how you being there or not being there impacts their work? Do you have your finger on the pulse of the place? If you are directly managing these folks, that’s an important quality to have.

    Example: I had a manager who, because of childcare, worked 7 am – 3 pm. Okay, but the busiest time at our organziation, which worked with the children and families, was after school, when many clients would come in. She would leave the office just as we were getting going and, in my opinion, she didn’t fully grasp some of the issues we encountered in our day to day work because of it. It would’ve done a lot for her leadership if she could find at least least one day a week that she could work the same hours as her staff.

  18. glu*

    I haven’t see this posted here or in Alison’s response, but this person sounds like a single point of failure in their org which is a huge risk, even for a small org.

    In addition to the transparency & clarity, I’d suggest they start bringing people along with them, train & empower their leaders to own some of these relationships and event responsibilities. It will offer visibility into the work, align people on mission & communication, and ensure when this person does need to take time away, there are people who can step in and cover as needed.

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

      I do wonder if the OP has too much on their plate, especially the day to day stuff. But I don’t think they are a single point of failure. We don’t see any evidence that anything has been delayed because of OP’s schedule. The most we see are some senior employees grumbling that the OP is not there. That could be anything, including someone who doesn’t get it that the director level has a different type of work and schedule. This can happen a lot, look at last weeks letter about the csuite who the OP thought didn’t work.

      1. House On The Rock*

        They definitely have too much on their plate and the guidance they are getting from the Board is that they should cut back, but it’s unclear whether the Board is actually allowing them to do so. LW clearly wants to do right by her people (even the grumblers!) but instead of talking to the staff they should probably start with their own leadership and explain that staff are getting short shrift because of other commitments. They can either figure out a different management structure or reduce LW’s workload – but this isn’t entirely on LW to fix!

  19. Avery*

    Definitely make sure staff isn’t impeded by you not being there or not being accessible–and keep in mind that the two aren’t necessarily interchangeable!
    I had a manger who was also the head of the small nonprofit I worked for and frequently went to conferences and the like… which wouldn’t be a problem, but there was no transparency about when she was going beforehand and no indication of what I should do if I needed her in the meantime, which became a problem when the conferences themselves didn’t need to be. (She was also a micromanager who wouldn’t let me do a lot of things without her explicit approval, which made things that much worse.)
    I was working remotely, so it didn’t matter where she was physically–it mattered that she wasn’t answering my emails for several days at a time, even when they were on important, time-sensitive matters that she had said needed her say-so before action.
    In contrast, my boss in my current job alternates between offices in two parts of the country, takes somewhat frequent vacations, and I’m still working remotely. But the difference is, he only asks to approve my work when that’s actually needed while trusting my judgment to work independently otherwise, makes it clear what to do if he’s not personally available for such approval, delegates out a fair bit of his work regardless of whether he’s out of the office or not, and still pops in to check emails now and then during vacation (for those important, time-sensitive matters, at least). So it’s not a problem in the same way it was for the other position!

  20. Edward Williams*

    “Energetic” means “we don’t want an old person, but our lawyer told us not to say it that way because it’s too blatantly illegal.”

  21. alex*

    It’s not really fair, but there are still a lot of people who would look at this kind of thing as “not real work” and more of socializing. It’s easy to see these things as fun evening parties and long lunches instead of crucial fundraising and business meetings with important stakeholders. That’s why transparency and communication is so important. LW should give some details on how this work affects the organization and in turn the employees and their work.

    I also think the LW should talk more in depth to the senior staff because the grumbling sounds like it might be a flag that there are issues going on in the office that the LW needs to be more involved with, or at least more aware of in order to take appropriate action.

  22. Not All Managers*

    I so empathize with this LW. Frequently the day to day staff/people management falls by the wayside when managers get overloaded. That’s far from ideal of course, but if her organization wants her to prioritize other things over being available to staff, it’s completely understandable that she can’t/won’t burn herself out.

    My theoretical primary job is as a people manager, but I get pulled into so much relationship and project management that weeks can go by where I don’t do the all the things I know I should be doing for my staff. And, unfortunately, the guidance I get from my own leadership is that the relationship and project management is the priority. It sounds like LW might be in a similar situation.

    I would advise LW to dig a bit into the “grumblings” though – are these people who actively need things from you they are not getting or are they just generally prone to grumbling? I loathe when staff make snide comments about “your calendar is always so full!”. Yes, yes it is, alas I can do nothing about that – please complain to my boss if you’d like more of my time.

  23. Green Sharpie*

    Some resentment is inevitable when your policy is “do as I say and not as I do.” Try setting aside a single week where you live by the rules you set for your staff.

    1. House On The Rock*

      But that’s not what is happening here – the LW actively doesn’t want to have this be a source of resentment for staff, but right now the only option is to burn themselves out and work too much! A hypocritical manager wouldn’t have written this letter and there’s no indication that they are not “living by the same rules”. It’s also not at all uncommon for manager/director level folks to have different work norms than junior level employees, specifically because so much more is asked of them.

      1. SpecialBossRules*

        No, clearly the correct option is to allow flexible schedules more generally, not have special boss rules.

  24. Office Drone*

    I used to work with a director who was never in the office. He was constantly on the road for speaking engagements and, when he was in the office, pulled in a hundred different directions by staffers needing to talk with him. It didn’t help that he wasn’t great about responding to emails, never scheduled held 1:1 meetings, and could go years between performance reviews.

    As you can imagine, yes, I resented this—especially when he would “make up” for inattention by dumping all his complaints on staff members at once or setting unrealistic expectations.

    In his case, my old boss needed an admin. He didn’t have the organizational skills or focus to manage his own time effectively. If you do, you might work on putting systems into place to help make sure you’re giving your staff adequate face time and support. If not, do what you can to get an admin.

  25. Kstruggles (Canada)*

    Biggest thing is to ensure that there is a well known chain of command, so that if trouble happens or people need help, they know who to go to.
    worked in a non-profit for 4 months, where the director was rarely there. That was okay, except she didn’t realize that there were frequently no work to be done yet expected us to always be working.
    plus expected us to have our monitors facing the camera (there’s privacy laws, saying that you can’t actually use the screens to monitor employee performance in my province, only safety)

  26. ZugTheMegasaurus*

    I had a job setup where there were maybe 20-25 of us with the same role and working in the same line of business, and we were assigned across 3-4 mangers. We all sat in the same area and were encouraged to work across teams as though there were no real distinction, but you’d still go to your direct manager for bigger questions, escalations, or performance-related stuff.

    At one point, our 3 managers were Alan, Bob, and Carol. My cubicle was directly in front of all 3 of their offices, so I could see anytime anyone was heading toward one of them. For some reason, Alan was NEVER in his office. He was definitely in the building though! He’d be there in the morning, disappear for a few hours, then pop back in for 10 minutes here or there, but then just disappear again for hours. It was a very large campus with plenty of places to hide, but it just didn’t make sense for him to be anywhere other than his office that frequently. His reports would need a quick escalation or a signature on something and he was just MIA. It got so bad that his reports stopped checking by his office entirely and would just go straight to one of the other managers. He was a really nice person, I just don’t know what the hell he was doing with his time.

  27. Not Tom, Just Petty*

    Since this is an older letter, I’m hoping OP will update. Was it a matter of work hitting a bottleneck that was resolved by giving individual senior managers more control? Was it a matter of senior managers needing their manager to be onsite more to complete things like reviews, budgets, and goals?

  28. BellaStella*

    Alison’s last paragraph is the key, OP:
    “But all of this assumes that you’re managing well! If people feel like they can’t get responses or follow-through from you, or that work is being bottlenecked, or that they’re nickeled and dimed over their time or made to feel guilty for taking time off, all of this will fall flat. So take a good look at that stuff at the same time.”

    I would also add:
    1. Do you miss regular 1:1s with your direct reports?
    2. Do you have a deputy to manage staff overall as you are never there? Or other managers?
    3. Do you reliably deliver on work so your staff knows you are doing what you need to do in terms of responses, reporting to donors, etc etc?
    4. Your senior staff and sounds like other staff d=too, do actually feel like they need you and you are not there (in your letter you say this). Well people grumble because you are not there.
    5. Do you have a shared calendar for people to see where you are, what meetings there are and what the expected outcomes of those meetings are (funding, partnerships, updates to donors, donor meetings, marketing organisation, etc), where funds are coming from for these meetings, etc? Are the meetings prioritised correctly in line with a strategy?
    6. What is your succession plan and can you delegate to senior managers some of these so you can be in office more and they can learn and grow?
    7. How about aiming for a day a week to be in office and just plan around that day to be present?
    8. Also do you do reports on each meeting as in a back to office report to share strategic goals achieved, followups needed, who met with, what are next steps, etc etc?

    Wishing you the best with this! Update us if you can!

  29. I Have RBF*

    So, where I come down on this is: Do your people understand that you are still working?

    If you are out for meetings, maybe draw up an email with news and pass-downs from those meetings: “As you know, we’ve been meeting with sponsors and …” or “Last week we negotiated X with Y” While you won’t be able to discuss everything, at least a high level “While I was out of the office I did … and had meetings about …”

  30. SpecialBossRules*

    It is thoroughly obnoxious to work a flexible schedule but not allow your employees to do the same. Full stop. It doesn’t matter how you explain it, it comes across as extremely hypocritical and as poor boss behavior. I would not want to work for you.

    1. nnn*

      Sorry, no. Different jobs have different needs, some need to be staffed during certain hours and others don’t.

  31. Yellow sports car*

    An important thing to consider is whether LW allow staff an equitable level of flexibility to what she has. Do staff work evenings or weekends at all? Are they permitted to take an afternoon off because they’ve worked overtime? Or is the expectation their overtime (even if far less) is just part of the role?

    I actually do think it is a problem if the Director is rarely in office at such a small organisation. If the Director is effectively working a weekend/evening roster to fulfill external facing responsibilities – are their internal facing responsibilities being skipped? Being seen is important in that sort of role – because if you are never in office you probably don’t have your finger on the pulse of how the staff are doing. Also – some people care about presence more than others. When a natural disaster strike there’ll be people who want the President to fly in and see it with their own eyes, sometimes it feels silly to me – they aren’t the one fixing stuff physically. But part of me also knows that experience is important and changes how they lead. This can be a factor too – if the Director feels divorced from the work the organisation does, because they are never there, and never see what the staff do, it could be that they are leading differently than if they were more present.

    I suspect that LW is in an awkward stage of growth where they can’t support financially a level below them to share these duties, but they have so many they are not able to come into the office – and to get there they need to focus on fundraising or advocacy or whatever.

    If rarely in the office means you aren’t doing live team meetings to a reasonable schedule (quarterly? monthly?), and you never have informal conversations with anyone, and you’ve missed every celebration or recognition event in the last year, and you haven’t noticed the mould / broken ac / closed toilets / broken lift etc I get why staff would be resentful.

  32. Sam*

    Yes, as others said – communicate with your team! You don’t have to justify and report to them, but loop them in. Help them understand your role and what you contribute to making the department run more smoothly.

    I once worked in a satellite office with a Director who seemed to just leave and “go to meetings” at HQ 90% of the time. She rarely gave us any information and seemed to have zero contribution to our operations. The structure was Direction >> 2 Managers >> multiple coordinators, admin staff. We literally did not know what she did, if anything. It did cause resentment because budgets were tight and we had this high level person taking up a significant chunk, yet seemingly adding no value to our department.

  33. mytummyhurtsbutimbeingbraveaboutit*

    Ironically, in grad school, my advisor’s propensity to vanish without warning so I didn’t see him for weeks at a time and communicated mostly via email prepared me perfectly for the pandemic where I didn’t see him for weeks at a time and communicated mostly via email.

    God academia was weird.

  34. Elizabeth H*

    I think it really depends on the organization. At a small organization, it can be INCREDIBLY bad vibes if the executive director is “never there” especially while low level staff are expected to work inflexible schedules. This happened at my organization and morale plummeted to black hole level.

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