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How to Deal With an Absent Boss

How to Deal With an Absent Boss

Alison Green | Ask A Manager

A reader writes:

Our department suffers from absenteeism and my boss is one of the biggest offenders. She just called in sick again today. Her habit of calling in sick regularly (not to mention coming in late and leaving early) means that the staff in our department feel entitled to do the same. This is a state agency and a union environment, so punitive measures aren’t necessarily going to work. All of the staff have tons of sick time and it rolls over into the next year. Many people think of their sick time as vacation time.

I did talk to one of the administrators (who is my boss’s boss) about the absentee problem two months ago. He said that my boss and I should work on team building. He also brought in a temp worker to cover three days a week, which was nice, but doesn’t help solve the bigger problem. I didn’t mention that my boss was part of the problem and I don’t want to look like I am ratting her out.

He said that your boss should work on team building and hired a temp?

I don’t think you’re going to be able to fix this problem, because it doesn’t sound like the people in charge care about fixing it.

I should note here that the standard advice when you notice problems with your coworkers is not to say anything unless the problem is interfering with your ability to do your job and get results. I dislike that advice, and here’s why: As a manager, I know that I’m not always going to see the same issues that my staff sees (partly because someone may deliberately shield me from that behavior), so I appreciate a discreet heads-up about what they might be observing that I haven’t picked up on so that I know where I should pay closer attention. Of course, my take on the information might differ from the person relaying the info, but as long as they’re okay with that, I’m always grateful to be filled in on something that might be a problem. Not every manager share this stance, but plenty of the good ones do.

So I think you did the right thing by attempting to alert your boss’s boss. But now that he has that information, there’s not much else you can do.

It’s possible that he is taking more action than you realize — he may be watching the situation more closely now that you’ve alerted him to it, and he may have actually talked to your boss about it. In either of these cases, it’s unlikely that he’d tell you that.

But assuming the problem continues, you can conclude that either he doesn’t care or is more concerned with avoiding awkward conversations than with managing well and holding people to a high bar. In that case, your options are to (a) resign yourself to working somewhere poorly managed, or (b) leave and find yourself a boss who is willing to do her job. (I have a bias toward B, but there may be reasons for accepting A.)

This reminds of the “when your manager won’t manage” rant that I wrote a couple of years ago, so here it is for inspiration: When Your Manager Won’t Manage.

Quiz: What’s Your Boss’ Secret Personality?