I got a new boss about six months ago and I have been watching and waiting to see how he is going to pan out. So far, so good, I think—except for one thing that is really burning my toast. Literally the first thing he did was to put a stop to all telecommuting in our entire department.
For me personally, it isn’t an issue, as I have a short commute and prefer to come in to the office. But it has thrown quite a few people in my department into chaos, as many have made plans around their work-from-home schedules.
Our company is in a huge metropolitan area and the commute times are insane—two hours each way for some people. I know that my employees are productive when they WFH—often more so, because they are less stressed and have more time to actually work.
The worst part is that the new boss isn’t following the rule himself! In fact, on a recent conference call, he talked about how great it was that he was working from home that day! We were all appalled. He lost so much of my respect in that moment.
How can I “manage up” here? What can I say to get the new boss to reverse the policy—or at the very least, understand that the rule has to apply to everyone?
I really hate it when superiors pull the “Do as I say, not as I do” thing.
Dear Losing Respect,
I hate that, too. I share your belief that leaders should be role models for the behaviors they seek in their people.
There are two issues here. One is the sudden radical change in work-from-home policy. Hopefully, you have had enough time to observe your new boss to get a sense of the best way to approach him to give him feedback. You can run a little informal analysis: Is your boss an analytical thinker who will be moved by data? Or a more emotional type who will respond to a story? You can plan your tactical move here by shaping your arguments so that he can hear them.
You don’t state the why behind the change in the policy. Possibly he hasn’t shared it. You might start there and ask what prompted the change. Perhaps your boss thinks people watch daytime TV all day when they WFH. I spent over a decade as a virtual employee and I now manage a partially virtual team, and I can assure you that most people do get more done when they WFH.
Your boss may be data driven and able to be moved by actual information you have about how much your people get done when they WFH vs. coming into the office. Maybe your boss feels that face-to-face interactions are more effective. This may be true for some types of meetings, and you may find a good compromise. When you know what drives your boss’s thinking, you can mount a well-reasoned argument.
One client I worked with argued for her team members who had a regular WFH schedule, saying that she had given her word—in some cases as part of the hiring agreement—and that she felt strongly about keeping her promises. That made a big impact.
Now for the second issue: your boss’s stunning lack of self-awareness, revealed in his crowing about the luxury of working from home to people whom he has restricted from doing so themselves. Do you feel that you have enough of a relationship to say something yet? I know a lot of bosses really appreciate it when a direct report points out something they are doing that is decreasing their effectiveness. I know I sure do—we can all be a little oblivious sometimes. So, you might risk going straight at it: “Hey, may I share an observation? People are very cranky about not being able to WFH—so when you are doing so yourself, you might want to keep it on the QT.” Some people would appreciate your candid directness, but, of course, many wouldn’t.
You are going to have to trust your gut here. You may decide you don’t want to work for someone (a) who is such a numbskull and (b) with whom you can’t be honest. That would be a good data point on which to build a job search. You did say it was the only thing burning your toast. You can probably tolerate one thing. Even two things. My opinion, based on observation and absolutely no scientific research whatsoever, is that it takes five intolerable things before a person starts thinking about leaving—and the seventh one is the straw that breaks the camel’s back.
So, all in all, you are in pretty good shape. And now you know that one of your leadership non-negotiables is “Do as I do.” It will help you be clear about your own standards for yourself as a leader.
About the author
Madeleine Homan Blanchard is a master certified coach, author, speaker, and cofounder of Blanchard Coaching Services. Madeleine’s Advice for the Well Intentioned Manager is a regular Saturday feature for a very select group: well intentioned managers. Leadership is hard—and the more you care, the harder it gets. Join us here each week for insight, resources, and conversation.
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