A reader writes:
I work for a small company with about 10 employees working full-time in the office. We all report directly to the CEO, Phil. When the pandemic hit, Phil went into full panic mode and had us all move our desks 12+ feet apart, wash our hands every 20 minutes, sterilize everything in between uses, etc. Nothing super weird, and better than having no reaction at all, but it was a hypervigilant process that made me expect him to be very accommodating when our state went on lockdown.
Boy, was I wrong. Our industry is considered essential so we’re still open, but Phil is being odd when it comes to working from home. For background, about 95% of our work can be done remotely. The other 5% would require about 15 minutes in the office once a week. I was the first one to pose the idea of working from home and Phil nervously agreed, but only let do it three days a week. My coworkers were given similar instructions but were “encouraged to come in every day, if possible.” A few of them do.
Since then, Phil has gotten pretty weird about the situation. He refers to people who are working from home as being “off work” (which is NOT the case, we are all working and available while at home, which he knows because he calls us for work-related things during work hours!). Today, Phil asked me if my coworker Travis was in his office, and I said Travis was working from home, and Phil replied in a sour tone, “So he’s not working then, great.” He has made similar comments about my other coworkers. When I’m working from home, he’ll call me and ask in a sarcastic tone, “What are you even working on today?” Or he’ll give me an assignment and end with, “Can you actually do work on this today? I need you working.” One time, he called while I was in the bathroom and when I called him back less than five minutes later, I was told that I “need to be available and not screwing around.”
The weirdest thing is that none of us has had productivity problems! My job is such that I can tell when anyone is slacking even a little and I haven’t noticed any issues. Personally, I’ve actually been MORE productive! And I’ve never been accused of “screwing around” while at the office before, so this attitude has baffled me.
He is so convinced that we aren’t working that he cut our work-from-home time down two days a couple weeks ago, and now it’s being cut down to one day as of next week – when COVID cases are higher in our city than ever!
My guess is that because Phil isn’t physically seeing us work, he assumes we aren’t working. CCing him on stuff to leave “proof” doesn’t work because he doesn’t read his email. He is also naturally a nightmare of a micromanager (and an across-the-office yeller) so not being as “in control” is probably freaking him out. But what is the best way to handle this?
You can read my answer to this letter at New York Magazine today. Head over there to read it.
my boss assumes we’re slacking off when we work from home was originally published by Alison Green on Ask a Manager.