How to Deal with an Absentee Boss

How to Deal with an Absentee Boss

How to Deal with an Absentee Boss

Most of us wish our bosses weren't breathing down our necks every day. Yet if you talk to anyone whose boss is constantly on the road, you'll hear complaints of last-minute phone calls from off-site, changing travel locations and dates, and deadline changes from the field to meet clients' demands. Meanwhile, back at headquarters, other managers feel free to dump work on those administrative assistants whose bosses are out.


Many on-the-road bosses complain they can never get their admins on the phone when they most need to. A cellphone is a savior, but many people turn them off during meetings or in areas with bad reception. Meanwhile, you should be on another call or away from your desk. There are several ways to set up an effective communication system with a gypsy boss:

  • Make phone calls from your boss a top priority by alerting the receptionist and anyone else who answers phones to page you if you don't answer your line when the boss calls.
  • If you do miss a call from your boss, agree to have a 10- to 20-minute system for you to call back. That means he'll leave the number where you can reach him within the next 10 to 20 minutes. Or have the boss leave you a time and phone number to call later.
  • If the above systems fail, get a cellphone exclusively for communication with your boss. Always keep it with you during business hours and don't give the number to family or friends. This is a constant hotline for your boss's calls.

Set Boundaries

Having your boss out of town creates the impression that you have time to help out other managers. Don't get trapped by your good will -- many administrative assistants don't set firm boundaries between themselves and other managers so they wind up with other people's work. Here are some rules for when your boss is out of town:

  • Follow a Strict Schedule: This includes your casual coffee break schedule as well as time spent on your serious things-to-do list.
  • Be Prepared to Draw a Line in the Sand Professionally: Your boss isn't there to help protect you from aggressive coworkers who may try to take advantage of your "ghost boss" situation. If someone asks you to work on something, weigh the favor and defend your time. Will meeting the request interfere with deadlines you must meet for your boss? Will it put you at risk of missing your boss's call? If it's just a minor favor to pitch in on something, think about helping out. If it's a bigger request and you can't do it, explain why you don't have time.
  • Take Orders for Big Projects Only from Your Boss: "Your boss told me to tell you to do this for me." Even if it's true, your boss should tell you what needs to be moved aside while your time is diverted. If you let your boss allow others to start giving you work, confusion will reign, deadlines will conflict and you'll never know who's in charge.
  • Monitor Your Own Behavior: Without someone watching you every day, it's easy to stop using your time wisely. Monitoring your behavior so that you always act professionally is crucial if you're to be perceived as a hard worker. Do you take advantage of your boss's absence by having long lunches? Would you chat so much with coworkers if he were there? Keep a log of how your time is spent, and make sure you're putting in a full day.

The bottom line is if your boss is out of the office, it's up to you to manage things. Take charge of your job, and make sure the communication lines between you and your boss are always open.

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