How can I get my boss to actually work?
March 28, 2006 2:05 PM   Subscribe

How can I get my boss to actually work?

I work in a small office with two other people. One of them is my boss and the company's owner, the other is a regular old employee just like me. Because of the tiny staff, the success of the business depends on all of us doing our jobs in a timely fashion.

But my boss doesn't do anything. He's either messing around on the internet or taking long lunches or I suspect just going home for a few hours. And he's forgetful - he's missed at least ten appointments in the last few months, which to me is probably the worst thing you can do in a service-related business. He doesn't get me or the other employee the information needed to do our parts. I'm tired of looking like an idiot or asshole when our clients say "why isn't our job done?" What do I say? "The owner never told the rest of us you needed anything, sorry."

Whenever I bring up how this hurts our business and morale, he acts like fucking Droopy Dawg - "gosh, I know, I'm sorry, I've been sick/busy/swamped." But it doesn't end and it doesn't change.

I like having my own office instead of a cube. I like the other coworker. I'm good at what I do and clients like me except when I have to make excuses for Mr. Short-Term Memory Man. Should I just find another job or is there some way to help him or motivate him?

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posted by anonymous to Work & Money (18 answers total)
Why make excuses for him? If the heat starts falling on him for a change, maybe he'd actually do some work. Motivating your boss shouldn't be in your job description - sounds to me like it would be a waste of time anyway (especially if he's the company owner - the bottom line must be being met the way things are going now).
posted by meerkatty at 2:20 PM on March 28, 2006

Quit or put up with it. You're going to have a hard time in life trying to change other people's behavior. You could also stop covering for him, if you think that will stop hiding the problem.
posted by letterneversent at 2:20 PM on March 28, 2006

It sounds like the boss/owner's heart isn't in the business any more. Why not suggest that he move on to being just the owner of the business, and leave the day-to-day management to you and your coworker?
posted by gwenzel at 2:21 PM on March 28, 2006

Threaten to quit and take your faithful clients with you?

Someone I know in a similar situation approached thier boss (who dropped the ball on things like yours), and said "Look, XYZ Company is talking about going with someone else because of the way things are going, and they asked me to be that someone else."

It was a total bluff, but it got things on the right track. Your boss couldn't sustain losing a client AND an employee.
posted by chrisfromthelc at 2:27 PM on March 28, 2006

I agree with gwenzel.
Sounds like this could be a great opportunity for you.
Perhaps he is looking for an out, and would like to just be the owner without worrying about the day to day stuff. You could work this into hiring another person and managing the three of you for him. Could be your chance to 'Get in on the ground floor' of a business.
posted by TheFeatheredMullet at 2:30 PM on March 28, 2006

Yep. thirding gwenzel and TFM.

Basically, offer to do his job, for a higher salary and title of course. You may get a sigh of relief and a thank you from him.
posted by vacapinta at 2:33 PM on March 28, 2006

Oh, man, this sounds like me when I was running my own company.

In his defense, there's a lot of things that company bosses have to do. We've got metric assloads of paperwork, lots of stress that keeps us up nights, and lots of free-form thinking that doesn't necessarily involve being behind a desk pecking at the computer. There's lots of networking that goes on and things like that. You don't know where he is during that time -- he might've gotten stuck somewhere talking on his cell phone with a client for two hours.

OTOH, there's no excuse for missing appointments.

Not in his defense ... how is the company doing? Does he keep his word and get work done? Is there adequate money coming in? FYI: My business collapsed, in great part because of the behaviours you've described. You might think about leaving while the leaving is good. Right now, instead of owning a company, I just own a lot of debt.
posted by SpecialK at 2:40 PM on March 28, 2006

Well, he managed to start his own business and hire a couple of employees so he can't be totally incompetent. Smart bosses hire people unlike themselves to fill in the gaps they don't have. If you are detail oriented, step up to the plate and verify appointments, help the boss stay organized, show him how to use his appointment book, etc. Maybe it'd help you to think about making this guy look good as part of your job since he signs your paycheck.
posted by 45moore45 at 3:08 PM on March 28, 2006

Oh, man, that brings up post-traumatic stress from a former job of mine-similar except he was evil on top of it...

Run, don't walk, get another job. If he is the owner that business won't last forever. And you don't want to get painted with the brush of incompetence.

In my case the only thing that saved my butt is my boss' boss finally opened his eyes and saw what was going on and gave me a different job in the company. He even let me tear up the totally twisted and incorrect negative evaluation Boss Evil had put in my file to cover his own sorry butt.
posted by konolia at 3:11 PM on March 28, 2006

If you're not totally passionate about making this guy's own business work, then get out. I predict doom.

Keep that in mind -- this is his business, not yours. There's nothing worse than trying to get a business owner to realize the potential of their own business (been there, done that, and it sucks). Even if you win, you lose -- you don't own the business. All you're doing is working really hard to line his pocket, and if he's not into it as much as you are (or worse, he's not communicating what he really does care about) ... then screw him.
posted by frogan at 3:21 PM on March 28, 2006

He sounds depressed. Or, at least, he sounds like me when I get depressed at/about work. I forget things, miss deadlines, spend more time refreshing my feed reader than doing actual work. If you're really interested in helping him, you could suggest a vacation, or (something that surprisingly has helped me) some slight redecorating. Otherwise, I would stop covering for him and get out.
posted by rhapsodie at 4:51 PM on March 28, 2006

Best boss I ever had did as close to no work as possible. His theory was not to do anything at all until somebody literally yelled at him, then do as little as was necessary to stop the yelling.

He made himself indispensable to the organization simply by having a better grasp of what was actually going on than anybody else in the entire organization. If anybody wanted an accurate answer, he was the guy they asked.

Working for him, I was almost totally insulated from bullshit-from-above. He never told them anything except what they asked, so they simply didn't have the information they'd have needed to hassle those below him.

As a result of having no fixed deadlines, I worked like a bastard! :)

Maybe you just need to yell at him.
posted by flabdablet at 5:26 PM on March 28, 2006

Does he have a habit you don't know about? Booze, pills, cocaine, women? That would fit the pattern as well as depression.
posted by megatherium at 5:40 PM on March 28, 2006

Your boss sounds like he's already on his way out. Some questions though, has he always been like this? If so, he just sucks. If not, he may be ready to retire.

I'm in that position now, just waiting for my boss to retire. It is PAINFUL! Mostly, I ignore him and circumvent his involvment. Whenever possible I do his job for him as well as my own. That helps limit the times that I look stupid as a result of his not caring.

Also, he IS the owner. It might be best to speak with him candidly, not to accuse or berate him, but to share an outlook for the company. Share your enthusiasm and your love of the company. You might be next in line to run the thing.
posted by snsranch at 5:50 PM on March 28, 2006

My boss is much like that. We prefer that he not show up to jobsites, since he just either talks (slowing us down) or demeans us that he'd do it differently. For the past few months, he's been talking about getting other projects, how busy he is, how he's up late at night working on project proposals, but we haven't had a project in who knows how long. It's his business - that's what you need to keep in mind. If customers see you working hard, maybe they'll hire you. At any rate, you need to get out.
posted by notsnot at 6:06 PM on March 28, 2006

This is pretty simple. He's acting like he doesn't care about his business. He probably started it with grand ideas and the reality of actually running a business has set in, and he doesn't like it. It takes hardwork, dedication, long hours, and passion to run a small business. From your description, he's not showing any.

If you want to step up and run the company, keep in mind you'll need to put out those same qualities, including passion for someone else's idea. If you think you can, write a proposal or talk with him about it. Don't accept anything short of a large raise and a percentage of profits. You will just get annoyed later if you end up making him big time money while you are still on salary. If you are running it for him, you should get a percentage of the profits. If he doesn't like that idea, remind him that you'll have no incentive to earn profits if you arn't getting any. This is basically stock options in large corporations.

If you don't want to take that big huge step, then start job hunting, because the business is already dead, he and you just havn't totally realized it yet. The question is, are going to let him drag you down with the company.
posted by Phynix at 10:48 PM on March 28, 2006

He does sound like he may be depressed or have a problem with procrastination. This could've described me at certain points in my tenure at my current job—but it wasn't as though I was purposefully trying to bring down the organization from the top. It was just behavior that was beyond my control, and which I struggle with on a regular basis.

I think in the short-term, while you evaluate where things are going with this company, you should follow 45moore45's advice. Work to the best of your abilities to help your boss get his act together—it may be that he really does just need someone who's whip-smart and organized to pull the pieces together.

But on the other hand, if his avoidant behavior continues and it doesn't appear to be getting better, it's probably not a good place to be in the long term. He may be passive-aggressive, or may not be at all in touch with his own emotions or the roots of his behavior—so it's definitely a situation to keep a wary eye on.
posted by limeonaire at 1:00 AM on March 29, 2006

My first question was the same issue, but I didn't know it.

Turns out those girls (one of them has since quit) were strongly influenced by my boss's behavior. He comes late in cycles, but nobody around here remebers his good months. Even the patients focus on his lateness, thinking that every time he sees them he is late.

While the tactics suggested and the questions I posed may not be directly relevant to your current problem, I suggest taking a look. I know I'll be looking again and seeing if there are things in that thread I can try with my boss.

For me, in this position, it's too late, I'll be leaving in June, and probably only giving two weeks notice which I know isn't the nicest thing in the world for a management position. But I've taken lessons that will serve me well in other places.
posted by bilabial at 5:42 AM on March 29, 2006

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