Absentee Manager Leaves Employees Hanging


I work for an organization that provides a wide variety of counseling services to people in need in rural areas.

Our manager works off-site and rarely visits. When we manage to reach him, he often says he’s in his “branch office,” which is code for his beach home in Kona. He draws the highest salary of any of us and could care less about what happens to us.

Although I’m the lead program coordinator for our rural work group, I have no real power. Everything has to be signed off on by our manager.

Although my main job is providing direct care to our clients, because I’ve been here the longest, I’m also the individual charged with ordering supplies, processing travel requests, and placing ads when we need new employees.

This leads to confusion. My teammates assume when they need something, I’m the one they go to and I can make it happen. I can’t; I don’t have that authority.

This week, one of the team members needs an OK to travel. I processed the request a full month ago. The okay hasn’t come through yet and she’s supposed to fly out on Sunday for a once-a-year conference. We also need to place an ad for an employee who left suddenly. The position has been vacant We’ve not been given the authorization and so we’re limping along, covering the missing employee’s job duties.

The way it’s supposed to work is that when any of us need something, we email, text or call our manager. That worked with the prior manager. Last March, however, she retired and was replaced with this manager who couldn’t care less. He is, however, tight friends with the our statewide agency’s executive director.

This manager came to visit our location once, soon after he gained his position. He hasn’t been back since.

He’s rarely accessible, and makes it clear he’s not here for the long haul. When I talk with him, he says things like, “If I’m here next year.” I’ve emailed him multiple times in the last two weeks, left urgent messages on her office phone, and even texted him, but have not heard anything back.

I am taking the heat. The employee who needs to travel screamed at me when she left work Friday and said, “OK, the trip is canceled.” I’m not looking forward to seeing her glum face all next week. The employee who’s now holding down two jobs snapped at me this morning saying, “So where’s the ad?” When I said again that I couldn’t place an ad without authorization, he threw a box of work down on my desk and said, “Well, you take care of this.”

What do I do? There’s no one to go to.


You have three options.

You can document the entire situation and provide the information to your statewide agency’s executive director. When you do so, follow five guidelines.

Approach your executive director as your agency’s ED and not as your manager’s friend. Do not blame. The ED may be utterly unaware.

The case you present has to be tight, as your ED may present it to your manager. Make sure your documentation is factual and not only anecdotal, such as, “I’ve called him.” Use the actual texts and emails you’ve sent, with time stamps, and note the lack of no response.

Make sure the documentation comes from multiple sources. For example, the individual who couldn’t travel can provide the details on the impact of the missed conference. The employee holding down two jobs can detail the need for the new hire and what is falling through the gaps given the hiring delay.

In addition to clearly outlining the situation, offer your ED a potential solution, such as giving you more authority or the ability to act in the absence of a veto.

Alternatively, you can meet with each of your teammates and remind them that you lack authority and ask that they direct their angst toward someone who can resolve the situation.

Finally, if you feel you’ll risk your job by stepping forward to brief your ED, walk two steps further. Provide your documentation to your agency’s board of directors and specifically request protection against retaliation.  

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3 thoughts on “Absentee Manager Leaves Employees Hanging

  1. Wow Lynne! Your advice is fantastic! Not only because it’s so effective but also because its so clear and covers all the repercussions that could happen when following it. I couldn’t help thinking that you’re like a super heroine stepping in to save the day!

  2. Wendy, what a lovely thing to say! You’re making me truly hope that the novel I’ve written, in which an HR manager tackles workplaces challenges even as she faces personal life challenges will similarly inspire readers. So thank you, thank you, thank you!

  3. These comments and action steps give a great way to avoid blame-laying, tattling, or other complaints on the un-involved manager. The new one for me was getting more than your viewpoint across–get the comments for example of the woman whose travel request made more than a month ago has been denied and how the missed meeting will impact both her work and the goals/needs of the organization.

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