is it appropriate to want to be told when my manager won’t be in the office?

A reader writes:

I work for a small family business, and my manager is the owners’ daughter.

My office is in one building, and her office is in another, on the same small property. My manager recently let us all know that she will be working from home two days a week (set days). However, on the days when she is on site, she often… isn’t. She goes to the chiropractor, goes to lunch with her family, goes to visit a friend, goes to a business meeting, etc. Most of these off-site activities are outside the range of the typical lunch hour, and may extend beyond the hour, if that’s what they were being used as.

Most of the time, I find out that she is off-site because her car isn’t in the drive, or someone goes to ask her something and she isn’t at her desk, or she responds to an email and the signature is from her iPhone instead of default Outlook, or she mentions something on the side. 99% of the time, it is not communicated that she isn’t on-site.

Am I wrong in wanting to be communicated with as to when she will/not be around? We do a lot of work over the phone and email as her office is in a different building, so reflecting on it, it hasn’t had a major impact on workflow. It’s more (I think!) just a desire to be communicated with and to have her presence in the office. What’s your take?

If her absences from the office were 100% business-related (for instance, if her job kept her outside the office meeting with customers, etc.), would this bother you so much? I’m betting it wouldn’t — you’d just take that as part of the deal with her job and that would be that.

I’m assuming that what’s bothering you here is that it sounds like she’s not working much of the time when she’s away from the office. (And that in turn raises the question of whether she’s really working during the two days that she’s allegedly working from home, since her work ethic doesn’t sound particularly stellar.) And that’s legitimately annoying.

But it’s also not your problem to solve. She’s your manager, rather than the other way around, so this is between her and her own manager.

If it’s impacting your ability to do your job, then by all means you should raise it. But it’s not — it’s just annoying to watch.

It might help to realize that family businesses sometimes serve a dual role: to turn a profit and to provide jobs to family members. If that’s the case here, the owners might be just fine with their daughter operating this way. They might figure she’s covering the stuff that they need covered and they don’t really care if she spends the rest of her time at the chiropractor and having lunch with friends. Or they might care very much — who knows. But it’s their job to assess how she’s spending her time and come to their own conclusions, and ultimately it’s not yours. Your job is to do the work you were hired for. You might be being held to a different standard, yes, but that can be the way of family businesses and it might be the way of this one.

But none of that answers your question: Is it reasonable to want to be told when your manager won’t be in the office? Ideally, yes, it would be great to be in the loop. But if it’s not impacting your work, it’s a nice-to-have, not a must-have. In this case, I’d pay attention to all the signs you are getting about what you can expect from her schedule, and operate on the assumption that she won’t be in reliably … which could then lead to you doing things like scheduling phone calls when you know you’ll need to talk to her, telling her in advance if you’ll need her there in person for a particular project on a particular day, and so forth.

In other words, assume that you’ve been told in broad strokes what you need to know (her presence will be sporadic) and adjust accordingly.

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