my boss is too hands-off

A reader writes:

Earlier this year, I started a new job that is wonderful in almost every way. I’ve been given a lot of autonomy, and I love that about my work. At the same time, I’ve been finding that my boss’s management style is a little too hands-off. We rarely interact (unless I initiate it, which I do). Even during my first week, she didn’t do much to orient me to the company or explain her expectations. She also has not been as inclusive as supervisors I’ve had at previous jobs. While in previous jobs, my managers always took an interest in me and would include me in meetings, projects, seminars, etc.

Normally, this would not be very troubling, but I feel like having more interaction and being included in some of these activities would help me do my job better. Even when we do collaborate on things, I have a hard time getting feedback from her. She mentions that she is very busy, and I don’t want to intrude on that or be too needy. Is it normal for a boss to be this hands off, or is there a solution you can recommend? I know I should probably talk to her, but I’m not sure how to start that conversation.

P.S. If it’s helpful, I work as a Human Resources Generalist, and my boss is the HR Manager. We’re basically a two-person team, although there are other people in our group with more specialized roles (training, payroll).

You need a weekly meeting.

Ask her if you can set up a regular time each week to meet to go over progress on your work, talk about new issues that might have come up, get her input on questions you’ve encountered, and so forth. An hour is ideal, but if all you can get is half an hour, take it. Similarly, if she balks at doing it weekly, suggesting doing it every two weeks.

And then, put the onus on yourself to make sure the meetings happen. If one gets canceled because a higher priority comes up — and it will — reach out later that day or the next to reschedule it. And make it as easy as possible on her to make it happen — meaning, for instance, that you should rearrange your own schedule if needed to ensure that you get the time.

Consider yourself the owner of meeting itself, too. Jot down an agenda ahead of time and email it to her. Include the status of important projects, your top priorities for the next week or two, your progress against your broader goals if you have them, and questions you’re grappling with. You can also use this time to ask for feedback on particular projects and even just generally (“How do you think things are going overall? Is there anything I could be doing differently?”).

If she won’t commit to regular meetings, then request them one by one. Periodically, email her a list of topics you’d like to discuss (similar to the agenda above) and ask to set up a time to meet about them. (Don’t do this more often than there’s a real need, or she’ll grow to dread them — but if you’re like most people, you’ll probably want to do it at least every couple of weeks.)

And on the question of whether this is normal:  It’s not abnormal. Some managers are indeed pretty far to either end of the spectrum that extends all the way from too hands-on to too hands-off. Most managers, in fact, have some degree of trouble getting the balance right. (And some do both, which is even more aggravating — being hands-off all throughout a project and then getting really into the details at the end, when it’s way too late to use the input effectively.)

Give the weekly meeting a shot, and don’t be afraid to simply be matter-of-fact about what you need.

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