how to handle a nosy boss

A reader writes:

What do we do with nosy managers? Since I’ve gotten sick a few times, my boss has asked me outright, “What do you have?” or “What did you have?” I get these questions in places where others can hear if I respond, so usually I give a very vague answer in reply. The last time I was sick, I was out for two days so I went in to her office and volunteered the information. I knew she was waiting to hear what kept me out of work.

If I run errands at lunch time, she wants to be informed that I’m leaving the building, even if I’m going to be back before lunch ends. Why?

Also, if I have an appointment, do I have to say what the appointment is for, or who is it for? I am a caregiver for an older relative and I’m also a mom.

Please help! I’ve been working here for almost 15 years. All the bosses I’ve had have been the same (in that they expect you to tell them things), but this one is more prying than most.

She probably doesn’t realize that she’s doing this. She might think she’s just being friendly, not realizing that the nature of her position means that you’re going to feel obligated to answer, and that you might even feel that she’s questioning whether you’re entitled to the time off.

If you want it to stop, try just being straightforward with her. Say something like this: “Jane, I’ve noticed that when I need time off, you usually ask me details about why I’m taking the time — whether it’s the nature of a medical issue or what kind of appointment I have. I know you’re just being friendly, but there might be a medical issue I don’t want to talk about, especially in front of other people, or a family situation that I don’t want to get into. I think that’s the case for everyone. If there’s ever an issue with whether I’m using leave time properly, obviously please address that with me, but otherwise we should all have some privacy around this stuff.”

Or you could come at from a different angle: “Do you have concerns about how I’m using my leave time?” She’ll probably say no or seem confused, and you can then say, “You’ve been questioning me about how I’m spending the time, and I wasn’t sure why.” Sound genuinely concerned, not defensive.

As for running errands at lunch, I’d approach it as an honest question: “Am I not supposed to be leaving the building at lunch, generally?”  She’ll probably say it’s fine to, and then you can say, “Okay. In general, let’s assume that I’m often going to leave the premises at lunch then, and I won’t clear it with you each time.”

Technically, you could also involve HR on the medical prying, since they’ll tell her to knock it off, but like most things, this stuff is generally handled better with direct conversation.

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