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'My Boss Is WFH With Kids—And His Schedule's Wreaking Havoc on My Work'

You're going to have to be patient with colleagues who are WFH with young children during this pandemic.

by Alison Green
May 7 2020, 11:00am

Illustration by Hunter French

My office has been working from home for about a month. We are fortunate to be among the few for whom this doesn’t really change our business, other than that we can’t be in the office.

My problem is that my boss has become very difficult to communicate with and work with. He and his wife are both working from home with young kids, and I know it’s impossible to work normally under those circumstances. But it’s really throwing off our work schedule. For example, I’ll need something from him at 11 a.m. that I don’t get until 11 p.m. and I’m then under pressure to turn around the final product on time, even though I’ve lost days. This has resulted in me waiting around all day doing nothing, and then scrambling to finish overnight when I would normally be sleeping. Then I still need to be online at 8:30 a.m. the next day for meetings.

My boss is under a lot of pressure too, but our normally great relationship is strained now. I feel like he has become impatient and is very much in “just get it done” mode. But there are certain things I cannot do without his input. I don’t want to sound insensitive and say, “Your family obligations are wreaking havoc on my time,” but I am not sure how much more I can tolerate wasting my day waiting for him and then working through the night. I have tried to streamline things as much as possible so that I am not waiting on him as much, but at the end of the day, there is only so much I am authorized to do. Do I just need to get over it since everyone is dealing with similar or worse issues?

Has your boss told you directly that he expects you to work all night when he doesn’t get back to you until the evening?

My hunch is that he’s getting you things as quickly as he can, which might be at night after his kids are asleep, but that he doesn’t expect you to work around the clock to accommodate that. It’s more likely that he assumes you’ll deal with it the next day, and that if it throws off deadlines, you’ll talk to him about how to reprioritize.

If I’m wrong about that and he knows the full situation and has explicitly told you that you’ll still need to meet your original deadlines, despite his delays and even if it means working 24/7, then you’ve got to address that. The solution still wouldn’t be to complain about his family obligations; instead, you’d say something like, “Because you have so many demands on your time right now, I’m often getting things late at night from you, so am missing a day of turnaround time that we’d had scheduled. I can switch my schedule to work in the evenings instead if you want me to [only offer this if you’re willing to do that] but realistically I can’t work all night and then be in meetings the next morning too. Alternatively, can we build in more room to some of these timelines so we’re accounting for the fact that you probably won’t be able to send X or Y until evening?”

But I suspect that, like most people, you haven’t spelled things out quite this clearly yet, and your boss isn’t fully aware of how his delays are impacting you. I often see people on your side of this kind of situation think, “Of course my boss is aware of what’s happening, and since he hasn’t changed anything, he must be fine with how this is affecting me.” But frequently in those situations, the managers have no idea what’s happening because their focus is on other priorities—and they’re counting on the employee to tell them if there’s a problem. So having that conversation is key, and is likely to get you more breathing room.

Also, to the extent that you can, give your boss some grace right now too. Working from home with little kids is beyond hard—they require constant attention, make focus near-impossible, and will significantly lower the productivity of anyone who’s trying to work while caring for them. The situation right now is difficult for everyone, but parents working with young kids at home are in a special kind of hell.

That doesn’t mean you need to work around the clock to adjust for that. You absolutely don’t (and shouldn’t). But it does mean that you should have a forthright, non-accusatory conversation with your boss about how to adjust your workflow in a realistic way—and shouldn’t assume the worst until you’ve done that. It’s very likely that he has so many other things to focus on right now that he’s just not seeing this one. A good manager would want you to speak up and ask for help. (And if you clearly lay this out for your boss and he won’t help you work it out, then you know the problem is him. At that point you might need to accept that he sucks and probably isn’t going to change, but that’s good information to have.)

Get more good advice from Alison Green at Ask a Manager or in her book. Do you have a pressing work-related question of your own? Submit it using this form.

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