I got this email from my boss.

It has been brought to my attention by others that you spend a significant amount of time on your personal phone(s), laptop and physically away from your cube during the day. One of the changes I made when I took on this supervisory role was to remove job assignments, which I believed would allow everyone to learn all aspects of the work requests our unit handles. The down side to that is, it could allow someone to not actually do any specifically assigned work and let other members of the team pick up their slack. I saw you on your personal laptop during the 12 o’clock hour, which I assumed was your lunch. Can you please advise me of where you have been since 3 p.m. as Skype has you away from keyboard for over 35 minutes?


I went to the bathroom then spoke to a coworker about my project and looked at the project he was working on.


How should I respond to his email?

  • 19
    Honestly, a work environment where they ask why you didn't touch your keyboard for 35 minutes is not a work environment I want to be in. It's the wrong way to look at productivity.
    – dbeer
    Apr 4, 2018 at 22:15
  • 16
    Your answer should be "I went to the bathroom then spoke to <coworker's name> about my project and looked at the project he was working on."
    – HorusKol
    Apr 4, 2018 at 22:31
  • 5
    This is creepy. Get out of there as soon as possible! Apr 5, 2018 at 0:53
  • 5
    If you feel the need to bring your personal equipment to work in order to be able to do valid research for your job, then there's a problem that needs to be addressed with your manager.
    – brhans
    Apr 5, 2018 at 11:42
  • 3
    Sounds like a toxic environment. Incompetent micro-managing boss, co-workers ratting each other out... Anyone competent will look at your productivity over the longer term, not what you did for 35 minutes one random day.
    – user
    Apr 5, 2018 at 15:41

4 Answers 4


What your boss is saying is that he is getting complaints about you being unproductive. This is a serious problem for you as a professional. This is not about just one time being away from your desk for 35 minutes, this is about others having noticed a pattern of behavior. Your team feels that they are doing the work you should be doing. You have been labelled a slacker in the minds of your coworkers, your boss and your boss's boss. You need to seriously attend to this or you will be fired.

First, you need to detail what you have actually accomplished in the last few weeks and then take that to your boss in person and discuss his concerns about your performance. If you can do an analysis of what you have accomplished in comparison to other people at your same level (assuming it comes out in your favor), then that is a powerful tool to fight this. You said in a comment, you have difficulty remembering all the points you want to make in a face-to-face discussion. Well, write a list and take it with you.

You need to ask your boss for the specific actions you need to take. And then you need to take those actions whether you agree with them or not.

But just talking to the boss and eventually responding to the email (detail not only the explanation requested but any changes to your behavior you intend to take) after consulting the boss is not enough in this case because multiple people have complained about your behavior.

You need to be seen amending your behavior. Stop using your phone at work or at least reduce it by 60-80%. Don't leave your desk as often. Make sure to check in more code than anyone else and take on the more complex, difficult to solve issues. It doesn't seem fair, but once you have a rep as a slacker, the only way to get past it is to conspicuously not be a slacker and be a top performer instead.


Your answer is in your question. It‘s perfect, because it‘s brief, it‘s precise, and it‘s not emotional at all.

  • Do I need to address the very first sentence of his email? Apr 4, 2018 at 22:47
  • 8
    I wouldn’t. It‘s not a question, and you shouldn’t make the impression that you think you need to explain yourself.
    – not2savvy
    Apr 4, 2018 at 22:50
  • 3
    I would, though, directly address the question of which assignment you are personally actually working on (and any progress made), as this really seems to be the substance of the manager’s complaint. Try to steer the conversation towards your overall current progress, and away from the minute-by-minute minutiae of how you spend your time. Apr 5, 2018 at 0:50
  • 3
    Given the accusatory tone of the boss's email, I'd suggest adding something along the lines of, "You are welcome to confirm with Colleague X that I was working with him during that period."
    – Jane S
    Apr 5, 2018 at 1:00

You should go and talk to your boss. Then email after that talk confirming what was talked about.

Just sending an email about this is great for paper-trail stuff, but it can come off a bit impersonal and tends to let issues lie unresolved.

In your talk, you can mention everything you noted here about what happened, and then ask him if he has any further questions. It doesn't sound like you're a terrible employee, but it's still useful to talk to people.

Don't apologise - that makes people feel that they're "in the right". Instead just inform him what was happening.

Ask him if he has any other questions or concerns, noting your phone use is for work purposes and if possible, you'd prefer the firewall was less restrictive.

You'll both have a chat, and then go back to your desk, respond to the email that started all this with "as we discussed..." and then the rough summary of what you discussed.

  • 1
    He CC’ed his boss on the email. It’s not an email just between the two of us. I don’t want his boss thinking that I ignored the email and he was in the right. @bharal Apr 5, 2018 at 0:06
  • 1
    @software yes, that's why you're responding after you have the talk with what you talked about
    – bharal
    Apr 5, 2018 at 0:14
  • 1
    I’m not really good with talking face to face. It gives me anxiety and stress which makes me forget the things I wanted to say or should have said (hindsight). Apr 5, 2018 at 0:16
  • 4
    @softwareisfun as a baby, you weren't good at walking, it probably gave you anxiety and stress. And as you started walking, you'd sometimes trip up - you'd forget the way you wanted to step. Yet, somehow, you are walking around now. If you're bad at something, the only way to get better at it is to practice it, and this particular situation seems as good a place as any to start.
    – bharal
    Apr 5, 2018 at 0:22
  • 2
    @softwareisfun It is all too common for software developers to be perfectionists and think that spending time crafting the perfectly argued email is the way to solve problems. However, your boss appears to be a shoot from the hip kind of person, so that probably isn't the best approach with him. Tough as it may seem, do it and it'll be easier next time is good advice. JFDI is often the best way to deal with anxiety.
    – richardb
    Apr 5, 2018 at 8:19

I think you should explain the absence from the keyboard as you did in your answer, and I would take the additional step of discussing in person how employees are evaluated. Some managers / companies get obsessed with perception over substance. Perhaps you can do this by asking for feedback on your recent projects or on your throughput as an employee, or attempting to focus the discussion on substantive things you are doing and have done.

The reason that I and others have suggested getting out of there ASAP is that companies that focus on perception wind up giving promotions and raises to favorite employees and not top performers as personal feelings heavily skew perception. I would not be confident that I'm getting fairly evaluated in a place like that.

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