I'm currently looking for a new job so just commenting that and dipping is less than useful.

I have 3 managers who all have the same title, and they keep getting mad at me for not working on their projects only. They say that I need to not listen to the other 2 and make their project the highest priority. How should I deal with this while I look for a new job? I'm only 24, so I don't have the kind of clout to "sit them down" or whatever.

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    All 3 are my bosses – user106265 Jun 27 '19 at 21:05
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    I have not heard of a situation where one person has three different bosses. Which one of them hired you/writes your performance reviews? – JohnP Jun 27 '19 at 21:13
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    I too find it difficult to believe that you truly report to three people equally. Who does HR say your supervisor is? Who is responsible for signing your annual performance review? – alroc Jun 27 '19 at 21:13
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    If you have 3 managers who are depending solely on you as a lynchpin for their work (which they must, otherwise they wouldn't all be getting mad at you for not focusing only on their work)... you do have the kind of clout to tell them to slow down or find you more hands at least. Either you work for one of the three, or you're so performance-critical that you have the clout (age is mostly irrelevant here - if the business shuts down for 3 months when you leave because you're the important dev... you have clout). – Delioth Jun 27 '19 at 21:38
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    @JohnP - "Pool" workers can have multiple bosses. I worked in an organization with about 75 people, who were all similarly skilled. The "actual" boss was the 2nd line manager. The 1st line managers juggled people as needed. But in that case, the 2nd line really was the One True Manager and stressed needs to find who the One True Boss is. Because, yeah, there really only ever is One True Boss. – Julie in Austin Jun 27 '19 at 21:52

At first, my reaction was "I highly doubt you report to all 3" - but then, I thought: hey, companies do weird stuff all the time. Maybe Stressed literally reports to 3 managers.

So, right off the bat: you have my sympathies. That situation sounds like it sucks.

That said... here's what I would personally do. I would draw up a work schedule, and send all three an email.

Alice, Bob, Charlie;

(I'm ccing Diane from HR on this email, since I mention her.)

I've been told that I report to all three of you by Diane in HR. Each of you has important work you need me to do... and each of you has given me an important assignment that I've been told to ignore by the other two. I'm sure you don't want me ignoring your assignments... but you've got two other managers telling me to do just that.

Because all four of us have been put into a tough spot, I've drawn up a schedule for when I'll be working on tasks for which manager. I can change the schedule if the three of you agree to a different division or set of times. (I'd need all three of you to agree, though.)

  • Monday: Alice
  • Tuesday: Alice in the morning, Bob in the afternoon
  • Wednesday: Bob
  • Thursday: General maint in the morning, Charlie in the afternoon
  • Friday: Charlie


(Notice, btw, that the email doesn't focus on "I'm not doing your stuff all the time", but on "Other people are trying to stop me from working for you at all.")

Now, here's the general point: if you truly report to all three, and all three of them can't work together... then you're going to have to do something like this to keep it remotely sane. If it turns out you actually report to Alice? Then you can bet Alice is going to be running to HR to clarify the situation so that you report directly to only her, and the schedule gets taken down.

Unfortunately, you can bet that all three will push and try to force you to break your schedule. You'll have to stick up for it and defend it. Make sure to redirect onto the fact that, without a schedule, Alice would have two managers ordering you to not work on any of her priorities.

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  • The advantage to this approach is if it's a no-go, an actual boss will have to show up and tell the OP and the bosses that it won't work. As long as the 3 bosses are equal, setting the time allotted to equal is as good as it gets. – thursdaysgeek Jun 27 '19 at 22:11
  • Also, if it turns out that the OP actually works for Susan... depending on her perspective on things, she'll either step in, or be happy with any outcome that has the OP putting in their full effort. – Ed Grimm Jun 28 '19 at 1:53

If you directly report to one of them then the answer is simple - do what they're asking and ask them to handle the other two for you (that's part of their job).

If you directly report to someone who isn't one of the three, then go to them and ask for their support in dealing with the situation - use them as a gatekeeper between you and the Problem Three.

If you don't directly report to anyone, or the person you report to is unwilling or ineffective at helping you (this should be the least likely situation, but sadly I suspect it's actually the most likely) then the situation is harder. You say you "don't have the clout to sit them all down", but that's probably what you actually need to do. Arrange a meeting with all of them, with the agenda of setting your priorities (again, do this only if you don't have a clear line manager responsible for setting them already).

Get them talking to each other rather than all talking to you independently, and in the future when they inevitably still tell you to ignore the other two, you'll have the outcome of their meeting together to point to and say "no, I'm doing it like this". It would be a good idea to ask another senior person along as well - maybe their common boss if they have one, and definitely your line manager (the person you directly report to according to the HR paperwork).

Right now they're trying to bypass and undermine each other by bullying/strong-arming you, as they perceive you as a weak link that they can use to get extra priority for their project. You need to try and remove that avenue from them.

I had a similar situation once as a junior employee. I was assigned to two projects - one that needed me in the main office doing small quick tasks, and one that needed me sitting in a client's office half an hour away doing essentially nothing. The project manager of the first one would get frustrated when not enough tasks were being done, and the project manager of the second would get frustrated whenever he saw me in the main office, as it meant they couldn't bill the client for me sitting in a chair. Annoyingly, the same person was the project manager for both projects.

I should have arranged a meeting with him and my line manager to discuss my projects, the priority of each, and their expectations for how I would manage my time. What I did instead was get increasingly frustrated until I quit due to stress, and had to take 4 weeks off before the start of my next job. I wouldn't recommend going that route.

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  • Very seldom is "project manager" also the "personnel manager". Your "personnel manager" is the one you listen to -- if they can't fire you, ignore them! The only exception is when you're very senior and you have "C-suite" and "E-suite" people assigning you work directly. – Julie in Austin Jun 27 '19 at 21:48
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    @JulieinAustin I strongly agree. In this situation I suspect the asker has a direct manager who gave them some paperwork on their first day, checks in briefly every 6 months or so, and is otherwise absent (or something similar). I can see why they would feel like they report to all three project managers if that's the case - I certainly did at my first job. – Player One Jun 27 '19 at 21:59
  • I was fortunate that my first few jobs were either self-employment, or were with small companies. By the time there were enough bosses at my various jobs to do this crap, I knew what they were up to because I'd be kinda involved with budgets. – Julie in Austin Jun 27 '19 at 22:40

What you've described happens to those of us with "clout enough to 'sit them down'".

The first thing you have to do is figure out which one of those three you actually work for. Meaning, who does things like performance appraisals, reviews, time sheet approval (if you have those), and so on. THAT is the manager you listen to. The others you refer to your actual manager.

What you've described, unless you work in a "pool" of people who are assigned to tasks as needed, by a collection of managers, is "trying to get a free employee". Briefly, Manager #1 has you against their budget. Manager #2 doesn't have the budget to hire yet another employee and knows you're inexperienced enough to think you have to do what they say. Apparently where you work, it goes up to Manager #3 trying to get a free employee.

It is seldom as bad as what you've described. The request to do work is usually asked as "favor". It isn't a favor.

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    This answer in my opinion doesn't answer the question it just says the the question is not true eg. "It is seldom as bad as what you've described". An naïve expression of disbelief is not an answer. – user10399 Jun 28 '19 at 8:18
  • @KeithLoughnane - It’s not the least bit “naive”. I’ve been at this “work” thing for 40 years. There is usually some individual with final say over what an employee does. That person may have subordinates who assign tasks to a pool of workers, but it’s that “top” person who has say over whether or not the “pool” is being mistreated. – Julie in Austin Jun 29 '19 at 12:21

Do you report to all 3? Ask the manager you report to for HIS/HER input. Get them to tell you what to work on.

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    Yes, I "report to all 3" – user106265 Jun 27 '19 at 21:05
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    It's very unlikely you actually "report" to all 3. Which manager hired you? Do you have 1-on-1 meetings with only one of them? – Julie in Austin Jun 27 '19 at 21:09
  • Which one will give your review? Will they tag team? If you truly have 3 reporting managers I'd maybe considering going to the one above. Or call a meeting with all 3. Or just tell all 3 they need to figure it out together. – Keith Jun 28 '19 at 11:42
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    How does this answer the question when all three managers want the OP's time exclusively? ALL of them are telling the OP what to work on. – user44108 Jun 28 '19 at 13:57
  • Because ultimately if he's an underling he can't make that decision. It's up to the boss to determine. SOMEONE is the person in charge, and he needs to figure it out and get said person to give direction to him and the 3 Kings. If there is no one--then the 3 of them need to figure it out. – Keith Jun 28 '19 at 14:40

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