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My manager asks for updates on what I'm working on several times throughout the day.

Lately when he finds out I'm working with someone else on something, he wants to know who's holding up the project.

Even if it's just something a coworker and I are both working on together, he asks to see my emails and Teams messages with them and then tells me that I need to send a followup email to the one I sent 20 minutes ago saying "Is there a reason why you've chosen not to respond to me?" or CCing IT and asking if they can check if my coworker's computer is on.

I think this is pretty stupid and disrespectful, but this is what he's insisting. I've tried saying so and he always says that there isn't valid evidence that I would know what's professional better than he does.

I've also brought this up to his manager in our skip-level meetings and he says that this isn't something he can help me with. So I always end up sending a passive aggressive message that my manager dictates.

This is reflecting poorly on me - how can I push back and stop this?

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    What do you think would happen if you just didn't do these ridiculous things? Feb 24 at 15:37
  • I think your location would help better understand the situation.
    – Strader
    Feb 24 at 15:44
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    "he finds out I'm working with someone else on something". Is this someone else in your department that's helping your department reach its goals or is this outside the department? Are you supposed to be working with this "someone else" or not? If your manager is insisting that "working with someone else on something" is outside your job duties, then politely decline to help someone else. It may suck, but if you're not doing what you're being paid to do (even if it's a nice thing to do), the manager has a legitimate beef...
    – FreeMan
    Feb 24 at 16:19
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    I think first course of action is when sending email "Is there a reason why you've chosen not to respond to me?". "[Manager Name] would like the reason why you've chosen not to respond to me?". No need to ruin your own reputation.
    – paulj
    Feb 24 at 16:32
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    When you send a message asking for status, do you indicate in the message "my manager X has asked me to check with you on status"? That would at least make it clear what's going on.
    – DaveG
    Feb 24 at 23:33

5 Answers 5

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This sounds like a difficult situation and I don't honestly have high hopes that you will be able to resolve it well. Your manager seems like a control freak and there isn't usually a magic switch you can flip to change that sort of personality. Senior management seem to be aware of this and don't care to interfere.

One thing you could try is this. You said they don't agree that your idea of what is professional is better than theirs. Actually they are saying that they know better since they are forcing you to do what they say but that's a separate thing. Next time this happens try telling them something like "Well, I disagree that implying someone is ignoring me because they haven't replied to an email for 20 minutes is professional. However if you want to do that, obviously I can't stop you.".

If, which is likely, they simply order you to act as their passive aggressive, control freaky mouthpiece you could do as paulj suggested in a comment and state clearly in your mail that you were ordered to do this. I would put it more strongly than suggested and say something like " has instructed me to ask why you are ignoring this last email".

Assuming you are in a country with little or no protection for workers this could obviously result in you getting fired.

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I suggest you ask him in a neutral way why he requests so many updates. Not to minimize the amount of requests (though that is the end goal), but to find the reason why he wants so many data. By understanding the "why", you might supply alternative, less intrusive ways to keep him informed.

Hey Manager

I've noticed that you request status updates very often and like to be kept informed. While I can understand that, it is very time consuming and affects my performance the way it is done now. I'd like to discuss some options which keep you informed, allows your view/manager-perspective to be applied.

I don't know if you work Scrum, but I suggest you start that, or at least a basic form of it if you don't. If you do, introduce him to it. Please note: You don't perse have to call it scrum, just try to apply the principles.

  • You create tickets for your work. In those tickets you describe the task and have discussions with colleagues. Those tickets can be discussed and he can see what's decided and can intervene if he wants/needs to.
  • Those tickets have a status, he can easily see that you're working on (those are active), or are on 'todo', or 'review/done'.
  • You can have refinements, where, before you start working on those tickets you discuss them with stakeholders. Often there is a specific timeslot reserved just for this. About an hour a week isn't an uncommon start.

For yourself, you can reserve a timeslot where you respond to e-mails. Don't make it about him, but about how you want to be more effective: Say you have a moment in the morning and one the afternoon.

Often expectation management can do wonders. Don't try to fight it, try to guide it.

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    "I dont know if you work Scrum, but I suggest you start that" ah no, please don't. You cannot do Scrum with this manager. It will only result in some token Scum buzzwords being hauled around while nothing changes and another dozen people being unhappy with "Scrum" without ever having done it properly.
    – nvoigt
    Feb 24 at 16:32
  • Well, You dont have to call it that to use the principles :)
    – Martijn
    Feb 25 at 17:28
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If you have any alone-time with your coworker(s) to whom you are sending these passive-aggressive emails, simply say to them "hey, sorry I've been (or, am going to be, as the case may be) a but aggressive with you, but the boss told me this is how he wants me to act and I don't want to make him upset". A reasonable coworker will understand this and (at least try to) accept it.

The problem is if your manager gets wind that you're doing this (apologizing for acting extremely unprofessionally; this is indeed very unprofessional behaviour despite what your manager tells you), a control freak like this is likely to get even more upset than they already are. So try to do it in private and make sure it is private. This is also part of the problem of remote work, that getting this done without a paper trail is very difficult. If you're in the office this is much easier.

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It would first be worth observing or privately asking whether any of your co-workers experience this pressure from your manager. I assume not, since you did not mention receiving any similar emails from your co-workers. If they in fact experience the same pressure (or have at least heard your manager's pressuring you), it is basically a given that they already understand.

Assuming your co-workers are unaware, I would approach this situation by starting emails and messages with something respectful but that your co-workers would understand, such as [Manager] has requested I follow-up with you and see whether you have had a chance to read my previous email... or IT, per [Manager], could you please verify that [co-worker's] email is functional?

Try this and see if your manager finds it acceptable (or even finds out). It prevents apologizing to your co-workers where your manager might hear you, but it acknowledges to your co-workers that you are not the one pressuring them for an almost immediate response.

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he says that this isn't something he can help me with

As your manager's boss, that is their job: manage your manager. You have informed them, now it is their fault if they don't act on it.

This is reflecting poorly on me

Do not send any more messages at request of your manager. If they are watching to make sure you send the message, you could misspell the email address or something to make sure it bounces back.

If you want to do something more, continue to escalate this up the chain. You can talk to your great-great manager (manager's manager's manager) saying your manager's manager has refused to mediate, and continue that process until you get somewhere.

Lastly, keep these discussions over email. You want a paper trail in case someone tries to punish you for pushing back against your manager.

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