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Recently the IT manager/director has gone somewhat AWOL. This is a person who works remotely from home and simply works through VPN, email and phone. Ordinarily he has a routine of checking on the progress of work almost every hour, but usually 5-6x a day. In the last couple of weeks he has gone increasingly AWOL. His habitual checking on progress has turned into barely two emails a day and seeming very passive.

Yesterday I delivered a finished application to him on the network and he didn't even check it. I had to follow up with him two hours later to try and get at best a nonchalant response that lacked interest; and this was originally one of his dear pet projects. He hasn't made any mention of working on other things and recently expressed being tired of the company after 8 years. Other employees are also finding it hard to reach him for IT support as well. His almost non-existent communication combined with taking an extended number of early leaves or sudden sick days that's out of character for him has lead me to wonder if he's planning an exit. The problem is his lack of communication is stifling progress on IT projects and the CEO who I would usually go to is out of town. As a result, it has lead to an almost non-existent workflow. What I don't want is for him to suddenly jump back in to the flow and expect that we have been super productive and start wanting to know what we have been doing when there has not been any meetings or projects assigned. What is the best way to approach this situation?

  • Does this manager report directly to the CEO or to someone in between? – Myles Jul 10 '15 at 17:15
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    If he was checking on progress every hour and you think it's unheard of that he had better things to do for 2 hours, maybe he simply burned out micromanaging you guys :) – nvoigt Jul 10 '15 at 17:32
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    I agree with @nvoigt - checking in 5-6x a day is a LOT. Sometimes my managers don't even check in one a week! – David K Jul 10 '15 at 17:52
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    Be specific on how he "recently expressed being tired of the company". If he is moving on then how to handle this differs. You may want to lay low a couple more weeks and get a feel for what is going on. I would wait for a day the CEO is in the office to probe your manager as if things might to weird. At this point yes this is impacting your work but if this is bigger than a bread box you might not want to be in the middle. If he jumps back in workflow and asks why nothing has been done then just tell him it is because you did not give us anything to do. – paparazzo Jul 10 '15 at 19:14
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    AWOL means "Absent without leave". It's unlikely that your manager is genuinely AWOL, just that he didn't give you advance notice. I would suggest a different term. – DJClayworth Jul 10 '15 at 20:51
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The behavior you describe would lead me to believe that he is having a personal problem including, quite possibly, a serious illness. But then I have seen this type of thing fairly often throughout the years. The last time I saw it the person was dealing with a spouse who had cancer. I have also seen it happen to people with depression, people going through a divorce, people with seriously ill children, people with cancer who are going through chemo, etc.

First I would email him and say something along the lines of: "Joe, you have seemed less engaged lately. Is everything ok or are you just swamped with other things? I don't need any details, but is there something you want me to pick up that you would usually do so I can help out and keep the project on track?"

This serves several purposes. First it lets him gently know that you have seen a drop in his output. He may not have realized that he was working at enough of a lower level that people would notice. (Denial is an amazing thing really.)

Next, it gives him a chance to address the problem before you go to the CEO which saves face for him. Most people would be appreciative of having a chance to address a problem before it gets reported upward.

Third, it gives him the opportunity to unburden himself if he wants (and you aren't asking for details, so he can tell you, "Yes, there is a problem" and ask for help without having to say anything more personal) or at least to dump some of the work he can't do right now on you. So that keeps the projects moving along and whatever is going on won't seriously affect output before he gets it under control.

Finally it means you can contact the CEO if this too doesn't get a response and have something to show him that you tried to get it fixed before going above your manager.

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There are usually only two ways to deal with a manager's absence.

  1. The manager designates another person to fill in for him while he is away. Quite clearly, this hasn't been done in your case, or else you wouldn't be asking the question!
  2. Reporting employees ask the manager's manager how to deal with the manager's absence. If he/she too is absent, keep going higher up the ladder until you find someone. In your case, the manager reports directly to the CEO, who is also out, so that too is not an option.

Your team is essentially stuck in a "limbo" and I am not sure there is a perfect solution to deal with it. Nonetheless, my suggestion would be that the most senior team member should take charge, and direct the team based on his/her best judgement. Leave out any work items which require the manager's or CEO's approval, let them take a call on those when they return.

Make a written record of the work planned for the team (ensure that whoever takes charge mentions that the interim plan is only in place until the manager and CEO are out), put the manager and CEO on copy (even if they aren't currently checking email) and keep working on that plan. That way, when your manager returns, the team wouldn't have to tell him, "you were unavailable, we didn't know what to do so we did nothing."

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