I am the only software developer in a company with about 100 employees, and my immediate boss is a senior manager. I started working there 3.5 months ago and there is a 6 month probation period.

My style of working is to take pride in my work, to be methodical and careful, to test things, and try to conform to best practices. I tend to emphasise quality over quantity. I try not to multitask unless it is required. I prefer a quiet working environment.

My boss is very bright, a nice guy and loyal to the company. He is a flexible individual with a little knowledge of IT, engineering and business management and he brings all these to benefit in his role. He multitasks often and well is very quick and switches contexts rapidly. He walks quickly, and talks quickly. He is very often immediately available to anyone who rings him or calls on him.

My observations suggest he emphasises speed over quality. He pulls out USB drives without de-mounting them, uses the toilet without washing his hands, spends 40% of the time in our 1:1s on the phone, and flits from job to job seemingly at random. If a job takes 4 hours, he will break it across several days and several weeks with no apparent pattern. He doesn't use a diary.

This morning he called me into the meeting room with no notice, I was jumped on and told we need to work on a job immediately and it will take several hours. So I have set my computer up in the meeting room. He spent 5 minutes in there with me, disappeared for an hour, re-appeared and said he was going out to a customer.

He is a confident individual who does not see any flaws in his working practices and views his approach as being the norm for our industry (telecoms). Despite this, others see him as being chaotic and disorganised.

His chaotic approach to work affects me a lot emotionally and makes me much less productive than I could be.

How can I cope with the very different working style of my manager? I have tried to adapt to him, but some times he is too much. Do I approach him about it? I am afraid of looking bad.

  • Different work requires different styles. Why does his style affect you emotionally and why does it make you less productive? In other words, what are the key issues from your point of view in how you interact?
    – Marv Mills
    Commented Aug 7, 2015 at 12:34
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    Has your manager expressed dissatisfaction with your working style or your results? Commented Aug 7, 2015 at 12:55
  • @MarvMills I find it hard to concentrate and relaxed because I get pulled off jobs that I am "deeply into" mentally. I wouldn't feel so bad if this was because there was inherent uncertainty in the work we were doing, but it seems as if people are working on a whim. I feel angry because my time is wasted in meetings, I am sitting there for many periods of several minutes doing nothing; its as if he doesn't value my time. If I have to work with him, I get no satisfaction from the work as I feel he does not have a commitment to quality and I get anxious that our output will be substandard.
    – Paul
    Commented Aug 7, 2015 at 13:20
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    Maybe you aren't suited to that sort of company? Your description struck me as very similar to a previous job. I didn't really resolve the issue other than I moved to a different company. If you're the only developer at a company you will always be moved onto whatever your manager sees as the current priority. P.S. not washing his hands is disgusting, don't let him near your keyboard.
    – Dustybin80
    Commented Aug 7, 2015 at 13:26
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    I you say he's bright & competent at his job, there isn't much to do except try and talk with him about it. If he refuses / can't change his behaviour to accommodate your style of work, I don't see an alternative to resigning
    – Aserre
    Commented Aug 7, 2015 at 13:29

7 Answers 7


You can never expect that all others will share your personal preferences and you cannot change your boss's personality and working style. All that is within your control is your reaction to it.

However your working habits appear to me to be somewhat unrealistic in the business world and you need to work on them.

Context switching is often a normal and necessary part of being a senior person particularly for a tech lead or higher, you should plan to get better at it if you want to grow beyond your current junior role. Just today for instance I have worked on a new dev project and an urgent support project, done a training session, done code reviews for 4 other projects, provided technical advice for yet another project and handled well over 100 emails and was in a meeting to plan how to cover someone who is on vacation next week. And I still have to plan for the training session I am giving Monday morning. And it was a relatively quiet day.

Next you sound as if you value the perfect over the good enough and that too can be career limiting. Yes in business there is often not the time to make things perfect. In most places delivery is valued ahead of quality. The company often doesn't get paid unless it can deliver the product. You need to accept this now and stop fighting it or you will tend to be very unhappy in most places.

This doesn't mean that you have to deliver garbage work but you need to understand that the last 20% of delivering a perfect product can take 80% of the time (see Pareto Principle) and no business can afford that. Emphasizing quality is nice, but you have to deliver in a timely manner most places. Learn to pick which corners to cut and what is really critically important. If you learn to use your judgement on what is most critical, you can spend your time on that and still deliver reasonably high quality in a timely manner. Get the most critical 85-90% and you will still be ahead of the game most places.

But one really critical problem is that you seem to assume that anybody who works differently than you is wrong. No they are just different. Some of the style differences are just the difference in how personality types operate and some are differences based on the duties the other person has. So if you release that annoyance and just tell yourself that his way works for him, that will defuse some of your annoyance.

Another thing you need to do is have a talk with your boss about your own work style and what you need to do to be successful in that organization. He may be happy with what you are doing as juniors are not generally expected to context switch much. He may find your style a frustrating as you find his.

What is important about this is that he is the boss, his opinion of you will dictate whether you pass the probationary period, what salary increases you have and what promotion opportunities you will have at that place. It is critical to understand what he expects and to change your style to fit his expectations. Making your boss happy is the number 1 task you have in all jobs.

One of my first bosses was someone whose management style drove me crazy. He was a control freak who insisted that only he knew how to do every single task down to the most minor and that you had to follow his directions exactly. He checked up on me at least every hour and pitched a screaming fit if I deviated from his directions in any way. But I adjusted to that while I looked for someone more congenial to work with (I stayed in the same organization but eventually worked for another boss) and because he actually was an expert in our field, I learned a tremendous amount from him. You will often find in life you learn the most form the people whose style is the most different from yours. I not only learned my profession from him (and manpower analysis is probably even more complicated than programming) but I learned what I did not want to do to junior people when I was a team lead.

If you find you can't do that, then you need to consider if this is the right boss for you. If you decide he is not, then you should still stay here while you look for another job, then in the interviews be more diligent in determining, as much as possible, what the organization culture is. You can easily move to a worse job than this, so you need to be asking about organizational culture and the boss's work style and looking for clues in the interactions that happen around you as you walk through the office. You want to find a place that is more conducive to your style not even worse.


When I was transitioning from one-task-at-a-time programmer to being a project leader for an operating system project that included the CPU dispatch module, one of my colleagues explained a good analogy for different working modes:

Think about different CPU dispatch behaviors.

A supercomputer doing large batch jobs needs to concentrate on one job for an extended period. To make significant progress on that job it needs to fill its main memory, caches, branch predictors etc. with the right data for that one job. It has a large investment in running that job, and a big cost for switching to something else. Ideally, it will run each job to completion, or at least to next I/O activity, before switching.

At the other extreme, think about a server supporting multiple interactive jobs such as text editors. Each editor has relatively little data. The amount of data that will be accessed during the time it is continuously runnable is even smaller. The processor's investment in running the editor is tiny. On the other hand, it is important to give each user the impression they are the only user. Every keystroke should be handled faster than human reaction times. That requires immediate reaction to I/O completion, and rapid switching between tasks.

Neither type of dispatch is right or wrong. They are suitable for different workloads.

In the same way, an individual contributor software engineer often can, and should, focus on one job at a time, building a lot of internal state relating to that job, and rarely switching between incomplete jobs. A senior manager may need to do 50 different things in the course of a day. Not reacting to each of them could leave a colleague waiting for a decision they need to make progress, or leave a customer feeling ignored. They don't have the luxury of saying "Today I'll work only on X.".

In most working situations I've been in there were layers of project leaders and technical managers between individual contributor software engineers and customer-facing senior managers. When I was a project leader or technical staff to a senior manager I had to mix working styles to accommodate both long-running deep tasks and quick interrupts.

Because of the small size of the software operation, your manager and yourself lack that buffering. You are going to have to mix working styles.

The main thing is to learn to put a task aside with enough notes to pick it up after an interrupt with minimal cost. For example, if you need to work with your manager on a job, always keep notes of where you are. Try to find out if there are things you can do independently to advance the joint task. If not, just expect and prepare to switch to that task when the manager becomes available, and switch back to some other productive work when he gets an interrupt.


Have you asked for or received any feedback about your performance? I'd start there first.

You could say something like, "Now that I've been here 3 or 4 months, I want to check in with you about my performance. Is there anything I should be doing differently? I noticed we have different working styles and wanted to make sure we're harmonized."

Unless he's wildly unreasonable, he shouldn't have any trouble engaging in a calm discussion with you about this. And he could be completely fine with the difference in your working styles - some jobs require your style while others require a different one.

Good luck!


Your boss sounds like a manager who is too busy to manage. He takes on anything that comes along. He can't say no. He's over committed and can't devote any quality time to anything. But he still takes on more.

I had a boss like that. I left that job after six weeks because I had no idea what I was supposed to do. My boss was actually too busy "working" to talk to me. And when he did have time, it was never longer than two or three minutes. It's not a good sign.

It's not likely to get any better. Your boss probably gets little direction or mentoring from his boss, so he's not going to change. In your situation, there are only two choices. Live with it, or leave. Eventually, hopefully, someone will discover that he is not a good manager, but why waste your time waiting for that to happen? If you want to advance your career, you have to find good people to work with.


You have to look at the productivity of the whole team. You will most likely not be 100% productive all the time nor is this reasonable. You cannot suboptimize one job at the cost of others. The entire system must be optimized as a whole. This is likely what comes off as unorganized to you. If he is a good manager then he will have a good system in place and his job is to manage the exceptions; so you and your teammates see as little interruption as possible. He is basically a firefighter, and fires appear at random; so they cannot be planned.

If you have a problem, then confront him directly with a compromise.

Keep in mind:

A compromise requires changes and efforts from BOTH parties.


Your boss sounds rude and disorganized to me.

If he is going to waste your time then just relax. Not much you can do about it.

I had a boss once that was kind of the same in that he had to be in charge at all times. What worked for me is that I would write out the bullets I wanted to cover and and let him just take over the meeting. I would scratch the bullet off when it was done.

Maybe put your active project on your white board and if he comes in with a new project ask him if it is more important than what is on the board.


Bringing stability and removing distractions is usually an important part of the job description of a manager. Most of the traits you describe are very bad for a manager. Being on the phone with someone else during a one on one is unacceptable. No matter how bright he is or how much of a nice guy he is, someone needs to teach him to be a proper manager.

Since you work in a large enough company, you should bring up the issue with HR. I do not mean to make a formal complaint, which is actually something I advise against. Simply tell them this issue is hurting your productivity, and focus on how, when, and where exactly it impacts you and your productivity. Their solution will likely be increased mentoring of your boss by his boss, sending him to training courses, or they may tell you to confront him directly and then ask you to tell them how it went.

If HR is competent at their job, bringing up such issues will not be seen as betrayal, and it won't bring draconian punishment for either party. Solving these kind of issues is the reason HR exists.

  • I'd always first approach the manager, not start out by going directly to HR. Commented Aug 7, 2015 at 14:57
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    If my boss calls and I'm in a meeting with someone in my group, I'm taking the call. I don't like it when my boss does it, sometimes you have to take a look at the bigger picture which usually shows they've got more important things going on.
    – user8365
    Commented Aug 7, 2015 at 16:36

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