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Can Your Boss Micro-Manage You To Death?

Dear Evil HR Lady,

I am a sales manager and my area happens to be booming lately, requiring extensive travel; planes, trains, and automobiles. I am exempt of course. I make my own schedules and go when needed and stay as long as is necessary to get the job done. I am away from home often and normally at least 2 to 3 nights at a time. I all of a sudden have not much of a life at home.

My boss will not let me take any time off unless I use vacation. He won't let me leave an hour early if I need to go somewhere. If I get in at 9:00 p.m. from a 3 day trip, I am expected to be in the office the next day. I think we are treated like hourly employees, but expected to put in as many hours to do our jobs as necessary. Shouldn't it go both ways? I have been a salaried employee for 25 years and have never had such rigid requirements and have to ask everything little thing. In addition our boss make judgement calls. It's totally up to his mood and if he thinks it is "important". I puts us in a position of never knowing what end is up and being treated like children when we have high levels of responsibility.

What are the rules on all this? Are you really at the whim of a jerk boss?

Yes, unfortunately it is not illegal for a boss to be a blooming idiot, which yours appears to be. (I, of course, am operating under the assumption that you are not an idiot. Proceed with caution if you are.) Companies can set the hours and requirements all all that good stuff. If you're an exempt employee (which, as an outside sales person you are), the number of hours you can work are almost unlimited! (And this is why it boggles my mind when people fight and argue that they should be exempt, but that's more about perception than reality.)

What you need to do is talk with the boss. Most people complain to their spouses, friends, coworkers and hairdressers long before they'll gather up the courage to go speak with the boss. And please note, I said "speak with" not "confront." Confront calls up images from Jerry Springer or Maury Povich complete with DNA testing to figure out who the baby daddy is. We don't need that at the office. (Although, I admit it would make for more interesting staff meetings but I digress.)

Now, if your boss is completely irrational, this will be completely ineffective, but in my experience, most people aren't completely irrational--they've just had different experiences. I presume he was a salesperson before he began managing salespeople, and he may be managing you like he needed to be managed. If that's the case, he may well be open to the idea that you need to be managed differently.

While you may be thinking about work-life balance, your boss will be thinking about balance sheets. You need to frame your discussion on why it's good for the business if you're not completely burned out. You can even ask straight out why he wants you to use vacation time when you have a dentist appointment when you're clearly working far more than 40 hours a week.

Listen to his responses. You may find him saying things like "If I let you do it, everyone will want to." And while it may be tempting to say, "Well, everyone should be able to," because that would be logical. Instead try this, "My numbers are great. Let's make a deal. Let me manage my own accounts, my own hours and set my own priorities for 60 days. I'll keep you updated on everything I'm doing. If, at the end of that time, my numbers are [insert whatever is appropriate for your business] then we'll return to how things have been going. However, if my numbers are [whatever is appropriate] then I'll maintain this independence. We both want the same thing--the most sales possible, good customer retention and teamwork."

If he goes for it, be prepared to work your tail end off. The last thing you want is to use your newly found freedom to destroy yourself. If he doesn't, then you have three remaining options.

1. Find a new job and quit. Yeah, I know. This is a lousy option, but it's out there. I've come across many people who show loyalty to a bad boss the same way an abused spouse stays in the marriage. It's unhealthy.

Advantage: You have a new job and a whole new set of problems, plus the satisfaction of leaving this guy in the lurch.

Disadvantage: It's not that easy to run out and find a new job that is better than the old one. There are tons of things to consider besides work-life balance and jerky bosses. It may take you a long time, during which you're dealing with the boss and the added stress of the job hunt. All your vacation time gets used up for job interviews, which may or may not result in a new job.

2. Tough it out. Keep doing what you're doing and your boss will keep doing what he's doing.

Advantage: Once you realize that you are making a choice to stay, you can stop blaming your boss for your problems and realize that you've decided this is the path you want. It's actually quite freeing when you realize it was your own choice. The other advantages are that you already have a job, you know what to expect (in this case, you know that you can't expect anything until the boss speaks), you don't have to worry about relocating, or any other big problems that come with a new job.

Disadvantage: It's difficult not to become bitter in this type of situation. The problems don't go away. Your performance level may drop, causing your boss to become even more unpleasant and more demanding and more prone to micro-managing.

3. Say "Two can play this game." Your boss is being unforgiving and inflexible. No reason you can't join him.

Advantage: You say that when you get in at 9:00 p.m. from a 3 day trip you need to be in the office right on time the next day? Who schedules your flights? I bet you do. If your work ends at 5:00 instead of hopping on the 6:00 plane, you book a hotel room and fly out the next morning at 9:00 instead. Or, if you're not finished with your reports when it's quitting time (aka 5:00 p.m.), you pack up and say, "See you later boss!" Ahh, what peace and serenity. The more he expects you to stick to his rigid demands, the more rigid you make your own schedule. No more flying out Sunday night. Instead, meetings are scheduled on Tuesdays because Mondays are travel days.

Disadvantage: This game is lots of fun at first, but then you realize that you're not really working that hard, which means your sales numbers will drop, which will mean that your boss will not be happy and you may end up out on your rear end anyway.

At the end of the day, it's your decision. Make it wisely and own the results.

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