Christa Ludlow, Principal Consultant of Weir Consulting, discusses how to deal with a non-empathetic boss who does not understand your job but unrealistically demands increased productivity.
My boss has never actually done my job and doesn’t understand what it involves. Nevertheless she tells me I should be “more productive”. I can’t make her understand that in order to meet her expectations I would have to either reduce the quality of my work or increase my working hours. What should I do in this situation?
There is a common belief in organisations that if a leader or manager has good management or leadership skills they will be able to overcome a lack of technical expertise. They can empower the members of their team and leverage their expertise to get the job done by using their management skills.
If your boss is just saying “I want you to be more productive” it may be a cry for help – perhaps your boss is being told to make cuts or increase targets and she doesn’t know how to do that. It could be an opportunity for you to offer help and explain how you do your job. Talk her through the processes involved if she is receptive to that.
If you are sure that you can’t increase your productivity or be more efficient, I would suggest you ask her: “Can you identify what part of my work process is inefficient?” As a manager, she should be able to look at the process and identify where any weaknesses are.
If she can’t identify the inefficiencies but she still wants you to do more, try to clarify what her objectives are. Exactly what does she mean by “more productive”? Does this mean more results in one specific area or all areas? Has there been criticism of a specific function? How would you know that you are meeting her expectations? Try to get her to be as specific as possible. Offer to think about it and come back with some ideas.
Then set out the pros and cons of taking steps to achieve her goals. For example, “If I spend less time on research I might not give the right advice,” or “If I don’t proof read the junior lawyer’s contracts, mistakes might not get picked up.”
Then offer some options. Are there any tasks which can be delayed, delegated or abandoned? Can another employee help? What support can your boss give you? If it’s that important for you to get this done, your boss should be receptive to design changes and flexible work-arounds that will remove obstacles and assist you to achieve more. This is called “task-enabling” and it’s an important part of what a good boss should do.
If the boss insists you make changes that you don’t agree with or worry that you are unachievable, get her to define the process you should follow, the level of effort and time you are expected to expend on each task and document it. Ask if you can trial the arrangement for a short period and then review it with her. This will allow you to document what the effects are and give her feedback on how it worked (or didn’t work). Consider who might be impacted by these changes and whether they can provide you with feedback to take back to your boss.
It may be that your boss expects you to get the task done no matter what. We can all offer to put in some extra effort in a crisis, but long term, that is not sustainable and will be bad for your wellbeing. In that case, it may be time to move on.
Christa Ludlow is a lawyer with over 20 years’ experience in employment law and administrative law, and a qualified coach and mediator. She is a Principal Consultant with WEIR Consulting. WEIR provides workplace conflict resolution, investigation, coaching and training services to clients in the public and private sectors. Contact Christa at firstname.lastname@example.org