By Linnda Durre’, Ph.D., Author of Surviving the Toxic Workplace – Protect Yourself Against Co-workers Bosses and Work Environments That Poison Your Day published by McGraw Hill, February 19, 2010.
As a business and corporate consultant and psychotherapist, I’ve analyzed, worked with, and consulted with many difficult bosses over the years. In order to cope and deal with them, you need to know why they act the way they do and how best to deal with them, in order to earn their respect, get things accomplished, change negative situations to positive ones, and preserve your sanity.
In my column, I will help you cope with a different type of boss, whether male or female. And remember – all of these toxic bosses in all of my columns can be of either gender. Toxicity does not discriminate according to the sexes. The previous ones include: Dick the Dictator, Bashia the Backstabber, Sewell the Sexual Harasser, Carl the Control Freak, Paula the Passive Aggressive, Clayton the Clueless, Greta the Gossip, Susie the Sugar Coater, Ian the Idea Stealer, Al the Alcoholic, Nancy the Narcissist, Donald the Deal Maker, Vernon the Verbal Attacker, Bobby the Boss’s Relative, Cynthia the Silent Treatment Torturer, Phil the Philanderer, Ned the Negligent, Sal the Slave Driver, Porter the Political Soap Boxer, Michael the Micromanager, Wade the One Upper, Betty the Battle Axe, Phoebe the Phony, Peter the Pig, Bill the Big Picture Boss, Dan the Detail Boss, Ellery the Yeller, Sandy the Snob, Blaine the Blamer, Winnie the Whiner, Eric the Erratic, Hy the Hider, Christine the Cruel,Robert the Rule Monger,Denny the Distorter, Orin the Orator, and Snyder the Sniper.
Virgil the Virtual Boss is just not there! He may work continents away, in another city, state, or country, yet you have to answer to him because he is your boss.
Sometimes virtual bosses are extremely competent, dependable, fair, and excellent communicators. They get back to you promptly, apologize if they don’t, and are specific in their directives, answering all your questions clearly. They tell you what needs improvement in a helpful, non-critical manner. They positively reinforce what you are doing correctly and are like cheerleaders on the sidelines.
Other virtual bosses are terrible. They are micromanagers, critical, and give no positive feedback. They can be passive aggressive, negligent, difficult to communicate with, and totally absent. They can be vague, pass the buck and set you up as the fall guy/gal.
There are advantages and disadvantages to having a virtual boss. With the bad Virgil, you may feel various emotions including: frustration, anger, neglect, powerlessness, fear, and disgust.
Virgil can use technology as a shield to hide behind – “Oh, I didn’t get your email.” Or, “I never received a voice mail from you.” You never know if it’s the truth or if he’s lying. Set your computer and phone up to confirm email and voice mail receipts.
Because of budget cutbacks, many companies eliminate and/or consolidate departments, managers, and supervisors to save money. They have downsized in terms of numbers and their top priorities are to increase profits as well as save money. This can mean that your supervisor has become a Virtual Virgil – no longer in your office or even the same building – and they may have moved him to another city, state, or even country.
If you had a boss on the premises whom you could make an appointment with in person or through their assistant, you’d sometimes feel better, but virtual bosses can be slippery snakes and they can use technology or bad cell phone reception as excuses to avoid you.
There may be advantages to having Virgil as your boss:
1) you may have more freedom
2) there may be a less regimented work schedule
3) there can be less micromanaging
4) you can work from home
5) there may be fewer toxic people to deal with
6) you may be able to accomplish more by yourself
7) there may be fewer meetings
The disadvantages can be:
1) it can be difficult to reach them
2) there may be a longer time for their response
3) they may not respond at all
4) you may get no direction
5) you may waste time and effort without direction
6) you may feel isolated and lonely
Here are the most important things to do when dealing with Virtual Virgil as a boss:
1) Get clear and direct feedback, ask questions and get answers about what to do and get it in writing.
Don’t say, “I didn’t know. No one told me.” It seems wimpy and you can be fired for it. Be assertive. The only stupid question is one not asked when you need the information. CC everyone in an email and letter who are above and below you and laterally who are involved in the project.
2) Be highly productive and shine as a competent, dependable employee
Show Virgil what a team player you are by going the extra mile. Earn his trust for promotions and raises.
3) Develop a one-on-one relationship with Virgil
Be personable in your communications if appropriate. Ask about his family and always acknowledge his assistant for their help. Don’t overstep your boundaries.
4) Be flexible about time, especially if you are in different time zones
You may have a conference call at 2 AM depending on where you boss is. You are not the one with power here, so be flexible about the time. Don’t complain, just do it.
5) Schedule video conferences with Skype and Face Time as frequently as possible
There are people who have worked for a company for years who have never met Virgil in person. With Skype and Face Time, seeing Virgil on a screen can be better than not at all, so schedule it when at all possible.
6) Schedule meetings with time zone differences in mind
Get a national or global time zone map on your computer or post one on your bulletin board so you know exactly who is in what city and when and exactly when the conference or video conference call will occur. Avoid confusion. Some states, like Tennessee, are in two different time zones, so be careful.
7) Schedule a meeting with Virgil when he comes to town
Take advantage of his business trip and attend every meeting with him if possible. Make sure you schedule an in person meeting with Virgil, even if it is for five minutes. Get to know each other face to face even briefly. Your promotions and raises may depend on it.
8) Cover your back and document everything
Document everything and cover your back. Whether your boss is in the next office fifty feet away from you or across the world, you must document everything, and photocopy documents. Put a copy in your safe deposit box at the bank. Always send a follow up email after a conference call summarizing the agreements, plans, directives, authority, and responsibilities of each person. Companies like to blame someone when things go wrong. You must protect yourself from that happening to you. So all letters, emails, follow ups, calls, etc., should be cc’d and addressed to everyone involved on a project – to your superiors and to those below you – who are affected and involved.
9) Go to HR if necessary
Going to HR for assistance may be one option, but most HR departments are tools of the corporation and do very little if anything to protect the employees whom they see as expendable and replaceable. You can report the situation to EEOC. You can also have an attorney write a letter warning them that you will file a law suit against Virgil and the company if the negativity or situation isn’t rectified. It gets trickier when HR is also virtual, but be persistent and have all the evidence and documentation.
10) Working at Home Without a Boss Present
If you are working from home, don’t let personal issues, housekeeping, and children distract you from working. Make sure you have ample childcare, relatives and babysitters to help, as well as extended day care at school both before and after the school day. Hire cleaning services to keep the disorder and chaos at bay. Also with working at home, you don’t have to dress up – can spend the entire day in your sweats, or jammies and bunny slippers. You can save money on gasoline, clothes, tolls, lunches, car maintenance. You also don’t have to brave the elements and deal with snow, sleet, rain, or wind like a postal worker does.
If you feel isolated in your work, make sure you have enough socializing outside of work to keep you happy – meetings and dinners with friends, spouses, and dates; religious and spiritual groups, book and film clubs, sports, hobbies, meditation, as well as health and personal hygiene appointments like the gym, manicures, pedicures, massages, chiropractors, acupuncturists, and spas.
11) Working in an Office Without a Boss Present
If you are working in an office with a Virtual Virgil, don’t let other co-workers trap you in a game of “Misery Loves Company.” Tell them you have work to do and don’t get sucked in to their “Ain’t It Awful” moans about why their boss isn’t there. Be proactive and contact Virgil yourself, and encourage them to do the same.
There may be times where co-workers take over the “Boss” role. Remind them that they are co-workers and even though Virgil is not physically there, he is still the person you answer to, not them.
12) Meetings with Virgil at His Office
If and when your presence is request to meet with Virgil at his office, always keep a suitcase packed. Make sure the company pays for your flight, hotel, ground transportation, and meals. Keep your receipts. A failure or refusal to meet Virgil in person can look bad when they are considering promotions or raises.
I hope this column about Virgil the Virtual Boss helps you to deal with him in such unique circumstances!
—Linnda Durré, Ph.D., is a psychotherapist, business consultant, corporate trainer, international speaker, and magazine, newspaper, and Internet columnist. She has worked with Fortune 500 companies giving speeches, seminars, trainings, and workshops. She hosted and co-produced two live call-in advice radio shows and two live call-in TV advice shows, including “Ask The Family Therapist” on America’s Health Network (AHN), which was associated with Mayo Clinic and aired from Universal Orlando. She is the author of Surviving the Toxic Workplace: Protect Yourself Against the Co-Workers, Bosses, and Work Environments That Poison Your Day (McGraw Hill 2010). The book’s website is: www.survivingthetoxicworkplace.com Dr. Durre’ has been interviewed on Oprah, 60 Minutes, The Today Show, Daytime, Good Morning America, Canada AM, and The O’Reilly Factor (twice), and on the national and/or local news on ABC, CBS, NBC, NPR, PBS, Fox and CW, as well as by Forbes, WSJ, Inc. Magazine, Investor’s Business Daily, Business Week, Job Week, Career Builder, Law Office Administrator, Entrepreneur Magazine, as well as newspapers including Orlando Business Journal, Sydney (Australia) Herald, Pasadena Star News, LA Times, New Jersey Star Ledger, Argus Leader, and many more. She has written for Forbes, AOL, Yahoo, CareerBuilder, Monster, A&U Magazine, Management Issues, Orlando Business Journal, and American Cities Business Journals. For more information about her consulting and speaking, contact her at Linnda.Durre@gmail.com.