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‘My Boss Is Smothering the Hell Out of Me’

Photo-Illustration: The Cut

Dear Boss,

I’ve been with my company for 10 years. I was promoted to a new position in February, shortly before the pandemic erupted. Since mid-March, we’ve all been working from home. I already worked from home several days a week by choice, so I have a good setup for it, am accustomed to its challenges, and am more productive and comfortable here.

But my new manager is absolutely smothering me. She was showing signs of micromanaging before this started, but I think working remotely really threw it into overdrive. She is insisting on daily video “check-ins,” in addition to our regularly scheduled meetings. I am now talking to my boss more than I am talking to my partner, my family, and my best friends. She wants to know what I’m doing for fun, what I’m doing for exercise, what I’ve been cooking, are my finances okay? Ma’am — I am sheltering in place. Please stop asking if I did anything fun last night. No. I walked my dogs and did a puzzle. Making me say it out loud depresses me. 

On top of that, we go through my to-do list every. day. I already am having a lot of anxiety right now (who isn’t?) and having to do a daily report-out of my productivity only adds to that. I have gotten to the point where I get a pit in my stomach every day leading up to our meetings. Some days I’m hugely productive. Other days fears about this virus have kept me up all night and I’m struggling to see my computer screen straight. I am a good worker, I will always get what is needed done — on time and well — but my output varies day to day, and honestly, nothing we are doing right now is critical. 

I surmise that my manager is dealing with her stress and anxiety over the pandemic by throwing herself fully into our work, but all of us handle it differently and that’s not how I’ve reacted. Getting ahead on projects that are due in the fourth quarter feels strange and pointless to me, given our current situation. I’ve tried to mention that the daily meetings were not helpful for me, but she says she feels that it’s very important we stay in touch. 

I’d be fine with weekly check-ins, but every day is really bringing me down — and I’m already down. How do I get out of this? 

Suddenly having to run their teams remotely has brought out the worst in a lot of managers. Lots of people have no idea how to effectively manage a remote team, and so instead they’re just … insisting on a lot of contact and hoping that takes care of it.

There are some jobs where things change so quickly that daily meetings can make sense. It doesn’t sound like your job is one of them. You were working relatively independently before this started, and that shouldn’t need to change just because your location did. Insisting that someone who’s used to more autonomy (and who is performing well) suddenly start having daily check-ins is pretty much guaranteed to demoralize them as well as interrupt their focus and make them less productive. And asking you to go through your to-do list with your manager every day is infantilizing. No wonder you’ve grown to dread these calls!

And that’s before we even get into the daily inquiries about your personal life. That would be exhausting from most family members; it’s truly boundary-crossing when it’s from your boss.

The most likely explanation for all this is that your boss simply has no idea how to manage in our current circumstances (and possibly isn’t the most skilled manager the rest of the time) and has flailed her way into this setup because it makes her feel like she’s doing something — not realizing that what’s she’s doing is demoralizing you and adding to your stress.

I know you’ve already tried telling her that the daily meetings aren’t helpful to you, but I’d try a more direct, more explicit conversation. Your message shouldn’t just be that the meetings aren’t helpful; you need to say that they’re actively impeding you. She still might not want to change anything, but this at least will give her information she doesn’t currently have — and should nudge her to think more seriously about whether the current setup is warranted.

I’d frame it this way when you talk to her: “Now that we’ve been working from home for a month, can we revisit the system we’re using to stay in touch? I’m finding that checking in every day feels like too much and is actually adding to my stress and making it more difficult to stay focused. I worked more independently in the office and want to propose that we return to a system more similar to the one we had there, where we had a standing weekly meeting and then connected outside of that when specific needs came up.”

If she’s resistant, ask if she’s open to trying your proposed change for a week or two and then revisiting it. Managers who are hesitant to agree to a change often are more willing to agree to a short-term experiment rather than a permanent change — and then if they see that it goes well, are more likely to say yes to continuing it.

But if she won’t budge on the calls, it’s at least reasonable for you to set boundaries about all those inquiries into your personal life. The next time she starts quizzing you about your finances (!), your family, your exercise, and/or your cooking, it’s okay to say, “I’m actually finding that talking so much about how we’re handling the quarantine is causing me more stress — especially because it highlights how difficult things are. I’d be grateful for a break from focusing on it.” Or, “Would you mind if we went straight to our work agenda today? I’m pretty burned out on quarantine talk” (or feeling especially stressed, or so forth).

And if that doesn’t work and she continues to pepper you with these sorts of questions, it’s fine to resort to utterly boring, information-free responses like, “Oh, you know. No real changes. So shall we talk about project X?”

Order Alison Green’s book Ask a Manager: Clueless Colleagues, Lunch-Stealing Bosses, and the Rest of Your Life at Work here. Got a question for her? Email Her advice column appears here every Tuesday.

‘My Boss Is Smothering the Hell Out of Me’