Managing Your Boss’ Impossible Expectations

It’s difficult to get a good night’s sleep when your boss, or client, is sending you emails at midnight and expecting an immediate response.Man asking to stop stay away from him

That may be a drastic example but it’s a situation that many executives confront every day. Can you say “No”?

Setting Boundaries

More than ever, you may be feeling that “enough is enough.” You want to carve out personal time for yourself. But you’re afraid to upset your boss or lose a client, so you go along to get along.

It doesn’t have to be that way. It’s best to manage expectations at the beginning of a relationship, but it’s never too late to raise the issue.

First, determine their preferred method of communication. Is it email or do they prefer that you pick up the phone for a conversation? Do they like to tackle their email first thing in the morning or is another time better to reach them?

Then you can work your schedule around theirs. Agree on a realistic timetable for responses. You need to be flexible while at the same time protecting yourself.

But you might be working on a major project that requires immediate attention. Or, the company is facing an instant crisis. You don’t want to miss out on an opportunity to shine.

Once that project is over, however, don’t fall into the trap of going back to an immediate response at all hours. Gently remind your boss or client, “Now that we’ve finished that rush project, I’ll be sure to get back to you within our usual time frame.” You’re got other clients or executives in your organization that have expectations of you, too.

How to Say “No” and Get a “Yes”

Then there is the situation where you can’t meet an unrealistic deadline. Companies have cut back on professional and support staff – do you know many people who have personal secretaries any more? So the brunt of the work falls on you.

No Service and support for customers. 24 hours.You may find it impossible to meet your boss’s deadline. You’ve got one of two choices: ask for more time or ask for more resources.

He may not want to hear that, but wouldn’t it be worse to miss the deadline or turn in an incomplete assignment?

You could say something like this, “I’d love to help you but I’m working on three other projects right now. Perhaps we can bring in someone else to help out. I have just the right person in mind.” Offer a potential solution and you’re likely to get a positive response.

Once you and your boss have established ground rules then you need to hold up your end of the bargain:

  • Live up to your boss’s expectations. Be sure you understand and agree to your boss’s or client’s expectations.
  • Be on time. Once you’ve agreed on a time to have a phone call, then call when you say you’re going to call.
  • Follow through. Do what you’ve promised to do. Turn your project in on time. Don’t tarnish your reputation by submitting incomplete work. Ask for more time or help if you need it.
  • Communicate. If you find yourself falling into the old routine of being available anywhere, anytime, then it’s your responsibility to initiate a conversation with your boss to reinforce the boundaries.
  • Get and give feedback. Ask for continuous feedback. Are you meeting your boss’s expectations? Or, is she falling into the old habit of expecting you to respond to her midnight emails?

Managing relationships is a delicate task. Your client will most likely welcome a discussion about his expectations. But you have rights, too. You shouldn’t be expected to return emails at all hours of the night or meet impossible deadlines.

What if you just can’t get the relationship to work? You’ve done your best to manage expectations but your needs are constantly ignored. You worry about your crushing workload and can’t sleep at night.

It may be one of the most difficult decisions you’ll ever make – but you may need to walk away from an impossible situation before you get fired or get sick.

Instead of answering those emails in the middle of the night, use the time to start your job search by checking the online job boards and LinkedIn where all the major companies and agencies post their openings. If you decide to walk away, it’s always best to do so when you have your next opportunity lined up.

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