Question: My boss is trying to 'own' me

After my recent promotion, my manager, who is a senior executive in the company has started squeezing my personal time. I am to stay available 24x7 to his call. A workaholic himself, he has called me at 2 am during a weekend. He constantly needs me to update him on every detail of my transition into the new role.

While it is a big promotion for me, I am begining to feel uncomfortable with the new expectations. What path do you recommend?

5 Expert Insights

First and foremost, my question is:  "How attached are you to this promotion?"   because that determines the paths from here. Without having clarity of what this promotion means to you in the long term, you can't begin to access your decision making process. At best you'll get a series of arbitrary strategic behaviors targeted toward damage control.

After that I wonder what your relationship is with your boss, i.e. can you have frank discussions with him? If you can't, that leads to another path.

I'm also curious about what level of clarity you had regarding your bosses expectations when you accepted the promotion. After all, if one makes a deal with the devil in full knowledge, one can't complain when he comes asking for your soul.

It's a difficult conversation to be sure.  There are some interim strategies as I mentioned but long term there may well be the need for a conversation that lets him know that the current work experience is not sustainable for you in the long run, and is that the best way to use you as an asset. For example if someone calls me at 2AM....I'm A, not at my best, let along awake and therefore not going to be fully attentive, nor effective with a detail at that time frame, and B. over the long haul, my health will be at risk which ultimately means my performance will be compromised.

The notion of turning one's phone off while it may seem to help is just treating the symptom when the real problem is the absence of a clear agreement about access in the first place.Which makes me circle back to quesiton #1. If it's a game that doesn't fit you, despite the money/juice of it, then it's not the job for you and will cost you big time in the long run.

I'd suggest meeting with your manager to discuss his expectations for your new position and how you can meet those expectations without undue interference on your personal time. As a workaholic myself, I didn't expect my employees to work the same hours that I was willing to put into the job. Communicate the boundaries to your manager and most will attempt to honor them. Also discuss with your manager your transition plan and propose an approach to keeping him updated on your progress that meets your needs and his desire for status.  

Looks like you found a growth opportunity!  "Tormentors" can also be "tor-mentors"...that is, they mentor us by identifying areas of discomfort that are also trailheads for personal growth.

A few more things that might help:

1.  In addition to clarity about the boundaries you want to explore, don't forget to focus on results.  What is it about 24/7 that's important to your manager?  What else is important to him, and will make him successful?  The more you can find a way to convey what you want in those terms, the easier a time you'll have.

2.  Check out Marshall Goldsmith's "feedforward" notion.  One of the reason these conversations are hard to have is that they tend to get blame-oriented, and that's a downwards spiral.  Talking about what you want to see in the future can put a positive cast on that, and enable you and your manager to be less triggered.  See article here:

3.  It might help to use "parts" language.  For example, one of the issues it sounds like you're struggling with is that a part of you wants to be a great employee/no holds barred...yet another part realizes that in doing so you might be running yourself ragged and not only not serving yourself, but ultimately not serving him.  Rather than try to get a complete internal consensus, you might find it useful to put this multiplicity on the table...and see what parts your boss has active.  That can help defuse a hard conversation as well.

It sounds like there are at least two issues, although they are related:

- Your boss wants you to be on call 24/7

- You are feeling micromanaged and that you shouldn't have to update him with "every detail of your transition."

Building on what has already been shared, what drives your boss to need you on call at all hours? What will it take for your boss to step back and trust that you are doing ok without knowing all the details?

You may discover things that you could do but aren't doing and you may also discover that your boss needs to find other ways to manage his "need to know" and/or difficulty waiting until business hours.

Perhaps a discussion that recognizes that his behaviors are driven by understandable motives and looks at alternative ways for each of you to satisfy them could be fruitful.

I've had a job where I had 24x7 responsibilities for mission-critical telecommunications operations. If yours is, as well, and a 2am conversation is what's needed, then a 2am conversation is what's needed. Assuming your job is not actually like this, though, my colleagues have the right idea in suggesting you manage UP.

The process of "training one's boss" is not particularly difficult, but does require you leverage "coachable moments." To wit, after a 2am call, make a point of meeting with your boss first thing in the morning so that you can: (a) confirm that the matter has been fully addressed to his satisfaction; and (b) ask how 2am, versus 9am, versus 7pm, etc. became the time he chose as "best" to call you. Alternatively, when you notice your boss acting particularly relaxed, you can raise the issue then in a similar manner.

The key is in starting from the place that shows your boss that you're trying to understand his rationale, rather than being critical of it -- that kind of respect is what opens the door to discuss (read: train him on) better ways to achieve similar, if not even better results. After all, if you show your disrespect for him in your tone, approach, etc., how is that any different than the disrespect you feel he's showing you?!

There's the matter of unintended consequences, as well. Case in point: One time I worked clear through the night to resolve a service interruption before the markets opened the next morning, which we did. Later that morning our COO told me I looked tired and should go home and get some rest. "That's very kind of you," I said. "I'm not trying to be kind, Barry," he replied. "The truth is that you are responsible for an important operation. One bad decision on your part can jeopardize our entire organization. I cannot risk you being here if you're not at your best." Likely, your boss has not considered the impact on YOU not being at your best as a result of his (discretionary) middle-of-the-night interruptions.