Burned-out bosses can affect workers

NEW YORK --- Your boss shows up late, sneaks out early, ignores e-mails and winces at work-related questions.


Sound familiar? Many managers are burned out from trying to get more work done with fewer staffers and resources. Some have even stopped caring.

That can frustrate employees who can't get questions answered, are waiting in vain for decisions to be made and feel like the workplace is in limbo.

Here are some tips for those trying to cope with a boss who has given up:

FIND OUT WHAT'S GOING ON: Before you do anything to fix the problem, try to determine why your supervisor shows so little interest in work.

It's possible the boss is dealing with a temporary situation such as a marital issue that will eventually pass, says Katherine Crowley, a co-author of Working for You Isn't Working for Me.

There's also the likelihood that something more serious is going on. Some bosses lose interest because they're being pushed out, while others get so fed up that they can't put any more energy into their work. Try to ask discreet questions to find out what's going on.

"You really need to dig deep and see," says Lynn Taylor, a workplace consultant. "They may just be more forthcoming than you might imagine."

TRY TO HELP, EVEN IF YOU'RE FRUSTRATED: Disinterested bosses bring down the energy level and motivation of everyone in a workplace, says Robert I. Sutton, a professor of management science at Stanford University.

"The indifference is contagious," he says.

Though you might resent your boss's behavior, don't gossip or say things that are sarcastic or insulting. Look for ways to help.

Many burned-out bosses are willing to hand over some responsibilities. So, if there's a project that could use some much-needed attention, volunteer to work on it, says Gini Graham Scott, the author of A Survival Guide for Working With Bad Bosses.

Be careful. Don't overstep your boundaries or threaten your manager's job. The boss may have given up, but he or she is still in charge.

MORE ASSERTIVE ACTION: If that doesn't work, it might be time to take more direct steps.

At one company, Sutton says, four or five influential employees gathered and confronted their boss, saying: "We've admired the work you've done in the past, but if you don't change your behavior, we think you should step down."

It was a risky move, and one that's not appropriate for every company.

Other workers don't have that luxury, so Sutton says there might be subtler ways to fight back.

If a large group of employees makes note of the boss on a workplace attitude survey, that could alert the higher-ups. Or, if the company's clients express frustration about the indifferent manager, that could lead to some change, too.

Then there's the other option: talking to your boss' boss. Telling higher-ups there's a problem can sometimes be the best solution. But it's not without risks.

If you go above your boss' head, he or she could get angry or upset and become even more difficult to work with, says Wayne A. Hochwarter, a professor of management at Florida State University.

Of course, finding another job might be another solution. Craig Isaacs, the CEO of a computer software company, did that in the early '90s.

He was working at a technology firm when his boss eventually gave up and stopped doing his job. Isaacs caught his supervisor playing solitaire on the computer, and decided it was time to start looking for another job.