Dear Lucy

Last updated: August 18, 2010 12:42 am

Can I stop my boss bothering me?

Is there any way I can make him leave me alone when he’s away?

Every August, my boss departs for the month leaving me in charge. I find that things run far better without him – we get the same amount of work done in fewer hours as there are no meetings and no egos to manage.

The only difficulty is dealing with him while away: he calls about five times a day and is glued to his BlackBerry at all hours. When he returns he always behaves as if it was just good luck that things didn’t go wrong in his absence and expects me to breathe easy now he’s back.

Is there any way I can make him leave me alone when he’s away and express some gratitude when he gets back?

Deputy, male, 42


Lucy’s answer

The answer is no, and no. You can’t make him leave you alone and neither should you expect any gratitude.

If he weren’t your boss you could simply tell him that what goes on holiday stays on holiday: when he’s on the beach you don’t want to hear from him. But even then it would probably do no good. Those nuisance calls and endless e-mails come from somewhere deep and betray a compulsion that isn’t in your power to change.

He is suffering from an extreme case of office separation anxiety. This could be caused by a lack of trust in you, or an over-inflated sense of his own importance. More likely, though, the problem is that he is constitutionally incapable of surviving low-octane stress for more than a few minutes at a time sitting on the beach with his tiresome children. The only way of calming himself is to get on the phone to the office and remind himself that real life is still going on.

There is nothing that you can do to stop this compulsive behaviour, though you can make it worse. If you ignore his calls and his e-mails, he will go to increasingly desperate lengths to get his fix of the office and start calling you at night, or calling people further down in the hierarchy.

Instead of trying to change him, change how you view him. See him as a heroin addict who has been prescribed methadone to get him through the holiday. When he calls, make sure you administer the dose correctly. You have time to do this: you’ve already said that you’re knocking off the workload in a trice.

As for gratitude, why do you expect him to be grateful to you for holding the fort? It’s your job to do so. I also think you are a bit too quick to take the credit for how smoothly things run without him in August (a month in which almost nothing ever happens); I bet you communicate your self-satisfaction and resentment to him.

Why not experiment with playing the part of perfect deputy instead? On his first day back say how delighted you are to see him. You never know, he might then even say the odd nice thing to you in return.

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