Needy Boss with Holiday “Separation Anxiety?”

by Lynn Taylor

Published on December 12, 2010


Just as you’ve reached the final item on your pre-holiday checklist on your rare lunch break, your boss pops in to discuss what he’s busy working on. As you nod distractedly, you realize he’s waiting eagerly for your answer on your projects. As you turn off your computer and signal that you have to leave, the boss just keeps a long conversation going longer. Why now?

Holidays are already stressful when you’re in a hurry to finish up loose ends so you can make it out the door. Your boss may be a “Terrible Office Tyrant” or “TOT,” suffering from the equivalent of separation anxiety in children. The signs include a last minute barrage of questions, unreasonable requests or other obstacles as you try to ease into your holiday plans. And you end up with “vacation guilt syndrome.”

Needy Behavior

Why, when you’re about to take time off, does your boss start acting like a clinging child, yelling, “Mommy, don’t go!?” Most toddlers develop separation anxiety at some point because they lack the assurance that things and people exist when they can’t see them. They fear you’ll never come back. (Don’t get any ideas!) It’s legitimate for a manager to want to ensure that all bases covered when you’re gone, but when it causes unnecessary guilt or stress, that’s when you’ve entered the “TOT Zone.”

This may be an opportunity to set needed boundaries, albeit with a great deal of empathy and diplomacy. It certainly is a challenge, given the high unemployment rate – and the intimidating bad boss behavior you’re facing in the moment. But a little patience will go a long way in maintaining, if not solidifying your relationship. It will also soothe your nerves as you’re sipping your tropical drink somewhere far away.

Reassure That You’re Not Abandoning

TOTs small and adult-sized, can be fearful of abandonment, particularly if, in the case of the latter, it could hurt their own jobs or projects. Some TOTs can’t handle it when their employees leave the building for lunch, much less for an extra day or two. They need someone around constantly or they get frustrated with the pending projects.

Needy behavior may seem benign at first but can quickly cascade into one of 19 other classic bad boss traits, ranging from stubbornness,bullying, demanding and whining to moodiness. The trick is to be available as necessary and to reassure – but without compromising your own limits.

Taming A Needy TOT

If your boss suffers from holiday TOT separation anxiety, then follow these tips so you can have a truly relaxing vacation.

• Make solid plans in writing for who covers what while you’re on vacation.

• Provide a “to-do list” for your boss, which will reassure and suggest that your TOT can also take off without thinking about you.

• Once you have a plan in place, ask questions of your boss to see which areas are of most concern, if necessary.

• Remain unapologetic when requesting or taking the allotted time off if you’ve given ample notice. Everyone needs a break.

• Reassure the boss that a little break now will translate into a happier, more productive start to the New Year.

• Set clear limits; you don’t want to be skiing after already getting the ‘big freeze’ from the boss.

Remember, neediness is common in human nature. But you shouldn’t let your boss’s apprehension consume your life or let your holidays be hijacked. By managing your manager (or “parenting up without patronizing”) you’ll also humanize your workplace. You’ll have a healthier, happier start to 2011, and this skill will be of benefit with any future vacations, anywhere you work. Bon voyage!

Published by

Will Savage

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