Help! My boss ghosts me

Ghosting. There’s a lot of it about. Having started on dating websites when an apparently keen potential date turns unresponsive for no apparent reason, the term is now widely applied in the workplace. Job applicants talk about the potential employee – and/or the agency they applied through – ghosting them. At the same time, recruiters talk about potential hires not responding to their attempts to make contact.

And yes, ghosting is happening within groups of people at work. It has come up in ‘How to manage upwards’ workshops. If it’s happening to you it can be frustrating, as you can’t keep a project moving without your boss’s approval. It can also be worrying if you form the impression that it’s just you who’s getting the ghosting treatment.

What can you do?

First of all, look at the situation as objectively as you possibly can. It’s probably not about you. Consider the bigger picture about what’s really going on. How does the ghosting show up?

They don’t reply to email

Is this simply about your manager being slow to respond to your emails? Pause for thought about how many emails they have to deal with in a day. If you have no idea, ask them – you may be surprised at the avalanche of email they have to deal with. 100, even 200 emails a day is not uncommon in some workplaces.

Look at your recent emails to your boss with a critical eye – how easy have you made it for them to grasp the issue and respond? You may simply need to write more compelling subject lines, with the action needed and the due date. See my ‘10 tips for writing emails that get read’. Ask team-mates for tips on how best to communicate with them – they may prefer using a team message app.

They disappear

Many people will tell you they’ve worked for ‘The Invisible Man/Woman’ in the past. There could be a host of reasons for this and it’s likely that none of them will be about you. Maybe they do their best thinking walking in the park. Or in a coffee shop. At one company, a ghosting boss turned out to have a drinking problem (that their employer supported them getting help with). But typically, this form of ghosting is more likely to be about competing priorities, particularly in the form of meetings, often at another location.

Discuss with team-mates how to make better use of recurring meetings so that your boss can contribute. Then get your manager’s response to your ideas. A 10-minute daily stand-up may work better than an hour-long progress update. Hold meetings virtually so they can still join (if time zones permit) and record them so they can catch up if unable to attend.

They are extremely quiet

It may be that they’re more introverted rather than gregarious, working things out in their head rather than out loud with others. Or it could be because they’re under pressure. If this is new behaviour for your boss, it might be a sign of stress and possible burnout.

Ask team-mates – discreetly and with respect – if this is typical behaviour or if it’s new. Has it happened before? Take care with this: you’re probably not a mental health professional and it can be easy to label and exaggerate someone’s behaviour. Don’t gossip, do something. Ask your colleague if they’re OK and be guided by their response. If you’re very worried about them, have a confidential conversation with a mental health first aider (MHFA) in your organisation.

They leave you to it

Maybe you’re doing a great job! Your boss has 99 problems but you’re not one. Seriously, this could be a signal to take a good look at how you can work more effectively. What do you need from your boss?

Before your next conversation / call / meeting with your manager, pause for thought about what you need from them to be able to do your job well. Direction? Support? Feedback?

You may find this post useful: ‘Help! My boss is a procrastinator’


Dawn is the author of ‘The Feedback Book’ and ‘How to be Zoomly at work’


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