Maybe you’ve just witnessed your manager on page 58 of their online search results for a new water bottle. Maybe you’ve noticed that your boss casually takes lunch every day from 11 to 3, only returning for your daily check-in meeting (during which they click over to page 59 of their online search results page for a new water bottle).
Either way, it’s clear as the gloss that coats their eyes when you explain the latest KPI results that your boss is totally checked out. And you know what? Let’s give them a break, because 20 years of 9 to 5 monotony is enough to send even the most motivated employee to reach for Nietzsche.
Still, this doesn’t change the fact that right now, you’re the annoying, bright-eyed young self-starter for whom a boss isn’t enough: You want a leader, an inspirer, a mentor. And this guy? This guy’s not cutting it. But unless you’re planning an office coup — one redditor’s not-unreasonable advice for how best to deal with it — you’re going to have to figure out a way to get ahead while working for someone who no longer takes interest in their own career, let alone yours.
To start with, let’s better understand what causes someone to end up like this. The problem isn’t as uncommon as you might think: A 2014 Gallup survey — cited in this 2016 Huffington Post article — found that disengagement amongst American workers may be as high as 70 percent.
According to the same HuffPo article, this type of disengagement could be caused simply by a person feeling they no longer belong. “An example is a woman working in financial services who described to me an increasing mismatch between her actual job functions, and her skills, experience and capacities; a gap between her abilities and talents, on the one hand; and what the role allowed — or restricted, on the other,” writes Douglas LaBier.
When a person feels “shelved,” LaBier argues, it can cause them to check out. “This happens when your competencies, knowledge and capabilities are underutilized. Worse, they may be misused or stifled altogether. Then you’re in a dead-end situation that will turn you off.”
But again, that’s your boss’ problem, which has unfortunately now spilled over and become your problem, too. So what do you do to keep yourself from falling into the same abyss?
“Request to meet with your manager weekly so that you can share what you have accomplished, and get any possible information that he might be in touch with that you don’t have,” says Susan M. Heathfield, an HR expert with more than 30 years of experience. “This will keep you in the loop no matter how apathetic your boss is.”
Heathfield also suggests that it’s important to develop positive relationships with other managers — including your boss’ boss. “In the same vein, volunteer for leadership roles in teams and groups,” explains Heathfield. “This can be as simple as serving on the employee activity committee or a work-related project team. The goal is to let others see your work and contribution.”
Another thing you should consider is that maybe your boss is going through something, and the the 58 pages of water bottle catatonia is just a temporary state. “In real life, people go through phases of productivity,” wrote redditor PhillipK_Dick on the Career Guidance subreddit. “Maybe he has something going on at home or in his personal life that is affecting him.” Another redditor agreed: “Find a good time to talk to him about it. I guarantee you he’s miserable about it and has nobody to talk to about it.”
To that end, Heathfield suggests that a good way forward is to think less about yourself and more about how you can help. “Recognize that success at work isn’t all about you; put your boss’ needs at the center of your universe,” explains Heathfield. “Identify your boss’ areas of weakness or greatest challenges and ask what you can do to help.”
Which is sound advice in a world where everyone loves one another and our co-workers feel like family. But since that world is fantasy and most people just want to strangle their boss for creating more work for them, the best advice is more straightforward: “If all else fails, seek a transfer or find a new job,” says Heathfield.
Besides, your boss might not even notice that you’re gone.