Effective Communication

5 Ways to Handle a Performance Review with an Absentee Boss | Promotion and Performance Series

performance review with an absentee boss

The most common type of incompetent leaderaccording to an article in the Harvard Business Review? The absentee leader! According to the article: “Absentee leaders are people in leadership roles who are psychologically absent from them.” They’re a form of laissez-faire leader and, although some might say they would love to have a boss who let’s them just do their thing, the reality is that most employees don’t enjoy this type of leadership — especially when it comes to having a performance review with an absentee boss.

In fact, a 2015 Interact/Harris Poll of about 1000 US workers, reported by Harvard Business Review, found that issues related to being absent topped the list of ineffective boss behaviors:

  • Not recognizing employee achievements – 63%
  • Not having time to meet with employees – 52%
  • Refusing to talk to subordinates – 51%

Face it. Employees want managers who are present. That’s particularly true when it comes to performance review time. After all, how can a manager who has been absent—either physically or emotionally—over the year have the ability to provide a reliable or valid performance evaluation?

Two Types of Absentee Bosses

While the Harvard Business Review articles referenced earlier talk about the pervasive problems that emotionally absent bosses can cause, today it’s increasingly likely for employees to work with, and for, bosses who may be physically absent. Whether because the employee is part of a large organization with multiple facilities, works remotely (part-time or full-time) or is part of the burgeoning gig economy, more and more employees are working with bosses who they may rarely—or never—see.

But, whether your boss is absent emotionally or physically, the steps you should take to prepare for, and participate in, your performance review are the same. Your goal: to ensure that your boss is kept well informed throughout the year, and during the performance review, of the positive efforts you’ve made—and the opportunities you’re interested in.

Steps to Take When Preparing for a Performance Review With an Absentee Boss

Preparation is the key, here. You show whether or not your boss is absent—physically or mentally. If he or she is, there are some specific things you can do to improve the chances that your contributions will get the recognition they deserve and that you’ll have opportunity for development support and activities to help you position yourself for future promotions.


Also read: 3 Ways to Handle a Performance Review with an Incompetent Boss | Promotion and Performance Series


Here are 5 ways to handle a performance review with an absentee boss:

1. Take the initiative. Don’t wait for your boss to reach out to you; reach out to them! Preparing for an annual review should be an ongoing process which means that you should seek to have frequent opportunities to touch base and provide updates throughout the year. Even if your boss is located in another city—or across the world—establishing time to touch base via phone or videoconference is an important way to stay connected. Set up regular meeting times that appear on both of your calendars. These connections don’t have to be long—even a five-minute call can be enough opportunity to share highlights about current projects, accomplishments and potential challenges.

2. Become a pro at documentation. Particularly for those employees whose performance reviews occur once a year (which is most employees), keeping good records throughout the year can ensure that important milestones aren’t missed and that a paper trail exists to document who did, or said, what throughout the year. That way, during a performance review when your boss says, for instance, “why wasn’t XYZ done?” or “why was this goal missed?” you’ll be able to point back to a prior discussion with evidence of what took place. “Oh, yes, well, as you may recall we had a discussion on (date) when you indicated that XYZ…” This doesn’t need to be, and shouldn’t be, a blame game or finger-pointing exercise, just an opportunity to ensure that you and your boss are both on the same page.

3. Don’t be afraid to toot your own horn. This is not the time to be shy or coy about your accomplishments. Your absentee boss will not notice the things you’ve done so it’s imperative that you share your good works and deeds often and directly. You can, and should, do this during your regular meetings but don’t be afraid to shoot off an email or text message to your boss to report on achievements, milestones or other accomplishments as they happen. Then add those accomplishments to your performance review file.


Also read: Top Tips to Handle a Performance Review with a Hostile Boss | Promotion and Performance Series


4. Maintain a performance review file. Whether physical, or digital, create a place to store information throughout the year about your achievements. This could range from specific metrics on outcomes you’ve achieved, to copies of notes or emails from your boss, colleagues or customers. Leaving this data collection to the end of the year is a sure way to miss important milestones. Get in the habit of automatically dropping information and examples into your performance review file. When performance review time rolls along, it will be a simple matter of going into your file to pull things together for your boss.

5. Be prepared to address the not-so-good issues as well. Nobody’s performance is all stellar, all the time. Yours won’t be either. But when projects don’t turn out as you’d hope, milestones are missed or a colleague or customer files a complaint, you can use this as an opportunity for self-reflection and improvement. And, just as with the positive things you’re bringing to your boss’s attention, you should do the same with the missteps and lessons learned that will inevitably occur. The important thing here is not that something “bad” happened, but how you addressed it. Focus on lessons learned and opportunities for improvement. And above all, be above-board in being transparent about your performance—good and bad.

Absentee bosses are an unfortunate fact of life for many employees, whether emotionally or physically absent. In either case, the steps above can help to ensure that your performance review with an absentee boss achieves the best results possible.


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About the Author

Linda Pophal is a freelance business journalist and content marketer with a wide range of writing credits for various business and trade publications. In addition to freelance writing for trade journals and publications, Grensing-Pophal does content marketing for Fortune 500 companies, small businesses and individuals on a wide range of subjects, from human resource management and employee relations, to marketing, technology, healthcare industry trends and more.