SURVEY SAYS: Who're You Gonna Call?

April 12, 2007(PLANSPONSOR.com) - This week, I asked readers, When you're out unexpectedly, who do you tell - and how?

Odds are, if you’re the boss – you’re getting the call.   A full 34.9% of this week’s respondents make it a point to let the boss know via phone/person, though 4.2% did so via e-mail.   On the other hand, nearly as many – 45.4% – made it a point to tell more than one of the choices – that generally meant someone besides the boss – who, according to most respondents, either (a) would be there, (b) would be able to let others know, and/or (c) would remind the boss later on when he/she started asking where you were.   As one reader noted, “A (boss) & C (co-workers – they cover your desk)” Or, as another noted, “Usually it’s A (the boss), but sometimes it’s also C (co-workers), just in case the boss doesn’t pass it along.”   Or, as one reader noted, “You gotta tell the people up and down and all around otherwise someone will be offended that they don’t count or are missing out on something.” Or there was the reader who said, “I usually leave a message for my boss and for one of my employees. My boss doesn’t usually come in until way after my employees get in, so I want them to know I won’t be in.”  

Most of those who chose “other” were really calling multiple points, but about a third of those included someone who was neither boss, subordinate, nor co-worker (some kind of central administrative staff or secretary was a common reference).

One particularly unusual “case study” in the importance of getting the message to the right people came from the reader who recounted that they “tell different people because you never know who else may be out of the office, or if the person who does get the information will pass it on. I had an occasion last year where I unexpectedly wound up in the hospital on my way home from a weeklong vacation. The person who is now my ex contacted my supervisor, but failed to tell my co-workers. My supervisor failed to pass the information on, and my cell phone didn’t work in the hospital so, without the information and unable to contact me, my co-workers left the office to try to find me. When they got to my home, they found the front porch full of newspapers (all the papers that should have been delivered during my vacation had been ‘held’ and had been delivered that morning). So, now they knew I hadn’t returned from my vacation, but didn’t know what could have happened. Can you say ‘mass panic’?”

Co-workers were least likely to get the call as a single point of contact – just 4.2% would be called, and only 1.4% notified via e-mail, and subordinates only slightly less likely – 4.7% via phone/person and 2.3% via e-mail.   Nobody told nobody (appropriately enough – though, as one reader noted, “If we every didn’t tell anyone – they would come hunt us down like a fox…” ), and just 2.8% said they were NEVER out unexpectedly.

And though I was concerned that the crisp new survey format might cut down on the verbatims, I need not have worried.   Here’s a sampling:

“And then I spend the day working at my computer at home! At least I’m not spreading any germs!”

“On the rare occasion it happens, I tell a couple folks in the department who I know will be in the office. But unless the reason for being out involves a stay in ICU, I am expected to work from home.”

“Because we have the flexibility to work from home, unless you just had a kidney removed, it seems like it’s expected you’ll be online even when you’re ill.” (This sentiment, by the way, was expressed by a large number of teleworkers!)

“I am rarely out unexpectedly, but when it happens, I typically spend 10-15 minutes calling my boss, my peer managers, and at least one person on my staff to ensure everyone knows, as well as changing my voice mail message, etc. When you already feel like $%&$, that’s not a lot of fun, but has to be done!”  

“It’s truly unfortunate, however, from one day to the next I never know who my boss is around here. There are co-workers that think they are running the company and want to play boss. God help the micro-managers!!”

“I’ll usually leave a voice-mail for my boss. Well, one of my three bosses.”

“I’m sure something will happen now that I’ve given this answer, but I’ve only had one sick day in 17 years at this job, and that was in year two.”

“Of course, if I’m ever out unexpectedly due to recently having won the lottery, then I’m sending them a postcard from Barbados!”

But this week’s Editor’s Choice goes to the reader who said, “I e-mail the boss. That way I don’t have to fake the ‘I’m sick’ voice.”

Thanks to everyone who participated in our survey!


P.S..   Despite (or perhaps due to) the new format, this week’s survey not only drew a great response, nearly half (48.6%) said they liked the new format better.   Nearly a third (31%) said, “It works for me,” while roughly 8% said it was “six of one, half-dozen of another.   Nearly 8% said they had no basis for comparison (nice to have new folks joining in), and about 5% said “other.”   About half of those wanted to have more than one choice in the survey (though I had included a “more than one of the above option”; I guess they wanted to be specific) – but all in all, the comments were quite positive.   One noted, “What will you do with all of your free time now that you will not be compiling the results by hand?” (well, the time-consuming part was always assembling the survey, not the tabulation), and one missed the personal feedback from me (I have traditionally responded to most respondents).   I have no easy answer to the latter – but we’ll keep using the new format so long as it works as well as it did this week.   Who knows, we may be able to extend the deadline for response!

Thanks again for your participation, encouragement, and support!

1.It is almost always a totally voice mail transaction to boss & others.
2.If I am out unexpectedly I at least send my boss an email because I can never remember her phone number. If I can find her phone number, I leave a message.
3.I tell different people because you never know who else may be out of the office, or if the person who does get the information will pass it on. I had an occasion last year where I unexpectedly wound up in the hospital on my way home from a weeklong vacation. The person who is now my ex contacted my supervisor, but failed to tell my co-workers. My supervisor failed to pass the information on, and my cell phone didn't work in the hospital, so without the information and unable to contact me, my co-workers left the office to try to find me. When they got to my home, they found the front porch full of newspapers (all the papers that should have been delivered during my vacation had been "held" and had been delivered that morning). So, now they knew I hadn't returned from my vacation, but didn't know what could have happened. Can you say "mass panic"?
4.In 19 years I've only been out twice. Must have either a good constitution or a strong work ethic I guess.
5.If we every did H) I don't tell anyone - they would come hunt us down like a fox...
6.You gotta tell the people up and down and all around otherwise someone will be offended that they don't count or are missing out on something.
7.Typically I would tell my Administrative Assistant, since she's really the one with all the power! Anyone looking for me, would expect her to know whether or not I can be reached, and how.
8.I'm sure something will happen now that I've given this answer, but I've only had one sick day in 17 years at this job, and that was in year 2.
9.And then I spend the day working at my computer at home! At least I'm not spreading any germs!
10.I haven't been out unexpectedly in the last 10 years, but would definitely notify my boss and my subordinates if necessary.
11.I use my Blackberry to email everyone from home.
12.however I am rarely out unexpectedly
13.I usually start by calling by boss, and then calling by direct reports. Then, I have to forward my voicemail and e-mail to someone who'll be in that can handle things for me. I'm very fortunate to have a great team of benefits people who work with me. They sometimes make me feel "dispensable". I'm not sure if that's a good thing or a bad thing, though.
14.I will also follow-up with an email to my boss, and often key co-workers.
15.If I'm really sick, it's all I can do to call the boss on the phone. If the kido is sick (rarely thankfully!) then I'll email the boss, immediate co-workers (who will have to answer "where is she?" all day) and subordinate so that she knows I'm available if/when needed.
16.I usually call the boss and email my colleagues.
17.I usually leave a message for my boss and for one of my employees. My boss doesn't usually come in until way after my employees get in so I want them to know I won't be in.
18.I email the boss. That way I dont have to fake the "I'm sick" voice.
19.I also include co-workers in the email.
20.I also contact my direct reports, usually by voice mail, to let them know I'll be out. I also let them know if I'll be available online later on.
21.I leave a voice mail for the receptionist advising them of when to expect me. Then I leave another voice mail with one more co-worker informing them of the same thing, just to cover my bases.
22.I email my entire team plus the employee who sends a company wide email about who is out and who has meetings.
23.My boss doesn't get in the office until 11:30, so I always contact our Assistant. If she's not there, since we all pick up each other's phones, a co-worker will probably pick it up. The rule is that just so someone knows why we're not there, that's the goal.
24.Although, I usually come to work when I shouldn't and am told that it would be best if I go home. Unless I can't get my car out because we had a foot of snow overnight.
25.Even though I am very rarely out unexpectedly (once in the past year), I call my boss and a co-worker, because the boss doesn't always get the word out. And then I usually work from home.
26.I telephone my boss and leave a voicemail message, since my start time is 6:30 a.m. and he doesn't report until 9:00 a.m. However, other workers in my group leave voice mail messages to everyone in the group when they are out, which leaves me to wonder if my boss is forwarding my voice mail to them without me knowing about it. I'm always careful to keep my message short and on point.
27.Very rarely out, but when I am, email is better because I don't have to talk to them. If they have any questions, they can call me.
28.Since I come in before the boss does, if I'm out due to illness or some other unexpected event, I end up leaving a message.
29.Could have been a combination of the above, but your new survey format allows for one choice.
30.It's truly unfortunate, however, from one day to the next I never know who my boss is around here. There are co-workers that think they are running the company and want to play boss. God help the micro-managers!! So I let one person know so it can be passed along.
31.I usually call or email our receptionist, the other team leader and my boss. Although it's rare that I'm out unexpectedly, I usually have access to email and a cell phone.
32.Typically boss, and co-workers by phone and e-mail. Of course, if I'm ever out unexpectedly due to recently having won the lottery, then I'm sending them a post-card from Barbados!
33.I leave a message for my boss, change my voice mail message and email my boss with any voice mails that were already in when I called.
34.I generally leave a voicemail for my boss, the President. I usually have no impact on his schedule, and he usually has no impact on mine; other than our weekly Sr. Management meetings. I do make sure I talk directly to one of my subordinates to let them know how they can reach me and go over anything pending.
35.I try to avoid leaving any sort of record of my unplanned absence, either e-mail or voicemail, but if I can't get through in person, I'll usually leave a voicemail for my boss. Well, one of my three bosses.
36.Boss either by phone or email; co-workers if I have meetings I need to reschedule.
37.I use voice-mail to tell my boss and all affected co-workers.
38.On the rare occasion it happens, I tell a couple folks in the department who I know will be in the office. But unless the reason for being out involves a stay in ICU, I am expected to work from home.
39.First I am to try calling my immediate supervisor. If he is not answering, I am to leave a voice mail message and opt out to speak with his supervisor. If his supervisor is not available, I am to leave a voice mail message. If I have my laptop at home, I'll also send an email to my department and support personnel to let them know as well as set up an "out of office" message which offers alternate contact information and will be sent to anyone who sends emails to me while I'm away which offers alternate contact information. I also update my voice mail greeting from home informing callers of my absence and offering alternate contact information.
40.I call my boss, or a co-worker if he is not available.
41.I tell my boss and coworkers by phone in person or through voicemail. I usually get there before my boss so by telling coworkers too they don't have to wait for the boss.
42.After making the required calls and changing my voice mail message - trying to sound not too sick, I flop back into bed - exhausted at this outpouring of energy when I'm really sick. I know that no one will call me unless the building burns down, but at a former employer, I could count on my manager calling many times in the early morning to figure out how to handle my one day absence. If she had been competent, it would have helped us both!
43.I tell my boss via phone (actually voice mail since she is never in that early) and I tell my subordinates via phone or e-mail. I'm usually checking my e-mails & calendar from home to make sure I cover anything that was planned/important, so it depends.
44.I am rarely out unexpectedly, but when it happens, I typically spend 10-15 minutes calling my boss, my peer managers, and at least one person on my staff to ensure everyone knows, as well as changing my voice mail message, etc. When you already feel like $%&$, that's not a lot of fun, but has to be done!
45.I'm never out unexpectedly, but if something were to happen, my boss would be the first person that I would call.
46.I seldom and out unexpectedly or otherwise. However, folks have short memories and I find it best to use several sources... who pays attention unless they want something???
47.My boss has more important things to do than track the whereabouts of each employee. Secretary (am I allowed to call her that?) handles this.
48.If it's really last minute, I'll e-mail him since he checks e-mail very often (he's not always accessible via phone).
49.I call the support staff and they in turn let everyone else know, including the boss.
50.I tell my subordinates AND my boss.
51.It used to be (a) and (c) but now that I hav lost my ability to speak it will have to be (b) and (d). I would never stay out and not notify anyone.
52.Company policy is to report absence to your immediate supervisor, which I would do if I did have an emergency. I haven't taken sick time in 5 years, and then for a medical test.
53.I report to a manager in another state who doesn't really get involved in day to day activities. As long as my co-workers handle my clients while I'm out then I am good to go!
54.Call boss and if not yet in, then leave voice mail.
55.I normally call in to speak with a subordinate due to the large number of phone calls I get on a daily basis but I will also send e-mails to my co-workers and boss.
56.general office assistant as well as immediate boss and anyone in the office i was scheduled to meet with(either voice message or email)
57.My boss is rarely in the office so I send an email to all my department letting them know that I'll be working from home or will be unavailable all day. Sometimes, I will call and leave a voice mail for my boss.
58.I call all affected individuals - boss, subordinates etc.
59.Generally boss and subordinates by e-mail...it's the most efficient way to get the word out to several people while I'm also updating my "out of office attendant", checking e-mail, and of course reading NewsDash...it's all about multi-tasking!
60.GM by phone or email.Email to another 6 people who depend on me. So far in two years it hasn't happened.
61.It seems you need to call everyone and their brother when you're going to be out of the office in case one of them is out themselves!
62.Call or leave vcml for the boss, then send an email to the whole team (it's a small team)including the boss.
63.I notify both my boss via phone/person (sometimes her admin or voicemail) and my highest level subordinate via phone/person.
64.After I inform the boss and my staff, then I have to check my calendar to see if I need to cancel anything or notify anyone else. Sometimes its easier to just come in!
65.We are supposed to call in before our start time and advise this person. This means calling his personal cell phone - which is never on - and leaving a message. Since the information usually doesn't get to other people who need to know, most of us also call the receptionist, our immediate supevisor and, sometimes, other co-workers. Since I am usually the first one in the office in the morning, a LOT of my co-workers end up calling me.
66.I also let my subordinates and assistant know by phone.
67.I also call my staff Manager.
68.It's very rare for me to need an unplanned day unless the darn car breaks down on the way to work. If I have my laptop or blackberry, I use email, otherwise it's the phone.
69.If the boss is out, next step is my co-worker via the phone.
70.I have to call the boss, call the administrative assistant to reschedule meetings, call a co-worker to attend the one meeting/call that can't be rescheduled, and usually call in for a meeting that can't be rescheduled or passed off to someone else. Really, it's too much hassle to call in unless you're dead and too tired to fall over!
71.Since about 95% of my department works from home (I am one of the few who still goes into the office...but only for 2 days each week), I use G...but that's only when I am so sick or the emergency is so bad that I cannot work. Because we have the flexibility to work from home, unless you just had a kidney removed, it seems like it's expected you'll be online even when you're ill. Oh...and the G choice would include B, D, and F. (you know stupid me...I didn't read your directions so I initially e-mailed you a response but caught it before my system replicated so I could do it the "right" way)
72.I notify both (a) the boss by phone and (c) co-workers via phone. My work day starts at 6:30 am and I normally wake up around 5:00 am. So, if I wake up and determine that I am sick, I can't usually locate anyone in person and end up leaving voicemail messages. I use phone rather than email because for some reason, I feel the need to validate my sickness by sounding like I am dying in a voicemail message. You just don't get the same effect in an email message.
73.Depending on the reason for being out, the way folks get notified may be different. A death in the family may mean a quick call to the secretary and ask her to notify everyone. An illness when the laptop is home might mean a note to boss, secretary and subordinates. I'm sure there are folks with more practice at this than me who can give you a better answer.
74.I keep my boss, my subordinates and my admin assistant updated on my whereabouts. Via email if I can, but if that's not feasible, I leave a voice mail for my AA and ask her to let everyone else know. For my subordinates, if they're out unexpectedly, they follow a similar process - letting me and their fellow teammates know via email or voice mail if they can't get to email. I've even received a text message (on my cellphone) from one team member who missed a flight coming home after a weekend away.

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