How to Make the Most of an Absentee Boss

Most people dream of a hands-off boss, but lack of support and direction can be detrimental to your career.

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Andrew G. Rosen
What happens when your boss is checked out? Most people dream of a hands-off boss, but the reality is that a detached boss can be detrimental to your career. Perhaps he’s counting down to retirement or battling an illness. Or maybe he's just burnt out. Either way, it’s frustrating to have your eye on the future while your boss has his eye on the door.

If your boss isn’t around enough, here are a few tactics to turn a seemingly negative work situation into a positive:

Make things easy. If your superior is on auto-pilot, do what you can to make her life easier. Pick up extra work that helps her remain disengaged. Keep your status reports brief and handle as much as you can without involving her, while making sure to involve her when necessary.

[See How to Work With a Bad Boss.]

Why this works: If you decide to ask for a promotion down the road, no one will want you stay more than the slacking boss. After all, without you, she’ll have her hands full of work.

Leave. I’m serious. Get a new job. Having a boss that has your back is an essential component of career success. You need a supporter, someone to endorse you as an employee and champion you to the powers that be. Promotions can happen without that boss in your court, but the odds are stacked against you.

Why this works: A boss shouldn’t be the only reason to stay at or leave a job, but that person’s role is definitely an important ingredient for workplace happiness.

Get to know your boss’s boss. Don’t jump over your boss’s head to take care of business; make sure to respect the workplace hierarchy. But you can respect the office flowchart while also forming a relationship with your boss’s superior. It could be as simple as exchanging pleasantries. If your boss is checked out, he’s not likely to go out of his way to sing your praises or get you promoted. You always need to take career matters into your own hands, and it’s especially important when you have an absentee boss.

[See 15 Ways Good Bosses Keep Their Best Employees.]

Why this works: You want your boss’s support to move up the office ladder, but it will be your boss’s boss who will ultimately make the decision whether you get a raise or a promotion.

Build strategic relationships. If your boss was gone tomorrow, who would get his job? If you can answer that question confidently, then you already know what you need to do. Make it your business to show that person what you’re capable of.

Why this works: When your boss is checked out, odds are you’re not the only one to notice. A management change could come at any time, and an outsider might bring in his own team or know nothing about you and your killer work ethic. Show that you’re a necessary piece of the puzzle—before you have to—to bolster your job security.

Go for broke. Take advantage of an absentee boss by extending your job responsibilities and growing your reach within the organization. If your boss is truly out of the game, you won’t receive much push-back. See just how far you can stretch your duties.

Why this works: You might be surprised at how much you can learn and grow when your boss lets you off the chain. A little freedom can go a long way.

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Pursue other interests. It’s risky business, but if your boss is looking the other way, use work time to increase your education, learn about other elements of the company for a potential career transition, or even get on the road to self-employment.

Why this works: Every organization is different, but your boss is likely the person watching you the closest. And if he’s checked out, odds are he’s not doing a great job. Scrape away some time from every day to water your own seeds.

Irrespective of the situation at your job, you are in control of your career destiny. Don’t let someone sliding down the corporate ladder keep you from climbing up. The sky is the limit—are you ready?

Andrew G. Rosen is the founder and editor of, a career advice blog. He is also the author of How to Quit Your Job.