Managing Up: You Don't Work in a Vacuum

Managing Up: You Don't Work in a Vacuum

Everyone is aware of Managing Down - this is the usual form of management where a boss directs employees towards a specific goal. The other form of management is Managing Up:

“Managing up is the process of consciously working with your boss to obtain the best possible results for you, your boss, and your organization. This is not political maneuvering or kissing up. Rather, it is a deliberate effort to bring understanding and cooperation to a relationship between individuals who often have different perspectives.” -Thomas Zuber & Erika James\

I’ll admit, I’ve been a guilty of not managing up plenty of times. This post highlights a specific scenario that many of us find ourselves in - where extra duties are being added to our workload without proper compensation. I describe a scenario that one of my friends went through and some possible solutions that could have been employed.


Recently, I spoke with a graphics artist who was experiencing work overload at her job. She had previously volunteered to take on web page development as extra contractual work under the same employer. She completed the project outside of her regular hours and was paid her bid price.

One day, there was a deadline for her employer and they needed new content added to the site immediately. There wasn’t enough time for her to do it off the clock so she performed the task at work. The employer saw this as an extra task she could now perform while on the clock. By not Managing Up, the graphic artist had found herself being squeezed. Her hours hadn’t increased but her work load had. All because she was nice enough to breach contractual lines during an emergency.

How could she have avoided this? By Managing Up:


Although it wouldn’t have been the nicest thing to do, declining during the emergency would have avoided the situation. Saying “No” when you feel like you’re being taken advantage of by management establishes you as someone who respects themselves. We all have to go beyond our job descriptions at some point for the sake of the team. Just make sure you separate those periods from ones where you are truly being squeezed. And never just say “No”, always keep the lines of communication open with rationale and reasoning so your boss knows why you are declining. Managing Up is about getting the best results for you, your boss, and your organization. Don’t decline without recognizing how some (or all) of these will suffer if you perform the task.

Controlling expectations before performing the task.

“I’m going to perform this task at work this one time because I know it’s an emergency, ok?” Saying this would have prompted the employer to agree to terms before the breach had been made. A mini-contract of sorts saying that this is a one time deal. This tells management that you are willing to sacrifice for the betterment of the organization and so your boss meets their deadline, but only this one time. You could even be more clear and state that you fear that doing such a task might prompt them to think that you can do it all of the time, which will cause you more stress and cause you’re other work to suffer. You highlight that, even though your boss may look good, you and the organization will ultimately suffer. In truth, you’re boss will ultimately look bad because your work will deteriorate along with job satisfaction. You’re communication helps your boss see the long term gains over the short term ones.

Keeping a strong separation between your regular duty and extra work.

Clocking out and charging the contractual rate per hour and then making up the clock-out time on some other day. This would have solidified the lines of the initial contract. Why muddy the waters when you can still get paid your contractual rate? This is a win for you, your boss, and the organization.

Bottom Line:

These solutions can apply to any duty being performed. Remember, you do not work in a vacuum. Always address your needs, your boss’s, and the organization’s so management knows you’re out their for the team and not just yourself. Helping your boss recognize short-term gains that may cause long-term pains falls on you as much as everyone else in the organization.

Read “Managing Up” on Google Books for Free.

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-Brian Lambelet

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