How to discourage subordinates from unnecessarily interrupting their manager?

The Workplace Asked by CaptainCodeman on December 17, 2020

This is a habit that tends to form in some people (admittedly including myself), when seated near a manager: the subordinate tends to ask the manager questions all day, often about very trivial things. Often the answer is very basic ("just refresh the browser", "try closing everything and open it again")

The interruptions are significantly detrimental to the manager’s performance, and affect concentration. However, we don’t want to discourage the subordinate from asking questions when they get stuck, because otherwise they may sit around being unproductive, or make mistakes that are costly to fix.

(This is assuming that picking up a laptop and moving to to a quieter place is not an option)

What is an effective strategy to handle this?

2 Answers

How often does the manager provide employee feedback? If it is only tied to the end of year review, you need to increase it. Perhaps even weekly.

Have the manager then raise the point in the setting which was designed for providing this kind of feedback. The conversation should look like:

Stephen, I appreciate how you are willing to come to me to point out major issues and seek support; but, I'd like you to become a little more independent. I want feedback on any issue that I need to take action on; but, if the request is about a problem you might be able to figure out in five minutes, I'd appreciate it if you took those five minutes to try to find a solution. If it is a bigger problem, or one that can only be solved by management, please bring it to my attention; but, please hold back on the very small items so I have time to my job as a manager, which benefits the whole team. I don't expect you to change overnight; but, I will be paying more attention to interruptions, and providing your more feedback in the future, so this can be addressed before any end-of-year employee review. I don't want to surprise you with feedback that's too late for you to do something about it.

If you're not providing this kind of feedback at least once a month, then you're probably only managing up; which is valuable, but unlikely to fix any managing down kind of issues.

Answered by Edwin Buck on December 17, 2020

If the subordinates are asking questions which can really be answered with a "refresh your browser", it looks like either they are looking for micromanagement or just to look like they are doing something.

You don't mention where this is based, so I cannot tell if it's part of the local culture to have this sort of interaction.

In my own experience the most effective way for reducing the amount of superfluous questions is to simply bounce them back:"how would you do it?" or "what have you thought of?".

On one side this will train the asker to think beforehand about the problem, and very likely avoid asking self answered questions. On the other side it will help the manager to guide the asker in following the "right" mental path for problem solving.

Answered by L.Dutch - Reinstate Monica on December 17, 2020

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