Q. My supervisor seldom replies to text or email messages. She texts and emails us (whether she is in or out of the office), but when we have questions, she never replies. This leaves us all feeling pretty resentful. I've asked her which method of contact she prefers, but she just says to do whatever is convenient. Since she's out of the office so much, it's hard to catch her in person. What should we do? Are you required to reply to an electronic message as you would a phone call or letter?
A. It doesn’t matter what the form of communication is, when the recipient doesn’t respond, it’s frustrating. Whenever possible, a message should be responded to either on the same day or within 24 hours, even if it's just to acknowledge receipt of the message. Of course, there are circumstances when that's not possible, but it's a good general rule. Even if you can’t answer the question right away, a quick “Got it, will call later” lets the sender know you’ve seen the message and will respond as soon as is practical.
What is more disconcerting about your question is the fact that your supervisor does not respond to or acknowledge your text and email messages. Since she doesn’t respond to your colleagues’ messages either, you know it’s not personal. While it’s unlikely that this is the case, she might not answer because she thinks your messages are trivial. Even so, she shouldn’t just ignore you; she should discuss with you that you should only send messages that really are important. If your messages are in fact important and timely, then she is making a mistake by not acknowledging or answering them. This is a form of workplace rudeness that leads to the frustration and stress you are feeling. Some of the stress comes from the fact that addressing the issue with a supervisor is much more difficult than addressing it with a colleague.
You’ve already made the first effort by asking her which method of communication she prefers. You’ve complied, and she still isn't responding. Other options include having a conversation with her about this issue when she is at the office. If it’s a problem for your team, make an appointment to discuss it with her as a group. You could ask to discuss communications at the next staff meeting.
Finally, you can continue to do what you are doing, which is sending her your messages and then making the best choices you can without her input. Do keep a record of your texts and emails. If she challenges your decisions, you can produce the messages to show you were keeping her informed.