Boss Seeks Complaints About My Bossing

Question to Ask the Workplace Doctors about a boss seeking complaints from a supervisor’s work group:

My boss is asking employees working under my supervision individually if they have a problem with me and he asks them to give him a complaint in writing or submit a grievance if they do have any problems with me.

My boss has done it now for the third time. He will come on site only when I’m not there and request from the employees under my supervision if they have any problems with me. He will also tell them that he knows that it’s not always nice to work with someone you don’t like and they must give any complaint or grievances to him personally in writing.

When I sent him an e-mail the first time it happened, I did not receive any response from him, Now it happened again twice. Even due to none received, he asked them afterwards again for written complaint or grievances. He will tell them that they must go to him in regards to any complaint or grievances and not come to me as their site manager. Is this unfair?

Signed, Boss Wants Complaints About Me

Dear Boss Wants Complaints About Me:
Apparently your boss thinks it is his job to learn if you are doing your job poorly. The way he has gone about this certainly implies he thinks you are not a good boss and that he is anxious to acquire evidence of that. The only response to his inquiry that you mention is that you sent him an email about it. You didn’t say what was in that email, nor do you provide additional description about how long you have been in supervisor of your workgroup. In short, there must be something to have gone on between you and your boss that your boss holds against you. before or after your assignment to supervise or that he has observed or been reported.

Not knowing more about the history of your relationship with your boss, I hesitate to assume his motives are mean, however, intrusive and trust destroying has been his behavior. But even assuming his motives are innocent, is it not time to do more that send an email? Other than bite your tongue and to mumble to yourself about what you feel is unfair, your three options are:
1. Self analysis, 2. Approaching your boss directly, and/or 3. Bypass your boss by going to his boss or Human Resources. And suggest that is the wiser order of your action.
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1. Self analysis. It might be helpful to learn what your organization expects of those who supervise in such assignments as yours and also to become informed about what is expected of those who are boss of supervisors. Too often we are not aware of the culture of our workplace until something happens, such as the behavior of your boss. This is to suggest that you review what you have been told is your job description. Because you don’t mention a policy or practice of employee surveys, you must not have such an anonymous means to learn if work groups have supervisor or coworker trouble. Many have such programs that assess incivility and dis/satisfaction of employees. And some companies follow up what is learned with training and resolution programs.

More importantly, self-analysis, if it is to mean anything, entails you reviewing how you supervise, how you make assignments, how you communicate and how you seek feedback from those you supervise. How do you give assignments? Are they clear and what is your tone? Do you encourage input or just give orders. This means thinking like an owner of your organization and seeing the big picture—being aware of how well your work group meets expectations of its internal and/or external customer, what are the numbers of supplies used, cutting rejects and do over costs, evidence you have of satisfaction of with your work group’s products and services. Such a self-analysis will prepare you for a meeting with your boss.
2. Request a meeting with your boss and an evaluation of your work. What does he say you are doing wrong and well? Listen respectfully. Inquire how he wants you to address whatever problem he thinks there is with your supervision. Approaching him and asking for his guidance probably is what he wants. His seeking complaints signals that he thinks he knows what you should be doing or not doing. So seeking his help should be received more positively than complaining about his seeking complaints from your work group. You might ask that he put his criticism and evaluation in writing and that he collaborate with you to develop a plan to correct what troubles him. Also in such a meeting, you need to tell him that you have heard he’s told those you supervise that he said he “knows that it’s not always nice to work with someone you don’t like” and that he has pressured them to provide written complaints if they have problems. At this point you can firmly state that such an intrusion as his can’t help but destroy respect for you supervision. And you should come to an agreement about how you do and don’t want him to communicate with you and those you supervise. Boss and bossed should talk through how they want to communicate—what does the boss want and what you want in terms of do and don’ts. The result of straight talk between you and your boss might begin a good working relationship and help your career path.. On the other hand, it should help you decide if you current job as supervisor is one you should and can keep.
3. By passing is not a course of action I recommend, but it is available and a natural course of action when you have given a collaborative approach a fair try. In fact documenting the history of the intervention of your boss and your efforts to work through what complaints he has with your work will be important data should you ask for an investigation of this whole matter by HR or upper levels.

These are my thoughts from a distance and of course you will reject or adapt them in light of all you know from there and thinking through this unpleasant situation. Finally, let me add I know working life has plenty of conflict and that it is easy to see such actions as that of your boss as unfair. But I also know that conflict can reframe how we see our jobs and work with others. Working together with hands, head, and heart takes and makes big WEGOS. Will you update us about what you do after you have time to work through this situation?

William Gorden

FOLLOW UP:
Good Day, Thank you for the reply. Today my boss had a meeting with me to discuss complaints received from employees working under my supervision,

The complaints were that I’m to focus on doing my work right and need to lay back a bit, basically I’m too strict with the employees and they don’t like it.

When I started working for the company there were no discipline on the site, therefore I started to enforce it in a friendly and professional way. Currently many of the employees cannot do as they want due to a bit of discipline on the site.

As I said above, now I have been asked to step back and not to be so strict. This is the reason for him snooping around to find out what the complaints are.

Meeting with me, because I’m doing my work, any comment regarding this?
–Kind Regards
Dear Stepping Back Supervisor: It is good that you met with your boss to clarify what prompted his checking on those you supervise. The reason for this meeting serves as a time for you and your manager to come to a meeting of minds.

You may need to meet with him more than once. It takes time to merge what is expected in supervisory authority and monitoring what is needed to meet production. Now that you’ve talk frankly about complaints, probably you and your boss will want to confer about what works best.

Ideally, the traditions and culture of your workplace will permit and encourage you to engage your work group in seeing themselves a semi-self-managed. If that is permitted and develops the group will participate in making and monitoring itself–and then there should be a psychological buy-in to good practices. Consequently supervisory surveillance becomes less need.
Thank you for the update on your situation. My best to you in the sometimes very difficult role of supervising. Please continue to consult and contribute to Ask the Workplace Doctors.
–Dr. G