Our Boss Hovers Over Us

Question to Ask the Workplace Doctors about being watched:

I work in a kitchen at a local hospital. Upon starting work each day, our manager comes into our workspace and stands over my co-workers and me. He will even pick up meal trays and rearrange them on the assembly line. His behavior is obsessive. We all feel very intimidated and can’t wait to leave the kitchen to deliver meals, just to get away from him. Is it OK for him to stand over our shoulders and invade our workspace?

Signed, Watched By Mr. B

Dear Watched By Mr. B:

Your manager is really on the job. You don’t have to wonder where he is. Instead of just hovering over you, wouldn’t it be good if he were to take turns of doing each of your jobs? That way he would better understand your jobs and have a feel for what you are expected to do. Rather you feel watched as though he doesn’t trust you all to do your jobs correctly.

The hard fact is that you’ll have to confront him or put up with his watching over you and being anxious to leave to deliver meals to escape his gaze. How might you do that? Since you sent us this question asking is it OK for him to stand over your shoulders, it is obvious that you all are afraid of him. And I imagine you mumble to each other about how much you dislike him. It won’t help you for me to say, “No, it’s not ok for your manager to hover.”

What the Workplace Doctor says won’t make any difference. It is only your coworkers and you that can make a difference.Have any of you looked at you hospital policy book? What does it say about the job of managing? And have you spoken to employees that work in other departments; to ask if their manager is available should something go wrong and is she or he watches over subordinates all the time? I doubt that there will be any specific rules that say a manager should watch over his/her employees continuously.

The job of manager is to know what is going on and to see to it that things run smoothly. I’m sure that is Mr. B’s intention. Management provides structure. So appreciate rather than hate him for him trying to do his job. You just would like for him to do it without watching over you so closely. Your problem is that your coworkers and you haven’t learned how to confront authority. You’re working scared. Right? Well that’s not the way to work. Very likely Mr. B thinks he’s doing his job in the best possible way. However, if he realized how much you disapprove of his hovering, I predict that he would find a better way to do his job. Several of you in a staff meeting, or you need to call a meeting, need to say something like, “Mr. B, we know you think you’re doing your job by hovering over us and watching every move we make, like a hawk, but it makes us feel you don’t trust us. We get nervous and are afraid we might make some little mistake that you will see. Do you understand?”

Give him time to answer. He probably will say, “You shouldn’t feel that way. I’m there in case you need me. It’s my job to see that everything is going smoothly.” How would you answer him if he said that? You had better be prepared to respond, perhaps, this way, “It is good to know you are around to help if there’s a problem, but we have been well trained and there haven’t been problems with what we do, have there?” Here’s where a second person could chime in, “Possibly you could drop by from time to time or even take turn spelling different of us workers so that you could see how things are going?” And maybe a third coworker could add, “We’d like to have weekly staff meetings, not long ones, but meeting like a sports team does before and after a game in skull sessions—skull sessions in which all the players join in to review what went well and to think out loud about ways to improve.”Get my point?.

You each have a voice and you each have strong feelings that apparently Mr. B hasn’t heard. He will need time to think over what you tell him. And he might not feel comfortable to not be close to you in the kitchen. Give him time. Ask him to think about how it makes you feel for a couple of days and to see if his hovering solves or causes problems. Suggest that then he schedules another meeting; a problem-solving meeting to find a way for him to do his job but not hover. Say you want to make Mr. B’s job easier and for him to be the best possible manager. Do these suggestions make sense?

Keep in mind the big picture; of delivering what is ordered, the best quality possible for a reasonable price, and most of all making those who have come to your hospital pleased with your service. I imagine you smile and have a cheery word for those you serve. You can say, “You are in good hands; our hands. Working together with hands, head, and heart takes and makes big WEGOS, that’s what we are about at this hospital. I look forward to learning what you do.

William Gorden