Chain of Communication Problems and Work Backlog

A question to Ask the Workplace Doctors:
Am I being set up to get in trouble about a backlog of work and chain of communication issues?

***********************************************************************

Question:
I work in a high stress, fast-paced environment (lots of emails and phone calls) which I am still trying to balance out even after almost 3 years. (I spent my previous years in jobs which were seasonally busy i.e., 2 months busy, 3 months light, 2 months busy, 2 months light, 2 months busy). My present job is more of 4 months slow, 8 months busy.

I still love my employer and my job, however recent events have left me wondering. We have already entered into our busy season and my laptop, like some of my work colleagues laptops, had to be repaired and in the meantime, spares were used. Assignments were backing up on me. Procedures were not followed and my employer only found out that I was without a computer and had limited email access for over a week, after I told her. She was aware that my system was giving me problems but not for that length of timing. Working with the spare slowed me down further, but I still fought through and got the work done as best as I could, despite losing precious weekends trying to use the repaired laptop to access my files which proved unfruitful, sending me back to HR on Monday morning. (It is not the policy for me to contact the boss directly.)

I have just finished with one major project, but before I could have started on the backlog, my boss inquired about what I had outstanding. When I responded to her query, to put it nicely, she was not happy about the size of the backlog. I preceded to explain the challenges I had (and her reaction indicated that she was not informed about the problems that I was having). Side note: In the past when I notified my employer directly about my little challenges and the correct procedures I followed, I got in hot water afterwards from my immediate superior. He insisted that it was “his job” to do these things.

My employer normally responds to these types of emails quickly, however, this time she has yet to reply. She has also copied my immediate supervisor on the same email I received. I just hope my immediate supervisor does not want to shred me alive since he was also aware that my system was still giving problems and apparently did not convey that situation to our employer.

My employer and I have a good working relationship. She would come to me directly, however if I were to go to her directly regarding an issue that I may have, my immediate supervisor / superiors are highly displeased despite knowing all about it and yet doing nothing.
In conclusion, my question is: Is this accidental miscommunication? Have I been set up or is this my misgivings?

Answer: 

Hello and thank you for sharing your concerns with us. Your situation sounds a bit confusing to an outsider, but I’ll hope you can adapt and adjust my response if needed.

It seems there are two issues that are causing the most problems: Communicating through the chain of communication and your backlog of work due to, you say, a lack of an effective computer and maybe other issues. A third issue, which links to both of those, is that you don’t seem to have a good relationship with your immediate supervisor–or at least you don’t feel comfortable about him.

The questions that are likely to be asked by your employer (presumably the person who owns the company or the highest level executive), when she talks to your direct supervisor will be, “Did you know about the backlog of work Gina has? Are others as back-logged as she is? If so, why haven’t you told me? If not, why is she the only one? What can we do to get the backlog cleared up? How did this happen? What are you going to do to make sure it doesn’t happen again?”

I doubt your supervisor is setting you up, because this situation may reflect worse on him than on you, if you have tried to get help but not received it. I hope you have emails documenting the times when you’ve expressed concerns to your immediate supervisor and told him just how bad things were with your backlog of work. You’ll need those to show you did, in fact, bring your problems to your supervisor’s attention. He should have been kept informed by you about the status of your workload—but on the other hand, he should have been monitoring it himself. You’ll also want to show anything possible to prove you have worked on weekends and other times, to try to solve the problem. You could refer to the HR person you said you talked to on Monday following a weekend. That person might verify your frustrations. (I don’t quite understand why you would go to HR about your work, unless your work is for HR.)

As far as the chain of communication goes, your immediate supervisor is right—you should let him talk directly to the top executive, especially if it’s the culture of the organization for it to work that way. Your employer should have used the same chain of communication. However, once it happened, you should have immediately sent a copy of your response to the supervisor, as courtesy. You may have done so. And, maybe your employer contacted you directly because she doesn’t think information is being forwarded up the chain. Even so, you are always better off using the chain of communication rather than going over the heads of supervisors and middle managers. No matter how a higher level person presents it, it makes you look like you are snitching on your supervisors and managers and trying to curry favor with the top boss.

Fortunately, in this case, you have a perfect reason to present for why there is a backlog. You can say you have copies of emails showing that you have asked for help or asked for a solution, many times. If you have no answering emails from your supervisor, you have even more of a defense.

Consider writing a message to your immediate supervisor saying you saw that he got the same email you did from your employer and tell him how you responded. Then, suggest some ways you think you could reduce the backlog of work and on what schedule.. You could also say under what circumstances you could do it. For example, you could say you could get some extra work done, if you have a working computer. Put it in writing for documentation purposes. Perhaps he will realize you weren’t trying to get him in trouble and will explain your computer situation or other mitigating factors to your employer. Unless you have a very unfair workplace, it seems unlikely you will be in trouble for something you have tried to warn people about.

Best wishes to you with this situation. If you have the time and wish to do so, let us know what happens.
Tina Rowe
Ask the Workplace Doctors