A Co-Supervisor Isn’t Doing Her Job

Question:

I am one of three supervisors over a department. The three of us rotate duties, one of which is to handle a 5 p.m. shift.

One of the supervisors calls in sick at least once a week, takes lunch in the middle of the afternoon (instead of between 11:30-1:00) so that she doesn’t have to deal with her workers, and now it is her 5 p.m. shift month, and today she left at 4:28 because she worked until 7:00 last night.

Her lack of dedication makes us work harder because the work still has to be done, and I’m very frustrated dealing with her excuses for shirking duties.

Our managing supervisor knows that she isn’t pulling her weight, but it takes time to document all of the issues for corrective discipline. In the meantime, how do I confront her and let her know that her actions are negatively affecting the entire team, without alienating her?

Signed,

Fed Up


Answer:

DearĀ Fed Up:

You say you have a managing supervisor who is trying to deal with the problem. I think you should put most of your focus on encouraging her to deal with it.

It doesn’t take a great deal of time to document poor performance, it simply takes the courage to do it. I would imagine that very few things have been put in writing.

On the other hand, I’m wondering what your supervisor-manager has said directly to your co-supervisor. Often managers (or supervisors)will silently document so they can formally discipline or dismiss, when they might have been able to correct the problem by simply telling someone to stop doing one thing and start doing another.

For example, your manager knows your co-supervisor is calling in sick. She is aware of her lunch times. She probably has to allow her to leave early to make up for staying late the night before–and she apparently didn’t question whether that was valid or just a way to get out of working the 5 p.m. shift one time.

So, while you might be upset with your co-supervisor, keep in mind that she has been allowed to do what she is doing and may think it’s OK. One thing is for sure, her own manager isn’t stopping her from doing it, which may be because no rules or policies have been violated. It may also be that your manager doesn’t really think the co-supervisor is a big problem. She may be placating you with talk of documentation, but if she was really concerned, she would have at least dealt directly with one of two things over several month’s time.

Think about the employees you supervise. If you let one employee get by with doing less work over a long time, whose job is it to straighten that out–yours or one of the coworkers? If an employee came to you about a coworker, saying they were shirking their work, what would you do? What would you advise THEM to do? If you are ever made a manager, how would you handle a supervisory situation like this? The bottom line is that I don’t think there is any way you can talk to your co-supervisor without irritating her a bit. She will feel that you are trying to be her boss and she will feel that you are just trying to make your own work easier and make her look bad.

That doesn’t mean you shouldn’t say anything at all, just that your manager is putting you in a bad situation by her own inaction.

Consider these issues and approaches, some of which you may have already done:

1. Do you and your co-supervisors have meetings to work on common problems and concerns or to share ideas for doing the work better? If not, ask to have such a meeting once a month or so.

You wouldn’t want to use that as a time to gang up on the co-supervisor, but it could put all of you into more of a supervisory-team mode.

2. Rather than counsel or correct a coworker, just ask for assistance as situations develop. For example, you see that she is getting ready for lunch. You could ask her to wait until things aren’t so busy. Or, if regular lunch time is approaching, ask her if she could help you by taking her lunch then so you aren’t left trying to supervise her group and yours too. (Or whatever is the concern for your specific work situation.)

After she calls in sick, tell her how busy things were and how you hope she stays well because it really is a problem when it’s just the you and the other supervisor trying to get work done.

When you deal directly with an employee for which she is responsible, tell her about it in detail and tell her that you don’t want to be supervising her group, so you’d appreciate her being available for that. If it can be done, tell the employee to wait and talk to the correct supervisor or if the co-supervisor is in the building, call her on her cell phone and tell her there is a problem that has to be handled. (That might not work in your case but I know of several cases where that got a supervisor back to his or her job.)

3. Rather than generically complaining to your manager, document specific cases where you or the other supervisor have had to do the work of the co-supervisor directly because the co-supervisor was shirking, in your opinion. Ask for a resolution and stick with your request. You’ll find out then whether your manager is taking this seriously or not and whether there will be a change or you will have to tolerate it.

4. I know there is a temptation to tell your co-supervisor what has been bothering you, whether it alienates her or not. I hope it doesn’t come to that because it probably will create long-term conflict and unpleasantness. Also, since you don’t know what has gone on behind the scenes, you may be incorrect in some aspect of it.

Instead, strongly consider letting your manager deal with this, while pushing back as much as you can on doing work that the other supervisor is supposed to do. At least let her know every time you have had to do work she would have been able to handle if she had been there.

Best wishes to you with this. If you have the time and wish to do so, let us know what happens.

Tina Lewis Rowe

Tina Lewis Rowe

Tina had a thirty-three year career in law enforcement, serving with the Denver Police Department from 1969-1994 and was the Presidential United States Marshal for Colorado from 1994-2002. She provides training to law enforcement organizations and private sector groups and does conference presentations related to leadership, workplace communications and customized topics. Her style is inspirational with humor.