Acting Supervisor

Question to Ask the Workplace Doctors about refusal of coworker to take orders: 

My supervisor is on leave and requested me to act on his behalf during his absence. A letter of acting is submitted and signed by me. Now my colleague on the same level as I am refuses to take orders and instructions from me.

Signed, Am Rejected By Coworker

Dear Am Rejected By Coworker:

Apparently your supervisor assigned you to act in his behalf because he thinks you are a responsible individual. That is something of which you can be proud. But being placed in a supervisory role is not always a walk in the park. You are learning this. However you have described the orders you and instructions you have given that were refused; therefore, how to advise you is problematic. That said, here are several matters for your consideration:

Before he took leave, did your supervisor inform all in your work group of his appointment of you as acting? Possibly your colleague was not fully informed. The length of the leave of absence is important and is information your work group will want to know. If it is short, it might be akin to a substitute teacher who has little leverage to keep order. Who is your supervisor’s boss? Has that individual approved your appointment? Your supervisor’s boss is the one who should make your role clear and one to whom you should report difficulty.

Possibly, if that has not already been announced by this person, you might ask him or her to do so.Are you giving orders or are you engaging your work group in allocating what needs to be done and who does what? What is the tone of your orders and instruction? Might they come across as overly demanding or weak? What is the culture of your work group and organization? Are most employees just working for pay or are they committed to delivering quality products and service to their internal and external customers? If there is little commitment supervisors are seen as enemies, and you colleague may view you now as someone to be disliked rather than as a coach.

Transforming an antagonist culture to a team-we’re in this together culture can’t be begged, ordered or bought. It is earned by making employee genuine stakeholders in how decisions are made. Sometimes rather than giving orders the most helpful action a supervisor might take is to talk about talk with workers.

That talk about talk involves how assignments are decided, given and responded to. Also it entails discussion of goals and division of work load. In your case, it involves clarification of authority. These are more than enough matters for you to think through. Do feel free to update us on how you work through this uneasy position you are in. Working together with hands, head, and heart takes and makes big WEGOS, and that is really what you want, not just for your colleague to take orders and instructions.

William Gorden