My Supervisor Is Disengaged From Me

Question to Ask the Workplace Doctors about being ignored by boss: I am reluctant to blow the whistle as I suspect her position is more valued by the organization than mine is and i would be the loser.

I have worked under a supervisor who was on leave while I was being hired. Upon starting my new role, I was informed of this and that she didn’t welcome having someone to look after. I have repeatedly asked for guidance, sought support, etc. for myself on professional, payroll and other important issues, only to have email and requests ignored indefinitely. I am reluctant to blow the whistle as I suspect her position is more valued by the organization than mine is and i would be the loser. Any idea on how to deal with this? It is having a very negative effect on my mental health and work productivity.

Signed, Feeling Like I’m Floundering

DearĀ Feeling Like I’m Floundering:

It’s frustrating and depressing to feel that you are ignored by a supervisor and that you are struggling to adjust to your new job without getting any help. However, you are probably correct that complaining about your supervisor might have negative results for you rather than for her–that is just a reality of work. There may be the feeling that the circumstances of her leave (medical, family, maternal, etc.) have made it challenging for her to communicate regularly with everyone, so she would be excused, even if she was in error. Another issue may be, as you say, that there is loyalty to her because of her tenure and the relationships she has built. She is apparently an experienced supervisor, so she might be excused for making a few errors in working with you, where you would not be excused for trying to get her in trouble.

However, consider it this way as well: What if she is not as favored as you think, and her manager had expectations that your supervisor would develop you in your new job? What if she is notorious for not returning emails? What if she often has trouble working with new employees or young employees or employees of your gender? I don’t know what your age or gender is, but that might have an effect on her reactions. None of that may protect you if you are viewed as being problematic. But, it may help you if you push your supervisor for a bit more assistance and she resents it to the point of complaining about you up the organizational chain. All she could say is that you keep asking for help and she hasn’t had time to help you. If you can document that you have asked for help and she has never responded, you would have something to offer in your defense.

The trouble is that pushing the issue may backfire and you may not have had time to gain supporters who would speak up for you. So, it could be risky. Try this as an approach, so you can have more control of the situation and take more control of your feelings about the situation: Write a list that details the assistance you have needed from your supervisor but so far have not gotten. You may also want to write down some requests to which she has responded, as a way to clarify whether she has helped you at least some or not at all. Look at the list of things you want to know or think you need to know. Can you function at work anyway? If so, maybe you should just figure you will pick up the information over time. Can you simply not do your job and are afraid you’ll be fired because of it? Then, you know you have no options, you’ll have to ask again and again, until you get answers.

If your organization is large enough to have an HR section, perhaps you can take your payroll or other questions to them. If there are other employees who do work similar to yours, maybe you can ask them for assistance. Perhaps you can send another email to your supervisor and ask her for a meeting–suggesting two or three times as options. Say that you are very worried about your work and need to ask her about several work issues. That way she can’t say later that she had no idea how concerned you were. If none of those things help, you will be left with only two choices: Stay and hope it gets better or figure you will have to leave anyway, so you might as well go over your supervisor’s head and ask for help.

If there is an HR section, you may want to ask them about it. Otherwise, if your supervisor’s manager seems approachable, maybe you can talk honestly to him or her. I mentioned the reality of work at the beginning of this response. Another reality is that many, many employees rarely see or hear from their supervisors. They just work and go home, finding their support and assistance in coworkers or in their own ability to solve problems and figure out their path to work effectiveness and productivity.

If you were promised that your supervisor would be a mentor and close adviser, you have reason to complain. If not, you might be viewed as expecting too much. I hope you are able to work through this time and move forward in a way that gives you job satisfaction and a feeling of accomplishment. I would bet you can do that. But, you may need to lower your expectations of the relationship you’re going to have with this supervisor–at least for right now. Best wishes to you with this. If you have the time and wish to do so, let us know what develops and what you decide to do.

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.