In Trouble for Fulfilling Supervisory Role


A question  to Ask the Workplace Doctors about getting in trouble for taking a supervisory role: 


I was told when I was hired by my supervisor that I was to supervise a secretary. It is in my official job description. While supervising a secretary who was not performing her job duties adequately, I contacted indirectly our dept. head and the personnel dept. I wanted to extend the probationary period for the employee. The department head called me into a meeting in front of the secretary and many others and informed me that I was not the supervisor for the secretary and that I was guilty of harassment. I was called a liar and told I violated the chain of command by contacting Personnel, although I had contacted them several times in the past over other employee issues. What next?


Just Doing My Job


Dear Just Doing My Job:

Obviously there is a big gap between what you thought was your job and what your boss thinks is your job! There seems to also be a big gap in the description of what happened. If you had gone so far as to want to extend the employee’s probationary time, it would seem you would have had several conversations with the department head before the request. If you did, surely you would have been told you did not have a supervisory role with that employee.

Here would have been the correct order of supervisory actions in most workplaces. You can compare what happened in your workplace to this “best practices” list:

1. Work problems are observed. Employee is told about concerns and coached to perform better. The approach is one of wanting her to succeed but requiring that standards are met.

2. More work problems are observed. Discuss with the department head to get guidance about the next step. Continue coaching and documenting the issues. Make sure the employee is aware that her probationary time could be extended if performance doesn’t improve. Maintain a courteous and concerned approach and keep the supervisory role, rather than making excuses or apologizing.

3. Problems continue. If a Performance Improvement Plan is part of HR policies, talk to department head about instituting a PIP for the employee. If there is no formal PIP program, talk to the department head about developing a timeline for the employee’s improvement.

4. More work problems are observed. Notify the department head of supervisor’s intention to ask for an extended probationary time. HR is notified and detailed documentation is provided. It may be that things were not handled in this structured way in the past and you just went to HR when you had concerns. However, I can see that it might be considered going around the department head. Most managers want to know before another part of the organization is contacted.

The unfortunate thing is that now an employee, who apparently wasn’t doing a good job, is made to feel that she doesn’t have to do any better and she will be protected. Avoiding situations like that is one reason to keep the department head informed all the way. If he had agreed with you, you wouldn’t be in this situation. If he didn’t agree with you, you’d have known not to go further.

It won’t help to show your anger now. So, you will need to go back to work and demonstrate through your behavior that you are not the kind of person you were accused of being. If your job description is very different than your department head thinks, get that cleared up with him or her. You don’t want this to happen again! Then, as tough as it will be, focus on doing your job in the best way possible.

Keep this in mind: If the secretary isn’t doing a good job, she will show that to the next supervisor as well. You can put your attention on being the best possible supervisor for the others for whom you are responsible. The five step process (simplified but useful) for being effective as a supervisor is:

(1) Be aware of the work. (Be present, check on things, ASK employees about their work and how it is going.
(2.) Talk to each employee about things that feel good to both of you. Commend, thank, ask about work, advise, encourage, support. Talk about what good work looks like, in both behavior and performance. Solve problems together.
(3.) Correct, redirect, guide. Stop bad work before it gets worse. Keep a tone of helpfulness, aimed at maintaining high standards of work.
(4.) Bring people together and unite them in serving the internal or external customers or clients with which they deal.
(5.) Keep everyone, at all levels, informed. Managers are ultimately responsible and should know what is going on. Employees want to know about things that have an effect on them.

With a good approach now, you will be able to overcome your anger and frustrations and rebuild at work. I always say that a good goal is to make them feel they made a mistake in how they treated you! Best wishes to you with this matter. 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.