Too Many Bosses

Question to Ask the Workplace Doctors about many different bosses:

I work in a medical organization and feel that I simply have too many bosses. I work for 20 doctors, essentially at random. One of them is my “primary supervising physician” from a legal standpoint, and the others are all “back-up supervising physicians” from a legal standpoint. My official supervisor is a non-physician (and has no legal authority to supervise my medical work, which constitutes 99.99% of what I do). She is the one who gives performance evaluations and disciplinary actions. In addition, one of the physicians functions as a physician representative/physician manager over our group. Plus there is an office manager (that I don’t report to, but she has twice issued official disciplinary action against me) and my supervisor’s supervisor, who is an assistant vice president. Help—what can I do about this situation if anything?

Signed, Bossed and Bossed

Dear Bossed and Bossed:

Every one who has worked in a complex organization sympathizes with you. Professional/medical environments often create overlapping and confusing supervisory structures. There is no single silver bullet but I suggest:

1. You not discuss this with coworkers and in the gossip network.

2. You review your official position description for information about who supervises aspects of your work. Determine the chain of command based on the official organizational chart. Check written personnel policies re appealing a personnel action.

3. You call the state association covering your license, i.e. State Nurses Association, and see if they have an advice line or professional advocate you can speak with.

4. You informally check (perhaps through members of your association working in other organizations-not yours) what the supervisory structure their looks like in their company.

5. You role-play a scenario where you are the supervisor of a doctor. Your job description and the organizational chart places you in this position. What problems do you think would surface? By this time you should be in better charge of the information regarding your work place, the organizational issues, and aware of what you would face if you were responsible for supervising someone with limited information about what they professionally should be doing. You may not be able to dramatically change the structure of your organization, but you can find out how your profession understands such work environments Individuals accommodate change easier than organizations.

With a new perspective gained from the five steps suggested, you may be able to make some changes to improve your working environment and accommodate aspects of the structure you can not change or look for a new position with less complex structure. You are not alone in working in a position where the supervisors know little to nothing about what you do. This is not an easy place to be for you or your supervisor. The fact “is an office manager (that I don’t report to . . . has twice issued official disciplinary action against” you demands that you get clarification and a more explicit job description.

Prepare a chart of tasks you perform, who needs what from whom and when from you, and with whom you must plan, get approval of, and report actions, Share this chart with your primary supervising physician and non-physician supervisor, and negotiate/modify it in light of this conferring with them. Possibly they will recommend that you confer with others for whom you work to clarify and come to an understanding of your role. It is equally important in this clarification process in which you make explicit what your primary supervising physician, non-physician supervisor, and many bosses’ want of you that you think through the kind of working relationship and understandings that you want and see as reasonable.

One way to do this is to prepare a list of dos and don’ts for the way you want to be bossed. If you had your druthers, how do you want those for whom you work to speak to you, consult with you, request/make assignments, make corrections/complaints, approve/applaud work completed, etc.? Once you are clear in your own mind about that, you will be more able and ready to clarify-chart-negotiate who wants what, when, where and what is reasonable. Notice that we have included the word “negotiate”.

Too often those, who are expected to take assignments from others, fail to realize that they deserve to be treated with dignity and, if they are respectfully assertive, they can negotiate reasonable working rules. Good fortune in finding solutions. Please feel free to tell us if these suggestions are good enough to give them a fair try and how they work or don’t. Creating communication rich working relationships is an on-going process. Working together with hands, head, and heart takes and makes big WEGOS.

Jack White, Guest Respondent & Bill Gorden