CYC-Online 77 JUNE 2005
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Punished for hard work

A cautionary tale from a county administration

Joe’s just been promoted to supervisor. His hard work and dedication have paid off. The extra money will certainly come in handy, and he can’t wait to tell his wife about his promotion. But give Joe a couple of weeks, and the excitement will wear off.

After the handshakes and the congratulations and Joe gets to work in his new role, he begins to feel very uncomfortable. He is no longer sure of himself like he was when he knew he was doing a good job as a line employee. Worse, perhaps, someone else is doing his old job, and not at all to Joe’s satisfaction. He begins to think his boss should never have promoted him. Or at least, Joe wishes he had some supervisory skills.

It just wouldn’t make sense to put a complicated, expensive piece of machinery into the hands of an untrained employee, but everyday, good employees are promoted to supervisor and sent into their new positions without guidance.

Training for the new job is seldom part of the promotion package. As a result, many new supervisors go through a period on confusion, uncertainty, and feelings of inadequacy “they’re punished for their hard work, it would seem. Sometimes, those good employees become poor supervisors, and good personnel are lost.

Prior to becoming a supervisor, the employee probably had a clearly defined job. There were specific tasks to be done. Usually, these tasks had to be completed within a set time frame. The employee could evaluate himself. It was easy for him to tell if he was doing a good job.

Not doing work but getting work done
As a supervisor, there is little, if any, hands-on work involved. The job changes from doing work to getting work done “a much broader responsibility. The supervisor’s effectiveness is measured by the work of everyone in his or her section. No longer can he be concerned only with his own production. He must see to it that everyone does a good job.

To oversee the quality and quantity of the group’s work, the new supervisor must end his former relationship with his co-workers, if his co-workers have not already initiated that change. It may be subtle or pronounced, but there must be a change. Instead of being one of the gang, the new supervisor has to become the decision maker. He will no longer fit into the social group that laughs, jokes, and occasionally gripes about the boss or the county. He is now the one expected to fix the problems.

Somebody will test the new supervisor. He’ll want to see how much he can get by with under the new guy. The new boss cannot make the mistake of being too lenient in these situations, otherwise he will undermine his own authority.

In other situations, the supervisor may over-react and come down too hard on an employee to show that he or she is in charge. In setting and enforcing workplace rules and standards, the new supervisor must take a firm but fair attitude and be consistent.

Another problem many new supervisors have is either under- or over-supervising. In under-supervising, the employees are the decision makers. They determine how and when thing should be done. The supervisor takes the attitude of letting everyone do their job and not interfering. While employee involvement has many positive aspects, it is the supervisor’s role to see the bigger picture. He should be aware of how the operations in his department relate to the overall goals of the county and he should stay in control to meet those goals.

In a situation where the supervisor over-supervises, the supervisor makes all decisions without benefit of input from his or her staff. A more effective supervisor will keep his door open to his employees. The final decision is his responsibility, but input from employees plays a valuable role in helping ensure that those decisions are good ones.

Open communication builds good relationships and ensures better productivity. The key is listening to the employees and being certain that the employees understand their tasks. The supervisor must say exactly what is expected, when it is expected, and be sure the employees understand what is expected. Few supervisors enjoy having to correct someone for poor production, policy violation, or some other unacceptable behavior in the workplace. The effective supervisor will promptly address problem situations and work toward a quick solution. The first goal in dealing with such problems is to correct the situation, not punish the employee.

The first-time supervisor endures many new challenges which he has likely never seen before.

This feature is from The Texas Association of Counties, retrieved 27 May 2005 from

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