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What Makes a Complaint Vindictive?

Lindsey Novak on

Q: I work in a small laboratory on a team with several others, who have all been here for years. Our supervisor retires in six months. His strengths are his ability to repair our equipment, management of his own paperwork and purchasing his supplies.

His weaknesses are that he micromanages the staff. When he is on vacation, the acting supervisor allows us to manage our workload as we see fit. When we receive samples, we are required to record the date of receipt on the sheet accompanying the samples. Our supervisor will not do it.

The lab staff conducts periodic internal audits. We point out deficiencies and offer suggestions for making sure the staff's actual behaviors conform to the written procedures. Our supervisor ignores the deficiencies and suggestions submitted to him. We work well as a unit, assisting one another. Is there an appropriate way to tell the supervisor that micromanaging the staff, ignoring the audit results and failing to complete his work is frustrating for us?

A: Here's what stands out: Since the supervisor and the staff have worked in the lab for years, why has the staff never before addressed his performance deficiencies and his lack of following standard procedures either with the vice president of resources, so the department could look into it, or in a staff meeting with the supervisor himself or the acting supervisor?

It sounds like his omission of incoming dates on samples would compromise the results in whatever you are testing, which seems rather serious if any of the results are challenged. It also sounds like the staff has uniformly decided to cover for the supervisor, rather than to deal with the problem. Another one of his responsibilities -- purchasing his supplies -- could certainly be handled by a competent assistant. And fixing equipment also sounds like a task a lab technician could have learned how to do.

A supervisor's function is to oversee the employees' work performance and overall functioning of the department. When comparing his job title and responsibilities to his work performed, one must ask: Why was this man promoted to supervisor? And why was his lack of performance not reported and investigated when it started affecting the department's work?

After an audit would have been the ideal time for the staff to have reported his behavior, especially if his lack of dating the incoming sales compromised the validity of the work. Covering for any employee whose behavior does not meet standard procedures is wrong; it hurts the company and each staff member who is expected to complete his work.

 

Since the staff is highly experienced, the members could have collectively discussed the detrimental effects of his micromanaging in a meeting with the supervisor. People who micromanage, commonly referred to as control freaks, are generally insecure of their own competence in the position and try to overcompensate by exerting control over employees, regardless of how competent the staff is.

Filing a formal complaint now, six months before his retirement, seems a bit odd. For example, if a person adopts a puppy and chooses not to train it, allowing it to chew up the furniture and soil the carpeting, training the dog when it's 10 years old seems futile for both dog and owner.

Ask each staff member why they originally decided to cover for this supervisor and why, six months before his retirement, they suddenly want to report it. Regardless of the possible reasons, for which there are no excuses, the most appropriate thing to do is to let it go. Unless the staff has discovered new evidence that could compromise the department's work from previous years, a complaint filed now might seem either vindictive or like an excuse to cover for their own behavior in explaining why no one reported its first occurrence. It could reflect negatively on the staff's overall behavior, which would not help any of your futures at work.

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Email career and life coach: Lindsey@LindseyNovak.com with your workplace problems and issues. Ms. Novak responds to all emails. For more information, visit www.lindseynovak.com and for past columns, see www.creators.com/read/At-Work-Lindsey-Novak.

 

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