Ask Ellie & Jill: Supervisory Decisions

Posted on August 2, 2018

Ask Ellie and Jill

In the series, ELGL members can anonymously send their questions, difficulties or scenarios to [email protected] and receive a response from the ghost writing response team. Your name, organization and other details will not be shared in the posting or subsequent response.

Dear Ellie & Jill,

I’m a new supervisor, and I am responsible for providing annual reviews and job coaching for a team of five people, some of whom were my coworkers before my promotion. They all do great work, but one of them, let’s call him Joe Bob, is notorious for missing work frequently. Last week when we had a mild snow, he called in because he couldn’t drive through the snow, while the rest of the team (many of whom live farther away and have more complicated family arrangements) were able to make it in. His annual review is due soon, and I don’t know whether I should include this. Whether it’s in his review or not, I know I need to address this with him because the rest of the team is getting frustrated.

What do you recommend?


New Supervisor

New Supervisor,

First of all, congratulations on your promotion! Making the move into a supervisory role can be challenging in many ways but becoming a manager of your former peers is one of the hardest parts. We know you’ll be awesome, and ELGL is packed with resources that can help.

With regard to Joe Bob, the first step is to really think hard about whether or not this is a true “problem.” Is Joe Bob following established procedures for using leave? Does he have the leave available to use? Does his absence create a burden for the rest of the team, or will his work still be waiting for him when he gets back? If he is following the rules and his absences don’t create additional burden for the team, then your management work is with the rest of the group—not with him.

If you hear grumbling about him taking another day off, or comments along the lines of “I was able to make it in today, I don’t know why he couldn’t” you need to step in immediately. Your response can be something like, “I appreciate that you made it in to the office today despite the bad weather. That said, I need for you to trust me to manage Joe Bob’s leave requests. Please to focus on your own work and leave this to me. Is that something you can do?”

This may feel really uncomfortable at first. But especially because these employees were once your equals, it’s important for you to reinforce your role. It’s also important that you set the expectation that talking smack about colleagues is not tolerated on your team.

On the other hand, if Joe Bob violating your established leave policy, taking leave beyond what he has available, or his absences create a burden for the rest of your team, then that is what you address—not his reason for taking leave. Arguing with his reasons for taking leave won’t get you very far but discussing violations of policy and procedure is very black and white.

In this case, your conversation can go along the lines of “Joe Bob, I need to discuss your use of leave on this particular date. When you called off with one-hour notice, you violated our leave policy that requires 2 business days of prior approval for using vacation time. Moving forward, violations of the leave policy will result in progressive discipline. Please review the City’s leave policy and let me know if you have any questions.”

This should be followed up with an email that documents your conversation, that you hold on to if you need to demonstrate a trend for future disciplinary purposes. Many of us hesitate to follow up with an email because it can feel too authoritarian or “mean.” Trust us though, without it, you are left with a he-said, she-said situation that might not be that big of a deal today but could become one someday. If your team grows used to the idea that you always follow up crucial conversations with a written recap, it will become the norm soon enough.

In our opinion, addressing the trend of Joe Bob’s perceived attendance issues in his annual review is probably not the right way to go, unless you have a documented history of discussing it with him since you became his supervisor. We stand firmly with the idea that annual reviews shouldn’t contain surprises. We also recommend that you don’t let much time pass between when he returns to work and when you have this conversation. Make it a priority to meet with him within a day or two of his return.

Good luck, New Supervisor. We know you’re going to do a great job!

Your friends,

Ellie & Jill

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