How do I work with/around my checked-out supervisor?
August 28, 2016 9:05 PM   Subscribe

My supervisor is retiring in a month and seems to be checked out or perhaps just not worried about maintaining relationships. How do I maintain relationships and do good work in this situation?

My supervisor is, in the opinion of another colleague, not paying as much attention to diplomacy or politics in our office lately.

Last week, they berated me in the hallway (my perception; they might say they were just being direct and helpful) and I nearly cried. Then I went to the bathroom and actually cried.

I'm eager to know how I can improve and, until now, have appreciated their candid feedback. However, it's seeming more and more like I can't please this person.

Several other people on our team struggle with my supervisor's personality. I never did until the past few months but now it is hard for me too.

In response to some of their feedback, I now route requests straight to my supervisor rather than dealing with requests myself. Recently I routed a request but she didn't respond to give me the green light to handle it, nor did she handle it on time. We have another request this week. I worry it'll reflect poorly on me (and, on a less personal level, it inconveniences our colleagues and slows down the work) if they don't handle what they have stressed is their work.

People seem to (in this case and others) find me easier to deal with. I respond quickly, get them what they need, and am pleasant to work with. If I don't respond to peoples' requests, they may not see me as well as I'd like them to. If I do, my supervisor may be frustrated.

I am also concerned about the feedback that is now in my performance review.

Should I be more persistent in bringing requests to her for follow-up? Can I bring this up to somebody? If so, how? How do I respond to these requests? Is there some polite way to convey, "This person is going to berate me or hurt my career if I help you, my hands are tied, just wait till they're gone?"

I'm part of a demographic that is not really the first one you think of when you think "Strong, assertive, professional badass," if that's relevant. I'm more the type of person you think to turn to for, well, help with requests.
posted by anonymous to Human Relations (4 answers total) 1 user marked this as a favorite
When you receive a request, reply so they know what the next step is. "I've forwarded/routed your request to [my supervisor], if you need to follow up on if I've been green lit to work on it, or when to expect it complete, you'll want to go through her."

This ensures they know who to blame if it doesn't get done and stops you from becoming stuck in the middle of office drama. By bypassing your supervisor, they're putting the labor of dealing with your temperamental or checked out boss on you instead of themselves.
posted by HMSSM at 9:45 PM on August 28, 2016 [1 favorite]

If this person is retiring in a month, I'd be putting effort into the relationship roughly equal to "this person is going to have no (or extremely limited) impact on my professional life in a month's time" and adjust how many shits I gave accordingly.

It sucks that it sounds like they're not treating you all that well, but one performance review isn't your permanent record and your new supervisor may disagree with your old one's perception anyway, especially if it's widely known that the old one is checked out/has a specific leadership style that doesn't gel with everyone.

You've said you feel increasingly like you can't please them. You don't need anyone's permission to stop trying - just let it wash over you like water that is of no long-term consequence for another month.

If you know who your new supervisor will be, it's worth reallocating any effort you'd be putting into maintaining this relationship to building a stronger relationship with the new boss.
posted by terretu at 12:19 AM on August 29, 2016 [5 favorites]

If they are gone in a month, I would ignore as much of their direction as I could while still doing my job and making them think I was following all their orders. If that means having an informal discussion with someone asking them to delay requests or word/route them a specific way, I would have that discussion assuming they would not run back to this manager and tell on me. Trust that other people in your office can tell that you are responsive and responsible and this manager is not. Once they leave and your team goes back to handling things in a timely manner, it will be clear to them that the problem was not with you.

I am also concerned about the feedback that is now in my performance review.
After waiting this person out, this is your next issue to deal with. I would talk with either their replacement or their current supervisor to ask if this part can be removed. Wait to do this until the person has actually retired to make this request. If it can't be removed, ask if you can place a note or response to the feedback in the same file. Keep everything professional and unemotional. Point out that the process has always been flexible but became more rigid and you had to manage other teams' expectations to adhere to the process.
posted by soelo at 7:27 AM on August 29, 2016

What's the plan for after this person goes? Who's going to supervise? What's the transition plan, and why isn't it activated already (a month is so short, it really is)? Why is this person changing the methodology now? When is management going to provide some guidance in this situation?

Do you have someone you can ask those questions to? Ask this to whoever can answer you, and then use that as the jumping off point to discuss the rest of these issues. Please do follow up with this, because from what I know of many years in the workforce, you are taking this person way way more seriously than management is. But if you need official blessing from management to handle these things the way you have in the past, go obtain it.

And are you assuming this person has put something bad in your performance review, or do you know it? It's possible you work in a place where the performance review data is that important and that frequently accumulated but by the time your next review rolls around this person will be gone and in all likelihood all this behavior right now will have come home to roost, so you should be able to challenge it with a straight face if it even comes up.
posted by Lyn Never at 8:11 AM on August 29, 2016

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