One of the most important roles in an organization is that of the supervisor. Supervisors are key as they create a link between technical/line employees and upper management and serve as representatives for their organization 24 hours a day, seven days a week. With such a vital role, supervisors and their decisions can have a huge impact, both positive and negative, on the bottom line. It is imperative that organizations recognize the importance of their supervisory staff and provide them with the development and training necessary to not only be successful in their positions but also provide them with a comprehensive understanding and respect for the position they hold within the organization.
Poorly trained supervisors can lead to many issues in the workplace – which could be largely avoided with proper training and guidance by senior management. As is the case with many businesses, often a technical/line staff employee is promoted into a supervisory role and unfortunately, is not provided training on what this new role entails. These supervisors now have power and an eagerness to do the correct thing, but they have no idea what that is. Many times, new supervisors feel they must act on every issue, which results in poor rash decisions. On the flip side, they may not understand the urgency of an issue and therefore fail to take action. This “trial by fire” approach is common but can have disastrous results.
It is important to remember that supervisors are put in a position to make decisions for your organization – and those decisions will brush up against many federal and state regulations. Without training and understanding, the decisions made by supervisors may run afoul of these regulations and prove disastrous to your organization; some of the most common areas for error are as follows:
- Transition Process from Regular Employee to Management: Many times, someone who was good in a particular position is promoted to a supervisory position, and responsible for the same group he/she was part of yesterday. To make a situation even more difficult, the newly promoted supervisor seldom gets management training. It can be a difficult transition for many people. When a supervisor tries to remain “one of the guys”, some employees may take advantage of this. They may disappear during work hours, call in sick more often than usual, or leave unpleasant tasks undone. Any inconsistencies in the way these scenarios are handled can result in resentment from staff, even the ones who are taking advantage, and can open the door to claims of discrimination or favoritism.
- Interviewing and Hiring Decisions: Many new supervisors don’t realize that there are legal prohibitions on questions being asked during the pre-employment process (questions concerning race, religion, marital status, etc). In addition, they may make statements in conversation that can be seen as promises by candidates, such as comments about having a long career with the organization.
- Inconsistency in Application of Policies: Many new supervisors don’t apply company policies and procedures consistently with all staff, which can open the door to claims of harassment, discrimination and favoritism.
- Discipline and Documentation: In conjunction with the previous bullet point, frequently disciplinary measures are not consistent across the board and the new supervisor may be too lenient or too tough. In addition, new supervisors often don’t really understand how or when to document and may choose not to do so at all. If a supervisor does document they need to understand how to do so properly and only include pertinent information in the documentation.Unfortunately, many supervisors include information in performance documentation that can lead an employee to believe they are being targeted due to age, sex, race or another protected characteristic. This can also lead to claims of a hostile work environment or even retaliation.Example(s): John has a terrible attendance and the comment written on the documentation is “John is frequently late for work because he has 6 children to get ready in the morning.
Betty’s production has slowed recently, and the documentation reads “Betty’s performance has slipped. She doesn’t seem to be able to grasp this new technology as she is from a different era.”
- Knowledge Base: Many new supervisors desperately want to prove themselves and can be overly eager to handle items they are not equipped to handle without valuable input from more seasoned managers. It is difficult for new supervisors to ask for help as they think it will show some weakness in their abilities. This can be very dangerous for an organization if they have not invested the time and effort to ensure the supervisor has been trained and understands all of the state and federal requirements that govern employment.
It is definitely a dangerous time for new supervisors during their first few months in their new role; however, new supervisors are not the only managerial staff that an organization should be concerned about. As each manager is unique and brings a different set of life experiences, with different philosophies and strategies, there will undoubtedly be variations in how situations are addressed amongst the management in your organization.
It is imperative to the continued success of an organization that all persons in a supervisory role receive on-going training for both the specifics of their job and regulations that govern employment. It is important for all managerial staff to understand they may be held personally liable for violations of various regulations. Developing and implementing a company training program to address these areas is beneficial to all within the organization.