The Case of the Invisible Supervisor

I am one of the longest-employed people in a department lead role at a small company with what I estimate is 70% people who haven’t been there more than a couple of months. The turnover rate is ridiculous for a company that pays decently like this. People openly discuss how miserable they are and what jobs they have applied to lately.

I was here for several years and my department got taken over by a young girl who didn’t know how to manage and never bothered to learn how to do any of the jobs she was supervising. We hardly saw her at all, and I eventually started taking on some of her job until finally I was basically doing a supervisor’s job and was completely overwhelmed with that and my lead person responsibilities.

It got to the point my direct reports would routinely ask me if she was on vacation or something. She did take a lot of vacations and leave early all the time (while I and my assistant were often there from 7 AM to 6 or 7 in the evening), but even when she was there, she never bothered to check in on her department. Finally management gave her two more departments (one of which she neglected almost as much as she did ours), and she moved her office to the basement to devote what little time she actually worked to her third department which wasn’t even operational yet.

Meanwhile, the only correspondence I had with her was via text and emails which I sent to keep her in the loop of things. I practically never saw her. I know she was completely overwhelmed emotionally, as she would often just leave work early, confiding in me that it was because she was so stressed she couldn’t think. One day she told me she went into an empty conference room and cried so no one would see her. I was feeling similarly as more and more hours got piled onto our folks until they were working 55 hours a week and I still had the odious job of begging volunteers for even more hours. When they got to where they wouldn’t volunteer, she would just hatefully tell them that it was mandatory for everyone since enough didn’t volunteer.

Through all of this, she and her boss had repeatedly told me I was doing a great job (even though they never saw me do my job), and I got stellar performance reviews. I want to point out that the previous supervisor before her, who actually was very involved with the department during his time, also had felt that I was doing a great job. This went on for almost a year. One day I realized my health and my marriage were suffering too badly, and I asked for some help in the form of another assistant. I first got told that the owner was not going to approve another position. My supervisor’s manager spoke with me and put my mind to rest that if the job became too stressful for me, then there would be plenty of exciting opportunities for me without being a lead person.

Out of the blue one day, I was called into New Supervisor’s office where she told me that we had gotten approval for another position — another LEAD PERSON. I protested in the most tactful way I could.I asked her how this would work in a department like ours, and that it could get confusing for the folks under us, to which she responded that the responsibilities would be totally separate. Her boss came and talked to me and also assured me the powers would be kept separate. I told him I wasn’t sure how I would do trying to re-invent my role to share with someone, but that I would make a good effort. I made a point to ask him if there was anything I was lacking in that had caused them to bring on another lead person, and he assured me I was doing everything right.

A week and a half into me training one of my workers to take half of my job, the new lead was refusing to make any decisions on her own, no matter how small, and kept wanting to weigh in on the decisions I was making. Her trying to weigh in on my calls was a particular problem as she didn’t yet know how to do what she was trying to help me make decisions about, so the workers saw us arguing a lot. I never got her to understand that our roles were separate, even though I did try to mentor her. She got to the point that she teamed up with my assistant to override my decisions while I was gone. Our supervisor responded by relegating me to all the tasks that were basically clerical, since my co-lead had no idea how to work a computer (even though that is a huge part of the job). The co-lead and assistant started barking orders and being very disrespectful to our employees. I spoke with my co-lead about this, but she did not see that there was anything wrong with her actions and basically told me she thought my way of leading was weak. As she was equal with me now, I couldn’t order her to change her demeanor, so I naturally went to our supervisor about the problem. The supervisor had actually seen a couple of instances of my co-lead being disrespectful to me and our team, so I thought she would understand my position.

Instead, my supervisor told me that I had to talk to my co-lead again and compromise with her, which I’d already tried. I didn’t understand — was I supposed to compromise that we would be SLIGHTLY disrespectful to the workers? The co-lead wanted to rule through fear, and I wanted to treat everyone with respect. I was upset at my boss’s refusal to get involved. I made up my mind and told her that I didn’t see the three of us (two leads and an assistant) being able to work together, and that I would talk to my co-lead again but would also like to be considered for a different position. (Remember our manager had indicated this could be done for me.

At the end of that day, our supervisor came up and wanted to speak with me, before I had gotten a chance to speak to my co-lead about the matter. She told me that she had given me “every opportunity to change and get better” but that it didn’t seem to be helping. I didn’t understand. I asked her what she meant, and she told me I was relying on her too much and that other departments’ lead people “handled everything” for their supervisors (her literal words!). Remember I already barely saw this woman!

I asked her to be specific and told her this was the first I was hearing of anything being less than satisfactory about my work. The only things she could name were times when I had gone to her about personnel issues. (That’s her LITERAL JOB! I even remember one time when she expected me to talk to an employee about her time and attendance, and I had to tell her that I wasn’t going to do that since I am not in management and don’t even have access to look at her timesheet.) She named a few times I “got emotional in front of people,” and I incredulously pointed out that all those specific instances were between she and I alone! I couldn’t believe what I was hearing.

I told her I rarely ever even talked to her about anything and that her boss had even told me nothing was lacking in my performance. She insisted that I could either “improve” or take a position as one of the workers I currently oversaw (a two-level demotion). (I think she was bluffing that those were the only two options, and I should have called her on it and asked to speak with our manager, but she made me believe this was coming from the owner himself.) I told her that I this was contrary to what she had led me to believe, and that I would rather not stay in the lead position if she felt that I was doing a poor job. She said other options were not on the table. Either I conformed to the situation or I reprised my former role as a laborer and took a seat among my now-employees. I told her it sounded like we’d reached the end of the road.

She started trying to backtrack, as in “that’s not what I said,” “I meant…” and so on. I realized she had pulled the demotion card as a tactic to hand me something she knew I wouldn’t want in order to goad me into accepting the bad situation I was in. This whole thing had been about making sure I stayed put. I became very angry. She kept talking about how I could “improve” and that there was no reason I couldn’t stay, but in my mind, I was 100% done. I simply said that I needed to talk to my family before I decided anything.

That night, I typed up a very nice, totally boilerplate resignation letter.

That night around 10:30, I checked my company email and saw that my supervisor had sent a frantic email to me, my co-lead, and our assistant, asking a battery of questions about the state of the department. Obviously she was thinking that I would be gone soon and she would need to actually know what was happening in her department in a hurry.(This should have been a red flag…)

The next morning I clocked in as usual, said goodbye to a couple of people I would miss most, and did my job as normal. I caught up on my normal duties, gave my unsuspecting co-lead a few job tips, and placed labels on all of the files at my desk so folks would be able to sort out my unfinished work after I was gone. Then I waited.

It was around 9:30 by the time my supervisor finally came into the department. We stepped into an empty room, and she asked me if I had made a decision. I got out my resignation letter and told her I had decided to leave the company and that today would be my last day. I told her that since the HR manager has started walking people out the minute they resign instead of letting them work a notice, I wasn’t going to try to give a notice and that I would leave right after we spoke. She immediately took the letter and walked to HR to put it on the manager’s desk. (This should have been yet another red flag, as generally no supervisor leaves a person alone in the facility when they have just quit their job.)

A little bit later, a friend of mine who knew I was quitting texted me that the HR manager was in our department looking for us. (I later found out that she had been back there looking for me WELL BEFORE I had talked to my supervisor or gave her the letter. I told my supervisor that I was not about to talk to the HR manager before I left, since she had NEVER spoken to me respectfully in the few years she had been there, and that I preferred to leave without seeing her. I surrendered my badge and keys, and I tried to say something in parting, but she seemed anxious for me to leave, not even watching to see if I got to my car before she went back inside.

About 30 seconds later, I was already getting texts from some of my crew letting me know that my supervisor and the HR manager had just broke the news to the group. What the heck?? With it being that quick, there is no possible way that they didn’t already have something in the works for me. And that would explain why my supervisor left me alone to go give my letter to HR– She had to tell her that I had resigned before she came back there to fire me! And I had not even done anything wrong except stand up for myself to my boss and point out the inconsistencies in the narrative she was trying to spin about me. That is an awful way to treat one’s employees.

People told me later that when the HR manager was giving them the news, she was separately glaring at each and every one of them for some reason. I’m sure she was just livid that I had taken from her the pleasure of firing me, and she was trying to ferret out who might have tipped me off.

So what I take away from this is, I am a crap employee because I was doing MOST, but not ALL of my supervisor’s job for her. I feel sorry for the next sucker.

Posted in Workrant.

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