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As a Working Supervisor, How do I Approach My Staff When Handling Complaints?

Question

I am the “working supervisor” of a small department. My problem is that I don’t know how to approach a staff member when I have a complaint against him or her. In order to counsel staff members, I feel like I need to be in “boss” role, but because I must also work shoulder to shoulder with them, I don’t want to cause any strain between us. How do I tactfully broach a sensitive issue with them?

Answer

Employees appreciate a supervisor who understands the job and will work shoulder to shoulder with them. Your role brings about some advantages as well as the disadvantage you have expressed. Although you are working with staff, you are still a supervisor. If people are doing a good job, there will not be a strain. So, the key is to develop the skill set to coach and confront staff performance. Here are some tips that have worked for me:

  • Make sure staff know what the desired outcome is.
  • Actively and publicly recognize staff who are doing good work.
  • Use the support, coach, support approach when intervening early with staff. For example, say to Judy (employee), “I want to compliment you on the way you organized your work today. Although, I did notice that you tended to get off task, which delayed our ability to call the physician back. I know you are committed to doing this, so let me give you some suggestions that might help. Once again, the way you organized your work today was excellent.” The more you practice this approach, the better you get.

Additionally, when I was in your situation, I found that I needed to look in the mirror and ask myself, “Am I acting like a supervisor when it is advantageous to me and abandoning that role when it feels uncomfortable?” A working supervisor is a supervisor at all times in the eyes of employees.