Tuesday, July 12, 2011

Mentality of the state system: "Supervisors aren't supposed to work"

I was talking to a guy yesterday who works at a state University and I thought I would share his story here.

One of the Building Services Superintendents (BS employees clean the offices inside the buildings) went to the Central Stores Warehouse on campus to pick up some supplies. The Superintendent brought with her one of her own employees, a female supervisor. As the warehouse storekeeper was loading the supplies into the truck, the female supervisor began to assist him. It was no trouble for her because the items were not heavy. Immediately the female Superintendent jumps in and yells at her employee telling her that she's a "white shirt" and that supervisors aren't supposed to do the work, they are supposed to supervise.

The storekeeper who was listening to the Superintendent talking to her employee was visibly angry over her remarks and he set down the pallet of items and told the Superintendent that if she had any problems with what he was doing, she could contact his boss. In fact the storekeeper went to retrieve his supervisor but he was not available. In the meantime the BS Superintendent contacted the head boss at the warehouse and filed a complaint against the storekeeper for unprofessional conduct. The storekeeper explained his warehouse supervisor what happened and the supervisor reprimanded him for unprofessional conduct, though he did nothing wrong.  

When I was told this story I just shook my head in disgust. First at the warehouse supervisor who chastised his storekeeper employee when he did nothing wrong and second, the comments by the Superintendent to her "white shirt" employee. There's a prevalent attitude among the "white shirts" that they should watch while their employees work, even if the department is understaffed and the employees are overworked and it is causing the job not to be done in a timely manner. So much for the idea of "lead by example." 

I was taught in the military that one commanding troops doesn't order those troops to do anything that he (or she) isn't prepared to do. The same philosophy applies to civilian life. As a supervisor, one has to be willing to go into the trenches with their employees to get the job done if and when it becomes necessary.  If one can't do that, one shouldn't be supervising anyone, period. Unfortunately there are far too many of these "white shirts" at state institutions and agencies and this problem goes all the way up to the highest levels. 

Consider it your tax dollars at work.


  1. I'm proud to say that your dad worked just as hard as his officers when they were too busy to do it.

  2. Anonymous7/22/2011

    As a former 'White Shirt', I NEVER asked my employees to do anything I wouldn't jump in and do myself or help them do if needed. It gripes me to no end to see this happening.