Wednesday, March 4, 2009

difficulties supervising an older employee

Do other people have struggles supervising their elders? I realize that this is tied into my personality, but I am having trouble with confidence in supervising an employee older than me. Last August we (boss and I) asked said person - I'll dub Jack - to write a project report - a simple report with small dataset I thought would be a good to start for this PhD to get more involved in helping us crank out reports. Nothing happened - Jack has low self confidence in analyzing and writing. In Sept. I cranked out the stats so Jack only had to write. Nothing. Boss and I should have acted last year. I just sent an email to boss and Jack suggesting that Jack doesn't work on anything else for the rest of the month - just work on the report. And now Jack is scrambling around looking for literature asking me and boss questions.

Jack frustrates me. but more frustrating is my lack of confidence in saying get this done! As of last year it should have been done and I should have cracked the whip. 10 yrs ago I had trouble transitioning to being the supervisor of students I had been a fellow student with. So I suppose this is another round of growing pains.


Jennifer said...

I have never had to supervise someone older than me. I have had students older than me in class, but I imagine the power relationship must be different.

I have had some of the same issues with my undergraduate research students - holding them responsible for their work. I just have to remind myself that not keeping up and in some cases nagging them, only hurts them in the long run.

Hopefully Jack get's his act together.

Sparkling Squirrel said...

The older part is the easier part to get over, because it is up to you. By 45 one certainly has younger people as experts in one's life and it just becomes a fact of life (I think my doctor is younger than I am and I've had very young people dealing with my money at loan places and they it was never weird "you couldn't know how to fill out a mortage appilation because you are too young) so Jack is not worried about you because you are younger.
You are the boss for a reason, and that's that you have more experience and expertise in this field than he does. If you don't claim to have more life experience or act superior because you are a better data analyzer, he will have no problems with that.
Your bigger question is how to hold people of any age accountable for their work and how to work in a team with people who aren't performing at your level and well, that's still a big mystery to me. Let me know if you figure it out.

Beth said...

I agree with SS about how to get people to be accountable. I'm supervising a few people right now that are older than me and will be supervising many more in the Fall. I just try to be thorough with my instructions and friendly. If they don't get things done I become a bit tougher. But sometimes the problem isn't that whoever it is doesn't want to do the work but they they're not sure how.

I agree with SS - you're the boss for a reason and you don't need to act superior. You're just doing your job.

Here's an idea that may or may not be appropriate given the situation. Could you schedule a meeting with Jack where you tell him (email or in person) that you want him to bring his draft of the paper, possibly a timeline for how much longer it will take, and a list of questions that he has about the project. You can always answer some of those during a meeting. But if he's asking lots of questions it might be easier on you to tell him that you want to have a meeting to talk about it (which is more formal) than just answering them as you go.

Debbie said...

Ahhh - holding Jack accountable is the crux of the problem. Thanks for the comments. This is a lesson to me to hold be accountable early on and not keep giving them second chances or a little more time. Part of the problem is Jack not knowing how to approach this, and needing even babier steps than I would expect from a PhD.

And I am finding that I am much faster than most everyone here in database work - I can easily see how tables fit together and zip through menus and commands. So I get flabergasted with Jack seeming not to be able to do anything at all, but I think it's I'm so much faster than most everyone.