172

Background

I'm an infrastructure support night team leader for a very large IT services company in the UK. Due to the requirement for 24/7 support that most of our clients have, the support teams are on 12 hour shift patterns, 4 days on, 4 days off with no rotations - this means the night team does not transition to days and always works nights, an important factor to bear in mind. The shifts are regarded as a huge perk by all staff who work under them, including me, and the company loves them as it allows them to achieve good coverage with fewer staff than a standard 8 hour shift would.

Problem

Last year, our venerable and highly esteemed infrastructure support manager (my direct boss) retired, and was in due course replaced by an outside hire, a much younger and evidently less experienced chap. The company is currently focusing on efficiency and cost-savings for various reasons, and the new manager has really taken this to heart. To wit, he is using/abusing a clause in our contracts that states we must be 'fully fit to work at all times' to send engineers home, without pay, if he considers them to be too tired to function effectively. This includes anything from having large bags under the eyes, to yawning, to putting one's head down on the desk to making what he considers 'stupid mistakes'. This happens at least once a week, usually more often, and he makes the rounds at the start of the evening meaning each team member loses about 10 hours of pay if judged unworthy.

Current Situation

There has already been a screaming row over this new tactic, which resulted in one of my team being placed on a final warning for insubordination, something I feel is totally unacceptable given the circumstances. I scheduled a meeting with the new manager along with the day team supervisor, where we explained that the new anti-tiredness tactic was having the opposite effect to that intended, only to be told to 'bugger off and stop exceeding [our] authority' in as many words. I communicated this to my team, who were not best pleased by the result, and now I'm not sure what approach to take. I can think of three:

  1. Go over the manager's head and complain to the director of IT. This could backfire very badly on me if the director backs the manager and retaliates, however I think the executive team needs to know how things stand as the situation is escalating fast and will have a serious impact on business processes if it's allowed to continue.

  2. Lodge a formal complaint(s) with HR about the behaviour of the manager, which is an approach my day team counterpart favours. She claims that the manager's behaviour could easily be construed as bullying, and his interpretation of the contract is not necessarily correct. These are good points, but I still regard this option as akin to nuclear war, with mutually assured destruction for all involved.

  3. Confront the manager with what amounts to a vote of no confidence, signed by my team, myself and as many of the day team as possible. This is the approach favoured by my team, and while I like collective action and solidarity, I would almost certainly be fired on the spot for gross insubordination and have to win my job back on appeal, and I'm just not that selfless.

EDIT: Wow, thanks for the response folks, it's really been helpful! I've marked Peter's answer below as that was the approach I took, however a comment on the original question got it right: this was a prelude to a large round of layoffs in which team sizes were cut by around 1/3, and the company was employing dirty tactics to try to reduce their redundancy payouts. I'm currently seeking alternate employment for reasons that should be obvious. Thanks again!

  • 11
    You don't explain the amount of work vs the current staffing. Are you overstaffed? – RobAu Feb 28 '18 at 16:59
  • 61
    You might want to look into what contractual or legal obligations your employer has for coverage—they don’t have 24/7 support for funsies, they have it because they promised to provide it. If people are sent home, and support is thereby decreased, are they still meeting their obligations? Surely they have a buffer of at least a few people (in case of illness or whatever), but if this is really happening a lot, he may be pushing situations to where the company is no longer fulfilling its obligations. It’s extremely unlikely that this person has the unilateral authority to do that. – KRyan Feb 28 '18 at 20:44
  • 1
    (This depends a great deal on the nature of those obligations, whether it’s just a thing they advertise versus something that gets written into contracts, but if it is contractual or legal, there may be specific requirements about how much personnel is required to qualify as still providing support.) – KRyan Feb 28 '18 at 20:45
  • 57
    It's worth bearing in mind that making a workplace intolerable is a relatively common tactic in advance of lay-offs. It's a much cheaper way to shed staff than redundancy. It's constructive dismissal and it's usually illegal in the UK, but most of the time employers get away with it. Join a Union. For you it's probably "Unite" unitetheunion.org . – user74616 Mar 1 '18 at 13:23
  • 6
    Interesting. What I didn't read in your question or comments is if you think your coworkers are all fit for work. If some emergency would (does) happen at the end of the shift are they fit enough to do a good job? Because obviously they should be fit. If it just happened over time that the previous manager was satisfied with, let's say, "50% fit", then maybe the new manager has a point that this is not really good enough. 12h shifts may sound good to you and your coworkers but maybe this is unrealistic for this job. Maybe the new manager is right, did you consider this? – Edgar Mar 2 '18 at 11:53

12 Answers 12

338

There's a 4th option: Call your retired infrastructure support manager and ask him for advice. He knows the right people, and may care enough about his former teams to call his contacts higher up in the company. The advantage of this option is that there's pretty much nothing to lose. If he doesn't want to get involved he may still have valuable advice, and he'll likely appreciate you calling him up and asking how he's doing.


If that doesn't resolve the issue, you have to notify the company. Knowing about a legal liability and not informing the company, as a team leader, also puts your job at risk.

For this issue - unless your people are all highly trained and hard/expensive to replace - the primary concern for the company is the legal liability, which is the domain of HR.

I'm not sure what your definition of a "formal complaint" is, but it's sufficient to let them know that there is a potential issue, while leaving a paper trail - e.g. send a short and concise email describing the gist of the problem in 3 sentences and ask them to meet with you to get the details. Remember, the problem you need to describe, the problem they care about, is not the manager - it's the legal liability. Their solution will probably involve the manager.


I also highly recommend to immediately implement David M's answer.

  • 22
    This 4th option is a good first step with the other options held in reserve. Even if the previous boss doesn't want to get involved (and no blame to him) he may be able to give you thoughts on your other options based on his knowledge of the team/business. – Dragonel Feb 28 '18 at 21:03
  • 4
    I would move it to the top of the list; it is so elegantly simple, with the best chance of an effective answer – Mawg Mar 1 '18 at 12:18
  • I am happy to give you your first 10k+ account, after so many years of SE work... – Gray Sheep May 6 '18 at 1:09
289

Get "sent home" notes in writing, preferably in emails

This supports both (1) and (2), and might even get this new chap to back down a bit, because when he is forced to explicitly state "Joe Smith yawned twice at 4am" in writing, something which can then be taken to anyone with a modicum of common sense, he might realize that having his judgement reflected back on him might make him look a tad unfit for his current role.

  • 72
    Excellent. Forcing people to document their actions is a great way to make them think twice... or thrice... before they do something stupid. AFAIK, an employee certainly has the right to require written notification that they are being asked to leave work - it's an official company action and should be clearly documented. "Just send me an email and I'll be on my way home". If the manager refuses to do so, then he's the one with the problem - he's going to have to explain that. – Vector Mar 1 '18 at 3:42
  • 30
    Unfortunately, it's quite likely the e-mail will read "Joe Smith was sent home because he was not fully fit to work," and will thus not really help. – Angew Mar 1 '18 at 8:54
  • 38
    @Agnew - dependant on how often this is happening. If i dumped twenty emails on the bosses desk saying "X was sent home from work because he was not fully fit to work" and then verbally discussed with the boss that there's he's abusing the "fully fit" status then said boss would definitely start asking pointed questions. Bonus points if you CC in HR. – Miller86 Mar 1 '18 at 11:09
  • 23
    @Angew If the boss refuses to provide complete and accurate documentation, nothing prevents the employees from documenting what really happened and putting it onto the company's servers by sending it to a friendly address, like the team lead's. If there happen to be numerous contradictions that's even more damning for the boss. – Peter Mar 1 '18 at 13:01
  • 25
    @Agnew: then you have a different grievance: "our boss regularly sends us home saying we're not fully fit for work, but he won't tell us specifically what's wrong and this makes it impossible for us to improve". This is not a problem the boss wants to give himself. Since the questioner believes the boss is applying an unreasonable standard, it's necessary to establish what that standard really is before establishing whether it's reasonable. Unfortunately there may not be time for that, with one person already on final warning, but if there was time then the paper trail should help. – Steve Jessop Mar 2 '18 at 13:23
122

My general pattern for dealing with office conflicts is to try to work it out with the person (which you did, and it was fruitless) and if not to appeal to higher authority and or HR.

In your case, I would be choosing something closest to option 1. Of course, just because you're going to another person doesn't mean you can't be diplomatic. If there is someone higher up the chain that you have a relationship with, I'd go to them; if not, I'd go to that person's boss. Either way, ask if they can counsel you about a situation on your team, and say something like this:

The new manager is using this clause in our contract to send people home, sometimes for things as trivial as yawning. He is not consulting me, and not taking into account the team members' character and general work ethic when doing it. The team feels like they are being unjustly punished for doing good work, and since it's affecting their bank accounts they are getting really worked up about it. I'm spending way too much time and energy trying to resolve this problem. I tried to discuss it with the new manager directly, and he basically told me it wasn't my business. Do you have any advice on how I can help resolve this problem?

Almost all companies strongly prefer people who want to solve problems, so I recommend you carefully choose language that emphasizes wanting to resolve the problem. You can add details as needed to stress that this is a serious issue impacting your team's ability to get things done, but I believe that communicating it like this effectively communicates your and your team's sides of the story, and will allow you to react appropriately without getting yourself fired immediately.

  • 4
    If you need a argument towards the "saving money": If this continues, the devs will quit. Just imagine the hiring costs, and the time it takes the new people to get up to speed. And them going through it again, because they wont stand for it either. – Martijn Mar 1 '18 at 12:21
  • 11
    @Martijn I'd say if higher management is any good, they should be well aware of the cost of hiring. I think that's part of what makes this answer good: You only give them facts about what happened. No accusations, but a little guiding so they will make those accusations/conclusions themselves. – R. Schmitz Mar 1 '18 at 12:47
  • @R.Schmitz thank you. I think subtlety is important in matters like this; if upper management is complacent or on board with what he's doing, I think it's best to approach it in a way that won't get OP fired immediately. If they are normal and think this is awful, then this should communicate everything they need to know. – dbeer Mar 1 '18 at 15:54
  • 1
    Also, keep in mind that cost of losing such employees and/or hiring new ones is significantly higher than average in this case, given the fact that these are night-shifts jobs. Most people are not willing to have such a job, even if it pays more. – Radu Murzea Mar 4 '18 at 18:01
55

A subjective measure like bags under eyes or yawn for 'fully fit to work at all times' is not valid in my opinion.

The new manager should be measuring actual output. I could be bright eyed and doing no work (like I am now).

If he is sending people home weekly with reasons like that and upper management has not already taken action is a bigger problem. What I am saying is you would be taking to management what they should already know. They are either incompetent for not realizing what is going on or they know what is going on and they are OK with it.

IANAL (I Am Not A Lawyer) but contractually yawn and other subjective measure would not stand up to the clause 'fully fit to work at all times'. I don't think legal is the proper remedy but you could file a class action lawsuit against the company and have a very good case. The burden is not if his interpretation is correct. The burden is does that clause specifically include subjective measures he is using.

To address the three approaches you are considering:

If you go 1) have a complete report of days hours and reason.

If you go 2) again a complete report.

3) Don't do that.

  • 6
    That's a pretty good point, if upper management hasn't taken the steps to address this growing "problem" then they either endorse it or are unaware. – Raystafarian Feb 28 '18 at 21:19
  • 2
    Yes, documenting all cases with exact dates is good no matter how you end up using that information. – kleineg Feb 28 '18 at 23:24
  • 2
    " I could be bright eyed and doing no work" likewise, you can be yawning and have bags under your eyes and still do very good work. I am frequently tired (i have medical issues), but that doesn't really affect my work (to a limit of course). I would say it's pretty difficult to visually assess whether someone is too tired to work, unless they're stumbling around like they're drunk. – user76296 Mar 2 '18 at 22:52
29

If you have a union, I would highly recommend letting them fight this battle for you in the form of a grievance. Either a policy grievance or actually have the members file individual grievances as they happen. If the clause is actually being abused the staff should be reimbursed.

If you do not have a union, Option 2 is the proper way to do it. None of the options will probably end well if this manager is as big of a jerk as he sounds but I would go with option 2

  • 4
    -1 for mixing management with unions. A manager has no business using a union against another manager, and does so at risk of his own job. Note that managers cannot generally be in the same union as their subordinates. – krubo Mar 1 '18 at 4:34
  • 12
    That's not true at all. Where I work, the managers are also unionized (under the same union) and have the right to file grievances. Also notice I said to have the members file the grievance (not OP himself) – SaggingRufus Mar 1 '18 at 11:56
13

Since this is the UK, I strongly recommend that everyone who is sent home for not being fit self-certifies as not being well on that night, which means the company has to pay their salary.

And I would be almost completely unsurprised if the colleagues of that person would suddenly feel ill and decide to go home and also self-certify. Surely a manager like that would make anyone feel sick.

  • 8
    'which means the company has to pay their salary' - sorry but this is incorrect, unless the company has an Occupational Sick Pay scheme in place there's no obligation for them to pay anything for the first three days of a sickness period and after that Statutory Sick Pay kicks in which is pretty nominal. – motosubatsu Mar 1 '18 at 15:02
  • This may work in the very short term; your team may well get to have their salary if they sign off sick. However it will backfire quickly. HR will have a system that records sick leave and monitors it. There are industry-standard algorithms that will detect excessive sick leave and it will quickly escalate to disciplinary action. Trying to explain it by bouncing the blame onto the manager will not go well if HR aren't aware of the situation with the manager beforehand. And if you do make them aware, then you won't need this tactic anyway. – Simba Mar 5 '18 at 14:31
  • This only escalates the conflict. It doesn't resolve it. – jpmc26 Mar 7 '18 at 15:41
11

Approach #1 isn't supported by your counterpart, so I'd suggest using approach #2 and approaching HR together.

Approach HR

However, I wouldn't approach them with your current presentation. You have to understand what their goal is, and then help them to understand how their goal will fail if this continues.

HR is tasked with 1) following government employment regulations and 2) structuring the employment in a manner that leaves them least exposed to employee lawsuits. They do a lot more, such as hiring, firing, etc - but those two primary goals are foundational and most of their other work is built on achieving them.

About all they're allowed to do in terms of boss/subordinate relations is make sure the boss isn't doing something that is against the law or may expose the company to lawsuits. They have many tools to do this, and so not only do you have to convey that your boss's behavior exposes them to risk, but that the correct course of action is to make sure the boss follows a policy or procedure that reduces that risk, rather than eliminating the employees who don't like the current implementation.

Present according to HR's goals

In other words, HR is a hammer, and your problem needs to look like a nail. If you present a screw they may well try to hammer it down to the detriment of your goal.

Therefore you need to understand what employment law may be involved, and what actual harm is being caused by this policy. Only then can you give them enough information and incentive to alter the situation.

As such, your best option is to consult with a lawyer/solicitor familiar with employment law and find out what, if anything, about what your boss is doing is illegal or actionable.

If nothing is, then you don't have a case you can bring to HR. You could attempt to bluff, or you could imply collective action, and perhaps that will spur them into action, but given that you don't already know what path is best I suspect these tactics may be unavailable to you.

Approach Boss's Superior

If you do choose #1, you need to do the same thing - understand your superior's goals, and then help them understand how the boss's actions are undermining their goals. You need to figure out how this actually affects the bottom line.

Undertanding your Boss's Goal(s)

Further, your write-up doesn't adequately express your boss's perspective. I suspect you may not be fully informed, and there may be reasons beyond immediate cost reduction. Perhaps he's been given the charge to reduce the staff count without firing without cause. Do you have a record of dismissals? Does it appear to be equal among all? Is he encouraging anger and outbursts in order to create a record so firing with cause may be an available option?

Perhaps he was brought in so the company can restructure the department to a more normal 3 shift schedule with more replaceable (and cheaper) workers.

A lot of this won't be visible to you, but if you can discern more of his goals and desires then you'll know whether #1 will be effective and how to approach it, as well as how to approach your boss directly again.

Consider Other Tactics

Lastly, what are the employees doing in response? Makeup, caffeine, 15 minutes of exercise before work, and a number of other tactics may be used to meet the subjective requirements of the new boss. It's going to be hard to prove that obvious signs of exhaustion, sleepiness, etc should prevent firing in a court of law, so even if you choose to go to HR or higher up you may be stuck with this situation. Consider all your options.

  • Approaching HR seems to be sensible. If anyone should be allowed to judge an employee generally unfit for work, it should be HR and not the manager whose budget benefits from less hours. – Dennis Jaheruddin Mar 2 '18 at 9:26
8

Pretty much agree with dbeer (but with the caveat of going to HR, not management), but this is too long for a comment so... 5 points from the OP, with my thoughts under them:

  1. and the company loves [12 hours shifts] as it allows them to achieve good coverage with fewer staff than a standard 8 hour shift would
    • Does it let them do this at less cost, or does overtime kick in thus increasing costs?
  2. The company is currently focusing on efficiency and cost-savings for various reasons, and the new manager has really taken this to heart.
    • seems your company is not the best company for career longevity? Given his actions apparently merge with company focus, how do you know the new manager doesn't have an order to carry this task out?
  3. Being too tired to function effectively ... includes putting one's head down on the desk to making what he considers 'stupid mistakes'
    • Staff shouldn't be sitting with their heads on their desk then. I don't understand what a "stupid mistake" constitutes, but excessive yawning and bags under the eyes, combined with "putting heads on their desk" - are staff actually coming in sleepy?
  4. There has already been a screaming row over this new tactic, which resulted in one of my team being placed on a final warning for insubordination, something I feel is totally unacceptable given the circumstances
    • I'm not sure if it's totally unacceptable, or even slightly unacceptable. You don't often get to collect a paycheck from someone and then have a screaming row with them, that's not how life works.
  5. new anti-tiredness tactic was having the opposite effect to that intended
    • what is the intended effect? To see if the center can run with less people? To see if reprimanding readily-visible tiredness can improve efficiency? To just cut costs? If it is any of the above, the policy is working.

I'd tread carefully if I were you. You should absolutely not do option 3 - this isn't band of brothers. You can raise to HR and ask for guidance on how to handle the situation with your staff because you think that there is an impact on morale and you would like some guidance on how to help calm the situation. Also, it's good the day-manager agrees, strength in numbers.

You can copy your manager on this note to HR if you like, he's going to hear about it anyway, but I think in this situation it might be best to not copy him. You're asking for guidance remember, not tattling.

I don't know about option 1 - how well do you know his manager? Do you ever talk to his manager? If you don't, then I would council against it. It's pretty drastic action to go to someone's boss.

  • 7
    good points, but OP didn't state who started the screaming row. If my boss came and started screaming at me I'd probably be out the door quite quick and on the phone to HR. Shouting at someone in a quiet office environment is never a good thing. – Miller86 Mar 1 '18 at 11:13
7

Whatever you decide on, choice #3 (confronting the manager) is a loser. It may sound neat, agreeable, reasonable, or whatever. But. Don't. Do. It.

Confronting the manager presents the company with an ultimatum. Even if it takes and there are changes implemented, that manager is going to be out for blood.

They are saving the company money right now and using their discretion in doing so. If those changes aren't ironclad and sweeping, then the game is afoot. The manager has time, training and resources to parse those new changes and leverage them against you too.

Don't. Do. #3.

  • 5
    This isn't a full answer to the question - this site does expect all answers to stand on their own. – Erik Feb 28 '18 at 22:19
  • 1
    Also, this is only "saving money" in the most naive and uninformed way possible. They have an entire team that's grumbling, which is costing them much more than a few hours not paid out. – Erik Feb 28 '18 at 22:20
  • 5
    The answer does stand on its own: there is zero reliance on any outside source for any key component. It doesn't answer every aspect of the question, but this is not and has never been a requirement for answers, just a preference on the basis of completeness' sake. Otherwise we'd be banning almost any user with more than a few hundred rep for repeated gross violation of it. – user53718 Mar 1 '18 at 8:13
  • 3
    @Nij the answer relies heavily on the OP not changing and on other answers. More glaringly, this doesn't actually answer the question, it just says "Don't do X". An answer would be "Don't do X, do Y instead". – Cronax Mar 1 '18 at 10:42
  • 1
    The answer does not stand on its own because one has to read elsewhere to understand what the "3" in "3 presents the company with an ultimatum" means. – Wayne Conrad Mar 3 '18 at 0:17
1

First, let me say that I think Peter's answer is a great idea. Not only because it's pretty much risk-free for you, but also because the retired infrastructure support manager may be "in the know" about budgets/forcasts, staffing contracts etc which may be affecting the new managers motivations.

Secondly, as in Paparazzi's answer, I think the "subjective measure" is a big problem. You should try to remove the new infrastructure support manager's "send home" power, rather than complain about it or circumvent it.


I would take the following approach (but you could go about it in others ways):

Contact the IT director, not to complain about the new infrastructure support manager, but to notify them of your own concerns as team leader in making (what are essentially) value judgements about your teams tiredness/alertness.

Tell the IT director you are not confident assessing such things, and do not feel that you, the day team leader, or the new manager are capable of making a consistent judgement on this. Then recomend that the company insted employ some quantitative metric for this purpose. Encourage the IT director on this based on "liability" - after all, the company is liable if the infrastructure support manager is wrong and someone sues for their lost pay.

There are plenty of online alertness/tiredness tests, or you could have an application rolled out that tests the team (both day and night) every few hours. Or the infrastructure support manager could be given the authority to request a test, rather than just send people home based on a hunch.

0

Personally speaking the thought process of these ordeals...the high end management may/may not have approved the thought process of downsizing, it is best to find that out before you begin the 'Real War!' and this has to be covert and bears risk, but as it is said "Better know the most about your enemy to unlock more cards to play in your hand!". So say the company officials are reluctant to indulge any info on that and downright deny that they have given the orders, then a joint voice can be raised to remove the New Manager guy from his job-post, and for that you have to fight united and in unison....for if you or the day-shift lady fight alone or you two do it alone (like most will like to and you two might feel like the hero/heroine of action flick of a game/movie....don't do it!...unless you both are planning to get married with a huge lottery money or some other cash source to fund your life and life-after)

What you can do..... * Go through the company papers covertly and see if the company has a financial crisis, often it is the reason for these reasons...so it is first on the bill.

  • If there is some changes in the rival company'(s) strategy or if there is something to be started soon after and your company is afraid to loose its edge and shine and is confused. High probability for this.

  • If the process is to cause chaos and make people resign so that new people are to be recruited (Reasons maybe# [1] Inefficiency (not that I am telling or complaining...but no one finds own faults...bear with it), [2] Increments (often a company cuts cost with a new team as it has to not bear any bonus/increments/both to existing employees, and while it is seldom done in Sales team, after sales and customer care are axed the most), [3] Scrap-n-Scratch (well technically the same thing as the earlier, the thing is your old boss ended his regime and the higher officials maybe wishing to cut costs by putting all the subordinates(including YOU too) to leave, and as politely asking you to leave is not ethical, they are using a win-win strategy to make you people work twice for the worth of one or complain and leave...either way they win!)...etc.)

So yes the NEW Manager may be a rug-doll and it maybe the company maybe downsizing or maybe the higher bosses are not so nutty and this guy has the newcomer-syndrome (To overcome this syndrome all fund him a lavish welcoming party and make him DRUNK and speak why he is doing that, but before that follow his orders with a smile....how hard it maybe!)

Lastly we have heard only one side of the story and being myself I don't judge a story by listening only to one end, YOU MAY BE RIGHT, BUT YOU MAYBE WRONG TOO...as I said (before too)...NO ONE RECOGNIZES AND THUS ADMITS HIS/HER MISTAKES !!! ~ Good Day

-1

If your team can/willing to sacrifice some salary, organise a few days in a row when everybody "proactively" notifies your boss that they don't really feel fit for work so decided to take the day off.

  • 4
    Self-certifying as a group knowing that it's not true is grounds for termination. The ringleader is guaranteed to be blacklisted, the remainder might or might not be lucky and just get a final warning. This is a terrible idea and it will only make the problem worse. – user53718 Mar 3 '18 at 19:08

Your Answer

By clicking “Post Your Answer”, you agree to our terms of service, privacy policy and cookie policy

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged or ask your own question.