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Old 02-01-2009, 08:57 PM
Cat Whisperer Cat Whisperer is offline
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Co-worker versus subordinate in the workplace

In the chain of command in a workplace, some people must be the supervisors and give direction to the others, and some people have to take the orders and do the work based on it, but I still see the workplace as a place full of co-workers, not as a subordinate/superior dynamic. Some of my co-workers give me work to do and set parameters for my job, but I still don't see myself as their subordinate.

Do you have the same attitude towards working? Do you see yourself as a subordinate or a supervisor depending on the job? Do you differentiate between those with power under you, over you, and co-workers? Also, I am 42 years old and female - do you think that makes a difference in how we see the power structures at work (with older people and women accepting less dominance over themselves)?
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  #2  
Old 02-01-2009, 09:01 PM
Alice The Goon Alice The Goon is offline
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I'm a 40-year-old woman, and I see definite power lines and supervisors and subordinates. I will also take into account one's number of years there as a basis of superiority, including my own. My personality is such that I love and need rules and order and clear lines of authority. Lately I have been thinking of myself as a superior trapped in a subordinate's body, which I take as an indication that I am ready for a new challenge.
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Old 02-01-2009, 09:37 PM
elfkin477 elfkin477 is offline
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Quote:
Originally Posted by featherlou View Post
Do you have the same attitude towards working? Do you see yourself as a subordinate or a supervisor depending on the job? Do you differentiate between those with power under you, over you, and co-workers? Also, I am 42 years old and female - do you think that makes a difference in how we see the power structures at work (with older people and women accepting less dominance over themselves)?
I'm a 31-year-old woman, and I don't see it the way you do. I answer to my superiors, and my subordinates answer to me; I'm always aware of our roles in relation to one another. It's not a value judgment towards either group to think of what level of responsibility they hold. Things just wouldn't function properly if people weren't mindful of the chain of command.

Honestly, I dislike it when subordinates or superiors treat me as though our roles were the same. Inevitably, a time comes when I must dictate that subordinates do something and there are people who seem to resent others having authority over them. I don't expect much deference, but I do not want someone trying to act as though they are my buddy or be put out when it's necessary to make it clear that I am not. As for superiors, they are being paid more than me to fulfill their job functions, and I resent being asked to shoulder their responsibilities more than I get any warm fuzzies from being treated as an equal.

Last edited by elfkin477; 02-01-2009 at 09:39 PM..
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Old 02-01-2009, 09:51 PM
Cat Whisperer Cat Whisperer is offline
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I don't think you're understanding what I'm saying, elfkin - I don't resent my supervisors, and I willingly take direction from them. I just consider myself a co-worker, not a subordinate - their job is giving direction, mine is taking it.
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Old 02-01-2009, 10:13 PM
Risha Risha is offline
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I think it may depend to some extent on the company you work for. I just left my job (with a large international company). I sent an email a couple of days before quitting, giving the heads-up to the woman responsible for my project, so that she could plan ahead for reassigning my work.

My husband was shocked, and I was genuinely puzzled as to why. It turned out that he looking at it as sending a note to my superior saying that I wasn't going to be doing any work anymore, without giving my notice first. What I think he still doesn't fully grasp is that she wasn't my boss or even a manager of mine; technically she was my peer, with an identical job description except for some bullet points about advanced management. She had a slightly different set of responsibilities for our project, so she assigned me work. But she wasn't in charge of me in any respect, just the project itself.

I freely admit that we had kind of an odd structure, though.
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  #6  
Old 02-01-2009, 10:42 PM
cosmosdan cosmosdan is offline
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Originally Posted by featherlou View Post
I don't think you're understanding what I'm saying, elfkin - I don't resent my supervisors, and I willingly take direction from them. I just consider myself a co-worker, not a subordinate - their job is giving direction, mine is taking it.
I think I understand your position. I'm in management but IMO we all work for the same purpose with different job descriptions. It works okay when you have competent, responsible, employees who know their job and do it. I have no desire to boss people around. I do expect them to respect my position and judgment. I expect them to be responsible individuals who do the job required of them for the money they're getting. Ultimately if things go wrong management is held responsible by upper management so employees not doing their job correctly or taking to many liberties are my fault. It means I'm not paying attention and addressing problems.

I'm an easy going guy and I say please and thank you to my co-workers even if they're just doing their job. I've learned from experience that sometimes lines need to be drawn and some employees need to know who is in charge.
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Old 02-02-2009, 12:16 AM
alice_in_wonderland alice_in_wonderland is offline
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Well, I think subordinate is a funny word. And I think superior is an ugly word. There are people who's work I direct. I am responsible for their failures and successes - that is, if they fuck up I look bad. If they do well, I look good. I do their performance reviews. If the shit is going to hit the fan, it comes from me.

However, I'm certainly not anyones superior. We all have equal value as people. Potentially mine is a position that would be slightly harder to fill; however, for my assistant I was sweating bullets that I would find someone good (I did!) and I would be upset if she left.

Last edited by alice_in_wonderland; 02-02-2009 at 12:16 AM..
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Old 02-02-2009, 12:18 AM
fluiddruid fluiddruid is offline
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For me, the relationships at work are based largely on the culture of the workplace. At my old corporate job, firm lines of rank were drawn and it was nearly impossible to feasibly even have a friendship with someone in rank above you or below you, because it was so cut-throat (relationships even between peers were often strained). Rank was pulled in practically every discussion, and people were strongly discouraged from developing even innocuous friendly relationships with subordinates. The end result was a very mistrustful us vs. them atmosphere.

At my current job, everyone treats me overtly like a co-worker. I like this much better and consciously try to never give anyone a reason to pull rank because I don't pull my weight. I have seen the management/subordinate lines come out on occasion, but everyone seems to try to make them disappear as much as possible, even to a fault (not calling people out on behavior they should). It's imperfect but my preference nonetheless.
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Old 02-02-2009, 02:35 AM
Mesquite-oh Mesquite-oh is offline
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Depends on the field as well. I am a professional who supervises other professionals in the same field who are expected to work independently and really don't need that much day to day supervision.

I have a lot of job duties, with just a small percentage of those duties related to making sure that those under me are doing what they are supposed to be doing. If they screw up, it is usually on them, I am not expected to be their babysitter.

However, if they do screw up, I put on my supervisor hat and I am responsible for counseling them and ensuring that it doesn't happen again. On most days we work like coworkers with different responsibilities, on other days, I am their supervisor and I will redirect them if necessary.
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  #10  
Old 02-02-2009, 05:18 AM
Nava Nava is online now
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Quote:
Originally Posted by featherlou View Post
In the chain of command in a workplace, some people must be the supervisors and give direction to the others, and some people have to take the orders and do the work based on it, but I still see the workplace as a place full of co-workers, not as a subordinate/superior dynamic. Some of my co-workers give me work to do and set parameters for my job, but I still don't see myself as their subordinate.
My mother claims that I've had a problem with authority since babyhood. I tell her I don't have a problem with authority: I have a problem with accepting that a title grants authority. I'll follow the leadership of people who, imo, are holding the map in the right position, but not that of those whose leadership is based on "because I'm the boss!"

So at least in my case it's not a matter of nurture, education, culture or any of that: it's by-lodey genetic.


My favourite jobs were in teams where the leadership shifted from day to day and project to project, there wasn't a titular boss.



As a supervisor, I like people who, like me, need minimal guidance. But if someone needs it, I'll give it. At the same time, I make no attempt at being my coworkers' or my subordinates' or my bosses' friend: if we happen to become friends it's because of other stuff, not because we happen to work together and therefore ought'a be friends.

Last edited by Nava; 02-02-2009 at 05:22 AM..
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  #11  
Old 02-02-2009, 07:03 AM
Quartz Quartz is offline
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Originally Posted by featherlou View Post
Some of my co-workers give me work to do and set parameters for my job, but I still don't see myself as their subordinate.
If a colleague asks me to do some work, I can say no; if a superior asks me to do the same work, I've much harder time refusing.

As a contractor, of course, the default answer is, "Sure, I'll do that."
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  #12  
Old 02-02-2009, 08:03 AM
Lo-Slung Denim Lo-Slung Denim is offline
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Originally Posted by alice_in_wonderland View Post
Well, I think subordinate is a funny word. And I think superior is an ugly word. There are people who's work I direct. I am responsible for their failures and successes - that is, if they fuck up I look bad. If they do well, I look good. I do their performance reviews. If the shit is going to hit the fan, it comes from me.

However, I'm certainly not anyones superior. We all have equal value as people. Potentially mine is a position that would be slightly harder to fill; however, for my assistant I was sweating bullets that I would find someone good (I did!) and I would be upset if she left.
I think I feel very similar to this. It is my job to make the unpopular decisions, usually based on budgets constraints, it's my job to tell people if they're not working at the capacity they need to, and it's my job to take the flack if there's a big cock-up in the team. For this, I get paid more. But I don't think I am superior!

The biggest difference, I think, between being a main-grade worker and a manager is that you have to not care if people like you or not, just that they respect you.

When I was a main-grade worker, we were all peers, regardless of who had been there longest. It was a sign of a great team that we helped each other, we didn't even give direction as such, we just worked as a team. As a manager, I am slightly less a part of that team, due to needing to maintain professional boundaries - I let my team take the initiative on how much they want to interact with me on a friendly level, because there is nothing worse than a boss who wants to be BFFs.
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  #13  
Old 02-02-2009, 08:51 AM
cosmosdan cosmosdan is offline
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Originally Posted by fluiddruid View Post

At my current job, everyone treats me overtly like a co-worker. I like this much better and consciously try to never give anyone a reason to pull rank because I don't pull my weight. I have seen the management/subordinate lines come out on occasion, but everyone seems to try to make them disappear as much as possible, even to a fault (not calling people out on behavior they should). It's imperfect but my preference nonetheless.
It's casual like that where I work too. People are human and occasionally make a mistake or come in late. No big deal. Some people have bad habits and because they do such a good job 98% of the time you overlook it. Chronic offenders are another story.
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Old 02-02-2009, 08:55 AM
cosmosdan cosmosdan is offline
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Originally Posted by Nava View Post

As a supervisor, I like people who, like me, need minimal guidance. But if someone needs it, I'll give it. At the same time, I make no attempt at being my coworkers' or my subordinates' or my bosses' friend: if we happen to become friends it's because of other stuff, not because we happen to work together and therefore ought'a be friends.
right
The people I enjoy working with aren't necessarily the people I'd hang out with outside of work. The workplace is our common interest. Outside of that not so much.

That doesn't mean I don't appreciate them. I do.
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  #15  
Old 02-02-2009, 09:56 AM
Karyn Karyn is offline
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Cosmodan, your view most closely matches the way that I see it. I was either in management or executive management positions for the last 20 years of my career and I've never used the word 'subordinate'. It's a bit demeaning IMO and unnecessary. I've managed both highly paid professionals and large groups of homeless people in job training programs and I've never had to be a hardass about things. I needed them to respect my judgment and do as I asked but I didn't need to be authoritarian to make that happen.

There are some fields, like tech, where managers and project managers have to quickly get over themselves because they aren't the technical experts. I might have signed the lead designer's timecard but I sure wasn't qualified to tell him specifically how to do his job. You also have to get used to the idea that your employees are talking about you and making fun of you behind your back just the way that we did before we became the boss. I made sure not to invite myself along anywhere unless I was asked because it isn't going to be as relaxing for them as hanging out together without me would be.

Last edited by Karyn; 02-02-2009 at 09:57 AM..
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  #16  
Old 02-02-2009, 03:39 PM
Cat Whisperer Cat Whisperer is offline
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Quote:
Originally Posted by Nava View Post
My mother claims that I've had a problem with authority since babyhood. I tell her I don't have a problem with authority: I have a problem with accepting that a title grants authority. I'll follow the leadership of people who, imo, are holding the map in the right position, but not that of those whose leadership is based on "because I'm the boss!"

So at least in my case it's not a matter of nurture, education, culture or any of that: it's by-lodey genetic.
<snip>
Genetc, eh? I mentioned my theory to my husband that I don't think I recognize authority over me very well, and he just about burst out laughing (apparently he knows this already). I don't think I have a problem with authority, either - I leave it alone, and it leaves me alone - no problem.
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  #17  
Old 02-02-2009, 04:00 PM
Skald the Rhymer Skald the Rhymer is offline
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To me there's a clear distinction. I have subordinates, co-workers, and superiors, and the fact that there are some connotations to the the first and last terms which some persons find vexsome does not mean they're not apt. Nor does the fact that I'm not entirely comfortable being in charge make them

The other three persons in the training department here are my subordinates. I decide the general course of their work for the week (though I don't get into it day by day except in the case of the secretary). I do their reviews, so my opinion of them directly impacts how much they get paid. I didn't hire any of them, but if I can fire them (admittedly I have to run it through HR, but I know how to do it and if I had to am willing to do so). If we have a disagreement about how something is to be done, I'll listen to their reasoning and opinions, but we DON'T take a vote. *I* decide, because I'm the one accountable to my superiors. There are interactions between them that would be inappropriate for me to try to horn in on.

My boss is my superior. That doesn't mean he's a better man than I; it means that just as my subordinates are responsible to me, I am responsible to him. We're friendly, but not friends, because of the power imbalance.

The other team leaders are my co-workers. We're on the same level; we report to the same person. If I were single it would be okay (in theory) for me to ask one of them out, whereas it would not be okay for me to ask out one of my subordinates.
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Old 02-02-2009, 04:02 PM
Jodi Jodi is offline
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I don't mean this to be at all snarky or glib, but . . . The people whose work I direct are my coworkers until we have a difference of opinion as to what will be done or how: then they are my subordinates.

You don't have to boss good workers, you have to boss shitty workers.
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Old 02-02-2009, 04:08 PM
Skald the Rhymer Skald the Rhymer is offline
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Originally Posted by Jodi View Post
I don't mean this to be at all snarky or glib, but . . . The people whose work I direct are my coworkers until we have a difference of opinion as to what will be done or how: then they are my subordinates.

You don't have to boss good workers, you have to boss shitty workers.
How are you defining the verb "boss"?

Back when I was in retail, I had a manager whose position I had had (in another store) before she did, and knew the electronics department MUCH better than she did. We were friends before this, and she had hired me largely because it was useful to her to have someone who was entirely competent to do her job but had no desire for it and thus was not about to undercut her. I was a good worker, but she did have to boss me from time to time, in the sense that we disagreed on how to do something and she had to make the decision. It didn't bother me to subordinate my judgment to hers (even when my judgment was better) because she was the person who was going to catch the crap if sales went down, not me, and it would not have been appropriate for me as either her subordinate or her friend to give her crap about it.
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Old 02-02-2009, 04:19 PM
Harriet the Spry Harriet the Spry is offline
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I think this does depend quite a bit on organizational culture and what professions/skills you are talking about. The OPs approach can be just right in some cultures and a recipe for disaster/termination with extreme prejudice in others.

Since the OP mentions gender, I'll mention this video about gender communication, which I think I've seen a bajillion times, The Power Dead Even Rule: http://www.trainerstoolchest.com/sho....php?idnum=263 The premise is that women are socialized from childhood to relate to one another as equals and that men are socialized to operate in hierarchies. Think about playing house vs. playing organized sports.

So there is at least some support out there for the idea that this approach to equality vs. hierarchy in the workplace has some basis in gender.
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  #21  
Old 02-02-2009, 04:42 PM
msmith537 msmith537 is online now
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It totally depends on the type of work you do, the culture of your company and your relationship with your coworkers.

In my old job in a professional services firm, the company itself isn't very hierarchial. You have different levels like Associate, Sr Associate, Manager, Director etc, but it's not like the army. We're all professionals so it isn't like there is a major class distinction either.

It's understood that no matter how friendly you are with your boss, there is still an appropriate level of respect that you are supposed to show them by virtue of their position. And there is a certain level of respect you show your subordinates as well.

Generally in a professional environment, while the more senior person has ultimate say in how a task should be completed, they generally don't act like some sort of shift manager overlord. They are generally more of a "coach", guiding and mentoring the more junior staff, as required. My old boss in my current job didn't get that. She treated everyone like shit and made it clear that we were at the bottom of her strict hierarchy. And you know what happened? Nobody did a single tasks that she did not explicitly tell us to do and nothing got done until she left the company.

I found that in most professional services jobs, if you have an employee that needs to be "bossed" constantly, they tend not to last.
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  #22  
Old 02-02-2009, 05:12 PM
delphica delphica is offline
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I agree that it's very dependent upon the workplace culture of one's particular situation. Where I work, the co-worker approach is definitely preferred. If I am introducing people, I say "I'd like you to meet my colleague, featherlou." I'm in education so it's possible that as a field, it's more fuzzy wuzzy than some other industries.
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  #23  
Old 02-02-2009, 09:21 PM
Jodi Jodi is offline
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Originally Posted by Skald the Rhymer View Post
How are you defining the verb "boss"?
I'm defining it as it is usually understood -- it's common, non-esoteric definition: To manage, direct, or control. And I know that a manager has to manage almost everyone sometime; my point is that in general, you have to spend more time managing bad employees, and less time managing people who know their jobs, are good at them, and take the initiative to do them.

On a daily basis, I don't feel like I'm the "boss" of my assistant, because she's good at her job and does it professionally and confidently. We work very well together. Certainly I would never rub in her face that OOH I'M HER BOSS, because . . . why would I do that? She knows it and I know it. Most of the time it's not really relevant and if it's not relevant, who cares? She is my colleague AND my subordinate. But the former is always relevant in a mutually respectful working relationship; the latter is only relevant if I have issues with her performance, either good or bad. Good issues, I have issues once a year (performance review). Bad issues, I never have with her.
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