The increasing infusion of technology in the workplace and the new behavioral approach to management empower individual employees and cause challenging trends for supervisors. Supervisors have to adapt to changed requirements and add value to their jobs to survive.
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Supervisors Need to Add Value
Technology and the changed work methods render obsolete the traditional supervisory functions such as monitoring, enforcing, time keeping, and policing. Automated timekeeping tools, a shift in compensation structures from performance-oriented pay to results-oriented pay, flextime where employees can choose their own time and output levels, and other changes mean lesser work for the supervisor. In such a scenario companies, always on the lookout to cut cost and shed excess flab, may seriously re-look at the necessity of having supervisors at all.
Supervisors still have a role in the new way of work. Supervisors may, for instance, instead of monitoring, serve by coordinating, and instead of an enforcer, become a coordinator. However, their role no longer becomes indispensable, and as such they always need to ensure that whatever they do adds value to the product, process, and the organization at large.
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Effects of the Shrinking Workforce
Of late, talent is scarce. A 20 percent drop in the birth rate leading to a lesser supply of new entrants, the education and training industry not keeping pace with the technological and other demands of the industry, as well as globalization and other economic developments have all contributed to a situation where many opportunities chase a limited pool of talent.
The competition for scarce talent elevates human resources as a critical source of competitive advantage for the firm. Organizations look to nurture such employees and provide them with considerable autonomy and leeway. This results in a flat organizational structure where individual “power employees" connect directly with the boss, a far cry from the previous hierarchical layers where supervisors thrived.
The traditional role of the supervisor, of monitoring employee time and work output, becomes redundant in the new scheme of things; but the supervisor can still add value by taking up new responsibilities, such as:
Helping employees cope with increased stress levels, plus fallout of the increased job responsibilities and demands
Follow up with the employee for status updates to ensure adherence to the set or predefined milestones, and ensure there is no misunderstandings regarding the deliverables or quality expectations
Tapping into the emotional intelligence of employees to find out what truly motivates them, and arrange with management to provide the right kind of benefits
Serve as a facilitator to ensure the knowledge that the employee has access to, of all resources for optimal performance
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Effects of the Shifting Workforce
The contemporary workforce, apart from shrinking, is also shifting; and this poses more challenging trends for supervisors. The concept of life-long employment is history, and even without outsourcing and independent contractors, employees rarely stay in a company for more than two years.
Integrating new employees by providing them with the proper induction is now a regular task of supervisors. Supervisors serve as mentors for new employees. Mentoring requires a relationship of trust, honesty and confidentiality. With the number of new employees on the rise, supervisors have their task cut out to establish such relationships almost on a routine basis.
The popularity of telecommuting and outsourcing leads to the proliferation of many contract employees who are paid for the results rather than spending time in the company or adhering to the processes recommended by the company. Such developments change the nature of a supervisor’s job. For instance, while the traditional role of the supervisor is to manage absenteeism, the new paradigms require supervisors to coordinate with the remote worker to ensure adherence to the set deadlines.
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The supervisors of yesteryears were accustomed to managing a sedate predominantly white-male-dominated middle-aged workforce. Of late organizations witness a massive influx of minorities. Such a multi-cultural workforce is here to stay and is fast becoming the norm in most organizations. Supervisors now face the challenge of understanding each individual employee and their individual needs as well as balancing their special needs with work priorities.
While multi-cultural diversity is commonplace now, generational diversity is new. Different generations approach work, work/life balance, employee loyalty, authority, and other important issues differently. Unlike the past, the workforce now includes four generations of employees: the World War II veterans, or people born between 1922 and 1943; the baby boomers, or people born between 1943 and 1960; the Generation Xers, or the people born between 1960 and 1980; and the Nexters or Millennials, or people born between 1980 and 2000. The supervisor has to reconcile the attitudes of these various groups and carry them along to fulfill organizational goals.
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Challenges Related to Change
Today’s organizations are in a continuous state of flux, thanks to the rapidly changing economic environment. Employee resistance to change is natural, for any change upsets the status quo and puts hard-earned positions and privileges at peril. The supervisor becomes a key point man in ensuring that each individual employee receives management’s communiqué about change, and also to pass on the specific concerns such individual employees may have to the management staff.
Ambiguity and lack of information are the major drivers that make people resist change, and the supervisor needs to convince the employees of what the change involves and how the change would benefit them. This remains a key challenge, and very often the supervisor is the one caught in the middle between the management and the employees, unable to extract the required information from the management and still expected to sell the change to the employees. Supervisors also need to support change management by coordinating the employees' training and learning needs.
Last but not the last, supervisors needs to remain proficient in the key evergreen skills such as setting performance goals and plans, observation and feedback in general, and evaluating performance to recognize performance problems