My boss expects me to cover for my sick staff but doesn’t help out

Each week, Dr Kirstin Ferguson tackles questions on the workplace, career and leadership in her advice column “Got a Minute?” This week, a question about covering for sick staff, commuting for work, and the downsides of a dog in the office.

I am a store manager and have many staff working for me. Recently someone was sick and none of my casuals, full-time staff or staff from other stores could work. I also had plans both nights. I was told as a leader that I am expected to cover this time and that the store cannot close for any reason. I was told any plans I have should be rescheduled and I can take time in lieu, but not overtime. I am always staying back or coming in early. My state manager doesn’t work on weekends and isn’t required to cover managers when they are sick. I feel like this is a double standard and that my work-life balance isn’t a priority. I feel deflated. Any advice?

IllustrationCredit:Dionne Gain

There is no doubt that managers in roles like yours have a tough gig at the moment and I am not surprised you feel deflated. You play a vital role as the key link between corporate executives and your own team members at a time when staff shortages due to illness and a buoyant jobs market are at all-time highs. It doesn’t sound like your state manager is providing you with the advice or support you need. Is your company looking at how they can deal with staff shortages over the long term? Qantas is experiencing much the same problem at the moment and their head office executives are being asked to move luggage. You might like to invite your state manager in for a shift!

You sound dedicated and committed to your job and want to see some respect and recognition in response. Are you able to have a conversation with your state manager about your development within the company and what you need to succeed? Can you talk to some of the other store managers in your group and see how they are dealing with some of the same issues? It sounds like a bigger issue than just your store and talking to your state manager as a group could bring some much-needed support.

I travel 45 minutes each way to work in a marketing and communications role. I would like to work two or so days a week from home to save on travel costs and could easily perform my role at home. When I have asked my CEO the answer I receive is a blunt ‘no’. Most recently it was pointed out to me that when I took on the position 18 months ago, daily travel was always going to be part of the deal. I can see the commute and this inflexible stance wearing me down eventually. Please advise if there’s any path forward.

I genuinely don’t understand your CEO’s thinking. A recent survey showed 19 per cent of workers are considering quitting if forced to work in the office full-time. This is compared to only 9 per cent where people are free to decide where they want to work. Every organisation in the world is having to find ways to make flexibility suit their culture, employee expectations and work demands and doing so needs a CEO prepared to listen.

If working from home is important to you, find employers who are welcoming or even encouraging people in your field to work flexibly. You will be happier and more satisfied, as well as saving plenty on commuting costs. Working from home is not for everyone but if you enjoy it, it will be easy to find a boss and colleagues who feel the same.

My boss, who owns and founded the small business where I work, first brought in her new puppy to our office because she wanted to show it to everyone and because no one was home to mind it during the day. The puppy, now a dog, is 10 months old and is still coming into the office every day. It urinates on the carpet, barks at passing cars or when people come to reception, and we are expected to just make it work. My boss doesn’t seem to notice, or care. I want to say something but I don’t know where to start.

In the interests of full transparency I have to admit I am writing this while my own dog, Huey, sleeps in my office. A home office. I would never expect anyone else to have to work with Huey, even as much as I might like to convince myself that everyone else would love it too. Your boss seems to have believed all those oohs and aahs over their tiny puppy visiting on day one meant it was going to be OK, forever.

The problem you have is this is her business. She really can bring the dog to work each day if she feels like it unless of course there are some health and safety regulations she might be breaking. Doing so though will alienate her valued staff, just like you, who hadn’t planned on working in a pooch day care. I recommend you chat with other colleagues about how they are feeling. If they feel the same way, it may be time for a chat with your boss about what will work for everyone if she wants you all to stay part of the team.

Send your questions about work, careers and leadership to [email protected] Your name and any identifying information will not be used. Letters may be edited.

Dr Kirstin Ferguson is a non-executive director, author and regular columnist. She is also an Adjunct Professor at the QUT Business School and former Deputy Chair of the ABC.

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