How to Deal With an Indifferent Supervisor at Work

Your supervisor may not care, but you don't have to follow her lead.

Your supervisor may not care, but you don't have to follow her lead.

You want feedback and direction to advance your career -- your boss wants to surf the Internet and take long lunches. When there's a definite shortage of supervision at your workplace on account of an indifferent supervisor, you may feel like you're going nowhere fast. But before you throw up your hands and give up on her, realize that others may recognize the problem too; and in any case, there are ways to work around the checked-out boss.

Try to develop a cordial, if not personal relationship with your supervisor. Some people are just tough nuts to crack; they may need time and lots of goading to open up and show that they really care. Get to know your supervisor by paying attention to her habits and inquiring about "safe" portions of her personal life, such as kids, hobbies or where she went to school. Learning a little about her life may encourage her to learn a bit about yours, which could in turn lead to more investment on her part.

Set up a mechanism for feedback. Indifferent bosses typically don't care how the work gets done or who does it -- and they may not even care whether the work gets done at all. While that could seem like a dream to the equally-indifferent employee, it could be a nightmare for the upwardly mobile one. If you crave feedback in order to advance in your career, ask your supervisor for it directly. Ask her to meet you once a month for a sit-down to talk about your performance. During the meeting, tell her specifically what you need from her to do your job better.

Create your own set of goals. A very involved supervisor will push you to set goals and then meet them; an indifferent one couldn't care less. To help you track how you're advancing, create short-term and long-term goals for yourself at work and write them down. Then create calendar reminders for yourself every three or six months to check in with your goal sheet to see how you're doing. Consider finding another higher-up or colleague in the office with whom you can share your goals and who will encourage you to meet them.

Create a leadership committee at your workplace to work on interpersonal issues, workplace cohesion, planning fun outside activities, or whatever else is lacking due to your indifferent supervisor. You'll have to be careful not to be too obvious about creating this group because your boss sucks -- so name the group the "employee relations" or "extra-curricular" team, which masks its real purpose of picking up the slack. Enlist other co-workers who value leadership at the office to join the group; over time, you may find that your co-workers will turn to your group when there are issues that need addressing.

Tip

  • If you've developed a personal rapport with your supervisor over time, there may eventually come a time when you can talk to her about her indifference in a calm, professional manner. Ask questions about her work style and her expectations for the office, and let her know that you and your co-workers would like to see more investment on her part.
 

About the Author

Nicole Vulcan has been a journalist since 1997, covering parenting and fitness for The Oregonian, careers for CareerAddict, and travel, gardening and fitness for Black Hills Woman and other publications. Vulcan holds a Bachelor of Arts in English and journalism from the University of Minnesota. She's also a lifelong athlete and is pursuing certification as a personal trainer.

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