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Let’s pause a moment and reflect how we have already witnessed in this brief introduction the importance of supervision in the work place of fields as divergent as meat packing and teaching English.  Let’s go one further and consider the critical nature of a hospital supervisor.

Orderly: I can’t find any more new bed pans and the man in 15B has diarrhea.

Hospital Supervisor: Did you look in the storage closet?

Orderly: There is no storage closet; they turned it into a private room.  They call it a suite.

Hospital Supervisor: So where did the bed pans go?

Orderly: Nobody knows.  And 15B doesn’t care.  He’s set to go off.

Hospital Supervisor: Take the needle off an IV tube.  Put an empty glucose bag on one end of the tube, and stick the other up his ass.

Orderly: Will do.  As soon as I take a piss myself.

Another life-threatening situation addressed and handled by the fast-thinking supervisor.

And what about the food service industry?  Who do you think keeps those hormone-crazed teenagers from hurling loogies into every shake they pour?  Who keeps the drunken chef from peeing in your soup?  Who makes sure the fast fry cook doesn’t char an occasional outhouse butt steak because he’s pissed off he didn’t get a raise or a day off (or a bathroom break).  That who is you, the supervisor.

You drive an automobile that was assembled by dozens of different, possibly moody, perhaps megalomaniacal, union workers.  The car was designed by engineers working from toy mock-ups, and approved by management over martinis at the nineteenth hole of the golf course. How can you trust to put yourself and your family into something so potentially dangerous, so potentially flawed, so potentially booby-trapped?  Well, you get the phone number of some good lawyers first, that’s for sure.  But then, ultimately it comes to this, you have got to put your trust in the supervisor to do his job of producing quality product under budget without being killed in an industrial accident (like being electrocuted by a loose wire while falling down an elevator shaft and bleeding from fourteen drill press holes in your back).

Damn, supervision is important.  I surprise myself after all these years of doing this shit how deadly serious this position is.  But you, the supervisor, already know how important your position is: Just step out of the work area for a few seconds, then come right back and see how many slackers are already idle, how many more are about to be idle, and how the remaining crew is being impeded from working by all the slacking and impending slacking going on.  In short, you da man. (Or woman).

Unfortunately, not a whole lot of recognition comes your way.  If things go right, management hogs all the glory and ends the year with a fat boner, uh, bonus check.  If things go real right, the union speaks up and grabs another week of vacation for labor.  You get diddly squat.

But if something goes wrong, even while everything else is going right, it’s is the supervisor’s fault entirely and without question.  This is the burden you and you alone carry.  It’s always your fault.  Behind schedule?  Your fault.  Broken machines?  Your fault.  Sickness?  Rain?  Plague?  Your fault, every one.  And, oddly, by the very nature of the position, it is true that everything is your fault.  So what that the boss told you to send ten thousand bottles out to be filled, but he didn’t tell you to send a sample of the color liquid he wanted in the bottles.  You’re supposed to anticipate the utter incompetence of your vendors and provide them with no conceivable alibis for failure.  If a worker keels over with a coronary, you’re responsible for not noticing how pale the worker had been the week before.  You should have taken his pulse and maybe an EKG (without spending any money from the budget).  You should have known how important this order would be.  What were you thinking?  IT’S YOUR FAULT THE STOCK MARKET WENT SOUR!  IT’S YOUR FAULT MR. GREEN’S WIFE LEFT HIM FOR THE GAS STATION ATTENDANT!  IT’S YOUR FAULT LEO’S KIDS ARE DELINQUENTS!  IT’S YOUR FAULT I’M OLD!  GODDAMNIT, WHY DIDN’T YOU SEE THIS WAS GOING TO HAPPEN?  WHY DIDN’T YOU PUT MORE PEOPLE ON THIS PROJECT FROM THE BEGINNING?  WHY DIDN’T YOU TELL ME MY HOUSE WAS ON FIRE LAST NIGHT?  WHY DIDN’T YOU INVENT POST ‘EMS?  WHY ARE YOU WASTING INK ON ALL CAPS?

Sounds humorous, but it’s not because you know in your heart that if you are a supervisor then you are to blame.  Labor only does what it is told, or at least that’s what they’ll tell you.  So they’re blameless.  And management?  How is a supervisor going to stick blame on his boss?  It’s a suicidal operation done once in a career.  You pick that war carefully and sober.  Taking the blame may be the single most important thing you do.  It clears the air after a mistake or disaster, and keeps petty squabbles from becoming time consuming feuds.  You gotta have big shoulders.

And a big heart.  You’ve got to love the workers in a business; they create with their own hands like little gods working on a million new universes at once.  I really love my workers; I spend many happy hours a day cursing at them.  And they show their appreciation by raising their fingers for “Number One.”  It seems to mean more to them to raise their middle finger rather than their pointer, and I truly am gratified by the respect and encouragement they are giving me.  Sometimes we all get together to give management some support with a hearty round of “Number Ones” like a flock of loyal and enthusiastic birds flying “per ardua ad astra” (through difficulty to the stars).  Who would have thought that such simple hand signals could connote so much while enhancing company morale.

Speaking of morale, one of the things that can hurt attitude and stick-with-itness is poor working conditions.  Studies have been done showing how low lighting can cause eye fatigue and unsuitable table heights can negatively affect production rates.  These studies are published in magazines that are regularly sent to corporate managers, who dutifully turn them over unread to their respective supervisors (after all, it would be a duplication of work to have two employees read the same article).  Supervisors often thumb through these issues (in the company toilet/reading stall) and laugh.  Throughout the country laughter can be heard emanating from the bathrooms.  Change the lighting fixtures to enhance employee vision?  How about just replacing the thirteen fluorescent bulbs that have been flickering so long that life seems like a stroboscopic event to the average worker, even at home (How many television sets are in repair shops this very moment with complaints that the picture flickers when there is nothing wrong with the set, just the lighting at work?).  Alter the height of the work stations for ergonomic efficiency?  How about just sawing off the nail heads beneath the table that hold the legs (which have broken off nine times)?  My own knees have puncture holes that open like stigmata when I’m merely approaching a work bench.

The other day I heard two guys in the production department being chewed out for not acting more professionally.  They are young guys and fun-loving.  They haven’t yet lost any limbs on the job.  So here they’re getting blasted for a lack of professionalism, and then they’re sent off to their project.  A few minutes later one of them rolls by across the floor with his shirt on fire from a big short in the old electrical outlet (you’ve seen this outlet yourself many times, two sockets with two extension cords coming out plugged to two multi-sockets plugged to eight extension cords going off through the (flammable) wall to other multi-sockets elsewhere and other extensions leading out into the street and maybe down your very block).  Perhaps the whole country is running off the one socket this poor guy just happened to stand too close to when its spark super-heated with amps and set him on fire.  Anyway, as me and some of the guys were stomping out the flames (for which the worker seemed less than thankful due to the multiple boot marks tattooed to his back), I pointed out to their supervisor that it’s a difficult thing for workers to maintain their professionalism when they’re on fire.  The supervisor gave me a dirty look, then took his copy of Professional Management to the bathroom.

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