The Steward Perspective: Second in a Series What All New Employees Should Know

Last time, we covered dos and don’ts for new employees. This month, we will consider contradictory instructions and the need to document.

When you are first employed by Hennepin County, you will be told who your immediate supervisor is. In addition, you may also be assigned to a trainer who is not your supervisor. We believe that Hennepin County is somewhat disorganized in training new employees. New employees often have the experience of receiving contradictory instructions. These contradictory instructions can come from one person, or from more than one person. We also know of employees who receive contradictory instructions from a single person on different days. This puts the employee into a quandary. Which instructions are to be followed? Whose instructions are to be followed? Following contradictory instructions leaves the employee open to accusations of violating instructions (since you received instructions A and B, if you follow A, they can accuse you of disregarding B). This seems an unfair practice, but it is actually quite common to new employees.

Because this practice is so widespread, we recommend that you carry a small notebook with you from day one of your employment. We recommend that you write down all instructions that you are given, noting the date and time, the location, who issues the instructions, what the instructions are, and who witnessed the interaction. We also recommend that you send follow-up emails to supervisors or trainers summarizing the instructions and inviting the employer to contact you if it disagrees with your summary. For example, your trainer may tell you to log into ______ to process applications for ______. After logging into ______, you are to enter data points A, B, and C, (save or transmit) the data, place the paper documents in a certain location, and start another case. Your email to the trainer may look like this:

Dear (Trainer’s name), I enjoyed working with you today to learn how to process ______ applications. My understanding is that I am to log into ____ to process these applications, and to enter data points A, B, and C. Then I will (save or transmit) the data, place the paper documents (in the instructed location), and start another case. If you believe that this is not an accurate reflection of my training today, please let me know. Otherwise, I will follow this procedure.

Days or weeks later, when your supervisor enters the room, sees you following this procedure, and demands to know what you think you are doing, you will have documentation to support why you are following this specific procedure. We recommend that you also document the interaction with the supervisor in an email, in addition to your small notebook:

Dear (Supervisor’s name), I regret that you were distressed at seeing how I was processing the ____ applications today. I have been following the procedure given to me on (date) by (trainer’s name). I carefully documented these instructions in an email to (trainer’s name) on the same day they were given to me. I am forwarding that email to you for your review. If you believe that I am processing the _____ applications incorrectly, please let me know the correct procedure and I will immediately begin following it. [Be sure to forward the earlier email, with the original instructions, to the supervisor] Best Regards, (Your name).

This recommendation is taken from actual steward cases. If followed, at least one probationary termination could have been prevented.