Breakups can be rough. And, while this isn’t a relationship advice column, I am going to give some advice about a particular relationship—writer and supervisor. We’ve all been in frustrating relationships because it just didn’t seem to work. In these cases, you want to walk away saying, “It’s not you. It’s me.” All the while thinking, “No, it’s you.”
I once had a breakup from a toxic work relationship, and my experience was that the problems could be traced back to respect and understanding. You’ve probably been in a relationship where you didn’t feel valued. And, as writers, many of us are used to being thought of on the lower end of the company ladder. In fact, a former supervisor in my life used to tell her writing staff, “Your positions really are just entry level.” And, our supervisor-level responsibilities list and skills expectations didn’t change that attitude.
Not surprisingly, this led to a very ugly relationship. Overburdened workloads, a lack of respect, and a company-wide disconnect between what people thought writers did their actual tasks left the writers feeling disgruntled. Surprisingly (although, to some of us, maybe not), managers kept piling on tasks and responsibilities, confused about why the writers seemed so unhappy.
So, here are five questions I can offer to help mend these dysfunctional relationships.
1. What is the writer writing?
This might seem like a no-brainer, but let’s take the example of a growing company. Maybe a designated writer has never existed on the team. If so, take the time to determine exactly what the writer will write. If purely a content writer, on which communications? If the answer is “All of them,” then go one step further. Generate a list, even if ongoing, of the communications included. Having a clear idea in mind about a writer’s to-do list will prevent the “I-do-everything-around-here” attitude.
2. What is the writer’s role?
Again, the answer might seem simple. To write, of course. But, does your company offer a variety of services, like print, e-mail and web communications? If so, where does the writer’s role end and, say, the web manager’s role begin? If the writer creates e-mails (design and content), who loads them into the delivery system? Or, will the writer simply hand the approved content to someone else? Once content is approved, can the web guy (or gal) make changes from there, or are those changes sent back to the writer?
Knowing who takes the lead throughout the process will end in less heartache down the road. Keep in mind, though, that most writers are a little overprotective of their material, so be sure everyone on the team understands each other’s roles. Remember, too, that roles in relationships continually change, and so should any documentation reflecting them. However, as services or communications grow, be mindful of simply tacking on further duties. Question 3 will explain why.
3. Do you understand the writer’s time?
Even though third in the list, it’s an important question. I’ve been in more than one meeting when a supervisor said to the writing staff, “I have no idea what it takes or how long it takes to do your job.” The writers are always horrified, yet not surprised; however, many of the writers probably have no idea what it takes to do the supervisor’s job either. How many of us have sat in our circles and said, “What does that person even do?”
It’s human nature to believe each of us does the most work, but, when it comes to managing writers, it really is important to understand just what they do and how long it takes to do it because this is crucial to managing an effective workload. Not doing so can lead to resentment and feeling unappreciated, which takes you back to question 1.
But, writers, it’s not always your boss’s fault. Hearing a manager say the words above should sound an alarm that you need to have some tough conversations to help everyone better understand your job, the sooner the better. Hopefully these chats will prevent evenings spent crying over ice cream or a game of angry darts, wondering, “Why is my boss doing this to me?”
4. Did you plan before you implemented?
It may be the case that the company is exploding with great ideas and new services to offer its clients. That’s how the need for the writer came about, right? Yet, take time to step back and define the projects before handing them over to the writer. The writer will only feel intensely frustrated if time spent writing becomes unproductive or content undergoes many revisions because the project lead and client are unclear on the purpose.
Before delving in, the well-trained writer is going to ask how this project fits in with the overall strategy and other writing pieces. If the answer isn’t readily available, it will only cause future pain and suffering for all involved.
I’m not suggesting these four questions will lead to workplace bliss without any complications. As we all know, relationships are complicated. But, maybe thinking about these questions will help supervisors and writers have a better understanding of each other. Hopefully, then, the relationship can live happily ever after.