I worked for a manager who arbitrarily decided what I was capable and not capable of doing without consulting me in any way on workload. I sympathize.
That said, managers are ultimately responsible for the output of their group as measured in several ways: tangible expectations from customers and superior management structures, perceived expectations about division of labor, turf, and cultural expectations about interagency interactions at superior, peer, and subordinate levels. The “rules of the road” are often unstated and quite differently understood at each of those three levels. It is virtually impossible to critique another organization from limited data such as this, although it is quite easy to contrast the (limited) story with textbook organizational theory and popular management literature – and the situation portrays the supervisor as being pretty bad.
For instance, saying “it is all about the customers” does not give employees independent decision-making choice on how to provide that service without coordination with the rest of the organization. The choice to assist other departments can be contrary to institutional behaviors that seek to deliver consistent interfaces, for example. If the thought is that management “doesn’t care” about customer service, so the employee is “making the right choice,” then it can quickly lead to anarchy as each person decides for themselves what good customer service should look like. The scenario does not, of course, provide sufficient data to draw that conclusion, but suppose it were true – the employee choosing to help others may be right, but the organization itself could be fatally flawed, and such assistance devolves to “rearranging deck chairs on the Titanic“.
Rather than proscribe a solution, as if there is only one answer for all such situations, the combination of employee motivation, unbiased assessment of performance on supervisor-assigned work, and communication regarding aspirations and ability to multitask seems most likely to lead to an outcome everyone can live with. Ultimately, the employee should conform to the supervisor’s expectations and attempt to influence those expectations, but regardless of those discussions, the employee must be willing do what is expected by management. Otherwise, it will be a tense working environment, trying to use documentation such as PDs and Performance Evaluations to attack and defend each party’s position, and worse, possibly attempting to get the supervisors management to overrule their position. That is almost the definition of dysfunction in the workplace, contrary to the goals of harmonious team efforts to meet common goals and objectives.
It may be that the employee has, indeed, grown to need a different management style and/or freedom to work with management. Perhaps that also means they need to move to greener pastures. It’s funny how a simple hypothetical can end up with a suggestion for a career change as a possible solution – the question as posed did not seem to imply there were major undercurrents that could drag a person into a very different day-to-day reality (but it is true; work itself is a compromise to get along with each other and not get overly upset by the small stuff). Good luck!
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