We all have horror stories of coming face to face with a micromanager at some point in our working lives. While for a lot of workplaces, the pandemic has meant leaving the office to work remotely, it hasn’t necessarily translated to a reprieve. Watching your every move over your shoulder has become monitoring your online status, attending every meeting with you has become being CC’d on every email you send, ‘quick chats’ have become unscheduled Zoom calls, the list goes on.
If you ask the micromanager, they will tell you this approach helps to maintain productivity in the workplace. Before the pandemic, they may have had a point: workers-from-home did see productivity decline, especially when the whole office was remote. This is no longer the case.
Whether due to better technology or a change of mindset, working from home actually increased productivity during the pandemic up to 47% compared to office workers, along with fewer sick days and daily breaks. The benefits extend from the company balance sheet to the psychological welfare of employees, too: some workers are less stressed during virtual meetings, and get more done in less time, allowing them the flexibility to manage their day and use their time off to actually take time off.
There are of course many things lost when working remotely, such as learning opportunities, impromptu conversations, innovation and the building and maintaining of cultures. No doubt a hybrid and flexible approach will be the optimum solution for progressive businesses, but having staff in the office to ‘peer over their shoulders’ isn’t the reason you should want them there.
These gains are directly tied to motivation and enjoyment of their work, two things that micromanaging erodes. America’s ‘Great Resignation’ is well underway, and while the pandemic accelerated it, psychologists say this shift has 20 years of groundwork beneath it. For millennials and gen Z especially, we are seeing generational changes to values and the purpose of work. Work is being redefined as just one part of an individual’s life; a tool to pursue meaning and purpose, not the end goal. People aren’t leaving for money, they’re leaving for culture — autonomy, flexibility, respect, psychological wellbeing, and opportunities to grow within their own definition of purpose.
There are several kinds of trust in a workplace that go both ways. In a positive workplace, employers and employees have each other’s interests in mind. If you only want people to be in the office to peer over their shoulder, then clearly there are trust issues around sincerity, reliability and competence.
Micromanaging stems from the insecurities of the micromanager around their power, job security, and relevance to the company. On the surface this may sound selfish, but their concerns are fueled by the very real culture shift for those who don’t see their place in it. Years of lockdowns have permanently changed workplace dynamics, creating new roles but also making some existing roles irrelevant. Those unsure of their footing may be feeling very uncomfortable right now, and push for a return to the old ways to gain back security — like micromanaging.
Among those most at risk are middle managers, who are facing the reality that their team doesn’t need them to control their workflow anymore. But far from erasing the role of the manager, the pandemic provides us with an opportunity to carve out a new role that could end micromanaging for good: help people thrive.
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A leader’s duty is to care. In a post-pandemic world, managers should be concerned with the psychological maintenance of their staff, particularly where employees are building careers and spending decades of their life in that work environment. While productivity is one part of this responsibility, so too are relationships, personal development, and psychological wellbeing.
People are built to develop continually. Workplace development needs to include regular check-ins and wellbeing surveys to drive development in real time by finding where employees can grow within themselves and how to mesh those personal aspirations with the company’s needs and values.
Now more than ever, employees are looking for a place that will help them gain personal meaning, without someone breathing down their neck or looking over their shoulder at every turn, and if they can’t get that at their current workplace, they’ll find a new one.