From =?UTF-8?Q?Sabrina_Almod=c3=b3var?=@firstname.lastname@example.org to comp.misc on Fri Dec 2 14:46:46 2022
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--8<---------------cut here---------------start------------->8--- Micromanagement has always existed. But remote work has birthed a new
swathe of helicopter bosses, and workers are suffering.
Rarely does an hour go by without Alison, a software engineer, hearing
from her line manager.
“If she sees my Slack status has been switched to ‘away’, then I can
bet within the next half an hour there’ll be an email in my inbox
checking how I’m getting on with a project,” says the 24-year-old,
based in Bristol, UK. “We’re all required to attend a morning meeting
every day where we’re asked for updates on what we’re working on –
even though they’re often long-term pieces of work that hardly change
from one day to the next.”
The micromanagement wasn’t nearly so bad when the team were based in a physical office, says Alison. But since the pandemic, the healthcare
provider she works for took the decision to turn many of its technical
roles permanently remote. “Even though we were busier than ever during Covid-19, which is when we went remote for the first time, my manager
doesn’t seem to believe any of us are capable of getting our work done without her constant input. It’s infuriating.”
Micromanagement isn’t a new phenomenon, of course; there have always
been bosses who keep close tabs on their staff. But as the increase in
workers performing their roles remotely has fuelled insecurities in
some managers, experts say the pandemic has birthed a new swathe of
remote helicopter bosses: think helicopter parents, who hover over
their children and constantly monitor them, but for the workplace.
A July 2020 study in the Harvard Business Review, which surveyed more
than 1,200 people across 24 different countries, showed that a fifth
of remote workers felt their supervisor was constantly evaluating
their work, and one-third agreed their supervisors “expressed a lack
of confidence in their work skills”. They weren’t imagining things:
the same study showed 38% of managers felt workers simply weren’t as productive at home, and 40% had low confidence in their ability to
manage remotely. Even now, many managers are struggling to lead remote
teams using the traditional tools they once relied on.
These remote micromanagers bombard staff with constant check-ins and
calls, unnecessary Zoom meetings or overly detailed instructions. And
experts say it’s doing significant damage to their employees. Remote
workers who feel micromanaged by their boss are less engaged, less
motivated and less capable than ever before.
(*) ‘We all want control’
Two leadership styles have increased since the switch to remote work,
explains Katleen De Stobbeleir, professor of leadership and coaching
at Vlerick Business School, Belgium. Neither, unfortunately, is
positive. In one style, managers disconnect or even forget about their
staff working from home, leading workers to feel isolated or
alienated; the other style is the polar opposite: micromanagers.
“They’re constantly checking up on employees, and even pushing them to
come back to the office,” says De Stobbeleir. They may book endless
video conferences, insist on being included on every email or deliver ultra-prescriptive project briefs that give no room for creativity or independence.
There are clear reasons for the increase in this type of overzealous supervision, believes Arielle Sadan, a New York City-based executive
and leadership coach. “Micromanagement has always been an issue that’s primarily rooted in a lack of trust between a manager and their team,”
she says. “When we’re in a remote environment, and a manager doesn’t
have direct physical oversight of what their employees are doing, then
that mistrust gets amplified,” she says. “We all want control, and for managers that aren’t able to see their employees, that can feel like
an even more acute need.”
The spike in reliance on digital platforms and tools can make it
easier for managers to peek over an employee’s virtual shoulder,
too. Status indicators that show whether employees are in front of
their computers can become a crutch for micromanagers, for
instance. And for some employers, remote micromanagement goes one step
further with the implementation of worker surveillance methods. A July
2022 survey from market-intelligence firm International Data
Corporation showed about 68% of North American employers with at least
500 employees use some form of employee-monitoring software. Another
September 2021 survey of 1,250 US employers from Digital.com showed
that of those who said they used monitoring software, nearly 90% of
them fired workers as a result.
Workers are feeling pressure. Alison says she’s ended up searching for
ways to keep her Slack status as ‘active’ while she takes a coffee
break, for instance, just to keep her boss off her back. Some
employees are even investing in tools such as ‘mouse jigglers’, which
keep their statuses active, in order to avoid productivity tracking.
(*) Less engaged, less capable
Of course, micromanagement isn’t always malicious by nature – De
Stobbeleir underscores that some of these helicopter bosses are simply
trying to reach out regularly to ensure a remote worker feels
supported and connected. Similarly, most people like a little bit of
structure and oversight from their manager, says Sadan (though the
amount of “handholding” each employee needs certainly differs,
especially among age and seniority, she points out).
Yet regardless of a manager’s intention, experts say results of micromanagement are nearly always negative – for everyone.
Attrition is, of course, a major concern – something particularly
worrying to firms right now, as they’re still struggling to retain
staff, in an ongoing swell of worker quits. “Micromanagement is a
behaviour born out of bad management to a certain extent, and lack of
wanting to relinquish control,” says Mark Williams, managing director
for EMEA at WorkJam, which develops digital tools to improve
productivity, and regularly works with companies whose staff accuse
them of micromanagement.
The consequence is that “the employee feels undervalued, that their
ideas and thoughts are not taken seriously. They become disconnected
from the company and the brand”. In an era of remote work, this
becomes amplified, as employees are already physically disconnected
from a company and colleagues, and micromanagement only increases this
sense of disengagement.
Ultimately, this can result in an uptick in
resignations. Micromanagement is easier to navigate in an in-person
setting, explains Sadan, as there are less intrusive ways for managers
to keep an eye on a project’s progress, such as strolling over for a
quick chat which could be “interpreted as just being very
supportive”. But in a remote setting, where micromanagement takes the
form of constant emails or calls, the impact on relationships can be
more significant. It creates “more frustrations and more anxiety in employees, and less motivation,” she says. “Ultimately, you'll see … disengagement and eventually people will leave.”
But there are also longer-term effects that can follow employees
throughout their careers. When workers stick it out in micromanagerial organisations, say experts, they’re less likely to end up capable in
the long run. Micromanaged employees can end up without the initiative
to carry out tasks independently, step outside their comfort zones and
develop resilience in the face of adversity, explains Sadan. “An
employee that doesn't learn the skills of being creative, to think
critically and have the confidence to try something out will only want
to do what feels comfortable,” she says. “So, their growth in the organisation is going to be more stunted.”
Micromanagers themselves end up with a big increase in their workload,
too, points out De Stobbeleir. “Very often we see these leaders are
very stressed, and very often feel they're doing work that others
should be doing. As a result, they're not focused enough on strategy
as they're stuck in operations, rather than thinking in the long term
– which is very important in turbulent times.”
(*) Learning to trust
As remote work has changed the workplace, this shift has left managers scrambling find new ways of interacting with their teams, such as how
to assess good performance when they can’t physically see work
happening in front of them. It’s a learning curve, says De Stobbeleir
– and although the effects of micromanagement can be detrimental for
workers, managers may also be struggling and coping in the best way
they know how right now.
On the upside, De Stobbeleir believes as remote and hybrid work
becomes the norm, helicopter bosses will likely settle down as they
learn how to develop more trust with employees based off-site.
Alison is hoping that’s the case. In the meantime, she’s attending the daily Zoom meetings and responding to the constant emails as politely
as she can. She’s keeping up hope that, at some point, her manager
will realise she’s more than capable of doing her job without
constantly hovering over her shoulder. For now, it’s a waiting game.