Micromanagers have long decried as the bosses that drive employees out the door. But are under managers just as bad, if not worse?
Micromanagers get a pretty bad rap – they get derided as control freaks that stifle creativity, refuse to delegate and dominate decision-making down to the last detail. But are their antithesis, under managers, any better? Perhaps the difference lies in what is being micro/under managed – is it employees or output?
HRM takes a look at the benefits and pitfalls of both managerial styles.
The relationship between an employee and their manager is a key determiner of employee experience and performance. It’s understandable, then, that having your manager constantly breathing down your neck is off-putting – as demonstrated in a previous HRM article, which cites research by US-based employer review site, Comparably.
The study, which features data collected from over 2000 employees (predominantly tech-workers) from organisations big, medium and small, in both the public and private sectors – found that micromanagement was the worst offence a boss could make. Overall, 39 per cent of surveyed employees ranked this trait as a manager’s worst, and this was across both genders (44 per cent of men and 32 per cent of women).
While micromanagement can stem from stress and a fear of underperformance, it can have the opposite of the desired effect – driving down employee creativity and productivity, and eventually causing staff to leave.
One frequently referenced study by Indiana University Bloomington found that when people are in high-stress jobs with little control, there was a 15.4 per cent increase in the likelihood of death, when compared with those in less demanding jobs (it should be noted the study was of workers aged 60 and over).
Then there’s also the matter of whether micromanagement can constitute bullying. As mentioned in an article by employment law firm McDonald Murholme, The Fair Work Commission held in one case that micromanaging can amount to bullying if coupled with the intent to bully – such as overmanagement disguised as a wish to fire an employee.
In a different case the Fair Work Commission held that management must be conducted in a ‘reasonable manner’, which is dependant upon the nature of the action, the facts and circumstances around the action, and the resulting impact of the action on the employee.
Not that micromanagers don’t have their defenders. In a recent article in Forbes, CEO of ecommerce company Grouper.mk Nina Angelovska says there’s a certain skill involved in useful micromanagement, and that CEOs favour those that are output-driven.
“Bosses who stick their noses into every single detail because they have nothing smarter to do are the representative of micromanagement done wrong. But bosses who closely monitor, provide detailed guidance and corrective feedback when needed are something totally opposite.”
She also believes that micromanagers are appealing to CEOs, given their desire to achieve results: “Every leader dreams of having people who he can trust and rely on, people who have an eye for details, who can pay extreme attention to what others are doing and who can get things done perfectly.”
Many of us have likely thought at some point that having a hands-off boss is a dream scenario (I know I have). They let you get on with what needs to be done, and trust that you will come through with the results. And if you don’t? No sweat, next time.
But, as an article in Harvard Business Review points out, while these managerial types are often well-liked in the organisation and are considered to be good collaborators, they tend to avoid conflict and can have accountability issues. They also don’t performance manage effectively, which can lead to underperformance.
Management consultant Victor Lipman, who authored the HBR article, says that there are several, interconnected reasons behind the under management approach, with the desire to be liked and to escape conflict, and therefore avoid stress, at the forefront.
“True, pushing your people and holding them accountable for strong performance won’t win you any popularity contests, and it requires some level of comfort with conflict,” says Lipman. “But while maintaining positive relationships with your own employees is a good thing, over the long run your priority is to deliver results.”
In fact, the desire to avoid conflict can result in the inability to manage complaints of bullying and harassment adequately. Failure to investigate or take complaints of bullying and harassment seriously can lead to detrimental consequences for both the affected employee and the organisation.
Take a 2005 NSW Supreme Court case for example. An employee who was promoted to a new role as team lead ahead of her former manager was subjected to ridicule by her old boss. Her new manager did not take any action after she complained over a two year period, and in fact, labelled her complaints “groundless and obtuse”. Unfortunately for the employer, the Supreme Court of NSW thought otherwise, finding the employer’s conduct to be “negligently passive”, and awarded her almost $340,000 on appeal for the psychiatric damage caused.
Even if it’s not as bad as the refusal or failure to handle complaints, under management can also leave employees without feedback, which we all need. Otherwise it can feel like we’re running around in circles, chasing our tails, without knowing how we’re really doing.
Perhaps a micromanager with a bit of chill is an organisation’s best bet? Let us know your thoughts.
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