The post-COVID-19 era of work has brought with it some significant shifts. Leaders who want to remain effective must recognise that things have changed and learn how to work effectively in remote and hybrid situations.
While some have managed to adapt well to the change, others weren’t so lucky. It’s a challenge to alter ingrained perceptions. However, it’s crucial to support transformation.
“There’s another bunch of leaders that probably relied too heavily on FaceTime. They might have high need for control, so when they can’t see what their people are doing, it makes them a bit edgy,” said Aaron McEwan, vice-president of research and advisory at Gartner.
“And there’s also that sense of having to learn a whole bunch of new skill sets. And I think when we worked in offices, there were a lot of what I would call trappings of power.”
He continued: “Leaders tended to have the corner office with the big windows and the high-backed leather chair, and they walk around in power suits. All of that has really been stripped away. So, in many cases, a leader is just another talking head in a sea of talking heads on a Zoom call, for example. So that ability to influence and to turn up with gravitas when you’re just one of many talking heads, I think that’s an entirely new skill set that some leaders have had to build.”
Some of those who are struggling to enter this new world are the micromanagers. By removing this ability to overlook their entire workforce at once, negative behaviours have actually increased, said Mr McEwan.
“Unfortunately, the micromanagers probably became even more micromanaging. So, for example, we’ve seen the purchasing of employee monitoring software increase by about 80 per cent in the first couple of years of the pandemic,” he explained.
“So, those micromanagers that used to do it in person probably shifted to doing it online. And, in fact, one of the reasons why we’re seeing such high rates of burnout across the workforce is that employees find it very difficult to switch off today because, whether real or perceived, there’s a belief that they need to be seen to be working, seen to be contributing.”
Mr McEwan outlined: “And so, there’s that temptation to be online and available at all times. Now, some leaders manage that really well. Other leaders probably exacerbate that issue because of that micromanagement that you spoke about.”
While this may not seem like a big deal, micromanagement is a huge detriment to efficiency. There are a variety of negatives that come from this management style, including:
- Loss of morale
- Loss of motivation
- Lack of teamwork
- Stifles creativity
- Increased burnout
- Breeds mistrust
- Increased turnover
- Poor wellbeing
This rings true for micromanagement software, too: “All of the evidence seems to point to that [micromanagement software] makes things worse. Employees who are monitored tend to not only ironically, do less work, they tend to focus on the type of work that doesn’t really add value,” said Mr McEwan.
“So, they focus on the work that can be monitored, which is often not that important … So, it might help some leaders sleep at night knowing that their workforce is being monitored and they’re not spending their days at the beach. But the reality is that the data is pretty clear.”
Not only is it bad for employees, but micromanagement can even negatively impact the micromanagers themselves as they’re stretching their responsibilities further than necessary.
“I’d also say that leaders who engage in micromanagement or monitoring of their employees are probably exacerbating their own levels of burnout and stress. One of the things that we’ve seen that’s contributed significantly to managers being stretched is that they’re trying to be all things to all employees,” Mr McEwan commented.
“So, we’ve done some pretty interesting research on the different types of managers or leaders that are more effective. And to cut a long story short, the most effective type is what we call a connector manager. So, they see their role as connecting their employees to the resources or the development that they need to more effectively do their jobs, as opposed to other manager types that are more about constantly providing feedback or being available all the time. Not only do those types of approaches lead to poorer outcomes with their staff performance, but I suspect it also exacerbates some of that stress and burnout.”
Granting employees the autonomy to perform independently can help to counteract the negatives brought about by micromanagement.
Mr McEwan concluded: “When employees are given autonomy over not just where they work, but when they work, how they work, who they work with, what they work on, that tends to drive high levels of productivity, high levels of retention of critical talent.”
“It actually reduces fatigue as well and tends to create a stronger connection with the organisation. Those leaders who are able to trust their workforce and give them the appropriate levels of autonomy tend to reap the rewards of that.”
The transcript of this podcast episode was slightly edited for publishing purposes. To listen to the full conversation with Aaron McEwan, click below:
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