‘Helicopter bosses’ stunt worker resilience, says experts

‘Helicopter bosses’ stunt worker resilience, says experts
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Micromanagement always existed in the working world. However, remote working fuelled insecurities among some managers, resulting in what experts call “helicopter bosses.”

According to a July 2020 study in the Harvard Business Review, a fifth of remote workers across the globe felt their supervisor was constantly evaluating their work, and one-third agreed their supervisors “expressed a lack of confidence in their work skills.”

As for the managers, the same study showed that 38% of them felt workers simply weren’t as productive at home, and 40% had low confidence in their ability to manage remotely. 

But all this micromanaging is actually not doing any good. Experts say that remote workers who feel micromanaged by their bosses are less engaged, less motivated, and less capable than they should have been in their jobs.

Remote work boosted micromanagers

According to Katleen De Stobbeleir, professor of leadership and coaching at Vlerick Business School, two leadership styles have increased since the switch to remote work — disconnected managers and micromanagers. 

While the first leads to isolated or alienated employees, the second is just as dangerous. 

“They’re constantly checking up on employees and even pushing them to come back to the office,” said De Stobbeleir. At the same time,  endless video conferences, emails, and ultra-prescriptive project briefs are also given to workers. 

Some are even stepping up their micromanagement by using worker surveillance methods. 

A survey from market-intelligence firm International Data Corporation showed that about 68% of North American employers with at least 500 employees use some form of employee-monitoring software. A separate study by Digital.com showed that of those who said they used monitoring software, nearly 90% of them fired workers as a result.

Arielle Sadan, a New York City-based executive and leadership coach, believes that micromanaging is a way for team leads to keep control in a remote working environment. 

Less engaged, less capable 

Experts believe that micromanagement could have negative outcomes for everyone involved. 

Attrition is, of course, a major concern. Micromanagement increases a remote employee’s sense of disengagement from the company and the brand. Ultimately, this can result in an uptick in resignations. 

Moreover, this type of leadership could also affect the long-term growth of employees. Experts say that workers sticking it out in micro managerial organizations could be less capable in the long run.

Sadan explained that the lack of creative and critical thinking, as well as going beyond what the job entails, could make workers hesitate to carry out tasks independently, step outside their comfort zones and develop resilience in the face of adversity.

On the other hand, micromanagers are more stressed out as they always end up with a bigger workload than normal. 

“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,” De Stobbeleir emphasized.

Trust is key!

As remote work changed the workplace, this shift has left managers scrambling to 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. 

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