Employee Engagement

Micromanagement: The Employee Engagement Killer

Employee engagement has hit rock bottom. A recent Gallup report highlighted that 70% of the American workforce is actively disengaged. Having these employees is detrimental to the success of the company, as shown by the $720 million spent by companies trying to remedy this already pertinent problem. Actively disengaged employees are those who don't want to be there, but rather see work as a necessity. They see it as a means to an end, as a way of simply earning money.


One of the main sources for this active disengagement is micromanagement. When employees are micromanaged, it kills professional development, as employees feel that whatever task they are assigned is scrutinised, regardless of their output.  


Micromanagement is the process whereby a manager virtually takes over the role the employee is employed to do. This leads to productivity issues and can drastically lower employee morale. Paying attention to the details and making sure the work is getting done is important, however, learning to trust the employees who are hired to take on certain responsibilities is even more important to the long term success of the business. Micromanagement may result in short term results, but in the long run it only serves to the detriment of the manager in question.


Managers who tend to micromanage, dilute their own productivity and often lack the capacity to get to the things managers should be focusing on, such as promoting team engagement. What’s more, the process of micromanagement stunts any form of employee development and creates an environment where employees rely heavily on the presence of their managers.


When this occurs, it tends to go one of two ways. Those team members with the great ideas, quality skills and knowledge will remove themselves from any micromanagement situation, while those on the other side of the coin will become office deadweights, waiting for the manager to tell them what to do.


The workforce then becomes completely void of individual initiative. A study in the journal of experimental psychology observed that people who believe they're being watched performed at a lower level.


What’s more, another study found that knowledge workers are more productive when given autonomy over their own work. When employees are pressured by their managers to work more, they feel less inspired. However, when they are allowed to set their own goals with their manager, they often accept the workload because it's their choice and thereby their responsibility.


Leaders must learn how to give autonomy and accountability effectively in order to get the most out of their employees in the workplace. Accountability isn't necessarily about delegating tasks and hoping the team member delivers, but rather about trusting the employee with a specific undertaking. Accountability leads to responsibility, which leads to several intrinsic motivators like purpose and accomplishment. When Employees feel they are accomplishing something, they feel valued and engaged in the workplace.


While micromanagers may feel like they’re helping their team, they may actually be hurting them by preventing them from developing the essential building blocks of accountability. Leadership coach and New York Times best selling author Cy Wakeman gave us her views on the value of creating accountability within your team vs micromanaging:


“Instead of micromanaging employees and overstepping work boundaries, back off of the work and call people to greatness, working with them to develop themselves into a higher state of accountability. Develop employees by asking for their commitment, developing their resilience, ensuring they easily take ownership and are using their results as fodder for continuous learning. They will grow in their engagement as they understand their ability to have full impact on their own outcomes.”

So how do you avoid micromanagement?


1. Set clear expectations

At the beginning of the month, discuss exactly what the employee is required to do. Setting clear, measurable goals makes it unambiguous about what is expected and opens up a dialogue of communication. By setting goals with employees they’ll have a better understanding of how their work fits into the bigger picture and a sense of control over how to go about achieving these goals. Try using systems such as SMART goals and Objectives and Key Results (OKRs) to make the goal setting process more effective.


2. Clearly communicate what accountability is

During meetings, or one on ones with each team member, clearly explain what accountability means and what you, as a manager, expect. If you feel that the employee is not taking enough ownership or initiative in their work, give them feedback about it. Tell them where you think they could improve, and give them the steps to go about it. Opening up the channels of communication allows you to build trust and rapport with your teammates.


3. Clearly define a plan

Outline the actions and steps required to get to the end goal. A great way to build on your expectations is to make sure the employee is part of the process and there is clarity on how to achieve their goals. Using impraise, set up performance reviews, so you can easily correct for the next steps. By implementing a planning structure, employees know and understand how to get to a specific goal, without the manager having to micromanage the whole process. This allows you to free up some time to get the more important things done.


As explored above, micromanagement can kill motivation and lead to disengagement in the workplace. It’s important to clearly communicate to the managers or team leaders within the organisation how to delegate effectively. Impraise gives managers and employees the opportunity to express feedback whenever they feel they need it the most. When an employee can easily express how they feel toward their managers, it fosters a collaborative and engaged workforce because employees feel trusted and heard. This two way conversation allows employees and managers to focus on other areas of the business, which then leads to longer business success.

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Photo: Nick Karvounis