Harmful effects of excessive supervision

There is scarcely anything positive about excessive supervision, scrutiny and control. Here is how bosses and employees can check this harmful tendency

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One of the most widespread employee complaints is that of bosses excessively scrutinising and supervising their work. This universally-condemned managerial style – also known as micromanagement – usually sees the bosses closely observing and controlling every aspect of an assigned task, providing unsolicited inputs and demanding continuous updates, occasionally from start to finish. Why is this considered such a harmful practice? And what do HR leaders suggest doing about it?

Negative consequences galore

According to a 2021 study by Accountemps, 59 per cent of employees reported working for a micromanager at some point in their career. Of these, 68 per cent claimed it had hurt their morale, and 55 per cent believed it had brought down their productivity. Excessive supervision undoubtedly creates an uncomfortable work environment, generating multiple drawbacks including plummeting productivity, low employee morale and high turnover.

Sriharsha A Achar, CHRO & executive director, Star Health and Allied Insurance, opines that micromanaging one’s staff is definitely not the way to go. “While the negative consequences of constantly hovering over one’s staff are far too many, there are probably no positive ones,” he says in no uncertain terms. “This type of management style inevitably affects morale, impacts work performance, drains confidence, limits creativity and creates self-doubt for employees, leading to eventual turnover,” he explains, detailing the numerous drawbacks of too much supervision.

“The old style of command and control is no longer going to work”

Shashank Teotia, group head – HR, Paras Healthcare

Studies have repeatedly shown that autonomy is one of the key drivers of employee engagement. Micromanagement, however, can be a real obstacle to autonomy at the workplace. This fact is articulated by Shashank Teotia, group head – HR, Paras Healthcare, who points out how managers who constantly look over their employees’ shoulders severely undermine employee autonomy. “Autonomy drives motivation and limiting it severely limits the potential of employees,” he asserts. “Micromanagement essentially conflicts with autonomy, taking away the joy of empowerment that an employee should feel while performing a task,” he adds.

Teotia further underlines that people who experience excessive management and supervision tend to feel an inappropriate amount of pressure and scrutiny, yielding unfavourable results in the long run. “Chronic micromanagement leads people to do only what they are told to do. They never assume charge and ownership. This dissuades them from making decisions and providing inputs at the workplace,” he emphasises.

Bringing attention to the baneful effects of excessive supervision on employees’ mental health, Ruchira Srivastava, CHRO, Zee Media Corporation, says that this type of managerial behaviour can be emotionally exhausting and taxing for employees. “Certain behaviours on the part of bosses such as disrespecting subordinates, or constantly criticising and judging them can easily trigger deep mental stress,” she states.

“To minimise micromanagement by bosses, employees must maintain honest communication with them, while setting some boundaries”

Ruchira Srivastava, CHRO, Zee Media Corporation

Constant supervision in the world of hybrid work

Organisations the world over had no choice but to embrace flexible- and remote-work options in the wake of the COVID-19 pandemic. Marked by fewer in-person check-ins, the hybrid work pattern has amplified certain aspects of micromanaging – where it already existed – such as unrelenting scrutiny and control.

“Employees are already deprived of continuous human interaction in the hybrid work model,” observes Teotia. “Clubbed with micromanagement, it can only result in increased stress and pressure,” he points out, referring to the unsuitability of the managerial style in post-COVID work setups.

Achar echoes a similar belief. “Incessant supervision can prove even riskier in the context of hybrid working,” he warns. “Managers and people leaders must learn to find the right balance between supervision and empowerment in such a setup”.

Curbing excessive supervision

According to Achar, it is critical for managers to inspire and instil confidence in their team members. “The more confidence a manager or boss exhibits in the independent working styles of employees, the better the work outcomes,” he explains, adding that cultivating trust and confidence at the workplace would eliminate the need to micromanage altogether. “In fact, the moment a manager stops micromanaging is the moment the full potential of employees will take off,” he counsels.

Srivastava, on the other hand, brings attention to the manner in which employees can deal with such bosses. “To minimise micromanagement by bosses, employees must maintain honest communication with them, while setting some boundaries. Moreover, team members should work towards nurturing confidence in their managers regarding their capabilities and result-oriented mindset,” she opines.

“While the negative consequences of constantly hovering over one’s staff are far too many, there are probably no positive ones”

Sriharsha A Achar, CHRO & executive director, Star Health and Allied Insurance

Teotia, however, stresses on the need to educate managers on how to curb the tendency. “Managers must be sensitised on how to have effective channels of communication, and set goal-based priorities. Moreover, they must be trained to conduct outcome-related conversations, which will help employees feel more integrated with the team,” he suggests, adding that such an approach will help workers stay connected and engaged with the organisation’s broader objective, without feeling a sense of claustrophobia.

Interestingly, Teotia alludes to the changed nature of the 21st-century workforce to drive home the unsustainability of excessive supervision. “The workforce of today is looking for purpose, challenges, growth and empowerment,” he states. “All these have to be built and fostered through newer and evolved styles of leadership. The old style of command and control is no longer going to work,” he prudently points out.

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