Harmful Micromanagement: How to Switch to an Autonomous Workplace

We’ve all had a boss who put the “manager” in “micromanager.” While many think this is a way to keep employees focused and productive, various studies have demonstrated just the opposite. Here’s a look at how to boost morale and productivity by switching to an autonomous workplace.

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Autonomous Workplace

We’ve all had a boss who put the “manager” in “micromanager.” Someone who monitors employees’ every move from lunch breaks to tardiness and time spent on Instagram. While many think this is a way to keep employees focused and productive, various studies have demonstrated just the opposite.

A PubMed article shows that this kind of management actually results in a decrease in team productivity as well as an ultimate decrease in customer/patient satisfaction. The same study reveals that micromanaging is one of the main causes of high turnover rates and is consistently in the top three reasons employees resign.

Despite the research demonstrating negative repercussions of such leadership, our culture tends to promote micromanaging with its extreme value of immediacy and with the addition of new trends in technology. Teams and managers are in constant communication through multiple messaging platforms, Apple watches keep us in the loop in real time, and email is fair game 24 hours a day.

It can be challenging to let go as a manager. Zenefits talks to Chris Bennett, founder and CEO of 97th Floor, a digital marketing agency. After an incident of almost firing one of his top employees for perpetually showing up to work 15 minutes late, he dramatically changed his managerial approach. His agency is now a completely autonomous workplace and here’s what happened:

  • Client retention increased from 87% to 93%
  • Revenue per employee improved from 92k to 114k
  • Though a high turnover rate is common for agencies, Bennett’s turnover rate shrank from 50% to 20%

“And it’s all from switching to this autonomous work environment,” says Bennett. “We didn’t make any other changes in terms of how we did the work.”

What does an autonomous environment look like?

The ideas behind an autonomous office are independence and high levels of accountability. Just to be clear, this isn’t a free-for-all. It starts with clear communication and goal-setting between managers and employees. Once both parties understand the objective and the reasoning behind the project, the employee can exercise the freedom to work on it how he or she sees fit.

This is where increased accountability comes into play. With complete autonomy comes the full responsibility for the end result, which provides motivation for employees to work harder and more efficiently. Think, “act like an owner.”

The benefits of an autonomous work environment:

Higher employee engagement: The results are in: employees will work harder when they have a clear idea of what they’re goals are and when they have the freedom to achieve them. Employees are driven by goals, not appearances, which means they work more efficiently.

Praise will be contingent on objective success: Choices of rewards and recognition will no longer be swayed by arbitrary gestures such as staying late in the office or taking less vacation time. When employees are able to work on their own schedules and within their own styles, managers will be able to identify high-achievers solely on results and achievements.

Innovation: Freedom to try a new approach without the burden of reporting each step of the process will promote creativity in the office. It will allow employees to stray from the rigid rules of “how it’s always been done” and try different, perhaps more effective, paths towards the end goal.

Employee Morale: Instating an autonomous workplace communicates to your employees that there is an environment based on trust and transparency. Employees will feel valued, heard, and respected. Best of all, they’ll have the luxury of setting their own schedule, allowing for a better work-life balance. Finally, it promotes a sense of ownership, which ideally leads to pride in their work.

While these results are impressive, it’s good to remember that this work style will not fit every company. Autonomy is better suited for higher-level, complex jobs that require some amount of creativity. Keeping that in mind, if you think your office might benefit from a more autonomous workplace, be ready for the culture shift that will undoubtedly accompany it! This system won’t work as intended without transparency, trust, and full accountability of all your employees.

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