The difference between checking in and micromanagement

Checking in on employee wellbeing has become crucial since the pandemic. But, from over-eager managers to intrusive leaders, where does the line between checking in and micromanagement lie?

Nearly all (84%) organisations rely on manager conversations as their main method of tracking how employees are feeling, according to research by HR software provider Lattice.

The pandemic may have strengthened social ties in the workplace, but experts have warned that unless managers are properly trained, they may be doing more harm than good to their staff’s morale.

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Dave Carhart, VP of people at Lattice, told HR magazine: “When talent is your most valuable asset, it’s crucial to understand how your employees are really feeling.”

He warned, however, that it can be difficult to find the balance when checking regularly on employees.

He added: “Overdoing it, no matter how well-intentioned, can be counterproductive, and can feel like micromanagement or prying into highly personal topics.”

Managers may not be aware of just how harmful micromanagement can be, said Gemma Dale, author and lecturer at Liverpool John Moores University. 

Speaking to HR magazine, she said: “The Health and Safety Executive identifies a lack of control over work as one of their contributing factors to work-related stress.”

Doug Sechrist, senior VP at HR tech company Zenefits, said that setting clear milestones and expectations for measuring results can help, as well as asking team members how they like to be managed.

He said: “By establishing what method works best, you will find it much easier to set boundaries and gain respect, whilst avoiding any micromanagement.”

Dale advised HR to train managers on how to supervise effectively, including giving them tools and techniques to bring a coaching approach to their management style.

She said: “HR can provide development around a coaching style of management.

Coaching assumes that individuals have the solutions to their own challenges – they just need support in working them out for themselves.”

Carhart added: “At the end of the day, one of the most important things leaders can do to really build a positive company culture and better understand how employees are doing is to simply demonstrate vulnerability themselves. 

“We are all human, and we are all facing our own unique emotional challenges every day. 

“Embracing that, from the CEO to front line managers, is what will really make this a reality for your employees.”