A case against micromanagement: why we give people the freedom to work at their own pace

Don’t get us wrong. We know that sometimes it’s incredibly difficult to refrain from interfering when you watch others make mistakes or do things in ways you wouldn’t – especially if you have the answers. Is the solution to micromanage?

We hope not. 

We say this not because this ultimate monitoring management style might be demoralizing and counter-intuitive (though it is often the case), but because it tends to overlook one crucial consequence of making and accepting mistakes:

Learning. 

In this day and age, continuous learning is no longer an option – it’s a necessity. Ironically, companies that embrace failure are the ones that learn the most and thus increase their chances of success. But most importantly, it helps create a sense of trust between colleagues because it acknowledges one fundamental truth: making mistakes is a very human thing to do.

Why it’s important to work at your own pace

We live in tumultuous, dynamic and competitive times. No matter which industry you put under the magnifying glass, there are a staggering number of hungry, enthusiastic, and competent people who put pressure on themselves to succeed, and to succeed now. And yet, by doing so, they deny themselves the time needed for their ideas and ambitions to really fall into place, risking disappointment, burnout, and ultimately depression.

In fact – in a sense – the only people they wind up racing against are themselves.

We convince ourselves that we need be just like the influential figures we look up to, right now, so we work at breakneck speed to prove that we’re on the way.

The main issue with this approach is that we attach this taxing sense of urgency to our work as well. We push ourselves to realize our goals at an unnatural, stress-inducing pace, instead of working towards them at our own individual speed. The ability to work hard and be driven is an admirable quality, but if you put such pressure on yourself to the extent that it compromises your health, well, perhaps it’s time to look at work-life balance, and take your foot off the pedal a little. 

Even if you disagree, here’s a question for you: When is it enough? What deed signals that you have indeed reached that ‘milestone’ where you have recovered the time that has previously been lost to you? 

Not knowing when to stop will do nothing but send you on a downward spiral – even if you present a veneer of resilience and competence to the outside world. We need to stop rushing into success, spending every waking moment worried about what we could be doing to improve and allow ourselves to focus on things that equally matter: fun, family, friends, hobbies, a healthy dose of laziness and peace of mind. 

Most importantly, we also need to remember to take it easy and not be too hard on ourselves. Let’s face it: there’s enough time to do great things without holding ourselves to unreasonable standards.

And speaking of unreasonable standards…

Redefining what it means to be an ‘ideal’ worker

In most cases, being an ideal worker implies a kind of devotion to work: typically work culture values those who prioritize their jobs ahead of other aspects of their lives, including their role as parents, their personal needs, and even their health. As a direct consequence, an overwhelming number of people continue to believe that achieving success requires them (and those around them) to conform to this ideal. But is weaving such stringent expectations into a company culture truly beneficial for employees, and thus the company itself?

We think not. 

We find that selfless devotion to the job is redundant. More than that, it can be damaging because it diverts us from what’s really important: personal growth and satisfaction. That’s why we believe that well-planned organizational changes – those that focus on results and avoid unnecessary long work hours – help create ideal workers. 

Another reason why we feel the need to redefine what it means to be an ‘ideal’ worker is that the pressure to be one is often counter-productive in the long-term. Put another way: the fact that we all come from different backgrounds and possess unique skills doesn’t mean that one fixed ideal can be applied to all. Instead, that ideal should remain unique to each employee, which, from a company’s perspective, should remain fluid and considerate towards each individual’s capacities and his or her willingness to explore them. 

When work is enjoyable and rewarding, it allows people to succeed and advance in their careers. But a professional identity that crowds out everything else makes people more vulnerable to career threats and mishaps because they have, psychologically speaking, put all their eggs in one basket. 

Point being: one’s personal identity and professional identity should always be kept separate. Why? Because when the loss of a job or other setbacks occur, those who accept the rigid ideal of putting work above everything else find it particularly difficult to cope, especially if other aspects of their lives have withered away. 

Furthermore, people who buy into the ideal-worker culture find it difficult to understand those who do not. As a result, they usually become the main drivers of organizational pressure for round-the-clock availability, which rarely comes out well.

So how do we at Content Insights juggle between work and leisure?

Knowing when to take it easy and when to roll up your sleeves

At Content Insights we don’t micromanage. The fear of turning into a boss that you would have hated is everyone’s worst nightmare. We also know that although you might need to complete a task to meet a specific deadline, chasing it up every two seconds tends to send the message that you think the people in your team are incompetent, which is downright demoralizing – and frankly not that nice for either of you. 

Instead, focus on scheduling meetings to speak with your employees when it’s convenient for both of you. Apart from making arrangements face-to-face, at Content Insights, we also rely on Slack, weekly reports and Google Calendar to keep everyone within the teams in the loop with ongoing business operations. This gives us the possibility to collaborate rather than let individuals in charge explain how to complete a certain task and essentially do it for them.

Secondly, no one wants to be anybody’s doormat. For team leaders, setting targets can be viewed as somewhat of a necessary evil, but how you set them is – or at least should be – determined by your relationship with your employees. Rather than enforcing targets, we regularly hold group and one-on-one meetings to find a solution that everyone complies with. Such meetings may not always be fruitful, but it keeps the wheels greased and in motion nonetheless.

Third, a vital way of letting your employees work at their own pace is to allow them flexibility with their work hours. Of course, this depends on the line of work, but today’s office-based roles where your employees can work remotely opens up the possibility of offering flexible contracts. People know when they work at their best and for some of us – contrary to the practices during the past century – it’s not necessarily always between 9 and 5. We all have our own rhythm. By being understanding of your employees’ needs, routines, and mental condition, they will most certainly return the favor with productivity.

Lastly, words of encouragement and support can go a long way. Although this is something that’s mentioned constantly in basically every company’s culture-building blog, we find that not many companies fully understand what it means to support their employees in practice.

Support doesn’t just mean doing what you can to get the best results (though obviously that’s nice). Rather it’s about truly believing in your employee’s capabilities and willingness to contribute. How we choose to praise and reward employees when they do a bang-up job (or to lift and encourage them when they are down or underperforming) differentiates leaders from bosses.

And in this day and age, we definitely need more leaders.

Get into the groove

Hopefully, we’ve made our case clear as to why everyone’s pace should be respected. Considering that it can have profound implications on employee productivity and mental well-being, letting people march to the beat of their own drum is essential, especially for cultures that are conducive to innovation. It’s much like slack rope walking, which, according to an article for Harvard Business Review, requires striking a balance in many aspects:

  • Tolerance for failure but no tolerance for incompetence
  • Willingness to experiment but highly disciplined
  • Psychologically safe but brutally candid
  • Collaboration but with individual accountability
  • Flat but strong leadership

Balance out!

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