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Mental Harassment at Workplace - Dealing with Micromanagement

Mental Harassment has always existed but not gained enough mileage to be talked about officially, especially in India. I am sure, each one of us would have faced difficult circumstances at work place.

Most of the organisations today have policies in place to make their culture more inclusive and flexible, and hierarchies flat, but at times employing them in every corner becomes a challenge.

For this article, I connected with a lot of people in my network who shared stories, instances and anecdotes that may cause mental discomfort at workplace. The problem is very real and worth being written about.

However, Mental Harassment is a very subjective topic. What might be harassment to someone, could be pushing your limits at the time of need to the other. Usually, if the employee isn’t competent enough, s/he may feel getting pushed to perform is mental harassment. The company is not at fault if the employee is unable to do the job s/he was hired for, or cope with a high pressure job. However, there are times when well performing employees feel mental discomfort due to a stressful environment.

It started out as an article but converted to a series as I realised the problem is too vast and deep. By the means of this series, I intend to look at some true stories and some possible solutions to make lives easier.


Scenario 1:

10 am: PAN India call with Country Head to discuss daily individual numbers

10:45 am – 8 pm: Call every 30-45 minutes with the reporting manager to discuss updates on various clients and performance for the day

9 pm: Call with reporting manager to discuss if the CRM is being updated on a daily basis as the management relies on it for regular updates on various employee activities.

Scenario 2

Reporting Manager: “Can you please keep your screen shared with me throughout the day? We have got new guidelines for monitoring employee activities that we need to abide by.”

Scenario 3

In Pre-WFH times:

Reporting Manager: *Follows Regional Manager to the Wash Room* “Hey! I was searching for you and thought I might find you here. Can you please give an update on Client A, B and C?”

The What

Micromanagement seems to be the #1 cause for mental discomfort to employees. It is a management style wherein the manager closely monitors, or controls, every action of the employees. It has always been part of manager’s job to know how their team is utilising their time. However, it becomes problematic when the line between being aware and stalking gets blurred.

The Why

I did some research to understand why leaders micromanage and came up with following reasons:

  1. The employee is new to the job

  2. The project is new and has never been handled before

  3. Evidences of performance lapses or low productivity

  4. Repeated customer complaints against an employee or a department

  5. Organisational crises

In his book, My Way or the Highway: The Micromanagement Survival Guide, author H. E. Chambers mentions three causes behind the need to micromanage: fear, confusion or comfort of the leader. Some other causes highlighted by him are low self-confidence, no or low recognition, or threat due to competition.

This list might seem partial, but gives a good insight into the minds of micromanagers. Trying to control every action implies that the organisation does not believe in the competence of the employee. No one likes to be told how to do their job, especially if they have been doing it for a considerable while.

These days, many organisations have become more cautious of how their employees are utilising their time away from the pruning eyes of the supervisors. As is mostly being seen, it is becoming an issue for employees.

The How - Dealing with Micromanagement

One can call micromanagers a breed of perfectionists, or more casually, control freaks. They like to know everything that is happening around them. In a corporate environment, one cannot stomp their feet and yell “Leave me alone!” when someone tries to control them. Hence, a middle ground has to be reached. If one does not have the option of walking out of the door right away, one of these solutions might come in handy. It takes some extra effort to sail through micromanagement, but makes life a bit easier.

  1. Understand your manager’s psyche: Micromanagers need all the answers all the time to keep things under their control. While it is difficult to live up to their standards, one can try to have the data ready before the micromanager asks for it. I have worked under micromanagers and one thing that helped me keep my sanity intact was being prepared. It took me a while to understand the requirements of the manager, but once I did, I always tried to keep one step ahead. It did make my life a tad easier.

  2. Prioritise & Negotiate: When I couldn’t gather all the answers, or when I had multiple questions to deal with, I used logical reasoning to prioritise. Most micromanagers accept the absence of some lesser important answers if they get the burning questions solved right away. Then you have to negotiate to convince the micromanager that you will get answers to the lesser important questions too.

  3. Proactively keep your Micromanager Updated: Call him/her with the answers before s/he calls you with the questions. When I started calling my micromanager more than s/he called me, I started seeing days without getting a single call filled with questions. I understand it sounds like a continuous Tom & Jerry chase, but that is what the micromanager does too. From my experience, it feels better to be Tom here rather than Jerry with nowhere else to run.

  4. Be Vocal: If you feel suffocated, speak up. But you must have facts by your side to prove your competence. Else, topic of the discussion shifts to the number of tasks left to be done by you despite multiple reminders by the micromanager. If things become unbearable, highlight it to the management.

  5. Have Reasonable Expectations: If you start doing everything by the book and achieving numbers, there is a chance that the micromanager will not have much to point out. But that might not mean a golden star for you. If you feel the need to be appreciated for your efforts regularly, working under a micromanager might not be the right place for you.

This is just the tip of the iceberg. In the past few days, I have come across issues that cause real mental discomfort to employees and I plan to address them in my forthcoming articles.

I would love to hear what you thought of this article. Please share your comments below. Thanks!

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