If your staff is taking long sick leaves, it could be you

Management & HR Zero in on business man's hands with fingers steepled

If your employees are taking a lot of sick days or long-term breaks it might be your fault.

Maybe you need to lay off.

A new study finds that people who feel overworked and micro-managed by their bosses are more likely to take long-term breaks – more than 16 days in a row – from work due to “health reasons.”

The study surveyed more than 7,000 middle-aged and otherwise healthy people in Norway and found that those who are stressed at work and who aren’t given a lot of freedom are more likely to take extended sick leave.

“They are also more likely to experience chest pain, nausea, and shortness of breath,” reports the Daily Mail, which also states that “the study found that one in every 15 cases of extended sick leave could be avoided if employers took steps to make their workplaces less stressful.”

Lead author Dr Samuel Harvey from the University of New South Wales and the Black Dog Institute, said, “It seems to be the combination of being in a high-stress environment and having no control leads to long-term absences”

Not all job stress can be put down to management. Some of it is responsibility, time constraints, and other factors. Obviously heart surgeons are more stressed out than museum tour guides (or they should be). Harvey places the blame on micromanagers, however, saying, “It might be that you work in an environment where employees have no control over their work environment – their training, the day to day activities.

“Anything that gives people a sense of control and may help with the work life balance, allowing people to be involved in scheduling shifts, for example, relatively simple things that employers can do that make a marked difference to the way people feel.”

It’s not the first study to suggest that micromanaging is bad for business. 2011 research found that people perform more poorly when they believe they are being watched, and that there are multiple routes to making people choke under pressure.

Makes sense. Can you think of one situation in your life when you did better, more effective work with someone looking over your shoulder and monitoring your every move?

But a lot of managers can’t help it. They worry that things will fall apart if they don’t closely oversee every step. This is completely understandable. After all, your neck is further stretched out than those of your employees. But you still have to learn to let go. A few things to consider:

Trust your judgment. Did you hire the people who work under you, or have a say in their being hired? Trust in your own ability to choose the right people, and, in turn, trust those people. If you didn’t have a say in hiring them, do what you can to hire the right people in the future.

Realize that things get done without you all the time. The pyramids got built, the internet got invented, civilizations have been built all over the world without you breathing down everyone’s neck. I am a control freak myself, so I get it. I find reminding myself of this is helpful.

Make sure your team knows they can come to you. If you’re a good manager and you make it clear that, if there’s a problem, people can come to you for help, they will do so. Trust that you will be kept in the loop on any issues.

And Suzanne Lucas, a.k.a. The Evil HR Lady, also offers the following:

“Stop caring about the unimportant. Sometimes we think everything is important. If an employee doesn’t format an excel spreadsheet the way we would, it’s a disaster! Well, probably not. Sure, if it’s a published report that needs to be in the exact same as all the other published reports it’s something that it’s important. If it’s not, or if it’s a one-off type of thing, as long as it’s readable, let it go.”

And simply, “Resist the urge to hover. Double the length of time you [go] between ‘checking in’ with your employees.” When you feel the urge to check in, go for a walk and stretch your legs, get a coffee, call home for a five-minute chat, meditate for ten minutes, Tweet, check your backed up emails…find something else to do.

Your good employees will blossom under this freedom. Your bad employees, if there are any, will slack. Then it’s time to get rid of them and hire the people you can rely on.

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Join the discussion One Comment

  • Anonymous says:

    I absolutely agree with this. Micromanaging is absolutely TOXIC.

    I spent 6 years working for a completely disorganized micro-manager in a small office with a staff of 5 (3 regular). When my boss wasn’t on endless vacations or chatting up anyone who offered a distraction from the constant, useless, time-killing emails she fired off to staff; she was interrupting my work relentlessly with “ideas” for projects I could add to my already towering workload. Available resources- financial and human- be damned, if she deemed it so in the moment, it was my “job” to make it happen with no critical path, budget, reasonable timeline set in place, or assistance offered.

    She was a nepotist who hired friends and family, played favourites with “pet” employees who for some reason could get away with doing even less than bare minimum while I tried to juggle multiple responsibilities, most of which were the result of having the buck passed to me out of laziness. Her favourite way of getting staff stoked about meeting a deadline was a phrase we all hated “Oh my god, time to panic!!”.
    She burnt out every volunteer who ever stepped foot in there to help. Don’t even get me started on the deplorably messy appearance of the open concept office (she would regularly leave used tissues and congealing cups of half-finished coffee next to the dozen post-it “to do” notes she would leave for me on my desk). Her boyfriend hung out in her office for large portions of the day, 2-3 hour lunches etc, abuse of generous vacation time roll-overs (her only- no one else got vacation time- unless they wanted to be guilt tripped and dumped on when they got back), claiming expenses she shouldn’t, etc…

    I eventually had to go on anxiety medication just to get through day-to-day activities and to be able to cope with her constant looming over my shoulder, nit-picking every little detail, but ignoring always ignoring the big picture somehow. It was maddening. The minute I was offered an opportunity, I got out of there faster than if my hair had been on fire. After a year in a new, amazing position, the fog has lifted and I see how badly working for her (never any praise whatsoever) affected my self-esteem and passion for my work.

    I am now a manager myself, an am hyper-aware and make extra efforts to do the exact opposite of what I think she would do. I trust my employees, give lots of praise and always factor in their workload as much as possible when making any requests. Sadly, my contract is ending in a month, and I have a real almost irrational fear of ending up working for another boss like her.

    My replacement at that job (a colleague) is currently miserable and desperate to get out after just one year. She will not get off his back even after he has given her a doctor’s note saying that the work stress is aggravating an existing medical condition he suffers from. They don’t have an HR department, so he doesn’t know what to do (I met her boss ONCE in 6 years as he works at another location, our department was obviously low priority). She honestly thinks people leave only because the position is still part-time after 5 people in that position have come and gone in the ten years she’s been there. She lost some pretty great people because of this behaviour she refuses to acknowledge and correct. Amazingly, no one else seems to see it because she is charming and puts on a good front. I have no idea how the place stayed afloat under her management.

    Totally clueless, and there are far too many managers like her.

    Ugh. End rant.

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