By Jeff Salton
Many readers would have encountered, or know someone who has had the unpleasant experience of working under a micromanager. Usually, the situation starts with the manager appearing genuinely supportive of their subordinates and generally inquisitive about what the workers do and how they do it.
But gradually, if not quickly, this descends into an atmosphere that no-one can do the job better than the manager, and that some tasks must be performed for no other reason than to satisfy them.
Micromanaging, in some cases, can be a form of bullying when workers feel threatened or belittled by the actions of their managers.
One such case appeared recently before the Fair Work Commission where an ‘accused micromanager’ was seeking compensation for unfair dismissal, claiming he was the victim of a conspiracy.
Commissioner Tanya Cirkovic rejected the supervisor’s claim and found that his micromanagement amounted to bullying that justified his dismissal after hearing that the supervisor had caused some employees of a care services provider “great distress and anxiety”.
After receiving a complaint from a worker, the company conducted a formal investigation where the supervisor was found to have breached its codes and policies by engaging in serious and sustained bullying of employees.
While the manager argued that he hadn’t received any complaints from staff, he told the commissioner that before his dismissal, it was a reasonable part of his managerial responsibility to help improve the work of those reporting to him.
One witness told the Court that the manager “said all the right things” and appeared “very personable”, but after the first few weeks he imposed an obsessive micromanagement regime.
Witnesses also told FWC hearings that the manager implemented new systems for auditing that led to increased workloads and reduced productivity, and had refused a worker the opportunity to contact the system’s helpdesk to try to solve the problem, instead blaming the issue on the worker’s use of the system.
The care service provider submitted to the commission that regardless of whether it was the supervisor’s intention to bully people, it was the effect of his conduct upon staff that was the issue.
His behaviour was described by workers as serious and sustained bullying and had been going on for some time until two workers, in particular, reached a point where they could no longer tolerate the treatment and complained to senior management.
The list of complaints about the manager included:
- He was overly critical of the English skills of employees with a non-English speaking background;
- He was dismissive of feedback and requests from workers on specific tasks;
- He exhibited aggressive and intimidating behaviour;
- He sat with workers to watch them working; and
- He made workers feel belittled to the extent they could not raise concerns with him.
During its investigations, the care services provider company outlined to the manager and the commission the clear breaches in its formal policies and the penalties for breaches the policies, including:
- A Code of Conduct document that establishes standards of behaviour for employees. In particular, there is an obligation on managers to ensure that they maintain a positive environment free of bullying, harassment and other forms of discrimination;
- A Work Health and Safety Policy that set out the responsibilities of the company to its employees, stating that the company must ensure the health and safety of all workers while at work; and
- A Bullying and Harassment Policy outlining that the company was committed to providing an environment free from workplace bullying and harassment.
The supervisor accepted he was aware of his obligations under all the policies.
The company argued that regardless of whether the manager’s intended to bully people, his conduct made his direct reports feel increasingly inferior and disempowered in their roles.
Commissioner Cirkovic found the manager believed he was doing “his best by his employer and his staff”, but was “unaware of the effects his behaviour had on the employees who reported to him”.
“I am satisfied that the cumulative effect of his conduct and behaviours was one of significant and systematic micromanaging,” the commissioner said.
He found that the dismissal of the supervisor was not harsh or unfair.