A home office horror?

As the pandemic subsides, the question increasingly arises for employers as to whether to continue to provide work-from-home opportunities or whether to return to the pre-epidemic cycle. Although most executives will eventually choose to keep the home office as an option, some managers still do not support this form of work.

The most common arguments against the home office (for example, based on an opinion article previously published on index.hu):

  • The employee does not have enough self-control to do the job even without supervision and control.
  • Employees will not progress if they are not forced to.
  • The employee cannot take responsibility for uncontrolled work.
  • Without constant inspection, the quality of the work done decreases.
  • Confidential information may leak without proper restrictions.
  • Employees working from home will not be loyal if we do not control this.
  • Employees will not help each other as everyone is just trying to do their own job. And if you don’t control how much work they do, they’d rather hang out.
  • Home activities go to the detriment of working hours if we don’t control what they do.
  • Hanging out is a way to swim with impunity.
  • There is no legal regulation.

Control. Supervision. Control. Incentive. Control. Restriction. Keeping in check. Penalty. Regulation. Khmm…

Are these concerns legitimate? Is that really the case? Let’s see what the statistics say.

The effect of working from home on performance

Well, we’re not going to have an easy time. There is a lot of research, but in these we can read about very different results when looking for an answer to what change the home office brings to employee productivity: + 13 percent, + 47 percent, performance gains at 77 percent, numbers line up with good news, but daunting we also find examples: an old survey, even before Covid times, found that colleagues working from home were 70 percent less likely to receive a high performance rating from their boss than those they see in the office day in and day out. Another piece of research that is downright disappointing is the 8 to 19 percent reduction in performance, even though time spent at work in the same organization has increased by 18 percent.

As if both groups, opponents and supporters were right…

The attitude of the manager is important

In the 1960s, social psychologist Douglas McGregor developed the Theory of X and Y, which might help explain the above phenomena. Although the theory was further developed later, it is sufficient for our article to examine the model in its original form. According to this, there are basically two boss views.

X theory

The first, i.e. type X manager, is the idea of ​​the employees

  • they don’t like their work
  • their intrinsic motivation is low,
  • avoid responsibility,
  • require continuous management and control,
  • work against the organization without control,
  • their motivation can be maintained through restrictions, penalties and regulation,
  • loyalty must be forced out of employees who
  • his work must be supervised without interruption, otherwise it will not end.

Supervision. Incentive. Control. Restriction. Keeping in check. Penalty. Regulation. Familiar?

Type X management, while uncomfortable, has room, typically for jobs that do not require expertise, creativity, where it is difficult to find purpose, challenge, and pleasure at work, and that do not require direct contact with clients — since employees in such an environment customers will also inevitably be treated with Type X management tools. These are typically physical rather than mental jobs that are not usually done from home.

Y theory

According to McGregor’s theory, the other, the Y-type leader, believes that

  • people have significant intrinsic motivation,
  • they see meaning in their work and that
  • fills them with pride
  • they like to perform challenging tasks, consequently
  • they are happy to work on their own,
  • are able to make independent, responsible decisions, and
  • to solve problems creatively and in a novel way, therefore
  • they rarely need to be managed,
  • it is also more in the form of support, help.

Nowadays, self-organization, team autonomy, servant leadership, the leader-leader approach, or Holacracy as a form of decentralized organizational governance are gaining ground, to name but a few. These are all based on Y-type leadership and have been shown to be much more effective than X-type management in an environment that requires creativity or high expertise.

Are the concerns of Type X managers about the home office legitimate?

Naturally. The most interesting part of the theory is that in the case of intellectual work based on human knowledge, which requires creativity – typically work that can be done from home – both theories act as a self-fulfilling prophecy.

During Y-type leadership, when employees see the meaning of their work as a challenge, they are proud of their results, it pushes their intrinsic motivation into the skies, and consequently they do outstanding work without any control or limitation. For this reason, a Y-type leader doesn’t have to worry about working from home either, they only need to support their teammates differently than they do in the office. There are easy-to-learn techniques, books and courses for this. Without constant interruptions and the constant “buzzing” of the office, it is much easier to work in depth, better quality work is done, even faster. In addition, the travel time freed up involves more free time, less stress, and the employee has more intellectual reserves, which is why he or she prefers to sacrifice it even for part-time work, as opposed to a stressful, less leisure-time work model. Of course, the home office also has its drawbacks, but in addition to the Y-type leadership, they are not the ones we listed at the beginning of the article.

For an AX-type manager, on the other hand, losing a sense of control while working from home is a complete horror. The reason for this distrust is often the boss’s insecurity, questioning his own expertise and then projecting it on others, i.e. lack of self-confidence. The stronger the fear, the greater the need for control.

At the same time, micro-managed employees working under constant supervision will not really love their work, they will also experience it as a finished horror, their internal motivation will fall.

The difficulties of approval and coordination not only destroy independence and morale, but also bring huge delays in the work process. As a result, productivity at work is actually declining, the anxiety of the Type X manager is increasing, employing even more micromanagement, triggering a vicious spiral. It is also very difficult to get out of this spiral, because if micro-management ceases for some reason, such as switching to a home office, it becomes more difficult for frustrated, demotivated employees to escape from work, proving the type X manager. all his fears. Perhaps it is no coincidence that the productivity indicators quoted above showed a decline in the very survey where employees were kept under strong control, their work was constantly monitored with computer software, and even more mandatory meetings were required for them despite the home office. Another major finding of the study was that in this case, workers worked more but were able to spend less time on in-depth work due to panting in their constant necks.

What can we do?

It is extremely difficult to turn the vicious circle of type AX, because as a result of the above-mentioned recurrence phenomenon, an employee with a lack of motivation does not regain his enthusiasm when he loses supervision, but uses his time to take extra action and lick his wounds. The Type X manager dreads losing control, working against all his instincts, so he won’t leave it so easy. Human instincts, the basic nature of a given person is very difficult to change and the personal and social skills required for Y-type leadership, the so-called soft-skills are very difficult to develop.

In more serious cases, we will replace the manager. Point. This seems shocking, as the replacement, demotion, dismissal, and the like are typically the repertoire of the Type X manager. Why is this one of the small number of cases where it is still worth living with, even if the goal is a Y-type environment? That’s why. Plenty of organizations tolerate a leader who once testifies to great expertise but at the same time terrorizes his subordinates because he believes that tolerating him is a small price to pay for a smooth job, and enforcing discipline will only have a good effect on subordinate performance. That’s not correct.

In an environment that requires creativity, the Type X manager hampers productivity, but this is not always obvious because of the above feedback phenomenon or because the Type X is always to blame for its mistakes and the success itself.

Although a good professional (if any), by his behavior nullifies the work and qualities of several similarly good professionals, he blocks their creativity, on the whole we lose more expertise with his behavior than his individual expertise. Even if he is really the best professional, his attitude hinders the development and learning process of others, so there is no chance to exploit the hidden capacities of his colleagues. Such a manager is hard to change and if he still manages to change his behavior, he finds his way back to the old methods in a moment (unfamiliar?) Without supervision. Even if you overcome this hurdle, you will still not be able to fully gain the trust of your subordinates, your employees will not accept the switch as credible, and an atmosphere of mistrust will create mistrust – and X-type leadership.

Of course, the X-type manager usually experiences the change as a frustration, but the change will also be good for him and he will feel better in the long run. After all, he often takes a leading position because of his outstanding expertise, without taking into account his real leadership qualities. And since his appointment, as management has taken his time, his professional knowledge is constantly declining and eroding in a rapidly changing world, and he is feeling this, and in many cases, causing him to be frustrated by his subordinates.

The above proposal, despite its drastic nature, was not received from the air. Plenty of successful companies have recently introduced the so-called “No asshole rule”, I.e., the s.g head-off rule (really its name), which proclaims zero tolerance for managers who overly restrict subordinates.

If this is not possible, or if the manager is on the X side of the XY scale but in the middle, improvement can be achieved with careful, tireless coaching, starting with the X manager in the direction of the Y-type leader – to his and her staff’s relief. However, this requires that the Type X boss also understands and wants the change, and his teammates are willing to give him a new chance.

The authors are consultants to Sprint Consulting (the article was born in the home office, more than 8 hours a day).

Opinions do not necessarily reflect the views of the Index Editorial Board.

We love exciting, clever, argumentative writing. We look forward to hearing from you.

(Cover image: John MACDOUGALL / AFP)

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