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The following is a guest blog post from my Organizational Development graduate students (Tiffany Lee, Thomas Kendall, Melanie Strickland, Maggie Clay, Brock Patterson, Ashley Pelfrey). I thought their insights were superb.

Workplace bullying has exploded in recent years and is now one of the leading causes of employee disempowerment.

The article Workplace Bullying: A Systematic Review of Risk Factors and Outcomes defines workplace bullying as:

“Prolonged and repeated hostile behaviors conducted by at least one person toward one or more individuals when they are unable to resolve their workplace conflicts in non-hostile manners and can cause health problems for victims and affect their performance” (Moayed, Daraiseh, Shell, & Salem, 2006).

Unfortunately, bullies can do a lot of damage in organizations. Often, they make their co-workers scared, they put people in protective mode, and they decrease innovation within the organization (Marano, 1995). An empirical study of workplace bullying conducted by Moayed, Daraiseh, Shell, and Salem (2006) identified the following bullying acts: (1) threat to professional status; (2) threat to personal status; (3) isolation; (4) over-work and; (5) destabilization (Moayed, Daraiseh, Shell, & Salem, 2006). Outcomes of bullying can range from lower job satisfaction to psychological and psychosomatic health complaints, chronic disease or suicide (Kivimäki, Elovainio, & Vahtera, 2000). However, absenteeism is the most common outcome of workplace bullying and can cost a company upwards of $720, 000 annually (Moayed, Daraiseh, Shell, & Salem, 2006).

Poor leadership continues to stifle the workplace and is another factor contributing to disempowering employees
. Empowerment is defined as “the process by which a leader or manager shares his or her power with subordinates” (Glor, 1999). When leaders hoard their power and create an “everything goes through me” mentality employees become disengaged, unproductive, and lack positive morale. If there is not an emphasis to change this debilitating environment, employees will become complacent.

Patrick Lencioni describes this complacency in his book, The Three Signs to a Miserable Job. “Anonymity, irrelevance, and immeasurement all contribute to employee disempowerment and job dissatisfaction” (Lencioni, 2007).  If leaders do not understand their employees inside and outside of work, demonstrate the relevance of their work to the group, and measure their job performance; the continued cycle from disempowerment to miserable job status will continue.

Another way that managers disempower their employees is through micromanagement. Micromanagement can cause too much emphasis to be placed on the little details and, as a result, lose sight of the big picture (Davenport, 2010).  It sends the message to employees that their manager does not trust them to do their job (Hanft, 2004).  Overseeing every little detail of an employee’s work can be very damaging in that it can “create a perpetual environment of dependency, inefficiency, and unease” (Presutti, 2006, pg 34). 

Managers that micromanage are often victims of micromanagers themselves. They are insecure in their own jobs and try to control everything and everyone around them.  The results to a company can be devastating.  Employees lose confidence in their work and feel that they have no say in their work so they are less motivated and will no longer take initiative – they only do exactly what they are told.  This not only reduces productivity but it also stifles innovation.  “Staff members might choose to function in a limited, isolated, individualized manner” (Presutti, 2006, p. 35) which negatively impacts team cohesiveness and increases role conflict among the team members.  Employees become angry and lose respect for supervisors that micromanage.  The increased tension and stressful environment that is created can eventually lead to even long term employees resigning.  This can be costly to the company because they lose all the knowledge and training that they had previously invested in those employees (Presutti, 2006).

Communication is a key component in empowering employees in the workplace.  When employees feel comfortable enough to share their knowledge openly in an organization then they become one with the organization. Great managers know that the building blocks of a great work environment start with each individual employee and the empowerment of employees begins with each manager. Great managers define the end results that are desired, not how to get there, which gives employees the ability to utilize their talents to best drive results. Great managers spend their time and efforts focusing on what an employee does well and getting them to do that more, rather than trying to make them better at what they don’t do well.



Davenport, Thomas. “Who Says Micromanagement Is Bad?.” Bloomberg BusinessWeek 6 July 2010: 1-3 Ipad. Print.

Hanft, Adam. “Micromanagers, Unite!” Inc. Magazine Dec. 2004: 128. Print.

Kilburg, R.R. (1996). “Towards a conceptual understanding and definition of executive coaching,” Consulting Psychology Journal, Vol. 48 No. 2, and p.34.

Kivimäki, M. M., Elovainio, M. M., & Vahtera, J. J. (2000). Workplace bullying and sickness absence in hospital staff. Occupational and Environmental Medicine, 57(10), 656-660. Retrieved on April 5, 2011 from EBSCOhost.

 Marano, H. E. (1995, September/October). When the Boss is a Bully. Psychology Today , pp. 58-61.

 Moayed, F., Daraiseh, N., Shell, R., & Salem, S. (2006). Workplace bullying: a systematic review of risk  factors and outcomes. Theoretical Issues in Ergonomics Science, 7(3), 311-327. Retrieved April 4, 2011 from EBSCOhost.

Presutti, Mark. “Is Micromanagement Killing Your Staff?.” Nursing Homes: Long Term Care Management February (2006): 34-38. Print.

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All viewpoints expressed by Jackie Gilbert are her own, and not of her employer.

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