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Lead Your Team Managing

Worked to Death? Micromanagement Could Be Killing Your Employees

Worked to Death? Micromanagement Could Be Killing Your Employees
Credit: Andrei Rahalski/Shutterstock

If you micromanage your employees, you could, quite literally, be working them to death.

Working in a highly demanding job that offers employees little control is associated with a 15.4 percent increase in the likelihood of death, compared with employees in jobs with low demands, according a study that was recently published in the journal Personnel Psychology.

Working in stressful jobs can, however, be beneficial to employees who have a lot of freedom to make their own decisions. The research revealed that working in high- demand jobs that also give employees a large amount of control over what they do and when is associated with a 34 percent decrease in the likelihood of death, compared with low-job demands.

"These findings suggest that stressful jobs have clear negative consequences for employee health when paired with low freedom in decision-making, while stressful jobs can actually be beneficial to employee health if also paired with freedom in decision-making," Erik Gonzalez-Mulé, the study's lead authors and an assistant professor at Indiana University's Kelley School of Business, said in a statement.

Having higher control gives employees in stressful jobs more resources to problem-solve and work through ways to get their work done. [See Related Story: Want Healthier Employees? Treat Them Fairly]

"A stressful job, then, instead of being something debilitating, can be something that's energizing," Gonzalez-Mulé said. "You're able to set your own goals, you're able to prioritize work. You can go about deciding how you're going to get it done. That stress then becomes something you enjoy."

Data in the study was obtained from the Wisconsin Longitudinal Study, which followed more than 10,000 people who graduated from Wisconsin high schools in 1957. They were interviewed at various time intervals over their lives, through 2011, to provide data on educational, occupational and emotional experiences. All participants in the study were employed but near the end of their careers. The researchers used controls for factors such as demographic characteristics, socioeconomic status and affect.

The data also revealed a similar link between micromanaging in stressful jobs and employee weight. The study's authors found that employees in high-demand jobs with low control were heavier than those in high-demand jobs with high control.

"When you don't have the necessary resources to deal with a demanding job, you do this other stuff," Gonzalez-Mulé said. "You might eat more, you might smoke, you might engage in some of these things to cope with it."

Overall, the researchers believe the study shows employers shouldn't worry so much about finding ways to make jobs less stressful. Instead, they think it shows that organizations should focus more on providing employees with more say in how their work gets done.

"You can avoid the negative health consequences if you allow them to set their own goals, set their own schedules, prioritize their decision-making and the like," Gonzalez-Mulé said.

Since the research examined employees only at the end of their careers, the study's authors believe it would be beneficial to examine workers earlier in their careers in the future to see if the job demands-control model accurately predicts strain over time.

The study was co-authored by Bethany Cockburn, a doctoral candidate at the University of Iowa's Tippie College of Business.

Chad Brooks

Chad Brooks is a Chicago-based freelance writer who has nearly 15 years experience in the media business. A graduate of Indiana University, he spent nearly a decade as a staff reporter for the Daily Herald in suburban Chicago, covering a wide array of topics including, local and state government, crime, the legal system and education. Following his years at the newspaper Chad worked in public relations, helping promote small businesses throughout the U.S. Follow him on Twitter.