Manager returns to office with team

Personality Unleashed: The Manager’s Return to Work

Mark Parkinson

Business Psychologist | Executive insight, new psychometrics and entrepreneur specialist. in Work

Over the last few months many have been continuing to do their jobs, but doing them from home. This has been a nightmare for some but a revelation for others. Now of course we’re entering a time when the workplace is coming back: a welcome return to “normality” for all those who’ve been having sleepless nights.

However, the other group -- those who have prospered from the experience -- have discovered something new and empowering about themselves. When faced with the task of working remotely they’ve risen to the challenge and accomplished their goals. They’ve also increased their belief that they can cope with whatever life throws at them, and in consequence are feeling a powerful and personal sense of can-do.

Psychologists call this feeling “self-efficacy” and the concept goes back over 40 years. In particular, if you have high self-efficacy you believe you are in control of your life and that your actions and decisions shape it. As you can imagine, once this genie is released it’s difficult to put back in the bottle.


Changing personalities

The interesting thing for managers is how higher levels of self-efficacy will influence the way people want to work. The effects could be profound. Specifically, those workers who have revelled in the experience of working remotely are likely to be more self-reliant. They’ll need less hand-holding and be better able to make work decisions without asking others.

Likely as not, they will also be capable of planning and controlling their own work schedule, and be more likely to try new ways of doing things: to experiment and see what works best. Naturally, all these changes are echoed in the Big Five personality factors. For example, exploratory research on virtual teams suggests levels of Agreeableness decrease as a result of remote working - essentially, that people become more competitive, more questioning, and tougher minded in their approach to work. Tellingly, lower levels of Agreeableness imply less deference for command-and-control methods of management.

All this is really bad news for micro-managers. These are managers who keep a continuous and close eye on who is doing what, who only use feedback as a way of correcting ‘mistakes’, who are unwilling to relinquish control over any aspect of work, and who are always right!

In contrast, if people are really returning to work with a different sense of who they are, the role of the manager could usefully revert to that simple but enlightened trio:

  • providing a clear sense of direction
  • inspiring through a strong sense of mission
  • helping people achieve their full potential

It’s no coincidence that this sounds more like the job of a coach.


Keeping talent

Other research, for example a recent survey by Gartner, makes it clear that experienced remote workers display significantly higher levels of discretionary effort -- that’s going above and beyond what is required -- than those who have never worked remotely. This is fantastic news for both managers and their organizations, but there is a troublesome downside.

The same survey reveals they are 13% less likely to stay with their current employer. All this suggests seasoned remote workers need managing in a different way. The ‘coach as manager’ may well be the way ahead. As it says in the Gartner report:

“Managers must trust their employees and shift away from directing their work to coaching them to success.”

In addition, managers should encourage their team by concentrating on reinforcing good work rather than pointing out what’s been unsuccessful. Unfortunately this doesn’t seem to happen often: the micro-manager’s standby of using corrective feedback is still alive and well. Indeed, the study indicates that remote workers are twice as likely to receive this form of feedback compared to their office-based counterparts.


Savvy management

In short, what’s required is a mature approach that focuses on transparent communication, and the gentle shaping of work behaviour by being open, positive, and forward-looking. Frankly, let people keep on doing what they’re doing!

All this may not seem like a problem at present as most organizations aren’t hiring, and their employees are probably not looking for new jobs either, but when the employment market fires up again -- staff turnover will be back. As a result, it looks like spending time understanding and responding to a changed workforce is the shrewd move.


Traitify builds tools that help managers and employees explore their work personalities and relationships. If you would like to know more, connect with Traitify.


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