- April 10, 2020
Early on as the country was coming to terms with the realities of the stay-at-home advice on the coronavirus, a newly wedded friend tweeted out: “I didn’t know quarantine meant doing dishes all the time.” Now that was funny. By the time I spoke to him next, his self-isolation disillusionment had turned a notch higher. He was now locked in a full-blown culinary war of attrition with his sweet wife who doesn’t approve of his methods. He is a ‘one-to-one’ water to rice ratio kinda guy, she is a ‘two-to-one’ girl. He slices onions into wedges, she prefers rings.
To me, as long as the end result was good food, what did it matter?
As I thought more about his situation, I related it to the workplace and specifically to the millennial subordinate. People talk a lot about micromanagement. We have all heard about horrible bosses who are over-controlling to the smallest detail or others who use coercion to get employees to do what they are told to do. Millennials tend to be more free-spirited and particularly have a strong disdain for micromanagement. They’ve grown a nose for it and have learnt to avoid jobs with any hints of it like the plague (or Covid-19, to be more contemporary).
But what happens when there’s a grey area between micromanagement and autonomy? One that millennials have yet to grow a sense of, but gnaws away at their workplace productivity either way. This is when the manager trusts an employee to handle a task to its full conclusion but then tries to influence the process in which they arrive there.
I personally observed how silently frustrating this can be. I’ve seen vibrant young employees deflate in the face of constant methodizing. See, millennials don’t only crave autonomy. They also have confidence in their skills. These characteristics give them an urge to seek new and creative ways to tackle tasks. In fact, process-management will be perceived as dangerous to ALL employees of all generations if they feel threatened by a lack of free will (i.e. the God-given ability to choose between different possible courses of action unimpeded).
As the coronavirus continues to unfold here in Kenya, we’re getting a ‘How To’ masterclass on this from a very unlikely source — the government. Since the onset of the crisis, we’ve been treated to daily briefings by the health minister Mutahi Kagwe and his colleague Dr Mercy Mwangangi which are completely devoid of any deference to the president. Whatever other misgivings they may have had in their methods, have been overshadowed by their Sinatra-esque insistence of doing it their own way. They’ve endeared themselves to Kenyans this way, and have subsequently seen their electability soar as potential political leaders of the future.
For millennials, the urge for a similar workplace free will and autonomy will more often than not result in higher productivity and ingenuity, rather than pernicious corner-cutting which is the obvious fear of any employer.
My advice to workplace managers is to set a task, a goal and a deadline. And to leave anything in between to the employee’s own chops. You will be surprised at the things you learn. After all, what does it matter if two joggers complete a 400-metre lap running in opposite directions, they both arrive at a similar successful conclusion, don’t they?
ABOUT THE AUTHOR
Tim Mworia has been a writer, editor, failed bouncer and amateur farmer. He has ziplined across a forest, sailed around an island, and ridden a giant tortoise.
He lives by the adage ‘Where We Go One, We Go All’.
His writing and editing credits have appeared in 17 publications including The Business Daily, KenyaBuzz, Msafiri, DStv Africa and Off-Broadway.
You’ll more often than not find him on his twitter handle @timworia
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