HUMAN RESOURCES

Are You a Helicopter Manager?

When you start invading your employees' free time, you've gone one step beyond micro-management.
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I'm afraid we've officially gone off the deep end. First we had helicopter parents, who hovered over every moment of their special snowflakes' lives, quickly righting any wrongs and making sure there was never a moment when "learning" wasn't taking place. Now, we've moved that behavior into the workplace.

Oh, not in terms of hand holding and doctoring performance reviews so that everyone is above average. (Although I have had to explain what the term "average" means to more than one manager.) No, we've just moved into attempting to control every aspect of our employees' lives--not just mico-managing their work. How? Through seemingly innocuous "work-life balance" programs.

Now, I think it's healthy to maintain a balance between time in the office and time at home. But, just like those obnoxious parents who cannot stand the thought that their little darlings are doing anything without supervision, companies seem to be attempting to invade every aspect of their employee's lives.

Yes, arranging to have a dry cleaning company drop off and pick up at the office is awesome, if you're the kind of company where people wear dry-clean-only clothes or button-down shirts. But when you're arranging art classes for your employees and having contests, you're pushing the edge of propriety. When you arrange volleyball leagues and then reward the players with better projects and recognition, you're trying to control way to much of your employee's lives.

Work-life balance doesn't mean you need to take care of planning your employees' off hours. It means that you've set up an environment where people feel comfortable not checking their email every three minutes over the weekend. It means that your exempt employees can take a child to a doctor's appointment and not have to use vacation time.

Wellness and perk programs also get wrapped up in this work-life balance thing. Don't get me wrong, I like wellness programs and I love perks. (I'd say that I love wellness programs, but my current wellness program at Evil HR Lady enterprises is running, and my knee hurts.) But, when either one starts invading the personal life of your employees, it ceases to be a good idea and becomes a pain. That is, if your employee is participating in an exercise program or eating lunch with the whole department because it will improve her chances of getting that promotion, it's no longer a perk, it's a work obligation.

And just like those helicopter parents who think they are giving great benefits to their children by structuring every part of their day, but are, in reality, crippling their child's ability to function independently, if you attempt to control all aspects of your employees' lives, you are not benefiting them or your business. In fact, just as teenagers will rebel against overly controlling parents, your employees will rebel against companies that try to schedule their lives--by finding new jobs.

So, when you feel tempted to add one more program in an attempt to balance the "work-life" of your employees, take a step back instead and ask yourself if this is harming, helping, or just plain helicoptering.

IMAGE: CBP Photography / Flickr.com
Last updated: Aug 8, 2013

SUZANNE LUCAS | Columnist

Suzanne Lucas spent 10 years in corporate human resources, where she hired, fired, managed the numbers, and double-checked with the lawyers.

The opinions expressed here by Inc.com columnists are their own, not those of Inc.com.



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