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Quiet management explained: Everything you need to know

Tired of micromanaging? Quiet management empowers employees with autonomy, boosting productivity and morale. It's a trust-based approach that can work for many teams, but not all.

Ready or not, here comes another quiet workplace trend: quiet management. But unlike many other quiet trends, this one might have a more positive effect on the workplace.

In recent years, trends like quiet quitting and quiet firing have become common terms to describe sneaky workplace practices -- such as employees giving the bare minimum amount of work or employers pushing employees to quit instead of firing them. At least 50% of U.S. workers are quiet quitting, according to a Gallup study.

The rise of these workplace practices emerged after the COVID-19 pandemic, signaling shifts in employee-employer relationships in a new world of work. Quiet management is another byproduct of this new world of work -- and it can benefit both employees and employers.

What is quiet managing?

To combat employee-employer trust issues spurred by the pandemic and remote work, the term quiet management was coined to describe a hands-off management style.

Unlike a helicopter manager, a quiet manager sits back and lets team members do their work without unnecessary productivity killers. Not only will work get done with fewer interruptions and distractions, it also gives employees a sense of empowerment to do their jobs without constant oversight.

At its core, quiet management is about autonomy, trust and flexibility for employees. Not only is autonomy something employees crave more than ever -- research shows it can also boost employee productivity by an average of 5.2%. Quiet management can also boost retention, employee morale and employee engagement.

Quiet managing vs. micromanaging

Nobody wants a manager who demands to be CC'd on every email, but micromanaging is a fairly common practice -- and it can be toxic.

For many employees, a micromanager can be a recipe for quiet quitting and turnover. It can cause undue stress, productivity loss, trust issues between employees and managers, and burnout. According to a Monster poll, 73% of workers said micromanaging is the biggest workplace red flag and 46% said they would leave their jobs because of a micromanager.

Although some employees might thrive with a more hands-on management approach, micromanagers can often take oversight too far and impede work being done efficiently.

The quiet manager is an employee-friendly alternative to a micromanager. While a micromanager might check in too frequently or request constant progress updates, a quiet manager gives their team members space to work through the project on their own.

Micromanagers might think frequent direction and instructions are helpful, but a hovering manager can do more harm than good. In fact, only 19% of employees say frequent check-ins and status meetings make them more productive, according to a report from Slingshot.

Instead, quiet leaders set clear expectations from the get-go and then take a step back from the project or task. While they may still request some progress updates, interactions initiated by managers are not as frequent, and feedback might be saved for a designated debrief after the project is completed.

How to be a quiet manager

In general, quiet management is seen as a more favorable option than micromanagement, as it can lessen the burden on both managers and employees. But the idea of sitting back and letting employees take the reins can seem daunting, especially when managers are used to keeping a closer eye on things.

Quiet managing is easier than it might seem. It all comes down to trust. If managers can trust employees to get work done on their own, it can be easier to relax their grip and give workers more autonomy.

But don't go too far and turn into a silent manager. To find the right balance, here are some best practices for being a quiet manager:

  • Focus on the product, not the process. One of the biggest gripes employees have with micromanaging is the oversight of all the details of a project instead of the final product. A quiet manager can let employees tackle projects in a way that works best for them -- as long as the result is done efficiently and effectively.
  • Establish clear expectations. Whether it's during onboarding or a specific project, it's essential to set up clear expectations from the beginning so employees can work independently while avoiding miscommunications about what is expected of them. The previously mentioned Slingshot report found employee productivity benefits from clear priorities and set deadlines.
  • Keep communication open. Employees should know they can still ask questions and get guidance from managers. Managers might want to set aside time in routine one-on-ones to address any questions regarding a project or informally check in with employees occasionally. This can prevent errors and ensure tasks run as efficiently as possible.
  • Assess what's necessary -- and cut what's not. Unnecessary meetings and check-ins can be a productivity killer. In fact, 80% of respondents in an Atlassian study said they'd be more productive if they spent less time in meetings. That's why quiet managers need to look at recurring meetings and decide what's worth everyone's time and what would serve better as an email or be scrapped altogether.
  • Advocate for employees. Sometimes managers feel pressured by higher-ups to micromanage employees so they can know exactly how operations are running at all times, leaving managers caught between a rock and a hard place. To avoid micromanaging out of obligation, managers can advocate for a quiet management style and the autonomy of employees, as well as emphasize employees' capabilities and qualifications to do the job without being overly managed.

Is quiet management right for all industries?

Quiet management isn't right for every situation or every industry. Employees are individuals with their own unique needs, and it won't be the right fit for every team or industry.

A quiet leadership style can be beneficial for knowledge workers or those who typically do more independent work -- such as computer engineers or data analysts. In industries where the work environment is more flexible, a quiet management approach can help empower employees and free up time for managers.

Those who work in an industry that is highly regulated or in an environment that is constantly changing will likely need more oversight. For example, quiet management in the military or healthcare industry could lead to some costly mistakes and oversights.

In those industries, managers might need to take a more hands-on approach to ensure things are running smoothly and issues are addressed quickly. However, managers can still use some of the quiet management philosophies -- such as cutting down on unnecessary meetings.

Flexibility is an essential part of management. If managers get feedback that parts of the management style aren't working, it could be time to reevaluate and reconsider their strategy.

Alison Roller is a freelance writer with experience in tech, HR and marketing.

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