My job as a manager is to support my team, not to check on them

Almost three out of four Belgian companies expect temporary workers to be more self-reliant, according to a recent study by Page Personnel. But what is the best management strategy to make employees work more autonomously?

The civil servants at the Belgian Ministry of Social Security decide for themselves when, how and where they work. The traditional working day has been replaced by a flexible time schedule and instead of the manager telling the employees exactly what to do; he lets them plan their own tasks. Whether they prefer to work from home, start or leave earlier: it’s all possible, as long as they make sure the work gets done.

This radical change in the management strategy was the idea of senior official Frank van Massehove. His new policies turned out to be remarkably successful. By giving the employees more autonomy, the productivity increased while at the same time number of working hours went down. Within a few years the ministry of Social Security became one of the most popular and trendy employers in the country.       

Bigger trend in the market

The approach of Frank van Massehove might be the answer to a bigger trend in the market: employers expecting more flexibility and autonomy of their employees. In our study we discovered that this trend is now also spreading to temporary employment: 74% of the employers expect their temporary workers to be more self-reliant.

On the other hand, only 36% of the temporary employees say that they actually solve problems at work themselves. In other words, there seems to be a gap between what companies expect and what temporary workers are able to deliver. The question is how to bridge this gap.

Difference in expectation

“The gap can be partially explained by human nature: our expectations are always higher than what we get in reality,’’ explains Olivier Dufour, Executive Director of Page Personnel. “When you buy a new car or laptop, you also expect a little bit more than you get. Companies are no different.”

The expectations also depend on the sort of temporary worker companies hire. Olivier Dufour continues: “Many temporary workers who were interviewed for this study will eventually get a permanent contract.  Companies don’t expect them to work completely autonomously, because they will invest more time in training them on the job. When it comes to a real temporary assignment, that’s different: they expect a plug-and-play approach. For those kind of assignments, they are looking for experienced and qualified temporary workers who can solve problems themselves.”

Best results

When it comes to these kind of assignments, a hierarchical management structure might not get best results, Dufour thinks: “In general I think you get more out of employees, if you give them the autonomy to make their own decisions. For managers that can be difficult, because traditionally their job was to be in control. To give away part of that control frightens some of them. But I think as long as the objectives are clear, and you have clear deadlines, there is no need to check everything your employees are doing. ”

“That´s also the way I manage my own team,” says Dufour. “My job as a manager is to support my team members in their work, not to check on them. It´s their responsibility to get the job done. How they plan it, it´s up to them. I think this approach is becoming more popular with companies in Belgium. And rightly so. The idea that you´ll get quick results with a more hierarchical management style, is an illusion. ”

To find out more about how temporary employment and interim management are changing, download the full study here

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