The power struggle

Power is one of the most coveted entities in the professional world. Every employee desires a good, authoritative position in an organisation that enables him/her to play the ‘game’ as per his/her own rules. It is critical here to use power towards organisational advantage and not abuse it.

It is critical to make an important distinction; power is different from responsibility. The latter symbolises good leadership and teamwork while the former is often abused because of the inherent authority. Power abuse is an issue that is often encountered in workplaces today and must be handled deftly to maintain a healthy working environment.

Sharlyn Lauby, SPHR, president of ITM Group Inc and author of the popular blog ‘HR Bartender’, tells us the problems that can arise if a boss starts abusing his/her authority, “When a manager abuses his/her authority, a common problem is damage to the person’s credibility. In turn, the deterioration of credibility creates an atmosphere of distrust and overall breakdown of communication. This ultimately impacts the organisation. If employees can’t trust their manager, they won’t do their best work. They’ll always be on-guard and not fully engaged with the company. Disengagement costs companies thousands in terms of productivity and profits.”

There are numerous subtle ways through which a boss can misuse his/her power. Ashish Arora, founder and MD, HR Anexi, explains, “There are many blatant tyrannies of a bad manager. He/she may personally prefer some employees over others, thus favouring them for promotions or other incentives. He/she may deny recognition to well-deserving performers simply because he/she is not in best personal terms with them. A good relationship with a bad manager may involve blind followership of the practices, or worse, a conscious demonstration of his/her deplorable values. A bad manager also tends to overload many employees with work. While he/she may be overly critical of an employee’s mistakes, he/she could usurp credit for the employee’s good work. A bad boss may also abuse the position of power to harass or terminate good employees. In fact, far too many terminations happen today not due to the employee’s job performance, but because of the manager’s displeasure towards him.”

How can an organisation prevent the creation of such a situation? Keyuri Singh, VP-HR, Blue Star Infotech Ltd., answers:

  • HR can often detect such a situation by using a 360-degree feedback;
  • If there is constant turnover of team members under a particular person, it should be a ringing bell that something is not working properly. This should be validated by talking to other team members to check if their boss is fair to them;
  • If a person is found abusing his/her power, coaching and mentoring should be provided and the behavior should be monitored over a period of time;
  • If an employee complains about any power abuse from his boss/peers, it should be looked into seriously and confidentially. HR should be able to assure employees that they will not be in trouble, even if they address such issues.

Manasije Mishra, CEO, Max Bupa Health Insurance, adds on his advice, “In order to be a truly successful organisation, it is essential to value and appreciate the existing talent pool. Therefore, it becomes crucial for managers to be prudent with the power of authority that has been vested to them by the organisation. It is imperative to provide our employees with an environment that will enable them to grow personally and professionally.  At the heart of our business are our values of ‘CREATE (Caring, Respectful, Ethical, Accountable, Enabling, Trustworthy)’.”

Thus, it is essential that the organisation takes the issue of ‘power misuse’ very seriously and take requisite steps to prevent such situations.

By : Palak Bhatia

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