Hands-on vs. hands-off management

Every manager will have a different approach to their responsibilities and the way they head up their team. It’s also true to say that one size doesn’t always fit all when it comes to management style. While some members of a team may respond well to a certain manager’s approach, it may occasionally prove unfavourable with others.

Management styles are generally referred to using two broad terms: ‘hands-on’ or ‘hands-off’ management. Although they provide handy jargon to describe different management approaches, they can be problematic and limited in their scope. For example, who’s to say a manager won’t use a combination of management techniques when dealing with different situations and individuals? The definitions of the two management styles can be rather narrow – often with people focusing on the more negative connotations of each.

Let’s have a look at each of these styles and what can typically be expected from them.



Often this becomes synonymous with micro-management which (although it can lead to this) isn’t always the same thing. Hands-on management loosely refers to a manager who’s highly involved in the day-to-day activities and decisions of their team. At best, they’re a pro-active presence who’s continually encouraging and motivating their team members to promote problem-free, productive operations. They’ll offer continual support and coaching to their employees to help ensure they’re fully engaged in achieving success.

At worst, however, the hands-on approach can be seen as constant interference, resulting in staff feeling they’re not trusted to do their roles without supervision.



Hands-off managers tend to put more responsibility in the hands of team leaders and are much less present in the team’s day-to-day activities. This type of management style often relies more on goals and numbers to measure effectiveness. At best, employees feel they have sufficient training, confidence and trust to carry out their roles to the best of their ability with minimal supervision. At worst, employees feel that adequate support and coaching is not available and subsequently lack focus and direction.

There’s a whole spectrum of behaviour that falls under each term, making it impossible to brand one style as right and one as wrong. What’s important is that a manager responds to the needs of their particular team and is prepared to adapt their approach if necessary. Listening to employees and conducting structured feedback is a big part of this. Effective and flexible leadership always plays a key role in staff retention.

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