Does this sound familiar? Managers are more involved with their employees than ever, yet reports seem disgruntled, unhappy, and less productive than usual. Check-ins seem to go unappreciated or unanswered. No one seems receptive to feedback. What’s going on? Well, your workplace may be poisoned by micromanagement.
While micromanagement might feel like good-natured extra diligence — and the best way to keep teams on track — it’s actually a highly toxic workplace issue that will do more harm than good.
Continue reading to find out:
- What qualifies as micromanagement
- How to deal with a micromanager
- Whether you’re a micromanager
- How to fix micromanagement tendencies
What is micromanagement?
Micromanagement, when used in the context of a business, is a situation in which managers (or anyone responsible for leading other people) are overly controlling of work or processes. Researchers have found that this response is largely driven by a mix of fear and a desire for power.
For example, say your graphic designer Lisa is working on a new Facebook ad for the business. If you’re a micromanager, you’d ask for constant updates, ask to be in every meeting regarding the Facebook ad, ask to be cc’d on every relevant email, and probably make regular trips over to Lisa’s desk (or schedule regular video calls) to see how the task is progressing. At that point, you’d also make numerous suggestions, provide unsolicited design advice, and might even take a stab at designing the ad yourself. If you’ve ever been on the receiving end of this kind of micromanagement, you know exactly how bad this feels.
Signs of micromanagement
Still not sure if you’re a micromanager yourself? Here are some clear things managers do and say that land them in micromanager territory.
Every task needs your approval
Before any work gets marked complete, you make sure that you’ve seen it, made your edits, and finally provided your approval. Micromanagers can’t stand the thought of letting their team have complete control and ownership over their work, which is — as you might have guessed — a problem.
You need to be cc’d on every email
Conversations cannot be happening without your knowledge, and you feel anxious at the thought of being left out of work-related emails and correspondence. You feel a need to know what is happening at all times, and believe that being cc’d on all emails, or a part of all Slack channels related to your work, is the best way to go about this.
You’re hyper-aware of your employees’ whereabouts
Ronald stepped out for lunch at 12:03, but it’s now 1:27 and you haven’t seen him return. Or, Teresa is working from home and you noticed that she’s taken more than ten minutes to respond to your latest Slack message. If you stress about where your employees are at every moment of the day, or find yourself getting frustrated when they don’t immediately respond to your messages, there’s a good chance you have (at least some) micromanager tendencies.
You love editing employee work
If you get a thrill from finding grammar mistakes in your copywriter’s work, or love the feeling of fixing code in your software developer’s work, you might want to consider whether you have other micromanager qualities as well.
You hate delegating tasks
“If you want something done properly, do it yourself,” said every micromanager everywhere. If you think that you’re the best person to do any job your team members are doing, take a step back and consider if this is true — or if this gives your employees the opportunity for growth. And if the idea of finding an outsourcing provider makes you shudder, that’s another warning sign.
You sweat the small stuff
Micromanagers love to stress and obsess over every tiny detail of a project. They’re spending valuable time reconsidering color choice, rather than trusting their team to submit quality work. A manager is meant to act as a team leader, large decision maker, and general overseer of projects — not dissect every component of every task.
Why micromanagement is harmful
If you realize you’re guilty of micromanaging, you’ve probably already recognized many of the reasons why this is a harmful, and potentially toxic, workplace behaviour. Let’s take a closer look at some of these key reasons.
Damages employee trust and morale
A survey conducted by Trinity Solutions and published in author Harry Chambers’ book My Way or the Highway showed that 85 percent of respondents felt that their morale was negatively impacted due to experiencing micromanagement. If you’ve ever been micromanaged yourself, you know this to be true from firsthand experience.
Employees who are micromanaged lose a sense of autonomy, which results in decreased motivation and desire to go the extra mile. When they feel as if any work they do is going to be highly criticized, edited, or questioned, there’s less of an inclination to put effort in in the first place.
Increases employee turnover
The same survey conducted by Trinity Solutions discovered that 79 percent of participants had experienced micromanagement, and 69 percent considered changing jobs because of it. There’s no question: people don’t like to be micromanaged. The next time you’re thinking of hovering over an employee’s desk to ask for yet another update on a small project, consider whether it’s worth damaging your relationship with that person.
According to a study by Collins and Collins, employees who are micromanaged are three times more likely to experience burnout. Micromanagement directly causes burnout not only in your employees who have to constantly work hard to keep you happy, but in yourself. When you’re constantly obsessing over minute details, checking up on your team members, and worrying about meetings you may or may not need to be in, you’re wasting precious energy that could be used in much more productive ways.
When people are boxed in by strict rules, there’s not a lot of opportunity for creativity and innovation. If you are constantly correcting everything your employees do and watching them like a hawk, they’ll be so afraid to step out of line and do something that elicits a negative response that they’ll never attempt anything original.
Creates dependent employees
When employees find that no matter how hard they work, their work will always be edited and changed by their (micro)manager, they become dependent on this person. When you act as if nothing can be done without your input, your staff will start to lose confidence and feel as if they truly can’t do anything without you. And, according to research by Great Place to Work, millennials are looking for leaders who “share the best interests of employees, particularly in their long-term growth,” — not leaders who block employee growth with dependent relationships.
According to a study conducted by staffing agency Accountemps, more than 55 percent of respondents said that micromanagement hurt their productivity. When micromanagers are constantly requiring check-ins and edits at every phase of the project, they create a bottleneck that slows down processes and progress.
How to manage micromanagement
Are you an employee dealing with a micromanager? You might be feeling like you’re unable to get your work done efficiently because someone’s constantly hovering over you. It can seem daunting to approach your manager — or some other stakeholder — to tell them you need some space, but it can be done! Here are a few things you can try to deal with a micromanager.
Over-communicate your progress
Are you constantly interrupted by emails and messages asking for a status update? How are you supposed to stay in the zone when this happens? While the burden of finding the right balance between checking in too much and not enough is on your manager, you can nip the problem in the bud by communicating more. Set up a regular reminder for yourself to give your manager an update on your projects. Work with them to find a format that suits them, and you’ll find that the requests will drop significantly.
Mention it in your one on one
If you have regular one on ones with your manager — and you should — you should bring up your concerns with micromanagement then. It can feel stressful to even consider giving your manager criticism, but remember that they have a vested interest in keeping your relationship positive. Find a way to approach the subject with tact, like citing specific examples of micromanagement and how they affect your work. If your manager is an open, receptive person, they’ll take your feedback to heart and work on improving.
When dealing with other micromanagers that aren’t your direct manager, try to find a time to speak with them about this directly.
You’ve tried to make changes in your behavior to improve the situation and brought it up with the micromanager directly and nothing happened. What can you do now? Bring it up with someone else.
If being micromanaged makes you feel uncomfortable and hampers your performance, you can bet someone at your organization will want to hear about it. Start by looking through your company’s official documentation; there’s probably already a process in place for this. If not, you can start by finding someone on your team you can trust and tell them what’s going on. A more senior member of the team will probably know who you can go to. Alternatively, you can try going to HR directly, or to your manager’s manager.
How managers can quit micromanagement
Are you a manager and identified some micromanager habits in yourself? Do you want to fix them? Reflect on and follow the below tips and strategies for fixing this behavior.
Instead of approving every piece of content, use Areas of Responsibility
Areas of Responsibility, or AoRs, “are a way of capturing the distribution of responsibility within your company.” With AoRs, responsibilities and authority can be split between different members rather than being distributed to you.
They help you delegate responsibility effectively, removing tasks and requests from your plate. Instead of assuming that you’re the one who will be approving a task or piece of content, AoRs ensure that everybody in the organization can check and know exactly who on the team to reach out to.
Instead of asking for constant updates, use a cross-departmental tool
Countless meetings and requests for updates exhaust both you and your team. Fight your desire for constant check-ins by using a tool such as Wrike or Basecamp where you can monitor the status of a project without having to interfere or directly communicate with anyone.
You’ll be able to see when files are uploaded and other discussions related to the project or task take place, without feeding your need for intense, repetitive updates. And if your team uses multiple tools, you can use Unito to optimize reporting updates, no matter your tool of choice.
This will undoubtedly help your team feel much more trusted and autonomous, while helping you keep your micromanagement tendencies at bay.
Instead of owning every project, delegate with RACI
While it might sound fun in theory, being in charge of every project isn’t a valuable use of your time. Enter: the RACI chart.
A RACI chart (or matrix) is a tool that helps the project manager map out roles and responsibilities of everyone involved in a project. RACI stands for Responsible, Accountable, Consulted, and Informed, with each section of the chart covering one of these areas. As a manager, you will not need to be accountable or responsible in the context of most projects. Instead, your responsibilities will usually fall under the ‘Informed’ category. You can be kept in the loop regarding major updates to the project, but don’t need to be consulted, responsible, or accountable in these cases.
Instead of expecting instant responses, use asynchronous communication
Micromanagers are sticklers for time and watching the clock. If an employee’s Slack icon shows them as idle or inactive for long periods of time, a micromanager is going to notice.
As a manager, you have to ask yourself: Is the work getting done? If so, there’s truly no reason to be eagle-eyeing the clock or tracking your employee’s hours closely. If you need some help changing your mindset with this, consider using asynchronous communication methods.
Synchronous communication is correspondence done in real-time, such as phone, one on one meetings, video conference, or in-person conversations. Asynchronous communication, however, allows for time to pass in between the sending of the message and the receiving of a response. These formats include email, tasks within project management tools, and comments within documents.
This takes the pressure off of your team to respond right away, and helps manage expectations on your end.
Take the micro out of micromanager
As you now know, micromanagement can have disastrous results for your company, your team, and yourself. With the techniques and tools above, you can identify micromanaging tendencies and find solutions before they get out of control.