How to Tell If You’re a Micromanaging Manager

Micromanaging may be a necessary evil in certain cases, but this management style creates too many risks for employees in the long run. Here’s how and why micromanagers should change their managerial style.

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Bosses have a distinct style of managing their employees. Anyone who’s had a fair number of bosses probably knows the micromanagers: the ones who keep such a tight rein on workers that they’re tagged in studies as the most toxic among all management styles.

A 2018 Comparably study of 2,248 respondents found that the worst kind of boss was a micromanager (39%), followed by a boss who’s overly critical (22%), disorganized (16%), a “know it all” (14%), and impatient (9%).

The respondents were an anonymous group of people. The group included women and men of various ethnicities, ages, educational backgrounds, and experiences.

With such a high rating as an undesirable managerial trait, micromanaging falls into the “bad boss syndrome” category, along with bullying, berating, and taking credit away from subordinates and colleagues.

The only respondents in the Comparably study that didn’t rate micromanagers as the worst bosses were Gen Z and entry-level employees. These groups picked disorganized, overly critical, and impatient as the top unfavorable boss traits. Micromanaging tied with being overly critical among tech designers.

Employees clearly recognize micromanaging behavior, as studies like Comparably’s showed. But do micromanagers recognize themselves and the damage they’re causing in the workplace?

How do you know if you’re a micromanager?

Merriam-Webster gives micromanaging this simple definition: “to manage especially with excessive control or attention to details.” But this management style is much more complex than most and, in many ways, much more toxic.

If you don’t know whether you’re a micromanager, try answering these questions:

  • Do you closely and consistently monitor your team members because you don’t trust them to carry out the work as well as you do?
  • Are you often dissatisfied with your employees’ performance and the results of their work?
  • Are you overly focused on minute, incidental details?
  • Do you regularly get involved in day-to-day situations at work rather than focus on more important big-picture issues like most managers?
  • Are your team members so dependent on you that they wait for your direction before performing their jobs?

If you answered “yes” to most of these questions, micromanaging is likely your management style.

These questions were originally directed at nursing professionals, but apply to micromanagers in general.

The next step is understanding how this management style harms your workers and colleagues. In fact, the National Institutes of Health (NIH) call micromanaging a “costly management style.”

Micromanagement can be a health hazard for workers

Harmful micromanagement can be a health hazard for the workers affected.

The stress of being closely overseen, controlled, dictated to, and hassled over details each day can lead to chronic health disorders. Those include high blood pressure, anxiety, burnout, and general fatigue.

According to a 2019 LinkedIn report, micromanagement and other toxic work environments increase employees’ risk for clinical depression.

“Managers who are constantly hovering over their employees make it nearly impossible to complete projects, [leaving] workers [feeling] stressed or anxious,” Christy Pyrz, Chief Marketing Officer of Paradigm Peptides, told Workest via email.

Chronic illnesses, in turn, slow down productivity, increase absenteeism, and even force workers to leave their jobs.

A lack of trust can drive micromanagement

Business leaders like Mila Garcia, co-founder and hiring manager at iPaydayLoans, generally agree that much of what drives micromanaging is a lack of trust on the boss’s part for employees and colleagues.

“The problem with micromanagement is that, if left unchecked, it can often send a clear signal to staff members that management doesn’t trust them to work independently,” Garcia commented in an email query for Workest. “This in turn contributes to lower confidence in the workplace, which in the best-case scenario, leads to employees becoming overly dependent on management’s constant guidance and instruction.”

David Triana, publicist at Otter Public Relations, also sees the lack of trust as central to micromanaging. He recently told Workest, “Micromanaging can harm employees by communicating a sense of distrust for employees’ work and competency within their work. I think that trust is a huge component to a thriving company culture, as well as employee/management relationships.”

What are the harmful results of micromanaging?

Villanova University released a report in 2019 citing 6 harmful results of micromanaging:

  1. Lowers self-esteem. Constantly telling workers how to perform their job makes them think they couldn’t reach the desired results on their own. This lowers their self-worth and how they see themselves in their organization.
  2. Curbs innovation. People need freedom to be innovative. Managers who deprive workers of this freedom also deprive them of the time and energy needed to come up with new ideas.
  3. Deflates morale. By stifling employees’ ability to freely perform their jobs, micromanagers deflate morale in the workplace.
  4. Increases turnover. Micromanagement lowers morale, forcing disgruntled employees to quit their job for 1 that gives them more respect and freedom.
  5. Wastes production time. Workers are less productive when managers spend excess time checking on, tweaking, and requesting changes to their work.
  6. Limits promotional opportunities. Executives expect managers to be strategic decision-makers. Therefore, they’re likely to pass over micromanagers for career advancement. This is as a result of their focus on — and in some cases, obsession with — mundane work details.

Garcia pointed out a worst-case scenario for an organization’s culture when it comes to micromanaging. “It breeds an office culture of mistrust that leads to lower employee satisfaction, productivity, and ultimately increased employee churn,” she said.

What are the risks of micromanagers to organizations?

Micromanagers harm workers and their own careers, as the Villanova report noted. But they also put their organizations at risk.

Micromanagers also put their organizations at risk.

Harley Lippman, CEO of Genesis10, told Workest by email that micromanagers are often the reason employees leave companies, which he said can destabilize organizations and increase rehiring costs.

“Micromanagement … reduces productivity and forces employees to think about how to appease their boss instead of how to make the most efficient and impactful decisions,” said Lippman. “Micromanagement can also stifle the creativity of an organization, as it forces employees to be singularly focused on very specific tasks instead of looking at ways a company can innovate, grow, and improve.”

What are micromanagement’s causes?

Are micromanagers born or made? Personality types may account for some of their behavior. However, researchers place some of the blame on external factors like job demands and a lack of formal training.

For example, researchers in the nursing study attribute micromanaging among nursing mangers to the massive amount of administrative work they must do. In striving to perform the highest quality work in the safest possible way for their patients, nursing managers may obsess over the details of daily patient care rather than concentrate on the “big picture” of wellness.

As for a lack of training, managers in a 2018 study by West Monroe Partners said they developed their management style by watching other managers. They received no formal management training, which could prevent them from adopting bad-boss behavior.

Is micromanaging needed in the workplace sometimes?

Is micromanaging ever a good thing? Yes, according to pro-micromanagement researchers in an NIH report. They claim that micromanaging allows leadership to:

  • Know their team members better than other types of managers.
  • Control work results, rather than control team members.
  • Prepare subordinates for dealing with big problems.
  • Predict the future and avoid negative outcomes by monitoring or interfering with minute details.
  • Continuously guide team members

For employees who’ve felt the pressure of a micromanager’s “heavy hand,” managers with less repressive styles could make the same claims as the researchers in the report.

It may be debatable whether micromanaging is ever a good thing, but is it ever needed? Business leaders agree that it is.

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When is micromanaging necessary in the workplace?

According to the NIH report, managers may need to supervise employees more closely than usual when:

  • An employee is new.
  • A work assignment is new or complex.
  • An organization is facing serious problems or a crisis.
  • Productivity sinks to low levels.
  • Decisions on critical tasks are necessary.
  • Workers are underperforming.
  • A new strategy is needed to resolve an issue.
  • Customers have serious complaints that managers must address.

Lippman thinks that chronic micromanagement is seldom justified and that it usually has the opposite effect of what employers want for their organizations. But he agrees that micromanagement often is necessary to support new hires, turn around poor performers, help employees overcome shortcomings, or change their behavior.

“The goal should always be to get employees to a state where they can manage themselves to the desired outcome,” Lippman said. “[But] any type of micromanagement should be short-term, as it is unproductive over long periods of time.”

Garcia also identified scenarios where micromanaging is acceptable, such as during the onboarding process. “In such cases, simply handing out assignments and leaving [new hires] on their own can often have them feeling unsupported, stressed, and in over their heads,” she added.

How can leaders undo micromanaging behavior and change?

If you fit the profile of a micromanager, it’s not too late to change your behavior. According to the Harvard Business Review, you can start by:

  • Examining why and how you became a micromanager.
  • Getting feedback on your management style from your team members.
  • Building trust among your team members.

HBR acknowledges the right of managers to adopt a managerial style of their choice, while supporting the idea that changing a micromanaging style is worthwhile.

Adopt an open communication process with employees

Pyrz recommends changing micromanaging behavior by adopting an open communication process with your team members.

Lippman offers this blueprint for changing a micromanaging style:

  • Set very clear expectations for employees (often in writing) on what their responsibilities are along with the desired outcome.
  • Give employees a feeling of empowerment and ownership for the outcome.
  • Trust, but verify, that the desired outcomes will happen.
  • Praise employees when they’re meeting your expectations.
  • Provide constructive feedback when employees aren’t meeting those expectations. Try to understand why they didn’t succeed. Then, coach them on how to achieve goals moving forward.
  • Tie employees’ financial rewards to goals to motivate self-management.

When should HR step in when it comes to micromanagers?

When employees begin filing complaints and job satisfaction plummets, that’s the time HR should step in to check the micromanager and recommend behavioral change, said Pyrz.

HR should always partner with their organizations to help managers become more effective at their jobs.

Triana agrees that when employees start speaking up in numbers about a micromanager’s negative impact on their work and mental health, it’s time for HR to act. “I think at that point, HR must step in and correct the behavior, even if that means HR is micromanaging the micromanager,” said Triana. “Maybe if that were to happen, the behavior would change.’

Lippman believes HR should always partner with their organizations to help managers become more effective at their jobs. “Through employee exit interviews and employee surveys, HR can better understand where there are deficiencies and help coach managers in these areas,” he said.

The takeaway: Create a culture of trust, respect, and innovation

Micromanaging may be a necessary evil in certain cases. However, this management style creates too many risks for employees in the long run.

By creating a positive company culture of respect, trust, and innovation, you can avoid micromanaging in your workplace or start revising your own managerial style, if necessary.

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