7 signs you're dealing with a micromanager (and how to manage them)

8 min read  |   2 June, 2022   By Aimee Brougham-Chandler

A woman is sat at a wooden desk with her laptop in front of her, surrounded by paperwork. She has her head in her hands and is looking very stressed. Her mental health in the workplace is declining.

What is a micromanager, and why do people micromanage? This sinister way of managing employees can infiltrate any workplace or organisational culture. 

Micromanagement is one of the worst, most damaging and morale-sapping ways of managing people. It can seriously affect productivity, employee retention and ultimately, damage people’s health.

A manager's job is to provide guidance and support. Their role is to facilitate a healthy environment where employees can perform at their best - reaching their potential by having true autonomy in their roles and building their confidence. Unfortunately micromanagers achieve exactly the opposite.

In this blog, we cover:

What is micromanagement?

Micromanagement is where managers feel the need to control aspects of their employee's work & decision-making to an extreme degree - more than is necessary or healthy for a usual working relationship. 

Many people have experienced micromanagement at some point in their careers. Being micromanaged can reduce an employee's confidence, extinguish autonomy and severely impact creativity - and believe it or not, that's the best-case scenario.

At worst, being micromanaged can lead to employees seeking work elsewhere, or even lead to anxiety, stress & depression. 

Are you being micromanaged?

If you’re reading this and in a dark place as a result of being micromanaged, please be strong and seek help as soon as you can. When you’re being micromanaged - and I’ll move on to the signs and symptoms shortly - one of the worst things is the drain in self-confidence. It can be incredibly difficult to put your hand up and ask for help. 

But help is available and if you feel you're in this situation, it's best to start a confidential discussion with your HR team about what you're experiencing. 

Trying to manage a micromanager?

Do you employ people to manage your wider teams? If the answer's yes, the rest of this piece is for you.

Micromanagers, through surface-level diligence, commitment and attention to detail may seem like model managers, but often use this to hide in plain sight and disguise working practices which – if you had visibility that they were going on – would probably horrify you.

Keep reading to discover the key symptoms of micromanagement and what you as a leader can do to alleviate the situation. 

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Join the Breathe Culture Pledge today and commit to putting your people first. 

Why do people micromanage?

According to the Harvard Business Review, the two main reasons managers micromanage are:

  • They want to feel more connected with lower-level workers
  • They feel more comfortable doing their old job, rather than overseeing employees who now do that job

Leadership expert and best-selling author, Mark Murphy, adds a third dimension: fear. He argues that many micromanagers are terrified that their team members will do something to tarnish their hard-earned reputation, so they control excessively.

Where a micromanager felt secure in a high-performing but non-supervisory role where the quality of their work resulted in a promotion, they fear their abilities as a manager will be poorly perceived if their team members fail to measure up or make mistakes – even small ones.

But the fear most responsible for causing bosses to micromanage is that 48% of bosses like to be seen as experts and authority figures.

More than 5,000 leaders have taken the online test “Are You Motivated By Power Or Achievement?” And based on the results of the test, we know that about 41% of leaders have a very strong desire for power. This isn't always a bad thing - but when managers get carried away, that's when it becomes a problem. 

We need to remind ourselves that the role of a manager is to be the team leader, the decision maker, and the coach, not to oversee every step taken by an employee.

Henry Stewart, business author and CEO of Happy has noted that in his eyes, the number one frustration employees experience is micro-management. He suggests that managers take steps to “make clear the guidelines and what you want people to achieve. And then give people the freedom to work out how to achieve that”.

And Stewart’s comments are in line with our own research. Our Culture Economy Report revealed that 21% regard micro-management as a reason for distrust.  

7 signs of micromanagement

Not seeing the wood for the trees

Micromanagers have a tendency to become bogged down in the minutiae of individual project strands, losing the ability to see the bigger picture.

Every task needs approval 

For many micromanagers, the idea of giving their team members control is unthinkable. They often believe that they are the only one capable of effective decision-making.

People find themselves having to request approval about everything, rapidly diminishing self-confidence.  

An obsession with constant updates

This can result in people spending more time producing detailed updates than focusing on what they are employed to do. With people feeling the constant need to justify themselves comes the feeling that they are not trusted to do their jobs.

Difficulty delegating

This causes two big problems. Firstly, a micromanager's team members wonder whether they are actually allowed to do to the work for which they were originally employed to do. This can lead to a steep decline in confidence. In turn, the micromanager becomes so overloaded with another person’s work that they fail to do their own.

The need to be cc’d into every single email

The need to have visibility of every strand of communication at all times. This indicates a fear of being left out of the loop and obsession that people are discussing details and making decisions outside of their control.

Over-complicates instructions

An obsession with even minor details means that even straight-forward projects become ridiculously over-complicated. Instructions are so detailed and convoluted that they end up becoming incomprehensible.

The belief that no one else is capable

Micromanagers often believe that they are in a management position over lesser talented people because only they can be trusted to work as effectively.

How to manage a micromanager

Once a micromanager has been identified, it’s time to take immediate steps to deal with them in order to mitigate the damage they are doing to people, their productivity and ultimately the company itself.

It’s not the place of this article to talk about the HR policies and procedures that businesses need to follow in order to deal with micromanagers, especially in extreme and ultra-sensitive situations where disciplinary action may be required. This is where an HR professional would come in - and we'd advise you to start there within your own organisation by speaking to your HR team. 

Micromanagers could become difficult to manage and resent what they see as an intrusion even if, ironically, it’s senior managers that they are looking to impress. Managing micromanagers takes tact and careful thought.

It’s very possible that business leaders show guidance and a little tough love could help turn a micromanager around and set them on a new path where they focus on becoming a positive rather than a malign influence. Which brings us to the subject of business culture.

The importance of workplace culture

The culture of a business permeates everything it does and stands for. It’s the way people treat each other, how they espouse company values and standards, it’s the feel of the work environment and it underpins how things get done. The Breathe Culture Economy Report that last year alone poor company culture cost the UK economy more than £23.6 billion.  

Business leaders who focus on creating open, positive workplace cultures where people feel supported and appreciated, with their achievements recognised by their peers and managers create an environment where its almost impossible for micromanagers to thrive.

It’s when openness becomes diluted and business leaders lose sight of how their managers are treating people that the rot sets in. This can all too easily create the toxic culture in which micromanagers thrive, and at the expense of the people they are supposed to be guiding and supporting.

Last year, we launched the Breathe Culture Pledge to encourage other UK SMEs to commit to their culture and put their people first. So far over 370 businesses have joined us, and if you take your culture seriously we'd love for you to do the same. 

Technology and effective management

These days more businesses than ever before are harnessing technical tools which automate time-consuming manual tasks. These tasks can otherwise take over and prevent managers from spending time on helping their people grow and develop. This applies to businesses of every size and every department. HR management systems like Breathe are now an essential part of the tech mix as they reduce admin, improving productivity and efficiency as a result.

This means that HR managers and their teams can focus on personal development initiatives that bring out the best of people. This also means that they will have more time to help micromanagers re-think their practises and work more fairly, ethically and effectively.

Why not try Breathe and get started today? Your free 14-day trial is waiting for you here.

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Author: Aimee Brougham-Chandler

Aimee is a Content Assistant here at Breathe. She enjoys writing about topical HR issues & helping readers find solutions. In her spare time, she is commonly found amongst books.

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