I’ll put this bluntly: if an employer has allowed a toxic culture to develop where managers micromanage their team members, then they shouldn’t be in business.
I would argue that micromanagement is one of the worst, most damaging and morale-sapping ways of managing people, that can seriously affect productivity, employee retention and ultimately, damage people’s health.
A manager's job is to provide guidance and support. It's facilitating a healthy environment where employees can perform at their best. Micromanagers achieve the opposite.
In this article, I talk about:
- My own experience of micromanagement
- Why do people micromanage?
- 7 signs of micromanagement
- How to manage a micromanager
- The importance of workplace culture
- How technology can help
Micromanagement: My own experience
Most of us have experienced micromanagers at some point in our careers, and I’m one of them. Several years ago I left a company where after a number of years I was basically a broken version of the confident and cheerful person I’d always been. It took me a while to recover and the stress - for a while – took a very heavy toll.
But, if any evidence is needed that people can (and do) recover from stress, anxiety and depression caused by micromanagement, I’m very happy to put my hand up.
Are you being micro-managed?
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 you may be surprised at who in the organisation is there for you and genuinely has your best interests at heart. This (luckily) turned out to be the case for me.
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.
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.
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.
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”.
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.
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. 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 is 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 business-leader has identified a micromanager, 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.
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.
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 it’s 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.
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.