How to Deal with Micromanagement at Work

April 29, 2024
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Despite not often being intended, some people exhibit behaviours at work which can result in employees feeling as though they are being micromanaged. Micromanagement in the workplace can have a significant impact on morale and performance, leaving employees feeling disengaged and under intense pressure to perform.

In this article, we will outline what the phrase micromanagement refers to and the signs you should look out for. We will also provide you with guidance on what to do if you suspect micromanagement in the workplace.

What is Micromanagement in the Workplace?

Micromanagement in the workplace is a form of surveillance and control that is considered to be extreme. It tends to refer to the behaviours people exhibit to monitor and control aspects of team members’ work and decision making. Most often, micromanagement is attributed to those in managerial positions, but employees can also behave in a way that is considered to micromanage their colleagues. For example, if someone has been given leadership responsibilities on a project and hasn’t received training or guidance in how to do so effectively, they may unintentionally micromanage the team members working on the project.

Like the employee in the above scenario, many people who micromanage don’t start out with the intention of doing so. Most micromanagers don’t realise that they are in fact micromanaging. They often have good intentions and think they are behaving in a way that will deliver results, but their behaviours can have a significant, damaging impact on individuals and teams. This type of behaviour at work can prevent other employees from developing professionally, as they aren’t given the opportunity to experience having ownership of tasks or making decisions independently.

If you feel as though you are being micromanaged, you may experience a lack of morale, feel under pressure to perform and lose confidence in your abilities. Micromanagement in the workplace can be very frustrating, because you aren’t given opportunities to develop your own skills and develop. Often, tasks must be signed off by the person doing the micromanaging which can result in employees feeling as though they aren’t trusted to complete work.

Prolonged micromanagement in the workplace can lead to a decline in the creativity and confidence of team members. In some cases, employees may experience a decline in their mental health due to the stress and anxiety caused. Employees may feel as though they have no option but to leave the company to seek employment with more opportunities and autonomy elsewhere.

Signs of Micromanagement

Some of the signs that may indicate that you, or another employee, are being micromanaged in the workplace include the individual displaying the following behaviours:

  • Heavily involved in the work of their employees or their team.
  • Makes decisions themselves, with limited input or discussion with others, and prevents individuals from making their own decisions.
  • Requests frequent updates on projects or tasks and wants to be kept constantly informed.
  • Unwilling to delegate tasks and instead tries to complete them themselves.
  • Adamant that their decisions and opinions are correct and unwilling to try to understand other peoples’ perspectives.
  • Has high, and often unrealistic, expectations of employees and establishes unachievable deadlines.
  • Critical of employees’ work and highlights small mistakes in a non-constructive manner.
  • Detail-oriented.
  • Oversteps boundaries.
  • Instructs employees to complete a task in the way they want it to be done, stifling any creativity or independent thought.
  • Excessively monitors employees to know what they are working on and their progress.
  • Makes changes to the work of employees once it’s been completed, rather than raising and discussing it with the individual to then make the changes themselves.
  • Retaining information that would be useful to others. This ensures that their employees and others have to rely on them to answer queries or solve problems.

Examples of Micromanagement

An example of someone overstepping boundaries and exhibiting signs of micromanagement in the workplace could be if a manager takes on some of the responsibilities of someone else who has been designated to lead the project. They may act as project manager when there is already someone assigned to this role for a task. Behaviours may include trying to make decisions about the direction of the project, checking what work has been completed and to what standard or suggesting changes and giving their input when this hasn’t been asked for.

Alternatively, someone who is micromanaging may display behaviours that indicate they want full control and everything to go through them. For example, they may require an employee to reach out to someone in another team or to an external stakeholder. Rather than delegate this responsibility and give them full control, a micromanager may expect to be overseeing all conversations that take place. They may request to be CC’d on every email exchange or to attend meetings where there is no need for them to also be present. These behaviours could indicate to the employee that they aren’t being trusted to carry out these tasks independently and they may feel as though they are constantly being supervised.

Is Micromanagement Bullying?

In some cases, micromanagement can be seen as a form of bullying, particularly if the individual is perceived to be using harassment and other techniques to control their employees. Micromanagement in the workplace can take many different forms, and can range from minor micromanagement tendencies to an extreme need for control and oversight over tasks and employees.

The effects of micromanagement can be akin to those experienced by someone being bullied, and so it should be avoided as a management strategy. A micromanaging employee can create a toxic work culture where others feel distrusted, disengaged and unhappy. You may feel stressed and anxious at work, which can have an impact on how you feel both at work and outside of it. If you are experiencing these emotions, you may find the guidance contained in our articles How to Manage Stress at Work and How to Deal with Anxiety at Work useful.

The person who is perceived to be micromanaging may not believe that their behaviours are such, but employees who are on the receiving end may feel differently. If someone is suspected of micromanaging, it’s important that their potentially damaging behaviours are brought to their attention.

Why Do Managers Micromanage?

As mentioned, some people who micromanage don’t realise that they are behaving in this way. They may not know that they are having a negative impact on employees or preventing them from developing their skills. Instead, they might assume that their keen eye for detail and willingness to take on tasks is positive for the business. These traits can, of course, be beneficial for individuals to possess, but when taken to the extreme they can have the opposite effect.

Another reason why someone may micromanage their team may be due to their own fears about losing control over projects. They may struggle with giving responsibilities to others, which may be due to past experiences of individuals failing to complete tasks to a high standard. Instead of approaching this problem by trying to do things themselves instead, they should look at why this individual didn’t perform as hoped. Perhaps they lacked clear instruction, or there are gaps in their learning that could be filled with training.

Managers may also have a poor self-esteem and feel as though they need to prove that they are good at their job. They may fear that allowing others more autonomy could lead to them being seen as inadequate when others succeed. These feelings may form part of the micromanager’s personality, or develop due to a poor work culture and competitiveness with an organisation. 

Finally, someone may micromanage because they are an inexperienced manager, or they haven’t had suitable training to be successful in their role. A manager may adopt a poor management style because they have copied the behaviours of another manager and think this style is effective. Organisations must support their employees by providing development opportunities for managers to improve their style. If employees are given management responsibilities and are not properly trained, they may develop poor behaviours that can lead to micromanagement in the workplace.

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How to Stop Being Micromanaged

As an employee, you may experience micromanaging from your manager or from a colleague. If you are concerned about someone at work’s behaviour or think you might be being micromanaged, it’s important to speak up. Otherwise, their micromanaging will likely continue and you may find that you start to lose confidence in yourself and become unhappy at work. Your colleagues may also be experiencing similar effects as a result of micromanagement.

If you experience micromanaging you should remember that this is likely due to the individual’s own insecurities and style, rather than to do with you. It’s important to have a good relationship with your manager and colleagues and there may be some things you can change to improve this. For example, to build trust, you could consider why someone is observing you and exerting control. You may have previously missed deadlines or made numerous mistakes on a task. If this is the case, you may be able to alleviate some of the micromanaging you experience by improving your own behaviour. However, remember that it is not your responsibility to stop anyone from micromanaging.

Ultimately, organisations must prioritise creating a positive workplace culture which excludes micromanaging. Managers and those leading teams on tasks must be appropriately trained to carry out their work effectively, and this includes how they manage their colleagues.

How to Handle a Micromanaging Boss

If you believe that your manager is micromanaging you, or exhibiting behaviours which could lead to micromanagement, you may feel as though you can have an open conversation directly with them. In some cases, the micromanagement may not be severe and you may otherwise have a good relationship with your manager. If this is the case, you may feel comfortable raising your concerns with them during a one-to-one or catch up meeting. During this meeting, you should explain what behaviours and actions you are concerned about and how they make you feel on the receiving end. Many managers will be reasonable and understanding, and want to improve themselves to become the best manager possible for their team. If this approach doesn’t work, and your manager is resistant to change, you should then speak with the HR team.

In some situations, you may not feel as though you can approach your manager about their micromanaging behaviour. You might be worried that your manager won’t receive your concerns well and that it could make things worse. You should reach out to your organisation’s HR team for a confidential discussion about your situation. They will then respond to the matter sensitively and appropriately and support you throughout.

How to Deal with a Micromanager Co-worker

You should approach dealing with a micromanaging colleague in a similar way. If you feel comfortable talking to them about the impact of their behaviours, have a discussion in a non-confrontational manner. If this doesn’t result in a positive change in their behaviour, or you don’t want to discuss your concerns with them, you could approach your manager for advice. Alternatively, you could speak to your HR team about what you are experiencing and the impact it is having on you and your work.

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Want to Learn More?

Micromanaging behaviours can have a detrimental effect on your self-confidence and how you feel about and approach your work. If you find yourself struggling to speak up in meetings or communicate confidently at work, take a look at How to Speak Up in Meetings for guidance. You may also find information on How to Develop a Growth Mindset in the Workplace useful to improve your resilience during difficult situations.

Micromanaging is typically not an effective style of managing employees. It can result in employees feeling as though they can’t be trusted and aren’t capable to complete tasks independently, disengaged from their work, distant from their team members and under pressure to meet unrealistic deadlines and goals. If you suspect that you are being micromanaged in the workplace, you should speak up and discuss what you are experiencing and how you feel with either your manager or the HR team.

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