Woman speaking to manager over Zoom as she works from home

Micromanagement at work: how to deal with a micromanager, without losing your cool

Struggling to work alongside an apparently overbearing and inflexible micromanager? Read this.

We all think we know what micromanagement looks like; it’s that boss who wants to approve every email before you hit send, or who chides you for being one minute late back from your (very rare) lunchbreak, or who wants constant updates on what everyone is working on, or who spends a lot of their time looking over your shoulder.

Psychologist and author Dr Kalanit Ben-Ari, though, has a slightly different view of the matter. 

“People see micromanagement as being controlled, when in reality, it’s often the case that a manager has a very detailed understanding of the business and its needs,” she says.

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Our perception of micromanagement

“It doesn’t make sense to hire smart people and then tell them what to do. We hire smart people so they can tell us what to do.”

So said Steve Jobs, and it’s a quote which is sure to resonate with many people reading this right now. Because, when it comes to finding a genuinely happy and fulfilling workplace, this idea of autonomy is usually high on our lists. We want to have a say in our careers, we want to have control over our own workloads, and, above all else, we want to feel trusted by our employers.

An inflexible manager, then, is almost guaranteed to leave someone feeling deflated – not to mention spark dissatisfied whispers of micromanagement.

The negative effects of micromanagement

In a recent survey published by Fingerprint For Success, a staggering 79% of people said they had experienced micromanagement in the workplace. 

A further 69% even said they were considering leaving their job because of it.

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According to the Harvard Business Review, “disengagement-driven turnover costs most sizable businesses millions every year.”

What’s more, 85% of people stated micromanagement was negatively impacting their morale – so it’s little wonder that the Harvard Business Review reports that micromanagement leads to disengagement, where an employee clocks in their time but little else.

And, as this apathy is shown to affect other colleagues as well, it seems this is very much a lose-lose situation for all involved.

Why? Well, because a consistent pattern of micromanagement tells us that neither we or our judgement is trusted. And trust, especially in 2021, is pretty much the cornerstone of a successful business.

Mistaking good management for micromanagement

“Micromanagement often gets a bad reputation as it is portrayed as being a result of a manager’s controlling personality,” says Dr Ben-Ari.

“However, it’s often more complicated than that, so it’s important to see both sides to make sense of a situation.”

She adds: “There are huge corporations whose teams complain of micromanagement from funders, and a gruelling working environment, so of course the mental health of the team becomes a concern. But sometimes it is the case that the management team or investor has a clear vision and needs to look at the finer details in order to see continued success within the business.”

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The importance of good communication

That being said, though, Dr Ben-Ari admits that “sometimes when a manager focuses on every detail, it can be about control if they refuse to delegate any of the work.”

“It’s important to understand that, while it’s OK for a manager to care deeply about the details of the work, what matters is how this message is delivered to their team,” she continues.

“If the way this is communicated is upsetting for the team, micromanagement can become a problem.”

How Covid-19 and lockdown has triggered a wave of micromanagers

While many people were undeniably fortunate to be able to work from home during the Covid-19 pandemic, there were several downsides – including increased pressure from managers trying to run their teams remotely.

Coleagues chatting together over Zoom (illustration)
Lockdown has triggered a wave of micromanagers, all of whom have seemingly good intentions.

Dr Ben-Ari explains: “As we continue to work remotely, managers may find it more difficult to gauge their teams’ input and feedback when they’re not working side-by-side, and missing out on quick catch-ups and office small talk. They may feel that productivity is down and that this type of monitoring of their teams’ work is the most effective way to improve it.

“Their response to the situation may come across as micromanagement, but sometimes it’s because everyone needs to work together to find better ways to communicate while working remotely.”

Responding to micromanagement in the right way

“How you respond to this type of management depends on you as an individual,” says Dr Ben-Ari.

“Some people are more independent thinkers so may find this perceived lack of control more challenging than others, and therefore it might irritate those types of people more.”

If your manager’s perceived inflexibility is getting you down, there are a number of ways to approach this situation. The best one, though, is to build a sense of trust between you and them.

“Try not to take their management style too personally, and build trust with your manager as this needs to be handled sensitively,” says Dr Ben-Ari.

“Find ways to communicate more effectively, and try to understand what it is they’re looking for from you, whether it’s better productivity, to learn how to support you in your role, or to help develop your skills.”

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However, Dr Ben-Ari cautions: “If you feel that the style of micromanagement is verging on bullying, then please reach out to your HR team or see who else might be able to support you.”

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