How to deal with Micromanagement (and still keep your job)

Have you ever been micromanaged? Chances are that you have in some way, shape or form. The bottom line is that it can drain your energy away and can have serious impacts on your wellbeing and mental health if you’re not careful.

Micromanagement can range from those managers who don’t trust anyone to get the job done and up to the required standards, through to the power, control freaks who love nothing more than to think they are the most important person in your organization.

If you currently feel micro-managed by someone at work, there are some things you can do to help yourself.

So how can you deal with micromanagement? Let’s take a closer look.


What Does Micromanagement Mean?

Micromanagement is a managerial or leadership style that involves close supervision of an employee’s work. The manager typically wants to have a hand in every phase of a project, including all communications between employees and other managers. They want to know what employees are always doing, even if that means wasting a lot of time writing updates and reports.

Under a manager who likes to micromanage, employees cannot focus on doing their best work. They can’t use their own judgment and training to make decisions. In many cases, they can’t even use techniques and processes that work well for them because the manager insists everyone uses the same techniques.

That basic micromanage meaning should help you identify a potential micromanager when you encounter one. Next, we’ll discuss some concrete signs of a micromanager.

How to identify the signs of Micromanagement

One clear sign of a micromanager is adding so much of their own input that they consistently change the quality and scope of the final product. They are so heavy-handed that they might as well do the work themselves.

A micromanager may do some or all the following on a routine basis:

  • Display lack of trust and confidence in “lower-level” workers
  • Refuse to delegate tasks
  • Insist that they are included in all communications regarding projects
  • Require their approval for all tasks or stages in a bigger project
  • Inquire frequently about the location of employees or progress on tasks
  • Require excessive updates and reports
  • Make all decisions themselves
  • Constantly critique the work of others
  • Go behind workers to redo their work
  • Focus on small details while ignoring the big picture
  • Attempt to enforce unrealistic expectations
  • Nitpick every small detail to the point work is delayed
  • Set unrealistic deadlines
  • Attempt to communicate with employees outside of work hours
  • Measure, record, monitor, and scrutinize every small detail of all projects

Micromanagers have far more confidence in their abilities than the abilities of employees. Even when employees have more experience or expertise, the manager intrudes on the work process and assumes so much control that the employee is sidelined.

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Is Micromanagement a bad thing?

Micromanagement isn’t always bad, but it is bad more often than good. In the following situations, it does make sense to supervise closely and offer more guidance than most employees require or appreciate:

  • Onboarding and training new employees
  • Motivating and guiding underperforming employees to boost results
  • Overseeing and controlling projects with unusually high risk
  • Teaching new skills and processes
  • Employee prefers close management and feedback

In these cases, micromanagement has a clear goal that is focused on the employee’s needs. The manager doesn’t feel compelled to micromanage for their personal needs and goals.

Micromanaging becomes harmful when it’s implemented for employees who don’t need or want to feel micromanaged. In most cases, it interferes with the employee’s work more than it helps. Let’s discuss the potentially negative effects of micromanagement next.

The Negative Effects of Micromanagement

Did you notice that the occasions where micromanagement is helpful are all short-term scenarios? New employees are managed more closely only while they learn their roles and managers size up their abilities. Poor performing employees are hopefully managed closely only until they start performing at expected standards. Select projects may need micromanagement, but not all projects.

The negative effects of micromanagement set in over the long term. When a manager is focusing too much on the small details of daily tasks for months or years, some or all of the following costly side effects are likely to occur.

Low Employee Morale

When employees are discouraged from independent thinking and problem-solving, their satisfaction with the job decreases. Micromanagement kills creative thinking and prevents employees from fully engaging in their work. As a result, employees don’t feel valued and aren’t satisfied with the jobs.

Low employee morale comes with negative attitudes. That negativity impacts all workers and contributes to a tense environment that lowers overall work quality and interferes with effective communication on the job. Employees simply don’t have a positive outlook for their futures and don’t feel supported. Their loyalty to the company is low as a result.

Management-Employee Power Struggles

When micromanagement becomes a part of the company culture, there is often a clear separation between management and employees. The more managers micromanage, the more employees refuse to do more than the minimum work required. The team and larger company suffer as work slows down and communication becomes more tense or even professionally hostile.

Micromanaging leads employees to believe that managers do not value, respect, or care about them. As a result, they’re less likely to work overtime, pick up extra work, or do anything extra to help members of management out. There are clear sides rather than everyone working as a cohesive team.

High Staff Turnover

When employee morale is low and there’s a clear divide between management and “lower-level” employees, the result is often high staff turnover. Employees look for other job opportunities that will allow them greater creativity, independence, and freedom. Many will move to companies that promote a culture of positivity and give all employees a healthy level of respect.

When dissatisfied employees leave company reviews on virtual job boards and other forums, hiring new talent becomes more and more difficult. The company can quickly gain a reputation for not valuing or supporting employees. Maintaining a full staff is difficult with these conditions.

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Reduced Productivity

When employees are micromanaged, workflow slows down. Employees are often stuck waiting for managerial approval before they can move on to the next phase of a project or another task. They may also have to stop working on new assignments to go back and review or redo completed assignments because the manager is never satisfied with their work output.

The more employee morale drops, the less motivated employees become. They start to work slower or do the bare minimum to get through the day. They have no incentive to work harder or faster, so overall productivity suffers.

Decreased Departmental Growth Potential

One of the biggest problems with micromanagement is that leaders are more focused on small details than the big picture. They often fail to recognize opportunities for expansion and growth because they aren’t paying attention to what really matters for the company.

Leadership is more effective when they focus on the larger picture and leave the small details in the hands of well-trained employees. That ensures a constant focus on the big picture so that steps are taken to improve efficiency and enhance employee satisfaction for greater company success.

Managerial Burnout

One of the more subtle signs of a micromanager is stress. Micromanagement takes a lot of effort and increases the risk of manager burnout. Burnout is characterized by complete exhaustion that leads to fatigue, reduced motivation, job dissatisfaction, and even frequent headaches, depression, and anxiety.

The more exhausted a micromanager becomes, the more their performance on the job will suffer. Combine that with reduced effort and output by employees, and you see how a team or department can quickly become inefficient when micromanagement is the daily norm. Being resilient is not enough!

Reduced Employee Confidence

Employees who do stick with a company long term despite micromanagement often suffer from reduced self-confidence. They’re so accustomed to having their work criticized and redone by others that they lose confidence in their abilities. They start to value their own work less and depend more on input from others to complete projects.

Reduced confidence can make it more and more difficult for employees to apply for more lucrative and rewarding jobs. They may feel stuck in their current position, which may lead to depression, anxiety, and even complete burnout. Please check out our Resilience Training to help.


Micromanagement at Work Examples

Identifying and learning how to deal with micromanagement is easier if you see how it works in a real professional environment. Perhaps you’ve experienced it firsthand, but we created some examples for those who haven’t had the experience.

Micromanagement Example 1 – Constant Meddling

Michael is on a tight deadline at work. His client expects to see a completed project by the end of the week, and he’s stressed about meeting that deadline.

To make matters worse, he must stop at multiple milestones and wait for his manager’s approval. His manager nitpicks small details, requiring him to redo much of the work before he can work towards the next milestone. The changes his manager requests are so minor they have no impact on the overall project.

In some cases, Michael’s manager requests changes that aren’t in agreement with client requirements. When Michael tries to explain that his manager acts offended and tells him to just make the changes. Michael is concerned that the client will reject the completed project and it will reflect negatively on him. He is unable to do his best work because of his manager’s constant meddling.

Micromanagement Example 2 – Constant Corrections

Tiffany is a field representative for a large healthcare network. Her job is to coordinate with clients in a designated region to ensure a dedicated list of needs are met at each location every month. She has been on the job for several years and has established positive working relationships with all clients in her region.

Each day, Tiffany receives at least three or four phone calls from her manager. They want to know where she is, how many clients she has visited, and what task she plans to complete next. She maps out her route for each day before leaving the office, but her manager constantly asks her to change the route to complete additional tasks that put her behind on her own goals for the week or month and then says that she needs to attend Time Management Training so she can improve in this area!

When Tiffany’s performance is reviewed, the manager tells her that she isn’t working efficiently. They question how she plans her route and ignores the reality that her routes are often changed by them. The hard work Tiffany puts into her job is rarely, if ever, acknowledged by the company. She only hears corrections and recommendations for improvement.

Micromanagement Example 3 – Copied into Every Email

Marcel was just assigned to a new department, where he’s required to work with a small group to complete projects for priority clients. The deadlines for each project are tight, and each member of the group has their own tasks to complete. They have settled into the routine of holding a brief meeting every morning in one group member’s office and then calling one another if they need to make decisions during the day.

Shortly after Marcel joins the team, they are all called into the manager’s office. He seems upset that they aren’t communicating as a group, so they explain their morning meetings and regular phone calls. The manager insists that they start communicating through email and adding him as a CC to every message.

When the team requests that their morning meetings continue and the manager is welcome to attend, he says he doesn’t have time in his schedule and insists that the meetings are documented in email rather than held verbally.

Workflow from the team slows down significantly as each member of the team spends more time typing detailed email messages. The manager often complicates matters by sending confusing email messages that show he isn’t following the email threads carefully.

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How to deal with Micromanagement

Micromanagement is rarely covered in Management Training Courses or Leadership Development Training. If you relate all too well to the signs of a micromanager we covered, it’s time to learn how to deal with micromanagement without compromising your job. Many employees who feel micromanaged end up transitioning to a new company because the micromanagement interferes with their mental health. You don’t have to be one of those employees.

Get Honest with Yourself

We talked earlier about some circumstances that do require a closer style of management. That included cases where an employee isn’t meeting performance expectations or when new employees are monitored closer to ensure they understand their positions and have the skills required to thrive.

Go back up to that list of circumstances and make sure that they don’t apply to you. If you are a new employee, perhaps your manager is watching you closer to make sure you settle into your job. They may stop micromanaging after a week or two.

If you aren’t meeting performance expectations, assess whether it’s due to your own issues or a direct result of the micromanagement. Is there something you can do to prove to your manager that you don’t need such close supervision and will perform better with greater freedom?

It’s difficult to admit that you’re missing a lot of deadlines due to distractions in your personal life or have other issues that impact your quality of work. The good news is that you can fix those problems and possibly end the need for micromanagement.

If you know your performance is solid and the issue isn’t on your end, then we have some additional tips for learning how to deal with micromanagement.

Try to Uncover Your Manager’s Motivations

What drives your manager to micromanage employees? Do they simply not trust your ability to do the job well, or are they afraid that your mistakes will reflect badly on them? Once you understand why they choose this style of management, you can work to establish greater trust and ask for more independence on the job.

Knowing your manager’s concerns will help you negotiate for the autonomy you need to function comfortably. For instance, you may ask for scheduled check-ins rather than random intrusions if your boss just wants to know that you’re on schedule and aren’t slacking.

Have a Direct, Respectful Conversation

Start by writing down specific things the micromanager does that negatively impact your job performance. Then identify how those things compromise your work performance and the company. Finally, come up with at least one alternative solution that will meet the needs of the manager while giving you the space you need to work independently.

Arrange a meeting with the micromanager and possibly include another member of management to ensure you have support. Go through your list with the manager and ask for either your solution or another compromise to ensure everyone is satisfied with the work process. Don’t hesitate to include how each micromanagement behaviour impacts your mental health and work performance.

Avoid using the term “micromanage” or anything else that your manager may take as an attack or criticism. Your goal is to bring the issues to management’s attention and give them a chance to correct the micromanagement so that you can work with greater confidence and motivation.

Direct Confrontations

If a manager is intruding enough to make your work uncomfortable or impossible to complete, you may need to talk to them in a private space. Some simple, brief statements can get the message across without consuming a lot of time.

Some example statements include:

“I’ve noticed you continue to inject yourself into the process when I have it covered. Do you trust me to complete this project?”

“I notice you’re hovering around my desk when I know you have more important things to do. Is there something I can do to boost your confidence so that we both get our work done faster?”

You can inject some humour and make it friendly. Confronting a challenge directly doesn’t have to feel tense or negative.

Micromanagement Quotes

“Micromanagement is the destroyer of momentum.”
Miles Anthony Smith

“Micro-managing creativity kills it. To encourage creative brilliance, foster an atmosphere where it can thrive and then step out of the way and let it happen.”
Stewart Stafford

“Invariably, micromanaging results in four problems: deceit, disloyalty, conflict, and communication problems.”
John Rosemond

“None of us should wait to be told what to do, or how to do it. Micromanagement kills initiative, judgement, and creativity.”
David H. Maister

I hope you found this guide useful. Please contact us for additional details on our Management Development Programme and DISC Assessments.


Sean McPheat

Managing Director

MTD Training   

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Updated on: 2 December, 2022

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