The rise of hybrid and remote working has created a physical distance between employees and their bosses. This gap can unfortunately be a catalyst for micromanagement. Managers trying to avoid dangerous ‘out of sight, out of mind’ territory may shift their managerial style in the opposite direction towards micromanagement.
This can be detrimental to the success of companies as it eliminates one of the fundamental tenets of any flourishing organisation; trust. A report by the Harvard Business Review revealed that employees at ‘high-trust’ companies report 106% more energy at work, 50% higher productivity and 40% less burnout. Yet, a Capgemini survey found that 37% of UK employees feel micromanaged whilst remote working.
These numbers are massively at odds with each other. To achieve greater success as a company and boost employee satisfaction, companies must nurture trust by identifying and weeding out micromanagement.
This article will help you to do so by explaining the meaning of micromanagement, the signs of a micromanager and how to deal with micromanaging in the workplace.
- Meaning of Micromanagement
- Signs of Micromanagement
- Tips on How to Deal with a Micromanager
- Long-Term Effects of Micromanagement
- How HR Tech can Limit Micromanagement
Micromanagement is a term used to describe management involving extreme attention to minute details and excessive control over the work of a junior team member. A micromanager will instruct an employee how to carry out a work-related task rather than simply informing the employee what work is needed.
Delegation and trust go out the window in cases of micromanagement. It is often resultative of a manager feeling out of control and trying to regain some of it through over-attentiveness.
Micromanaging cannot be categorised as bullying in every instance, but there are often similarities between the two. Both disempower the recipient and can negatively affect their mental health. They can result in higher stress levels, lower self-esteem and therefore decreased productivity.
Don’t jump the gun when identifying and labelling micromanagement. Direct reports feeling frustration with their managers is a common dynamic so it’s important to tread carefully when differentiating symptoms of micromanagement from standard managerial practices.
Also remember that managerial style is a sliding scale. Some leaders have more of a laid back approach whilst others are more hands on. As the definition explained, control must be ‘excessive’ for it to become problematic.
If you’re unsure about recognising a micromanager, these signs of micromanagement are a good place to start:
- Requesting to be cc’d in all emails
It’s common for managers to ask for full visibility of emails when an employee is being onboarded. This is for training purposes and shouldn’t raise any red flags. However, if a manager doesn’t let go of the email reigns once the employee is fully integrated, this might be cause for concern. This behaviour suggests that they don’t trust the instincts of their team members and they always want to have the final say.
- Relentlessly asking for status updates
There’s nothing worse than wasting time reporting on a project that could instead be spent on progressing it. If updates are being requested regularly outside of scheduled 1:1s, this could be a sign that a manager is overly anxious and disbelieving about the abilities of their team.
- Controlling how tasks should be completed
Micromanagers place just as much focus on how work gets done rather than what work gets done. They obsess over the details rather than the output. Multiple employees could be tasked with the same thing but complete them in totally different ways. Allowing this flexibility can instil a stronger sense of pride and confidence in an employee as they grow to trust their own capabilities. Explaining exactly how to achieve an outcome can hamper this growth and limit employee development.
- Refusing to delegate
Similarly to the above point, micromanagers will try to finish everything themselves. Again, this is born from a misguided belief that only they can do a good job.
- Backtracking on delegation if they spot an error
Learning by doing and making mistakes in the process is part of the development process. A junior team member making an error is an opportunity for their manager to explain what they did wrong and how they can remedy it. But for a micromanager, an error being made proves what they already believe to be true; that they are the only person who can complete the task accurately. They would therefore take control over a piece of work as soon as they noticed a mistake.
- Refusing to share knowledge
A key sign of micromanagement is when managers resist passing on knowledge. Doing so may not feel necessary to them as they prefer to do all of the work themselves anyway. It’s also another tactic to retain control. Knowledge is power; harbouring one means harbouring the other.
- Closing their ears to feedback
Micromanagers are often incapable of understanding that they can learn as much from their team as their team can learn from them. They might see themselves as above constructive criticism and therefore disregard it. This trait can make it even more difficult to approach a micromanager about this issue (more on this later).
Now that we’ve identified a few signs of micromanagement, we can think about how to deal with a micromanager.
Understand the Psychology of Micromanagers
As with most things, it’s easier to tackle a problem once you understand the root cause. That way, you can tailor your approach to the individual and attempt to neutralise the trigger.
The reasons behind micromanagement are wide-ranging but the following are some of the most common:
- Lack of trust in their junior team members.
- Wish to bridge the gap between themselves and their junior team members.
- Desire for power and control.
- Feeling more comfortable doing the work from their previous role.
Create a High-Trust Culture
As distrust is one of the key micromanagement triggers, it’s important to build this back up. Trust isn’t built in a day so this can be a lengthy process, but it’s worth being patient considering how crucial trust is to performance and productivity.
Firstly, focus on building trust between the micromanager and their direct report. This might mean that the direct report has to be more forthcoming towards the beginning of the relationship. For example, sending unprompted status updates and submitting work that has been carefully vetted for mistakes. They can slowly start to ease off once the foundations of trust have been laid.
Secondly, spend time fostering a company culture that prioritises and nurtures trust. Encourage managers to embolden their team to take breaks and look after themselves. Create opportunities for colleagues to build personal relationships with each other through team building activities, milestone celebrations and social events. Check in on unconscious biases and ensure there is a spirit of fairness and inclusivity throughout the workplace. Highlight the importance of honest and regular communication, whether that be within each team or throughout the company more generally.
Open Lines of Communication
In some cases, it’s quickest and most effective to approach a micromanager directly. For this opportunity to arise, there must be processes in place that allow employees to present feedback to their managers, such as 360 reviews. Consider giving an option to make this feedback anonymous so that team members feel more comfortable giving honest criticism. Remind employees to be polite and measured when writing reviews even when they are being critical.
In other cases, the micromanager may view this as insubordination and could respond poorly. For this reason there should also be opportunities for team members to bring their concerns to HR. They should feel that the HR door is always open.
Be careful not to allow previous micromanagement behaviours to creep back in. Maintaining these lines of communication and checking in with the recipient can help to prevent this.
Clarify Individual Roles and Responsibilities
Micromanagement can be resultative of blurred boundaries between roles within a team. When clear lines aren’t drawn, it’s impossible to know who is responsible for what. This makes it easier for micromanagers to hoard tasks and harder for team members to claim these tasks as their own. Make sure the responsibilities and day-to-day tasks of each person are crystal clear to avoid these imbalances.
The effects of micromanagement can be felt by employees and the company as a whole. A survey by Trinity Solutions found that 85% of people reported their morale was negatively impacted by micromanagement and 71% of people felt it interfered with their job performance. In summary, the psychological effects of micromanagement can lead to poor work performance and less company success.
- Decreased employee engagement
Micromanagers remove autonomy from their team members meaning they have less impact on the company’s success and become detached from their work as a result.
- Decreased productivity
Explaining every decision wastes time that could be spent on making them. Giving constant status updates and placating a micromanager means less energy directed into work tasks.
- Increased absenteeism
As a result of the above two points, employees will begin to feel despondency and dread when thinking about work. Expect sickies and excuses to start piling up.
- Fractured relationships
Negative energy is infectious. Not only will the manager-report relationship be impacted, but the team as a whole won’t function as they should.
- Stunted development
As micromanagers tend to resist knowledge-sharing, there will be limitations to how much employees can learn and grow within the company.
- Drop in retention rate
The same survey found that 69% of people have thought about switching jobs due to micromanagement and 36% have actually gone through with it. The psychological effects of micromanagement alongside impact on the work environment can cause people to feel that leaving is the only option.
An all-in-one HR software like Factorial’s can help to prevent micromanagement by solidifying processes and responsibilities and increasing visibility of workflows.
Here are just a few of the ways our digital solution can help to eradicate micromanaging:
- Allows managers to set tasks that team members can mark as completed. This avoids potential back and forth whilst a project is in progress.
- Makes these tasks visible to teams so that roles and responsibilities of individuals are always clear.
- Centralises everything in one place so managers can spend less time on collating work and more time on their strategic role.
- Prioritises employee growth. Our performance management software helps you track and evaluate employee performance against established KPIs and provides employees with relevant training so that knowledge-sharing occurs. It also allows you to set goals so that individual development is front of mind.
- Automates 360-degree reviews so cases of micromanaging can be raised through real-time feedback. Questions can be personalised to each individual so you can ensure any areas of concern are addressed.
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