When it feels like someone is constantly hovering over your shoulder to check your work, it’s hard to get anything done. Instead of leading the team or company toward a broader vision of profit and impact (“macromanaging”), a micromanager is obsessed with every little detail. They want things done exactly their way.
Micromanagement stifles innovation, creativity, and leadership development of the team. Here is everything you need to know to spot a micromanager, plus 5 tips on dealing with them.
What is a Micromanager? (Definition)
A micromanager is someone who excessively monitors the details of other people’s work. Instead of focusing on leadership, coaching, and higher-level strategies, a micromanaging boss is preoccupied with controlling every aspect of a team’s performance. They may have trouble delegating tasks, trusting team members, or allowing independent decision-making in the workplace. This can lead to a less productive team, low employee morale, and higher turnover.
6 Signs You Are Being Micromanaged
You may feel you’re being micromanaged, but you can’t quite put your finger on how or why it’s happening. All you know is that your boss is on your heels with every move you make. They try to dominate the conversations and hover over you as you work.
If you’re not sure whether your boss is micromanaging or not, here are the most obvious signs to look for:
- Your boss checks in with you constantly
While check-ins are essential for employee happiness and productivity, excessive communication from your boss can feel exhausting. For example, suppose you’re working on a project (that you are fully qualified to execute), and your boss emails you every few hours to see what you’re doing. In that case, this overcommunication could be a sign of micromanaging.
Similarly, a manager who asks you to meet with them multiple times a week may be trying to control your responsibilities instead of empowering you to do them independently.
However, there is a crucial caveat: If you are new or training for additional roles, this sign may not apply. It is normal to need a little “hand holding” as you learn something new. Experts say that short-term micromanagement of new employees or underperforming team members may be justified. It’s when your boss starts breathing down your neck for months or even years at a time that you should take notice.
- You are scared to make decisions on your own
If someone belittles you for making bad decisions, it can create fear around making future decisions. A micromanaging boss can sow doubt in you with their doubt.
The key to noticing this sign is honesty about your skills and experience. When uncertain about a decision, you shouldn’t be afraid to ask for help. If you are, there may be a deeper communication issue at play.
- Your boss obsesses over minor details.
One of the cornerstone traits of a micromanager is their intense focus on tiny details. They may ignore the big picture while spending most of their time nitpicking your tone on a phone call or the way you folded the company T-shirts. It can seem like the organization’s larger vision has been left by the wayside.
At some point, it feels like you can’t get anything right. Your boss doesn’t compliment you on the fantastic sales presentation you gave; instead, they go off about a specific image on one slide. You ultimately feel demoralized and confused about how to make them happy.
- They re-do your work.
Let’s say you spent weeks planning for a big event your company is hosting. You’ve dotted all the I’s, crossed all the T’s, and feel excited to present the finished product to the team so everyone can start preparing for the big day. But when your boss sees the results, they begin to go back over your work and re-do it their way.
While some micromanagers may gloss over this behavior as perfectionism or high-performance, it’s actually a form of control. Experts have even argued that micromanagement creates a codependent relationship with employees wherein people can’t function independently without the meddling of the manager.
- They use a “my way or the highway” approach.
Micromanaging bosses tend to have a “do as I say, not as I do” mentality. They don’t model the behavior they expect, yet their opinion is always correct. They don’t want to hear anyone else’s ideas or try something new (even if their way isn’t working).
If you feel like your boss always wants it their way and refuses to let you do your job the way you think it should be done, they’re probably micromanaging you.
- The boss has to be CC’d on every email.
Micromanaging bosses want to stay in the loop at all times. They want constant updates and hold seemingly endless meetings. Streamlined digital communication is crucial for productivity, whether you’re part of a remote team or working in an office. But when your boss tries to be involved in every single conversation between you and your coworkers, it may be a sign that they don’t trust the team to communicate on their own.
What Causes a Boss to Micromanage?
According to Harvard Business Review, managers often start to micromanage because they worry about being disconnected from lower-level workers or unable to let go of their old job as they move up the ranks.
Unless you are training for a new position or have had past performance issues, micromanagement typically has nothing to do with you. It is likely an issue with your boss’s mindset and management style.
The potential causes of a micromanaging boss include:
- Lack of training: Give your boss the benefit of the doubt and understand that micromanagement most commonly comes from a lack of training. They may be mimicking leadership styles they’ve experienced in the past, or they never learned how to manage a team properly.
- Fear: Your boss may be new to their position or had a negative experience in the past where they gave employees too much reign. Maybe they are afraid that the business will burn down without them present to nitpick every detail.
- Trust issues: When you’re new to a workplace, a manager may not trust you simply because they don’t know you yet. Or they could have trust issues from past employees who stole confidential information or failed to execute an important project.
- Lack of confidence: People often over-supervise because they don’t feel confident in their leadership skills. They think they need to “show you who’s boss” to feel superior in their position. This insecurity may manifest as an attempt to control your every move because they don’t want to be embarrassed in front of their supervisors.
None of these situations is your fault, but it helps to understand that your boss is only human. It takes time for them to build their leadership skills, develop trust, and let go of minor details. This is not to say that micromanagers get a “free pass.”Workplaces with a micromanagement cultural issue will need to adequately address the individuals at fault and work together to help them resolve their micromanaging tendencies.
5 Tips for Dealing With a Micromanager Boss
Micromanagers can cause so much unnecessary stress and conflict in the workplace. Thankfully, if you find yourself in a situation with a micromanager, you don’t have to quit your job to find relief. Here are 5 tips for respectfully approaching your boss and working with them to create a better work environment for both of you.
- Figure out the level of management you need
Every employee requires a different level of support to do their best work. Understanding your work style helps you differentiate between “feeling micromanaged” and being micromanaged.
For example, if you are a very independent worker, you may get annoyed by your boss checking in with you too often about your progress on a project. An employee with a high level of autonomy and an extra supportive boss may feel micromanaged when their boss is just not matching their management style.
If you bounce from boss to boss and always feel micromanaged, it may be because you’re a uniquely autonomous worker. This is a conversation you can have with your managers to let them know you like to understand the goals and guidelines, then run a project on your own. Expressing this preference and building trust could resolve the micromanagement issue reasonably quickly.
Answer these questions about yourself and schedule a meeting to discuss them with your boss:
- How often do you like to have check-ins?
- What is your preferred method of communication during check-ins (phone, email, in-person)?
- What helps you get your work done most efficiently?
- What do you wish you had more of from your manager?
- What do you wish you had less of from your manager?
- Initiate relationship-building conversations
Open communication is the cornerstone of any relationship, particularly the one you have with your boss. A good boss should have an open-door policy regarding communication.
But if they don’t, you may need to take things into your own hands. Starting conversations about micromanagement may seem complicated, but being honest with your boss about your concerns can ultimately build more trust in the long run.
You should approach these discussions with the utmost respect and kindness. Disarm them with a positive, complimentary twist, and then politely express how you feel about being over-supervised. Try saying:
- “I value your guidance and respect your experience very much. I feel like I’ve learned a lot from you, and I would love the opportunity to show you that I can do this project on my own.”
- “I’m doing everything in my power to make you and our team look good, but sometimes it feels like I don’t have the autonomy I need to do my best work.”
- “I have noticed that you are checking in a lot lately, and I appreciate the communication. However, the hovering and adjustments to my work are affecting my productivity.”
Pro Tip: If your manager refuses to talk to you or acknowledge their micromanaging tendencies, you may need to head to HR or a higher-level supervisor. Micromanagement can be part of a toxic workplace culture that you can’t fix on your own with your boss. Nonetheless, controlling your reactions is key to your happiness on the job. Here are more tips on How to Deal with Your Bad, Mean, or Difficult Boss.
- Ask for clear guidelines and timelines.
Micromanagement becomes a major problem when your boss doesn’t communicate what they want you to do. As you take things into your own hands and try to deliver a good result, you may be blindsided by a boss constantly changing their expectations. As their excessive supervision increases, this can create a confusing and frustrating cycle.
Henry Steward, business author and CEO of workplace consulting company Happy, says he thinks micromanagement is the number one frustration employees face. His key suggestion is for managers to make more explicit guidelines and give people the freedom to execute them. If your manager doesn’t delineate their expectations, try asking for them. You can say:
- “I was a little confused about your expectations on that last project. Could you write down the core objectives for this one?”
- “Please tell me how you want this work to look, and I will execute it to the best of my ability.”
- “I would appreciate clearer guidelines so I don’t waste your time checking in too often.”
- “When would you like to check in with me on this?”
- “What is your ideal timeline for this project?”
- Show that you are trustworthy.
One of the biggest issues that micromanagers face is their inability to delegate tasks. Deep down, the fear of delegation comes from a lack of trust. They may feel like previous team members have let them down or that things won’t meet their standards if assigned to someone else.
You obviously can’t just tell your boss to trust you with more things, but you can demonstrate your trustworthiness so they feel more comfortable sharing the load. Help build trust with your boss by:
- Being transparent: Clear, open communication is the foundation of all tremendous manager-employee relationships. During weekly check-ins, share the specifics about what’s going on in your day-to-day work life. This will make them feel “in the loop” so they don’t have to check on you so often.
- Asking for advice: Most people take pride in mentoring and sharing their expertise with others. You can give your boss room to develop their leadership skills by asking for their advice or guidance on assignments. You can say, “I am not quite sure how to present this new proposition to our client, but I know you have a lot of experience in pitching ideas. Do you have any advice for how I should approach this?”
- Completing projects on time: Don’t miss deadlines or procrastinate important tasks. If something is taking longer than you anticipated, communicate with them ASAP so they can trust that you are working as diligently as possible.
- Showing loyalty: Show your boss that you are a dependable team member who won’t betray their trust. For example, give them credit for great ideas when presenting to the team. You can also highlight their contributions when interacting with a customer. When you take little extra steps to make your boss look good, they will feel like you’re genuinely a loyal team player. Avoid talking badly about your boss with coworkers or revealing confidential information to others.
- Reinforce positive behavior
Feedback is a two-way street. While we commonly think of our bosses as giving us feedback, employees should also provide feedback to their managers. If you notice that they have cut back on the micromanaging tendencies, it’s an excellent opportunity to reinforce the behavior and let them know how it helped you be more effective at your job.
You can say:
- “I appreciate the trust you showed on the last project. It helped me dial in and focus on my best work.”
- “Thanks for clarifying your expectations on that last assignment. It made it way easier to execute my role independently.”
- “I enjoyed the creative decision-making I got to have on this project. Thanks for giving me the lee-way to show off my skill set.”
Key Takeaways: Overcome Micromanagement with Trust and Communication
Dealing with an overbearing boss is never easy, but it helps to understand where they are coming from and take note of the specific signs you see in your daily tasks. The best ways to respectfully deal with a micromanager boss include:
- Be specific about signs: It’s essential to take a mental or physical note about the exact things your boss is doing that make you feel micromanaged. Vague accusations could only lead to more problems. Remember specific examples to reference in your conversations. You may note: “During preparation for this event, my boss managed the itinerary, chair setup, swag gear, presentation colors, and even my outfit. It felt like I had no control over my assigned project.”
- Build trust: Many micromanaging bosses operate from fear and distrust. They may lack the leadership skills to delegate tasks appropriately. One way to overcome this is by demonstrating your trustworthiness and loyalty. Remember to highlight your boss’ contributions and avoid gossiping about them.
- Initiate open conversations: Your boss may not know they are micromanaging you until you approach them. Use the script ideas above to respectfully initiate a conversation that will build a better relationship with your boss and help them understand where you are coming from.
If micromanaging harms your productivity at work, discussing the issue with your boss or HR is crucial for creating a healthier workplace. After all, you likely spend 8 hours a day on the job and don’t want that to negatively affect your mental health. For more tips on staying satisfied in the workplace, read our guide on how to Be Happy at Work: 10 Science-Backed Ways You Can Be Happier.