How Can You Spot Micromanagement?

If a micromanager has ever managed you, you know how demotivating it is.Micromanagement cartoon 1

In this article, we take an in-depth look at micromanagement.

Micromanagement is also covered in our line manager courses!

What Is Micromanagement?

Micromanagement describes a management style that involves excessive supervision and over-attentiveness to the minor details of a team member’s work and methods.

Micromanagers try to control all aspects of an assigned task, rather than delegating tasks and trusting in the ability of their team members to carry them out.

Usually, micromanagement is a way for the team leader to manage their feelings of lack of control.

Micromanagers require excessive reporting on a task to maintain a sense of control and will go to extreme lengths to involve themselves in all aspects of a job assigned to a subordinate, even when it is one the subordinate has completed successfully before.

While this might be fulfilling to the micromanager, it stifles employee creativity, wastes time (spent on monitoring irrelevant details) and creates a hostile work environment.

How To Spot A Micromanager

Signs that your manager is a micromanager include:

  • Controlling the task, not the outcome:

If your manager is concerned about the processes you carry out to complete a task or project and not the outcome, they are probably a micromanager. Micromanagers focus less on results and more on making sure you are doing things their way. They check every process of a task, leaving no room for creativity.

  • Ignoring feedback:

Micromanagers tend not to be good at acting on feedback. If your manager is constantly ignoring your feedback, then they may be a micromanager.  Micromanagers tend to see people more as tools to carry out a task in the way required, and miss out on the experience that team members can offer them by listening to them carefully.

  • Obsessing over details:

Being detail-oriented is a desirable trait, but in a manager, this can become suffocating if they can’t look at things with the right level of detail. Managers and leaders should focus on the big picture and leave their team members to deal with the details.

  • Hating decisions being made without them:

Micromanagers hate decisions being made without them. Their need for control makes delegated decision-making very difficult for them. So someone who struggles a lot with delegated decision making is likely to be a micromanager.

  • Taking back work as soon as there is a problem:

At heart, micromanagers don’t like delegating work. Mistakes and problems give them the excuse that they’re looking for to take back work. After all, this is what they were worried about in the first place.

Micromanagement isn’t a black and white thing. We all sit on a spectrum, and it only becomes an issue when this trait is excessive and out of control.

An Example Of Micromanagement

Let’s look at a practical (and terrible) example of micromanagement.

Your boss asks you to collaborate with the company accountant and collate a list of all team members above a certain age and earning below a certain amount.

It’s a simple task that is well within your capabilities, and so you would hope to be left to get on with it. 

A micromanager might well then do any of the following:

  • Speaks to the accountant about the task, “just to make sure they’re clear on what’s required.”
  • Produces a list of all the team members in the required age group as (s)he has access to the data.
  • Asks about progress at the end of the day, despite initially saying they didn’t need the data for three or four days.

The manager’s discomfort with delegating means they come up with excuses to remain involved in the project.

Micromanagement Statistics

A recent study by Accountemps shows that as many as 59% of people have been managed by a micromanager at some point in their career.

Of the people who reported working for a micromanager, 68% said it had decreased their morale, and 55% claimed it had hurt their productivity.

A different study found that 36% of employees have changed jobs as a result of a micromanager.

Manager Delegating work


Why Do People Become Micromanagers?

Micromanagers seldom see themselves that way. They believe that they are good, detail-oriented managers.

Micromanagement is a combination of nature and part nurture.

1. Character Traits 

People most inclined to be micromanagers show the following fear-based characteristics.

      • Fear of losing control
      • Need to be seen as an authority
      • Fear of turning in subpar work

These character traits can be exacerbated when someone feels insecure, for example, when they are new to a supervisory position or if they have been told that their team’s performance is poor.

2. Organisational Culture. 

Different organisations have different cultures and business hierarchies. Businesses whose leadership emphasises control and detail-orientation or that are highly pressured will encourage micromanagement.

Some people will always micromanage no matter where they work.

Others who may tend towards it less strongly will be more heavily influenced by their employer’s culture. Someone who might not ordinarily micromanage can be turned into a micromanager by their organisation’s culture.

Why Is Micromanagement So Harmful?

Studies show that autonomy is one of the biggest drivers of employee engagement.

Working for a micromanager is the opposite of having autonomy.

Micromanagers bring a rapid drop in employee engagement and an increase in the problems that that brings.

Micromanagement can get good results in the short term, but it is very damaging in the longer term. 

Over time, employee engagement and productivity fall, and employee turnover increases more than reversing the short-term productivity boost achieved initially.

Micromanagement cartoon


7 Ways Micromanagement Impacts Employees

Micromanagement impacts teams across the board. Let’s look at some of the specific ways that it can impact people.

1. Reduced Productivity:

The time a manager spends nitpicking is time that they and their team member aren’t spending on productive work.

2. Reduced Teamwork:

Micromanagement forces employees to work with their manager individually instead of working together as a team.

3. Poor Morale: 

Micromanaged teams are not happy or motivated teams. A boss that is never satisfied and tends to focus on the negative is not a receipe for a happy team.

4. Loss Of Ownership:

Being told exactly how to do something and kept rigidly to that plan inevitably leads people to lose a feeling of ownership of their work. After all, if you’re told exactly how to do something, and it goes wrong, it’s not your fault. Equally, if it goes well, you can’t really celebrate in the same way, as what you did wasn’t your idea.

5. Employee Absence:

The irritations and frustrations of working for a micromanager tend to mount up over time. They lead to reduced employee engagement and increased employee absences, as people feel less enthusiastic about going to work. In extreme cases, the mental health of team members can be impacted. Studies have shown a link between depression and micromanaging leaders.

6. Limiting employee growth:

One of the principal ways that growth occurs, personally and professionally, is by making mistakes. A micromanaging boss has no room for errors. Which means the employees can’t grow.

7. High employee turnover rate:

All the above effects eventually lead to employees leaving the company after only a short period due to the hostile work atmosphere.


Is Micromanagement Of Team Members Ever Appropriate?

Micromanagement is only ever appropriate temporarily when a project is going wrong.

At this point, it is appropriate for a manager to involve themselves more deeply in the project. This will allow them to analyse where it has gone wrong and put the appropriate fixes in place. However, at this point, they should then step back and leave the team member to get on with it.

Ideally, this analysis will be done collaboratively with the person carrying out the work so that they still feel a sense of ownership and agency. 

Some people believe that it is appropriate to micromanage when a very particular outcome is required.

If this is the case, then the manager needs to be sure that their team understands this clearly at the outset. They need to communicate their expectations and requirements very clearly about what success looks like. It is also appropriate for them to request precise updates to ensure that the requirements will be met.

Requiring a very particular outcome isn’t a reason to become a micromanager.

Final Thoughts

We are all on a spectrum with micromanagement.

No one is immune from it.

So keep an eye out for it in yourself as you develop your management skills

  • Being aware of your strengths and weaknesses is key to becoming an effective Line Manager. For more tips for supervisors, access our article on the topic.
  • Image Credits: PexelsPexels

About Ben Richardson

Ben is a director of Acuity Training which he has been running for over 10 years.

He is a Natural Sciences graduate from the University of Cambridge and a qualified accountant with the ICAEW.

He previously worked as a venture capitalist and banker and so had extensive experience with Excel from building financial models before moving to learn SQL, Microsoft Power BI and other technologies more recently.