No one likes a micromanager, but on an individual scale at least, they can be dealt with. What’s harder to navigate is an entire workplace culture that endorses and cultivates micromanagement. If you work in a culture where the dominant attitude is a micromanaging one, chances are high that you’ll feel stifled, controlled and even exploited. After all, to be micromanaged is to be dispossessed of agency and also denied the reality that your ideas and processes have worth.
What is micromanagement?
Micromanagement describes an overbearing style of management in which the manager attempts to over-control their employees or subordinates. They play an integral role in completing someone else's work, observing too closely, interfering with their responsibilities or frequently giving them unnecessary reminders about the tasks they have to complete.
The problem with micromanagement
Simply put, micromanagement has the potential to destroy your workplace’s culture. One of the most noticeable impacts a micromanaging culture has on employees is a decrease in morale. In a culture that rewards micromanaging, employees are made to question their competency and feel as though they’re not deserving of trust, which leads to a pattern of second-guessing and ultimately a decline in job satisfaction. One survey found that a full 79% of respondents felt that they’ve worked in a micromanaging-heavy culture, and 69% of those workers had considered changing jobs because of it. Not only that, but a full 85% of respondents reported a loss in morale due to being micromanaged.
7 signs you work in a micromanagement environment
1. You’re made to attend a lot of ultimately pointless meetings.
A culture that rewards micromanagement is very much in favor of meetings — the more the merrier! This is because micromanagers love to receive updates with extreme regularity. If you feel you’re being forced to attend a significant number of meetings that ultimately serve no purpose other than making certain parties feel important, this could be a bad sign of the kind of attitude that thrives at your office.
2. It takes a long time to get anything done.
This is because of the amount of red tape associated with relatively simple tasks and projects. A micromanaging culture will endorse the idea that a series of higher-ups should have a say in each project item before it’s considered complete, and waiting for those parties’ buy-in can lead to routine delays in progress.
3. You find yourself asking for permission, often.
Approval processes should be in place at your organization to some degree, it’s true. But if you find yourself having to ask permission, and even receive documented approval, for relatively benign ticket items, that’s a clear sign of being micromanaged.
4. You’re not encouraged to learn new things or to grow.
A micromanaging culture isn’t one that rewards or prioritizes employees’ growth. This is because to grow in any kind of substantial way inherently threatens the power structures at play. Micromanaging leaders don’t want you to reach or even potentially surpass their level, after all.
5. There’s little to no system in place for giving employees feedback.
Similar to the point above, feedback is a means of helping employees to grow and develop. A micromanaging culture would much rather that you simply produce versus advance in any real way. You may receive basic feedback on concrete tasks or deliverables, but it isn’t likely to extend beyond that.
6. Dependency is encouraged.
Micromanaging leaders want to feel uniquely essential to an organization’s success, and they want to feel depended upon by others. If your workplace prizes micromanagement, it’s likely you’ll notice that a relationship of dependency on managers and a culture of spoon-feeding is encouraged for you and your peers. Micromanaging leaders will foster this by refusing to delegate, therein inculcating themselves further in an organization’s ability to succeed.
7. You feel heavily monitored.
In a micromanaging culture, you’ll find leaders who are simultaneously driven by insecurity, yet also in possession of an inflated ego. That’s a combination that can lead to a certain kind of paranoia, and it will often manifest itself in a perceived need to monitor employees. In situations like these, workers aren’t merely kept an eye on—their business is actively pried into. If you work in such a culture, it’s possible your screen time, files and even emails and texts are being tracked.
Mismanagement vs micromanagement
As is a popularly held viewpoint today, micromanagement is a form of mismanagement. This is because anything that inhibits employees’ development, productivity and basic well-being to the extent that micromanagement does is inherently a form of mismanagement. Because employees are made to live in a state of constant self-doubt and disempowerment, they are likely to become disengaged and, ultimately, to leave a company for more supportive waters. As a leader who is tasked with managing and retaining a company’s human resources, being responsible for this pattern points to an inability to do the very basics of one’s job—in other words, it points to a form of mismanagement.
How to escape a micromanager
If you’re currently working within a micromanaging-heavy culture, there are a few things you can try in order to improve your situation.
1. Ask your boss what you can do in order to receive more trust.
Since micromanaging is often an outgrowth of insecurity, it stands to be reasoned that many leaders who micromanage simply want to feel valued and respected. A key way you can accomplish this—and therein get the micromanaging parties off your back—is by deferring to them and outright asking what would help them to trust you more. It’ll create awareness (many micromanagers aren’t totally aware of the impression they’re giving) as well as favorably indicate that earning their trust matters to you.
2. Make a point of asking for feedback, not permission.
Oftentimes when dealing with micromanaging leaders or even peers, we’ve grown so accustomed to their need for input that we attempt to proactively address it by seeking their go-ahead, even when it’s not totally necessary to. What drives us to do this is the fact we know they’ll offer input anyway. However, by firmly positioning an ask as falling within the category of retroactive feedback—and not input that you need before even starting on a task—you’re practicing a helpful form of boundary setting.
3. Consider working remotely.
This isn’t a guaranteed way of solving your problem. After all, certain micromanaging individuals may interpret the lack of someone’s physical presence as an invitation to double down on their progress and contributions. If what you’re dealing with is more so an overarching micromanaging culture, though, versus a particular micromanaging boss, creating some space between you and that environment may be helpful to your productivity and healthier for your overall sense of well-being.
4. Find a different job.
It’s unfair that our financial well-being and sense of professional fulfillment have the ability to be impacted by micromanaging parties. Yet, if permission to micromanage feels truly baked into your organization’s culture, it may be time to ask yourself whether you’d be happier elsewhere, in a role that involves more autonomy. Being micromanaged has a very real toll on your mental and physical health, after all. At some point, you have to ask yourself just how much your current position is worth it.
Ultimately, only you know where your boundaries lie between what you will and won’t tolerate at work. If the situation at work seems like one that’s only destined to bring you further unhappiness, remember that you’re perfectly within your right to extradite yourself from that.