Why Your Boss Micromanages – Guide to Understanding the Tactic

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There’s a cliche buried deep in the construct of daily work. There’s a part of average labor as a society that leads to a singular thought: your boss is the worst. A quote heard from various complainers and hard workers alike. The disdain toward a supervisor is common and universal. Everyone has experienced a manager that doesn’t jive with their personality or is outright upsetting. Often, those candidates for the ‘worst boss ever’ micromanages their entire team (or the specific employee).

At Tier2Tek Staffing, we’ve spent countless hours attempting to diagnose and amalgamate the traits that define an upsetting or objectively bad boss. As a recruitment agency, we spend the majority of our workday corresponding with employers. Therefore, when a company asks for advice on keeping great employees, we need our information and opinions organized and ready to launch. What we’ve found (as have countless of those interested), is that a boss that micromanages is more likely to be ineffective as a manager.

A survey by Trinity Solutions found that 79% of respondents had experienced micromanagement and 69% said they considered changing jobs because of micromanagement. Therefore, when an employee grumbles about a boss, it’s likely that micromanagement is at the top of the complaint list.

But, as humans with a complex matrix of emotions and motives, we must lean toward that of empathy. Sure, we can easily find a place of resentment in things our management does, but what good does that cause?

Ultimately, we should look to understand the root of the issue: why a boss micromanages and how to deal with it to maintain workplace sanity and productivity.

What Is Micromanaging?

Let’s start by clearing up any disorientation.

Micromanaging is not the act of looking over very tiny workers (though that may make for a great Pixar film). Sorry, I couldn’t resist the joke.

Micromanaging is the act of a supervisor keeping too close of an eye on their employees. They keep a close and restrictive eye on their subordinates, not allowing for the correct delegation of work or tasks. Furthermore, they may not take the time to accumulate all the necessary information before making a work decision.

For example, a manager that spends the majority of their day criticizing or demanding employee performance is micromanaging. A supervisor that jumps into demands without understanding the full context of the situation is also micromanaging.

A more specific example: if your boss requires that you check in every hour or after every tiny milestone, they are micromanaging. They have negated any ounce of trust in you as an employee, demanding that you prove to them every step of work. In this, they take all of the control and provide critiques for every micro labor.

If you feel like your boss spends all of their days telling others what to do, they are likely micromanaging. If your boss goes behind every worker, redoing the tasks the employee just did, they are micromanaging.

“Micromanagement is the destroyer of momentum.”

— Miles Anthony Smith, American Author

Why It’s So Difficult to Work With

A consistent feedback loop with your employer is necessary, but the intervals in which the feedback comes are crucial. As an ambitious and attentive worker, you want to know where you stand. You want to know that the work you are completing is up to standards and appreciated by those filing your paychecks. At the end of the day, you do not want a rug pull of significant critique or probation when you thought you were doing your job correctly.

On the other hand, feedback becoming too demanding or consistent can create a soul suck of productivity. If you are constantly criticized or crushed for every little action you make, why try at all? Why not just wait until the manager tells you exactly what to do instead of acting on your own? Therefore, when a boss micromanages, employees lose motivation and stop acting as individual workers.

If your boss doesn’t treat you like an independent and intuitive worker, then why be one at all?

When you take the empathy of humanity out of the workplace, you lose individual and progressive thinking. If you don’t treat your employees like intelligent, equal humans with the clairvoyance to make split-second and independent decisions, then, ironically, you stop their ability to do so. You create a self-fulfilling prophecy of workers not willing to work without your oversight.

Furthermore, the act of being told what to do or criticized for your work constantly creates frustration. Being constantly critiqued causes resentment and reluctance to work for the employer. The worker doesn’t want to work for the micromanager, causing the micromanager to find more grounds for critique.

Overall, a boss that micromanages quickly finds themselves with a workforce that doesn’t appreciate and listen to them.

Misconception of Micromanagement

Though we’ve spent the majority of this article discussing the historical act of micromanaging, it has changed definitions in a new realm of work.

Following a devastating pandemic that swept the world with changes, modern work models were cast aside. As of 2020, the working world has morphed drastically. Employees have more power following the Great Resignation, flexible schedules are in play, and remote work has become a mainstay. Therefore, the act of micromanaging has adapted.

Let’s look at a recent study by Gallup. In the survey, Gallup asked employees how often they receive feedback from their supervisors. The results were as follows:

  • Daily: 7%
  • A few times a week: 19%
  • A few times a month: 27%
  • A few times a year: 28%
  • Once a year or less: 19%

Branching off of that, many reported that despite negative feedback, they would still want more consistent critiques. Many stated that they believed more feedback would help them, creating a contradiction of sorts. If 79% of workers claim to experience micromanagement and only 7% receive critiques daily, then there’s a misunderstanding somewhere.

A New Definition

The confusion comes with the overall definition. Micromanagement, as a whole, may have taken a new form in the transcendent working world of the 2020s.

Gallup claims that the most common form of micromanagement would be the act of critiquing employee performance without overall context or demanding exact work without direction. Which would mean the exact opposite of the aforementioned definition.

For example, a boss demanding a ‘perfect’ project without giving you the exact parameters would be micromanagement. A boss stating that you didn’t do a satisfactory job without explaining what they are looking for.

Regardless of the form of micromanagement you receive, it would still end in the same result. Employees wouldn’t want to perform for the employer, growing a deep-seated resentment.

Why Your Boss Micromanages

Regardless of what micromanagement means to you, understanding why the boss is acting in such a manner can help you cope and combat it. If the key frustration of micromanagement is the supervisor not having empathy for the employee, then having empathy for the supervisor is the main point in addressing it. It’s the exact opposite of fighting fire with fire.

To truly cope and address the issues is to understand why a boss micromanages. If you do not, you will not be able to bring the subject to light without offending your supervisor, quickly escalating the issue to job-dangering heights.

Simply put, if you don’t understand why a person is acting the way they are, you should not attempt to change it.

Empathy Is Key

As stated, you must take the time to put yourself in the supervisor’s shoes before moving on with an action. Ultimately, it’s important to remember that the micromanagement may not be your fault. It’s possible that you have done nothing wrong or are not acting as a bad employee, despite being treated like one. The supervisor may be acting out aggression that you are not the cause of. It’s wrong and upsetting, but it’s possible.

Addressing any situation involves putting yourself in the other party’s shoes. Not doing so makes you just as bad as the micromanager.

At the end of the day, everyone needs to attempt to understand each other before compromises can be made.

Furthermore, in the case that nothing can be done to address the micromanagement, it’s important to have empathy for the health of your future. If you understand that the aggression is not actually due to poor performance on your end, it may be easier to move on. It doesn’t mean that the act of micromanagement becomes healthier, but it does give enough context so that you can not take it to heart.

Henceforth, here are the main reasons a boss micromanages:

Lack of Context

Sometimes a manager is given control of departments they don’t understand. If a company is attempting new labor moves or has cut down on supervising staff, a manager may be put in a place that they don’t have context in. If the manager doesn’t truly understand the efforts, steps, or ideas behind a process, they may begin to micromanage.

For example, let’s say a supervisor is stretched into managing a department they haven’t worked in. They may know what product needs to be made, but they don’t know what it takes to get there. Therefore, if something is wrong with the product, they won’t know how it went wrong, demanding impossible or time-consuming tasks from the team.

Not specific enough?

Here’s an extreme example: a manager is asked to supervise a team doing graphics for an advertisement. When the finished graphics aren’t the correct color, they will tell the team to redo it within a day, not knowing that the labor involved will take longer than a day. When not finished within the demanding timeframe, the supervisor becomes upset. They are micromanaging because they don’t know what goes behind the work.

There are two problems here: One, the supervisor is unaware of what the department does or how it works. That is not their fault. They may have been asked or required to cover a facet of the company they don’t know. They are a fish out of water and only know what the end product is supposed to be, creating unusual pressure on the supervisor.

Two, the supervisor is not humble enough to supervise and admit that they aren’t knowledgeable about the subject. That’s on the shoulders of the manager.

For example, if the aforementioned manager was a better supervisor, they would be able to communicate the desired demands for the product (the correct color), then ask the employees how long the correction would take. Then, they would push the employees to get it done within the feasible timeframe instead of hitting them with impossible tasks.

Lack of Trust

According to a study by Payscale, nearly 85% of U.S. employees said their managers trust them to act and make decisions in some capacity, with just 1% saying their bosses do not trust them to do anything at all until they are told what to do. Unfortunately, the 1% speak the loudest. The squeaky wheel gets the grease.

A boss may micromanage because they simply do not trust their workers. Whether this is warranted depends on the specific situation. It’s entirely possible that the current (or previous) workforce does not complete their work correctly or efficiently. It’s possible that you, the worker, are not meeting the demands of the company. Therefore, the boss feels as if they need to micromanage you to get satisfactory work.

Whether or not the opinion is warranted depends entirely on the situation. Either the manager doesn’t trust you for good reason or no reason (or some murky waters in between).

Regardless of if the manager should or shouldn’t trust you, the point is still that of trust not being established.
That must be worked on through communication (we’ll get to that).

Lack of Experience

We often talk about the importance of clear communication in the workplace. Great leaders speak their minds concisely. They let the workers know exactly what’s going on and how to address it. They know what they want and share it terse-yet-empathetic manner.

Excerpt from our article ‘Leadership Skills – The Best Tips for Workplace Success

Linkedin survey in 2018 found that a boss having unclear expectations is the most common complaint made by employees. There are droves of examples proving this, and if you have ever talked to a disheveled friend or employee, they probably have said the same thing.

Nothing is worse than a manager getting upset about something not being done when they never expressed that it needed to be done.

It does not take a communications major to be clear about what needs to be done. Sure, it may take a bit of courage to be direct and confrontational (when applicable). As a leader, this is your responsibility. 

Furthermore, try to be clear about things you say. It’s completely okay to ask the employee if they understand what you are getting at. Things should never be lost in communication; this can lead to mistakes and frustration.

It’s possible that a boss micromanages because they are inexperienced. If green in the position, the manager may not have acquired or grown the corresponding skills. They are not yet a great leader.

It’s important to look at the professional trajectory of the supervisor before judging harshly. If they are a new manager and have no leadership experience, they may not yet have the communication skills to manage properly, creating an air of micromanagement. If this is the case, they may be unaware and need a bit of direction.

Maybe feedback would help.

Lack of Control

If a boss micromanages, they may feel out of control. The boss may be grasping at the frays of a rope, hoping to find any form of stability.

It’s possible that the supervisor feels a lack of control in their position. Maybe they are being micromanaged by a higher-up or their employees continuously undermine them. Whether the problem is above or below, the supervisor feels like they are not seen as a manager and are attempting to make up for it by acting too much like a manager.

It’s a posture for power.

Despite being the most upsetting reason, it still creates means for empathy. For some reason, the manager feels as if they are not accepted, appreciated, or obeyed. Mostly, this is out of your control, but you may be contributing to it. It’s possible you don’t show the employer the correct amount of respect, causing them to clinch harder.

“Those who like to command and control others are always scared of their authority being challenged or criticized.”

— Ifeanyi Enoch Onuoha, Nigerian Author

Is There Anything You Can Do?

Depending on the position and seniority of the boss that micromanages, you may find yourself in a tricky situation. If they are high enough on the corporate ladder, there’s no one you can go to. You may be stuck dealing with the micromanages, scrambling for air, and finding yourself perturb at every step of your career. It’s rough.

It often seems unwise and unwarranted to tell a manager they are managing wrong. It’s dangerous for your career, as well.

Dealing with a micromanager involves finding out why they act the way they do and helping address it (if possible). Therefore, if you find that the manager feels out of control, you may need to give a boosted sense of respect and obedience to help them feel in power.

Unfortunately, you can’t outright ask why the manager micromanages. Therefore…

Communication and Empathy

Remember to stay empathic through everything that you do. We cannot stress the importance of this enough. Hating your manager and radiating disdain do nothing for either of you. Try to remember the human element of it all.

Furthermore, keep lines of communication open and clear, even if the boss upsets you. Attempt to build mutual grounds for communication and work relationships with the manager. Ask them questions, be polite, and share thoughts with them. Keeping open and amicable communication will help the manager trust and appreciate you, potentially lowering micromanagement.

If the boss still micromanages, you now have clear communication to let them know your troubles without sounding critical. You can be honest with them about how the management style is making you feel.

If you believe the lack of context is the issue, ask the manager if you can share your ideas on production or give them clearer performance goals.

It can be hard to swallow pride, but sometimes others reaching out can help ease the process.

Ultimately, communication is the key to advancement on any grounds (especially workplaces). Build a relationship with your supervisor, giving you the room to discuss the issue outright.

Stay Calm

At the end of the day, remember to stay calm. Micromanaging can be frustrating. Enough of it (or the wrong day), can lead to emotional outbursts. This doesn’t do anything for any party (as we stated).

If things are getting out of hand, take a deep breath. Do not let your frustration get the best of you. Acting diplomatically is the best and most effective way to make positive changes. Acting emotionally or irrationally will only exacerbate issues or get you fired. Do not let a micromanaging boss get the best of you. Do not let a bad supervisor ruin your future and career.

If things seem unfixable and the relationship is shattered, you can always begin looking for another job. You are better off moving on to another job gracefully than losing your current job aggressively.

Deep breath. Everything will be okay with some positive and clear communication.