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Why do Bosses Micromanage in the Workplace?

By Preethi Jathanna

Senior Writer for HR and Remote Work

Why do Bosses Micromanage in the Workplace?

A question many frustrated employees end up asking is; why do bosses micromanage? Micromanagement also goes by the term command and control. It has become the style of leading most managers have defaulted to over the previous decades. The signs of micromanagement in the workplace aren’t that difficult to spot.

If your boss is constantly checking in on you for status updates and making decisions unilaterally, chances are that they are micromanagers. A Trinity Solutions survey that is now part of Harry Chambers’ acclaimed micromanagement survival guide, revealed that 79% of the respondents experienced micromanagement. Of these, 39% of these employees wound up switching jobs. More alarmingly, 79% of workers affirmed that micromanagement interfered with their work performance. In this blog, we will talk about why bosses micromanage and tips for managing a micromanager!

1. What is Micromanagement in the Workplace?

Micromanagement at the workplace is a management style where the manager or supervisor closely controls/monitors/observes the work of his/her employees or subordinates. It shows a lack of freedom for employees and is generally observed as a toxic style of managing work or teams.

2. Why do Some Bosses Micromanage?

Micromanagement is rooted in insecurity, trust issues, and fear of losing control. The truth is, the criteria to promote someone to a managerial position doesn’t necessarily mean that they’ll turn out to be an extraordinary, well-liked manager. The analogy I think best describes a toxic, micromanaging boss is that of a school teacher who knows his or her subject but fails to deliver the lesson to the class.

Most managers confuse perfectionism with professionalism. In the quest to be deemed worthy of their role, they turn into workaholics and in turn, expect those who report to them to become workaholics as well.

A manager’s role is to provide the support and resources needed for performance excellence. A micromanager expects results without providing support for it.

Managers determine their own competence based on their ability to hit the numbers, increase profits and manage workforce productivity. At the end of the day, however, you’re managing personalities and skills. Failing to see people as they are, with lives of their own outside of work, causes a manager to set toxic expectations. These invite frustration, resentment, and eventually burnout.

Some reasons why bosses resort to micromanaging their employees are;

2.1. Lack of Confidence and Trust Issues

An underconfident manager struggles with getting people to take him or her seriously. This lack of confidence translates to them misguidedly micromanaging to make sure their team responds to their authority. It also speaks of trust issues where the manager isn’t certain of an individual member’s competence and wants to be closely involved to make sure things are happening the way they are supposed to.

2.2. Unawareness of any Other Style of Managing

In all likelihood, some new managers would have transitioned from a role where they themselves were micromanaged by a predecessor. They would have come to accept that this style of management gets results. Such managers end up going with a form of leadership they recognize and stop considering other approaches to managing people.

2.3. Fear of Loss of Control

Managers are accountable for a company’s efficiency and operational performance. And they see controlling processes and protocols as the way to do the job. The biggest fear managers have is losing control. They fear that they will not be able to demonstrate to workers how they want things done unless they are with them every step of the way.

2.4. Lack of Context

Most first-time managers only get looped in on low-level emails which offer little context to recruitment processes. The ensuing gap between hiring and staffing requirements means that the new hires onboarded to a team may not always be an exact strategic fit. This means the manager whose team the new employee is assigned, would have to involve himself or herself closely till the new join gains their footing. This is how a micromanager defaults to such a style of supervision, making it a habit that is difficult to curb.

2.5. Fear of Missing Out

Some managers miss doing their previous job, which they are now having to oversee. They are concerned that they’ll miss out unless they are in the thick of the action. Such managers end up doing the work that they were originally supposed to delegate, creating more confusion over responsibilities, work ownership, and accountability. They wish to have a bird’s eye view of progress, issues, requests, and achievements but quickly lose track of these if and when the team size grows.

A micro-managerial lifestyle is detrimental to both the person doing the managing and the person being managed. It causes managers to track the in-seat hours rather than the results the team reaches by the deadline. This practice results in workers putting in overtime and being stretched thinly.

3. How to Work Well with a Micromanaging Boss?

I know I’ve been critical of micromanagement so far, but like any style of managing, there are both pros and cons to micromanagement. The benefits include being able to

  • Track work progresses every step of the way.
  • Hold people accountable and catch errors before delivering results.
  • Execute complex processes
  • Prevent productivity lapses by being on the ground to understand what’s working and what isn’t.
  • Bring remote employees together and keep them connected.
  • Know what’s constraining projects and get a better sense of the time, resources, and costs it’ll take to finish work. Micromanagers don’t become so overnight, so don’t expect them to switch to another style of leading immediately. It's a gradual process that requires a shift in mindset and evidence of the result that progressive leadership can offer.
    Here is how you can work well with a micromanaging boss;

3.1. Be Proactive

Over time you’ll know what your manager is expecting. Beat them to the punch. Even if it's an unforeseen change in circumstances that you know will impact progress, remember to inform your manager. This way, new developments will not catch them unawares. They will even be able to help you out themselves or assign someone to help you.

3.2. Focus on Self-discipline

The surest way to stay focused is first to find out your productivity window. These are the hours that you are able to get most of your work done. Practice working out your schedule such that you can fit in priority work and attend to it first. Making a habit of it helps you figure out how long it takes and the time you’ll need to set aside to concentrate on it. 3

3.3. Communicate

Develop a rapport with your boss and let them know how you feel. Chances are that they are oblivious that they’re coming on too strong and will make an effort to do things differently. Being able to express how you feel about managerial practices can help managers adjust their way and frequency of communication. Run your manager through anything new you’d like to try out, with the promise that you’ll go back to what they prefer if your way does not work.

3.4. Try to be Empathetic

Why do bosses micromanage in the workplace? A key reason is that most micromanagers themselves are under pressure from their superiors. They are answerable to them. The last thing they need is a rebellion. Instead of exploding at them, identify when, how, and where to involve your manager. Over time and through observation, they’ll come to know that they can trust you to work independently. They will be more likely to delegate responsibility to you and leave you to deliver the results with methods you run by them.

3.5. Evaluate your Environment

Are you the only one being micromanaged? Are there others who feel the same way about the same manager? If your manager’s micromanager tendencies only come out under certain circumstances, take a minute to identify the triggers for it. This will help the manager recognize that they are slipping into micromanagement. They can give context, control with consistency, and remain open-minded, encouraging others to make suggestions and contribute to the general well-being of the team.

4. Is Micromanaging a Form of Harassment?

While not illegal, micromanaging constitutes workplace bullying if left unchecked. It has been linked to low job satisfaction and high employee turnover. Micromanagers risk straining workplace relationships.

So, why do bosses micromanage in the workplace? They do so because it keeps teams accountable. However, it can also create a toxic workplace culture that places more emphasis on controlling what everyone is doing than trusting and supporting them to achieve goals. Down the line, micromanagement also poses health risks to workers, such as hypertension, performance anxiety, and heart disease.

If you recognize that you have become a micromanager or are becoming one, know that it's not too late to ease away from micromanagement and to transition into being a leadership coach.

The difference? A coach invites their team to question processes and is open to suggestions for process improvement. A leadership coach gives recognition and credit where it's due and encourages self-governance and individual accountability for results. Bring about this change by collaborating with your workforce. Share goals and establish context and expectations so that your teams do not feel left out of decisions. Trust is a two-way street, and meeting your team in the middle ensures you are managing them with the firmness of an authority figure and the understanding of an empathetic leader.

5. FAQs

5.1. Why do supervisors micromanage?

According to sources, there are two reasons supervisors micromanage -

  • They want to feel connected with their juniors or subordinates.
  • They feel comfortable doing their old activities.

In some cases, supervisors have a tendency to become bogged down and fail to see the bigger picture. They believe that they are capable of effective decision-making.

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