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Damaging Effects of Micromanagement

The views expressed are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of ASPA as an organization.

By Linda Barnes
March 31, 2015

What is micromanagement?

There are several definitions of micromanagement. One definition is, “attention to small details in management: control of a person or situation by paying extreme attention to small details.”

Regardless of the definition used, micromanagement has a negative connotation and is detrimental to employee engagement and morale. Micromanagement will, “at best create a perpetual environment of dependency, inefficiency and unease, and at worst, render irreparable harm to staff morale.”

Why is micromanagement so bad?

Barnes march

Micromanagement’s negative effect on employee engagement and morale can be clearly seen. Employees that are constantly criticized and made to feel they can’t do anything right may try harder for a while, but will eventually stop trying at all. Employees that were once productive lose motivation and initiative and their productivity decreases.

People that micromanage can also be seen as high maintenance and exert inappropriate influence over others. Micromanagement can be so detrimental to some employees that they must move to another job for their peace of mind. It can be similar to bullying in the level of control and influence over the members of a group.

How widespread is micromanagement?

A survey conducted by Trinity Solutions and published in author Harry Chambers’ book My Way or the Highway showed that 79 percent of respondents had experienced micromanagement. Approximately 69 percent said they considered changing jobs because of micromanagement and another 36 percent actually changed jobs. Seventy-one percent said being micromanaged interfered with their job performance while 85 percent said their morale was negatively impacted.

What causes micromanagement?

According to author Harry Chambers in his book My Way or the Highway, “it is interesting that confusion and being unsure is what causes managers to micromanage in order to try to control the situation, but consequently, since micromanagers usually don’t provide clear direction or establish clear expectations it is a losing situation. Micromanagers expect employees to be able to read their minds and that leads to employees feeling like failures because they’re not mind readers.”

Negative Effects of Micromanagement

A micromanager has some of the same personality traits as a tyrannical boss. A tyrannical boss doesn’t give employees a chance to explain when something goes wrong. They make employees feel like it’s their fault. Employees become afraid to communicate with their boss because they’re reproached. In extreme cases, employees’ insecurity can become so severe that the employee fears they’ll lose their job because of the boss’ behavior.

According to author Kathleen Rao’s book My Boss is a Jerk: How to Survive and Thrive in a Difficult Work Environment Under the Control of a Bad Boss, there are seven common symptoms and consequences of working for a tyrannical boss:

  1. Stress. This can affect the employee’s work and home life.
  2. Health problems, such as heart problems or high blood pressure.
  3. Economic problems and job insecurity. Fear of being demoted or losing your job.
  4. Emotional strain due to verbal or emotional abuse from the manager, which negatively impacts self-esteem.
  5. Fatigue from overwork.
  6. Lack of appreciation leaves employees unmotivated because they don’t know if their work is appreciated or valued.
  7. Lack of confidence makes meeting with the manager difficult because the manager looks down on the employees. 

How to effectively deal with micromanagement

The best way to deal with micromanagers is to try to give them all the information they need. They feel insecure if they don’t know what’s going on or are unprepared. They thrive on details, so provide them with detailed reports. Also, try to clarify with them exactly what they’re looking for. Repeat it to them and ask if that’s correct. This is the only way you will know what’s expected, because the micromanager expects you to automatically know what they want, they’re not going to volunteer the information. You have to ask them specifically what is needed, in what format and by when.

Who micromanages more, men or women?

In my own career, I’ve had both male and female micromanagers. It was extremely difficult dealing with the male micromanager on a daily basis and his standards were extremely high for every project or task. Dealing with the female micromanager was not stressful on a daily basis and she fostered a real team environment that was almost like a family. However, if you didn’t live up to her expectations on a particular assignment you were chastised by her. I think males and females are equally likely to micromanage, because the propensity to micromanage is a personality trait not necessarily related to gender.

Conclusion

In summary, although managers should exercise control that control should come with clear direction and guidance for employees to follow. Managers should then allow employees to practice following the direction and guidance, while asking questions as needed to perform tasks. As employees successfully follow the guidance, they are learning to be capable, confident and independent, and job satisfaction, creativity and morale are high. This results in a win-win situation for the employee, the manager, and the overall organization.


Author: Linda Barnes is a management and program analyst with the Internal Revenue Service where she specializes in human resource and administrative matters. She holds a bachelor’s degree in marketing from Northeastern Illinois University and a MPA degree from American Public University. Email:  [email protected].

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The American Society for Public Administration is the largest and most prominent professional association for public administration. It is dedicated to advancing the art, science, teaching and practice of public and non-profit administration.

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