Anyone Can Be a Micromanager

Recently, I received a call from a friend I hadn’t heard from in a while. Typically, when calls like this come in, I want to catch up on everything including work. The last time we talked, he had just gotten a new job in the tech industry and so I was excited to learn about his accomplishments at his job. However, the response I got wasn’t what I expected.

He went on this tirade about his teammates. He started by talking about a software they are working on and how much everyone looks forward to its release. Then, he went on to say that even though he isn’t the project manager, he often finds himself checking up with his teammates to ensure that they are working on their parts of the project. Each time the team comes together to discuss next steps, he finds the need to review their reports to check for mistakes. He is beginning to question their academic credentials and experience due to the frequency of his corrections. He added that he never seems to understand why the project manager and teammates get upset with him when he is only being helpful. He wishes he could handle the entire project, but he has too much to deal with already and spends late hours working.

As he went on, I couldn’t help but view this issue with an HR lens. One thing came to mind: my friend is a micromanager, but he doesn’t know it. That’s right—micromanagement isn’t always a manager-employee relationship and not often as aggressive as we might think of it. In fact, many micromanagers do not realize what they are doing.

© tuaindeed/Adobe Stock

Studies have shown that the causes of micromanagement range from fear of failure, job security issues, personality type, trust issues, to the desire for sole recognition. While these are real reasons to micromanage, it doesn’t change the fact that micromanagement is an unacceptable behavior that has more negative effects than positives.

In many cases, micromanagement causes employees to experience stress, disengage, become less innovative, lose confidence in their abilities, become too dependent, always seek validation, or even leave the organization. In a few cases, micromanagement is useful in getting new employees up to speed with what they need to be doing or in ensuring that deliverables are achieved during crunch times. However, a careful analysis should show that the consequences far outweigh the benefits. 

So, what advice did I give my friend?

  • Recognize and accept the problem. This is the first step to solving any issue!
  • Interrogate your actions. Why can’t you let go?
  • Focus on the result rather than the procedure. Trust your teammates to care about the task as much as you do.
  • Understand that people have different work styles. Be mindful of this and respect it.
  • Lastly, always ask your colleagues for feedback.

As we reflect on our respective roles, work or management styles, we should consider how our actions might impact those around us.

~ This article is also posted on the SHRM Blog.


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