Micromanaging. It has negative connotations for most of us, and understandably so. We’ve all experienced that boss that seems to be constantly watching over your shoulder and chastising you for miniscule things that perhaps could have been slightly more perfect (read: more their ideal of perfect) or that employee that you feel constantly requires your attention and will always ‘play while the cat’s away’. At face value, it seems like a management style that should promote efficiency and accuracy. In theory. The reality is far removed from this idealistic presumption and its effects can be clearly monitored on both a quantitative and a qualitative basis.

The term is defined as “attention to small details in management: control of a person or situation by paying extreme attention to small details”. If this has you thinking of a certain boss, then it may be time to speak up – and if this sounds vaguely familiar of your own management style, then it may be a good use of your coffee break to sit back and think about how you value the employees who answer to you. But it isn’t always so easy to notice, particularly if you’re the perpetrator, and it certainly isn’t a black and white case to put forward to your boss when you start to pick up on these behaviours. Nobody begins their working day by thinking “I’m going to scrutinise my staff with a magnifying glass today” yet considering 79% of us said that they have experienced micromanaging, it is clearly more common than one might think.

So what are the effects of micromanagement?

If you’re an employer, you might be thinking that this management style leads to quicker and better results, a team that are efficient and well-behaved and therefore more job security for yourself (after all, everybody answers to somebody – you could even be micromanaging as a result of being micromanaged). This, however, could be an entirely incorrect hypothesis. Considering that 71% say that it interfered with their performance, it might be a good idea to take your foot off the gas slightly and then monitor the volume, speed and quality of employee output and then draw comparisons from previous weeks/months. If, however, it is the output itself that you tend to scrutinise, remember that this isn’t always a bad thing! Every business needs a perfectionist at some point in the production chain, whether you’re the editor of published material (Miranda Priestley, I’m looking at you) or a Partner in a law firm overseeing the transactions of other lawyers. However, getting another set of eyes on your subordinate’s work might prior to your own screening might give a better indication of whether of you’re simply being too picky with their work.

The fiscal cost of micromanagement cannot be understated. Not only does this lead to a significantly higher staff turnover, therefore creating additional recruitment costs, but employees actually get sick from it – not just sick of it. According to Harvard Medical School instructor Jonathan D. Quick, research has linked being micromanaged to a multitude of health problems, including increased risk of heart attack, high blood pressure, sleep problems and chronic stress. Of course, this means that those paid sick days get utilised and you’re paying for zero output, as opposed to output that you might think is poor.

What does this mean to for the workplace?

Think about it: if someone is nit-picking at every tiny detail that you do or don’t do, you’ll soon learn the habit of keeping quiet for fear of reprisals. In turn, this leads to suppressed creativity in the workplace and a strained, cut-the-atmosphere-with-a-knife environment. Team morale will inevitably decrease as you’re insulting their talents and their professional autonomy. When put into perspective, micromanagement could appear as entirely unethical to the workplace, and I’m sure that there are many employees worldwide who wouldn’t hesitate to agree.

Is it always a bad thing?

No doubt, there may be some industries in which micromanaging is necessary (perhaps if you manage a bunch of students on a weekend basis) but it’s probably a safe bet to take note of the fact that, if you have a team of generally hard-working professionals who rock up in a pressed shirt each day, you should be able to trust your staff more than you currently are.

Some workers may even prefer to be micromanaged, particularly if they’re training and generally a little unsure of what they’re doing, and value your detailed input. But this can be difficult to gauge. The safest option would clearly be to have an informal coffee meeting with your team and allow them to voice their opinions and perhaps allow them to prove ways in which they don’t necessarily need to be micromanaged to such an extent. By calling this meeting and being sincere in wanting to gain understanding and move forward together, you’ll most likely find that they will work harder for you because they feel genuinely valued and that their perspectives matter.

How to change this TODAY

If you’re experiencing being micromanaged:

  • Collate a short list of the behaviours that your boss does consistently that you feel are hindering your performance job enrichment, remembering that some attitudes and behaviours will be entirely appropriate to their role of managing (a list as long as your arm might not receive the best reception)
  • Ask your boss for a few minutes in private, an informal yet isolated area would probably be best so as to reduce the seriousness of the meeting, which could cause your boss to feel attacked and end up being counter-productive
  • Take into account all of the feedback that you get (they may have good reasons for keeping a close eye on you) and address these together with an agreed plan of action going forward that you will both act upon
  • Review your job fulfilment and output after a few weeks of these changes being implemented and schedule another quick informal coffee

If you think that you might be guilty of micromanaging:

  • Take a few minutes to assess your behaviours and attitudes in the workplace. Do you watch your employees like a hawk? Are you constantly dissatisfied with the work that they produce? Do you tend to reprimand them often for this? Do you lead them as a team and offer genuine support and guidance, or do you tell them exactly how you like it done and adopt a my-way-or-the-highway approach?
  • Think of some proactive ways in which you can address these issues, all the while examining how much you trust your employees and how much autonomy you would personally like to be given
  • Schedule a meeting as a team, again, very informal over coffee so that they feel relaxed – if the idea of having the whole team hear others’ opinions on your management style makes you apprehensive, I can almost guarantee that this has probably already been mentioned amongst them
  • If you have genuine reasons as to why you have become micromanager (perhaps you’re under great pressure from your own superior) tell them! Your staff will understand what it’s like to be on the receiving end of pressure and be much more receptive toy our reasoning
  • Snowball a variety of ideas of how to change the approach of each issue that arises in the meeting; there will be issues from both yourself and your staff, and a mutual plan about how you will all change together will prevent animosity
  • After a few weeks/months of implementation, re-group and review productivity and workplace satisfaction for the entire team, including yourself

Everyone has a different leadership style. And this is fine. What isn’t fine, however, is leading in such a way that your staff hate their job or putting up with hating your job because you’re being under-valued.

Luckily, I have two Directors and managers that give me all the professional that I could ask for whilst also providing me with all the support and guidance that I need whilst I’m training. Our office is entirely collegiate, and it leads to an efficient and productive team effort into every project. For any further advice, feel free to email me at louise.dixie@jepsonholt.com