You find our guide to identifying and dealing with micromanaging bosses.
Micromanagers are overly-involved supervisors who observe or instruct employees to an excessive degree. For example, these managers may call frequent meetings, ask for you to account for every minute of the workday, or position themselves as the sole point of contact. Recognizing the signs of a micromanager at work can help you find ways to deal with it.
This article includes
- signs of a micromanager boss
- how to deal with a micromanager boss
- how to give feedback to a micromanager boss
- what to say to a micromanager
- tips for dealing with micromanagers
Here is everything you need to know.
Signs of a micromanager boss
Here are some common behaviors of micromanagers.
1. Does not delegate
Micromanagement is often a symptom of control issues. Instead of delegating, micromanagers will take on or have a hand in all functions. These bosses seem to believe that the workplace will fall apart if they do not oversee every step. Such leaders have a tendency to take over tasks “to demonstrate the correct method,” and may refuse to let employees work alone no matter how confident in their abilities team members are.
Even when the manager does assign duties, employees usually have to obtain approval before moving to the next stage of the process.
These behaviors can lead to delays and uneven workloads. The micromanager boss may run around hectically trying to do everything, while employees sit around awaiting instructions. Worse still, the micromanager may label this lack of leadership as laziness, and use the inactivity to justify the actions. “See? I have to do everything because my staff never does anything!”
No matter how many times employees may offer to help, the manager will never relinquish responsibilities, even when team members prove themselves capable and willing. The boss may say that they “prefer things to be done a certain way,” and insist on overseeing every step.
Communication is usually a good thing, however micromanagers take it to the extreme. These managers over-explain instructions, detailing every step no matter how many times an employee insists, “I got it.” Instead of presenting highlights, these managers relay every piece of information. Such bosses ask employees dozens of questions a day, either in person or via phone or email. Team members cringe upon getting new notifications, knowing it is likely the boss asking for an update.
While not every micromanager may over-communicate to this extent, these leaders reach out more than is necessary. The intention is to be thorough, yet this approach often has the opposite effect, as teammates tend to tune the manager out, and may miss important information as a result.
Micromanagers are always around. Every time you look up, the boss happens to be nearby. Perhaps checking the paper in the printer or rifling through a cabinet. Maybe stopping to chat or glancing your way after talking with a colleague. Constantly taking the route that leads past your desk. When you pop into the break room to grab a cuppa, the boss is not far behind. On days off, the micromanager conveniently left an item in the office or stopped by just because they were in the area.
These managers try not to make it obvious that they are checking up on you, yet all signs point to snooping. The boss may try to pass these interactions off as a coincidence, but these run-ins happen too frequently to be natural. These leaders make their physical presence known, and may well believe that the staff will slack if out of eyesight for too long.
4. Calls constant meetings
Not every conversation needs to be a meeting, yet micromanagers seem not to have received this message. Constant meetings are a hallmark of micromanagers. These gatherings go beyond short daily huddles and check-ins. Every day, this manager seems to have a pressing topic to discuss. Tellingly, these managers tend to do most of the talking. Attendance is usually mandatory, and the manager will interrogate employees who fail to show up.
The more meetings managers force the staff to attend, the less time the team has to finish tasks. Thus, the micromanager’s fears about productivity become a self-fulfilling prophecy.
5. Asks you to account for every minute of the workday
In professions that have billable hours, such as the legal field, consulting, and many creative industries, there is an expectation that workers record precisely how they spend each minute. Micromanagers demand this kind of precision no matter what the position. These bosses constantly question the breakdown of the workday, and want to know how you spend your time at all times. Rarely, if ever, do micromanagers adopt a “get it done, I don’t care how,” attitude. Instead, these bosses try to catch you slacking, and refuse to have faith that you will make up for slow-downs or breaks by hustling later.
6. Demands continual hustle
Seeing employees standing around or chit-chatting drives micromanagers crazy. These leaders want to optimize every minute and make sure team members stay moving. While it is not a bad instinct to have high standards and encourage activity, these individuals fail to understand that busyness does not necessarily equal productivity.
Another fact these bosses fail to grasp is that idle time also serves a purpose. Work has an ebb and flow, and employees need rest to re-energize. Plus, stillness can breed clarity and creativity. Socializing also has benefits, as chatting with coworkers deepens bonds and trust and leads to better collaboration and teamwork.
These bosses seem to think that if employees slow down or stop for one minute, the whole workplace will grind to a halt. Or, more likely, the manager may fear losing control of the staff. Yet assigning busywork that serves no greater purpose than to occupy employees is a sure way to erode trust and morale.
7. Wants to sign off on every step
Reviews and checks and balances are not a bad thing. In fact, these measures are essential for quality assurance. However, while good managers check-in from time to time, volunteer to give their opinions as needed, and ask to review important or sensitive tasks, micromanagers demand to oversee every piece of work that employees complete. These bosses often make employees wait for approval before starting the next stage of the work, which can cause significant delays and frustrations. This condition also sends the message that the leader does not trust the employee to do tasks correctly when left unmonitored.
It is normal for managers to check teammates’ work during the onboarding and training process and during more critical projects. However, having to run every single idea or finished product by a manager indefinitely is neither an enjoyable nor sustainable work model.
8. Positions self as sole point of contact
Good managers are like telephone operators, connecting parties for direct chats. Micromanagers are more like telegram delivery services, acting forever as the middleman that takes the place of a real-time conversation.
These types of bosses do not encourage you to reach out to their bosses or other departments, and may interfere in these interactions. These individuals will offer to make contact on your behalf, and will ferry messages back and forth.
This sign can be tricky to spot, because these behaviors may be a side effect of the company hierarchy. Perhaps high level leaders do want all messages to move through the manager. Maybe the leader is just trying to be helpful by reaching out to other teams on your behalf. Organizational etiquette does often dictate certain standards in terms of communication between levels.
However, micromanagers interfere even when organizational structure is not so strict, or when employees show a willingness to reach out on their own. These bosses may even go so far as to hijack the conversation or send you away on a task if they spot you having a casual chat with a visiting higher up.
How to deal with a micromanager boss
First, try to gauge whether or not the boss is aware of their behavior. The manager may be oblivious to the overbearing habits. Sometimes, bringing these observations to the colleague’s attention will automatically spark a course correction.
Of course, the manager may be willingly unaware of their meddling, and may refuse to acknowledge their behavior. These leaders are in denial about being micromanagers and may resist the label. Be patient with these bosses, and continue to gently present your case over time. It may be better to steer clear of the “micromanager” label altogether. Instead, focus on actions and solutions.
The trickiest group to deal with is the leaders who self-identify as micromanagers, as these individuals are well aware of their conduct and feel justified in their behavior. These managers may even wear the micromanager title with pride. Perhaps these individuals feel as if they have to be overly-involved to ensure the team meets goals. Experienced micromanagers may have a history of dealing with employees who took advantage of freedom.
Also, keep in mind that society and the corporate world tends to praise traits like attention to detail and hands-on-ness. For instance, reporters tell stories about Anna Wintour approving every outfit and place setting for the Met Gala, and admire her thoroughness and commitment. Micromanagers may have trouble distinguishing what level of involvement is helpful and what is excessive. Convincing these managers to back off requires more than words. Employees will need to show proof that they can handle the extra freedom, perhaps by asking for autonomy in one area at a time, and consistantly delivering results.
It also helps to take stock of whether micromanagers are aggressive or just plain annoying. Bosses with anger issues are no fun to confront, and you may want to seek support from other team members or HR before broaching the topic of your supervisor’s management style.
How to give feedback to a micromanager boss
The best way to give feedback to a micromanager boss depends on the individual manager. Try to observe how the supervisor responds to criticism, and which methods and approaches seem to be most effective.
Discussing the supervisor with the manager alongside a group of peers can help the manager understand that it is a widespread problem and not simply a single staff member’s complaint. Not to mention, there is strength in numbers, and collective bargaining can be a powerful negotiating tool. Typically, it is better to frame the subject as “we have some concerns we would like to talk to you about,” instead of springing an intervention, as the latter approach may trigger defensiveness.
If the manager seems more receptive to direct discussion, or if you are part of a small team, then you may choose to raise the issue in one on one meetings. Many performance review processes include opportunities for employees to respond, and this may be a good time to bring up your feelings and your desire for more autonomy. Spinning the conversation from the perspective that you, as the employee, are ready to grow and want more challenges tends to be a safer approach than attacking the leadership style.
Whichever approach you choose, you can use the phrases in the next section to start and structure the conversation. Statements like “I’ve observed/I’ve noticed,” and “I feel” tend to be helpful in diffusing the tension. Be sure to have data and anecdotes to back up your opinion. This evidence will not only encourage deeper consideration, but will also steer the talk towards resolution, rather than focusing on accusation or complaining.
If your boss remains unconvinced after multiple attempts at feedback, or if your manager is hostile, then you may want to escalate the issue to the HR team or your boss’s boss.
What to say to a micromanager
Here are a few phrases that can help you handle an overly-hands on boss.
“Are there aspects of my performance that make you feel I need extra supervision?”
Why it works: On the surface this statement seems like a request for feedback, which shows initiative, ambition, and dedication to the job. More sneakily, this phrase forces managers to admit whether their overbearingness is actually inspired by your behavior or informed by past experience or neuroses. The resulting revelation may make the boss realize their concern is unfounded, and they may ease up as a result. Even if the manager fails to own up at the moment, they may adjust their behavior accordingly afterwards.
On the flipside, there is a chance the manager may make up excuses to justify their over-vigilance. The management approach may be a knee-jerk reaction to try to protect themselves. However, that kind of reaction is often emblematic of a deeper problem, be it a toxic environment or deep delusion. If the boss is ready to exaggerate or outright lie to avoid introspection and accountability, then you may be fighting an uphill battle. If that approach is the case, then at least you will know what you are up against.
“You seem like you have a lot on your plate. How can I ease the burden?”
Why it works: This sentiment shows a willingness to step up and help, which can contradict claims that you and your teammates are apathetic and your needs to micromanage you to motivate you. The statement also shows consideration and concern for the manager’s workload. Empathy and kindness can be very disarming, and it is hard to justify getting mad at somebody offering to help.
Instead of asking “how can I help?” you can also suggest specific actions. This offer can open the door for you to wrangle more liberty under the cover of lessening your manager’s load.
“I hate the thought of you waiting on an answer from me when I am tied up with a teammate or a client. How about we plan to catch up at [X TIME]?”
Why it works: This approach puts an emphasis on how much you value the boss’s time, while subtly reminding the manager that you have other duties to attend to. Scheduling a meeting helps you take control of when you communicate updates, and often you can consolidate multiple updates into a single meeting. This response is not an outright refusal to cooperate with the boss’s request, rather a redirection to a more convenient time.
“I find that I work better when given space to think and experiment. Can you help make this happen?”
Why it works: This technique puts the emphasis on your workstyle instead of your boss’s behavior. In fact, with this way, your manager does not need to fess up to the micromanagement at all. You can play off your desire for space as a personal preference or work quirk, and your boss can feel as if they are doing you a favor by accommodating your ask. The reasoning behind the request can vary. For instance, you can also use logic like, “I get performance anxiety,” “I am more productive when focused for blocks of time,” or “interruptions often block my creativity.”
“I want to work on being more independent.”
Why it works: It is hard to deny an employee the chance for development. This tactic puts the focus on ways you want to grow instead of ways the boss should change. This statement puts the boss’s need to control in direct conflict with your need to be self-sufficient, without outwardly calling the boss out. Plus, the statement shows a willingness for self-improvement.
“I found this new tool that can keep you updated on my progress.”
Why it works: If you cannot stop your boss from checking in on you constantly, then at least you can make it so your boss can keep tabs without disturbing or alerting you. The micromanaging atmosphere may exist for lack of a better system. Tools like kanban boards and checklists can help to reassure the boss that progress is being made and the plan is on track, without the need for interruptions and interrogations. Here is a list of useful project management tools for this job.
What not to say to a micromanager
Here are a few phrases to avoid when confronting bosses about over-involvement.
“Leave me alone/Stop bothering me.”
Why it doesn’t work: This statement may be your inner dialogue when your boss asks for the umpteenth update of the day, however outside of your head this comes off as insubordination. There are much more tactful and effective ways to express this sentiment. Plus, these kinds of dismissive phrases are likely to lead your boss to blame you for not taking feedback or resisting management.
“Why don’t you do it then?”
Why it doesn’t work: Your boss does not really want to do the work all by themselves. These managers want assurance that the job will be done correctly without their involvement. If the boss continues to take over and micromanage even after you prove your ability, the boss’s behavior may be a symptom of a deeper psychological issue. The manager may feel like they need to make themselves indispensable to prove their worth. Either way, throwing your hands up and enabling the bossy behavior gives your boss permission to continue the cycle of micromanagement.
“Obviously I can’t do anything right.”
Why it doesn’t work: First, the boss’s behavior has less to do with your performance than their state of mind. Secondly, passive aggression is not the answer. There are better ways to communicate your frustration than to exaggerate and indulge in self pity.
“Everyone complains about your micromanaging.”
Why it doesn’t work: Off the bat, this statement implies that teammates talk about the boss behind their back. There is a big difference between gathering peers to professionally air concerns as a group, and using your coworkers as a prop to air your grievances. Plus, the boss may double down and insist that griping does not necessarily mean that he or she has done anything wrong, because many people resent being told what to do. This approach comes off as an attack and can send your micromanaging leader into fight or flight mode.
“It won’t get done any faster with you nagging me.”
Why it doesn’t work: Even with more polite wording, the underlying meaning of this phrase is on the ruder side. Basically, this sentence is a sassier way to say, “leave me alone.” Not to mention, one of a manager’s jobs is to keep employees on task and on track to meet deadlines, so the boss is not completely off-base in prodding.
Why it doesn’t work: Silence may seem like a good response to a micromanager, but more likely than not, it will work your boss into a frenzy. Ghosting may solve the issue in the moment, but make the manager double down in the future. You may inspire your boss to take countermeasures to prevent your avoidance. Plus, the micromanager may use your ignoring them as justification of their over-attentiveness, despite whether the habit started before the silence. Neglecting issues is rarely the way to solve office conflicts, and it is better to confront the problem head on and take action.
Tips for dealing with micromanagers
Here are some strategies and best practices for dealing with micromanaging bosses.
1. Don’t take their behavior personally
Chances are, your supervisor micromanages everyone, not just you. If you are the only one that is getting overly supervised, then there may be an opportunity for self-reflection. However, the manager may also have chosen to nitpick for factors beyond your control, for instance, maybe you superficially remind them of a former problem employee.
In general, try not to interpret your boss being obsessively observant and intense about updates as a sign of deficiency on your end. Micromanagement likely has less to do with your work performance as much as your boss’s insecurity and need for control.
2. Do not get frustrated if the first attempt at rehabilitation fails
Micromanagement is often ingrained behavior, and change can take time. Your boss may need time to acknowledge themselves as a micromanager in the first palace, and time on top of that to reprogram overbearing habits. If your first attempt to make your boss aware and hold them accountable is unsuccessful, do not give up. Adjusting your work relationship with your boss may be a matter of gradual compromise, and you may need to alter your approach as you go.
3. Look for roots of the issue
There are many possible causes of micromanagement. For instance, first time managers often feel anxious about the new level of responsibility and may not yet have the confidence needed to give employees autonomy. Or, the supervisor’s supervisor may be pressing them to be ultra-involved. Micromanagement may be an issue bigger than your boss, stemming from a misguided company culture. You do not need to play the role of psychoanalyst, however, empathizing with your boss can help you understand why they act the way they act and find an effective counterargument.
4. Rely on supporting evidence
Pleas for change are more effective with proof. When making your case for more autonomy, have concrete evidence that you are capable of doing the job without extensive oversight. For example, refer to projects you have done at this or other companies effectively. It also helps to have a plan and suggestions for the manager. For instance, “as long as I update the project management tool at the end of every day, you will ask for updates only on a weekly or emergency basis,” or “after I complete the task X amount of times, I can do it on my own.” Accumulate data and ideas that underline your point. At the very least, this evidence can help you defend yourself if your manager tries to pass off over-management as underperformance in the future.
5. Draw boundaries
The most important step in dealing with micromanagers is to establish boundaries. Talking is only so effective. No matter how much you insist you need space, if you continue to enable your boss’s over-involvement, your manager will continue to meddle. You need to put down boundaries, although you do not necessarily need to make it obvious. For example, wait to respond to requests for non-urgent updates instead of replying immediately, or take back control of the conversation when your boss interrupts you mid-meeting.
Avoid reinforcing negative behaviors, and try to subtly train your boss to give you more space and credit.
6. Demand Dignity
Micromanagement can run the gamut from annoying to anxiety-inducing. Learn to recognize the difference between over-interference and abuse. There is a huge difference between your boss asking to review your reports and your boss watching you on a video camera and calling you to let you know you’ve made a mistake. Or, your boss asking you to track your time vs your boss timing your bathroom breaks. Realize also that your boss has no grounds to control your personal life, and beyond facets of basic professionalism, should not try to interfere or control non-work aspects of your life.
More extreme micromanagement tactics are often indicative of toxic workplaces that require more than you speaking up to change. It is usually better to cut loose than to fight a battle you cannot win. Know your basic human and worker rights, and never compromise these rights just to keep the peace.
Most folks deal with at least one micromanager over the course of their careers. These situations can be very stressful, especially since calling out a boss can be tricky. Colleagues in general can be sensitive about being confronted, and the power dynamic and hierarchy between supervisors and reports can make these conversations even more fraught. However, there are techniques, both subtle and obvious, for dealing with micromanaging bosses that can prove to be effective.
Many employees feel like they must ignore or deal with micromanagement, however over-supervision can take a toll over time. Autonomy is a necessary part of job satisfaction, and employees have a right to feel accomplished and inspired instead of feeling nagged. Plus, overstepping bosses can strain a relationship and communicate a severe lack of trust. And chances are, this mindset is not healthy for the manager either. It is better to confront these situations and have constructive conversations to try to inspire improvement.
Sometimes, a manager may not even be aware of the micromanaging tendencies, or may just need the new perspective and impetus to change. And, even if the micromanager proves uncooperative or unreceptive, then at least the employee can move on without regret.
Next, check out this guide to workplace complacency.
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