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How to Spot and Stop a Micromanager

An infographic shows a wheel with the top 5 signs of a micromanager.
Hacking HR Team

Posted on June 22, 2024

Nobody likes a micromanager. And that’s for good reason – they can have a less-than-ideal impact on not only their own team but the workplace as a whole. 

Micromanagers can cause a myriad of issues. Even among a pool of stellar managers, one micromanager can induce a negative impact on morale, job performance, and retention – which is bad for culture and your bottom line.

Left untreated, a micromanager can cause real damage to the workplace. Particularly in industries like tech, where autonomous work is the norm, a hovering manager can kill productivity. 

So how do you spot a micromanager and put an end to their rein before they start driving out your best people? Here’s what HR should do.

What is a Micromanager?

A micromanager is just what it sounds like: a manager or supervisor who tries to overmanage their employees, even with the littlest tasks. Micromanagers want control over decisions, deadlines, conversations, and everything else an employee does, to an extreme and oftentimes unnecessary degree. 

Instead of stepping back and letting employees do their work on their own terms, micromanagers want things done their way and want to oversee every step of the process.

Although they’ve always been around, it seems that micromanagers have only become more common since the pandemic as workers and leaders alike tried to adjust to remote and hybrid work. 

Over half of the workers surveyed in an Accountemps survey have worked for a micromanager. Among those who have experienced micromanagement, 68% reported a decrease in morale, and 55% said it hurt productivity. 

Why Do They Micromanage?

To help identify and stop a micromanager, you first need to understand how – and why – they operate. 

There are a few reasons why micromanagers may behave the way they do, and it’s important to identify the reasoning behind the micromanagement tendencies to help managers find a better way to help nurture their employees. 

Here are a few reasons why managers may feel they need to micromanage:

1. They feel pressured 

Micromanagers may feel pressured by higher-ups to micromanage employees and monitor their every move based on the organizational culture and the way middle managers are supervised by their higher-ups. 

On the other hand, they may feel pressured to get work done quickly and accurately, leaving no room for employee mistakes. For that reason, they may feel obligated to micromanage employees to ensure that projects are done correctly the first time. 

2. They need control 

For many micromanagers, their behavior comes down to one thing: control. Micromanagers need to be in control of all the work that is done under them, even for smaller tasks that may not need a high level of supervision. 

Their micromanaging tendencies come down to the belief that if they are overseeing all work, they can ensure that the work is done to their liking.  

3. They lack trust

Micromanagement is also tied to a lack of trust between managers and employees. Simply put, managers don’t trust employees to get their work done without supervision, which can cause a breakdown of trust in the workplace. They may think employees aren’t competent enough to do the tasks they’re assigned, or aren’t working as productively as they should.

Lack of trust can come from the greater organizational culture, pressure from higher-ups, or negative previous experiences. The lack of trust micromanagers carry can lead to a lack of trust for employees, too, who don’t trust managers to let them do their best work on their own terms. 

4. They are risk-averse

Another option is that micromanagers may simply be risk-averse, and micromanaging is a way to ensure that things are done correctly and avoid the risk of failure. 

Risk-averse micromanagers may also desire predictability in how and when work gets done, which may manifest itself into micromanagement tendencies. This can also be why micromanagers have such a strong desire for control so that they can achieve the predicted outcome without leaving any room for straying from what’s expected.

5. They are afraid

Micromanagers can also be afraid—whether of failure, negative outcomes, or criticism from higher-ups—which can drive their need to control all the work that’s done under them. To avoid whatever they're afraid of, micromanagers monitor progress closely to ensure that everything is done to their liking. 

An infographic titled 'Why People Micromanage shows 5 reasons for this behavior: 1. They feel pressured; 2. Need to be in control; 3. Lack of trust; 4. To avoid the risk of failure; 5. They are afraid.

9 Signs of a Micromanager

There are many tell-tale signs that you have a micromanager on your hands, and it’s imperative to spot the warning signs before things get out of hand. 

Better yet, if you can catch these signs in a leader early – before it even begins affecting employees – you may be able to stop the micromanagement tendencies in their track and help managers replace them with healthier workplace habits. 

Here are a few of the most common behaviors that can signal a micromanager or micromanagement tendencies.

1. Gets bogged down with details

Micromanagers have a bad habit of not being able to see the full picture. Instead, they’ll often get hung up on the little details of a project and spend their time worrying about how each individual task is getting done, instead of focusing on where the project is going and the end result.

2. Requires approval for all or most tasks

Requiring approval on simple tasks is a tell-tale sign of a micromanager – and it’s a time suck for both the manager and the employees. 

This micromanaging behavior is especially unproductive, as it cuts into time that could be spent working while employees must wait for managers to give the go-ahead, and takes away an employee’s autonomy, which can lead to feelings of mistrust and resentment. 

Plus, micromanagers will also rarely approve an experimental task or one that isn’t already in the workflow, which can stifle creativity and innovation.

3. Sets unrealistic expectations and deadlines

Not only will a micromanager set expectations that are unrealistic – they’ll also require it to be done in superhuman time. A micromanager will often create overly ambitious goals and deadlines. Ironically, it’s the micromanagement itself, which sucks up everyone’s time and decreases motivation, that stops employees from hitting those deadlines and achieving the expectations. 

Some micromanagers will also set deadlines that they can achieve themselves, but that may not reflect the skill level or ability that employees hold.

4. Checks in too frequently

Only 19% of employees say frequent check-ins and status meetings make them more productive, according to a report from Slingshot. Yet micromanagers are notorious for constant check-ins and frequent status updates. 

These check-ins are also more involved than a simple exchange—they’re typically a one-on-one meeting or a detailed report on what work employees have done and how they’ve done it. 

Although check-ins are designed to help employees be productive, most employees spend unnecessary time updating managers when they could be using that time to get the real work done.

5. Has difficulty with delegation of work 

Micromanagers don’t delegate work very well and can often end up taking over projects or tasks that they feel are being done “wrong” or not following the specific processes put in place – even when the new way is faster or more effective. 

Managers taking over work that was previously delegated to employees can make employees feel less confident and capable, which can, in turn, lead to employees valuing the work they’re doing less. 

6. Issues needlessly complicated instructions

A micromanager may lay out specific and complicated instructions even for simple, self-explanatory tasks. To make matters worse, micromanagers typically require instructions to be followed exactly, which can create extra work for employees and be less efficient overall.

This can also lead to a lack of innovation in the work being done at an organization, as employees are forced to follow the pre-set instructions without any deviation or experimentation.

7. Talks down to or about employees

Micromanagers can often hold the belief that employees are incapable of doing tasks efficiently or correctly, and therefore may talk down to employees or talk bad about their team behind their back. 

As an HR leader, a manager talking about their team being incapable or incompetent can be one of the biggest warning signs of a micromanager and a suffering team. 

Over time, employees who are told—directly or indirectly—that they’re not capable of getting their work done can lead to a breakdown of trust, a lack of confidence, and a loss of productivity. Plus, employees who are told over and over again that they’re incapable of doing their job will start to believe it themselves, leading to lower-quality work being produced.

8. Monitors employees even when it is not warranted

Everyone knows the stereotype of a manager who needs to be CC’d on every email – even if it’s got nothing to do with them. That kind of over-monitoring of employees can be a tell-tale sign that you’re dealing with a micromanager. 

Of course, all employees need some guidance and have their progress tracked, especially on projects with a wider scope or especially important tasks. But a micromanager will monitor employees, regardless of what the project actually requires, and often to an extensive degree. 

For example, micromanagers may track an employee’s time, as well as what tasks they’re working on, and many other little details that aren’t relevant to the project’s end goal. Extreme micromanagers may go even further and use monitoring software to see what employees are doing and when they’re doing it. 

Needless to say, this level of monitoring is not conducive to a trusting relationship between managers and employees.

9. Has an overall lack of flexibility

A good manager can easily pivot and is ready to adapt to what their team needs. But a micromanager lacks that kind of flexibility and can get easily stressed when plans change or they need to switch strategies. 

Their inflexibility can spread to all parts of their job and create a rigid work style that all team members must follow, even if it impedes on getting their best work done. 

Impact On the Workplace

Considering that trust is an essential part of a good manager and employee relationship, the behaviors that micromanagers tend to have can put a strain on the relationship and cause deep feelings of mistrust. After all, an employee feeling incompetent in a job they’ve been hired for can cause them to feel less confident in themselves. 

On the other hand, if an employee knows they’re capable but are still being micromanaged, they can end up feeling resentful of their manager. According to a Monster poll, 73% of workers said micromanaging is the biggest workplace red flag, and 46% said they would leave their jobs because of a micromanager.

The effects of micromanagers can spread far beyond their direct team, especially if micromanagement is embedded in the culture or comes from a higher-up. 

A micromanager can cause several negative effects in the workplace, including:

  • Reduced employee morale

  • Inhibited creativity

  • Less collaboration

  • Stunted skill and leadership development

  • Higher turnover

After taking stock of a manager’s behavior and identifying you’re dealing with a micromanager – or that a manager’s got micromanaging tendencies – your next step should be figuring out how to help them find a healthy balance between keeping employees accountable and letting them do their best work independently. 

An infographic titled '5 Ways to Manage a Micromanager' shows 5 text boxes with a short text and the Hacking HR logo at the bottom center.
5 Ways to Manage a Mircromanager.

How to Manage a Micromanager

Here are a few ways HR can help micromanagers take a more hands-off approach to management.

1. Identify the “why”

Consider the different reasons a micromanager may act this way. Is it coming from pressure from higher-ups or a larger cultural issue? Or does it have to do with their leadership style

Before you can begin to remedy the issue, it’s imperative to figure out why it’s happening. Instead of simply putting a “band-aid” over the problem, identifying the core issue will help micromanagers understand the problem fully and help shift their mindset.

2. Be proactive in tackling the issue

If HR gets a whiff that a manager is monitoring employees unnecessarily closely or requiring updates that are hindering productivity, you shouldn’t wait until the problem gets out of hand to do something about it. In fact, getting ahead of the issue is the best way to ensure that it doesn’t become a bigger problem than it needs to be.

If you can help a micromanager realize what they’re doing and how it’s affecting the team early, it will be much easier to remedy the issue.

3. Provide relevant resources

Simply telling a micromanager to stop what they’re doing isn’t going to help anything. Instead, HR should help managers come up with alternative ways to stay on top of their team without being overbearing. For example, you can provide tools, resources and training on more effective management styles. 

This is another area where identifying why micromanagers are behaving that way is imperative; that way you can help find strategies that will address what managers are worried about in a healthier way. 

4. Lead by example

Micromanaging tendencies can spread across an organization if managers are supervised by higher-ups in this way or if HR turns a blind eye to micromanagement. 

Instead, HR should emphasize the importance of a hands-off management style and the value of trusting employees’ capabilities. Any training or development about micromanagement should start at the top, and leaders should emulate effective leadership behaviors, like trust and autonomy.

5. Embed trust into the organizational culture

It can’t be understated: Trust must be at the heart of organizational culture to truly remedy micromanagement. Making trust a top priority – from the C-suite to individual contributors – can help ensure that managers don’t need to micromanage at all. 

Leading with trust as a core value has many other positive effects, too, like increased satisfaction, productivity, and morale.

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