Under the Microscope: How Micromanaging Harms Productivity


The word sends a chill down the spine of any employee working under a supervisor (which is almost all of us outside the executive suite, and even some within it). But until you become a manager, you don’t know how hard it is to avoid.

Maybe it used to be your job, and you did it well. Maybe you have a new employee who hasn’t proven themselves yet. Maybe it’s an important project, and you’re worried about what will happen to the company and your career if it’s not a success. Or maybe your own boss is micromanaging you, demanding information you can’t provide without intruding in your team’s daily work. Whatever the justification for the action, anxiety lives somewhere at its heart—the fear that without your input, the job won’t be done right.

What you might not realize is that telling your employees how to do their job is causing their performance to plummet.

Symptoms of Micromanaging

Are you a micromanager? If you’re not sure, just take a look at this list and check off those that apply to you:

– You have answers, but your team doesn’t come to you with questions

– No one seems grateful for your very constructive input

– Your department has higher than average turnover

– You “own” all the top projects, and you attend all the meetings for the other ones

– You’re swamped with low-priority tasks that you don’t trust anyone else to handle

– You’re frustrated by the way your employees do their work as well as the results

– Most projects go through multiple edits or revisions before you’re satisfied

– Nothing gets delivered until you have approved it

– You feel like you can’t afford to take a vacation or miss a single detail

This isn’t a comprehensive list, but if you saw your behavior reflected in two or more of the above examples, you might be a micromanager.

Why It Doesn’t Work

The first thing you need to accept is that telling your employees how to do their job is a penny-wise, pound-foolish exchange. You achieve the short-sighted goal of having things done your way (albeit with a colossal amount of effort) at the expense of a smoothly-running machine that can be trusted to operate on its own. Trust is like oil for your department’s engine; without it, the internal parts grind and clatter, creating friction, stress, and an unsafe level of heat. Even the most well-designed parts will eventually fail under those conditions.

Collateral Damage

Micromanaging also causes a number of peripheral problems, none of them trivial. Here are a few to think about:

1) It Poisons Work Relationships

Ideally, your employees will look to you as a mentor—someone helping them become a better person, and a better employee. You’ll be the kind of supervisor they would be proud to use as a reference if and when they move on to a new job. You want them to trust your leadership, your experience, and your advice. But instead of viewing you as a wise captain, a veteran who’s seen action and lived to tell the tale, they will see you as a drill sergeant, only there to make their lives miserable.

They will resent you instead of respecting you. They won’t trust you because you don’t trust them. They will mock you and tell their friends horror stories about their time working for a despot. Most importantly, they will resist following your orders, and seek any opportunity to get away with “sticking it to the Man.”

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2) It Causes High Turnover

If the relationship is poor enough, and the stress high enough, your employees will simply seek out new employment. No one wants to work their whole life away under a slave driver, and that’s how your employees will see you. You will spend inordinate amounts of time and resources training new employees, only to have to replace them. Those who work for you will offer you no loyalty, and when you need to rely on them in a tough situation, they may simply abandon ship.

3) It Destroys Autonomy

Those brave enough—or desperate enough—to stick around won’t fare better. They’ll become docile and dependent worker bees—eager to please, but incapable of functioning on their own. They will defer to you in every decision, but more out of fear than respect. This, in turn, will require even more micromanaging from you, causing more dependence, and so forth. Your perception of being needed at all times will become a reality; meanwhile, your team gets weaker and weaker and their careers head down the path to stagnation.

4) It Creates Stress for the Manager

There is a reason delegation exists: you’re not Superman. If the company thought you could do all the work yourself, they wouldn’t have bothered hiring anyone to help you. You have a team because you need one. Dictating most or all of the activities in the office only means that you have to be present and accounted for at all times. That means no sick days, no holidays, no vacation. You will have to work harder than your employees, and as a result, they will frequently be left twiddling their thumbs.

5) It Stifles New Ideas

One of the worst side effects of micromanagement is the fact that no one learns anything. Your team brings a diversity of talents and experience, and if you’re micromanaging you aren’t using any of it. Everyone has a story and everyone brings something different to the table. That broad perspective can be an asset to any business, but you’ll never reap the rewards if you don’t nurture it. What’s more, if you’re the only one supplying ideas, you’re robbing the company of potential innovation that could lead to increased profits and improved work environments.

Treatment for a Chronic Case

Ok, so you’ve taken a good, long look in the mirror, and decided you might be micromanaging.

What now?

The good news is that you can turn things around at any point. You can turn dependent employees into self-sufficient rock stars. You can form a self-sufficient team. You can learn to delegate and in doing so, reduce your stress and the workload on your plate. Not only might you be able to take that vacation you’ve been wanting—you might come up with an incredible solution or new concept thanks to your free bandwidth. Here are some ideals you can call on when the urge to micromanage strikes:

– Trust your employees

– Reward proactivity

– Delegate responsibility

– Ask for advice (and use it)

– Encourage contribution

– Accept alternative methods

– Understand that everyone mistakes, starting with yourself

Start by giving your employees a little room to run. Give your top performer full control of a project from start to finish, and assign a team to help them. With patience and a little practice, you can help your employees to form a self-sufficient team that comes to you for your direction and guidance when needed. They will run more efficiently, be more loyal, and work harder. Treat your employees with respect, and they will reward you with performance.

Do workplace distractions harm or help employees to be more productive?

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