how to deal with a micromanaging boss

by Ask a Manager on August 24, 2012

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If you work for a micromanager, you’re probably pretty miserable. It’s hard to feel trusted and valued when your work is being constantly scrutinized and your boss is checking up on things that you don’t think they need to check on. But there are often steps you can take to get more breathing room.

First, though, let’s define what micromanagement really is, because people often confuse hands-on management (good) with micromanagement (bad). Good managers will be heavily involved in setting goals and ensuring that employees are clear on the desired outcomes, and they do check in on progress throughout the course of the work. But micromanagers, on the other hand, dictate exactly how to do the work and watch over every step in the process, refusing to truly delegate any decisions—and, in the process, lower morale and productivity.

If your boss has crossed over from being hands-on into micromanaging, one of two things is going on: (1) Your boss is micromanaging you because you have given her reason to, or (2) your boss is micromanaging you because she’s a micromanager in general. Your path forward starts with figuring out which of these is going on.

Over at the Intuit QuickBase blog today, I talk about how to handle both of these situations. You can read it here.

{ 86 comments… read them below or add one }

Sandrine August 24, 2012 at 9:23 am

Sadly, my work environment (call center) is just the kind of work environment that leads to micromanaging.

You have to watch :

- the quality of calls (with 5 main parameters)
- the average duration of calls (average should be less than 6:10 minutes)
- the information you write in a customer’s file
- the information you give
- the time you take should you be unlucky enough to need to go to a support person to ask for clarification
- all of this while trying to make sure you reply so customers don’t call within X days
- and being as nice and sugary and “smiling” as possible

I used to have a problem with the “average call time” thing. Now, it’s ok. Everything else is suffering because of it, and I know why: I was micromanaged for MONTHS to get the darn average down, and now that it’s down, I look at my stats and go “Darn it” because I realize that they can’t have everything, at least not from me.

It’s not even that I don’t want to do it, it’s just that this is too much for me to take in at once, especially since I have to pay attention to the customer, to the customer’s file, to my e-mail software (God forbid you forget to read your e-mails on top of everything) , to what my Boss says… I’m at the point where I’m only staying because they approved my vacation in December.

As soon as I can after that, I’m SO out of there :( .

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Anonymous August 24, 2012 at 10:00 am

former call center worker here. get out while you still can. they pay you JUST enough to make you stay, but you’re always miserable. hell on earth. seriously.

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Sandrine August 24, 2012 at 10:07 am

Worst thing is, I’m talking about France here, where policies are sort of “better” for employees, but I just can’t stand those phones anymore :) .

Thankfully AAM is here, it makes me feel better to read about all the advice and situations even if most of them don’t apply to me.

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Elizabeth West August 24, 2012 at 10:09 am

Bleah. I’ve been trying to avoid the call center places. I would rather go back to food service.

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Sandrine August 24, 2012 at 10:11 am

Haha, funny enough, I tried to work for a fast food restaurant a few years ago, and I got too sick to handle it (cold/hot/cold/hot, nope, body hates that) .

I could probably try my hand as a waitress, but tips aren’t culturally established in France, so it might not be as interesting XD …

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Minous August 24, 2012 at 9:37 am

Years ago I had a micromanager. The funniest re-occurring theme was that he didn’t like where the telephone was on my desk. I kept the telephone on the left handed side of the desk but he really wanted me to move the telephone to the right handed side of the computer which would have left me attempting to write notes concerning telephone calls on the computer keyboard. It was something he just couldn’t bring himself to let go.

Prior to that I had a Director who would come over to the cafeteria table I was sitting at with my collegues and tell me that his way of making lunch sandwiches was highly superior to mine and I ought to do it his way. LOL :-)

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Anna August 24, 2012 at 10:17 am

I might have handled that lunch-micromanaging Director by bringing something other than sandwiches for lunch. If he had tried to micromanage that as well, I would suggest he’s in the wrong industry and that he should have been a caterer. It’s a bit roundabout, but I would be surprised if he didn’t get the point.

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ArtsNerd August 24, 2012 at 11:08 am

I know of a manager who cares about things like phone placement. While the substance of the work falls to pieces, his staff runs around reorganizing closets, moving offices, and whatever other superficial whims he has on any given day. It’s awe-inspiring (especially if you imagine the Benny Hill theme playing while it happens.)

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Minous August 24, 2012 at 11:38 am

I wonder if it’s the same guy??? :-)

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Jamie August 24, 2012 at 11:41 am

“I kept the telephone on the left handed side of the desk but he really wanted me to move the telephone to the right handed side”

That is just wrong. Phones go on the left hand side of the desk with the mouse and pencil cup. Staplers, printers, and switches go on the right hand side.

Everyone knows that. :)

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Minous August 24, 2012 at 1:08 pm

Exactly!!

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Anna August 24, 2012 at 1:53 pm

And you know that trash can under your desk? Keep it next to your left foot. And exactly one and one eighth inch in from the edge. :-)

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mh_76 August 25, 2012 at 5:27 pm

Uh-oh! I like my phone on the right-hand side of my desk – I’m strongly right-handed and it just feels strange to dial lefty! Of course, I have to hold the phone with my left hand so that I can write if needed…
In the job I have now, there aren’t landlines and everyone (even this ind. contractor) has a company cell phone (I don’t have unlimited minutes or any data on my “dumb” phone…and they had an extra phone & active line).
Thankfully, I haven’t had to do a lot of phone work in the past few jobs I’ve had (this one included).

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mh_76 August 25, 2012 at 5:32 pm

Also: when I worked in retail, we liked to turn the keyboards at the registers so that we could face the customers directly and still use the keyboards. Multiple “managers” were in the habit of putting the keyboards back so that they were flush on top of the cash drawer and a couple “managers” would even make a little bit of noise with the keyboards…not a full-on slam but audible enough to be heard over the often-too-loud muzak. Good grief!

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Vicki August 25, 2012 at 12:55 pm

Your phone guy wasn’t a micromanager. He had OCD.

Which reminds me of a (Not a manager) story. Co-workers and I went to lunch at a Japanese restaurant and ordered Bento boxes. The waitress set mine in fromt of me with the rice at the front, salad at the back. I prefer it the other way and turned the box 180 degrees.

Without thinking, the waitress turned the box back around 180 degrees the other way. While my co-workers watched and sniggered, I spun it back and said politely “If your manager asks, tell them I said I like it this way.”

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Canuck57 March 26, 2013 at 2:57 pm

This is why I always left the office during lunch…it took me a week to realize that everyone wanted you to do something for them while I was eating…including the micromanager :-).

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Fort500CO August 24, 2012 at 10:08 am

I don’t get micromanaged until someone else makes an error – then everyone gets micromanaged for a week. They manage process here, not people

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Sparky629 August 24, 2012 at 10:15 am

So what if you have the exact opposite of a micromanagement?

My current boss doesn’t do any hands on management nor does he help set goals. So nothing feels important enough to care about getting done. Also, even if I finish something in record time no one cares.

I’m kind of on the fence about this position.

On one hand, I love the freedom of getting stuff done at my own pace but OTOH I have to figure out what needs to be done and how to do it in the big picture context. Even when I finish and I have improved or developed a process that increases productivity, no one cares.at.all.

I feel sometimes that I don’t get enough validation for any thing that I’m doing however when I try to set goals/get help, I’m still told to do whatever I want because they trust my judgement.

Ugh, so incredibly frustrating.

I haven’t figured out if I have the best job in the world or the worst job ever. :-)

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Catherine August 24, 2012 at 10:41 am

I know just how you feel. My current boss is a zero-manager. She rarely involves herself in my work, even when I ask her too. She frequently does not return emails or even answer my questions in person. I feel like I have to micromanage her!

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fposte August 24, 2012 at 10:49 am

Do you make sure that people know? If you’re not already, what about a monthly/quarterly summation of your achievements and their impact with a list of goals for the next, sent to your supervisors? Even if they don’t indicate they care, at least you’re on the record.

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Sparky629 August 24, 2012 at 11:26 am

Actually, I have multiple times but to no avail.

Maybe because the position I have was specifically created for me. It’s an essential position and the learning curve for it is really really steep so no one even wants to know what it is I do. :-)
Seriously, I have spoken with my direct boss and the department boss and get the same exact response (neither of which created the position for me).

So the upside is, I can have this job forever if I want it but the downside is I’ll never be allowed to move into any other position at the company ever. Basically, there will never be a promotion for me.

I’ve tried and have been denied opportunities in other departments (once they put the name to the face).

I’ve literally been told that no one wants to have to call my boss and tell him that they’ve offered me a job in their department (and this was in an interview).

So like I’ve said, I can’t figure out if I have the best job ever or the worst.

If it’s the best job, then I should be happy but every day feels like I’m just stuck in a rut.

I’m just wondering how I should handle it so I can at least feel like I’m making some kind of progress in my career.

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Jamie August 24, 2012 at 11:35 am

“So the upside is, I can have this job forever if I want it but the downside is I’ll never be allowed to move into any other position at the company ever. Basically, there will never be a promotion for me.”

Do you mean the job will stay static – or just your department? Because if there is a possibility of getting promoted by an expansion of responsibility and scope, title, and money that’s still a promotion. My last couple were like that and they didn’t change anything and I wasn’t moving into someone else’s slot – they were just kind of after the fact changes to reflect how my job had morphed.

So I would wonder if there is a change for the kind of in place promotion for you or not. If not, then I totally would look for something else because if you’re like me stagnant is much worse for the soul than stressed could ever be.

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Sparky629 August 24, 2012 at 12:46 pm

Do you mean the job will stay static – or just your department?
The job stays the same but the systems that I use to do the job change (so that is often where the learning curve comes in).
Every time we change systems, I have the task of developing/modifying the processes to work with the new software and continuing to function at the level we were at with the old system.
Essentially, I am the gatekeeper for the software and all that entails. :-)
Oftentimes, more responsibility but not a better title nor a raise to reflect the new responsibility.

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Scott M August 24, 2012 at 1:28 pm

Wow…are you like my doppelganger or something m this sounds exactly like my job!

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Ask a Manager August 24, 2012 at 11:38 am

Whether or not it’s the best job or the worst only matters in terms of how it’s the best or the worst for YOU. I think my advice here is that same as it is for people with micromanagers: Figure out why it’s happening, talk to your boss about whether/how it can change, and then believe what you’re told. You’ve done the first two, it sounds like, and now it’s about deciding whether you want the job under these terms. Can you live with it reasonably happily once you accept it won’t change? Or would you rather go elsewhere?

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fposte August 24, 2012 at 12:33 pm

Ah, okay, so the “avail” you’re looking for isn’t feedback, it’s success translating to advancement. Then I think the choices here are outlined–request advancement within the position you have, find growth outside of your work hours, or move on.

Is there anything specific at your workplace you’d like to do? Not even “another job with advancement,” but a project, etc. That’s also something you can actively seek without moving.

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Sparky629 August 24, 2012 at 12:54 pm

Ah, okay, so the “avail” you’re looking for isn’t feedback, it’s success translating to advancement.

Lightbulb moment for me. :-)

This is what I’ve been trying to figure out but didn’t know how to define it for myself.

It felt frustrating not knowing what I wanted. I just thought I was being the quintessential Debbie Downer and nitpicking at things.

I guess because I see others come into the department and advance or grow but I felt like I was stuck in the same place.forever.

That was a huge help!!

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Jamie August 24, 2012 at 10:50 am

“I have to figure out what needs to be done and how to do it in the big picture context”

The silver lining is you’re being forced to hone skills that will give you great ROR. A good manager does work with you on goals and guidance, but since you don’t have that you’re getting a ton of skills working autonomously without needing permission to grab the reins.

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Scott M August 24, 2012 at 1:24 pm

Right there with you! My solution is to do the minimum that keeps me from feeling guilty, and throw the rest of my effort into my personal life.

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Vicki August 25, 2012 at 12:57 pm

Ouch. Be careful.

I had one of those. Then came Annual Review Time when he dinged me for all sorts of things I didn’t do that he “expected” me to do but never once mentioned (and no, they weren;t in the job description either.)

Apparently, I was “expected” to read his mind.

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Anonymous October 18, 2012 at 4:45 pm

Ha! I think we must work at the same place!

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Anonymous August 24, 2012 at 10:24 am

I have had 2 micromanagers in my life. Luke and Bob.

Luke would destroy my work and make edits that literally changed the entire docs to be unrecognizable. I miss Luke, because I eventually recognized patterns in his edits. And he only changed things once, and listened to my intent and would agree or disagree, but only changed it once. I hated it, but I realize now that he wasnt as bad as Bob.

Bob does the same thing, but also questions my intent on everything and keeps editing with no stop in sight. I miss deadlines set by our director, cause Bob won’t stop editing. He changes my work constantly in multiple edits to the point where most of the time, it goes back to the original! No patterns, just ADHD BS in circles. No logic, just talk talk talk, edit edit edit. I am making myself physically sick being in this hell hole. It says something when you would rather jump out the window or get into a head on crash than be put through such tedium everyday with no reasoning behind it. I have gone to multiple doctors to figure out why I am constantly nauseous / vomiting with stomach and back pains, but its this place and the micromanager. I’ve been here 6 months, and knew on the 2nd day I made a mistake in coming here. I am not the only one that he does this sort of thing with, but I am taking it the worst. Others just keep their heads down, and stopped offering giving feedback that the manager wont agree with. I tried this tactic, but he just keep editing and questioning everything I do. I am not this stupid that I need hand holding on every little thing, and I refuse to think that its me when my past jobs have always said I am good at what I do.

For those, that are worried by my suicidal honesty, don’t be … I know its only situational and I have no intention of harming myself and once I get free of this place, I know the thoughts will go away. I just mention it, to show how micromanagers can be so horrific that one becomes so desperate that they want any out. For my sanity I will prob quit and work at starbucks so I can have my health / life back. No job is worth this agony, and I mention this stuff, so that the “be grateful you have any job” / “suck it up, you whiner” people understand that some micromanagers are so bad that your health / mental well-being is more important than a paycheck.

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ArtsNerd August 24, 2012 at 11:02 am

Do you have any vacation time you can use? You are not in a good mental place, and you need to do what you can about that right away. If you can take time off, use a day or two to get out of town and see something that will pull you out of your work drama. Then take the rest of the time to diligently apply for other positions. Any other positions that will be a better place for you than this. If you can’t take any time off, see if there are counseling support services you can utilize (many therapists adjust their fees based on income) to help you cope in the meantime.

I’m just a stranger on the internet, but I’ve been in a similar situation, and while you may be able to ‘tough it out’ for a bit longer, you need to get your sanity and your health back. Now.

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Anonymous August 24, 2012 at 11:09 am

Thank you for your advice. I have been applying, and i am close to getting an offer next week. I can’t take anymore time off, had a bad day wednesday so I took yesterday off. I feel immensely better when I am not here, but I don’t get paid for says off and wouldnt get vacation until I was here for a year (only 6 months in), so i cant take too many days off. I refuse to let this place take me down, I am determined to get out even if it means moving back in with my mom. Everyday is a struggle to go to work, so I am this close to quitting next week no matter what.

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Anonymous August 24, 2012 at 2:44 pm

Totally been there done that! It was so bad I had to hold in the tears because being at work just made me so depressed I wanted to cry. I took all my vacation and found another job and then quit without notice. My supervisor understood. He had tried to help me as best as he could but most things were out of his hands. I can still use him as a reference despite everything.

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Job Seeker August 24, 2012 at 1:53 pm

You definitely need to find another job. Anytime someone has such strong emotional feelings and physical symptoms, it is time to go.

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Jbeaux August 25, 2012 at 4:18 am

One of my bosses also loved to edit my written assignments -with a red pen, no less. After I made all the changes noted, she would unknowingly edit her own edits. Then, once I turned in some copy she had written herself. She even found her own work worthy of the red pen. When she mentioned her disappointment in my writing skills and that she could do a better job, I told her it was her own work. Nice.

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Anon OP to this thread August 27, 2012 at 8:57 am

Exactly, Bob edits his own edits and then after several rounds, it starts to look like the original ! I am being blamed for copy that I don’t even write (we have a writer), but since I am writing portions of it, I am being blamed for the whole thing.

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Jamie August 24, 2012 at 10:36 am

Pet peeve of mine is people confusing being audited with being micromanaged.

I have had the word thrown around enough – and they are two different situations. In fact if you consistantly rate well on audits it’s good ammunition that your manager should give you more leeway because you know what you’re doing.

If you’re consistently not rating well on audits it’s a chance for your manager to look at the processes and make sure they are appropriate and determine if you need more training, more guidance, more autonomy (if you’re being prevented from completing things due to a bottleneck beyond your control.)

I was micromanaged once – and it was just his nature. I had recently moved departments and when my former boss saw how he was managing me he talked with him asking what the heck he was doing – nothing changed so I left quickly.

One example – there was a series of emails received daily from an overseas partner. MicroBoss was out of the office one day so called to read the email to me over the phone. We were both on the email so I had read it myself, which I politely told him. He said he knew, but he wanted to read it to me to make sure I understood.

He proceeded to read all 18 pages of emails to me. Aloud. Over the phone. To make sure I understood. (To be clear, they were written in English – a language I’m familiar with in written form).

When he got back to the office we went over one more bit of communication – my resignation letter. I gave him the courtesy of allowing him to read it to himself.

Lessons learned – some people just suck and you won’t change them. The more important lesson, however, was don’t quit a job which pays well without something else lined up just because your ego demands it. Remind your ego about the mortgage and that temping for another couple months until you find a new gig will suck. Find a new job and then turn in a resignation letter. And read it aloud.

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Malissa August 24, 2012 at 12:00 pm

Thank you Jamie for pointing out the difference between micromanaging and auditing. As some one who is constantly auditing it’s nice to know that some people know the difference. Nothing sucks worse than having a conversation with a defensive person because I’ve caught something that looks weird.

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Jamie August 24, 2012 at 1:34 pm

I’m the head our auditing team here and I swear I spend more time trying to explain the function than I do going over reports.

Not being bossy for the sake of it folks- it’s our job.

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Scott M August 24, 2012 at 1:48 pm

Just curious, but is this usage of the word “auditing” something from the UK or some place else? I’ve only ever heard it used in an accounting context, not in a management context.

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Malissa August 24, 2012 at 3:16 pm

Process and Performance auditing have been huge recently. Think of it more like editing on steroids when not used in a financial sense.

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Jamie August 24, 2012 at 3:26 pm

I do financial internal audits for cost control and apart from that I do QC internal audits (part of the requirements of maintaining ISO certification).

So basically no one is immune from me sticking my nose into their processes and asking tell me what you do, show me where it says that, and prove that you do it.

You’d think I’d be the recipient of more bribes or cut brake lines than I am.

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Just Me August 25, 2012 at 5:54 pm

We get audited on the stuff we do however the problem is they audit us to give us error marks. Not to see what the majority of us are having problems with so they can help.
They SAY that is what it is for but they are lying. They do up this ridiculas spreadsheet that caluclates this, that and the other thing, multiply that number with this number divide that number and get a percentage of some other number.

They send us a spreadsheet, here is your error rate ( not how well you did but how bad you did) and have us sign the printout. So they say your had 5%, which mean 5% error as opposed to you had 95% right.

If they actually did something useful with the spreadsheets like use it as training tools for us and what might be needed to train newcomers that would be fine. But they use it soley to give us error marks.

This is probably the only place I have ever worked for that is more concentrated on looking for the bad in everyone, setting employees up for failure and major micromanaging ( see my other post ). It is like they are ” hitting us first” before they get hit and that is more important then the clients and the job itself.

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Anonymous September 9, 2012 at 3:46 pm

I feel like my job is exactly the same way!

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Jeff August 24, 2012 at 11:11 am

I had a really awful micromanager in my first job out of grad school. From day 1, it was clear that she was going to dictate every project I had to do, how I was going to do it, who I was going to call to make it happen, etc etc. This was working at a small church, so it was me, my supervisor, and her supervisor and that was it, so I had zero support. I went to her supervisor within a month (after trying to talk to her, which got nowhere), but her supervisor was really spineless and didn’t do anything. Within 4 months, I had been asked to resign.

The interesting thing to me is that I had a mentor outside this work environment, and when I described the situation, the first question he asked was whether she was intimidated by me. My first thought was that there was no way she could be intimidated by me, but it did feel a lot like a bullying situation. My supervisor would constantly make comments about my age, my experience, and generally tried to make me feel inferior. And when I started researching workplace bullying, most of what I read suggested that it was people who felt intimidated by another worker ended up being the bully rather than the other way around. And it was little scary how much my supervisor seemed to match the qualities and actions of a person who is typically a workplace bully. I was brought in to bring new ideas, to help revive a dying program at the church, and I was brought in because of my education and experience. I thought it was silly that my supervisor would be intimidated by me (particularly because I didn’t know her professional background at all), but the more time went on, the more that seemed to be the case.

Does anyone think that some micromanaging (particularly in Senior Blogger Green’s second category) may actually be workplace bullying?

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Jamie August 24, 2012 at 11:24 am

“Does anyone think that some micromanaging (particularly in Senior Blogger Green’s second category) may actually be workplace bullying?”

Maybe for some people, but I think most inherent micromanagers just can’t help it. It’s a weird control thing.

I do think it’s more common when you start a job, especially if you are replacing someone who forced their manager to morph into MicroManager because they were incompetent. It’s the whole ‘will I ever be able to trust again’ syndrome. But that turns quickly to relief once they realize they don’t have to do that with you.

I am opposed to micromanaging with every fiber of my being and I’ve been forced into doing it by people who required it. People who literally demanded their hands be held and needed everything to be a joint project. There are few things I resent more (or will correct more quickly). Having take over a job and own it competently – without it being groundhogs day every day – that is the sweetest feeling in the world.

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Ask a Manager August 24, 2012 at 11:36 am

Yeah, bullying and micromanaging are two separate things. Micromanaging happens either because the employee’s performance is lacking or because the manager doesn’t know how to manage effectively. Bullying is a whole separate thing that isn’t really about management at all.

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Malissa August 24, 2012 at 12:08 pm

I think micromanaging is more of a product of managers who just can’t let go. Often people get promoted to management because they are good at the details. When a person gets praised for that for so long, it’s hard to let it go. It’s even harder to watch another person doing it who may not do it exactly like they have done.

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Heather P. August 24, 2012 at 1:17 pm

This exactly. Especially true I have found for people who were administrative assistants are are promoted to managing administrative assistants.

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fposte August 24, 2012 at 4:28 pm

I think in general managing a task you used to directly perform makes you prone to micromanaging. It’s where I’m most prone to it, I know.

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Amy August 24, 2012 at 6:34 pm

I was the first ever direct report of a newly promoted manager (after being “peers” for over a year). We clashed a lot at first because I really resented her trying to make me be like her. Although she has backed off some, I still get the feeling that she’s not evaluating me (for review purposes) based on job title/level but comparing me to who she is/was. So I’m stuck in this loop of her unreasonable expectations yet often trying to handhold me through things that I was handling even before she became my manager!

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some1 August 24, 2012 at 12:51 pm

I’ve had two micromanagers in my career. Both were supervising people for the first time. I think they were afraid if they didn’t micromanage, their employees wouldn’t get anything done.

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Heather P. August 24, 2012 at 1:09 pm

Oh where to even begin. My micromanager is one of the administrators for my facility which means she came up with the first processes and administrative systems for the facility (which change often when she decides to tweak things. Usually right before she’s about to go on a three week vacation).

She did the administration all on her own before the company received government funding and increased its staff size to what it is now (around 120 employees). She is good at administrative details and systems. Unfortunately she was promoted to management because of this and not because she has any clue how to manage. Many of the managers at my facility are managers because they have been at the company for so long or because of their academic credentials and expertise.

She micromanages my co-worker who is the clear favorite in our office of four so you can imagine the level of micromanagment if you are not her favorite. She will change your wording on documents to mean exactly the same thing you just wrote but wasn’t written using exactly the wording she would use or you go to her with one question and she gives you an hour long explanation of why she is answering “yes” or “no” then details exactly how you should go about doing the task step by step which makes you feel about five years old.

She has had the self-awareness to admit at a jargon-filled “team building” day that she has a hard time letting go of her old tasks (even after about five years) because she was the only one doing the job for so long. She is completely out of touch with how to do the tasks she used to do, however, because she no longer does them on a daily basis. I have approached her before putting the emphasis on how “I am wondering if there is anything I could be doing differently” etc. to broach the subject of her micromanaging. Were it not for the fact that she micromanages everyone in my office and they all have the same opinion I might think it was performance-related.

It’s super frustrating and if I did not know that I will be leaving in just under a year to go back to school I would have left long ago. I am extremely thankful to Supreme Blogger Green for her invaluable advice and guidance and for allowing me and many others to vent freely and anonymously things we cannot say to our managers.

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Anon August 24, 2012 at 1:25 pm

Are there any telltale signs that managers are micromanaging, auditing, or too hands-off?I’m not a first time manager but I lean toward control freak. I try to be more hands-off, but worry I swing too far the other way, and that the “honest feedback” I get from my team isn’t honest. My style is to show once and give context, let them try examples, and then check their work after the fact.

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Ask a Manager August 24, 2012 at 1:26 pm

That’s a pretty lengthy answer, but I have a whole chapter on this in my book for managers if you want to check it out.

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Heather P. August 24, 2012 at 1:32 pm

Alison obviously has the management expertise but as an employee I can tell you this: my boss actually told us to give her feedback and that made a big difference because then I had the statement “I just wanted to give you feedback on X situation because you asked us to do so” to fall back on. However neither of my co-workers had the balls to do this so I wound up backing off so as not to look like a complainer or overly assertive.
I hate to say this but I honestly don’t think my manager really wanted to apply the feedback she has gotten. Or who knows maybe she just vehemently disagrees with myself and my co-workers. But the low-morale and the fact that one of three of us is now leaving and both of the other people she has managed (of five total) have left, should speak for itself really.

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Another Job Seeker August 24, 2012 at 6:36 pm

My supervisor requested feedback from those of us in her area. I did not give her feedback because I was concerned about retaliation. (And I was not going to be “fake nice” because she is a terrible supervisor). However, I have an idea about how you can obtain honest feedback from your employees. You might want to look at asking a web developer to create a password-protected survey. The developer would create usernames and passwords specifically for the survey only (that would be disposed of after the survey was completed). Place the usernames and passwords in an envelope, and bring everyone in your department (and the envelope) into a computer lab. As each employee enters the room, he/she would get a password and use it to log in to the survey. The developer would disable the survey as soon as the employees complete it.

You would want to use a password-protected survey to protect yourself – to ensure that only your employees take the survey.

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Malissa August 24, 2012 at 3:23 pm

I wanted to add here that micromanaging volunteers is a really bad idea as well. You just might find yourself doing all the work. People who do not get paid have lower tolerances.
I volunteered to copy files for a conference onto 600 thumb drives. Not rocket science by any means. But after the tenth email between me and the project manager I figured if he had every thing already figured out so well he could do it all himself.

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Laura August 24, 2012 at 3:27 pm

I had a micromanaging boss years ago who was the Controller of my company (head accounting person). To this day, she remains the most compulsive, anal-rententive person I’ve ever met. When I first started working for her (the company was a start up and she wanted me to help her with staffing the group) she has a list of how she liked things done. Among them:

- All items were to be stapled with a staple attached HORIZONTALLY (not at an angle) in the upper left corner, but not too close to the corner.
- Any items printed with landscape orientation were to be inserted into work packages with the heading to the LEFT, and or course that staple had better be straight in the top left corner.
- Only green ink was allowed to be used to make notes on AP invoices.
- If you needed to use a 3-hole punch to put something into a binder, run and hide if you did not happen to get each page inserted ALL THE WAY into the hole punch before making the holes (and leading to pages in binders being out of alignment). She actually kept one of my co-workers after a daily staff meeting (ugh) one day and gave him a course in Remedial Hole Punching.

This is just sample from a list of about 25 things.

However, the all-time classic was when I came into work one morning and found a Post-It on my monitor from my boss asking me to correct the balance in an equity account. For 77 cents. 77 cents! This was an account with a balance of almost half-a-billion dollars. I almost dug around in my purse to find 3 quarters and 2 pennies to give to her, but then thought better of it. She had no sense of humor whatsoever.

I still have that note, and it’s a reminder to me to not get too wrapped up in the minor details…as a finance/numbers geek, it’s an occupational hazard.

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Jamie August 24, 2012 at 3:33 pm

Hole punch issues are crazy – but the $0.77? I’ve had people look for less.

Minimum it needs an adjusting entry – even immaterial differences can’t be left to mess up the GL. I once spent way too long looking for a .09 difference – finding that was one of my happiest workplace moments.

Getting too wrapped up in minor details is a job requirement.

I just re-read my sentence above – I will be seeking help with this problem.

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Malissa August 24, 2012 at 3:39 pm

But a $.09 difference means transposed numbers some where and is way easier to find than $.77.

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Jamie August 24, 2012 at 3:41 pm

That was exactly what it was.

This is not the first time I wish I worked with you, Malissa.

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Laura August 24, 2012 at 4:08 pm

No, she wanted me to move 0.77 from the APIC account (balance, half-a-billion dollars) to the Common Stock account (balance, about 50 million dollars). So it was an entry between equity accounts for an amount so small that you would need a scientific calculator to figure out the percentage amount. Materiality, anyone?

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Jamie August 24, 2012 at 4:20 pm

I was thinking it was to clear out a zero balance account – I should never assume.

And yeah – rule of thumb is if the time it takes to do it costs more in your salary than the benefit could ever be than it’s immaterial.

She’s feeding a stereotype of the accounting department being a bunch of nitpicking fussbudgets – she needs to knock it off.

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Malissa August 24, 2012 at 4:47 pm

My gut is screaming WHY? unless she’s willing to back that up with documentation there is no need to do it. Seriously asking for documentation for an audit trail usually makes the nuts back off.

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Rana August 24, 2012 at 8:46 pm

Mmm. I’d need to know the context for both of these before passing judgement on her as a micromanager as opposed to someone paying attention to fiddly but in fact necessary details.

With regards to the first set of things, I’m speaking merely as someone who has, on occasion, been put in the position of processing many, many files and documents, in a short amount of time. If everything’s identical, the work goes quickly, but I can’t tell you how many times a single staple in the wrong place brought it all to a sudden halt while I shifted the remover to the other hand, or had to refold a document so it lined up in a window properly, etc.

And the 77¢ doesn’t seem like a lot, but it does indicate that someone, somewhere, was sloppy, and that sort of behavior, if allowed to spread, can cause larger problems.

It was that sort of minor error, in fact, that led to my discovery once that over half of the files in one database had to be re-entered from scratch, because previous people had been entering the data in the wrong screen. It was an otherwise invisible series of errors that led to us producing seriously distorted reports, and it was only revealed when there was one minor discrepancy that refused to disappear.

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Laura August 24, 2012 at 11:38 pm

This was also the same woman who insisted on reviewing all of the invoice records in the AP subledger before letting us post anything to the GL. Her corrections included:

“There are 2 spaces between these words. Remove one of them to preserve space in the database.”

“This description is spelled incorrectly. Please correct it.”

“Such-and-such a word should be capitalized.”

Now it’s not unreasonable to correct any of these errors if you happen to come across them. I would do that. But, these corrections were brought to our attention after she spent hours (literally) poring over the reports we printed out for her that she insisted on reviewing before we were allowed to post anything. This was the Corporate Controller, spending hours looking for extra spaces between words. Then she would work until 2 or 3 every morning, and purposely wait until then to answer emails, just so she could hear people say, “OMG, I got an email from you this morning at 2:30! You poor thing!”

Micromanager. Trust me.

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Heather August 24, 2012 at 11:47 pm

She actually sounds legitimately OCD to me. Not even in a joking way.
Disclaimer: I am not a medical professional. The diagnosis contained above is stricty unprofessional.
Thank you. :-)

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Just Me August 25, 2012 at 10:41 am

Ha !! I love that !

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Rana August 25, 2012 at 4:28 pm

Okay! I’m convinced. :)

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starts & ends with A August 24, 2012 at 4:49 pm

You guys want a fun story? I worked for a crazy person, who absolutely micromanaged but was also just crazy. She was in communications and was responsible for our project website (but didn’t really “get” this whole internet thing) and a lot of the material we developed. One afternoon she asked my coworker to print out the same very richly colored document on every single printer in the building (which was at least 20) to determine which one prints the colors most correct. (Consider that there is no guarantee the printers will have the same levels of ink the next time we need to print.)
The other thing she asked me to do was to go through 25 letters – that were all exactly the same minus the address block – and update the same minor thing to each (would it have been faster to propose mail merge, maybe?) then decided that the space she just had me remove from the signature line was not enough and to please add another hard return there… When I brought them in to her boss to sign them, he said “For future reference, I don’t need this much space to sign me name.” Auuugh.

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AgilePhalanges August 24, 2012 at 7:31 pm

That reminds me of a time when I needed to include a letter (drafted by someone else) into a check run batch I was sending. She e-mailed the letter to me to print, and told me to be sure to spell-check it first, because she didn’t want those squiggly red lines printing out on the letters.

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Just Me August 24, 2012 at 7:09 pm

OK here it is…. My company’s idea of micromanaging.
The whole place is like this not just one manager.
• We are given a list daily on which accounts to work and in what order.
• We have to report our production numbers at 2 different times during the day AND enter them on a separate production report that we have to send weekly in which we need to record how long each one took.
• We write on a sticky note and place on a white board the tasks we need to do from the list. We have 3 columns and we have to place each sticky on each column as we are working the stuff: committed, in progress and completed.
• We all have to stand (and I mean really have to STAND altogether) around the white board to discuss what we are doing that day and if we are late by even a minute we get a point. We got chastised one time for not being around the board close enough.
• We are in teams so we work on the same accounts (different tasks) BUT, we are not allowed to ask our co-workers questions to help each other out. But we get told by the CEO if we don’t want to be on a team with the idea of working together and are excited about it then we can leave.
•We can only ask the team lead questions via a spreadsheet and can only send that on a spreadsheet on your day. Mine is Tuesday. It used to be that you can questions only at certain times of the day.

There are more but I can’t think anymore now. About 6 months ago they wanted to start self-directed work groups but canned that idea, probably because they could not control us. They then said, regarding those white boards they wanted us to manage our work and canned that idea pretty quick telling what to do all the time.

We have no decision in anything at all. I mean nothing. It is a highly degrading place to work especially if you have a brain and are independent.

They are very concentrated and worried about productivity yet all they have us to is so counter-productive. It is like they are more into controlling us rather than getting the actual work done. Their focus is on what we are going to do wrong rather than what we can contribute. We get few if any postive comments.
The turnover is very high for the reasons above as well as others.

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Lily August 24, 2012 at 7:21 pm

I’m sure that my first employee thought I was a micro-manager. I didn’t know how to talk to her about her performance. So, I just completed her work and kept on trying to find tasks that she could do. I would have been thrilled if she had followed AAM’s advice!

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MsMac August 25, 2012 at 4:40 am

I have just received a performance review from my micromanager. To put this in context, I’m young for someone in my position, but still, a manager with over 10 years experience.

Some quotes include:

- Excellent hire and great addition to the team (neither of the last 2 people have lasted 3 months)
- Exceptional work
- Has a new and valuable way of thinking

But then…
- Personality issues… fails to heed my authority
- Must learn to do exactly as directed
- It would be a more harmonious environment if MsMac would refrain from such frequent uses of initiative

Some of the things I had done to cause such friction?

- I refuse to bcc her on EVERY email I send. If it’s relevant to her, she gets a normal cc, but she would like “confirmation” of every email I send
- If I’m sending an email to more than a couple of people, she wants to proofread it because she doesn’t “trust spellcheck”
- I do not “take seriously” our 1 hour meeting each afternoon where I tell her what I’ve done that day, e.g. how many phone calls I took and who from, who I emailed, what reports I wrote and at one point she was even asking which co-workers I had spoken to that day!

The list goes on, but this is a woman who one asked for my parents home address cause she was going to be in the area and wanted to see their house, so I think she has some issues in general!

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fposte August 25, 2012 at 11:44 am

Wow, that’s some impressive crazy. An hour meeting every day? So basically your productive time is 12% less than it should be? Do the people above her know that? And the parents’ house thing is jaw-droppingly weird–like how does somebody’s brain even come up with that?

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Vicki August 26, 2012 at 3:57 pm

> It would be a more harmonious environment if MsMac would refrain from such frequent uses of initiative

Please tell us you’re looking for another job?
Or at least forwarding this info to a higher-up manager??

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Just let me be March 12, 2013 at 1:40 pm

I have never had a MM before i am sick of it just 7 months into the new job i have worked around 4 years but this is new to me.
He is younger to me and never allows me to even write an email or a single doc on my own from day he had started editing and reediting over and over again and again
But one thing is there, he gave me a bonus after six months and a raise too and in my performance appraisal i was expecing him to blast me but he sed ‘u r very professional and u word very hard i like tat’ and i was like r u kidding me????
somethings wrong here, for a 6 page doc he makes me work and rework it 8 times?? just the other day
funny thing is i have never been ridiculed or insulted like this ever before or asked to rework like this
also he has never had to manage somebody with same as his profession

is this me or am i nuts???

any advice anybody out there????

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Cheryl May 9, 2013 at 11:10 am

I’m 57 years old and I’ve worked for 40 years. My supervisor is young enough to be my daughter. She seems to be more concerned about my timesheet than the quality of my work. :(

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retired airline employee May 27, 2013 at 11:57 am

Reservations for this airline has gone to micro mang. and it has caused many issues with lower moral, less team work and concerns with things that have nothing to do with good business. This pushed me into early retirement and in search of a better job. I am fortunate to have finally found a company that still believes in just good hard work and company spirit which keeps employees working as a team. All micro managing does is cause distrust between employees, lower productivity and unhappiness! Sounds like micromanaging needs to be weeded out!

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NewsGirl May 29, 2013 at 3:05 pm

Everyone in my office is sick to death with the micromanaging going on by our editor.

First, let me say, I’ve been in the news business (radio, TV, newspaper) for 35 years. I know how to do an interview. I know how to capture the right photos for the story. I know how to write and have several awards, both state and national, to show for it.

“Jim” however, doesn’t appear to think I can do my job without his nose and his fingers in everything. The situation has gotten so bad that he actually sends me emails, detailing who I’m to talk to, what questions to ask and what photo he wants to go with the story. Emails. I’m sitting at my desk less than 20 feet from him. Turn your chair around and speak to me. Email? Are you kidding?

Unfortunately, I’m not the only one in the office this is happening to, and its getting worse by the week. We are always on a tight deadline, so the worst is first thing in the morning when he jumps everyone about stories, cutlines, etc. And yet, the day the paper goes to print, we’re late getting it to the printer because he doesn’t have his own cutlines written, his sports stories written or his editorial finished. And to top it off, he can’t take a photograph to save his ass. He spends so much time doing who knows what outside the office and picking at everyone here that he’s putting the entire newspaper in jeopardy.

The funny thing is, we ran this newspaper alone, with no editor, for six months before the owner finally picked “Jim” to replace the old editor. Obviously our content during that time was exceptional as we won several awards on a state level for advertising, photos and news writing. The number of awards are less than half of what we have won before now that he’s at the helm.

We often fantasize after hours…what will happen when we all walk out the front door?

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Anon November 5, 2013 at 6:11 pm

Know how you feel guys. I work for an Ombudsman service and my Team Leader is a nightmare. I had to write in her style when writing reports. For example one of her critiques were that I cant say “job position” it had to be job or either position but not both. I hate her. Other people write worst reports that me, but as they kiss her ass they get less amendments. She is even having an affair at work and does not even try to hide it, lunching with her beau everyday and I have seen them together after work, or IM’ing saucy messages to each other. She is such a loser. She snoops into your file, i.e. of you get ahead and on top of your work, she snoops and then says I noticed you seem up to date so you can have more cases. Part of the job is deciding upon remedies to resolve the complaint i.e. after looking at the evidence YOU are supposed to decide what remedy is appropriate. However, when she reads my reports she always disagrees or questions my remedies and then tells me to change it so it is essentially her remedy, so what is the point? I hate the job SO MUCH. Working in a complaints handling environment is bad enough without people like her around. We have team targets to close a certain number of cases a month, and at the end of the month she will literally go around our bank of desks asking us if we have managed to close anything, and even tells us to call complainants and see if we can get a last minute informal resolution (i.e. bully the complainant) so we hit our targets. The processed are always changing and are badly communicated. They have an intranet and refuse to train people properly instead claiming that guidance notes are online, which you can never find as the search function does not work.

The job is well paid, and that is largely why I have stayed, but I am on the look out for my exit and will be sooooooo glad when I can say goodbye to that mutton dressed as lamb, cheating control freak!

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Pugsley May 29, 2014 at 8:45 pm

Hang in there!

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Pugsley May 29, 2014 at 8:43 pm

I’ve worked for some that I thought were micro-managers but nothing like the one I have now.

My boss now dictates who, what, where, etc. Although I am a Senior Manager, my boss likes to make it very clear where I stand in the line of things. He gets very upset if I don’t copy him on ALL communications and emails (even if they don’t apply to him). All of my projects, people management ideas, etc. are edited by him time and time again and then eventually approved the way I initially submitted them.

I had an employee issue (employee that worked for me) that I took to HR for guidance and he was mad that I went outside of our department. He said I need to filter everything through him before I go to HR, even though this had to do with federal labor law that he has ZERO experience with.

I am actively applying for jobs as quick as I can but this economy isn’t exactly robust.

I’m going nuts!

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