Micromanagement “refers to the control of an enterprise in every particular and to the smallest detail, with the effect of obstructing progress and neglecting broader, higher-level policy issues” (White, 2010).
According to Chambers (2009), micromanagement is highly subjective – it can be used as a perjorative by people who want no management at all. To address this, Chambers argues that micromanagement occurs when managers subtract rather than add value when interfering in “people and processes”.
White (2010) further highlights that a micromanager often interferes in others’ work out of uncertainty and self-doubt. Or, they may overly manage others out of mistrust or misplaced expectations.
1. Excessive participation in inconsequential decisions: Micromanagers tend to interfere in their staff work, even when the work is of little consequence in the big picture (Bailey, 2018). For instance, the manager may assert themselves in the decision-making process surrounding trivial matters like office supply procurement or email formatting – issues that, mostly, will have no true impact on operations overall. Such involvement tends to disrupt the natural flow of operations, potentially diminishing the autonomy of staff and making them question every small decision.
2. Persistent surveillance of work activities: Another telling sign of micromanagement is the inclination towards excessive surveillance (Chong, 2017). This behavior can extend to acts such as compulsive computer screen observation (even using software to manage them) or unreasonably common status updates. Though it might seem like diligent supervision, the empirical literature suggests it could disrupt productivity and contribute to a tense work environment.
Advice for Management: As you move into a managerial position, it is expected that you focus on ‘macro’ factors – meaning big picture issues – and put in place standard operating procedures for staff to complete micro practices without your constant oversight.
3. Requirement for meticulous reporting: Micromanagers often mandate the provision of comprehensive reports detailing daily tasks or project progression (Mulki et al., 2015). Although it may seem like a method to maintain oversight, it can actually consume a disproportionate amount of time that could be better spent on productive work.
4. Exertion of control over communication: One of the hallmarks of micromanagement is an unyielding grasp on all communication avenues (Bailey, 2018). For instance, the manager may insist on being copied on every email correspondence or demand to be present in every meeting, irrespective of its relevancy to their role. Such restrictions can stunt the free exchange of ideas, ultimately stifling innovation.
Advice for Management: It may be more beneficial to focus on ensuring work is done safely and efficiently, rather than expecting people to directly mirror exactly what you would have done in every situation.
5. Reluctance in delegating tasks: Micromanagers often struggle with delegating tasks. This generally occurs because they feel as if every task is too important so they have to do it themselves (Liden et al., 2006). In other words, they don’t trust their staff. This lack of trust could undermine the team’s potential for growth and autonomy, creating an atmosphere of dependence rather than empowerment.
6. Persistent demands for revisions: This particular manifestation of micromanagement sees managers persistently asking for assignments to be reworked or revised, often for minor tweaks that may not bring about substantial improvements (Mulki et al., 2015). This behavior not only disrupts productivity but also fosters a culture of excessive perfectionism, which can be detrimental to morale.
7. Discrediting employee expertise: Despite hiring for expertise, micromanagers often display a predilection for questioning their employees’ knowledge and decisions (Liden et al., 2006). They frequently override decisions, implying they possess superior knowledge or understanding—a behavior that is understandably frustrating and demoralizing for the subject matter experts they employ.
Advice for Managers: Write down the skills of your staff that you respect, or even simply see as their strength. Focus on stepping away from oversight of tasks that employ those skills first.
8. Habitual interruptions: Micromanagers tend to punctuate work hours with frequent interruptions, often under the guise of providing unsolicited advice or instructions (Bailey, 2018). Such disruptions can fracture the workflow, consequently impairing productivity and employee morale.
9. Imposition of overbearing standard operating procedures (SOPs): Micromanagers often mandate the SOPs, meaning the procedures for completing tasks, leaving little room for creativity or individual problem-solving strategies (Chong, 2017). This can result in the stifling of innovation and the stagnation of growth within the team.
10. Unfeasible reporting expectations: Micromanagers might establish unrealistic expectations for reporting, such as demanding hourly updates or setting impractical deadlines for project progress reports (Mulki et al., 2015). Such expectations can place unnecessary strain on employees and detract from time that could be more productively utilized.
11. Overspecification of direction: As a manifestation of their need for control, micromanagers may give exceedingly detailed instructions on tasks that employees are more than capable of handling independently (Liden et al., 2006). This undermines employee autonomy and often slows down the pace of work.
12. Discouragement of autonomous decision-making: Another characteristic of micromanagement is a tendency to discourage independent decision-making, fostering a workplace environment where employees feel they need managerial approval for every task (Bailey, 2018). This type of environment stifles initiative and can lead to a decrease in overall team productivity.
Advice for managers: Turn your eye to fostering independence in your staff. Negotiate projects they can take charge of, set the overall goal or KPIs, and allow the staff member to set the path to get there. Mentor them, but don’t take over control.
13. Centralization of decision-making power: Micromanagers typically centralize decision-making authority, creating a situation where even the most minor matters require their sign-off (Chong, 2017). This strategy not only slows down processes but also burdens the manager with an excessive decision load, potentially leading to decision fatigue.
14. Hypercriticism: Micromanagers have a tendency towards hypercriticism, excessively pointing out minor mistakes or suggesting improvements in areas that don’t necessarily warrant them. While constructive feedback is crucial for employee growth, excessive criticism can diminish morale and contribute to a toxic work environment (Liden et al., 2006).
15. Resistance to employee autonomy: Micromanagers often display a high level of resistance to allowing employees to work autonomously, despite clear evidence of their competence (Bailey, 2018). This constant oversight can lead to feelings of mistrust and resentment, undermining the team’s ability to function effectively.
16. Incessant demand for meetings: Micromanagers often require frequent and often unnecessary meetings to keep a close watch on team activities. Such an insistence not only disrupts workflow but may also lead to meeting fatigue, impacting overall productivity (Rogelberg et al., 2019).
17. Emphasis on procedures over outcomes: Micromanagers may excessively focus on processes rather than outcomes (Knight et al., 2022). Such a manager may be more concerned with how you’re doing something rather than the results of your work, potentially stifling innovation and productivity.
18. Ignoring boundaries: Micromanagers often invade personal boundaries, sometimes extending work expectations to outside office hours (Aycan et al., 2021). By encroaching upon personal time, they not only disrespect employee boundaries but also potentially jeopardize work-life balance.
19. Withholding information: Micromanagers can tend to withhold information as a means of maintaining control. By keeping critical information to themselves, they can manipulate the workflow and maintain their central role in all decisions (Aycan et al., 2021).
20. Constant pressure on timelines: Micromanagers may place unreasonable pressure on deadlines, insisting on faster completion times irrespective of the quality of work (Bailey, 2018). This may compromise work quality and amplify stress within the team.
21. Micro-editing: Micromanagers may exhibit a tendency to micro-edit, making numerous, often insignificant changes to their employees’ work, regardless of whether these changes genuinely enhance the quality of the output (Knight et al., 2017).
22. Undermining in front of others: A common trait among micromanagers is the proclivity to undermine employees in front of their peers. They might criticize work or challenge decisions publicly, creating an atmosphere of disrespect and damaging team morale (Aycan et al., 2021).
23. Neglecting employee development: Micromanagers often focus excessively on tasks at hand, with little to no emphasis on employees’ long-term development and growth. This lack of focus on professional growth can lead to stagnation in employees’ careers and lower motivation (Bailey, 2018).
24. Over-emphasis on attendance: Micromanagers might overly emphasize physical presence, such as clock-in and clock-out times, even when the nature of work doesn’t necessitate strict adherence to conventional working hours (Knight et al., 2017).
25. Discouraging team interaction: Micromanagers often discourage spontaneous interaction or collaboration among team members, preferring to keep a check on all communications and interactions (Aycan et al., 2021). This approach might limit the team’s creative synergy and disrupt a cohesive team environment.
26. Ignoring Employee Feedback: Micromanagers often disregard feedback from their team members, believing that their own strategies and methods are superior (Podsakoff et al., 2018). This lack of regard for employee insights can stifle potential improvements and innovations.
27. Restriction of Task Diversification: Micromanagers tend to impose constraints on the spectrum of tasks an employee is allowed to undertake, thereby narrowing their professional exposure (Knight et al., 2017). Such limitation in task variety invariably impedes opportunities for employees to cultivate new skills or delve into diverse areas of work. (One might ponder whether this approach ultimately hinders the organization’s agility and capacity for innovation, as it significantly reduces the cross-functionality of teams.)
28. Overcompensation through Justification: An interesting trait frequently exhibited by micromanagers is the recurrent need to overjustify their actions or decisions, potentially reflecting defensiveness (Bailey, 2018). This inclination could potentially stem from insecurities or the obsessive desire to maintain unilateral control over all work facets. (This approach could inadvertently create a culture of blame, where employees are less inclined to take initiative for fear of potential retribution.)
29. Fixation on Previous Mistakes: Micromanagers often fixate on previous mistakes, continually bringing them up even after the issues have been resolved. This approach does not foster a positive learning environment but rather creates a climate of fear and apprehension (Podsakoff et al., 2018).
30. Limiting Remote Work Opportunities: Micromanagers often restrict remote work options or flexible schedules, preferring traditional office setups where they can closely monitor employees (Aycan et al., 2021). Such a stance can stifle the potential benefits of flexible work arrangements, including improved productivity and employee well-being.
31. Discouragement of Risk-Taking: A defining characteristic of micromanagement is the inhibition of risk-taking (Knight et al., 2017). By promoting an atmosphere of risk-aversion, micromanagers inadvertently stifle creativity and innovative potential, confining their teams to proven, yet potentially outdated, strategies and techniques. (In a rapidly evolving business environment, such a stance may prove detrimental, as it hampers the organization’s ability to adapt and thrive amidst change.)
32. Disregard for Work-Life Balance: Micromanagers may show little regard for employees’ work-life balance, often expecting them to be available outside regular working hours or taking little account of personal commitments (Aycan et al., 2021). For example, your boss may ask you to work late then turn up the very next morning early, giving you insufficient time to rest and recouperate.
33. Approval Mandate for all Financial Outlays: Micromanagers often impose a rigid rule that requires their sanction for all expenditures, no matter how minor they may be (Bailey, 2018). This stringent control over expenditure authorization can slow down operational processes and hamper operational efficiency. (While financial prudence is indeed crucial, one must question whether such rigid control mechanisms impede the organization’s agility and responsiveness to fast-paced market demands.)
34. Overemphasis on Conformity: Micromanagers often display a skewed emphasis on uniformity, stipulating that all tasks and projects should adhere to a certain pattern or template (Podsakoff et al., 2018). This insistence on excessive standardization can smother creativity and inhibit the expression of individual talents and ideas. (Could this rigid focus on conformity be inadvertently stifling diversity of thought, and by extension, the organization’s potential for innovation?)
35. Failure to Prioritize Tasks: In their pursuit of control, micromanagers often fail to prioritize tasks effectively, treating all tasks as equally urgent. This can lead to inefficiencies and overwhelm employees with unnecessary pressure (Knight et al., 2017)
Micromanaging ends up being an enormous problem in workplaces, decreasing people’s enjoyment of work and often interfering in the workplace’s productivity and efficiency. The manager may also experience decreased productivity and job satisfaction because their focus on the “micro” distracts from a “macro” focus – i.e. working on the bigger picture.
Aycan, Z., Kanungo, R. N., Mendonca, M., Yu, K., Deller, J., Stahl, G., & Kurshid, A. (2021). Impact of culture on human resource management practices: A 10‐country comparison. Applied Psychology, 49(1), 162-220. doi: https://doi.org/10.1111/1464-0597.00010
Bailey, C., Madden, A., Alfes, K., & Fletcher, L. (2018). The meaning, antecedents and outcomes of employee engagement: A narrative synthesis. International Journal of Management Reviews, 19(1), 31-53. doi: https://doi.org/10.1111/ijmr.12077
Beck, J. W., Beatty, A. S., & Sackett, P. R. (2014). On the distribution of job performance: The role of measurement characteristics in observed departures from normality. Personnel Psychology, 67(2), 531-566. doi: https://doi.org/10.1111/peps.12060
Chong, E. (2017). Role balance and team development: A study of team role characteristics in high performing teams. International Journal of Organizational Analysis, 15(3), 210-226.
Fay, D., & Frese, M. (2001). The concept of personal initiative: An overview of validity studies. Human Performance, 14(1), 97-124. doi: https://doi.org/10.1207/S15327043HUP1401_06
Goleman, D. (2000). Leadership that gets results. Harvard business school publishing corporation.
Heifetz, R., Grashow, A., & Linsky, M. (2009). The practice of adaptive leadership: Tools and tactics for changing your organization and the world. Harvard Business Press.
Knight, C., Patterson, M., & Dawson, J. (2017). Building work engagement: A systematic review and meta-analysis investigating the effectiveness of work engagement interventions. Journal of Organizational Behavior, 43(6), 810-833. doi: https://doi.org/10.1002/job.2167
Liden, R. C., Erdogan, B., Wayne, S. J., & Sparrowe, R. T. (2006). Leader-member exchange, differentiation, and task interdependence: implications for individual and group performance. Journal of Organizational Behavior, 27(6), 723-746. doi: https://doi.org/10.1002/job.409
Mintzberg, H. (1975). The manager’s job: Folklore and fact. Harvard business review, 53(4), 49-61.
Mulki, J. P., Jaramillo, J. F., & Locander, W. B. (2006). Effects of ethical climate and supervisory trust on salesperson’s job attitudes and intentions to quit. Journal of Personal Selling & Sales Management, 26(1), 19-26.
Podsakoff, P. M., MacKenzie, S. B., Moorman, R. H., & Fetter, R. (2018). Transformational leader behaviors and their effects on followers’ trust in leader, satisfaction, and organizational citizenship behaviors. Leadership Quarterly, 1(2), 107-142.
Rogelberg, S. G., Shanock, L. R., & Scott, C. W. (2019). Wasted time and money in meetings: Increasing return on investment. Small Group Research, 40(3), 385-411.
Shanock, L. R., Baran, B. E., Gentry, W. A., Pattison, S. C., & Heggestad, E. D. (2010). Polynomial regression with response surface analysis: A powerful approach for examining moderation and overcoming limitations of difference scores. Journal of Business and Psychology, 25(4), 543-554.
Dr. Chris Drew is the founder of the Helpful Professor. He holds a PhD in education and has published over 20 articles in scholarly journals. He is the former editor of the Journal of Learning Development in Higher Education. [Image Descriptor: Photo of Chris]