Few people want to be known as a micromanagers and for good reason. Micromanagement is a leadership and supervisory style in which the manager or supervisor closely observes and controls some or all aspects of employees’ jobs. A micromanager might allow employees little or no autonomy in decision-making and will typically want to have insight and input into even small decisions. Micromanagers may also supervise beyond a point that is reasonable. Needless to say, this can have a detrimental effect on employee morale. Studies also indicate that micromanagement can actually make employees less productive and can make it harder for managers to do their own jobs well.
Why avoid micromanagement?
There are several reasons to avoid micromanagement as a leadership style. One of the main reasons is that it can actually backfire and cause employees to perform worse. According to an August 2011 study in the Journal of Experimental Psychology,1 being continuously watched can both distract workers and can hinder working memory. This makes it more difficult for those under surveillance to learn new skills or to pay attention to the tasks they should be doing. Other theories also indicate that micromanaging can cause workers to divert attention from relevant tasks into worrying about the supervision. Workers can become so paralyzed by the pressure of a watchful eye that they are unable to complete the tasks at hand.
Aside from reducing productivity, micromanagement can also be detrimental to employee motivation and can cause talented employees to go elsewhere. A USA Today article titled “Micromanaging Makes You Frantic and Less Productive”2 confirms the dangers of losing good employees due to micromanagement by quoting John Beeson, author of “The Unwritten Rules: The Six Skills You Need to Get Promoted to the Executive Level.” According to Beeson, micromanagement can prevent good workers from developing to their full potential and can eventually drive them to leave a company.
Losing good employees or coping with unmotivated ones is never a good thing, but it may become a big problem, especially because, as The Economist3 indicates, the competition for talented workers is likely to increase as talent gaps widen due to retiring baby boomers. Today, the numbers show that many employees may already be finding reasons for dissatisfaction at work. Only 63 percent of respondents to a Harris Interactive survey said they believed their employers valued their contributions at work, according to a press release posted on MarketWatch.3 Dissatisfaction with micromanagement may be one reason so many of the remaining employees are unhappy. USA Today’s micromanagement article2 indicates that micromanagement may be increasing due to economic uncertainty and increased pressure on managers during tough economic times.
While new studies shed light on the dangers of micromanagement, classic theories of motivation can also suggest clear problems with overly controlling bosses. For instance, Maslow’s hierarchy of needs indicates that employees, once their other needs are met, seek self-actualization and, to achieve it and be fully motivated and happy in their jobs, they must be able to feel they are reaching their full potential and making a valuable contribution. Herzberg’s two-factor theory also posits that although basic hygiene factors like a safe work environment can help decrease dissatisfaction, they don’t create satisfaction per se. Satisfaction at work requires a different set of variables, including a feeling that work is valued or meaningful. Micromanaging is at odds with these classic motivational theories.
Are you a micromanager?
Although it’s easy to understand why micromanaging is a bad thing, it may be harder to identify and stop the behavior. USA Today’s micromanagement article2 gives several tips for recognizing whether you’re a micromanager, such as whether the amount of follow-up time you spend inhibits your ability to do your own job well.
The article also recommends ways you can overcome your micromanaging tendencies, such as delegating more effectively.
By consciously recognizing that micromanagement is a bad thing and reminding yourself to take a step back, you can create a more pleasant work environment. You can also make it easier for employees to do their jobs well, and you can concentrate on doing your own job to the best of your ability.
For more information, visit:
1. “Choking Under Pressure: Multiple Routes to Skill Failure.” DeCaro, Marci S.; Thomas, Robin D.; Albert, Neil B.; Beilock, Sian L. Journal of Experimental Psychology: General, Vol. 140(3), Aug. 2011, 390-406.
2. “Micromanaging Makes You Frantic and Less Productive”
3. “Employee Benefits Season Gives Employers Chance to Boost Employee Morale”
4. “Got Talent? Competing to Hire the Best and Motivate the Rest”