There’s probably nothing more annoying for an experienced person than to be micromanaged. I’m sure someone who is new to work finds being micromanaged just as annoying, but at least the boss has a good excuse. The novice could really mess things up without proper supervision.
Out of roughly 100 people I spoke to who were interested in leaving their jobs or had already left their jobs when conducting research for my book, roughly 70% of them said the main reason why they wanted to leave or did leave their jobs was because of a difficult boss. The boss was either unfair, unpleasant, uninspiring, or a micromanager.
When a boss micromanages an employee they effectively do three things:
3) Creates self-doubt
In other words, micromanagers are horrendous bosses who will likely lose all of their employees over time.
One reader wrote in,
“Sam, I’m dying here! My firm recently hired this hotshot 30-year old MBA graduate who thinks he knows everything. He used to work in recruiting before getting his degree and this is his first job working for a tech firm. I’m 34 years old and have been working here for five years. Recently, he’s been on my ass about checking all my work, telling me how to do my work, and asking me every time I leave my desk for more than 30 minutes. I can’t even take a dump in peace out of fear he’ll start questioning my whereabouts! I’ve got way more experience than him, yet he gives me no respect. What do you recommend I do?!”
Meet him in the garage after work and deal with the situation like a man by kicking his ass! Was my initial thought. Anybody who shows no respect for their elders should be taught a lesson. But of course, we’re not living during the time of honor. We’re living in the time of “what have you done for me lately”.
I truly empathize with the reader because losing autonomy was one of the main reasons why I left my job. When you’ve got plenty of other means to make a living, working for a micromanager is NOT WORTH IT. But for those of you who have no way out yet, this post will discuss strategies on how to deal with micromanagers so you no longer have to feel miserable coming into work.
WHY DO BOSSES MICROMANAGE?
It’s very easy to just be bitter about someone who makes your life hell, but if we can better understand WHY your boss is a micromanager, we’ll feel better about ourselves and be much more adept in handling the micromanagement situation. Here are five reasons why your boss is a micromanager:
1) Inexperienced or fundamentally insecure. Every single micromanagement incident I’ve experienced is due to the fact that the boss is relatively new to his or her role. With inexperience comes insecurity because there is a need for the boss to understand every single thing the employee is doing in order to sleep better at night. As is the case with the reader above, his boss is a fresh MBA graduate who is under intense pressure to prove to his bosses he is the right person for the job. Because the new MBA graduate doesn’t know jack about the industry, he is micromanaging in order to better understand what to do. The more experienced the boss is, the calmer she is because she’ll have seen similar situations before and know what to do.
2) General neurotic tendencies. If your boss suffers from OCD, she may have a higher tendency of being a micromanager. There is simply a chemical imbalance that prevents her from trusting others or trusting a situation thoroughly. There is also a high correlation with insomniacs and micromanagers. Insomniacs can’t stop thinking about things which worry them so much they can’t sleep. If your boss has neurotic tendencies, then there’s unfortunately less you can do to help fix the situation because it’s up to your boss to fix her own situation.
3) High performers. In order to be the boss, you usually have to be a high performer in your field. But the problem is that companies too often promote high performers who aren’t great bosses. I see this situation happen all the time with the promotion of top tier sales people into managerial roles. There is a different skill-set involved in becoming a good boss. High performers expect everybody else to match their performance even though everybody has a different way of doing things.
4) Not busy enough. If your boss has nothing better to do, then s/he’ll will often try and make work for themselves and for you. One time I had this boss in NYC who called me about a $35 client lunch bill. I regularly took out this senior client to a local Malaysian lunch and he was calling me from NYC for this tiny bill when he supposedly had 50+ people to manage. What a joke! Especially since our per head entertainment budget is $200. This boss was fired a year later. When bosses are underperforming at their own jobs, they tend to ratchet up the micromanaging. Beware.
5) You’re simply messing up. If you were doing your job “perfectly” you would be micromanaged less. The issue is, the definition of “perfect” might be different between you two. Take time to understand exactly how your manager likes things to be done and write them down.
HOW TO DEAL WITH A MICROMANAGER
Now that we can better empathize with the micromanager, here are four simple solutions on how to make the situation better.
1) Defer and let them do your work. This is called the “judo move” where you simply use your boss’s force to help you win. Bosses feel better about themselves after they micromanage, so you might as well let them do your work to perfection for you. Thank them for their guidance and let them feed their OCD. I noticed this boss who kept saying she didn’t want to encroach on another colleague’s work, but continued to encroach anyway. It was the strangest thing. My colleague simply deferred everything to her boss by letting her do the work for her. All was good and my colleague was able to stress less, do less work, and still get paid the same.
2) Lower your manager’s expectations. If you can adeptly play dumb and demonstrate you know enough to not get fired, but don’t know as much as you really do, then your micromanager will slowly accept your new lower standard. It’s when you over-deliver on a low hurdle where the micromanager will suddenly start thinking to themselves, “Wow, Tom is doing a great job!” and slowly leave you alone. Definitely clarify exactly what your manager wants so you can come close to giving them exactly what they need.
3) Help them get busy. If you can help your boss get more work and be better at her job, then you are helping yourself because she’ll be too busy to micromanage you. If my boss in NYC actually had something to do, there’s no way he’d bother grilling me on a $35 client lunch bill. Promote your boss to other senior people so that not only do you look good, your boss looks good so s/he can be distracted by other things. Think about a burglar throwing a juicy t-bone steak at the German Shepard watchdog in order to break in.
4) Build trust. What’s most disappointing about a micromanager is that despite your experience and demonstration that you are an outstanding citizen, they still don’t trust you to do your work. If someone doesn’t trust you, that’s a personal insult if you are a trustworthy person. No wonder why the large majority of people who want to quit their jobs cite problem bosses as the #1 reason.
IF YOU ARE A MICROMANAGER, DO THESE THINGS
Perhaps you’re reading this post and realize you’re a micromanager. The first step to fixing a problem is recognizing you have a problem. Congratulations! Instead of beating yourself for being a horrible, neurotic, untrusting person who makes other people miserable, look to fix your mistakes.
1) Spend time knowing what drives your employees. Money is seldom the #1 reason why employees quit. You are or a lack of recognition. Hence, it’s important to sit down with your employees who you think need micromanaging and understand their strengths and weaknesses. Develop not only a professional bond, but a personal bond on some level. Maybe you share a love for travel, dogs, cats, or sports. Find that common link because once your employee feels that connection, they will ultimately do a much better job because they care for you professionally and personally.
2) Incentivize with a sandwich. The delivery of criticism is very important. I suggest using the sandwich method where you first recognize them for parts where they did well, offer areas for improvement, and then finish off with more recognition of another part well done. Nobody is going to feel motivated if all they hear is criticism. You must constantly recognize your employee’s efforts for them to want to give you even more effort. Send out a group e-mail highlighting their efforts. Praise them during the next group meeting. Take them out to lunch. Pat them on the back and simply say, “good work.” Encouragement goes a long way and it’s free.
3) Establish consistent checkpoints. Instead of being on your employee’s ass every day, simply establish a once a week 30 minute check-in to see how your employee is doing. Use this meeting time to thoroughly understand the issues and go through point #2, and do your best to stop micromanaging until this next meeting. Make it clear that if your employee needs help that they should come to you.
IF ALL ELSE FAILS
Bosses who micromanage are like zombies in The Walking Dead. They might be curable, but it takes patience and understanding because they are often blind to their actions. The best bosses in the world recognize your strengths, puts you in a position to utilize your strengths, and checks in every once in a while to see if you need help. Too bad there aren’t more classes to help teach new managers better managerial skills.
If you can’t get your boss to stop micromanaging everything you do, then you must figure out a way to get the hell out of there by negotiating a severance package. Your micromanager is a plague who will infect everybody eventually or get fired himself. Take matters into your own hands before it’s too late.
BE YOUR OWN BOSS
It’s been over four years since I escaped Corporate America, and I couldn’t be happier thanks to starting Financial Samurai in 2009. Being your own boss is a lot of work, but it’s worth it. I would never trade going back to Corporate America for the lifestyle I have now even if I made triple what I make now online.
Below is a real income statement example of a personal finance blogger who makes $150,000 a year from his site and another $180,000 a year in consulting income thanks to his site. It took him four years to get here, but he doesn’t regret having all his freedom one bit.
I strongly recommend everybody start their own website today so you can at least own your own brand online. Having your own website makes you stand out from a crowded field that’s full of people with only LinkedIn profiles. Starting a site used to cost thousands and thousands of dollars and days of your time. Now it can be done in just 15 minutes.
Once you own your own site, it’s much easier to get a new job, find consulting clients, sell a product, earn advertising income and tell your story. You might even grow your website big enough one day where you too can engineer your layoff and be free from work hell!
Updated for 2017 and beyond.