By far, one of the most difficult things in the workplace is to handle a micromanaging boss. They suck the soul out of you and make work more tedious than it actually should be.
If you have never had such a boss, you are one of the lucky ones. If you have, my condolences.
Obviously, it is difficult to work with such people. They are on you like a hovering drone, trying to make sure you have crossed all ‘T’s and dotted all ‘I’s. They might even be breathing down your neck to see what you are doing or even telling you how to do your work. Some of them even have insecurities that you will not be able to do your work well without their constant guidance.
How do I know this so well? I was a micromanager once.
Me as a micromanaging boss
From 2011 – 2017 I ran my own service-based startup. I hired my first staff in 2013 and the largest my team ever was, was when it had 6 members – including full-time, part-time, and interns.
My first two hirings, who are now really good friends, wore the whole brunt of my micromanaging nonsense.
I was also inexperienced. Having started up 3 months out of university, my only previous working experience was freelance works and volunteering opportunities during my undergraduate days.
Add to that the fact that I came from a middle-class family with no history in business, family dead against my decision of starting up, and a market that still wasn’t accustomed to the idea of startups – I felt it was me against the world.
So you can imagine how protective I would have been of my startup.
I presume that’s how my whole micromanaging behaviour began. While I was confident about my staff’s skills, I was insecure about how soon or efficiently they would get their work done. Hence, began this poisonous behaviour of me indulging in all their work. Even the creative ones.
Looking back, I didn’t give my graphic designer enough design freedom nor my digital marketing manager enough freedom to make decisions freely.
This eventually showed in the work we did for our clients.
Couple of angry clients and a few months later, I sat down with the team members individually. And I asked them to be honest about what was going wrong.
Major feedback – I was a micromanager and it was difficult for them to be relaxed enough to work to the best of their ability.
It did hit me hard. I’ll be honest. I initially didn’t take it well. Yes, I didn’t shout back at anyone, but internally I was shouting at myself.
I thought I was the hero in the story. Whereas in reality, I had become the villain.
Long story short – I sought help from my mentors, read articles around how not to micromanage, and promised the staff that I’d become a better manager/leader.
I would like to think I did improve eventually. The team stuck together and our revenue growth for the next two years was greater than 200% year-on-year. Our client feedbacks became more and more positive and 95%+ of our business was either repeat or through referrals.
Years later, karma would still come back.
Me with a micromanaging boss
In one of the roles I worked after moving on from my startup, while my direct supervisor was too damn awesome, the senior manager was quite a micromanager.
That’s when I understood more about being on the receiving side of a micromanaging boss.
Yes, it was difficult for me. Very stressful. But as I went forward in that project, I also started trying out methods to handle the situation.
The research itself shows that having a micromanager is bad for your health. Personnel Psychology’s research states that a micromanaging boss increases the odds of death by 15.4%. Whereas, if you are in an environment where you have more control over your work, there is a 34% decrease in the odds of death.
Personnel Psychology's research states that a micromanaging boss increases the odds of death by 15.4%. Whereas, if you are in an environment where you have more control over your work, there is a 34% decrease in the odds of death. Click To Tweet
Now you see the seriousness?
It is as a result of the two situations mentioned above that I decided to write this blog post. Many people accept their fate when they have a micromanaging boss. But as a strong advocate of mental health well-being, I am dead against this ‘suffering’.
Having experienced working with a micromanaging boss, and having been one myself, here are a few suggestions from my end on how to handle a micromanaging boss.
How to handle a micromanaging boss
1. It’s not you. It’s me
Well, before you go about cursing your boss for micromanaging, try understanding if it’s actually because of something you have done.
Has your work been below expected standards? Have you regularly missed deadlines? Have you been unreliable as an employee?
At times a boss has to micromanage when the employee has been performing below expectations.
Observe if the boss’s micromanaging behaviour is only with you or with everyone. If it’s only with you, be truthful to yourself and see if you are actually the reason.
2. Give constant updates
One thing common with micromanagers is their need for control.
And to get them to ease up on that, just give them what they need. Give them constant updates about your work so that they aren’t breathing down on your neck when you are working.
If you give them what they need, they probably won’t be on your back as much. One of the easiest methods to handle a micromanaging boss.
3. Anticipate what they want and complete it beforehand
Once you have worked with them for quite some time and understood how they work, it becomes easier to predict their work expectations.
If you are able to anticipate these and provide them beforehand, then they won’t need to follow-up with you as much.
For example, if you know that your manager asks for a summary of the work you have done every day, then might as well email it to him before he has a chance to ask you about it.
4. Ask for feedback
No offense to anyone, but a lot of the micromanagers are egoistic. Hence they love it when they are asked for advice or feedback.
Gather up courage and speak to your boss. Ask them feedback about your work and what their expectations are from you.
If you have been unable to anticipate what their expectations are, then this is a helpful discussion to have. They will right out list what they want and then you can work accordingly.
Yes, I agree that a lot of this would lead to additional work for you. But at the end of the day, if it leads to lesser stress for you, then that’s all that matters.
5. Don’t fight it
Experts agree that you should never push back, passively or aggressively, with micromanagers. It never results in a better situation.
Rather, there is a high chance that pushback might result in the manager considering you as untrustworthy and get more involved in your work than before.
6. Wait before you judge
Truth is, there are chances your boss might actually be lacking the skillset to do the job. Or even not have the skillset to understand what you are doing.
Try finding a neutral perspective before you go all guns blazing into hating your micromanaging boss. Use the opportunity to find a better solution to see if you can help support him/her.
Remember. They are also human, with their own set of flaws.
7. Don’t take it personally
I know it can be a real pain to have someone point out every aspect of your work and control it more than needed. And I know it can become difficult not to take it personally.
But I’d still say it – try not to take their behaviour personally. Don’t let it get to your head. Don’t let it define your work ethic or affect your outlook towards your profession.
And that’s where the next step becomes important.
8. Blow off steam in a non-destructive manner
On some days, things can just get too much. But no matter what, keep your emotions in check.
Don’t lose your cool and start swearing. Don’t sit and simmer in your stress that it starts affecting your mental health.
If you are having a bad day at work, do something that helps you relax. Go for a walk. Listen to some music. Get into the gym for an hour. Or if it’s too much, just take the rest of the day off and go home.
Remember, nothing’s worth sacrificing your mental health for.
Once my above mentioned micromanaging boss got on my nerves so bad, I took a one hour break (an early lunch break) and went on a long walk. Another colleague of mine was so affected, she actually went on a 6-month stress leave.
9. Have a private conversation
If things still don’t get better, schedule a private meeting with your said boss to discuss your concerns.
Be diplomatic and non-accusatory in the conversation. Rather than blame the person, try suggesting a common ground where you can work together. Talk about your concerns and how it’s affecting your work and mental health.
Obviously, it is terrifying and difficult to have such a conversation. But understand that just by ignoring the situation it is not going to disappear.
10. Take action
These methods would and should ideally be the last resort.
First, consult with your organization’s HR department to find out more about your options. But be careful around this too.
Various organizations have a culture where they do not appreciate any kind of complaint against fellow employees, especially managers. In other cases, there are chances the HR might just make a note and forward the complaint to your manager itself. This might hurt you more than you expect.
Hence, it would be good to first get a gist of how things work in your organization, before taking this step.
If all else fails, perhaps it is time to move on to better opportunities. If the boss isn’t helping and the company policy isn’t able to help you anymore, then it is best to end it all.
After all, things never ‘get better’ in a toxic relationship.
That’s all from my end. What are your thoughts about these tips on how to handle a micromanaging boss? Do you suggest against any of the above tips? Or do you think its the right way to go about?
I hope you never get a situation where you have to handle a micromanaging boss. And if you do, may you have the strength to survive it!
Oh and most importantly. Don’t make the mistake I did and turn into a micromanager yourself.
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