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Micromanaging Bosses: Do All Employees Dislike Them?

(Author: Jynné Ross)

(12/05/2016)

 

Abstract

There is usually a negative connotation attached to micromanagement. Many scholars have argued that this management style has adverse effects on productivity and employee job satisfaction. Other researchers have also argued that effective supervisors are good leaders who allow their staff autonomy at work. A study conducted on organizational climate found that employees feel that their immediate bosses cause them more stress than the actual work they perform. Considering that people spend many hours of the day on the job, it is crucial that the workplace is a healthy environment. I conducted a study to discover employees’ feelings towards micromanagement. I proposed that most workers were pro-autonomy and did not want their bosses overseeing all of their assignments. I believed that the findings in the current literature represent employees’ majority view on the subject. At the same time, I felt that there were gaps in the research that could be filled. For instance, published research mainly discussed the negative impacts of this management style, however; it did not include many potential benefits for using micromanagement. Moreover, the research did not examine whether some employees support micromanagement and do not want autonomy at work. Thus, my study was formed to explore the topic from a broader view. I created and distributed a 14-question survey to employees who worked for a particular government agency. The questions were formed to determine whether workers supported micromanagement or preferred autonomy at work. Historically, this agency is well known for its micromanaging structure. I hypothesized that the majority of these employees prefer work independence and less job oversight. To my surprise, the results of the survey showed that 46% of staff actually supported micromanagement. The implications show that qualitative interviews would allow greater and more detailed insight into workers’ feelings on the topic.

 

Research Proposal

The Problem with Micromanagement

It is highly unlikely for individuals to wake up and look forward to their day if their first thought in the morning is, “man, I dread having to go to work.” It is also unreasonable for an organization to expect quality work from staff if their employees demonstrate this type of attitude. There is a major correlation between employee motivation and effective leadership within a work environment (Simpson, 2010).  Thus, if employees work under a boss who uses micromanagement as their primary form of leadership, it may be difficult to motivate staff to work hard and be productive. While discussing the various interfaces of conflict that occur in organizations, Burke (2007) discusses conflict experienced at the interpersonal level. He references the fact that many studies show that the most stressful aspect of someone’s job is dealing with their boss. While discussing the results of organizational climate studies, the author contends:

60 percent to 75 percent of the employees in any organization – no matter when or where the survey was completed, and no matter what occupational group was involved – report that the worst or most stressful aspect of their job is their immediate supervisor (p. 785).

Hence, leaders who micromanage their staff may cause significant conflict and frustration in their employees’ lives and contribute to the organization’s failures as well.

People often spend more time on their jobs and with their coworkers than they do at home with their families. Some people spend 40 hours or more at work, while others may have more than one job to support themselves. Therefore, constantly working with a micromanaging supervisor may invite immense unwanted conflict, disrupting one’s inner peace and overall happiness.

 

Why Addressing Micromanagement Matters

The Conflict Resolution (CR) field aims to drastically reduce social conflict in our society (Mayer, 2012; Schellenberg, 1999).  While discussing this, Schellenberg (1999) explains, “as an initial statement, we may define social conflict as the opposition between individuals and groups on the basis of competing interests, different identities, and/or differing attitudes” (p. 7). Since employment plays a major role in one’s life, workplace conflicts may substantially contribute to social disorder. A poor working environment may cause built up hostility to trickle down into people’s personal lives in a harmful way. It may also help nurse negative attitudes towards one’s boss, resulting in employee dissatisfaction and low productivity. Moreover, organizations may suffer economically if their workers are unhappy, causing productivity to decline. Thus, studying the effects of micromanagement, and providing remedies for it, may help transform a poor organizational climate and enhance employee satisfaction overall.

In Leading Unstoppable Teams, Simpson (2010) emphasizes the importance of having leadership at every level within the organization. The author explains that leadership should not be limited to only those who hold management positions. Additionally, companies that do not allow their employees to contribute may cause staff to feel inessential, which may ultimately hinder the business’ success. However, granting employees the freedom to lead can yield positive results for the employer. Considering this, Simpson (2010) wrote:

Enabling others to act includes the concept of empowering them, and that requires the leader to be confident enough to trust others to act appropriately and creatively in support of the vision. Leaders who are all about the task and not about the people may get the work done, but may not win support, only compliance (p. 17)

Hence, it may be difficult for an organization to succeed if managers monitor their employees’ every move.

My Goal for Studying the Effects of Micromanagement

Adults should be treated like adults. In most cases, they should not require a supervisor/team leader hovering over them, dictating every decision that they make. Micromanaging permits managers to have a “know it all” attitude, which can frustrate staff. Akin to my views, Wright (1999) explains, “Micromanagement reduces the need for employees to think for themselves because they are told how to do everything. The worst mistake management can make is to assume it has the answer to a problem without consulting employees” (p. 52). Conversely, Stack (2013) argues that employees can be inspired and empowered when leaders trust their staff’s ability to perform. On the contrary, stifling workers can lead to employee turnover. The author wrote, “The wise leader knows how to coax the maximum productivity out of people without making them quit” (p. 104).  Hence, employee autonomy may spark motivation; create a sense of purpose for workers, and increase productivity and employee satisfaction – benefiting both the organization and staff.

I have four goals for conducting a study on micromanagement within the workplace: 1) I aim to discover the extent to which micromanagement affects production and productivity within organizations. 2) I want to determine if there are employees who prefer a micromanagement structure, reducing the need for them to be innovative and make autonomous decisions. 3) On the other hand, for people who dislike their boss’ micromanaging tactics, I want to learn about alternatives that these individuals feel would be useful for resolving their discontent with their employer’s management style.  4) Lastly, after testing my theory on the negative effects of micromanagement, I want to effectively analyze the data and provide implications that are useful for addressing the problem.

 

Literature Review

Causes for Micromanagement

There are various views on what causes micromanagement. According to Dowden (2012), there are three primary motivators behind it. The first type is micromanagers who are perfectionists who try to ensure all assignments are done correctly. Their standards are high, and as a result, they can be beneficial for the organization, because they ensure that quality work is produced. The author explains, “these individuals may be well-meaning, and employees may learn a great deal from them because of their lofty standards” (p. 24). Conversely, the second type of micromanagers is regulatory and seeks to ensure that employees know who’s the boss. They have control issues, and do not welcome criticism from staff. The final type of micromanagers “can have good intentions that lead to negative, unintended impacts” (p. 24). These managers oversee their staff’s projects to help ensure that employees succeed, however; staff would prefer not to have their work checked every step of the way.

Akin to one of Dowden’s (2012) views on what causes micromanaging, White (2010) contends that micromanagers are addicts with control issues. The author wrote, “people who micromanage generally do so because they feel unsure and self-doubting” (p. 71). He also cites Leader-Member Exchange Theory (LMX) to support his findings.  He explains, “LMX researchers conclude that managers who are reluctant to delegate, and become micromanagers are those that show a lack of confidence in subordinates’ capabilities” (p. 73). Hence, the type of person the author described is someone who is uncomfortable with surrendering control and trusting others.  Furthering the discussion, Wright (1999) adds that competitive pressures may cause micromanagement to occur as well.  All three authors’ have compelling arguments. Building on their views, the organizational structure may also heavily influence managers’ decision to micromanage. If managers’ superiors promote and encourage micromanaging, it is likely that lower-level managers will adopt an authoritative management style to please the higher-ups within the company.

Con’s to Micromanaging

            Constantly monitoring staff may have negative consequences. It can affect performance and productivity and decrease motivation from workers (Dowden, 2012; Rossi, 2005; Weyand, 1996; White, 2010).  Weyand (1996) argues that not only does it rob employees of their self-respect, but it can also affect an organization’s development, causing the business to grow at a glacial pace.  Dowden (2012) posits, “Available evidence overwhelmingly suggests that this management style is rife with problems.  It not only demoralizes workers but leads to significant declines in productivity and performance in the long run” (p. 7).  On the other hand, the author argues, “human beings are at their best (experience their highest level of motivation, productivity, and happiness) when three universal needs are met: competence, relatedness, and autonomy” (p. 7).  Thus, micromanaging may hinder employees’ ability to enjoy the work that they do.  Considering this, Stack (2013) adds, “it doesn’t take long before the micromanager rules over a collection of unhappy clock-watchers who won’t take a step without permission, no matter how bright or innovate they may have been in the beginning” (p.102). In addition to affecting productivity and creativity, even more importantly, Stack (2013) explains that micromanaging can have an adverse effect on an employee’s health, which can be a dangerous, and troubling, potential reality for someone.

One could argue that companies always aim to grow, however, high employee turnover may cause organizations to sink quickly. White (2010) explains:

Micromanagers tend to dumb down their organizations. As they hire drones, they must work even harder because drones take more work to manage than do thinking, industrious workers. It becomes a vicious cycle. Good workers leave, more drones are hired, and the organization begins a downward spiral in skill, morale, and productivity. (p. 72.)

Hence, if an organization has problems with retaining quality staff it may ruin the business’ chances of survival.

Considering the current literature, some degree of autonomy is imperative for the workplace. As Dowden (2012) noted, many workers prefer freedom over captivity.  Thus, a micromanager may cause an employee to feel entirely enslaved, resulting in them feeling aloof and disengaged at work. Moreover, staff members who despise their managers are unlikely to meet their employer’s expectations, which will likely have adverse effects on the organization’s operations.

Pro’s to Micromanaging

While some authors see no benefits to micromanaging, others contend that micromanaging can yield positive results at times.  Wright (1999) explains that micromanaging is entirely appropriate when serious problems arise and they need to be addressed and evaluated carefully. For instance, a good manager will investigate and analyze an employee complaint at every step of the way to ensure that the investigatory process is handled appropriately and in compliance with the organization’s policies.  Weyand (1996) argues that another benefit to micromanaging is that it can save companies a lot of money and time because micromanagers eliminate the need for training programs that can be very costly for an employer. Thus, they help to save company resources.  Considering these authors’ ideas, there may be a fine line between controlling bosses and hands-on supervisors who solve H.R. related problems and help to save money for the organization. Both types may be similar in some ways, but only the former qualifies as a micromanager.

Leaders versus Micromanagers

Leadership is essential for motivating staff and for organizational success (Dowden, 2012; Mattoon, 2015; Simpson & van Luinen 2010; Stack, 2013; Weyand, 1996).  Essentially, employees may rely on their immediate supervisors to be role models, providing staff with a great example to follow. Considering this, Weyand (1996) contends that a manager’s leadership follows staff at home. The author stated, “the attitudes and habits drilled into these folks during the workday often follow them right into their home lives, thereby affecting countless others. If you are a leader, you a truly accountable for people’s lives” (p. 62).  Hence, micromanaging threatens a manager’s ability to effectively lead and have a positive impact on their staff, in, and outside of the workplace.

The authors (Dowden, 2012; Mattoon, 2015; Simpson & van Luinen 2010; Stack, 2013; Weyand, 1996) also posit that empowerment is necessary for the workplace. They stated that good managers are leaders who regularly empower their staff; they inspire and trust their employees and do not monitor everything they do. These types of leaders know how to respect their workers’ space. Moreover, they behave in ways that they would want their own subordinates to act, upholding the same expectations and standards staff are bound to.

Addressing Micromanagement

Scholars have offered varying approaches to addressing micromanagement. Miller (2014), Stack (2013), and Mattoon (2015) explain that managers can start by changing their behavior towards their staff. Furthermore, Mattoon (2015) called for managers to ignore harmless errors rather than pointing them out all the time. The author added that managers should eliminate obstacles for their staff, and seek proper resources for them to perform their jobs successfully. Conversely, Stack (2013) advocates for clear goal communication and positive motivation from supervisors. The author stated, “use perks, time off, promotions, public recognition, team moral boosters… to inspire exceptional performance” (p. 103).  Hence, if employees have clear expectations, they are less likely to make mistakes. Also, if they are recognized and rewarded when they do well, they will be inspired to work hard.

Employees can also learn to cope and help combat micromanagement from their managers (Dowden, 2012; Miller, 2014; Rossi 2005).  Miller (2014) suggests that workers should be sure to follow the rules, reducing possible complaints from their bosses. The author also recommends prioritizing work; staying very organized; communicating well with one’s boss, and listening and repeating instructions for clarity. Dowden (2012) adds that employees should discern what really matters to their boss and work diligently towards meeting those needs to build a trusting relationship. In addition, employees should be honest with themselves and decide if they can manage the situation and stomach their bosses or not. If they cannot, it may be time for them to find a new job. Instead of quitting, Rossi (2005) believes the key is for staff to stay on top of their work; so managers won’t feel like constant monitoring of employees’ work is necessary in the first place. The literature above includes practical suggestions for employees who want to cope with micromanagement and for managers who want to change their behaviors.

Studies at a Glance

Current research elucidates the traits of a micromanager (Dowden, 2012). The author noted a study conducted by Fordham University in which 300 executives from 10 different countries and 50 different companies offered their views on micromanaging behaviors versus leadership behaviors. Study participants cited micromanagement traits as not trusting, controlling, insecure, tense, afraid, and too detailed oriented. By contrast, they agreed that leaders delegate, are trusting, inspiring, confident, and empowering. Dowden (2012) listed another study published in the Journal of Psychology in which staff reported that they did not perform as well on assignments when they were constantly being watched and under pressure. Overall, the studies suggest that micromanaging negatively impacts productivity, performance, and business operations.

Gaps in the Research

The literature above thoroughly described controlling, authoritative, and annoying bosses who refuse to allow their employees to spread their wings and fly. It also elucidated how this type of management style could negatively and positively impact staff and the success of a company. However, the research failed to include any input from employees who praise or appreciate micromanagers. Are there any introverted or insecure employees, who do not want autonomy in their workplace? There may be workers who do not like change, flexibility, and who prefer constant guidance. They may want managers to oversee all their projects, and for supervisors not to delegate much. Simpson and van Luinen (2010) contended that these type of workers are usually employed in an Eiffel Tower Organization (severely bureaucratic ones), such as government agencies. The authors also explain that this may be a good fit for people who prefer this type of managerial structure.

Therefore, my study will not only identify those who despise micromanagement, but it also aims to include the voices of staff who prefer micromanagement in the workplace and their explanations of why. Moreover, it seeks to present employees’ proposed solutions for handling micromanagement. The results of my findings may change the current narrative that exists on how detrimental micromanagement is. Or, it can uphold the overwhelming majority view that most people prefer autonomy at work.

Original Component

Given the findings in the literature, it can be argued that many employees do not prefer micromanaging bosses. My theory is that employees would much rather have freedom at work than endure a boss who oversees their each and every move. I recognize that my view is firmly grounded in my personal experience while working in a micromanaging environment during my five-year tenure at the Employment Development Department (EDD). My position was also solidified after reviewing the research on the subject because the literature highlighted many adverse consequences of this type of management style.  However, I aim to make sure that my study captures various perceptions regarding micromanagement. Essentially, I hope to determine if some workers prefer control over autonomy at work.

As a former EDD employee, I can attest to the immense micromanagement culture that exists within one of the EDD regional offices. Thus, I will distribute a survey to current EDD staff members at my former work site. To maintain anonymity, I created an alias name for this location that I will reference during my study. I will refer to this EDD office as the Sherwood Regional Office (SRO).

The SRO is composed of approximately 120 employees who provide Unemployment Insurance Benefit (UIB) services to recently unemployed citizens. There are about ten supervisors, and they each have five – ten employees whom they manage. After speaking with many EDD workers, I learned that several workers feel that most of the supervisors are extremely controlling, while only a handful of the remaining managers are not.

With the help of a few current EDD staff members, I will distribute my survey (see Appendix for survey questions) to all of the SRO employees via email. I aim to receive a response from at least one employee from each supervisor’s unit, so that the sample can represent the voices of the entire SRO population. If my theory is proven correct, and most EDD employees reject micromanagement, then it will uphold the current research that exists about the negative effects of micromanaging. Conversely, if staff welcomes persistent monitoring from their bosses, then my findings may create an opportunity to explore benefits for using a micromanagement style in the workplace.

My survey is composed of 14 questions. The first seven questions are written from a pro-autonomy perspective. By contrast, the last seven questions are geared towards people who are pro-micromanagement. To garner explicit feelings on the topic, I included a bonus question for staff to explain why they either support or reject micromanagement at work. I also ask that workers provide solutions for addressing micromanagement if they harness the belief that it is indeed detrimental. At the end of the survey, I will calculate the total points of the answers provided and determine the results of the survey. With pro-autonomy on one end of the scale, and pro-micromanaging on the other end, the participants’ responses will elucidate which side of the spectrum EDD staff falls on. Ultimately, my goal for this study is to research this topic in the most unbiased way possible and to provide accurate results on EDD workers’ feelings about enduring micromanagement in the public sector.

Discussion

There are 10 Supervisor units in the SDRO. Employees from each unit were given an opportunity to complete the survey. I disclosed to staff that this was a voluntary survey for an independent study class I am taking for my Master’s Program. I advised them that their answers would remain anonymous and that the questions had no impact on their employment. I disclosed this to EDD workers because I wanted to make sure that no one was afraid to respond to the survey honestly. After distributing the survey, I received 34 responses back. Luckily, I obtained three to four surveys from workers from each supervisor’s unit. Since every manager has a unique management style, I was glad to gain responses from each manager’s staff.

I scored the survey on a scale of 1-35 for the first seven questions and a scale of 1-35 for the last set of questions. A score of 35 is the highest number that a respondent could get on the pro-autonomy and pro-micromanagement scales. Given that EDD is known for its immense micromanagement structure, I theorized that most workers would fall on the low end of the pro-micromanagement scale, placing them on the far end of the pro-autonomy scale.  However, my ideas did not materialize.

After reviewing the responses, I found that 54% of the staff was pro-autonomy, while 46% were pro-micromanagement. So, there was only an 8% gap between the two opposing positions. I was extremely confident that most EDD staff held the belief that micromanagement was counterproductive and damaging for their organization. However, the results show that there is a bit of dissension between the views of EDD workers. While reviewing the last set of questions, which support micromanagement, I was shocked to see how many people stated that they enjoy having their manager’s feedback on all of their assignments. On a scale of 1-5, with five being the highest, 16 of the 35 respondents chose a five on the statement, “My supervisor’s constant oversight of my work makes me feel less worried that I will fail.” Additionally, 18 respondents also chose either a four or five on the statement, “Too much autonomy at work would make me anxious and cause me to question my ability to do my job correctly.” These responses surprised me because I did not believe that staff worried about succeeding on their own.

The 54% of respondents who opposed micromanagement also gave high scores on a few of the questions. For instance, 20 respondents marked a five on the statement, “Constant monitoring of my assignments makes me feel as if my boss does not trust my ability to do my job.” They also chose a four or a five on the statement, “I feel less confident in my work when my boss oversees my projects.” Scoring those questions so high show that these employees definitely feel autonomy is essential for success on their jobs.

After reviewing the survey responses, my study did not fully support my original theory that most employees oppose micromanagement. It appears that those workers who support autonomy want to feel trusted in the work that they do. These employees seem to be confident in their ability to perform, and they would like their supervisors to give them a chance to complete their own workload independently. On the other hand, the respondents who were pro-micromanagement seem to hold an opposing view. These workers did not feel that they would be able to succeed if their boss was not involved in their tasks. Essentially, they lacked the confidence to thrive without their manager’s direct input. Moreover, many of these participants marked that they value a manager who uses a hands-on approach because they feel that their boss’s micromanaging is caused by the manager’s desire to see staff succeed. Thus, the findings showed that participants either fully supported micromanagement or wholeheartedly rejected it. There wasn’t much of a gray area where workers were indifferent on the matter or fell in the middle of the spectrum regarding their feelings.

Most of the literature suggests that there are many adverse effects for using micromanagement in the workplace. It also argued that most workers do not support this management style. However, almost half of the participants in my study fully supported and preferred it. In essence, their low confidence level with performing caused them to appreciate bosses who give constant guidance and frequently oversaw their work. Overall, I believe there were a few contradictions in the literature. Much of it did not consider benefits for micromanaging, nor did it address any practical reasons why employees would support it.

Conclusion

The implications of major findings in the study show that while some workers reject micromanagement at work, many others find it extremely beneficial. Whether employees support or oppose it heavily depends upon their confidence to perform and which tasks they believe they can achieve on their own. Although some EDD staff prefer independence, many others do not feel that freedom would lead them towards success on their jobs. Thus, they rely on constant guidance from their supervisor to ensure that they do not fail.

I believe the study would have been better if more workers participated in the survey. Considering that there are 120 employees, I only received responses from 28% of the SRO workforce.  I was hoping that at least 70% of staff would respond. If so, I would have had a broader view of the majority of workers’ feelings about micromanagement.

Further studies should include direct interviews with employees. Surveys are great for obtaining insight on people’s feelings on a topic. However, if we want to adequately address micromanagement, I believe we need in-depth qualitative research that paints a clear picture of workers’ views. During my study, I created a bonus question which allowed participants to offer their solutions for micromanagement.  Yet, the respondents chose not to answer that question. So, I was not able to hear the staffs’ direct voices. Therefore, open-ended interview questions would promote a thorough exploration into the topic.

NCRP theories contend that conflict is derived from a clash of differences usually involving interest, needs or power (Littlejohn & Domenici, 2007). To this end, it is possible that conflicts can occur if staff and managers harness different views on the way employees should be governed. If a worker wants their independence, and they are denied autonomy at work, it may cause unwanted stress at work, which leads to a poor manager-subordinate relationship. On the other hand, staff who support micromanagement can have a very healthy and harmonious relationship with their boss. Essentially, whether micromanagement contributes to or mitigates conflict depends upon the individual needs and interests of the employee and the supervisor.

Although my study had limitations, it did advance knowledge on the topic. My research showed that many people desire direct guidance and feedback from their bosses. Also, these workers do not see a major problem with managers adopting a micromanagement style. For those employees who do not trust their own ability to perform, I would have liked to discover why they feel this way.  I wonder if these staff members have been reprimanded in the past, or if they prefer this management style simply because it is the only style that they have been exposed to in their professional lives. Overall, my study opened the door for more exploration into the potential benefits of micromanagement.

 

References

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Dowden, C. (2012). Building a business case against micromanagement . The Canadian Manager, 4-8.

Dowden, C. (2012). Micromanagement: Underlying motivators and proposed solutions. Canadian Institiute of Management, 24-26.

Littlejohn, S., & Domenici, K. (2007). Communication, conflict, and the management difference. Long Grove, IL: Waverland Press, Inc .

Mattoon, C. (2015). Empower your employees. Leadership Excellence Essentials, 9-10.

Mayer, B. (2012). Power and conflict. In B. Mayer, (Ed.), The dynamics of conflict (pages?). San Francisco, CA : Jossey-Bass.

Miller, P. (2014). Five tips for managing a micromanaging boss. Managing Accounts Payable, 14(6), 11-12.

Rossi, J. (2005). Micromanagement: Necessary evil, evil incarnate, or something in-between? T+ D, 59(7), 18-19.

Schellenberg, A. (1996). Conflict resolution: Theory, research and practice. Albany, NY: State University of New York Press.

Simpson, M. (2010). Leading unstoppable teams! Los Angeles, CA: PSM Publishing.

Simpson, M., & van Luinen, E. (2009). Is this a good fit? The connection between oranizational culture and communications style. Los Angeles, CA: PSM Publishing.

Stack, L. (2013). Managing effectively without micromanaging. T+D, 67(4), 102-104.

Weyand, J. (1996). Micromanagement: Outmoded or alive and well. American Management Association, 62-63.

White, R. (2010). The micromanagement disease:symptoms, diagnosis, and cure. Public Personnel Management, 39(1), 71-77.

Wright, R. F. (1999). Effect of micro management on job satisfaction & productivity: A case study. The Journal of Business Perspective, 51-61.

Wright, R. (2010). The micromanagement disease: Symptons, diagnosis, and cure. Public Personnel Management, 39(1), 71-77.

Appendix

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