Do you have a manager on staff who just can’t seem to step back and let employees make their own decisions? Or do you find yourself at wits’ end, trying to check on every task your subordinates are supposed to carry out? If so, you’re at risk of losing your best people, because talented employees become frustrated and discouraged when every move is scripted by their boss. Here’s a look at the damage micromanagers can inadvertently cause, and some good ways to approach this issue.
Finding out if you have (or are) a micromanager
Micromanagers aren’t always easy to ferret out. Micromanagement arises from performance anxiety and it can look the same as conscientiousness. If a manager is following the granular details of everyone’s tasks, he or she may appear to colleagues and higher-ups as being totally on the ball. It’s only the person’s direct reports who’ll be tearing their hair out and clicking into job boards during their breaks. Here are a few warning signs to be aware of:
Employees asking for more responsibility
If your team members are coming to you on a frequent basis asking for more responsibility, that may be a sign that you’re not giving them enough autonomy.
Complaints to higher management
In some cases, employees may go to HR or department heads to complain about being overly controlled. These complaints should be taken seriously, because employees are your only source of information about the presence of a micromanaging supervisor. Micromanagement is usually invisible to anyone outside the manager’s own team.
Losing employees at a higher-than-normal rate for a department or team is a neon warning signal.
High levels of employee illness
Bad bosses can have a direct effect on employee health. American companies spend an estimated $360 billion in healthcare for worker ailments that are directly related to poor quality supervisors. Research highlighted in the New York Times shows that bad interactions at work affect workers’ immune systems, leading to a wide array of health problems, including cardiovascular disease, ulcers, diabetes, and even obesity.
Inexperience at being a manager
Management consultant Lisa Quast writes that new managers without a solid grounding in people skills sometimes have trouble sorting out the art of delegation, and need help learning how to strike an effective balance between control and supervision.
Responses to anonymous surveys
Employee engagement surveys with guaranteed anonymity are a straightforward way of finding out what your employees actually think about your management style. Design a few questions asking if employees need more autonomy in carrying out their tasks, and then pay attention to the answers even if they’re a bit uncomfortable to read. Given 14 percent of organizations have no formal feedback mechanism for employees, it’s important to provide an always-on feedback tool for employees to share their thoughts at any time.
How to mitigate micromanagement
As an HR professional, you should keep a close eye on new managers as they settle into their positions. Be aware that an intense detail-orientation can mask the habit of micromanagement, and leadership training is often needed to teach the art of delegation.
Management specialist Kevin Daum notes that micromanagement often arises from a fear of failure. Alternatively, it may be the only style of leadership a supervisor has ever used. Daum advises HR professionals or supervisors to have a heart-to-heart talk with the micromanager to learn the source of their particular anxiety. Let them know that you have their back, and encourage them to check in with you for scheduled updates so they won’t be left feeling that their team is expected to perform at super-human levels. Finally, consider offering them a management training course or at least a good book on the art of leading a team. Address the person’s over-control tendency as a sign that they’re trying to do a good job, and assure them that you’re all aligned toward the same goal.
Employee recognition is key to avoiding micromanagement
Are you yourself possibly a micromanager? Consider whether you’re handling only your own work, or whether you’re trying to do everyone’s jobs in addition to your own. Are you giving credit to your employees when they accomplish a task? One survey estimates that 37 percent of employees state that their bosses “failed to give credit when due.” Another survey revealed that 58 percent of employees say their manager relationship would improve with more recognition. Stopping to provide rewards and recognition is a good way to remind yourself about the responsibilities that properly belong to your workers, and to help you trust that they‘re able to carry out those tasks effectively.
Be clear about expectations
As you move past micromanagement (or help one of your team leaders take this step), be sure to differentiate between micromanagement and setting expectations. In an Achievers report, the importance of communicating clear goals and expectations is underlined. Only 39 percent of organizations believe employees know how their work connects to organizational goals and only 58 percent believe they are effectively defining expectations for employees. A Gallup report states, “Clarity of expectations is perhaps the most basic of employee needs and is vital to performance.”
In U.S. News, career coach Marcelle Yeager gives this advice to workers: “Micromanagers can drive you mad and really disrupt your work experience. If you are a valuable employee, it may be time to look for another team or even a new company or organization.” To keep your employees from taking this advice, check out this white paper, “Empowerment and Trust: The Keys to Employee Engagement.”