Work Policies
Bad Policies

Hell Hath No Fury Like a Micromanaged Workforce

We receive quite a bit of email here at The Lab. The below article came to us from Julie Ireland. We liked it so much we printed it (after obtaining permission from her to do so) in its entirety.

Are you a micromanager? "Who me? No of course not. I'm thorough. I'm competent. Ok, so I am a little methodical. That's not bad. Is it?"

Micromanagers like many addicts, alcoholics, rageaholics, fanatics, etc. are the last person on the planet to recognize their addiction is in controlling others. The compulsion to look over your employee's shoulders has nothing to do with being meticulous or careful it has everything to do with control. Yes you. That's right I'm talking to you El Presidente. Your employees are calling you much worse. For example, ruler, extremist, bureaucrat, tyrant, bully, persecutor, tormenter. And trust me, those are the nice names. People who micromanage do so because they are the ones who feel unsure and self-doubting.

Ask yourself this. How badly do you long for more controlling people in your life? Then doesn't it stand to reason, if you aren't dying to bring in more oppressive autocrats into your life, then what makes you think that your employees are dying to have you in their life?

So you ask "Well if I am so controlling, why is it that no one has ever mentioned it to me?" The answer is . . . they are afraid of you. Try telling a dictatorial boss to stop micromanaging you, and plan on looking for a new job the next day.

Years ago, I gave a speech in front of 400 people. When the evaluations came back, 399 of them were rave reviews. One man rated me "average". The conference coordinator said she recognized the man's handwriting and told me that I should be comforted by knowing he rates every speaker poorly, and for him to give me an "average" was actually a good thing. Years later I have trouble remembering the 399 excellent reviews I received, but I will never forget the one average. Micromanaging is all about letting people know how they are doing it wrong. From your perspective as a micromanager I am sure you justify your behavior by saying "no, I am simply teaching people how to do it the right way". Read your way. But I assure you that most employees see it as negative feedback.

What if you aren't sure if you are a micromanager? If you are even pondering the question for a minute, you probably are.


  1. First, admitting you have this problem is the key.
  2. Second take a really complete inventory on your work behavior.
    • Do you frown during office jokes? (No one loves having a humorless boss around).
    • Plus who are you to judge or control what is appropriate. You are not the PC Police. You shouldn't get to dictate what is funny or not.
    • Do you criticize?
    • Do you seldom praise?
    • Do you double check people's work & always find at least one thing wrong?
    • Do you count paperclips?
    • Do you call the office while on vacation? (Regardless if it is true or not everyone believes you are calling to see who is actually at work).
    • Do you come in earlier than your employees and stay later than they do? This induces guilt that no matter how late I stay, it will never be later than the boss. After awhile they give up and stop trying.
    • If you can never win with your boss then why try?
    • Do you correct font size?
    • Do you check out their computer sites? This isn't being inquisitive it is snooping.

    "So who cares if I micromanage? It works doesn't it?" Studies have shown that in fact putting fear into people at work does have an impact. It does increase productivity. However it increases productivity temporarily. Then you face dire long-term consequences. Eventually employees will sabotage. And most importantly, people are so afraid of your constant criticism that they no longer take risks. Creativity dries up. Customer service goes down the drain. When people are frustrated with supervisors they take it out on customers.

    They are looking for jobs behind your back. If you are truly efficient then you should know that constantly re-hiring and training new workers is as inefficient as it gets.

    Additionally, you are not seeing the big picture because you are so busy dictating font size & controlling everyone else's moves that the big picture totally escapes you. You are not getting your own job completed because you are doing everyone else's job. You are loosing the respect of coworkers & employees. When workers don't respect their boss, you loose, the customer losses, the company looses.

    So after admitting you have the problem. After analyzing what exactly you do that is micromanaging behavior . . .

  3. Apologize to your employees.
  4. Get your workers to help point out to you when you are micromanaging.

    Make it to their benefit to point out your micromanage ways. These habits will not be broken with just you monitoring. Tell them that you want to stop your controlling behavior and that they have your permission and encouragement to tell you when you are micromanaging and that you will listen with grace and not punish them for it. Make suggestions with humor. For example…"Ok gang, I know I have been the boss from the Dilbert cartoon… but from here on out every time one of you says " Hey Charlie there you go micromanaging again," I won't get defensive. I won't justify my behavior. I have to put $5.00 in the jar. Or try saying "if you can point out to me three times that I micromanage in a month you get a dinner-for-two on the boss."

  5. Empathize with employee.
    If you think back on your career you will no doubt remember bosses that micromanaged you. Sadly we tend to imitate the stronger bosses not the quality bosses.
  6. Praise an employee.
    If you haven't said thanks to employees three times a day, I guarantee you aren't saying it enough. Do you think your way is the right way? Again ask yourself "How many know-it-alls are you dying to have in your life?" Nothing is more of a turn off than a boss who knows it all. It's arrogant. It's self-important. It's boring.
  7. Allow mistakes to happen.
    Do you abhor mistakes? Don't say, "I told you so" when the mistakes do occur. Applaud mistakes. Then you know they taking risks. When people don't get punished for risk taking, then they will take more risks. Ask yourself which is more cost effective: allowing for mistakes, or, paying the price of angry employees who sabotage you? This can take many forms, bad mouthing you in the community. Jamming up the office equipment. Calling in sick just to escape you. Exhausted employees who can't function properly due to lack of sleep from worrying.

One day you might be the one applying for a job and someone you are micromanaging now will be sitting in the supervisory seat tomorrow. You seldom get to be the boss forever.

Julie Ireland is a Professional Speaker from Denver on the topics of Humor in the Workplace & Office Anger. She can be contacted through her website at She can be reached by telephone at 303-894-0160.
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