Micromanagers Waste Human Capital in the Name of Leadership

Mark Sagor

When managers micromanageYou know them. They are the management equivalent of helicopter parents (without the personal commitment and attachment). They hover over the work of their employees and they insist on inspecting and controlling the smallest details of a project. They are irritated by employee initiative and insist on being consulted on all decisions, even those well within the scope of the subordinate’s authority. They are the micromanagers and they continue to wreak havoc on employee health and productivity.

In last weeks post, I talked about the pressing need for organizations to connect the dots between employee health and productivity, unnecessary stressful working conditions and management training. Companies don’t stress employees, supervisors stress employees. Micromanaging is one of those pernicious supervisory practices that end up increasing employee stress while decreasing productivity, engagement, morale and well-being.

Take a look at the experience of being micromanaged from the employee’s perspective. By trying to control all the decisions and all the resources required to successfully complete a project, the micromanager is communicating a profound lack of trust and confidence in the employee’s judgment and skill. This contemptuous attitude sets the stage for employee resentment and a dysfunctional work environment.

In practice, from an employee point of view, this control mindset creates a “heads you win, tails I lose” dynamic. Micromanagers delegate the accountability for failure but do not delegate the authority for taking alternative courses of action that might help the project to succeed.

Some micromanagers require constant detailed reporting that wastes employee time on compiling procedural trivia and compromises their ability to focus on higher value activities. In the most extreme cases of micromanagement we see affects on employees that closely resemble workplace bullying.

In my experience, most micromanagers would never use this term to describe themselves. They might call themselves “perfectionists” or “detail oriented” but they rarely acknowledge the negative effect of their management style on the health and productivity of their subordinates.

Whether the reasons for micromanaging are psychological (personal issues that drive the manager’s need for control) or political (the manager is making strategic calculations to maximize their individual gains and minimize losses) the cost to the individual and the organization is equally devastating.

Senior management and human resource professionals should play a key role in the identification and elimination of micromanagement. If we want to cultivate work environments that are healthy and we are serious about encouraging employee engagement and creativity we won’t turn a blind eye to the counter productive practice of micromanagement.