Standing up for yourself: How to handle a micromanaging boss

Jun 11, 2024

4 mins

Standing up for yourself: How to handle a micromanaging boss
Kaila Caldwell

US Editor at Welcome to the Jungle

Have you ever felt like every move you make at work is scrutinized? Does your manager insist on approving every decision you make, no matter how small? Are you bombarded with requests for unnecessary updates, subjected to endless meetings to discuss details, or finding your work constantly revised without reason? If these scenarios sound all too familiar, it’s time to address the elephant in the room: you have a micromanager on your hands.

Micromanagement can be one of the most frustrating workplace dynamics. It not only stifles creativity and independence but can also significantly impact job satisfaction and productivity. According to a recent poll, 73% of workers consider micromanagement the biggest workplace red flag, and 46% identify it as a reason they would leave their jobs.

These daily nuisances can become even more pronounced in the context of remote work. During the peak of remote work in 2020, a survey revealed that 40% of supervisors and managers lacked confidence in their remote management skills. This uncertainty, coupled with the anticipated growth in remote work—with Upwork forecasting that 32.6 million Americans, or about 22% of the workforce, will be working remotely by 2025—highlights the need for effective remote management practices. Thankfully, dealing with a micromanager doesn’t always mean looking for a new job. There are a few effective strategies that can help you reclaim your professional autonomy and foster a healthier working relationship with your manager.

Dealing with a helicopter manager

The underlying reasons for micromanagement can vary, spanning from personality traits to previous experiences, explains Dr. Niloo Dardashti, an NYC-based workplace psychologist and mediation expert. “For some [managers], a deep-seated fear of losing control and anxiety over potential imperfections drive their micromanaging behaviors. This is particularly true for perfectionists. Alternatively, past experiences where outcomes didn’t align with their expectations might lead managers to tighten their grip.”

For Jordan*, an IT support technician from DC, working with his micromanager every day felt like “walking through a maze of constant supervision, detailed tracking, and endless updates.” He further notes, “My manager required cc’s on all emails, demanded daily progress meetings, and set unrealistic deadlines for complex tasks. Such oversight diminished my enthusiasm, making every day a struggle. I felt my trust and confidence eroding, and despite the close watch, my productivity declined due to the relentless pressure.”

In any relationship, micromanagement can obstruct one’s sense of self-efficacy, explains Dardashti. “It’s about the freedom to make mistakes and learn from them. Without room to experiment or step outside the box, creativity is stifled. This becomes a barrier to developing self-starters and individuals who take the initiative, which, ironically, is what many leaders desire.”

Are you working for a micromanager?

Identifying a micromanager might not always involve specific actions; instead, it’s about the feeling it generates. “Consider whether it seems like all your actions, big or small, are constantly being corrected. There’s a range, from significant errors to things that might not even be mistakes by standard definitions. If you sense that your manager treats all issues with the same level of scrutiny, that’s a clear indicator of micromanagement,” says Dardashti.

For Jordan, the turning point came when he realized his situation was unsustainable, not only for his well-being but for the quality of his work. “I decided to address the issue head-on, but in a constructive manner focused on mutual benefits,” he notes. So, what can you do to tackle micromanagement?

Turn supervision into support

If you feel micromanaged, a good first step is to seek feedback, Dr. Dardashti explains. “You want to convey that you’re willing to hear constructive criticism, illuminate areas for improvement, and make adjustments accordingly.”

If the micromanaging continues, the next step is to have a candid conversation about your feelings regarding their management style. Approach this dialogue with the understanding that it’s a two-way street, especially if you already have a rapport with your manager. “You can express any concerns or ask if you can do more to meet expectations. This type of open discussion isn’t common enough in workplaces, yet it’s crucial for addressing issues like micromanagement effectively.”

Jordan roughly recalls what he told his micromanager: “I’ve been reflecting on our workflow and how we can enhance our efficiency and output. I truly appreciate your commitment to excellence and oversight. However, I believe that a bit more autonomy in managing my tasks could further improve my productivity and the quality of my work.”

It’s not so much about the specific words, says Dr. Dardashti, but conveying that you’re open to accountability, eager to excel, aiming to please, and striving for your manager’s satisfaction. It involves expressing your willingness to improve and asking if there’s room for more autonomy in areas you feel constrained, like creativity.

Have the hard conversations

In our day-to-day work, avoiding discomfort in our interactions leads to stagnation. When individuals are willing to accept a bit of unease and discuss their concerns, meaningful change can happen. Dr. Dardashti notes, “I’ve observed significant shifts when people are ready to step slightly out of their comfort zones. The key is to approach these discussions with an openness to accepting responsibility. It’s important to take the initiative, schedule a meeting, and discuss the issues openly, all while coming from a place of willingness to take accountability.”

Many people don’t realize the positive impact real, open dialogues can have. They’re not trust-breakers but trust-builders, she adds. For Jordan, the outcome was positive: “We eventually compromised in setting clear weekly goals and deliverables. Over the following weeks, we found a rhythm that worked well for both of us. The reduced frequency of check-ins and updates led to a significant improvement in my productivity and the quality of my output. More importantly, it restored my sense of ownership and engagement with my work.”

Where should you draw the line?

Determining if the micromanagement is just too much involves distinguishing between actual issues and those of lesser consequence. Is your manager striving for perfection, or is the fundamental importance of the outcome influencing management style? For example, Dr. Dardashti notes that focusing on minor details might be more justified in preparing for a crucial client presentation than routine tasks. Jordan knew that the tasks he was being micromanaged for were not that important, nor were they a make-or-break for the company or his career, so he spoke up.

In essence, managing a micromanager involves a delicate balance between seeking feedback, fostering open communication, and advocating for one’s professional needs. It’s about creating an environment where both parties can openly discuss concerns and work collaboratively towards a solution that respects the employee’s autonomy while still achieving the manager’s objectives. Through persistence and thoughtful communication, it is possible to mitigate the effects of micromanagement and cultivate a more empowering and productive work environment.

*Name changed for anonymity

Photo: Thomas Descamps for Welcome to the Jungle

Follow Welcome to the Jungle on Facebook, LinkedIn, and Instagram, and subscribe to our newsletter to get our latest articles every week!