Why Micromanagement Makes People Quit (and How to Stop Doing It)

By September 11, 2018Leadership

Today’s managers have a lot going for themselves. Empowered by The Digital Age, endless information, and progressive employees, they’re often informed enough to make effective, intuitive and responsible decisions. Sometimes, though, the decision-making process can go too far.

Micromanagement, or the over-application of control, can emerge in many ways. Some workplace bosses may pay an excessive attention to detail. Others may seek to control all aspects of a work environment — down to individual worker tasks. In some cases, a one-on-one style of management works: Millennial employees paired with long-term company workers often thrive in a structure of “mentorship.”

Why Micromanagement Makes People Quit (and How to Stop Doing It)

But there’s a big difference between leading the charge and controlling it. Micromanagement can create toxic work environments — stressing workers until they quit.

Sadly, it’s all too easy to micromanage others. You might even be doing it by mistake.

The Micromanagement Problem

Micromanagement has been increasingly under the workforce examination lens. Some scientific studies even consider micromanagement to be indicative of deeper psychological issues. One such study, conducted by Richard D. White, Jr., PhD, has been cited across multiple journal collections — and describes micromanagement as a “compulsive behavioral disorder which is similar to other addictive patterns.”

Micromanagement typically can be identified by a few trademark workplace behaviors:

  • Sending excessive emails
  • Hovering over worker desks
  • Attempting to control every aspect of day-to-day work
  • Addressing minor problems that really needn’t be addressed

Several retention reports cited by Forbes suggest that micromanagement is a  leading cause of modern workplace abandonment. So, why is micromanagement such a big deal-breaker with employees? Here are the five critical reasons.

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Reason 1: Employees Have More Options

In general, modern employees are not confined by the rigid economic and social ties that have historically bound them to a single employer over many years. Instead, they’re voting with their work hours.

A survey covering the views of 10,455 Millennial workers — and another 1,844 from Generation Z — explored the workplace abandonment phenomenon inherent in young workers. Shockingly, 43% of Millennials reported that they plan to quit their current position within two years. Only 28% reported planning to stay put for at least five.

As part of the study’s follow up examination, these workers were asked why they planned to leave. Their answer: there are simply more options, and they’ve been developing the “soft” skills they believe are vital as jobs evolve in the new age. In contrast to older workforce generations, younger generations aren’t mostly leaving due to work pressures or feeling underqualified. It’s quite the opposite. They’re leaving because they feel businesses focus too much on their own agendas, and they’re confident in their ability to find more dynamic positions that foster individual growth and creativity.

Reason 2: Employers Don’t Know They’re Micromanaging

In one study, nearly 60 percent of employees reported working under a micromanaging superior. In these cases, the manager collected information utilized to make detailed, near-overbearing work changes. The employers themselves didn’t know they were micromanaging employees and continued their regular management style without understanding why employees were disgruntled with their jobs.

Employers Don’t Know They’re MicromanagingReason 3: Employees Enjoy Developing Creative Solutions

A 2014 study conducted at the University of Pennsylvania examined worker ambition when freedom and supervision were considered. The study followed young bank executives over a twelve-year period. The study concluded that workers given a higher degree of freedom and independence are more motivated. 

Modern employees, empowered by both information and the rising need for innovation, are more likely to develop creative solutions to workplace problems. Often, this triggers micromanaging bosses to begin hiding information from their workers — as their behavior may be an attempt to sustain a reliable rigid framework without workplace surprises. Workers who feel that their creative endeavors or input are stifled may eventually come to a place where they no longer see a point in contributing.

Reason 4: Micromanagement Freezes Productivity

In the same vein as stifled creativity, micromanagement also stifles productivity. Employees who believe they’re being analyzed — or even watched — perform at lower levels. This behavior, according to the Journal of Experimental Psychology, is caused by the “explicit monitoring” of managers who dictate more than collaborate.

Reason 5: Micromanagement Lowers Morale

Autonomy and trust increase morale levels. Workers of all ages, workplace levels and industries like to feel authorized, empowered and enabled to fix a business’s problems at the ground level. Therefore, micromanagement has affects on workplace morale, too.

A survey created by Trinity Solutions, later published in the book My Way or the Highway, suggests its morale-damaging effects are more prevalent than managers may think. Approximately 85% of micromanaged workers felt their work morale was greatly negatively impacted.

Micromanagement Boss

Reducing Workplace Micromanagement

Understandably, it’s far too easy to micromanage employees. You might be prone to micromanaging others without thinking about it. If you feel you are, it’s okay. Even the best employers can fall into micromanagement’s pitfalls. The following tips can help you transform your micromanagement habits into healthy, productive workplace approaches:

Tip 1: Be a Guide, Not a Guru

Understandably, you want to lead your employees to success. But it can be easy to become over-controlling, as opposed to actually leading. Inc.com offers a quiz to determine whether your leadership strategies are over-controlling or not. As a quick reference, double-check your priorities by asking yourself the following questions:

  • How do you handle work pressure? Do you handle it alone or with others?
  • When you assign tasks, how frequently do you ask for status updates?
  • When you assign tasks, how much detail do you provide?
  • When an employee struggles, what’s your regular first response?

A healthy management style means giving specific guidance and directions, but understanding that communication is a two-way street. Give your workers information, but don’t stifle them.

Tip 2: When in Doubt, Prioritize Workflow

Look at your workflow. Are your employees completing tasks more slowly than usual? Are they getting hung up on a project’s fine details? If they are, they may be struggling to escape the overbearing rule confines you’ve established for them. It’s a good idea to check in with your employees about their understood flexibility allowances. Make sure they understand that creativity is allowed when it comes to making a company more efficient and effective — and let them know that it’s appreciated.

Tip 3: Be Playful

Micromanagement increases the risk of workplace burnout. If both parties — employer and employee — work excessive hours as a result of this micromanagement, it can become difficult to turn off “work mode.” The solution? Be playful.

Even if you have a deep “why” when it comes to how your company operates, let your employees know it’s okay to ask questions (and ask them about their thoughts before sharing your own). Be open to innovation. The creative process is inherently a playful one — in its beginning stages, at least.

Beating the Micromanagement Trap

Even once you’ve taken these steps to preventing micromanagement, make sure you remain vigilant about its signs. Modern workplaces are incredibly fast-paced. Often, there isn’t enough time for communication. But there is always “time” to trust your employees. They’ll perform better and more efficiently if micromanagement isn’t a factor.

At the end of the day, an innovative workplace is far more optimized, goal-oriented, and successful. Communicate with your employees, but make sure the achievement of the tasks come first — rather than your own beliefs about the execution of that task.

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Becca Borawski Jenkins
Becca is a bit like a cat — she’s gone through a few “lives” to get to her current one (with which she’s quite pleased). She earned her MFA in Cinema-Television Production at USC’s famed film school, and her first career was as a music editor (if you’ve watched Scrubs, you’ve likely heard her work).

Becca found her way to career number two through martial arts. She began training in BJJ and muay Thai and started working with professional MMA fighters, building websites, working on fight promotions, and producing videos.

As a competitor in BJJ herself, Becca wanted to get stronger and fitter. In 2005, she became a student at CrossFit Los Angeles where she met WLC co-founders Andy Petranek and Michael Stanwyck. In only a couple years, she became CrossFit Level III Certified, left her entertainment career, and dedicated herself full time to coaching, serving as the Program Director of CFLA and founder of the CFLA CrossFit Kids program.

After seven years as a music editor and then eight years as fitness instructor, Becca segued to her current career — full-time editor and writer. She and her husband are full-time RVers and have a first-hand comprehension of the pros and cons of remote work.