How to stop your boss from micromanaging — and stay sane
Updated: Oct 7
(Originally published in Forbes. Photo from Getty)
Working for a micromanager is annoying at best. More destructively, the constant hovering, scrutinizing and perfecting of your work can be demoralizing, demotivating and stunt your professional growth.
Concerningly, it appears that micromanagement is on the rise. Due to Covid-19, many leaders are managing remotely for the first time and are struggling (registration required) to manage people from a distance effectively. Results showed that a substantial number of managers lack confidence in their ability to lead remotely, hold negative views about remote work and distrust their employees. These beliefs also appear to affect employees: Over 30% of workers report feeling a lack of trust, and nearly 45% report feeling micromanaged by their bosses.
Whether you have worked for a micromanager for a while or remote work has just recently awoken overcontrolling tendencies in your boss, how can you get them to stop hovering and delegate meaningful work?
You cannot change the way your boss leads. However, you can shift the way you interact with them to address their underlying concerns and alter the dynamic for the better. Here’s how:
Manage your stress. Many managers struggle to delegate, even under the best of circumstances, due to underlying fears of what might happen if they let go. Work-related stress and overwhelm can lead many managers to tighten their grip further. Given that stress levels are at all-time highs, it would not be surprising if you feel like your manager is checking up on you and your work more than ever before. So, don’t take it personally.
That being said, working for a micromanager can lead to a variety of health issues, including chronic stress. Jobs that are high-demand, high-stress and low-control — which is often what it feels like when working for a micromanager — have even been associated with a 15.4% increase in the odds of death. So, take your stress management seriously. Whether it’s exercise, meditation, leaving the office for a short walk or lunch with a friend, prioritize your self-care to protect your health.
Step into your manager’s shoes. Consider: What might your manager be worried about that leads to their micromanaging? Leaders who struggle to let go tend to fear losing control; they worry that they may be left out of the loop or that the work will fail to meet their standards. Micromanagers also often feel like they don’t have time to explain everything to others. While these internal obstacles may be irrational or shortsighted, these fears prevent your manager from giving you more space and delegating you more meaningful work.
By understanding these common barriers and considering which are most likely at play for your manager, you can target your actions to ease their anxieties. And by reducing their stress, you may enable them to loosen their grip. Additionally, try to see your boss through a lens of compassion as another human being with fears and failings, just like you, instead of harboring negative emotions around their shortcomings. An empathetic attitude will leave you healthier and happier and may foster a stronger relationship with your boss.
Clarify their vision of success. In addition to a fear of losing control, some managers get stuck micromanaging because they haven’t visualized the bigger picture needed to delegate work effectively. To overcome this hurdle, help them paint a picture of their desired results and clarify their expectations through a targeted line of inquiry. You might ask, “What does this look like to you when it’s done really well?” or “What does success look like to you on this project?” Delivering along the dimensions that your manager cares about is critical to gaining their trust. So, ensure that you’re both clear and aligned on the specific outcome they’re looking for, their criteria for measuring success and critical milestones along the way. Play back your understanding at the end of the conversation or in a follow-up email to ensure mutual agreement.
Keep your manager informed. Once you’re clear on the desired results, take the lead on establishing milestones, checkpoints and a communication structure. A formal system of check-ins, along with proactive communication on your part, should help elicit the peace of mind your manager needs — and, in turn, reduce the desire to meddle. You might tee up the conversation by saying, “I want to make sure I’m providing you with the types of updates you want and everything you need. Can we talk about a specific plan for me to keep you in the loop?” Establishing a structure and cadence — whether it be a weekly meeting or brief daily status update — will give your manager greater confidence and allay any overcontrolling tendencies.
Talk to your boss, if appropriate. If you have a growth-oriented and well-intentioned boss, speaking with them directly and sharing your desire for more autonomy could be positive. However, if your manager enjoys wielding power over others, telling them that you don’t appreciate their overcontrolling ways could backfire and result in more of the same behavior. Assess your particular situation to determine the wisest course of action. If you choose to talk to your boss, scheduled performance reviews or career development conversations can be opportune times to talk about how to work together more effectively. Frame your feedback in terms that relate to your own desired growth or the one thing that would make your manager “even better to work with.”
It’s hard to be productive, feel like you’re contributing and grow your skills when working for a micromanager. If none of the above tactics work, you may want to ask yourself: Do I want to work here? For the sake of your health and the development of your career, it may be time to find another job where you can thrive.