How to Survive Working for a Micromanager

If you work for a micromanager, you’re probably pretty miserable. It’s hard to feel trusted and valued when your work is being constantly scrutinized and your boss is checking up on things that you don’t think they need to check on.

But there are often steps you can take to get more breathing room.

First, let’s define what micromanagement really is, because people often confuse hands-on management (good) with micromanagement (bad). Good managers will be heavily involved in setting goals and ensuring that employees are clear on the desired outcomes, and they do check in on progress, so that employees can make needed adjustments before it’s too late. But micromanagers, on the other hand, dictate exactly how to do the work and watch over every step in the process, refusing to truly delegate any decisions—and, in the process, lowers morale and productivity.

If your boss has crossed over from being hands-on into micromanagement, one of two things is going on: (1) Your boss is micromanaging you because you have given her reason to, or (2) your boss is micromanaging you because she’s a micromanager in general.

In situation #1, people rarely ask, “What have I done that’s inspiring this scrutiny from my boss?” Instead, they’re just annoyed by it, which prevents them from being able to take the actions that could change it. If you drop the ball on things more often than very occasionally, forget details, don’t follow up on things, miss deadlines, or produce work that requires a lot of changes from others, a good manager would get more closely involved — because ultimately the manager’s job is to ensure that the work is done well, and in this scenario, a good manager would have reason not to go on faith. So, the first step is to ask yourself some tough questions to figure out if the problem is actually you.

But if you’re confident that your boss has no reason to doubt your work or your ability to stay on top of it, then this may simply be the style she uses with everyone, without adapting based on need. If this is the case, try talking to her:

  • Give specific examples of projects where you felt you could have worked more effectively if you weren’t on such a short leash.
  • Ask if there’s anything you’re doing that makes her feel she can’t trust you and how you can work with more autonomy.
  • Suggest other ways to keep her in the loop, such as weekly reports or weekly meetings, so that she doesn’t feel she needs to check in as much.

If she’s resistant, ask if she’s willing to try giving you more autonomy on one project to see how it goes.

In the best case, this approach can persuade a boss to ease up and find more appropriate ways to stay involved. But if nothing else, this approach will at least tell you whether or not things are likely to ever change, and that’s valuable information to have!













Alison Green

Alison Green writes the popular Ask a Manager blog where she dispenses advice on career, job search, and management issues. She's also the co-author of Managing to Change the World: The Nonprofit Manager's Guide to Getting Results and former chief of staff of a successful nonprofit organization, where she oversaw day-to-day staff management, hiring, firing, and employee development.

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  • Brecht

    Lol. I like that the assumption is that the boss is a she. I’ve had bosses of both genders that are true micromanagers because they are micromanagers of their entire life (not just the work space).

    [Reply]

    Alison Green - Ask a Manager Reply:

    Brecht, I use “she” because it’s less awkward than writing out “he or she” every single time, and because I happen to be a “she” so it’s my default. You’ll see that I use it in every article, regardless of topic.

    [Reply]

  • Annie

    My boss does this and he does it with everyone. His emails are infamous at my work for being snarky and overly picky. Unfortunately I’m his only full-time employee so he watches every piece of work I do and then emails me to critique anything he doesn’t like. Like you said, I’m very unhappy but feel trapped. I need the money and finally have health insurance after years (including one year working at this job!) without it. I guess this is why they call it work.

    [Reply]

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  • Rob

    Just found your post. Feel free to ignore this if you don’t want to revive the topic. A group of us has recently moved into a new organization whose manager is impossible to please. She corrects everything that is created down to the punctuation and grammar. We recently received an email, as a group, that berated us for not following her guidelines to the letter and said our effort was not representative of good employees. A status report can go back and forth ten to twelve time before she is satisfied with it. Her direct reports also get involved and offer unsolicited feedback to content even though they are not involved in the projects. I am hoping this is a breaking in period and will pass. We are all trying to be as cooperative and positive as possible but it is difficult to say the least. Any suggestions on how to deal with this would be appreciated.

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  • Elliot

    Wow. I certainly work for a micromanager– he wants a two-hour meeting EVERY DAY just to see how we are getting things done, and believe me, we could have achieved far lot more without wasting time on those meetings. Every day he repeats the same words like a broken record player, and he never listens to anything anyone has to say– he’s a sheer narcissist. When some co-workers did present him (with numbers and charts, his favorite) how we could do better with brief meetings instead of tedious ones, well, he pretended to have listened but the meetings just go on and on. He will never save a breath.

    Okay, enough complaints. At least I know he’s not going to change, and it’s not about me. That makes me feel better– not that I’m not a good worker or that I’m not trustworthy, just that my boss happens to be a narcissist and a microcontrol freak. I really should start my next job hunt…

    [Reply]

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  • David

    unbelievable the advice and remarks on how to deal with a micro manager.

    [Reply]

  • beri

    I don’t agree with your article beyond the statement that if you work for a micro manager you are pretty miserable. Do a little more homework, talking doesn’t help. In fact, it often makes things worse. Some people feel when they bully and micro manage people that is productive. I guess if you only have one tool in your tool box, that is the tool you always use. It does destroy morale and productivity.

    [Reply]

    bb Reply:

    Beri, in my case, — talking did not help. I was with the company a while before I got this manager, from a re-org. I noticed within a few weeks that she was a micro-manager, and an extreme perfectionist. I’ve had to deal with micro-managers in the past (but who wasn’t a perfectionist). I had to accept that it is a reflection on her, and not on me. After a while I tried to talk to her, and it only made it worse. Now there is ongoing snide remarks and criticism. Since control is a huge factor with them, change is something they will not do. And anyone who suggests that they need to change (and that is what talking about them does) is a big threat. You either have to accept it (and document well so you are not held responsible – because they are the ones who prolong a project) or look for another job. I know no other alternatives. Going to HR or their manager is suicide.

    [Reply]

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  • Dave

    Thought I posted this, but reposting since it’s not appearing.

    I have about the nicest micromanager in the world. Outside of work, we could be good friends, but at work, he is driving me crazy. I honestly don’t believe he knows he’s doing it which makes it that much more difficult to deal with.

    We’re a small department and I’m a manager myself with significant responsibility. But since I started reporting to my current manager, he is stepping all over me. He has very little expertise in my area, though is learning, but he is always responding for me to other’s questions and/or requests for support, rather than letting me do my job handling these requests. I really think he does this to be social, but he doesn’t understand the negative implications. Often his responses are not completely accurate and many times he will just step in and say or do things for me because he thinks he’s being friendly and supportive, but I end up having to just slip into the background. Even if it were possible to get a word in edgewise, I can’t speak over him or contradict him. And if I say anything, I know his response will be that he’s just schmoozing with the other departments, making relationships, which makes me out to be insecure or the bad guy, whatever.

    He also wants to travel with me and sit in on all my meetings to see how I do things. That is understandable to an extent, but I feel like I’m being smothered. I can’t breathe!

    [Reply]

  • Noretribution

    I am a low-level supervisor who, after 6 years, was told today that I need to “manage” more. Yes, I want to be promoted. However, I have worked at enough outlets of my organization to recognize the manager who told me this is an “Uber Micromanager”. Within the last couple of weeks my responsibilities have doubled and I have been provided a useless figurehead as an assistant. I was awarded the equivalent of “Employee of the Year” over hundreds of employees last year, but now I am considering transferring, voluntarily demotion, or quitting the organization entirely. My supervisor is not hostile, but she is just too type-A for our industry and I suspect that’s why she was transferred to our department last year. Any thoughts?

    [Reply]

    Alison Green - Ask a Manager Reply:

    Talk to your manager again and get a better idea of specifically what she wants you doing differently. Then, if you disagree and feel you can manage more effectively without doing those things, make your case to her. If she still disagrees, at that point it’s her call — and you’ve got to decide if you want to do things her way or move on, unfortunately.

    [Reply]

  • Em

    There are IMHO 3 drivers of micromanagers. You’ve touced on 2 here– those that micromanage because that’s their personality and those that target it to employees who fail to be on top of their game (not saying there inst a better way to deal with the latter but highly litigious work environments of today can limit often limit these options). The 3rd is the product of a poor leadership/culture environment.

    I’ve known and worked for managers over the years who didn’t care to be micromanagers but were forced into the role by people above them who were micromanagers or paranoid about controlling everyone’s behavior under them. Those are the places where you spend exorbitant amounts of time prepaing reports for execs who simultaneously seem to remain clueless about what happening in the company. (sound familiar)? EOr they work for leaders who aren’t particularly good at leading so they set about being immersed in the day to day details (they’re also always horrible delegators).

    I guess my point is if one finds themselves in this situation (and it’s not you) take a closer look at this above your manager and look for the same signs and behavior. If you see them it’s pretty safe to say its a cultural thing and you won’t have much luck changing it, unfortunately.

    [Reply]