Micromanagers Drive Employees Crazy — And Away, Costing Their Companies When employees move on, it's often mentioned as the main reason for their departure. Lack of autonomy at work elevates stress hormones and can have other negative health effects, studies show.
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Is Your Boss Too Controlling? Many Employees Clash With Micromanagers

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Is Your Boss Too Controlling? Many Employees Clash With Micromanagers

Is Your Boss Too Controlling? Many Employees Clash With Micromanagers

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AUDIE CORNISH, HOST:

Have you ever complained about being micromanaged? If so, you have plenty of company. It's one of the top gripes employees have about their bosses. And as NPR's Yuki Noguchi reports, it's a big problem for employers, too.

YUKI NOGUCHI, BYLINE: On her first day on the job at a Virginia Beach health insurer, Marjon Bell's boss sent an email barring employees from bringing cellphones to the office. The email said that moms especially spent too much time on their phones checking up on their children. That, Bell says, was just one of her boss's many rules.

MARJON BELL: If we left campus for lunch - to email her when we left and email her when we got back.

NOGUCHI: The boss monitored the instant messaging system which displayed a green light when someone was logged in and a yellow one after they'd been idle.

BELL: So usually you had, like, a 10-minute window before your light turned yellow. And then they changed it to only two minutes. And I came back from the restroom, and my boss was standing at my cubicle wondering where I'd been (laughter).

NOGUCHI: Bell says her employer offered a $500 monthly bonus that rewarded co-workers for reporting each other.

BELL: If you came in five minutes late, if you left early, if you took a little bit longer at lunch, whoever reported you would get an accountability award.

NOGUCHI: After a disgruntled employee ransacked the toilets, management posted new rules on bathroom use on every stall. Bell quit after six months.

BELL: I did the absolute bare minimum to get my paycheck. It did not make me want to help the company in any way.

NOGUCHI: Steve Motenko, an executive coach in Seattle, hears stories like this all the time. He says it's a big issue because micromanagement can kill motivation, the creativity of employees and job satisfaction.

STEVE MOTENKO: That's critically important because it's complaints about the boss that drive most people out of organizations.

NOGUCHI: Most companies understand that micromanagement is not a good thing, but preventing or addressing it can be a challenge. It's hard to define. When does behavior cross the line and become too controlling?

Motenko says micromanagement happens for various reasons. If a manager hires someone who is a bad fit or who hasn't received sufficient training, that might require frequent intervention, for example. But that may not mean that the person is a habitual micromanager. Still, many leaders Motenko has counseled have an overactive command and control style that leaves little room for worker autonomy. And he argues that doesn't fit for most jobs today.

MOTENKO: We need employees who will do more than do what they're told, employees who will think for themselves, who will be creative, who will try new approaches. And all of that is squashed by micromanaging.

NOGUCHI: Studies show individuals who don't have a lot of autonomy in their work experience higher levels of stress and other negative health effects. It certainly took its toll for Chicago resident Abby Koch, who 15 years ago worked for a jewelry store owner.

ABBY KOCH: She would literally say things like, well, I'm not a micromanager as she was standing behind me literally looking over my shoulder (laughter).

NOGUCHI: The constant critiques eroded Koch's self-esteem, as it did her co-worker's.

KOCH: Honestly, the other employee ended up having to take medication just to be able to go to work and not be crippled by anxiety.

NOGUCHI: Koch lasted 18 months in that job. Motenko, the management consultant, says often leaders aren't aware of their problem behaviors. But for those who do have the self-awareness, he says he coaches them to confront their fear of failure and recognize that doing their subordinates' work for them is a waste of resources and time. It is hard to teach a manager new tricks, he says, but it is possible. Yuki Noguchi, NPR News, Washington.

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