Is your boss too controlling?

Micromanagement is routinely the top complaint people have about their bosses according to a report aired today on NPR News. In today’s job market where workers have more options, that’s a bigger problem for employers.

Historic City News learned from the report that micromanagement can kill motivation, employee creativity and job satisfaction. And, although people might have their own definition of when a manager crosses into being too controlling, one example given in the report seems obvious.

“On her first day at an insurance company, Marjon Bell’s boss sent her an email announcing that employees are barred from bringing cellphones to the office. The email said that moms, especially, spend too much time on their phones checking up on their children,” NPR’s Yuki Noguchi reported.

Bell quit after six months, but she shared a few more examples of how her ex-boss killed her motivation to be a good employee.

“If we left campus for lunch, we had to email her when we left and email her when we got back,” said Bell, who was interviewed for the story. “That was just one of the boss’s many rules.”

Predictably, few people took lunch.

The boss also monitored the instant messaging system, which displayed a green light when someone was logged in, and a yellow one after they had been idle.

“Usually you had like a 10-minute window before your light turned yellow, and then they changed it to only two minutes,” Bell says. “And I came back from the restroom, and my boss was standing at my cubicle wondering where I’d been.”

Bell says the micromanagement was systemic. Her employer offered a $500 monthly bonus that rewarded co-workers for micromanaging each other.

“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,” she says.

It was unclear whom Bell could trust, but she says morale was terrible. A disgruntled employee ransacked the toilets in the women’s restroom, she says, “to stick it to the man”. Management responded to the vandalism by posting a notice on the stall doors outlining “rules on bathroom use”.

“I did the absolute bare minimum to get my paycheck,” she says. “It did not make me want to help the company in any way.”


Steve Motenko, an executive coach in Seattle who was included in the report, said that he hears stories like this all the time. That’s critically important, because he says it’s complaints about the boss that drive most people out of organizations.

Motenko says many employers aren’t even aware of the micromanagers in their midst because departing employees often aren’t questioned about it in exit interviews.

According to Motenko, micromanagement can reflect several problems. A bad hire or a lack of training might force a manager to constantly intervene. A disorganized boss often creates havoc that makes teamwork impossible.

These are all understandable, if regrettable, outcomes of poor management, but may not mean the person is necessarily a habitual micromanager — and circumstances make close supervision necessary, he says.

Still, many leaders Motenko has counseled have an overactive command-and-control style of leadership that leaves little room for worker autonomy, and he argues that doesn’t fit most jobs today.

“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,” he says, “and all of that is squashed by micromanaging.”

Studies show lack of autonomy at work elevates stress hormones and can have other negative health effects, potentially even hastening mortality.

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