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My boss is micromanaging my work: What can I do?

Manpower reporter Tay Hong Yi offers practical answers to candid questions on navigating workplace challenges and getting ahead in your career.

Q: My boss’ micromanagement is affecting my work performance and well-being. How can I alleviate this?

A: Lack of trust is one key driver of micromanagement, says Ms Tricia Tan, human resources director for South-east Asia and Greater China at recruitment firm Robert Walters.

“It’s also challenging to be held accountable for someone else’s work. That makes some managers nervous and uncomfortable, giving rise to a feeling of having to monitor everything closely.”

She adds that micromanaging behaviour can also emerge from having low confidence in staff who do not follow instructions or take shortcuts.

“Often, a lack of managerial leadership is also a key contributing factor, where managers do not know how to give proper feedback or coach an employee towards a learning outcome.

“As a result, these managers would direct their subordinates to complete tasks, as opposed to coaching them on how to achieve desired goals.”

Mr Foo See Yang, managing director and country head of Persolkelly Singapore, says that although micromanagement may be called for when high-risk tasks, tight deadlines or inexperienced employees are involved, it can stifle creativity and innovation.

“Besides this, micromanagement can also lead to employees feeling undervalued and disrespected, which can lower job satisfaction and employee morale.”

He says there are a few steps that staff can take to initiate a productive conversation around micromanagement.

They can first identify an appropriate time and place to discuss the issue with their managers, so that they can have a private conversation without interruptions or distractions.

They should then provide specific examples about the behaviours that they feel are micromanaging, and explain how their productivity and motivation have been impacted.

That can be followed by suggesting possible solutions to the issue, Mr Foo adds.

“One way to do this is by suggesting setting clear goals and timelines, or agreeing to regular check-ins for progress updates.”

Ms Tan suggests that employees proactively give updates, volunteering as much detail as possible on their progress in meeting deadlines or project milestones.

Mr Foo says it is also vital to prioritise communication and trust-building.

“If employees feel that they can communicate openly with their managers and colleagues, and ask for constructive feedback, they are more likely to work collaboratively and take ownership of their work.”

Ms Tan says: “Companies should invest in robust management development programmes to ensure all their managers are effectively trained on the differing styles of management, and create space and awareness for managers to reflect on the management style that suits them best.

“Such a training programme will also help support managers to understand when to apply a particular style of management within their teams.”

She adds that companies should also foster a culture that supports employees providing feedback for managers, which would help managers themselves grow and develop.

Employee engagement tools such as surveys can be tapped for feedback, she adds.

Mr Foo says staff should be patient, as changing micromanaging behaviour can take time.

“By consistently implementing these strategies, employees can work towards creating a more productive and collaborative working relationship with their managers.”

If all efforts to reduce or cope with micromanagement fail, employees may need to consider other options, such as discussing the issue with human resources or a higher-level manager.

Mr Foo says: “Ultimately, employees should prioritise their own well-being, and work in an environment that allows them to be successful and thrive.”

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