The Pandemic has been Hard on Micromanagers

A manager staring into the distance

A global crisis no one saw coming and no one sees ending (for now) can make even the strongest of us feel out of control. Having your workforce working from home in their bunny slippers for months at a time is challenging for any manager. Pity the micromanager forced to endure a pandemic and having no actual shoulders to look over.

When we lose a sense of control  – over people or circumstances –  it can bring out the worst in us. If one of your team members (possibly you) has been trying to gain more power recently, it could be a response to feeling like you’re losing both your influence and your ability to control outcomes.

Psychologists say that managers who micromanage sometimes do so because they feel they’ve become disconnected from the actual work. When they’re promoted, they take on administrative duties which may feel less challenging and interesting than the work that got them noticed. They start to feel isolated from their team (it really can be lonely at the top.) One way to feel more connected is to ask for reports – lots of reports. If you’re tempted to ask for a progress report on the status of next week’s progress report, you might be craving connection more than information.

Micromanagers also worry about quality. As individual contributors, they could find and fix mistakes themselves. As managers, they must trust other people to make sure the job is done right or that mistakes are corrected and won’t be repeated. That’s a lot of trust, especially when you can’t physically see your staff working on the issues.

Finally, managers want to feel needed. If the entire team is working well from home, as most teams seem to be, is a manager really needed?  According to a study conducted early in the pandemic, remote workers had a four percent increase in average daily time spent on their core work (the stuff in their job description.) They also wasted less time on telling people about what they were doing; they averaged an 18 percent decrease in time spent on communication (email, meetings, and the like) compared to office workers.

Remote workers are also happier. They don’t waste time on commuting (and they get to sleep in longer), they dress comfortably (at least from the waist down), and they’re saving hundreds of dollars a month on coffee and lunch. A CNBC survey from June shows that workers are more satisfied with their jobs than they were before the pandemic. Fifty-four percent say they are “very satisfied” with their job, which is an increase from December 2019 when just 47 percent responded that way. 

So a manager with micromanagement tendencies has to adapt to survive this remote work trend, which may be here to stay. It’s time to develop new skills, just as you learned how to make great coffee and your own lunch at home. Here’s where to start.

Focus on the quality of your interaction with your team, not the quantity. If you’ve been one of those managers who only checks in with someone when you need something or see something wrong, this is a great time to build a new habit. Check in to deliver a quick thanks or praise for something your staff member did well. Send links to interesting or inspirational articles or tips on making their work easier or more efficient. Check in to ask what they need.

Focus on outcomes, not input. The definition of “productive” and “efficient” is more outcome with less effort, so the fact that your staff is working less may be a very good thing. Let them set their own rhythm and find their own groove. Their work might very well improve, and their view of their work will surely improve.

And remember what Voltaire said 250 years ago: “Uncertainty is an uncomfortable position. But certainty is an absurd one.”

Still feel the urge to micromanage? Here’s some helpful information on the illusion of control.

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