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Would you rather be micromanaged or under managed?

Micromanagers have long decried as the bosses that drive employees out the door. But are under managers just as bad, if not worse?

Micromanagers get a pretty bad rap – they get derided as control freaks that stifle creativity, refuse to delegate and dominate decision-making down to the last detail. But are their antithesis, under managers, any better? Perhaps the difference lies in what is being micro/under managed – is it employees or output?

HRM takes a look at the benefits and pitfalls of both managerial styles.

Micro Matthews

The relationship between an employee and their manager is a key determiner of employee experience and performance. It’s understandable, then, that having your manager constantly breathing down your neck is off-putting – as demonstrated in a previous HRM article, which cites research by US-based employer review site, Comparably.

The study, which features data collected from over 2000 employees (predominantly tech-workers) from organisations big, medium and small, in both the public and private sectors – found that micromanagement was the worst offence a boss could make. Overall, 39 per cent of surveyed employees ranked this trait as a manager’s worst, and this was across both genders (44 per cent of men and 32 per cent of women).

While micromanagement can stem from stress and a fear of underperformance, it can have the opposite of the desired effect – driving down employee creativity and productivity, and eventually causing staff to leave.

One frequently referenced study by Indiana University Bloomington found that when people are in high-stress jobs with little control, there was a 15.4 per cent increase in the likelihood of death, when compared with those in less demanding jobs (it should be noted the study was of workers aged 60 and over).

Then there’s also the matter of whether micromanagement can constitute bullying. As mentioned in an article by employment law firm McDonald Murholme, The Fair Work Commission held in one case that micromanaging can amount to bullying if coupled with the intent to bully – such as overmanagement disguised as a wish to fire an employee.

In a different case the Fair Work Commission held that management must be conducted in a ‘reasonable manner’, which is dependant upon the nature of the action, the facts and circumstances around the action, and the resulting impact of the action on the employee.

Not that micromanagers don’t have their defenders. In a recent article in Forbes, CEO of ecommerce company Nina Angelovska says there’s a certain skill involved in useful micromanagement, and that CEOs favour those that are output-driven.

Bosses who stick their noses into every single detail because they have nothing smarter to do are the representative of micromanagement done wrong. But bosses who closely monitor, provide detailed guidance and corrective feedback when needed are something totally opposite.”

She also believes that micromanagers are appealing to CEOs, given their desire to achieve results: “Every leader dreams of having people who he can trust and rely on, people who have an eye for details, who can pay extreme attention to what others are doing and who can get things done perfectly.”

Too-macro Mindys

Many of us have likely thought at some point that having a hands-off boss is a dream scenario (I know I have). They let you get on with what needs to be done, and trust that you will come through with the results. And if you don’t? No sweat, next time.

But, as an article in Harvard Business Review points out, while these managerial types are often well-liked in the organisation and are considered to be good collaborators, they tend to avoid conflict and can have accountability issues. They also don’t performance manage effectively, which can lead to underperformance.

Management consultant Victor Lipman, who authored the HBR article, says that there are several, interconnected reasons behind the under management approach, with the desire to be liked and to escape conflict, and therefore avoid stress, at the forefront.

True, pushing your people and holding them accountable for strong performance won’t win you any popularity contests, and it requires some level of comfort with conflict,” says Lipman. “But while maintaining positive relationships with your own employees is a good thing, over the long run your priority is to deliver results.”

In fact, the desire to avoid conflict can result in the inability to manage complaints of bullying and harassment adequately. Failure to investigate or take complaints of bullying and harassment seriously can lead to detrimental consequences for both the affected employee and the organisation.

Take a 2005 NSW Supreme Court case for example. An employee who was promoted to a new role as team lead ahead of her former manager was subjected to ridicule by her old boss. Her new manager did not take any action after she complained over a two year period, and in fact, labelled her complaints “groundless and obtuse”. Unfortunately for the employer, the Supreme Court of NSW thought otherwise, finding the employer’s conduct to be “negligently passive”, and awarded her almost $340,000 on appeal for the psychiatric damage caused.

Even if it’s not as bad as the refusal or failure to handle complaints, under management can also leave employees without feedback, which we all need. Otherwise it can feel like we’re running around in circles, chasing our tails, without knowing how we’re really doing.

Perhaps a micromanager with a bit of chill is an organisation’s best bet? Let us know your thoughts.

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I think the term micro-managing is highly overused. Status reports ≠ micro-managing. Manager Tools defines micro-managing as “Micromanagement is a sustained, long term practice. It is a WAY of managing ALL THE TIME.” (Source: Managing tools) Here is a useful article on delegation: So some times a task needs to be delegated depending on the level of trust the manager has in you, and your experience in doing the task. Jack Welch loves micro-managing: One model I have found useful is the Trust vs Competence quadrant (paraphrasing from memory). – Low Trust / Low Competence – micromanage –… Read more »


I think the reaction to each management style is different for each individual employee. Some employees would relish their manager being very involved in their daily workload, while others would prefer to be left to their own devices. I don’t think there is a one-size-fits-all management style that would sit well with every staff member. I think managers should have conversations with their staff in relation to how they would like to be managed, for the betterment of both parties. This is what happened with my current manager, and I find that I am able to use my creativity and… Read more »

Ian Higginbottom
Ian Higginbottom

I work with an interpretation of how we coordinate action together (managers have a high need to coordinate the action required to get work done and deliver results) often called the “commitment cycle” that was developed by Fernando Flores and Chauncy Bell. There are four phases of action between thinking you would like someone else to take care of something for you, to the point of satisfaction (or dissatisfaction). [There is a diagram here?dl=0 ] These phases are preparation, negotiation, performance and evaluation. There are performance traps in each phase. When we work together over time we go around this… Read more »

Robert Compton. FAHRI
Robert Compton. FAHRI

One size never fits all. Never has. It comes down to the level of structure an individual requires in their work and their leader. Some staff require very little structure. Others will sink without it . From a cultural perspective, employees from certain cultural backgrounds will be looking for more structure. People from other cultural backgrounds will be far more comfortable in an individual setting.
Compare Scandinavian and Japanese cultural dimensions but without stereotyping.

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