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We all see staff members who are constantly on the go. They feel they must do every minutiae task.  

As a business, you may only care about completing the task. 

But you should care because this type of micromanagement could signify burnout.  

There is a tendency to associate micromanagement with a colleague’s actions being observed and watched. The scrutiny will eventually lead to staff feeling deskilled and undervalued. Undoubtedly, this will affect productivity, the work culture, retention, staff burnout and the business’s success. 

There is micromanagement when a colleague does all the tasks and fails to delegate because they are afraid to do so. I will base this blog on my and my client’s burnout experiences to highlight my concern about micromanagement.

Burnout is a word used frequently. A recent survey conducted by Mental Health England found that 93% of respondents experienced at least one symptom of burnout1. Burnout occurs when a person experiences physical and mental exhaustion. There is a self-perception of incompetency, an inability to experience joy, and an inability to switch off. The physical cues are too many to mention. Still, they can be detrimental in the short and long term (e.g., biting fingernails to severe conditions such as strokes).    

Burnout does not appear overnight. Instead, it is a gentle erosion of our efficacy, boundaries and resilience. 

Humans are designed to adapt to their environment. When we experience stress cues, we adapt to them because we may not recognise them as stress cues and perceive them independently (for example, frequent IBS flare-ups or headaches). We take medication to ease the discomfort rather than address the stressors. Over time, chronic stress gives way to burnout. 

Cognitions are also affected. This includes brain fog owing to elevated cortisol levels affecting memory formation. This leads to the chaos of ‘I did x’, only to realise that it is outstanding, adding to the urgency often experienced by those affected by burnout. Productivity may FEEL high because constant action is high but is hindered by brain fog, procrastination, fear of getting it wrong and perfectionism. Therefore, it results in doing lots but not getting far. 

This is further exacerbated by the person masking their fear by being super-efficient and organised. They value the perception of others; they will try not to inconvenience others but instead take on a multitude of tasks. Therefore, there is a greater tendency to micromanage workload to ensure everything gets done. 

As a result, we are more likely to experience negative thinking. The types of thoughts we experience are broad, including the abovementioned concerns. It will also affect how we perceive others, for example, if someone lacks experience in a particular task or is new to it. Supporting another takes time; we cannot see beyond ourselves when burnt out. Therefore, there is a tendency to do everything. If something needs doing, it could be done by themselves because it is quicker, less time-consuming, and will be done within the required time frame. 

Thinking and acting in this manner can also transfer to our personal lives. For example, loading the dishwasher to get the best wash at its total capacity means stacking the washer in a particular manner (sound familiar?), and only we know how to do it ‘properly’. 

The person experiencing burnout may not consider micromanaging a consequence of feeling overwhelmed.

Such behaviour can be problematic in the long term, not just for the individual but for business. Broader staff development is hindered because inexperienced colleagues are not offered the opportunity to learn from experienced colleagues or upskill. This can create a dependency on the staff member and unknowingly add to their heightened perception of being the only person competent to do the tasks. 

Furthermore, we are less likely to be creative in this state because our mind shuts down access to the pre-frontal cortex. We will likely engage in old, unhelpful habits because we deem seeking new solutions time-consuming and requiring energy that we can’t commit. 

Overcoming micromanagement in the workplace requires a combination of strategies that focus on building trust, promoting autonomy, and fostering open communication. Here are some practical steps: 

Self-Reflection: Employees should reflect on their need for control and understand why they micromanage. This self-awareness is the first step towards change.

Open Communication: Honest and respectful communication can help address micromanagement issues. Employees should feel comfortable discussing their concerns regarding workloads, working hours, etc, with their managers.

Trust and Autonomy: Exhibit trust towards employees and give them autonomy to perform tasks, empowering employees, boosting confidence, and preventing micromanagement3 4 8

Clear Goals and Expectations: This can help employees understand what is expected of them and allow them to work independently towards these goals3 9

Feedback: Providing constructive feedback can help employees improve their performance and feel valued. However, feedback should be given in a way that promotes learning and growth rather than control and micromanagement 3

Promote Learning: Managers should create an environment that encourages learning and growth. This involves allowing employees to make mistakes and learn from them rather than controlling every aspect of their work 9. It should also include the opportunity to observe/assist/mentor experienced colleagues.  In conclusion, overcoming micromanagement involves a shift in management style towards one that promotes trust, autonomy, and open communication. By implementing these strategies, businesses can create a more positive work environment, boost employee productivity, and reduce the risk of burnout.

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