• 11 min read

20 Hidden Costs and Psychological Effects of Micromanagement

It really ain’t good.

Electra Michaelidou
Electra Michaelidou

Career and Lifestyle Writer

Reviewed by Chris Leitch

A worker experiencing the effects of micromanagement

Sometimes, what starts as the intention to help employees out and act proactively to prevent mistakes turns into a tendency to maintain control at all times.

Managers who consistently act this way, however, end up causing more harm than good in the long term, as interfering with and fixating on every last detail can have devastating effects on employee wellbeing and productivity.

In this article, we will outline 20 of the most detrimental effects that micromanagement can have on employees, both on an individual level as well as a collective one.

1. Employees lose motivation

When a manager feels the need to control every little thing an employee does, it can cause the employee to second-guess themselves and their ability. If this happens consistently enough, team members can begin to lose confidence as well as their drive and dedication to achieve great things.

After a while, employees start to use their problem-solving ability and creativity even less, as their manager takes more and more decisions on their behalf.

In the words of certified executive coach Paula Vidal Castelli: “As a coach, I see how my micromanaged clients arrive at our session feeling uninspired, overwhelmed, tired and with very low motivation. They question whether they are in the right place and, in many cases, whether staying in their current job is taking them further away from their career goals.”

2. Workers become less engaged

Engagement refers to how absorbed and invested employees are in their job. Naturally, when their drive takes a hit, team members can start to feel underwhelmed or disinterested in the tasks they are given.

When managers fail to show trust, bombarding employees with unnecessary instructions and questions instead, team members may begin “switching off” as a way to cope with the pressure. In other instances, they may start to become anxious or irritated, which has the same effect: their engagement dwindles.

3. Workers become less likely to take initiative

A lot of the time, you see leaders who want or even expect their employees to take initiative and yet fail to provide a supportive environment that would encourage such behavior. Micromanagement does precisely that: it creates conditions that make taking initiative harder, if not impossible.

When employees feel restricted due to micromanagement, they’re unlikely to put their best ideas forward or request to take on additional responsibility. After all, more responsibility would only result in more micromanagement if their supervisor is mistrustful.

4. Trust among team members suffers

Even if it’s not the manager’s intention, micromanaging employees says “I don’t trust you”. This damages the bond between a leader and his team, which can then ripple throughout an entire department.

This is because managers are better off leading by example; demonstrating the qualities and behaviors you want to see in your employees can inspire them to mirror you.

If you lead with suspicion instead, it can cause employees to feel mistrustful of one another, which can seriously harm collaboration between team members and, consequently, their output.

5. Employees become reluctant to take accountability

Holding yourself accountable in the workplace is one of the most fundamental ingredients for learning from mistakes and collaborating with others successfully. For employees to demonstrate this vital quality, however, the working environment needs to promote a sense of safety and understanding.

Sadly, micromanagement achieves the opposite, favoring a sense of control and suspiciousness over a sense of trust and openness. This can cause team members to hide mistakes from you, which can lead to a cascade of problems and wasted resources down the line. In some cases, it can also cause them to try to push someone else under the bus to avoid “looking bad” themselves.

6. Teamwork suffers

So far, we have talked about how micromanagement can harm employee productivity and engagement and discourage team members from admitting mistakes. When you put all of that together, you can see how those things can negatively affect teamwork.

An employee who is reluctant to admit to making mistakes (and this can often be due to fear of increasing the amount of micromanagement they receive) may become likelier to try and shift the blame onto others, which harms teamwork.

Or, if being on the receiving end of micromanagement impacts their productivity and efficiency, they may end up slowing down the entire team, which can also lead to tension and conflict.

7. Employee relations worsen

When teamwork suffers and employees begin to feel anxious, frustrated or simply indifferent, tension among colleagues tends to rise. A lot of the time, it’s not just one person that’s going to be micromanaged within a team; managers who feel the need to be in total control are bound to step in and take the reins at any moment, regardless of who is in front of them.

The effect this has on interpersonal relationships in the workplace can be devastating. According to a BetterUp report, employees who feel “low in belonging” in the workplace experience 77% more stress, 109% more burnout and 158% more anxiety and depression compared to their “high in belonging” peers. The second group, on the other hand, reports higher levels of personal growth (83%) and professional growth (92%).

8. Interpersonal conflict increases

Some sources report that workplace conflict costs US businesses $359 billion every year. Without realizing it, leaders who micromanage cause damage to interpersonal relationships in the workplace, creating an environment that lends itself well to conflict.

The more dissatisfied, frustrated and overwhelmed your employees feel, after all, the more likely they are to lose their patience even over insignificant things. (We’ve all been there!)

9. Workers hesitate to express themselves

Instructional designer Max Lerner outlines four benefits of allowing your employees to share their ideas: it fills knowledge gaps within teams; it leads to revenue-boosting solutions; it strengthens the sense of community at work; and it allows you to take a glimpse into employee morale and engagement.

Unfortunately, employees who are micromanaged can slowly lose their voices. After all, why voice an opinion or idea if your manager is going to tell you what to do — and how to do it — anyway?

10. Employee creativity and innovation suffer

Losing your voice, motivation and sense of self-worth as a professional will only make it harder to problem-solve creatively and come up with your best ideas yet. This is not only damaging to the employees themselves but their companies, too.

Businesses rely on unique ideas, solutions and propositions to stand out from the competition, so by stripping your employees of the ability or drive to create, you are causing your organization to take big steps backwards.

11. Employee stress levels increase

Micromanagement has several psychological effects on employees, like making them question their own ability and worth and start refraining from expressing themselves. This can subsequently cause them to start worrying over their job security; not feeling valued or heard can make you wonder if your employer might let you go at any moment.

Sadly, all this does is contribute to even more heightened stress levels, which can end up manifesting itself in poor physical health and more time spent away from work.

12. Absenteeism and presenteeism rise

When employees’ job satisfaction decreases, they are more likely to find reasons (or excuses) to spend as much time away from the office as possible. Or, if they do come in, their lack of wellbeing can compromise their productivity, meaning they may as well be absent.

This isn’t just true for teams working from the office; it can impact remote workers as well. In an article for the BBC, Megan Tatum points out that “helicopter bosses” can push workers to extremes. For example, when remote employees feel pressured to appear online at all moments of the workday, they may end up using devices such as mouse jigglers that make it look as though they are working even if they have stepped away from their desk.

Even if a leader falsely believes that micromanaging their teams pushes workers to get more done, what happens is often the opposite. Overwhelmed workers just become better at pretending to get things done.

13. Employee productivity drops

Basima Tewfik, assistant professor at MIT Sloan, studied the phenomenon of engagement variability in relation to worker productivity. That is: how consistently (or not) employees “pour themselves” into their role and work.

She concluded the following: “If you can only give half of yourself to work, giving that half consistently is better for performance compared to fully investing yourself on some days and not at all on other days.”

Employers can learn from this. The more you invest in decreasing engagement variability (encouraging employees to engage more consistently, that is), the more you can preserve their productivity.

14. Voluntary turnover rises

One of the most negative effects of micromanagement — which is also one of the most costly ones for employers — is that it creates such an unhealthy environment for employees that they start to throw in the towel, one by one.

Replacing an employee can cost you between 6–9 months of that worker’s salary. When it happens on a mass scale due to a poor working environment, you can see how quickly the costs pile up. That’s why informing leaders and helping them develop better management styles is imperative.

15. Employee morale suffers

As we’ve seen, micromanagement can cause employees to lose confidence in themselves, get into conflict with their peers or managers more often, and generally experience higher levels of stress. Naturally, those are not the conditions a worker can thrive in.

Even if an employee is not being micromanaged themselves, it can negatively impact their experience in the workplace to see their peers lose motivation or even resign due to micromanagement.

The further apart employees grow amongst themselves, and the less favorably they look upon management, the bigger the blow for team morale.

16. Burnout becomes more common

There are hardly any aspects of the employee experience that micromanagement doesn’t negatively impact. Some of the most common reasons behind workplace burnout include conflicts with coworkers and a lack of control over your tasks and schedule — which, sadly, micromanaged teams experience all too often.

But it doesn’t end there: even the managers themselves (yes, the very ones who tend to micromanage) become more susceptible to burning out. Constantly interfering where you aren’t needed and worrying that your team is unable to carry out their responsibilities without your input is a highly stressful feat.

17. Workplace mental health worsens

Micromanaged employees and micromanaging leaders are likelier to experience high stress and anxiety levels. As neuropsychologist Julia DiGangi so accurately describes it: “On multiple occasions, I’ve heard managers say to team members: ‘I want you to take total leadership on this project — just make sure you run everything by me first.’ Those messages send conflicting signals and cancel each other out. Confused employees wonder: ‘Wait, am I supposed to be self-starting or permission seeking?’.”

This creates a vicious cycle that eats away at everyone’s wellbeing: micromanaged employees are unclear on how to act, causing managers to pick up on that and feel the need to micromanage even more.

18. Physical health problems arise

A study by the Harvard TH Chan School of Public Health and Penn State University has shown that allowing workers more control over their schedules and tasks can decrease their risk for cardiovascular disease. That’s how big of an impact workplace stress can have on people’s health.

As society becomes more health-conscious and people have access to more and more resources and information surrounding wellness, quitting toxic workplaces in search of positive environments becomes more common. This is especially true for younger generations (Millennials and Gen Zers).

19. Employee job satisfaction decreases

Job satisfaction is informed by various factors including having autonomy, being provided with opportunities for professional growth and receiving recognition for your work. With micromanagement, employees tend to have all those things stripped from them.

When you aren’t able to take initiative and ownership of your projects, implement your own ideas and even make mistakes (because that often is the best way to learn and grow), you are left feeling stuck, powerless and undervalued. Naturally, this causes your job satisfaction to plumet.

20. Your employer brand suffers

In a digital world, where people can find answers to questions in seconds, companies are no longer shielded from scrutinizing eyes: what happens behind closed doors no longer stays there.

Take Glassdoor, for example: the employer review website has nearly 70 million unique visitors each month who are able to read anonymous reviews for more than 2.3 million companies worldwide.

Moral of the story? Word does get out — and it can seriously harm your chances of attracting driven, talented employees.

Final thoughts

Micromanagement typically starts occurring when workplace leaders are feeling stressed, anxious and out of control. In an attempt to boost the quality of the work done and ensure it gets completed in time, they transfer this stress onto their team members, sadly achieving the opposite: delays, lack of engagement, conflict.

Luckily, there are ways to help supervisors limit the urge to control every little process that goes on. The Forbes Coaches Council has some words of advice on this: “Only do what only you can do” is one of our favorites — and so are “adopt a fail-forward attitude” and “set aside your personal desire to win”.

Have you ever witnessed micromanagement in the workplace? What were the effects, and how was the situation resolved? Share your experiences with us in the comments section below!

This article is a complete update of an earlier version originally published on February 11, 2016.