Micromanagement is giving me a sad
July 18, 2014 5:12 AM   Subscribe

The micromanagement in my workplace is starting to impact seriously on my confidence. How best to handle this?

I've worked here for a few years now (it's been the subject of a number of distraught AskMeFi questions in the past). It's generally a good place to work with its own unique kind of dysfunction which I have learned to roll with.

But lately, the management style in my workplace seems to have changed. I'm getting raked over the coals for "minor errors" which turn out to be, like, subjective, stylistic, Oxford comma-level things. I'm not trying to paint myself as a victim here; I am not precious about my work and am open to criticism that I can work with. But these just seem disproportionately minor for the level of stick I get about them. I now need to submit all of my work to 3/4 separate senior managers before it can be finalised. And they often disagree with each other which entails more going back and forth. So basically a simple letter to a client ends up taking a hundred years to go out the door! I can't over-emphasis the bashing that my self-confidence has taken from this. I've been known to lose sleep over a comma placement.

I always used to think that I produced good work. But now I feel no faith in my own ability to judge the quality of something I produce until 3 or 4 separate senior people have all pronounced it OK. Ironically, whenever I've seen their work, it's full of mistakes!

Another thing that happens a lot is, simply, nagging. I feel like my boss has suddenly lost faith in my ability to deliver on time without lots of nagging from them; when I have a tried and tested record of delivering on time. This makes me wildly stressed out and resentful. I mean, I have enough to do already without the spectre of my manager looming over my shoulder going "You're going to have that ready on time, right? Right? Right?" Trying to look at it from his point of view, I wonder if that's his only way of having any input or control over my work: I look after an entirely different area from him.

I never used to have any real doubt in my ability to do my job. But lately the negative feedback from higher ups has had a huge negative impact on my stress levels and my confidence. I'm not the only person at my level of seniority (ie, not very high) to have this problem, either. When I get together with other people at my level, it comes out that they all feel the same way: harangued and harshly criticised by their managers.

I'm wondering if there's any proactive way I can deal with these issues. (I'm applying for other jobs, but I'm sure they will come with their own problems!) Is there a professional way of sitting down at my next meeting with my boss and talking with him about it? Or is this just one of those things I have to tolerate till I move onto a different job? If the latter, can anyone advise on how to keep your self-esteem up when your best doesn't seem good enough for people anymore?

Sorry, this became a novel. Would just be very interested to hear other more experienced MeFites' views, though.
posted by Ziggy500 to Work & Money (14 answers total) 8 users marked this as a favorite
Hey, I just went through that, and it ended up that they laid me off. I was recruited to my job by a former manager and he got reassigned after 3 months. So I got stuck with a guy who is a terrible communicator and who would do exactly what you're describing.

Once he blew by my desk and said over his shoulder, "Hey leave the Gazingus-Pin numbers out of the forecast." So I thought, Oh, he doesn't want them in the PowerPoint deck. Okay. What he meant was that he wanted me to remove all Gazingus-Pin DATA out of the forecast. A very different thing. It never occured to me to probe further because if you're removing a whole data-set out of a report, one would think that it would rate a short meeting explaining the where's and the why's.

Then it was all, double-checking work, and questioning methodology and other stuff that made me want to pull my hair out. I SHOULD have started looking for a new job, but I didn't because I didn't want to make the guy who hired me in look bad. Joke was on me. Today is my last day, I turn in my gear at 10:00.

So you need to start looking for a new job. You RARELY come back from this shit, and frankly, who needs it?

posted by Ruthless Bunny at 5:19 AM on July 18, 2014 [7 favorites]

Do you have a style guide? If so, stick to it and make sure these senior managers have copies of it. If not, get one. Use any of the ones at this Wikipedia page, or roll your own. Get approval from the One True Arbiter of Language at your workplace and put it into effect immediately.
posted by Etrigan at 5:24 AM on July 18, 2014 [3 favorites]

If before this your work was fine, there is either some sort of power struggle going on with the bosses and you are collateral damage, our the more likely option, they are working up a case to lay you off and either need to prove why or want you to quit so they don't have to pay you out etc. I suspect your work and the quality of it has nothing to do with any of it, it's just how companies seem too work now a days, like that dysfunctional boyfriend that wants to break up so makes your life Hell so you leave him.
posted by wwax at 5:27 AM on July 18, 2014 [4 favorites]

I've been through something similar a couple of times, and the only way it ever got better was the time they figured out I could do some work that nobody else there was very good at, and suddenly they were afraid to lose me. In my experience this sort of behavior is about venting stress and shifting blame for anticipated failures away from themselves. It's hard to fight because asking for it to stop means you're asking them to do without a coping mechanism and to accept responsibility for potential failure. If the boss really values you and is a halfway decent person then you might have a little success pushing back, but I wouldn't bet on it.
posted by jon1270 at 5:31 AM on July 18, 2014 [2 favorites]

It sounds like there are stressful things happening above you that you're not privy to. I would tackle this head-on, in a non-confrontational way. "Hey bosses, I've noticed that we're tightening up standards, and I'm all for that! I want to make sure I'm keeping up to snuff, so could we fit in some extra review time and some longer-term project planning so that we're both on the same page?" Sometimes, just showing your boss that you know there's something different in the air and you're not going to fall apart because of it is enough.

Sometimes not, though, so continue to look for other opportunities.
posted by xingcat at 5:45 AM on July 18, 2014

I worked for a very racist, very insecure woman a few years ago who had no idea how I was supposed to do my job and so she would nit-pick and pull apart everything that I did, terrified that it didn't mesh well with her culture and worried about what her friends would think. As our clients weren't her friends and my work was appealing to our actual clients, this hurt the business. I stayed too long because I was very good at my job and I knew it, and had tons of positive feedback from the clients that was directed at me and not her. When I finally left, I realized that my self-esteem was at level 0 and I was in a constant state of stress. And I also realized that my time with her was wasted. When you are dealing with an insecure manager, there is nothing that you can do that will be right. I was the best in my current field and she still picked. It took me months to recover my old self again. No pay check is worth that level of trauma.

Until you leave, you do need a some relief. Having one micro-manager is horrible, having 3 is a nightmare. Ask to meet with all three supervisors at once. Outline what your job description is and how much time you are spending on it every day. Show them how much time you are spending on answering to all three of them. Ask them if they could streamline the process to just one of them. And keep looking for a different job.
posted by myselfasme at 5:47 AM on July 18, 2014 [4 favorites]

The advice about getting a new job is spot-on, and I'm happy to see that you're already putting out applications. That's great!

To answer your questions:

I'm wondering if there's any proactive way I can deal with these issues.

I've had success with providing regular (daily) updates on project status. That combined with consistent under-promising/over-delivering (saying "I'll have this to you by Thursday," then having it done on Wednesday morning) can help a bit (but usually only against garden-variety micromanagers, not the headcase types).

Is there a professional way of sitting down at my next meeting with my boss and talking with him about it?

Yes, but in my experience the worst micromanagers are also a little irrational and sensitive, and tend to take criticism poorly, so do tread lightly. If you choose to go down this path, I'd say something like, "It seems that I'm not meeting your expectations recently, particularly on timing. I want to work on this; what in your view needs to be done to improve my work and our relationship?"
posted by schroedingersgirl at 5:47 AM on July 18, 2014 [1 favorite]

Read this essay about 'sick systems'. If you're nodding your head while your read it, find another job.
posted by Happy Dave at 6:03 AM on July 18, 2014 [4 favorites]

nthing that you just need to plan your exit. This will not improve; worse, you will eventually internalize this lack of confidence and then your work actually WILL suffer.

I worked for two years under a manager who corrected me literally for the sake of correcting me, even when sometimes the change he requested made right things wrong. There was a heavy atmosphere of "dear god, we can't trust you with ANYTHING." Eventually, I did indeed fall behind on deadlines and start taking too many sick days and generally being a shite employee, because what the hell was the point of trying harder, just to get beat down? Oh, and this didn't limit itself to my work life, either--my personal life went to shit as well, because I just had no confidence whatsoever in my ability to exist.

The feeling of pure elation I had when I started a new job and suddenly remembered, "Oh yeah! I'm not stupid! I actually am fucking ACE at my job!" cannot be overstated. I hope you have a similar moment soon!
posted by like_a_friend at 9:01 AM on July 18, 2014 [7 favorites]

I think that micro managing is a means to an end; which is sometimes called "managing you out". If they want to have you leave, either because they want to remove your position, or they're dumb and dysfunctional, or they just don't like you, it's much easier and cheaper for them to put a bunch of unreasonable pressure on you, particularly suddenly, which will give you motivation to quit. Their problem is solved. For free.

Or I could be wrong.
posted by flyoverme at 9:11 AM on July 18, 2014 [3 favorites]

This really doesn't sound like a good work situation. It's not just one micromanaging boss who means well but is an oblivious asshole. It's having three to four managers above you going through your work and finding ways to nitpick at it. That would make anyone feel self-conscious and probably a bit exhausted. I would focus less on proving yourself to people at this job and more on updating that resume, writing cover letters, finding new jobs and applying. It sounds like you've stuck around at this place long enough. Find a place where you will be set up for success.

In the meantime, you could try to speak to your boss and show a genuine interest in improving and meeting his/her high standards and ask for feedback. Maybe ask what sort of communication he/she needs from you. But in my experience, those talks don't just change things overnight and this sounds much more systemic and worse than a couple simple misunderstandings.
posted by AppleTurnover at 10:49 AM on July 18, 2014 [1 favorite]

About 5 years ago I found myself still working and on the phone with a once-beloved boss at 11pm at night, while he said things to me like, "Why is there a comma there? I don't get it. You're better than this." It was, in fact, an Oxford comma issue.

(Good lord, I just realized I basically quit a job I had for 5 years -- without having another job lined up -- over an Oxford comma debate. Plus 5 years of increasingly insane stress and travel... but still.)

I think once things descend to the level of micromanagement you're describing here, the relationships have gone sour beyond repair. You should handle it in the opposite order than I did: First look for a new job, then find a new job, and then quit.
posted by kythuen at 12:36 PM on July 18, 2014 [2 favorites]

You mentioned that other people are experiencing this as well and it's not just you. This suggests to me that they are not trying to specifically manage you out. BUT, this is very dysfunctional and will systematically erode your confidence in your abilities if you stay there long enough. Also realize that this behavior isn't just damaging to the employee (to you), it's also damaging to the company. Since you mentioned that it's not just this boss but several, that suggests a poor outlook for the company.

So yes, work on getting out as quickly as possible. As to how to deal with it in the meantime, I've never found a strategy that has worked long term. Sometimes you can very diplomatically point out the behavior to them and they will correct themselves for a little while, but usually resume micromanaging at some point. Even that is very risky if you are dealing with someone who is doing this because they are extremely insecure.
posted by jazzbaby at 3:59 PM on July 18, 2014

It very poor management and you should continue finding a better job.

As a coping strategy in the meantime, give up trying to do a good job. Meet objective targets like deadlines, but subjective quality issues? Don't worry about it. Have them circle what they want changed, then change it, w/ev. Repeat as necessary. It's just a tedious job, not your worth as a person.

See, that's what you get when you're a shitty manager. Robots who don't give a shit and will do exactly what you say and no more.

Your next job will almost certainly be more fulfilling and make you feel like a valuable member of the team again. So don't stay too long.
posted by ctmf at 7:45 PM on July 18, 2014 [1 favorite]

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