Micromanager Makes Me Hate My Job

After 10 years of being the top performer in my division I am suddenly being micromanaged in ways that are seriously harming my productivity and destroying my morale.

In the past 10 years I have produced over $63 million in documented personal productivity for my employer, which is almost 8x the average for my division and more than 2x that of my next closest co-worker. I’ve gotten consistently outstanding performance reviews ever since I started this job, and continuously sought out challenging professional development opportunities. I have developed cutting edge technical tools, processes and skillsets that are respected regionally and even somewhat nationally (I am invited to speak at conferences and seminars fairly often).Now my boss is nearing retirement and I find myself being increasingly micromanaged by his boss. Worse, because I work for a public entity, we have not seen even a cost of living increase in the past 8 years and I am sinking further and further into financial distress as my cost of living continues to increase whether or not my salary does.

While I’ve worked extremely independently for years, I now find myself having to get nearly everything approved by my boss’s boss before I do it. For example, she wants to edit routine letters and other communications before I send them. This is sometimes embarrassing since she often inserts confused passages and grammatical errors that it embarrasses me to send out under my name. She want to approve every last little detail of my schedule before I finalize it — which often leaves me waiting for her to review and approve things that I’ve routinely been doing without review (and without problems, so far as I know) for years.

She recognizes that I have expertise that she does not have, but she doesn’t want me to make even routine decisions within my area of expertise any more. So I find myself having to spend hours “briefing” (more like “privately tutoring”) her on highly technical issues and concepts until she has enough understanding of the topic to make a decision that is likely the same one I would have made myself if I’d just been allowed to do it (as I have in the past).

This is driving me totally crazy, and both my productivity and my morale have plummeted in the past year. I am within a handful of years of retirement myself and know that the odds of a woman in her 60s finding a new full time permanent job with benefits at this point in my career are miniscule. If I could afford to retire it would be tempting, but I can’t. What can I do? It is killing me to think that this horrible situation is going to be the culmination of my career, and that by the time I retire it will be from a job and a career that I have come to hate.

Signed Don’t Want To Hate My Job

Dear Don’t Want To Hate My Job:

Unfortunately coping with an under or over-managing boss is all too common. If in such a work situation, rarely do things change by simply biting your tongue. My associate workplace doctor and I will suggest several options before you for consideration, some that I’m sure you have contemplated I sense from your carefully detailed description.

Your boss is nearing retirement and if I understand correctly your boss’ boss, a younger individual, who has much to learn about the job and managing, is the one micromanaging. For convenience let’s name her Jan.

You have positioned your concerns about micromanagement around how it adversely affects efficiency, effectiveness and particularly your morale.

My associate workplace doctor, who is busy with a huge project, Tina Lewis Rowe, upon reading your question sent me this note that I am posting upfront to my suggestions. Tina’s the wisest woman I know as you can see from her replies to some of our Q&As. She wonders if you have talked with your immediate boss about what you have shared with us? Certainly that is a place to seek analysis and suggestions:

Tina’s thoughts: I can imagine how frustrating her situation would be. I’m also wondering if she’s talked to her direct boss about it. Surely after an apparently great history there, she would have enough of a relationship with her current boss to talk to him and get some insights into why the level above him is communicating with her in a way that implies she doesn’t trust her or doesn’t have confidence in her work.

Maybe the higher level boss has felt there hasn’t been enough oversight or maybe the next level boss is trying to get up to speed on the work of the division before the direct boss retires. (She’s going about it the wrong way, if that is her desire.)

I know of a similar situation though, where really, the whole thing has been caused by a manager who thinks she knows more than anyone below her could possibly know and every conversation she has with them is demeaning and infuriating in that way. And very aggressive “I want that report by 11:30 tomorrow Do not send that out until I see it and review it. I want to be present when you call that person, so I can make sure you’re approaching it the right way.”

Several people went to HR a few weeks ago and complained about her obnoxious manner and they were all essentially told ” just the way she is. Yes, it’s a problem. Learn to live with it.”

All of that is in a non-profit where an acquaintance of mine works. But, the situation sounds almost like this one!

To live with it, too, might be what you will have to do until you retire, but I doubt your immediate boss will propose that is your only way to cope, and neither do we. Therefore, in addition to what your immediate boss will suggest in light of knowing you and what you make known to him, here are two approaches you might consider: Confront and By-pass.

1. Confront your boss’ boss who is micromanaging. Confrontation can be both immediate and more deliberate. You say that you have found it necessary to spend hours “briefing” Jan and (more like “privately tutoring”) her. You have not mentioned how you have prefaced that and how she has responded. From what little you say, am I wrong to assume that you have pussy-footed her lack of knowledge and have been careful about how you have worded your briefing and tutoring? That would be natural and important in helping her to save face. Yet, if you have not been candid about how this have affected your own work at the times you have done the briefing and tutoring, being so nice, apparently has not lessened the micromanaging.

What I am implying is that a failure to talk about the process is a mistake. Such a conversation should still be face-saving polite, but it focuses on the reality of how this takes time and consequently costs time away from your own work and productivity of the department. Moreover a time-out talk about process begs for discussion of how you and she might develop an efficient and effective working relationship. A boss-bossed discussion of what frustrates efficiency, effectiveness and morale should’t ignore your own opinion about how things have been going, such as her demanding that she “approve every last little detail of my schedule before I finalize it — which often leaves me waiting for her to review and approve things that I’ve routinely been doing without review (and without problems, so far as I know) for years.”

Nor, if it is to make a difference, can it overlook the fact that things are different since she has become your boss’ boss. The topic of your immediate boss retiring soon of course concerns you as does your own future. You want to have a harmonious working situation for the next decade. In short she needs to know how you want to be managed and not managed. Have you discussed her and your careers? Have you looked her up on LinkedIn? Have you told her that you want to help hers look good, and that you want to do all you can to make her job easier but that now trying to please her is causing your  productivity to suffer? Have you considered frankly asking her if she and you might work out rules about how you each might work more effectively and respectfully? Good bosses demonstrate an interest in their subordinates (associates) careers.

My first instinct is to confront rather than by-pass. If a cooperative working arrangement can’t be developed, then it is time to find a way around its problems. In your case that might entail soliciting advice from HR or an ombudsman or requesting a skull session that includes you, your immediate boss, your boss’ boss, and someone higher or from HR.

2.By-passing Jan. You can quietly seek help from a higher source, but I prefer before doing that to first inform the person you are planning to by-pass. That is to tell Jan, I need to seek advice elsewhere. Perhaps to invite her to join in that  Most work situations are not just between one in which there is a boss, a boss’ boss and the individual bossed. Usually there is a work group that has staff meetings. Not many of them really work together in a similar fashion to that of a sports team. Sport teams have skull sessions that collectively discuss before and after a game what is frustrating and effective. Sometimes that includes what is ineffective play and treatment of individuals and even problems between coach and players. Work groups can benefit from such skull sessions. This, in my book, is more effective than going solo to someone higher to by-pass.

Do any of these thoughts help you rethink your current situation? Perhaps not. If so I trust you won’t simply bite your tongue. Life is too short to work with the kind of frustration you describe. Whatever you choose to do, I suggest you maintain a sense of humor and take time each day to savor a specific instance that makes you feel good about something you or someone else accomplishes or does to make someone’s work a bit easier and more pleasant. That is our commitment in responding to questions submitted to Ask the Workplace Doctors. 

Working together with hands, head, and heart takes and makes big WEGOS. This is my hope for you and your boss’ boss.

William Gorden

FOLLOW UP: Wow, thank you for your quick and thoughtful response!

I have spoken with my current boss already. He says that “Jan” is under heavy pressure from her (new) management too, which is putting extreme pressure on her to do more with less.

I think the new executive management is comparing our efficiency and productivity with other workplaces that have more business automation tools to help them do their work than do we. Due to management decisions in previous years, we are still doing many things by hand that are heavily automated in other workplaces.

That’s one piece of it.  Another, which your response(s) caused me to think about, is that my current boss has given me far more latitude to manage and grow my own areas of responsibility than my title or job description reflect.  I re-examined my job description and it pretty much lines up with how I’m currently being treated by “Jan.”  This was a result of a “deal with the devil” that I’ve had with my current boss for years.  He wasn’t able to promote me because of constraints on him in offering promotions, but I have pretty consistently agreed to work “as if” I had more advanced job responsibilities just for the increased job satisfaction. The arrangement was more or less that so long as I continued to produce documented results, he kept allowing me increased responsibility … but without ever having the title or job description to go with it.  Although I have occasionally grumbled about that to him over the years, I did consent with my actions.  That could be a career mistake that is now coming back to haunt me.

Dear Don’t Want to Hate My Job: we trust that you will be able to develop a satisfactory working relationship with Jan and with what happens when your current immediate boss retires. Might not, in anticipation of that, a discussion of your job description and record with Jan be helpful? Also of the pressures above for more productivity. Forth-coming changes often entail opportunities as well as adjustments. Your proven experience should be of value to Jan and her career as well as yours. Whether she or you initiate such session(s), they should benefit the big picture. –Dr. G