There aren’t many people who like having someone watching over their shoulder. Unfortunately, though, there are many bosses who are predisposed to do just that. Whether it’s arrogance, or their own insecurities slipping out, some people just have a tough time letting go of control.

Dealing with this can be stressful and even intimidating. You don’t, however, have to quit (or lose your cool).

Here are some tips on how to survive working for a micromanager.

Give it time

For obvious reasons, managers of all stripes are more prone to micromanage with new employees. This might throw you off guard when you start a new job, but don’t let it bother you too much. If a boss is watching over you closely in the first few weeks, they may simply be making sure you’re brought up to speed.

Of course, they may also be checking to see that you’re up to the challenge. Prove it to them! Listen carefully to instructions, guidelines, and feedback, and don’t be afraid to ask questions if you have any doubts or concerns. You may find that they loosen up a bit once you’ve gotten into the swing of things.

Understand the cause

There are many reasons why people micromanage, and control is often at the root of it all. Are they reluctant to give it up because they’re feeling insecure? Do they want to feel (and appear) indispensable? Do they lack faith in their employees?

Micromanagement can be caused by any and all of these factors. If you can understand what is at the root of your boss’ behaviour, you can then figure out the best way to handle it.

If you believe it to be caused by insecurity, think about what you can do or say that will put them at ease. You want them to think you’re on their side. The more relaxed and at ease they are around you, the less likely they are to want to micromanage you into oblivion and back.

Obviously, the best way to do this is to be thorough and efficient in your work. If that’s not enough, start to think politically. Thank them for feedback. Give them compliments on their work, or tell them about others who have commented positively on something they did. It might feel like you’re sucking up, but if these complements are genuine, you’re not lying; you’re simply trying to build up their confidence (so that they’ll back off).

The same tactics might work if you believe the root cause to be a trust issue, but make sure you also ask yourself some tough questions in this case. Are you really delivering what is being asked of you? Has their feedback improved your work? Do you feel like you need to be reminded about deadlines and details? Sometimes making a few tweaks to the way you work can have an immediate impact on the way your boss treats you.

Go the extra mile

No one wants to have to work more than they should, but sometimes the best way to get a micromanager off your back is to go the extra mile (at least for a little while). Show initiative by volunteering for extra tasks or taking on issues that affect the department. It’s also important to speak up in meetings, with your manager and the greater team. Come prepared, and don’t be afraid to ask questions and make your opinions and ideas heard.

The way you communicate can also have a subtle effect on the perception of your output and productivity. Making statements about what you’re doing, or what you’d like to achieve, are much stronger than asking your boss for their preference. Case in point: “I’m going to pick up the proofs of our catalog at the printers today” vs “Do you want me to go to the printers today?” The former implies that you are an organized, self-starter. The latter can reaffirm a boss’ feeling that they have to micromanage you.

Talk it out

If nothing you do seems to make a difference, it’s time to have a talk.

Calmly explain that you’d like to discuss the approval process in the department, and then address the issue dead on. Point out how much all the reporting is costing you in terms of wasted time and efficiency. Tell them you feel hampered, but make sure you always focus the discussion towards finding a solution. More importantly, reinforce the idea that you’re confident enough in your abilities to get some independence. You could, for example, say something like: “I’m really confident about this task now, so I’d like to send you a weekly report now, instead of a daily one. How do you feel about that?” Frame this in a way that illustrates how much time can be saved on all sides.

If you’re concerned that this approach won’t appeal to the fragile ego of your manager, make the conversation about them. More specifically, make it about how a change in approach can benefit them. For example, you could say: “I’m concerned that I’m taking too much of your time, and I’d hate to add more work for you. I’m confident about this project, and will keep you in the loop if I run into any problems.”

No matter which way you approach it, you will feel better getting everything out into the open. Good luck!


Colleen Clarke is a career specialist and corporate trainer. She is also the author of Networking: How to Build Relationships That Count and How to Get a Job and Keep It.