The micromanaging boss

Jan. 1, 2013
My boss is a micromanager! He drives me crazy with his never-ending reminders to do this or that, and his constant scrutiny of my work ...


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Dear Dianne,

My boss is a micromanager! He drives me crazy with his never-ending reminders to do this or that, and his constant scrutiny of my work is both demeaning and frustrating. And it’s not like he doesn’t know me; after all, I’ve been working in this office for four years. The doctor is a nice guy and does very good dentistry. But he is a micromanager. He micromanages the other staff members, too, especially the front desk assistants. We’ve considered going to him as a group and asking him to just let us do our jobs and please stop micromanaging us. Would this be a good idea?

Heather, RDH

Dear Heather,

The online business dictionary defines “micromanager” as someone who conducts “close, detailed, and often demotivating scrutiny of employees’ work on a continuing basis.” The micromanager is often insecure and full of fear that if every jot and tittle of the work is not done to perfection, major chaos will ensue. Staff members who work with micromanagers have shared comments such as, “I’m convinced nobody can please Dr. XXX,” or “I just come in and do my job, knowing that it’s never going to be good enough.” Sometimes, micromanagers set unreasonable standards for themselves and staff members. When the micromanager cannot meet his own standards, he is usually quite miserable.

Another trait of micromanagers is that they do not trust others to get the work done. They usually think they can do the job as well or even better than those in their employment. There can even be hints of obsessive, compulsive behavior as they nitpick over details. Micromanagers rarely hand out compliments. In fact, they don’t even think about it. They may think that riding the backs of their employees is their way of showing that they care.

Micromanaging behavior can fall on a spectrum of behavior that is slightly annoying all the way to impossible to work with. As expected, the more intense micromanagers also have the highest employee turnover. In many cases, micromanagers do not realize that they are micromanaging. It’s such an integral part of who they are that they think it is normal. Micromanagers can seriously damage productivity, which, in turn, affects profitability.

My husband worked for an off-the-chart micromanager recently. This manager would sometimes email him every hour to check on his progress on an assignment. The constant interruptions made concentration impossible. He was also known to sneak around the office and spy on employees. Evidently, the manager just assumed that the employees wasted their time goofing off. He was known to publicly belittle staffers during staff meetings, including my husband. Needless to say, my husband came to dread going to work. He was forced to endure intense, unwarranted scrutiny. There were so many complaints about this manager to human resources that the micromanager was transferred off the project. This is a good example of how a micromanager can squelch creativity and productivity.

Before you write off your boss as a micromanager, I urge you to step back and take a critical look at yourself. Have you given your boss any logical reasons for scrutinizing your work closely? Is there any area of your work ethic that has slipped in the past, such as making personal phone calls or texting during patient hours? Are your chart notes thorough and well documented, or riddled with typos and lack of detail? Has your boss asked you to do something that you have refused to implement? Have you ever given your boss a reason not to trust you? Is there anything that could be instigating your boss’s behavior? These are questions that deserve an honest answer, because there are situations where staff members cause or perpetuate micromanaging behavior as a result of their job performance. Too many mistakes, substandard clinical skills, or habitual absences are problems that can cause bosses to feel they have to keep someone under the magnifying glass. Bosses who are not by nature micromanagers can develop those tendencies when challenged by workplace issues.

From your post, it sounds like you and your coworkers have already held court and found the boss guilty of micromanaging. Now you are considering engaging a frontal attack on the doctor about the problem. In this economy with record-high unemployment and few-and-far-between hygiene jobs, I would not recommend such a strategy. After all, the last thing you want to do is to give your difficult-to-please boss a reason to replace you.

I temped in an office once for a micromanaging doctor. With every patient he checked, he picked up the scaler or curette and flicked a little here and there. I’d never had that happen in all my years of clinical practice. I know I’m not perfect, but I could not believe that I had left that much calculus. His “re-scaling” behavior had me feeling like an incompetent weenie at the end of the day. So before I left that day to go home, I said, “I need to ask you a question. I noticed you re-scaling my patients all day long. Did I leave that much calculus?” He replied, “Oh, no, Dianne. I just think it impresses the patients for me to scale.” I said, “Well, thank goodness. You had me feeling like I’d done a terrible job. It made me feel terrible.” The next time I temped in this office, guess what? The doctor didn’t pick up a scaler or curette all day long. And I was glad. My honesty had paid off.

A truly effective boss makes it possible for those around him to succeed. Good managers empower their employees by encouraging creativity, responsibility, and autonomy. Micromanagers disempower their employees and prevent them from growing and improving. It’s like never allowing the baby to fall down, thereby preventing him from learning to walk. The boss is the boss though. Only you can decide if you can adapt to his micromanaging or not. RDH

All the best,

Let’s assume that in your situation there’s nothing amiss about your job performance, and your boss really has no justification for his micromanaging behavior. Here are several tips to help you deal with a micromanaging boss:

1. Knowing that the doctor has perfectionistic tendencies, keep your work beyond reproach. To be successful with a micromanager requires that you truly attend to every jot and tittle.
2. When you make a mistake — and everyone does — assure your boss that you have taken the proper steps to see that it will not happen again. Always explain how you plan to deliver the expected results.
3. When the doctor “reminds” you of something that has been repeated over and over, ask him why he doesn’t trust you to do whatever it is. Relate to the doctor — without being emotional or confrontational — that you are driven to do even better work when you are given some autonomy.
4. Learn to be diplomatic, and praise the doctor’s attention to detail. Let him know that you want to do the work the way he wants it to be done, and you also hope that he’ll be receptive to your ideas as well.
5. Honesty without ambush is usually effective, but not always.

DIANNE GLASSCOE WATTERSON, RDH, BS, MBA, is a professional speaker, writer, and consultant to dental practices across the United States. Dianne’s new book, “The Consummate Dental Hygienist: Solutions for Challenging Workplace Issues,” is now available on her website. To contact her for speaking or consulting, call (301) 874-5240 or email dglass [email protected]. Visit her website at

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