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How to deal when your boss is watching you too closely

Being micromanaged stinks. But there’s an easy way out from under the managerial microscope.

How to deal when your boss is watching you too closely

Bill Gates recently said that as a 20-something in the early days of Microsoft, he used to memorize the license plates of his employees so he could track their hours in the office. As his company grew, he eventually learned he couldn’t apply his personal standards to all his employees.

Unfortunately, not every supervisor comes to this kind of realization. So there are plenty of bosses who will hover over you, redo your work at every turn and even track your hours, lunches and pit stops every day.

This misery—referred to as “micromanagement” in the working world—is a real problem for workers, and not just for their satisfaction, according to Scott Crabtree, who teaches stress management and methods of boosting happiness in the workplace with Portland, Oregon-based company Happy Brain Science.

“Science suggests that autonomy is a key motivator for all of us,” he says. “Micromanagement destroys autonomy and therefore motivation.”

If your boss is eyeing you like a hawk, there are a few steps you can take to try to fix the problem before your motivation starts slipping.    

First, ask yourself: Is it me?

The first step is to find out if you did something to make your boss question the quality of your work. “Are you missing deadlines or doing things that your manager has to answer for?” says Kris Phelps, founder of Tampa, Florida-based Wealth Artisan, who has supervised many employees over the years. “If your manager is catching heat from upper management because of your performance, then that attention will only flow downhill back to you.”

But if you’re making your deadlines, (and we have no doubt that you are), maybe your boss somehow feels you’re not contributing as much as your co-workers, Phelps suggests. Also: Is it obvious that you’re counting down the minutes to quitting time? Or, are you texting or on social media just a bit too much? These habits could irritate a boss and make him or her wonder if you’re really working.

The truth is your boss’s hovering may be more about his or her work style than anything you’ve done wrong. So observe how your boss interacts with your co-workers, suggests Rachel Ritlop, a Florida-based career and business coach for millennials. “Maybe it’s not just you.”

There’s an easy fix here: Just ask.

“It is the manager’s job to communicate with employees effectively, but not all managers are created equally, so it may take additional effort on your part to get to the bottom of it,” Phelps says.  Most managers would welcome a conversation about what you can do to improve your work.

Find a non-confrontational way to address the issue. For example, you may just want to put it in the form of a causal, in-person conversation where you’d say: “I noticed you’ve been watching my work closely. Is there anything you’d like me to be doing differently?” Hopefully, you’ll get an answer to the question: “Who’s the problem here? Is it me?”

Nah, probably not. So tweak your communication style

So you’ll have the awkward but honest conversation with your manager, and maybe you’ll walk away with some solid guidance. Perhaps you’ve already started getting on the same page.

Micromanagement is generally driven by a lack of trust, so keep the lines of communication open with your manager from now on.

Crabtree suggests setting detailed, realistic goals with your boss and establishing checkpoints to relay your progress. This doesn’t have to be arduous, and it definitely doesn’t need to become a huge time suck for you or your boss.

Ritlop echoed that advice. “Ask if you can sit down with your boss for 15 minutes each week,” suggests. “During this time review your top three priorities at work and learn about your boss’ top three priorities.”

This regular communication may help to give your supervisor the information he or she needs to feel comfortable with your progress—so that the hovering can cease.

Not working? OK, time to get outta there

All of this assumes your boss is reasonable. But reason is not often a micromanaging boss’ strong suit.

For example, if your boss is prying into your private life, asking inappropriate questions about your relationships, or you feel like he or she is just waiting for you to mess up so you can be pushed out, it’s time to find a new job. This approach guarantees you’ll have a new boss.

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