The Madness of Micromanaging and An Overwhelming Cry for Autonomy

Eleanor Barlow

When there is an issue in the workplace, we often assume that it is due to a lack of morale. As explored in our previous article, when a sense of morale is depleted, or even absent among staff, a negative impact is habitually experienced throughout. Of course, any steps made to boost morale are positive ones. Yet, a lack of morale is often merely a symptom of something far worse and tougher to cure. There is a big bad bear of the workplace and his name is micromanagement.


The micro-manager is a soul-sucking creature; it stomps from desk to desk, room to room, scrutinising every movement with beady little eyes. Many have felt the micromanager dissect actions, and bellow their demands. No one can breathe, let alone pee, without their say so and we all, eventually, get sick of their nagging and patronising ways. Sound familiar? But after the anger of being treated like a child subsides, and the passion for our work has left us, all that is felt is….meh.

Fedup person alone

The ‘meh effect’, as I like to call it, is fatal to any workplace. At work staff morph into mindless zombies, while those in charge take advantage of their power. Employees are left to feel belittled, distrusted and unimportant, and a daily transition into zombie-hood is inevitable for those who remain under the reign of a micro-manger. Yet ‘meh-ness’ is not usually the result of a lack of morale; this is merely a side effect. It is, in fact, an overwhelming cry for autonomy.

Autonomy is the freedom and flexibility to do your job properly, and research has shown that the higher the level of individual autonomy, the higher the job satisfaction. And as we know, the higher the job satisfaction, the more motivated staff are to complete their work. In fact, Daniel Wheatley, lecturer in business and economics, argues that the greater the level of control employees feel they have over their work, the greater the benefits for the employee.

Plant, coffee, diary

A survey supplied by Glensler in 2013 also highlighted that employees with freedom over their work not only performed better but were more satisfied and, in an additional analysis which examined over 400,000 people from 63 countries, autonomy, and with it a sense of control, showed to matter more to each individual then their pay check. Thus, the more flexible the schedule and/or boss can be, the better the overall wellbeing of staff.

Of course, in particularly routine jobs, such as nursing, autonomy may not be that easy to “allow”, as certain procedures need to be implemented at precise times. According to Gagne, however, the perception of autonomy has a very positive effect on workers. So, how can a sense of autonomy be created in a job which requires strict rules and stringent time management? It’s simple, exchange micromanagement for supportive supervision.

Supervision is the cool caring aunt that, from time to time, points you in the right direction. She presents you with a goal yet provides you with the flexibility to reach that goal in the way you deem fit and in a reasonable time frame. By supervising rather than micromanaging, you are allowing individuals to do their work in the manner they see fit, while still completing it at a sensible rate. Thus, a sense of autonomy is very possible even in jobs that require a large amount of supervision.


Not only has a sense of autonomy in the workplace proven to be beneficial, but recent research published by the journal of ‘Work and Occupations’ has shown that levels of autonomy affect women differently to men. The levels of autonomy of 20,000 employees were examined and, according to Dr Wheatley, ‘the manner of work and control over work schedule was found to be more relevant to the well-being of female employees’.

This is largely due to the fact that, by providing women with a little more freedom, a better home life was created. Women, especially mothers, have very little time for themselves. According to Deni Kirkova, mothers get on average a mere 17 minutes a day to relax. Therefore, having time during their working day to just breath, without having demands constantly thrown at them, can be hugely beneficial. Think about it, for the majority of mums every morning is a manic rush to get themselves and the kids sorted. They have to make breakfast, pack bags, drive and drop their beloved angels off at school, and then head into work. So far, no breathing space. After work, and providing they finish on time and without extra “homework”, they must attend their child’s after school classes or parent’s night, make dinner and sort the house, prepare things for the next day and, if lucky, have an actual social life of their own. If they do all of this, and then have no control in their work life, their 17 minutes of free time is dwindling fast! So, for bosses with a higher percentage of women than men in the office, cool it a little.

screaming woman

Although many men also do the school run, attend parents evening, cook dinner and sort out the house, stats suggest that men actually benefit from a more structured environment, and are less affected by autonomy. Instead, men appear to be more affected by the speed at which they have to work and the actual task they have been presented with. As supported by Matthew Taylor in the Taylor Review of Modern Working Practice, ‘Men were found to be more impacted by job tasks, the pace of work, and task order’, rather than when and where they could work from.

Despite the evidence pointing to the idea that woman desire autonomy more than men it is, however, still a crucial element to all employees. By forming flexible work schedules, morale is boosted, and employees are more engaged with their work. It also allows people to work during their most productive hours. For flexible businesses, it does not matter when you put the hours in, it just matters that the work is done and to a respectable standard. It, consequently, makes more sense to produce this work when you are naturally at your freshest, most alert and attentive. With the ability to work when you wish, you are also less tired as you have been able to sleep/nap when you need to, rather than having to hold-off till the end of a ten-hour shift. According to Circadian, a workforce performance and safety solutions business, sleep deprivation is often the root cause of decreased productivity, accidents, incidents and mistakes which collectively cost companies billions of dollars/pounds each year.

Aside from fewer accidents, incidents and a drive-in productivity, another benefit of flexi-time means that employees will have time to devote to friends and family, which will not only energise them but portray your business as family-friendly.

family, son and father

Some businesses, however, worry that if they permit a large amount of freedom, staff will take advantage. That is why it is good to put in place boundaries from day one. If Mark, for instance, works from home Monday, Tuesday and Wednesday, make Thursday and Friday obligatory office days.

Another issue may be if boundaries between home-life and work-life become merged. If this is the case set ground rules. If employees work from home, set clear objectives. Good staff should recognise that just because they are not in the office, does not equate to free time.

These issues of autonomy can, more often than not, be easily solved, and the benefits certainly outweigh the negatives. In fact, with a study from PricewaterhouseCoopers stating that employees with the ‘ability to work from home were 48 percent more likely to rate their job-satisfaction and happiness as a “10,” with 10 being the highest option’ you could be hurting your business by withholding autonomy from your staff.

student typing


What we can do for you

More often than not, people quit their bosses, not their job.

It is, however, hard to determine the root cause of staff complaints in the workplace, especially when the symptoms of a lack of morale and a lack of autonomy are so similar.

So, instead of throwing money at issues in staff morale with yoga classes and free fruit or firing managers in a bid to resolve issues of micromanagement, get to the root of the issues and solve them quickly with Pansensic.

We work with organisations from all over the world in a wide range of sectors. What they have in common is the understanding that the experiences of their customers, staff and stakeholders can provide game-changing insights. We are able to not just simply summarise data but provide a real depth of insight that is more granular, more accurate and more actionable.

Here at Pansensic, we not only identify where issues have arisen in your business but, most importantly, we can identify WHY they have occurred and, therefore, determine how to solve the issue quickly and effectively, making your workforce happier, more productive and, accordingly, turn a higher profit.

Contact the team today, ask for a demo, or just have a chat and see what Pansensic can do for you.

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