America For Beginners

Bringing American culture closer to new immigrants

10 Reasons Why Micromanagement Doesn’t Work in The USA

Micromanagement has gained a really bad reputation over the past ten years.

In business management, micromanagement is a management style where a manager closely observes or controls the work of his or her subordinates or employees. Wikipedia

It has a negative connotation and is unanimously perceived as a counterproductive managerial style. People complain they are being “micromanaged to death”. Websites provide tips on how to deal with a micromanaging boss or avoid micromanagement.

There is an interesting website Stop, with one of its posts titled “What do the flies and micromanages have in common? The mere existence of which says a lot about the popularity of micromanagement.

Cultures differ, however. What seems to be disastrous for America might, to some extent, work in India, China or Russia.  Again, to some extent. Nevertheless, I believe that American culture is absolutely not compatible with micromanagement. And here are  ten whys:

  1. Respect. When workers have to deal with excessive supervision, they take it as disrespect. People say, “Don’t treat us like kids”. “I don’t want to be treated like 6 – years old”. “This is not McDonald’s”, etc.
  2. Performance. Performance is a magical word. Especially in a country where your job/job performance defines your identity and is a major self-esteem building factor. Ironically, most people underperform under micromanagement.
  3. Recognition. US Americans are individual players even if members of a team and they need individual recognition. Everything that a team has achieved under micromanaging somehow feels like that manager’s achievement only.
  4. Self- reliance. That’s how most people function at school, college and family. Work place being no exception. You’re used to being responsible for yourself and relying on yourself. When this pattern changes all of a sudden, it’s stressful, not to say more.
  5. Initiative. That’s an argument everyone seems to agree upon – micromanagement leaves no room for creativity.
  6. Decision making. Total lack of decision making, especially when it comes to your direct responsibilities, makes an American worker feel deprived of something they have a right to.
  7. Turnover. US American employees are always looking for something better, a better job included. Micromanagement makes people even less loyal than they could otherwise be. So, it’s a serious risk of losing good staff members who feel unappreciated.
  8. You are actually making your employeeshigh maintenance”. They have 3 options: hate you and leave you, hate you and stay and suffer, or adjust. What’s an easy way to adjust to micromanagement? Become an employee who actually needs constant guidance.
  9. Simply because nobody likes micromanages and nothing good comes out when personnel doesn’t like the manager. Even with generally good results people are dissatisfied. American culture has a high informality level, so a manager who acts as a puppet master has no chances to be popular among employees
  10. Fear. Micromanaged workers subconsciously focus on how not to make mistakes instead of how to achieve better results.

There is an opinion that micromanagement in America is a middle management sin. That might explain the derogatory usage of such terms as “McDonald’s management”, “Hamburger management”, etc.

Barbara Ehrenreich, the author of “Nickeled and Dimed”, describes the world of entry level jobs (that are mostly micromanaged) comparing it to a totalitarian regime.

Here’s an excerpt from Robert Birnbaum’s interview with Barbara Ehrenreich

I did think of prison now and then in these jobs, because you really check your civil rights at the door when you go into some of these jobs. Your freedom of speech, forget about freedom of assembly, any kind of privacy rights. All gone, [when] you enter there. You leave what you thought was America behind and you enter a totalitarian state where you have these rules, where you are being watched, where you are punished for little things.

So, micromanagement doesn’t fit US American culture. Of course, it is not always a total nightmare Barbara talks about, but even a small amount of it in a quiet office space leaves employees dissatisfied and undermines their work performance.

4 comments on “10 Reasons Why Micromanagement Doesn’t Work in The USA

  1. Excellent post, Anna! As a manager in India, I think I confuse my employees sometimes by offering too much freedom, too much “respect” (but I don’t plan on changing that!). They’re getting used to it, and they appreciate it, but I do see that it’s not expected (and that they’ll be tempted to abuse it). They expect a real “distance” between us: I’m the boss, they are the workers, so a personal relationship should be out of the question.
    You provide a great tool here, not just for people trying to understand American work culture, but for Americans (like me) who need to understand the different sets of expectations in the global workplace. It’s a delicate thing to offer freedom and respect when the expectation is for more micromanagement. But you know what I’m finding? A slowly growing loyalty and self-motivation.
    Thanks! -Ron.

  2. gfsimons
    August 30, 2011

    This is excellent. Thank you. Thank you. Thank you.

    Just as a footnote, I am being hearing more and more that Millennials in the US workforce are more inclined to want more detailed instruction and guidance in their work.and that they are less independent when it comes to their own decision making and more reliant on direction from above. (Also as the boomerang generation, more reliant on their parents help and advice) I have no studies at hand to back this up, but it feels like the “word on the street” is acknowledging this.

    If this is the case, I suspect that there may be two factors in the US situation that move them in this direction:

    1–The economic crisis and subsequent precariousness of jobs makes pleasing one’s superiors a very high priority, so the choice is asking for more direction or playing a scary guessing game when one is not clear and cannot get reliable interpretation from peers before whom as well it is not good to admit ignorance.

    2–Workplace freedom, has been strongly inhibited by the legalistic mentality inherent in the dominant US culture. CYA (cover your backside) is rife in many organizations, meaning making sure that if something goes wrong, you are not the person to be blamed. So, getting permissions, tracking conversations, exhaustive paper trails, etc., are a part of everyday life in places where trust is inadequate.

  3. NG
    August 31, 2011

    Anna, this one is really a very good article, and the topic is rather interesting. While I was reading the article, it dawned on me that it is quite natural for Americans to want more freedom and initiative at work and for Russians to need more control, which is preconditioned by the cultures, but I don’t know how long it would take me to realize it myself=) Thank you for the food for thought and for helping me understand what exactly I like about my current job and why I am a bit scared to change it, although I am planning to – that is absence of micromanagement, which is not typical of Russia at all.

  4. Jamie Baker
    June 19, 2014

    Great article! Wish I came upon this under better circumstances, but glad to come across this nonetheless. I have never understood how micromanagers didn’t know they are effectively restricting their employees and productivity. When working for a micromanager you strive to just do enough to keep them off your back, and that is no way to lead people in America. American workers tend to know their worth, precieved worth or actual worth, and if they don’t feel the treatment is worth the added stress or handcuffed their ability to make a difference within a company they will shut down, leave, or conform to an employee who needs constant guidance.

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