My wife works for a small cafe and bakery, and she manages the service staff. Like a lot of small businesses, it is a family business. That means that my wife’s superiors are a mother and daughter, who own the business and run the kitchen, respectively. Overall she enjoys working there and she really likes her coworkers. But there is one complaint that I hear repeated often, even if in different forms. It is a complaint that I think a lot of people have been able to relate to at one point or another: her boss loves to micromanage everything.
This can be nice sometimes, because you are always aware of what is expected. That is, unless the
needs wants of the boss are inconsistent and constantly changing. But that’s a-whole-nother issue. The ever shifting nature of the boss’s desires is something that can be handled pretty well usually. It is the sense that your boss never trusts you to get it right yourself, which is perceived as the reason for the micromanaging, that is the real downer. And this is a common complaint from employees.
But what might surprise you is this: a habit of micromanaging is not only a problem for employees, but it is a potentially huge problem for employers as well. The most common situation in which this issue rears its ugly head is when businesses are dealing with others they see as independent contractors. Cuz the thing is, to be an independent contractor, one must be independent. When a business owner carries his or her habit of micromanaging the employees into micromanaging the independent contractors, the contractors cease to be wholly independent. This can be a problem in one of two ways.
First, the independent contractor may still be legally independent, but the more control that the business owner exerts over him, the more he comes closer to being an agent of the business owner. Thus the business owner becomes liable for the actions of the contractor. This distinction can be illustrated by the choice between hiring a private messenger to deliver a package vs. sending the package through a common carrier such as UPS or FedEx. The difference is that when you hire a private messenger, you are usually telling them not only to deliver the package, but how. Whereas with UPS, you ask them to deliver, but that’s all – they make the rest of their decisions for themselves.
The second is far worse. If too much control is exerted over a supposed independent contractor, they may come to be legally considered an employee of the businesses. This creates all sorts of responsibilities on the part of the employer toward the new employee, from required tax withholdings to overtime pay and other obligations.
I cannot give you all legal advice for your particular situations, and I’m not trying to (I am not a lawyer yet and so I’m not legally allowed to. But even if I was, everyone’s situation would be different, and they would all need to speak with an attorney about their situation. This is my disclaimer, by the way, not to take this article as legal advice). But take this as a lesson in good business practice: as hard as it is, and as unintuitive as it might seem, sometimes it is safer to let go and trust others than to micromanage them. Choose wisely who you want to control, and be ready to accept the consequences of your choice.