Can a Great Boss Lead to Burnout?

Nobody likes a micromanaging boss. There are mountains of evidence that show micromanaging bosses are bad for employee engagement and office morale and productivity. In fact, when we asked 1,000 people to describe their worst boss, 48% said micromanaging.

But an interesting study published in the Academy of Management Journal argues that, although there is a definite downside to a micromanaging boss, having an overly trusting boss can be just as stressful. Study author Michael Baer, Ph.D. said laissez faire bosses often provide too much freedom without clear direction or performance expectations, which can lead to chronic stress and, eventually, employee burnout.

“It makes sense,” said Krista Pederson, a consultant on Hogan’s Global Alliances team. “The way most people react to an overbearing boss is to stop caring about their work, because they know nothing’s ever going to be good enough. With a boss on the opposite side of the spectrum, the stress comes from not knowing what they expect.”

“If you’ve got an overly trusting or hands-off boss, you need to set clear expectations and frequent status meetings to keep everyone on the same page,” said GA Consultant Rebecca Callahan. “Eliminating ambiguity is going to eliminate a lot of stress.”

Finally, said GA consultant Kristin Switzer, it’s important to distinguish burnout from longer term career satisfaction.

“Everyone gets burned out from time to time,” Switzer said. “That doesn’t mean they’re dissatisfied with their careers. Long term, you’re going to be a lot happier working for a laissez faire boss than an overbearing one.”

Stuck working for the latter? Check out executive coach Lolly Daskal’s advice for dealing with a micromanaging boss over at Fast Company.