It's obvious that how your boss feels impacts how you feel at work. Are they jumpy, hyper, and it's due to their nature and not the economy?
If they micromanage out of fear and nervousness, not out of a sadistic delight in making you squirm, there's hope. To help keep them calm and at bay, you need to get the jump on them and their anxiety triggers (to clarify, this does not mean ambushing them in the parking lot with a scalding cup of Starbucks, screaming at them to chill out and leave you alone).
Having to adjust your style doesn't mean they're effective and you're screwing up; the crux here is that you can't change them and you have to find a way to manage their neurosis so you can stay sane and employed.
Here are some nervous boss habits and suggestions for mitigating the frenzy:
Do they constantly come around, call, email, IM, etc., frantically wanting updates on your projects?
Keep track of any patterns you notice. Do they helicopter in the morning, afternoon, etc? Do they helicopter before or after a big meeting where they have to report on your work? Everyone, even the most erratic, has a pattern.
If they've handed off something to you, do they still return wanting to make modifications and keep their hand in things?
You can schedule status updates (via their preferred method of communication) or just seek them out before they come to you. Why do this? Usually, I've found that when I over-communicate in the beginning and give them updates according to the helicopter patterns I've tracked, they calm down and back off a bit.
Are they always haggard, repeating how they don't even get time for a break or for lunch?
As hard as this may be, invite them out for a coffee, to lunch, or offer to pick up something for them to bring back to the office. If you do a take-out run, come back and drink/eat with them at their desk.
You read that right. Let them vent, panic, whatever they need. Most likely, they won't latch on to you, rather, they'll like the idea so much that they'll go to coffee or lunch with their peers, which gives you some free time to breathe in their absence.
Another option is if you keep their calendar or know who does, either pencil in a daily lunch / coffee break or sweet talk the admin and ask if they can wedge some time in there so your boss can catch their breath. If they push back, mention how giving the manager a scheduled break will also ease the pressure on them.
The theme to all of these is to stay one step ahead of their panic attacks. You must become their corporate security blanket. If after you've tried any of these tactics and they still hover around, looking worried, try asking, "So, are you feeling okay about this, or is there something else you'd like me to take care of or keep on the radar to help out?" They might say no, or you might receive additional tasks. Regardless, this can help them feel like the ground troops are willing to mobilize, easing their stress.
The Bottom Line:
- Remember, you can't change them, you can only change your workflow to keep sane.
- It's never fully possible to eliminate their neurosis; you can only mitigate it, but that's better than nothing!