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Updated Oct 20, 2023

How to Know if You’re a Bad Boss

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Julie Thompson, Business Strategy Insider and Senior Writer

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Being a good boss isn’t all about work experience and drive. A leader also needs soft skills like effective communication, teamwork and problem-solving. The best bosses carry a badge of empathy rather than ego and power.

Good leaders motivate and inspire their employees to become better workers, which improves the company’s bottom line while reducing employee turnover. In a survey by the Kforce staffing services firm, 43% of workers said they valued management’s appreciation of their work over a clear career path or even making an impact.

Are you a good boss or a bad boss? Check out our list of the top 10 shortcomings of a bad boss. In case any of these descriptions hit a little too close to home, we’ll also explain ways to turn things around and become a good boss.

1. Bad bosses overwork their best employees.

Overworking your employees is never a good thing, but managers often make the mistake of forcing the lion’s share of the work onto their best people. This makes your employees feel like they’re being punished for their hard work; overwork can contribute to employee burnout among your most talented team members.

It’s not practical or feasible to expect employees to work 40-plus hours a week for someone who doesn’t care about them beyond their productivity and output. One of the best ways to show you care is by empowering your employees to constantly expand their skills, push themselves beyond their comfort zones, and pursue professional development. Consider using a tool like a skills matrix to keep track of your team’s competencies and maximize successes.

If you need a member of your team to take on a more significant workload or put in additional hours, it’s only fair to compensate them with a raise, promotion, title change, or all three. Talented employees are usually willing to take on a more demanding workload, but you’ll lose them if they feel they’re being overworked and not fairly compensated or appreciated.  


Don’t play favorites. If new tasks mean more money and prestige, choose the employee with the right skills for the job. Giving a raise or promotion to a worker who doesn’t deserve it can lower morale.

2. Bad bosses don’t recognize contributions or reward good work.

Never underestimate the power of a verbal pat on the back, such as “well done!” or “great job!” Your top team members – who are already self-motivated to perform at their best – will consistently push themselves if their efforts are recognized. 

Keeping employees happy is one of the best ways to ensure your company’s success. For a manager, a large part of keeping employees happy is striking the right balance of professionalism and empathy. 

Great bosses celebrate their employees’ successes, challenge them to learn and grow, and acknowledge and empathize when they’re going through a rough time. Of course, this confidence-boosting culture could empower some employees to explore other career avenues that interest them more, but it’s important to show you care about their success even when they move on to their next opportunities.

Get to know your employees’ strengths at work and outside of work. Ask deeper questions to understand their career goals and passions. Then, even if you can’t give your employee a raise or promotion, you might be able to give them a unique project or have them head a committee that leads to better opportunities down the road.

3. Bad bosses don’t honor their commitments.

One of the biggest mistakes you can make – in business and life – is not keeping your word. With each commitment you uphold to your employees, you become more trustworthy and dependable in their eyes.

If you fail to keep your promises, your employees may come to see you as uncaring. And since you don’t honor the promises you’ve made, why should they feel any sense of loyalty to you? 


Nobody is perfect. If you make a leadership mistake, own it and craft the perfect workplace apology.

4. Bad bosses hire and promote the wrong people.

Hardworking employees want to work with like-minded individuals. If you don’t put the time and effort into hiring good people to join the team – or, even worse, if you promote the wrong people – it can be a massive slap in the face to your high-quality workers.

This is especially true when you hire or promote a poor employee to a management position. In a survey of U.S. business managers by workplace learning company Grovo, 98% said their fellow company managers needed more training in essential and interpersonal skills.  

“When ineffective managers are moving in and up, companies should consider that a development red flag,” said Joris Luijke, vice president of people at Grovo. “Quality management is one of the biggest predictors of employee engagement, productivity, and company culture. Organizations can shorten the learning curve by identifying the specific behaviors of their best managers and delivering bite-sized, engaging learning experiences that turn knowledge into actions.”

5. Bad bosses micromanage.

Managers are in a leadership position because they know the company and often excel at their work. However, this dedication and knowledge can also drive a boss to micromanage employees to ensure perfection. They might even fear delegating tasks because they think they’ll be blamed if an employee drops the ball. 

However, fear isn’t a management strategy. It’s critical to hire employees you believe will meet or exceed your expectations so you can trust them to complete the work. Encourage growth by letting your employees make mistakes so they can self-correct and learn.

6. Bad bosses take all the credit.

Say you have a fantastic team that has worked extra hours to complete an important project, going above and beyond. As a result, the project is a success, and everyone is celebrating. That happy atmosphere is due to the sense of shared accomplishment.

Don’t be the boss who takes all the credit for a team effort. Instead, show employees your appreciation. Take time to thank all team members who contributed and praise them publicly. The more appreciated your employees feel, the more effort they’ll put into future projects.

Did You Know?Did you know

While raises and bonuses are great, employees value appreciation even more.

7. Bad bosses don’t deal with conflict.

As a boss, it’s your job to ensure your team runs smoothly. Unfortunately, if you’re never willing to confront conflict, you may find yourself out of a leadership position. It’s crucial to engage with your employees before any tense situations get out of hand.

Keep an eye on disrespectful employees, and watch for discrimination or bullying among team members. Promote a culture of inclusion and ethical behavior

If there’s a conflict between your employees, take a mediation approach, speaking with each involved team member individually to get an accurate picture of the entire situation. The sooner you deal with a conflict, the more you can improve team morale.

The way you handle conflict makes an impression on your employees. If they see you approach problems calmly and fairly, they are more likely to confide in you when they have an issue with a co-worker, their position, or their professional relationship with you.

Key TakeawayKey takeaway

Not all conflict is destructive. Healthy workplace conflict can boost creativity, trigger stronger ideas, and produce more engaged employees.

8. Bad bosses fail to set expectations.

If you are good at not micromanaging, make sure you haven’t strayed too far to the other side. While employees prefer to make their own mistakes, manage their own time, and reach their own accomplishments, there’s a reason a team needs a manager.

A good boss sees the big picture. They understand the overall project at hand and delegate tasks to complete the job using each team member’s strengths.

It’s essential to communicate each team member’s role, work quotas, and the tools necessary to finish each project. Clear expectations will help keep your employees engaged and productive.

9. Bad bosses don’t advocate for their employees.

Employee retention is a growing problem in many industries and job types, including manufacturers and warehouses, hospitality and restaurants, digital skills, and hourly positions. The COVID-19 pandemic exacerbated the problem, and it seems to only be getting worse. For example, in a 2021 Willis Towers Watson study, 73% of business respondents were having trouble with employee retention – nearly three times the number reported in 2020 (26%). [Related: How to Manage and Improve Employee Retention]

You must advocate for your best workers if you want to keep them. If employees are giving 110% and don’t receive praise, appropriate compensation, or advanced opportunities for their work, they will move on to a company that does recognize and appreciate their contributions. 


Invest in your employees by providing an excellent employee benefits package, including perks like a retirement plan, tuition compensation, paid time off, and a flexible vacation policy.

10. Bad bosses don’t welcome new ideas.

Good bosses listen to their employees. While you might not want to implement every idea your employees suggest, you should still consider their input. Your workers are in the trenches day in and day out; they probably understand workplace efficiency and morale on a deep level.

If employees feel stifled at work, they may start feeling restrained in their personal lives too, leading to a lack of confidence or desire to move forward in their careers. To foster a culture of collaboration and creativity, make sure your team knows that you are open to feedback and appreciate constructive criticism or suggestions. 

Are you a good boss or a bad boss?

Leadership is a process; the best leaders consistently learn, grow, and self-evaluate. Even if you think you haven’t made any of the obvious blunders on this list, use these examples as a guide to ensure you’re an effective and fair leader for your team.

Many great leaders claim they learned what not to do based on experiences with their previous managers. For example, Richard Branson, founder of the Virgin Group, said, “Respect is how to treat everyone, not just those you want to impress.”

Respecting your employees and treating them well goes a long way toward their happiness and success, your success as a manager, and the overall success of your company.

Julianna Lopez contributed to the writing and research in this article.

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Julie Thompson, Business Strategy Insider and Senior Writer
Julie Thompson has spent nearly 20 years helping businesses with their marketing, sales and other operations. This has included developing brand standards, creating unique ways to market new products, leading media outreach and spearheading email campaigns. Her hands-on experience further includes Salesforce administration, database management, lead generation and more. In recent years, Thompson has focused on sharing her expertise with small business owners through easy-to-read guides on topics ranging from SaaS technology to finance trends to HR matters, alongside marketing and branding advice. She has also contributed to Kiva, an organization that helps fund small businesses in struggling countries.
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