- A poor company culture – including a disagreeable boss – leads to high levels of workplace dissatisfaction.
- Bad bosses use intimidation techniques to manage employees. Instead of being fair and demonstrating integrity, they play favorites and have rude mannerisms.
- Consider looking for new opportunities if your boss creates a toxic work environment. Report any inappropriate conduct to HR.
- This article is for employees dealing with toxic bosses or other bad supervisors.
Everyone occasionally gets frustrated at work. But in some cases, the person you’re working for is the source of your aggravation, not the job itself.
When you intensely dislike your manager, that can cloud your judgment about your job and change how you feel about your workplace. Managers often control learning and advancement opportunities, salary, vacation and benefits. When they’re unapproachable, unpleasant or straight-up toxic, your entire work experience is affected.
The good news is that a bad boss can be a solvable work issue. We’ll explore what makes a bad boss and share pointers on dealing with leadership mistakes in a toxic work situation.
What makes a bad boss?
No matter a boss’s leadership type, certain behaviors are never acceptable in management. Bad bosses come with a laundry list of problematic traits. The following characteristics and actions are big-time indicators of poor management skills:
- Being a workaholic and expecting employees to be available 24/7
- Being obsessed with numbers but providing no direction
- Engaging in office politics
Here are other possible traits of a bad boss:
- Bad bosses are poor communicators. Bad bosses often have issues with employee communication. They may systematically ignore problems until they turn into significant conflicts. They’re often rude and offensive in how they communicate. Instead of engaging in leadership language, active listening and inclusive communication, their poor communication skills foster a hostile environment with high turnover.
- Bad bosses ignore feedback. A bad boss doesn’t ask for – or want – feedback from employees. They also aren’t likely to give effective professional feedback. Employees don’t feel the boss has an open-door policy; the boss treats team members poorly if they want to discuss problems.
- Bad bosses play favorites. Bad bosses often have favorites among staff – and make their favorites well known. The favorites may not have a superior skill set, but they’re often brown-nosers or friends with the boss. The boss ignores employees they don’t have a connection with, and they don’t provide fair advancement opportunities. They’re not interested in building a great team or fostering employee engagement and loyalty.
- Bad bosses often have bad tempers. Bad bosses achieve results through intimidation rather than positive feedback. Instead of giving constructive feedback and advice on employee performance, the boss will bully their employee to get the desired results. A bad-tempered boss is likely rude and prone to yelling fits over the slightest provocation.
Things a boss should never discuss include confidential information, disagreements with upper management, and their personal ups and downs.
Dealing with a bad boss
If your manager has shown some or all of the above characteristics, you might think it’s time to start looking for a new gig. However, discussing the issue with your boss or HR manager may be more prudent. Here are some ideas for dealing with a bad boss.
1. Talk to your boss.
The first step is to speak with your boss.
“If you are feeling unhappy but believe there is potential with the company and your role, meet with your boss,” said Mark Stagno, senior director at Planet Technology. “Express your points in a positive and productive way, offer solutions to some of the issues, and ask for ideas to improve things.”
Stagno noted that conversations with some managers may not go well. “They may take it personally, and that can make it difficult to have a productive, honest two-way discussion. Try to prepare your boss, in a non-threatening way, in advance of the conversation, so [they are] not caught off guard and [are] more open to what you have to say.”
Although your situation may not be your boss’s current top priority, chances are they will address it, Stagno said. “You should feel comfortable following up after a reasonable amount of time to see how your requests are progressing,” Stagno advised.
If you ever feel that a boss’s behavior crosses the line, don’t hesitate to address the situation head-on. Document any bullying behavior or workplace harassment. Speak to HR about the issues and incidents. You’ll likely find that HR is well aware of your reported issues with the bad boss.
2. Focus on your work.
Whether your boss is bad because their behavior is toxic or because they lack the knowledge to be an effective leader, focusing on your work can be a worthwhile solution. If you know that your work quality and overall performance are strong, your boss’s poor actions may carry less of an impact. You’ll also give your boss less leverage over you.
Put your head down, do great work, and move on to the next task. You’ll still get your boss what they need, and you’ll feel confident in your work – all while minimizing interaction.
Does all this talk of bad bosses hit too close to home? Check for signs that you’re a bad boss, including overworking your best employees, micromanaging and failing to advocate for your team.
3. Discuss the situation with people outside work.
As a recruiter, Stagno has spent much of his career discussing candidates’ frustrations.
“A trusted recruiter, family member or former colleague is a safer confidant to become animated with, rather than your boss or someone at work,” Stagno advised. “If you often raise concerns with your boss, you may earn the ‘complainer’ label. If you vent to co-workers, word travels, and people talk – it may not be your best move.”
4. See what other professional opportunities are out there.
Set aside some time away from the office to look at job descriptions, interesting companies and work opportunities, Stagno advised. This can help you compare your current situation with potential opportunities so you can make an informed decision. In the end, you may want to seek out a more positive work environment with true leaders who help you thrive. If possible, try to leave on good terms with your current employer.
After leaving your toxic situation, be on the lookout for signs of a good boss, including honesty, self-awareness, open-mindedness and a commitment to their team’s professional development.
Consider whether you’d do better without a boss at all. You can be your own boss in fields like writing, programming, marketing and real estate.
5. Monitor your job satisfaction over time.
Talking about your frustrations in a productive fashion and keeping tabs on the progress of promised improvements over a given period may help you decide whether you want to stay or leave, according to Stagno.
You also shouldn’t feel ashamed if you’re dissatisfied. In fact, research from Gallup found that 60% of people feel emotionally detached from their jobs, with 19% outright miserable. On top of that, 50% of workers said they felt stressed about their jobs every day, and 18% felt angry.
If this sounds like you, Stagno suggests acting on your feelings gradually rather than in a sudden burst of rage. “Too often, people let it fester, wake up one day, and take drastic action to complain or quit or launch a job search without having had some checks and balances along the way.”
Gallup also found that only 21% of employees worldwide are engaged, and only 33% of employees globally would describe their overall well-being as “thriving.” These numbers show how common job dissatisfaction is – and bad bosses are one of many reasons why.
Making the best of a bad situation
People have bad days, but you don’t want to make a career decision based on one. Instead of impulsively quitting or getting angry during an especially tense interaction with your boss, take a deep breath and step away. Then, refer to this list and see which of these tips might best suit you. While you can leave your job or make career changes if your boss is bad, sometimes, the solution is right in front of you.
Max Freedman contributed to the reporting and writing in this article. Some source interviews were conducted for a previous version of this article.