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“People don’t quit their jobs; they quit their bosses.” This has been true of corporate dynamics since the dawn of chargeable time.

A 2019 investigation by TotalJobs found that 24% of employee survey respondents have had nightmares about a boss, and 49% have actually left a workplace on the basis of negative experiences with managers.

There are many different behaviors that can constitute poor management, including being the target of noxious passive-aggression, feeling adrift in the absence of guidance, or finding yourself at the managerial mercy of a bully.

All toxic management tactics, however, are united in that they mar the performance, mental and even physical health of the staff exposed to them. Trouble sleeping and poor digestion, for instance, are physiological outcomes of being regularly over-stressed.

Being able to recognize toxic bosses and management styles will empower you to take appropriate steps to navigate beyond them promptly and seek a workspace with an effective leader, should they manifest over the course of your career.

1) The Control Freak

At best, working under the eagle eye of a control freak can leave you walking on eggshells, afraid to use your innate creativity, and at worst, in a constant state of despair and distress. This type of leader has a false impression of their omnipotence and is prone to hostility when situations have unexpected results, even when these stem undeniably from factors that are beyond anyone’s power to mitigate.

Often dismissive of challenges to their opinions and others’ suggestions, uncompromising leaders can be emotionally damaging to employees. You can all-too-easily internalize criticisms, with the tactics that initially emerged as coping strategies becoming your default professional conduct.

If a controlling boss is negatively affecting your workplace, researching whether their behavior constitutes bullying and/or harassment according to the Equality Act 2010 is a useful prelude to raising a complaint or formal grievance.  

2) The Apathetic Absentee

The absentee boss leaves you with incomplete instructions, unanswered questions and a phone line which almost always goes straight to voicemail. Being given independence in your role can be empowering. However, lacking necessary guidance or information, or being unable to get completed work signed off, can leave you frustrated, especially when it results in unnecessary failure to meet otherwise achievable goals.

A chronically uninvolved boss can be costly to businesses in many different ways, having knock-on effects on overall productivity and performance. Whether their absenteeism is due to personal or systemic disorganization, or general unsuitability for the role, a third-party assessment of the workplace set up — either from the internal HR department or an external HR advisory team — will be helpful in discerning the necessary approaches to restore employees’ abilities to perform their given roles.

3) The Micro-manager

Swiveling in from an antithetical corporate realm to that inhabited by the absentee boss, the micro-manager is always by your side. Ever over-explaining, they’ll often complete half of your every assignment, as a means of illustrating the unnecessary explanation that they insist on giving, checking back in with you about how it’s going via email before they’ve returned to their own desk.

Worse than simply being frustrating, finding that your professional operations are under supervision siege can be actively demoralizing, as it suggests a lack of confidence in your competence.

Micro-management often originates in fear that employees will fail if left unsupervised. Identifying managers’ individual motivations can be key to mitigating the situation effectively. This may involve accessing additional training options for staff, or putting updated workflow processes in place, in which everybody can place confidence.

4) The Pushover

Your holidays travel is booked before you ask to take the days off; your lunch breaks are twice the length they’re supposed to be; your work is completed in your own personal timeframe, and your rapport with your boss has never been better. Whether this sounds familiar or too good to be true, these are all surefire signs that your boss is a pushover.

When your working life is predicated more on exceptions than rules, you’ll enjoy many things that feel like perks in the short-term, from early finishes to free passes when you miss deadlines or fail to meet targets. However, in the long run, this kind of management leads to the overall poor performance of a business. Under a pushover boss, corporate goals go unmet. If every individual in the organization is dancing to their own tune, collective achievements — which benefit everyone professionally — become ever more unattainable.

5) The Stickler

In many ways the opposite of the pushover, the stickler is all about the rules — making you aware of them, enforcing them, and ensuring the correct procedure is followed in full whenever anyone strays minutely from their specifications. While particular ethics underpin most professional operations, humans work together best when we approach standardized guidelines with a degree of flexibility and common sense.

If your boss insists on adherence to correct procedure in a manner that excludes critical thinking, you’re dealing with a stickler. (Consult your policy handbook, and) run for the hills.

6) The Best Mate

You already know that your boss will be fine with you getting in a bit late this morning because you were up laughing at YouTube memes together into the small hours.

And you already know that booking next Monday off for your birthday won’t be a problem, because she’s part of your lunch plans. While many colleagues naturally alchemize into friends over time, it is vital that the initial professionalism you establish with your boss does not dissolve to an extent that the relationship begins to affect your approach to your role.

Although this is not a toxic management style per se, having a best mate boss should be avoided, for best results in terms of your career.

7) The Gossip

Whether you climb up the career ladder is jagged or smooth, the need to navigate — and ascend — a kind of hierarchy is an almost inescapable facet of employment, whatever your professional sphere. Just as hierarchies are indivisible from the world of work, gossip is an intrinsic element of human interaction. When gossip is combined with workplace dynamics, however, this is a recipe for a toxic environment, particularly when it is instigated by the management.

Trust is key to workplace relationships between managers and staff, especially as this relationship often involves the sharing of confidential information. If you need time off work for medical issues, for example, you need to be able to confide this to your boss in the confidence that you do, indeed, have their confidence.

While you may feel special when your boss shares intimate details about other members of the team with you, this is an abuse of trust. Instead of taking the fact that you are “in the know” as a token of your ascension up the office pecking order, begin guarding your innermost thoughts and take greater care in your exchanges of information.

8) The Ostrich

You’re switched on; you read industry reports, and sometimes you have realizations about how company processes could evolve as a result. Ideally, you’d discuss these with your boss, who would be thrilled to implement changes to keep the operations of the business up to date. Unless, of course, you’re being managed by an ostrich, in which case they will have no idea about industry developments, let alone any desire to proactively respond.

The ostrich style of management generally results from being so overwhelmed by the responsibilities of the role that any possibility of shifting managerial focus beyond the day to day and developing the organization goes out of the window. This can be frustrating for employees. If you keep finding yourself shut down, you might find yourself looking out of the window in turn, shopping for working environments more conducive to developing your career.

9) The Mushroom-manager

Midway between a micro-manager and an absentee boss, the mushroom-manager has multiple networks in place to effect great team cohesion and communication, but their commitment to enforcing usage lapses.

Unlike the intricate complexity of a mycelial network — where each element communicates effectively and operates within its immediate surroundings to ensure the efficiency of the whole business — your mushroom-manager’s workflow processes aren’t followed, and task completion isn’t logged, or necessarily achieved.

An operation that could be a tight ship becomes a rickety, leaky vessel, which can inspire employees to start looking to jump, in favor of better-organized working environments.

Streamlining company processes and ensuring that these are effectively communicated with the use of clear handbooks can help prevent staff from feeling at sea, ensuring each individual feels supported and on course for success in their day-to-day responsibilities.

10) The Boardroom Bully

Feeling unwelcome or unsafe in the workplace is unacceptable for any length of time, in any context. Workplace bullying can take many different forms, including snide comments to a person’s face or behind their back, excluding them from jokes, group conversations or activities, humiliating them in front of co-workers or blaming them unduly for problems.

When bullying is orchestrated by managers rather than employees, reporting it is all the more important. It may result in successful claims for bullying and/or harassment by employees, particularly if the abuse relates to protected characteristics such as age, sexuality, ethnicity or religious faith.

Even when no protected characteristics are involved, a complaint or grievance could nevertheless be raised, to expunge the bullying from the workplace culture rather than setting a precedent that it is acceptable.

11) The Passive-Aggressive Boss

Dealing with a passive-aggressive boss can be nightmarish. By its very nature, passive aggression manifests as behaviors that initially seem innocuous, however becoming all the more injurious the longer you endure them for.

For instance, an act of passive-aggression may involve copying co-workers unnecessarily into an email criticizing performance or making cryptic comments about job security when somebody’s name comes up. Carried out in plain sight, tactics typically make the target feel like they, rather than the boss, are the problem.

It can take weeks or months to recognize these kinds of hidden attacks for what they are. When they are evidenced, however, they can be approached in the same way as other kinds of bullying, and managers may find themselves the subject of successful grievances and claims.

In particular, if you have a protected characteristic and the passive aggression has involved giving other employees preferential treatment, employers may be liable for claims of discrimination.

12) The Credit Cruncher

Managers who take credit for employees’ work can often be found within workplaces where there is systemic neglect for the need to praise and credit individuals for their contributions.

Managers may feel the need to demonstrate their own success, due to pressures from the wider business or industry. This can catalyze a range of negative reactions from employees, such as putting less effort into work you won’t be credited for, or becoming a credit-cruncher yourself; blowing your own professional trumpet at every opportunity in a bid for acknowledgment.

It’s possible to break this cycle of selfish self-promotion. When a culture of acknowledgment, appreciation, and praise is engendered, everyone in the team or business looks better, including the boss. Other teams and businesses will notice the resultantly intensified collective excellence.

Putting systems in place to ensure praise is given appropriately throughout a team will boost a collective drive towards improved performance, simultaneously creating an attractive environment for prospective employees.


Dealing With a Toxic Boss

Whether you are already experiencing a situation involving a toxic boss, or you simply wish to be forearmed, it is worth finding out the official procedures for making complaints or registering a grievance.

This differs between workplaces, but, in the case of all individual grievances, the process will be primarily based on the ACAS Disciplinary and Grievance Code.

Employers are likely to benefit from providing employees with accessible guidelines for submitting grievances and complaints. This will contribute to a positive environment by making employees feel confident that they will feel heard, and furthermore can streamline the enactment of any instigated process, reducing possible confusion and complications and cutting down related time and costs. Identifying the right approach to ending a nightmare working situation will enable any professional to take steps towards their dream job.


Additional Reading:

Written By
Pam Loch is the Managing Director of Loch Associates Group in Tunbridge Wells, Brighton, and London. Pam works closely with clients to provide them with expert employment law advice to help protect their business. She heads up employment specialists working across various disciplines including employment law, HR consultancy, and health and wellbeing.

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