How do you know that you have a bad employer? How do you deal with them?
We asked experts to share their insights.
Career Counselor | Executive Coach | Author, The Wall Street Professional’s Survival Guide
A bad boss badmouths his or her team
He or she tells you in the interview how lousy his or her team is and that she is planning to fire them as soon as you agree to come on board.
It is easy to be seduced by the flattery — that you are unique and special, that your qualifications are far superior to the existing team of incompetents — but the reality is that if she treats them badly, and speaks disparagingly about them with a complete stranger, she will do the same to you. Any boss who is willing to throw her employees under the bus will do that to every employee including you.
A bad boss will not respond directly to a question but circle around it
If you have done your homework and know of issues and challenges facing the department or company, then you have reason to believe that your future boss is either hiding them or unaware that they are indeed a problem. Sneaky or dumb are both undesirable character flaws in a boss.
A bad boss excludes employees
If your “new” boss inconveniently and repeatedly does not include other colleagues in the interview process that raises an enormous red flag, especially if one or more of them will report to you.
One of my clients showed up for her first day at work and discovered that her assistant, who she inherited, was none too pleased to have a new boss and believed that she deserved the job herself. She did everything possible to undermine my client’s performance.
Owner, Victor Novis
A bad boss always defer to someone else when you ask for advice or input
A bad manager is uninterested or incapable of providing guidance. Employees need to be responsible and independent but at the same time they have a supervisor for a reason.
A bad boss takes personal issues at work
Do you feel like you’ve entered into an episode of a soap opera every time you walk into the office? This is when your boss is constantly telling you about their personal problems. While it’s normal to share a life event it’s another issue when your boss views you as a surrogate therapist.
A bad boss is overtly passive-aggressive
Passive-aggressive bosses will smile to your face and say you are doing a great job but then will complain about your work to other people within the company.
Bosses need to be responsible to confront their employees when they are performing unsatisfactory work.
A bad boss insults you for your personal, religious, or political beliefs
One example is if your boss says that you’re stupid for believing in God. Assuming that you’re not proselytizing, you shouldn’t be demonized for your religious beliefs.
A bad boss complains about his boss to you
This is extremely immature, unprofessional and petty. If your boss has problems with his management he should consult with his management or HR as needed. He doesn’t need to bring his management problems onto you.
Dr. Mark Farrell, FIA
Scholar | Senior Lecturer of Actuarial Science, Queen’s University Belfast | Blogger, Proactuary
I’ve had many “bosses” over the years. From hotel errand boy at 13, litter picker at 14, barman at 16, sawmill production worker at 19 to working for a major bank at 22, an actuarial consulting firm (in 3 different countries) at 23, a niche actuarial recruitment consulting company at 28 and a university since age 31.
Most of these bosses were great and a few were mediocre and one or two were downright awful. From my own personal experience, the quality and traits of your manager can have a massive impact on both the enjoyment of your work and the quality of your output. And quite often your quality of life.
Over the years, I’ve experienced going home with a spring in my step knowing I’ve done a good job that was recognized and appreciated contrasted with occasionally experiencing having the life sucked out of me and seething with a feeling of injustice as a result of my boss.
So whether we like it or not, the guy (or girl) above you can play a major role in your happiness at your work which inevitably also impacts your home-life.
People often focus on salary as the biggest factor in the job market decision-making process. I would argue that the traits and style of your potential new boss are just as, if not more, critical.
From my experience, the traits of a bad boss that you need to watch out for include the following:
Someone that tries to micromanage you because they are afraid to give up control, someone that is unapproachable and hence difficult to go to with problems, someone that engages in favouritism, someone that seeks to attribute blame and last but not least, someone that sees themselves as “the boss” and that they are in charge!
In contrast, the traits of a good boss include:
Someone that trusts you to do the work (e.g. allowing some flexibility and working from home), is personable, fair, supportive and acts as a coach rather than “a boss”.
CEO & Principal Consultant, Medalist Group | Career Coach
There are lots of warning signs that you are working for a lousy manager. For some, these are indications that you should “keep your head down and carry on.” For others, the warning signs signal that it might just be time to move on unless of course, you have that rare leader who is self-aware and willing to grow and learn.
A bad boss is disrespectful of time and schedule
Does your boss consistently miss meetings with you, reschedule at the last minute or simply not recall you were meant to meet even though they have an EA who manages their calendar? This just might be a warning in there. I once had a boss tell me he was sorry he’d missed our meeting, he had fallen asleep! Coincidentally, I was let go a few days later.
A bad boss consistently reminds you that you are not the boss
Sure, you have an executive management position but apparently, your input is not required, not even when it has to do with your area of expertise.
A bad boss publicly micro-manage every minute of your job
Have they physically pushed you out of their way? Have they asked you to do things that are borderline unethical like introduce their best friend to a visiting dignitary or invite family members free of charge to events and give them prime seating?
These too are warning signs; particularly when they occur in quick succession and your boss has no idea that perhaps this isn’t okay. Being the boss means holding yourself to a higher standard, not taking advantage of your position.
A bad boss is threatened with your progress and ability
Does your boss tell you to “stay in your swim lane?” when you actually are in your swim lane? This is a sign that they feel threatened and a threatened boss is going to crush you…every time!
A bad boss does not trust your skills
Does your boss make it difficult for you to do parts of your job and/or reassign your work to someone less qualified or not qualified at all? This may be a sign that your boss does not respect you and what you bring to the table so you are best to brush up your resume and keep your LinkedIn profile up to date.
Founder & CEO, Martyn Bassett Associates
Working for a bad manager can be a real motivation killer. Instead of focusing on doing great work, you have to focus on navigating a difficult personality.
During the interview process, we recommend that candidate’s pay close attention to the following signals for signs that the hiring manager might end up being a bad boss:
A bad boss or hiring manager does not provide a clear expectation of your role
Does the hiring manager have a clear expectation of the role, and what will make it successful? If they are unclear about what success looks like in the role, they will be difficult to work for.
A bad boss or hiring manager is not open for employment or schedule arrangements
What are the manager’s attitudes towards flex hours or work from home days? If they don’t “believe” in these kinds of arrangements, it’s a sign that they don’t trust their employees.
A bad boss or hiring manager does not engage in a two-way dialogue
Do the interviewers engage in a two-way dialogue? Or do they treat the interview as a test that a candidate needs to pass? If they are contentious or adversarial in the initial conversations, they will likely have the same traits in regular meetings.
A bad boss embraces the “swoop and poop” mentality
This is where the sales manager has little to do with the deals in play or helping the team on a regular basis, but when the end-of-the-month crunch hits, they swoop in and start yelling about why deals aren’t ready to close.
This one is difficult to spot preemptively, so we recommend that candidate’s try to mine their networks and speak with people who have worked under that manager in the past, to see if they’d be willing to share their experiences.
Lance J. Robinson
Owner and Lead Attorney, The Law Office of Lance J. Robinson
A bad boss is not open to learning
One of the key indicators of a good leader is their ability to learn. They accept input from their staff and customers, they put this advice into practice, and they learn from their mistakes.
Bad bosses and leaders don’t do this. They steamroll every aspect of the operation, repeat mistakes over and over again, and they make their staff feel undervalued by not listening to what they have to say.
A bad boss communicates poorly
When it comes to providing trustworthy service and a work environment that your employees are happy to work in, transparency is key. Keep your customers and your staff in the loop, and don’t do anything behind the curtain. This helps to build mutual trust.
Additionally, great internal and external communication ensures everyone is on the same page and no one is confused. When your customers call to ask a question about your business, it won’t matter who they talk to—they’ll always get the same answer.
A bad boss cuts corners
One of the worst things you can do as a boss never goes the extra mile for your staff or customers. A good boss will work the extra hours, do the additional work, and do their best to make sure the expectations of their staff and clients are always exceeded. Lazy bosses’ businesses fail, and there’s no speculation as to why that is.
Managing Director, Root, Inc.
The first thing we should acknowledge is that managing or leading other human beings is just plain hard. It requires a myriad of complex skills that are constantly evolving. And to be good, you pretty much have to use all of them, all of the time, with all of your people.
Consistency is important. Given this daunting requirement, it’snot surprising the vast majority of us are varying degrees of ‘bad’ when it comes to managing or leading our teams. But the majority of managers or people-leaders don’t want to be bad.
In my experience managers are hungry for help (insights, skills, and tools) and desperately want to raise their game. Bad managers manifest in numerous ways, but perhaps there are three areas where they most commonly fail.
A bad boss doesn’t understand their role
They don’t understand that as a people-leader their primary responsibility is to be in service to their team. They often mistakenly view their role as a controller or policer of their people. They think that they have to have all the answers and call all the shots.
They tell their team what to do, micro-manage or undermine, instead of inspiring and empowering them to solve problems and deliver results through their own endeavors.
A bad boss often do not understand their organization’s purpose, mission or core strategies
They operate in a vacuum and do not know the big picture of the business. As a result, they cannot help team members see how the work that they do contribute to the team’s or the organization’s success.
If a manager is not making these critical connections, team members struggle to find meaning in their work and it can quickly become formulaic and humdrum. Even when managers do understand the business, they might not be able to communicate it to their teams in a way that is compelling.
Bad managers tend to communicate with their people on a purely rational or intellectual level and fail to engage their emotions. It is important to appeal to the whole person – the heart as well as the head and the hands to gain conviction and loyalty.
A bad boss struggle to master and apply some fundamental leadership skills
They don’t build strong relationships with their team based on mutual trust; they are slow and inconsistent giving feedback; they fail to be clear when setting goals and expectations; they rarely coach their people to help them develop and grow and they seldom show appreciation or recognition for work well done.
Most bad managers are not intentionally bad, they don’t wake up every day wanting to do a bad job, and they just don’t know how to be good. It behooves those of us in the talent management community to help them because the stark reality is that bad managers do drive good people away.
Founder & CEO, Calendar
A bad boss has poor communication skills
It plays a huge role in whether or not your employees are big fans of your leadership style. Not communicating can be detrimental to your employee’s mental health, as well as yours.
Communication is so important because it helps everyone be on the same page and ultimately succeed. Without it, everyone would be uneasy, lost and most likely confused. Not to mention, you would be left feeling stressed because everyone would be coming to you for questions about a task that you didn’t communicate well to them.
Communication on a macro level and a micro level is needed. Meetings would be considered communication on a macro level, as everyone is involved and are communicating with each other. One to one meetings with each of your team members would be more of micro communication. Both are needed for success. Not everything is covered in a meeting for each individual, especially when everyone has such different roles in the company.
Personal communication is also important, even if it’s just coming up to each person’s desk at some point throughout each week just to ask how they are doing. I’ve had former leadership do this, and it really stuck with me because it showed me they cared.
A bad boss speaks with a condescending tone
Leaders should make their team feel important, not like they’ve somehow stepped off their pedestal to speak with you. We’ve all felt that way with some sort of leadership in our life, and it is not the best memory because it makes us feel like we’re somehow worthless.
No one should feel that way, even if they are under leadership. In fact, leadership should make us feel inspired, empowered, and motivated to succeed. Altogether, being condescending would be another sign of bad leadership.
A bad boss discriminates
Whether it be because of your gender, race, nationality, sexual orientation, or whatever the case may be, discrimination is not allowed and should never be tolerated in the workplace. Signs of discrimination are often verbal, but sometimes it’s non-verbal. They can be quiet, subtle hints that make it understood they don’t like you or don’t favor you for some reason.
Either way, it is very apparent when they are treating you differently. It’s a very difficult situation because who wants to go to their leadership and confront them about their discrimination, at the risk of being fired for making such an accusation. It can easily be denied and people can easily be fired, even if their claims were legitimate. It’s sad that this is still a problem, but hopefully, with the laws that have been in place, this will eventually end.
Altogether, there are so many more signs of poor leadership. To me, these are the ones that I believe have the most impact on others. As I said before, knowing what doesn’t work helps me be able to avoid that and go for a leadership style that works well and conducts a successful and positive workplace atmosphere.
Leadership Expert | Certified Professional Coach | Founder, The New Exec
A bad boss focuses mostly on their vision versus the vision of the organization
This type of manager can seem like they’re visionary but really they’re all about themselves. This can reveal a manager’s lack of commitment to developing direct reports but also lack of commitment to their role and organization overall, which can make working on their team difficult.
A bad boss engages in negative talk
Being around negative people is difficult in itself but being around a negative manager is a whole other experience. While even a fearless leader has human moments, being around a leader who projects, puts down, finds flaws, and overall is a nasty or negative person will not just make work difficult it can have impacts on your health and well-being.
A bad boss doesn’t actually work themselves or understand how the business functions
Michael Scott from The Office might be extreme but this boss shows up IRL as well. This person may or may not appreciate work but certainly doesn’t put the hours in actually getting things done.
Co-Founder & CEO, Growth Hackers
A bad boss does the following:
- Micro-managing: If your boss is always behind you and verify every little thing you’re doing, this shows a complete lack of trust.
- Doesn’t take responsibility: A good boss will take responsibility for his/her own mistakes but also for the mistakes of his/her employees. A bad boss will always find excuses and put the blame on someone or something else.
- Will say “I”: When a bad boss talks about achievements, he/she will take all the credits. They will not praise the team or colleagues. They will use “I” vs “We”.
- Doesn’t listen: Bad bosses think they’re right and always have the best ideas. They might give you the impression that they listen to you but they actually don’t.
- Uses people: Bad bosses will use you until they squeeze everything they can from you. Then, they will find someone to replace you.
CEO and President, SkillPath
A bad boss does not connect with people
A manager’s greatest strength must be his or her people skills; the rest is secondary. When managers can’t connect with people, offer positive feedback, coach employees through mistakes, or encourage professional development among staff members, this indicates their people skills must be improved.
The good news is managers can be trained to improve their leadership skills. When managers learn to become leaders, they can boost morale, provide guidance, motivate their teams and create confidence in their decisions and the skills of their staff.
Jon M. Quigley, MS, PMP, CTFL
Author | Speaker | Product Development Expert, Value Transformation
A bad boss covers up conflicts
Covering up conflict is a short term approach that has long term consequences and some managers may not be able to handle the conflict opting for suppression and everybody making nice. This will not likely be a successful strategy.
Rather than suppress, take some time with the disputing factions to understand the root and reason for this difficulty and then take active measures to make this better.
It is likely there is some level of misunderstanding that simply discussing can improve the situation and the action of trying to resolve may reduce tensions as well. It shows the team members that this sort of unproductive conflict will be converted to productive and resolved in as much as it can be resolved.
A bad boss has a high degree of political motivation
The manager that has this highly political motivation may waffle with the prevailing political winds rather than base the approach on fundamental principles related to the work.
The team needs to have some confidence in the reasons why the manager makes the decisions they make. A team that understands the underlying principles that influence the manager’s decisions, are then in a position to make decisions themselves that follow the manager’s principles.
This results in the team being in a competitive position in making decisions congruent with the manager when the manager is not around. The result is that we do not need the manager to make all effective decisions and this is fundamental to empowerment of the team member.
VP of Marketing, Woodtex
A bad boss gives unclear expectations
You might have a bad boss if what is expected of you is unclear or is constantly changing. A good boss or manager will do their best to ensure that you know what you are responsible for and answer any questions you have.
A boss that doesn’t have a clear vision of what they want from you will be unable to effectively lead you to do your best work.
A bad boss is disrespectful of your time
A bad boss may not respect your time. You might notice that they give you tasks close to the end of the day so you have to stay late to complete it or interrupt your lunch break with non-emergencies.
A good boss would encourage you to take your full lunch break and leave on time at the end of the day to create a healthy work environment and prevent burnout.
Artist | Owner, Svitlana M. Fine Art, L.L.C.
I have been working with small businesses for a number of years, which really gave me a close-up and in-depth picture into various managerial behaviors that affect productivity in interesting ways.
A bad boss doesn’t make follow-ups
Lack of follow up, specifically not getting back to people regarding their concerns in a timely manner, is one of many signs that can signal a lack of care about the employees and the company overall.
We get it, everyone gets busy at times, but even following up with a “Hey, I’m under a tight deadline, but will get back to you as soon as I’m able to” or “Check back with me after mm/dd so that we can discuss this in more depth” and actually getting back to them (use alarms or calendar apps for reminders) signals to your employees that you hear, understand, and value them.
Studies show that productivity is up in companies where employees feel valued and that their work matters. What does that mean in terms of business?
Your company gets a whole lot more back – higher retention rates, higher workplace satisfaction, everything that leads to more money for you, all backed by long-term industry studies, but somehow managers are still having a hard time implementing such a valuable principle.
A bad boss engages in micromanaging
Micromanaging should be completely cut out of its existence and behaviors like constant advice, surveillance, and input regarding how things should be done can lead to a more serious negative outcome.
Let’s be honest, no one likes to work in a place where their abilities are not trusted or where they are checked upon every five minutes. You might think that you are making sure they are doing their job, which is fine in a high paced production environment (to a certain degree) but your employees might be wondering why you hired them in the first place if you can’t trust them to do their job.
Such constant pressure on a daily basis can lead to irreversible problems like lack of trust, decreased productivity (the opposite of what you are trying to achieve), health problems (heart problems, depression, stress, fatigue), decreased teamwork, innovation, and work satisfaction.
All of these issues add up to a large expense over the long term because you are creating employees that need to be paid but are not willing to produce the work.
Certified Personal Trainer | CEO, Anabolic Bodies
No one likes working for a bad boss. A bad boss throws red flags early on if you know what you’re looking for. Most of these signs are examples of extremes. They indicate that your boss is too far to one side or the other and that’s not productive managing.
A boss is inflexible and won’t give you any leeway in their rigid structure
It’s their way or the high way. Everyone has life happen and to go to work knowing that life happening isn’t an option is stressful, making for unhappy, unproductive employees.
But the opposite is true, too. No structure at all leaves employees floundering. Employees need rules to guide them as much as they need a little flexibility for those same rules.
A bad boss doesn’t welcome feedback
Feedback is key to improving the quality of a company and the workplace. But if that feedback is all negative, it isn’t helpful or motivational. It makes employees feel like they can never do anything right – which makes them uninterested in putting forth effort. Additionally, it’s important for the boss to be open to feedback, too. If they aren’t, they probably aren’t a very good boss.
A bad boss picks favorites
Favoritism is a quick way to destroy any cohesion in the workplace. When your boss picks favorites, it pits one employee against another and creates workplace aggression and negativity.
No one wants to feel as though they will always be passed over for the boss’s “favorite” regardless of merit. That being said, getting a gold star for just showing up to work tells employees that the praise is likely ingenuine or just for show. The praise should have meaning and be earned.
A bad boss has poor communication skills
Finally, communication. If your boss can’t communicate effectively, then there will be misunderstandings that will likely result in disgruntled employees.
Whether it’s through email, over the phone, or in person, your boss should be able to explain effectively what they need and how they need it. If they can’t do this minimum requirement, then how can they possibly expect their employees to do their jobs effectively?
- A bad boss expects you to know everything. I tried very hard to “fake it till I made it,” but I also had the sense to admit when I didn’t know something. If a boss gets angry or reprimands you for not knowing something when you are trying to learn it, it’s natural to feel discouraged and even resentful toward the manager.
- A bad boss is never around. Is your boss on vacation a lot? Does he take meetings every day, and miss yours? A boss that makes time for you is one that respects you.
- A bad boss doesn’t know the process. This is also common for “bad entrepreneurs.” If you don’t know the ins and outs of your business, how do you run it? How do you know what to fix or create new ideas? A good boss will grind alongside you, especially in a startup.
- A bad boss doesn’t know the numbers. Same as above, except this type of boss will also spend more and blow the budget on useless things.
- A bad boss is just downright disrespectful. The bad character from the top-level will trickle down to the rest of the company.
Founder and CEO, Yael Consulting
A bad boss doesn’t welcome feedbacks
When starting at a new company, a clear warning sign of a bad boss is seeing how the existing workers are comfortable adding feedback in meetings, how the boss asks for feedback and seeing how she responds to it.
A timid and fearful team, where the manager is overpowering and doesn’t seem to care about other’s opinions, is a clear sign that the job requires you to do exactly what the boss wants. This is also a sign that the boss probably doesn’t care about your development or your career.
The opposite is true: a boss that cares about your opinions and takes the time to give you feedback and makes sure you understand the purpose of the role, will set you on the steepest trajectory for your career growth.
Founder, Pinnacle Quote Life Insurance
A bad boss does not lead by example
Coming in late when they expect you to be on time. In addition, the worst kind is a manager or boss who was not a producer or did not earn the job. There are fakers and makers. The fakers talk a lot with no action, the makers show action with minimal talk.
Above all, the most important quality in a good manager or boss is the ability to make the average employee a better one. This is done by showing and giving a little bit extra not by micromanaging. In fact, micromanagers will almost always destroy the chemistry of a team. This is when loyalty will fade.
A true leader will be the first one in and the last one to leave. They will have the dirtiest key on the office. This is the manager or boss that knows that their success is in direct proportion of the success of those he or she is leading. Sometimes you need to roll up your sleeves and jump in the trenches with your group. This is how unwavering loyalty is manufactured.
A bad boss treats some employees differently than others
Playing favorites can have a number of consequences. Micromanaging one employee while giving another a free pass can create uncomfortable tension within the workplace.
Being responsible for the productivity of others requires a boss to instruct and correct their employees. This should be done privately or quietly and the criticism should be constructive.
Managers who insult or humiliate employees in front of their coworkers have it all wrong. People respond far more favorably to an encouraging helpful tone than they do to being verbally abused.
Business Consultant | CMO, Maple Holistics
A bad boss requires you to do something they themselves would not be willing to do
No one in a position of power should require their employees to do anything they wouldn’t do. This is easily shown with any moral or legal conundrum that may arise, you should be wary of anything they require of you that may not be legal or moral.
If your superior is not leading my example it is a sign that they are not a good leader. They should be demonstrating in action the way they want their employees to carry themselves and act on the job.
A business will quickly lose productivity if its managerial staff is not being proactive in the business. Expecting an employee to care more about a business than their boss or manager is an unrealistic expectation.
Owner, Atlanta House Buyers
A bad boss cannot prioritize their work based on financial impact for the company
You want a leader who can delegate tasks appropriately. Let’s say that you have a manager making $60 per hour. These managers should not be spending a few hours per day performing $12 per hour tasks. They should be focused on $60 per hour tasks.
You want to be on the lookout for managers who are unable to delegate these tasks. If they cannot, then this is a sign that they struggle with developing leadership.
Being able to critique people, train them up, and increase their capacity for responsibility are great ways that a leader can improve their team. Developing other leaders is a great $60 per hour task.
However, there is a balance to maintain here. You don’t want to see your manager pulling inventory, sweeping the floors, taking out the trash, and the likes on a regular basis. But, you want a leader who is humble enough to lead by example.
Whether that means hopping in and helping the team with tough tasks, sweeping the floor, or simply listen to the team’s ideas and allowing them to implement them, the teams will respect the manager significantly more.
April Neff, LMSW
Private Practice Clinician, My Therapies | Continuing Education Provider | Speaker | Podcast Host, Be-A-Neff
When we are interviewing for a position, we may meet our direct supervisor, and can best gauge their communication not on the initial questions but the follow-up questions. All interview questions are pointless, especially behavioral-based questions for non-behavioral based jobs. Their purpose is to see how you perform and regulate stress.
Understanding that answers beyond having a surface understanding of the job duties you will perform are merely to gauge how well you will handle stress in a situation where there is no perfect strategy should help guide your answers.
Good bosses are looking for connection, poor bosses are not. In these circumstances, someone that manages poorly will cut you off when speaking, correct you, ask questions that lead to answers they cannot directly ask(personal life, family, or boundary issues).
Their eye contact may be unsettling, “staring you down” or forced. Their speech may be measured or intentionally not giving adequate time for an answer. These would be the first warning signs in an interaction with a difficult boss.
Designer | Blogger, Mom Beach
Bad bosses put down their employees instead of building them up
They constantly throw their employees under the bus as well. My last manager was the worst boss I ever had in my life. He would schedule one-on-one meetings where he would do nothing but belittle my work and tell me that I wasn’t creating enough.
This wasn’t constructive criticism that would be helpful because he didn’t say how I could improve. He would go on and on until I couldn’t take it anymore. I gave him a piece of my mind.
The following week, I was terminated. I spent the next 6 weeks in unemployment bliss without having to worry about this awful boss. I hope to God that I never have another manager as awful as this one.