Wednesday, February 28, 2024

5 Toxic Boss Signs and How to Tackle Them

One factor that can significantly sway the balance between job satisfaction and sheer dread: is the boss. You know that elusive figure whose mood seems to dictate the weather within the workplace. 

Yet, when that boss veers into toxic territory, the consequences ripple far beyond the confines of cubicles and conference rooms. A great boss is a manager and leader who brings the best out of their team while balancing many factors like team culture, tasks, complaints, and more.

It’s not easy and a great boss often doesn’t receive the praise they deserve!

But toxic bosses aren’t just annoying quirks of the job; they’re like dark clouds looming over an otherwise sunny day, casting shadows of stress, anxiety, and demotivation on their unsuspecting employees. 

Recognising a toxic boss is a proactive measure that can save you from getting stuck in a quagmire of workplace woes. After all, the longer you’re exposed to toxic leadership, the deeper its effects can seep into your professional and personal life.

Let’s see if your boss displays any of these concerning traits.

Micromanaging

Picture this – you’re diligently working on a project and fully immersed in your tasks when suddenly, your boss swoops in like a hawk. They begin scrutinising every move you make, questioning your methods, and dictating the minutiae of your workflow.

How much progress have you made? Can I see it right now? Have you copied me in all of your emails?

Generally, micromanaging is a toxic boss sign and is highly disliked by most employees, but there is a time and place for it. Some workers prefer being constantly checked on to feel accountable and avoid distractions.

But for most, this management style is a productivity killer and is often a sign of an inexperienced or distrusting person.

When your boss constantly breathes down your neck, it can leave you feeling suffocated, demotivated, and stripped of your autonomy. 

Instead of focusing on creative problem-solving or innovative solutions, you’re stuck in a perpetual cycle of seeking approval for every decision, no matter how trivial. This not only slows down your progress but also erodes your confidence and enthusiasm for the work.

Provide your boss with frequent updates and achievements. It will demonstrate accountability and that there is no need for the manager to constantly ask you questions.

Trust stems from openly communicating and keeping things transparent. Express your concern with constructive respectful dialogue, such as, “I appreciate your guidance, but I believe I can deliver better results if given some space to execute tasks independently. Can we discuss a more hands-off approach?

If none of these work after numerous attempts of polite and honest conversations, it’s best to communicate this with your HR team or find another workplace to avoid stress.

Did you know that 71% of workers have had a toxic boss at some point in their careers?

You’re not alone.

Unreasonable Demands

Sometimes, going out of your way to answer a work call on the weekend or an important email past 5 pm can feel annoying – but a good manager will recognise and reward you for your commitment.
 
But there is a fine line between small requests and unreasonable demands. Let’s highlight a few demands that we would deem completely unrealistic and toxic:

We’re moving the deadline of your project from the end of the week to today. You’ll need to complete it alongside your regular workload and stay back until it’s all done – there’s no extra compensation for this.

Or
I’m cancelling the last two days of your PTO that I approved because we are really understaffed. I know this isn’t ideal since you're overseas, but there’s a flight you can catch tomorrow afternoon.

These may sound outlandish, but circumstances such as the above have happened.

Unreasonable demands can take a heavy toll on employee well-being and job satisfaction. Constantly feeling overwhelmed by an unmanageable workload or pressured to meet impossible deadlines can lead to stress, burnout, and a sense of disillusionment with your job.

Keep in mind, that some unreasonable demands can easily break the law and work regulations in your country or state. It’s important to be informed so that you can hold the manager accountable for their actions.

If you find yourself overwhelmed by unrealistic deadlines, don’t hesitate to negotiate with your boss for more realistic timelines.

Approach the conversation diplomatically, explaining the challenges you’re facing and proposing alternative deadlines that are achievable without compromising the quality of your work.

 Find colleagues that you trust and are close with to discuss the issue. They may have a solution or disclose a similar experience, and how they tackled it professionally.

Alternatively, if multiple team members have dealt with similar unreasonable demands, then it’s a strong case that can be presented to your company’s HR.

Embarrassing a Team Member

One of the worst toxic boss signs is belittling an employee for a mistake, instead of notifying them in private and working with them to ensure it doesn’t happen again. It’s never the right decision to embarrass a team member in front of your colleagues or clients.
 
If you notice a manager doing this, and then taking the credit for the recovery of the mistake; you’ve got yourself a toxic manager. 
 
This toxic tactic can take various forms, from sarcastic remarks and dismissive gestures to outright humiliation and ridicule. Regardless of the method, the impact on the targeted individual and the team can be profound and long-lasting.
 
Public humiliation not only damages the self-esteem and morale of the individual being embarrassed but also erodes trust and camaraderie within the team. 
 
It can build an atmosphere of fear and insecurity, where team members are hesitant to speak up, take risks, or contribute ideas for fear of being humiliated or ridiculed by their manager.
 
Moreover, witnessing a colleague being publicly embarrassed can create a ripple effect of anxiety and disillusionment among the rest of the team. They may internalise the message that their manager values power and control over respect and collaboration.

A manager displaying this toxic behaviour should be held accountable by HR. The manager should also be provided with the necessary support and resources to develop better leadership qualities.

Someone who displays this behaviour is often masking their insecurities or deflecting blame onto others to hide their shortcomings.

Hostile Behaviour

Arguably one of the worst toxic traits of a boss can be creating an intimidating work environment. Up to 53% of workers say they have nightmares about their toxic boss and it’s safe to say the hostile manager will definitely be making some cameo appearances in dreams.
 
In the case of a hostile manager, most people would prefer quitting their job than complaining to HR but are unable to because it’s not easy to find a new job.
 
Whether it’s physical or verbal intimidation, passive-aggressive comments, sabotaging projects, or even giving silent treatment – none are acceptable in a professional workplace.

Make sure to keep a detailed record of all hostile instances. Whether it’s through personal messages, emails or verbal interactions, do your best to gather evidence in case you need to escalate the situation to HR or legally.

Maybe your manager is having a bad day, and an instance of hostile behaviour only happens once. But frequent occurrences should be reported to your human resources department or senior manager.

Present your documented evidence and express your concerns about the impact of your boss’s behaviour on your well-being and the work environment.

Resistance to Feedback

A good manager asks their team for feedback and how they can improve. It shows humility, and that regardless of their seniority, they recognise the importance of their team’s opinion and experiences.
 
On the other hand, a manager who acts extremely defensive, deflects blame or makes excuses is not fit to be a leader. Rather than embracing feedback as an opportunity for growth and improvement, they view it as a threat to their authority or competence.
 
Managers with this trait are difficult to work with and they create a culture of silence – the boss is always right, end of discussion. This resistance to feedback perpetuates a cycle of dysfunction and inefficiency, where problems go unresolved, communication breaks down, and the organisation struggles to adapt to change or overcome obstacles.

Don’t make it personal.

Use “I” statements to express your thoughts, and concerns without placing blame or pointing fingers. For example, instead of saying, “You never listen to my ideas,” try saying, “I feel frustrated when my ideas are not heard or valued.” This approach helps to depersonalise the feedback and fosters a more constructive dialogue between you and your boss.

Timing and approach are crucial.

Choose a moment when your boss is receptive and approachable, such as during a one-on-one meeting or after a successful project completion. Frame your feedback in a constructive and non-confrontational manner, focusing on specific behaviours or actions rather than making generalisations or personal attacks.

Despite concerted efforts to effect change, some toxic work environments remain unyielding, and that’s when leaving becomes the most viable option. It doesn’t signify defeat; it simply means you chose to prioritise mental health over a stressful work environment.

Knowing when it’s time to leave needs introspection, careful consideration, and a mentor to consult with. 

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