Seven signs you work for a toxic boss


Do you work for a toxic boss? To help you find out (and learn how to avoid them!), we reveal the seven signs your employer may be toxic.

According to a Gallup survey, as many as 70% of Americans hate their job, or are completely disengaged from it.

And the blame for this lack of enthusiasm and engagement, according to many of the people who responded to the survey, lies firmly in the lap of toxic bosses – managers who ignore talent and fail to cultivate growth.

Seven signs you work for a toxic boss

If you’ve ever had the misfortune to work for a toxic boss, you’ll know firsthand the damage they can cause – from destroying the self-confidence and opportunities of their team, to costing their business talent and money.

So it’s no surprise that so many people want to escape working for one. But how can you learn how to spot (and avoid) a toxic boss? To help you, we’ve identified seven giveaway signs.

1) They don’t have time for you

We all have busy days at work when we can barely look up from our desk. But no boss should be SO busy that they can’t spare five minutes to help or listen to a member of their team – even if they need to schedule it in for a quieter time.

If your boss frequently knocks you back when you approach them for help, it could be that they feel out of their depth in their role and are worried you’ll present a problem they wont know how to deal with. Or maybe they just don’t care and using their workload as an excuse to avoid speaking with you. Either way, they’re not a manager you’ll thrive working under.

2) They don’t take annual reviews seriously

An annual review is an important event in an employee’s calendar. It’s a chance to find out how you’re performing at work, and identify areas you can improve upon. It’s also an opportunity to discuss your salary and working conditions if you wish.

So beware any boss who ignores your review, makes continual excuses to reschedule it, or whizzes through it in minutes. If they don’t see your review as important, and give it the respect it deserves, it says a lot about how they view you and their responsibility as a manager.

3) They dump, not delegate

A good manager will delegate tasks to the appropriate member of their team, and ensure they have the resources and responsibility required to complete them successfully and confidently.

A toxic boss, however, dumps any job they don’t fancy doing onto the person who is least likely to complain – not checking or caring whether they have the capacity or skills to take it on.

It’s a recipe for almost-certain failure on your part, and likely to leave you feeling demoralised and inadequate; feelings that will be no doubt compounded when your toxic boss inevitably expresses their disappointment in your work not being finished to their satisfaction.

4) They don’t respect your personal time

There may be times when you need (or choose) to stay late or work through your lunch break, but these should be the exception – not the norm.

Any employer who routinely expects you to arrive at work early, work through lunch or give up your evenings and weekends is stepping over a healthy management line – especially if it’s insinuated that saying ‘no’ to the demand is not an option.

We all need, and have the right to, free time. A lack of respect for this right shows that your boss doesn’t care about you, and has no idea how to get the best out of people.

5) They don’t have a good word to say about you

A good boss will use positive language to get the best out of you. A toxic boss however, will use language to intimidate, demoralise and belittle you.

It could be that they’re so insecure in their own abilities or position that they deliberately want to put and keep you down. Or they may just be plain nasty. Either way, a boss who either outwardly insults you (“You’re stupid.”) or uses negative language more subtly (“I might have known you’d mess it up again.”) is one to avoid.

6) They play the blame game

From time to time we all make mistakes – we’re human after all. But besides understanding what went wrong so we can learn from the experience (and put it right), there’s no point dwelling on a one-off error.

Unless of course you’re a toxic boss. In which case you need someone to blame, and will make sure the guilty party feels bad – successfully creating a culture in which no one wants to own up to mistakes, and instead hides them, potentially worsening the situation.

It’s also a culture in which experimentation and calculated risk-taking is avoided at all costs, in case anything goes wrong, stifling innovation and creativity.

7) They’re a bundle of nerves

The emotional temperature of a workplace is usually set by the boss. So if your manager is a caffeine-addicted, angry bundle of nerves and stress, your office isn’t going to be the most relaxed environment to work in!

A confident, relaxed boss finds it easy to get the best from their staff, trusting their judgment and smoothly navigating any setbacks.

A toxic boss, on the other hand, creates an unpleasant working atmosphere, in which they’re unable to make clear, confident decisions themselves, let alone trust those of their team.

So if you start a new job feeling upbeat and capable, but soon find yourself doubting your abilities and dreading going to work, it may be time to move on – fast.

What to do if you work for a toxic boss

If you suspect your boss is toxic, what can you do? If you love your job, and can work around their failings with confidence you may want to stay where you are.

However, if you don’t enjoy your work, or are beginning to doubt your judgment or ability, it may be wiser to move on. It’s practically impossible to change a toxic person (they usually have little empathy or capacity to take on board constructive criticism) and you’ll fare much better working for a more positive manager.

And thankfully, despite the Gallup poll findings, there ARE plenty out there! (If you do decide to leave, you can learn how to write the perfect resignation letter here.)

Need more advice?

You’ll find more tips on how to avoid and handle toxic people in the workplace (and your own toxic thoughts!) in these articles:

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