30 Telling Signs of a Bad Boss to Look out For

Take a look at the warning signs of bad management and learn how to deal with an unsupportive boss.

Reviewed by Melina Theodorou

Bad boss scaring employees

Bad bosses can make you dread getting out of bed in the morning.

We’ve all heard dreadful stories of bosses contacting employees at odd hours, asking them to run errands that aren’t listed under their job description.

Whether you are the one running these tasks or not, spending too long in a toxic environment can make you rethink your career path and have a long-term effect on your mental health.

So, what should you watch out for? Here are 30 warning signs of a terrible manager.

1. Plays favourites 

Workplace favouritism can cause animosity amongst employees. The boss lets Jane take a long lunch break and allows her to leave early but doesn’t allow others to do the same. This kind of behaviour can get on other employees’ nerves and turn the office into an open battlefield.

2. Lack of flexibility 

It’s only natural that on some occasions employees may need some flexibility to go to a doctor’s appointment, their child’s ballet recital, or fix their broken-down car. If you work hard and your boss isn’t giving you the freedom to take some time off when you need it, then it’s probably a huge sign to start looking for employment elsewhere.

3. Micromanagement 

Micromanaging bosses are like that annoying fly that’s stuck in your car that you can’t seem to shake. They have poor leadership skills and think that the only way to be a good manager is to check on their employees constantly, not giving them any freedom to take charge of their tasks.

If you’re faced with a micromanaging boss, you can soothe them by providing detailed notes on every meeting, call and frequent updates on a project, giving them the allusion that they’re in control.

4. Verbal abuse 

Yelling at employees is never okay, especially in front of other workers. If you find that your boss is shouting at you, know that you don’t have to sit there and take it - rise above this bad behaviour.

You can have a private chat with your boss about it afterwards and let them know that you didn’t appreciate their reaction (sometimes managers are so overworked that they don’t realise how they are acting).

If they disregard you and continue to behave this way, you may need to rethink your employment options.

5. Criticism in public 

Public criticism is up there on the list of bad boss characteristics; any decent manager knows that constructive feedback should be given in private.

Whether it’s a performance review, a note about a mistake or a personal chat, discretion is essential. Public criticism can make you feel disrespected and may knock your confidence, giving you a reason to pack up and move on to bigger and better things.

6. No praise

Bad management will never give you praise; they’ll assume that you are doing your job and won’t need to provide any feedback unless it’s negative. This is where they are wrong; all employees need to feel valued and respected.

If you’re unsure of your performance, ask your manager; this will give them a nudge to give you some well-deserved recognition.

7. Lack of vision 

A trait of a good manager is vision and direction; they constantly think of innovative ideas to drive the team and business forward for continued success. This also gives you a clear indication of what you should be working towards and how you can progress within the company. If you find that your boss is constantly pinching ideas off the team instead of offering them, you may be dealing with a lousy manager.

8. No critical feedback 

Not receiving critical feedback is similar to not receiving any praise. Some bosses fear giving bad comments in case their employees don’t like them or lose respect for them. But without constructive feedback, employees can’t improve and progress.

If you notice that you’ve made a mistake, asks your boss for some feedback. Initiating the conversation with your boss can lead to a more honest and transparent relationship with them. 

9. Takes resignations personally 

Employees move on from jobs for several reasons that don’t necessarily have to do with the management of the company. If your boss feels personally insulted every time someone resigns from your team this can discourage others from handing in their notice to avoid receiving this hostile treatment.

10. Hovers like a helicopter 

Have you got a boss that hovers over you and tells you what to do every step of the way (even though you’ve completed the same task 10 times before)? This behaviour can seriously harm your productivity and also takes away any sense of autonomy you have over tasks.

11. Overpromises 

A boss that overpromises is an untrustworthy boss. At first, they seem like the best boss in the world, promising significant pay raises and promotions, only for you to find out that you have received a miniscule salary increase. This can create a lot of tension and mistrust among staff members and can have a serious impact on team morale.

The best way to deal with this, is to request written confirmations of any promises they make, as this can then act as evidence if they deny making any such claims and their tendency to overpromise.

12. Expects employees to be available 24/7

Some bosses expect you to be on call 24 hours a day, seven days a week. Especially if they are a workaholic, and they have no concept of personal time and days off.

If you’re stuck in this situation, you need to set boundaries early on. Let your boss know that you handled all pending tasks before the weekend and that anything else will be dealt with the following week. Don’t let yourself get sucked into the trap of being your boss’s right-hand man.

13. Lack of trust 

If you don’t trust your boss and vice versa, you’re faced with a real problem. Employers and employees need to have each other’s back in the workplace.

Before you decide to jump ship, try and gain your boss’s trust. You could admit where you have made some mistakes and ask for advice on fixing it. This should show maturity on your behalf, and could show your boss that you are willing to take ownership of your mistakes.

14. Inappropriate comments

Some bosses are outright rude because they think they have the power. If you’re faced with a sexist boss who’s making inappropriate comments, you must hold your ground and handle it in a cool and collected manner. However, if the situation gets out of hand and is borderlines harassment, you will have no choice but to report them to your HR department.

15. Expects everyone to be like them

Most people relate to those who are similar to them. However, good bosses know that different personality types are essential to the success of a team.

Suppose your boss is constantly trying to impose their own processes and work tactics on you, you may need to appease them by following one or two useful suggestions but thank them for the rest and go about your day. Show that you value your boss’s suggestions without forgetting who you truly are.

16. Doesn’t admit their mistakes

This might be the most annoying aspect of a terrible boss. They often tell you to do something a certain way; you then discover that it’s wrong after you’ve spent hours following their orders, and they don’t admit their mistake.

They then try to pass the blame to you in front of the big boss. Good bosses spread praise amongst team members during wins and accept the blame when things go wrong. So, if you have a boss who has never taken the fall and avoided any blame when things backfire, you might want to think about moving on to a different company.

17. Breaks their own rules

Is your boss a rule-breaker? For example, telling you not to use your mobile phones during work hours, while they use theirs in front of everyone, for hours on end?

By going against the rules they impose on others, these bad bosses can only create resentment among their staff.

18. Neglect to connect

Does your boss know anything about you, beyond your job title? A manager that neglects to make any personal connection with their employees is probably not a great one. After all, how are your employees expected to feel comfortable speaking to you about anything, work-related or personal, if they don’t even know who you are as a person?

19. Poor communication skills

A toxic boss rarely communicates effectively; they don’t give you a deadline for a project, then ask why it hasn’t been completed a day later.

In these cases, it’s up to you to take the first steps. Ask as many questions as you can until you have covered all areas and have established their expectations.  

Written communication might be the best option too, as you will have evidence of all the information they have provided – including deadlines and the details for an upcoming project.

20. Bodes an air of arrogance

Does your boss remind you that they are superior to you on a daily basis? Or, do they disregard your opinion as an expert in your field?

You can try to find a shared passion to relate to them personally, but if that fails, it might be wise to move to a new company.

21. Loses control

One of the chief signs of a bad boss is them consistently losing control of their team. Whether your colleagues are always on a break or are routinely late to hand in assignments; these are symptoms of bad, if not careless, management.

Every office needs a leader who can deal with volatile situations and maintain order.

22. Indifferent to employee concerns

A bad manager is someone indifferent to the concerns of their staff; a senior programmer might be worried about the long hours of their role, or an intern may have questions about their performance review; whatever the case, an unsupportive boss will likely ignore these queries, letting them go unanswered.

23. Poor track record

A poor track record is one of the main warning signs of bad management and can create a ripple effect across the entire company.

For example, missing quarterly goals on a regular basis could demonstrate your boss’ inability to help your team excel an reach their full potential. Eventually, this can lead to deflated morale, poor productivity as well as demotivation across the office. 

24. Takes credit for your work

Bad managers tend to take credit for their team's work and achievements, even if they were not involved in the project in any way, other than delegating tasks. Not only is this discouraging, but it is also downright insulting, and it could prevent employees from excelling in their jobs in the future.

25. Gossips

It is common for workplaces to engage in gossip. While this is unprofessional and uncouth, it is even worse for your boss to share gossip with lower-level employees and spread rumours across the office.

26. Lack of delegation

Every team needs direction and guidance. Therefore, it's concerning when managers expect workers to merely complete assignments without any delegation from their side.

While autonomous and efficient employees might be able to function without any kind of management and task delegation, your boss should still be actively involved in this process, ensuring that everything is working like clockwork and offering guidance to those who might need it. 

27. Staging the workplace

How many times have you noticed managers staging a workplace at the presence of other executives or high-profile clients? This consists of them pretending to be kind to their team, giving the impression of order, and suggesting there is a collaborative environment. But once their visitors leave, they drop the act and everything returns back to how it was.

28. Indecisive

Is an indecisive manager better than an authoritarian boss? Both are warning signs of bad workplace culture. That said, a manager who cannot make a concrete choice or a specific decision about a particular project will never get things done.

Ultimately, you can imagine a frantic manager scratching their head, unable to offer insight or guidance when asked important questions and advice by their team.

29. Dates the staff

A boss who regularly dates their staff is one of the worst leaders an office can have. This creates an atmosphere of discomfort, especially if the relationship ends on bad terms, but also shows your boss does not respect certain boundaries.

In some cases, they may even be breaking company policy by initiating romantic relationships with their employees.

30. Can never say ‘no’

A passive boss who is constantly saying ‘yes’ may be great in the beginning, but a lenient manager who never sets boundaries, will soon create a workplace where many of the employees are unproductive and unprofessional.

Researchers from Harvard Business School found that the stress of having a bad boss can be as damaging as second-hand smoking.

To combat these negative effects early on, watch out for the major signs and find ways to rationalise with a bad boss, if that’s possible. If not, consider moving your career to a new and positive environment.

Join the discussion! Have you got a bad boss? If so, let us know what they do and how you handle them in the comments section below.

This article is an updated version of an earlier article originally published on 27 November 2017 and contains contributions from Andrew Moran.