24 Signs of a Bad Manager at Work in 2021

Home » Resources » Signs of a Bad ManagerUpdated: May 17, 2021

You found our list of warning signs of a bad manager.

Signs of a bad manager are undesirable leadership traits that cause friction between supervisors and employees. For example, micromanagement, conflict avoidance, and credit-stealing. The purpose of pointing out these qualities is to help managers avoid pitfalls and lead teams more successfully.

These traits are the opposite of signs of a good manager and are examples of poor team management skills. Ineffective leadership can have a significant impact on employee morale.

This post includes:

  • warning signs of a bad boss
  • signs of a weak manager
  • characteristics of a bad manager
  • toxic manager traits
  • incompetent manager traits

Here are the biggest red flags.

List of signs of a bad manager

From poor feedback to favoritism to conflict avoidance, here are qualities effective leaders avoid.

1. Micromanagement

Micromanagement is one of the most-often-cited characteristics of a bad manager. Instead of giving staff the time, space, and autonomy to perform, micromanagers over-observe and dictate every part of the process. These bosses demand constant updates that can further delay the result and make the work tedious.

This approach can squash creativity and take a toll on productivity. Employees struggle to find joy and meaning in the work they lack ownership and control over. Not to mention, the need to oversee and sign off on every idea or action conveys a lack of trust.

Leaders are accountable for the team’s results. Anxiety about potential outcomes often leads inexperienced or insecure managers to monitor and control each step of the operation.

How to fix it: Trust your team! Dial back the checking in. Once you and the team decide how often updates should occur, try to stick to that agreement as closely as possible. Oftentimes when managers provide the staff with autonomy and space, employees repay that trust by meeting and exceeding expectations.

Here is a list of project management tools you can use to check progress without disrupting workflows or agitating employees.

2. Failure to give feedback

Delivering feedback is one of leaders’ most important responsibilities. Managers’ primary role in the workplace is to evaluate and guide employees. A manager who neglects to provide performance insight ignores this duty, and the silence denies employees the chance to grow.

Some managers dread confronting staff with less-than-stellar reviews. Others only offer criticism without recognizing positive contributions. Then, some supervisors assume that the occasional “good job,” is sufficient without further detail. Some managers neglect to give feedback at all. Or, perhaps the comments are too harsh, or too unclear. Feedback is an art that many managers struggle to master.

How to fix it: Schedule regular formal reviews on a yearly, quarterly, or monthly basis. Also, make opportunities for more informal evaluations, like one-to-one check-ins or feedback Slack channels. Roleplay and practice delivering constructive comments outside of work to grow more comfortable with the process.

For more advice, check out this list of feedback tips.

3. Inability to say “no”

There are a surprising number of individuals in management positions who are uncomfortable saying “no.” These individuals have trouble standing up to their bosses, other departments, and sometimes, even their own team.

This propensity for people-pleasing leads to issues. Out of fear of disappointing colleagues or supervisors, a manager might accept unreasonable demands and assume promises that are impossible for the team to fulfill. Or, the manager may fail to veto an idea that is not in the best interest of the company or the team.

The manager should be a voice of reason and should not be averse to provide pushback. A manager who is afraid of offending is more worried about keeping the peace than the long term effects of agreeing.

How to fix it: Realize that accommodating coworkers is not a zero sum game. Pleasing one party might inconvenience another. Make decisions out based on business interests, not politeness. Practice saying no so that you grow more comfortable asserting yourself and advocating for your team’s needs.

4. Absence of empathy

A lack of empathy is one of the worst toxic manager traits primarily because this quality lays the foundation for other bad behaviors. A manager who fails to recognize feelings of employees may not think twice about gossiping, screaming, or overworking staff.

In its most extreme form, this quality appears as workplace abuse. However, more subtle manifestations of this trait include bosses guilting employees over taking sick leave or flaunting wealth in front of minimum wage employees.

These individuals also do not care, or at least, do not seem to care about the lives of employees outside the office, nor the ways outside factors may affect performance. While professionalism dictates that workers should not let personal problems interfere with work, we are all prone to the occasional bad day. Significant events like death, illness, and births take an even greater toll, and expecting the employee to show no effects is unreasonable. These bosses treat employees more like work machines than human beings.

How to fix it: Practice mindfulness and self-awareness. In times when you cannot show kindness, then give your employees space. Make an effort to observe and imagine other folks’ feelings. Search for the root of your lack of compassion. Trust yourself to draw the line between being nice and being taken advantage of.

5. Gossip

Leaders should actively discourage gossip to promote a healthy team culture. Spreading rumors and hearsay does not set a good example for the staff.

Not to mention, the act tanks trust. Employees who overhear a manager speculating about a colleague may worry about becoming the subject of such gossip. As a result, teammates will not confide in the manager, causing a rift in the relationship. Managers cannot lend support when they are unaware of team members’ struggles, and team members will not admit those struggles when suspecting the manager will not keep a secret.

Gossip has no place in inclusive workspaces, and managers should strive to make the workplace welcoming and safe for all team members.

How to fix it: Don’t do it. If you would not make the statement to the subject’s face, do not say it to a colleague. When other coworkers begin to gossip while talking to you, either correct the employees or leave the conversation.

6. Poor communication

Good managers keep in touch. Bad managers go radio silent. This occurrence is a problem especially when managers are based in separate locations, travel frequently, or if the team is fully remote.

These managers go days, weeks, or even months without contact before dropping in with an obligatory check-in, update, or new assignment.  Perhaps the boss waits until the last minute to pass along information.

Or, if the leader does communicate, the conversation is one-way. The boss sends an email or instant message, yet never responds to follow-up questions. This manager promises to call back later but forgets to pick up the phone.

The occasional delayed response is understandable, but this manager makes a habit of ghosting the team.

How to fix it: Stick to a communication schedule, even if you have nothing new to report. Set deadlines for important conversations, for instance, replying within 24 hours. Use a communication tool to make reaching out easier and more convenient.

Here is a list of remote work platforms to help you communicate.

7. Over-reliance on employee self-management

There is a difference between giving employees freedom to do their jobs and forcing them to fend for themselves. Good managers give employees autonomy and defer to their judgment, yet still observe and give input.

Bad managers are often unaware that decisions are even being made. These individuals never implicitly command employees to take the reins, yet never make a decision that might mean otherwise. Employees assume that the issue will continue unless someone takes actions, so the staff steps up and solves the problem out of a sense of duty. There are no instructions from the manager beforehand, and often, no thanks afterwards.

This behavior turns employees into managers without the pay or title. Assuming too much responsibility can make the staff feel overwhelmed, unappreciated, and resentful.

How to fix it: Distinguish between manager tasks and employee tasks. For instance, staff can make shift swaps but should not create the schedule, and mediating conflicts between coworkers is a manager’s responsibility. Hold regular meetings and check-in’s and remain aware of the day-to-day happenings of the job. Do not take advantage of employees’ eagerness to help or prove themselves.

8. Disorganization

Disorganization is one of the main incompetent manager traits. There is a fine line between being slightly scattered and being consistently disheveled. Disorganization becomes a problem when managers constantly forget details, lose documents, and miss meetings. This behavior sets a poor standard for the department, and can also cause extra work and for other team members.

A manager must be able to keep their own affairs in order first before handling an entire team. A leader who cannot keep track of his car keys does not inspire much confidence in his ability to organize and oversee a department. Occasional absent-mindedness or messiness is tolerable, but the appearance of being perpetually lost is not a good look for a manager.

How to fix it: Find or create a system that works for you. Take an hour or two at the start or end of each week to organize. Evaluate whether you need an assistant, or just need to get your act together.

You can also use scheduling software to help arrange your day.

9. Conflict avoidance

Conflict avoidance is one of the main signs of a weak manager. Achieving team harmony is a manager’s goal, however trying to avoid any type of disagreement often has the opposite effect. When managers squash squabbles without addressing the underlying causes, resentment can build and an even greater argument may arise down the line. Instead of trying to stamp out any sign of trouble, leaders should teach teams how to navigate and resolve disagreements respectfully. It is the role of managers to lead mediation, diffuse the tension, negotiate, and steer the group towards compromise.

Ignoring the issues will only procrastinate the problem until the situation reaches a boiling point.

How to fix it: Establish a mediation process early to provide a structure for problem-solving. Encourage productive communication practices and teach teammates how to hold respectful dialogues.

10. Unavailability

Managers may not be available to staff during all hours of the day. However, if teammates consistently feel as if their supervisor does not have time for them, then there is a serious problem.

Absent bosses are not aware of what actually occurs in their departments, which can lead to staff slacking off or developing other unsavory work habits. Employees may feel unsupported and unimportant. Being unable to get a hold of the manager can cause unnecessary frustration and worry. Staff may stop reaching out with questions and concerns entirely, which can lead to preventable issues.

How to fix it: Block out “office hours” and be available to staff during these times. Regularly check in with staff. You can also schedule regular one on one meetings to ensure all employees receive individualized attention.

11. Lack of delegation

The non-delegator is a bad boss in disguise as a good boss. The “jump-in-the-trenches” approach can earn staff’s admiration and loyalty during busy times, yet can also earn the team’s ire in slower seasons. Managers who insist on taking on tasks that teammates are capable of handling are one step away from micromanagers.

These managers often take on more responsibility than they have bandwidth for. When the manager performs teammates’ jobs, then the manager’s job goes undone. Bottlenecks often appear in workflows. Not to mention, when the leader constantly steps in and assumes tasks for employees, those employees never learn how to perform the tasks correctly, perpetuating the cycle.

How to fix it: Realize that your role as a boss is to coach and guide employees, not to do everything yourself.

12. Favoritism

An ideal manager treats all team members equally. Bad bosses play favorites. These leaders may have personal relationships with direct reports, for instance, being related. Or, the boss may just like one employee more than the others. Preferences are not a crime, however special treatment is a cardinal manager sin. These leaders give out opportunities and privileges not based on merit or skill, but rather on personal feelings. Preferential treatment is discouraging and demoralizing for non-favored employees. There is no incentive to try or strive if reward and regard automatically go to the manager’s pet.

How to fix it: Be mindful of interactions you have with your staff. Make notes about privileges. If an employee pushes you for special treatment, then have a frank conversation about your need to stay impartial despite your close relationship.

13. Credit-stealing

Credit-stealing is one of the most obvious warning signs of a bad boss. These managers pass off employees’ ideas and efforts as their own, or fail to mention team members’ contributions. Sometimes, bosses behave this way by accident, merely forgetting to give staff a shout-out. Thanking employees in private yet never bringing up their name in public is not sufficient either.

Nobody wants to feel that their work goes unnoticed, nor that someone else is reaping the rewards of their intelligence and effort. Employees have aspirations and ambitions and are not simply a tool to make the boss look better. Staff deserve the chance to advance their careers. Hoarding the applause is unfair.

How to fix it: Be realistic in your role in the project and honestly evaluate who had the most influence on the end result. Pass along the praise and name your employees. Give your team credit, and they will likely give you credit in return. If you struggle to share the glory, then use the phrase “it was a team effort” as a baby step.

14. Insults

Most folks would agree that a manager who calls employees morons is not a good boss. Toxic leaders feel entitled to belittle staff and call employees names. Tearing other folks down masks their insecurity and makes the boss feel more in control.

Insults can also be sneaky and passive aggressive in nature. For example, a boss giving a backhanded compliment, like announcing in front of the team, “It’s about time Frank finally made a sale!” The manager may not even be conscious of the comment’s tone or connotations, and might get defensive when called out. Or, the leader may take teasing too far. Regardless of the intent, the hurt and humiliation is the same. Managers should avoid insults.

How to fix it: Avoid name-calling. If making the comment to your own boss would result in your firing, then do not say it to your staff. Focus on solutions to the problem at hand instead of hurling character attacks.

15. Blame

There is a difference between accountability and blame. Accountability is action-based and focuses on the future. Blame revolves around labels and deals with the past.

A good manager holds teammates to high standards and points out when staff fail to meet expectations. When a misstep occurs, effective managers focus on finding solutions instead of hurling accusations. Good managers assign fault only in service of fixing an error, not to make a judgement on the employee’s capabilities or character. Bad managers harp on mistakes and can sink morale and productivity. These bosses’ first instinct is to point fingers and shame rather than analyze the issue.

How to fix it: Prioritize a solutions-based approach. Focus more on how to fix the problem than who caused it.

16. Excessive anger

Type “bad boss” into a Google Image search, and approximately half of the results will show managers screaming at employees, often with a megaphone. The cartoonish stereotype of a mean manager is always in a foul mood, waiting for an opportunity to yell at employees, usually for an issue that is not the employee’s fault.

Often, these outbursts are caused by the amount of pressure on the manager. Regardless, leaders should refrain from taking anger out on employees. Emotional regulation is a part of professionalism. Temper tantrum sets a poor example of conflict resolution for the team. Not to mention, a raging boss results in high levels of stress and fear for employees. Nobody wants to be hollered at during work, nor walk on egg shells in fear of setting off the boss.

Plus, when the boss explodes, the delivery overshadows the message. Employees will dwell on the confrontation instead of considering the message.

How to fix it: Learn to pause before reacting. Practice meditation, breathing exercises, and other anger management techniques. Plan an escape route in case you need to cool down before responding. If the anger persists, then consider seeking professional help.

17. Poor listening habits

Bosses are busy. Managers can easily get distracted when there are one hundred things running through their minds. However, when poor listening habits become a pattern, problems arise. Employees are unlikely to feel heard or valued when managers interrupt or make team members explain for the fifth time. Having repeat conversations wastes time and causes frustration. Plus, half-listening can lead to misunderstandings and mistakes. Most importantly of all, bad listening hygiene sends the message that managers do not care about the staff.

How to fix it: Practice active listening tactics, such as repeating phrases back to the employee. If busy or distracted, then reschedule the conversation for a better time. Make an effort to hear and understand employees.

18. Tunnel vision

Managers serve as links between teams and the rest of the company. Effective managers act as liaisons that translate and compromise between the organization and the group. No department operates in a vacuum. Decisions that inconvenience or may not make sense to one team might exist to keep operations running smoothly. Managers are often privy to information that employees are not aware of. Part of a manager’s duty is to relay the reasoning behind these choices to the team and help direct reports understand the bigger picture.

However, occasionally managers pursue their own goals single mindedly, to the detriment of other departments. These managers aggressively pursue their own objectives and do not show much concern for the needs of other teams. These bosses protect their own teams at all costs, making excuses or covering their employees’ errors. They hoard resources or refuse to help other departments. Direct reports may love these bosses for taking care of them, yet these individuals win few fans throughout the rest of the company. Treating coworkers like competitors benefits the boss at the expense of the company’s wellbeing. The organization cannot succeed if only one team prevails.

How to fix it: Think on a grander scale. Pretend you’re getting transferred to a different department tomorrow, and ask yourself whether or not your new colleagues would welcome you if you acted this way. Build relationships with coworkers in other departments and communicate regularly. Forming a rapport will help you empathize with colleagues more.

19. Manipulation

The role of managers is to unite the workforce around a common mission, yet some bosses pit co-workers against each other. This behavior sometimes comes from a misguided notion that rivalry will elicit the team’s best performance, when in reality over-competition among peers prevents proper teamwork.

Or, the boss may just seem to like stirring up conflict. Positions of power tend to attract narcissists. These individuals tend to be addicted to drama, and feel most in control when causing chaos or influencing normally rational folks to act out.

However, manipulation is not always so sinister or obvious. Often the trait manifests itself as passive-aggression, in the form of guilt or snippy comments. Or, the behavior may even seem benign. For example, the boss might beg or ask favors, persisting after the coworker declines, or appeal to the employee’s emotions. “Can you please work this weekend? I promised my son I’d take him to the zoo and I just stand the thought of him in tears.”

While this sort of aggressive persuasion can be quite effective, it comes at the expense of eroding employees’ trust. Real managers motivate, not manipulate. The difference between the two tactics is that motivation is rooted in honesty and benefits employees, while manipulation is sneaky and self-serving.

How to fix it: Be mindful of staff’s reactions and signs of resistance. Don’t ask them to do stuff beyond job description, and accept no when they do– Don’t beg– be clear and transparent– can also appeal to them by explaining reasoning–

20. Unquestionable authority

Authoritarianism is often cited to be the least effective leadership style. Bad bosses operate like dictators, demanding respect and obedience and punishing anyone who challenges their authority. The boss’s word is the way, and discussion or disagreement is not allowed. Employees become order-takers and learn not to ask questions or offer opposing ideas.

This atmosphere stifles innovation and creativity. A lack of checks on authority is also bad for the health of the organization. Bosses are not infallible at making poor choices, yet employees will not bring up concerns when conditioned not to speak up.

How to fix it: Foster two-way feedback and give employees advice. Acknowledge the ability to be wrong. Encourage debate and conversations. When enacting authority, explain your reasoning so that employees understand the logic behind decisions.

21. Unprofessional behavior

Unprofessional behavior is a catch-all for bad bosses. Sexism and racism are the most extreme iterations. Other examples include disregarding the dress code, slacking, disrespecting higher management, and excessively tending to personal matters on the clock. Left unchecked, these behaviors can embolden other employees to misbehave and ignore the rules. Such actions can also cause unnecessary conflicts and stress for staff.

How to fix it: Study and adhere to company policies. Keep professionalism at the top of your mind at all times. When in doubt, err on the side of formality.

22. No team building

Neglecting team building is not the worst thing a manager can do, but is also not the best. Ineffective managers make no efforts to help the staff get along. These bosses treat team members like individual employees, and ignore the lack of camaraderie or teamwork in the workplace. While any team member can take the initiative to plan outings or spark up conversations, it is ultimately the manager’s responsibility to turn the group into one cohesive unit.

How to fix it: Plan and participate in team building games. Identify and make an effort to include outlying team members. Run simple and quick team building exercises like ice breaker games or improv games.

23. Appearance-obsessed

These managers care more about reputation than reality. Shallow and insecure, these bosses are more concerned with being popular and well-liked than being effective. This leader may push the team to hit numbers and quotas just to look better to the big bosses and company at large, with no regard to worker wellbeing. Or, maybe these managers fudge the numbers altogether, or stage a setup that makes the workplace appear more functional than normal. Perhaps these managers pretend to be nice to staff only when higher ups or coworkers are around.

On the more innocent side of the scale, the manager may try to be a “cool boss,” and gain approval. These individuals aim to be well-liked rather than respected. They believe that their image and reputation take precedence over actual results.

How to fix it: Choose meaningful standards of measurements. Angle for results over good advertising, even if those results take time to materialize. Also, solicit honest feedback from peers and staff. When you receive feedback regularly, you will be less obsessed with impressing others or avoiding scorn.

24. Date or hit on staff

Many companies have rules against managers dating subordinates, for good reason. The power imbalance between bosses and employees means that the pair can never be on equal footing. Skeptics say that companies primarily aim to avoid lawsuits, yet organizations also try to protect staff who might feel obligated to date a boss to avoid career repercussions.

Love does not always follow the rules, and feelings may blossom between supervisors and staff. While it is typically advisable to avoid these kinds of situations, bosses who choose to date employees should follow company rules and procedures. For example, the couple should disclose the relationship to HR if required. Also, as a general best practice, managers should not pursue employees or flirt with staff.

Bosses who date employees against company rules almost universally fall into the bad manager category. This behavior is dishonest and endangers the employee and the company.

Also, a manager serially dating subordinates can signal a lack of boundaries and professionalism.

How to fix it: Avoid flirting, even in a joking manner. Remain alert if employees come on to you. If a relationship does develop, be professional and honest about it and take steps to remain compliant with company policy.

Here is a guide on navigating office romance as a boss.

Final Thoughts

Inexperience causes many young supervisors to exhibit weak manager skills. However, leaders of any age are prone to personality flaws and bad habits. Plus, bosses are human, and humans have bad days. However, when the bad days outweigh the good, chances are that the leader is not a good boss. The good news is that self-improvement is possible and almost all flaws are fixable. With self-awareness and hard work, bad bosses can become better. The only truly bad boss is one who is unwilling to change.

For more tips on becoming a better supervisor check out these lists of management books and leadership books.

FAQ: Bad managers

Here are answers to common questions about poor management.

What are the signs of a bad manager?

Signs of a bad manager include micromanagement, manipulation, blame, and excessive anger.

What makes a toxic boss?

A lack of self-awareness is one of the main traits that make a toxic boss. What distinguishes a weak manager from a toxic manager is that while inexperienced managers are often aware of their flaws and take steps to grow, toxic bosses often refuse to acknowledge or work on flaws. These lousy bosses may even delight in seeing employees miserable.

How can you tell if your employees dislike you?

Body language is one of the surest indicators of inner feelings. If your employees flinch or hide from you, then they are probably scared. Rolling eyes is a cause of disdain. Tensing up is a sign of discomfort or frustration.

While poor performance may not always be due to a bad manager, resistance and a lack of cooperation can communicate dislike or a lack of respect. High turnover, while not always a symptom of poor management, can also signal a problem with your approach.

How can you become a better manager?

First, identify and own up to your weaknesses. Then, take steps to counteract your flaws and improve. Continue to learn, especially by reading management books, seeking feedback from your bosses, and attending leadership training.

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Author: Angela Robinson

Team building content expert. Angela has a Master of Fine Arts in Creative Writing and worked as a community manager with Yelp to plan events for businesses.

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Comments & Reactions
  1. Jane
    July 12, 2021 at 11:13 pm

    I have a bad manager, I asked him for more staff to be present for sales calls & he said it be better when the other lady comes back in a month, it won’t get better as they masking the problem not fixing it.
    I could tell them how to run their company.
    Have 5 staff on sales & know where they are, don’t all have morning tea or lunch together, shouldnt be allowed to go places without permission, quite a lot of time this is personal stuff that could be done after work, I do this & it works well, have a light system that the person can see on the board red for out, orange for DND & green for in, I slowly get REALLY ANNOYED as there are 4 or 5 staff that don’t even know the products for sales calls, useless,

    Reply
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