8 signs that your employees think you're a poor boss

By Robert Half on 11 December 2021
Estimated Read Time: 6 minutes

You may not be able to choose your family, but you can choose your boss!

In the course of a career, many of us will work with inspiring leaders, great motivators and wonderful mentors. These are the people who bring out the best in their team, ensuring every employee realises their full potential to help the firm forge ahead.

At the other end of the spectrum lie the bad bosses – those who serve their own interests first, who fail to encourage growth and development within their teams, and who often create more havoc than they resolve.

While the scenario of the poor boss has underpinned the success of mockumentaries like the BBC’s The Office, the reality is that faced with a competitive labour market, many businesses promote staff to levels that far exceed their ability. So the bad boss is certainly not only limited to fictional comedies. In some extreme cases, their actions can even be deemed workplace bullying.

As you climb the career ranks, it is worth recognising the warning signs of a poor boss. When incompetence and an insufferable management style outweighs any level of leadership skills, a promotion to management can be a very hollow achievement.

With this in mind, let’s take a look at eight classic characteristics that are signs of a bad boss.

1. Poor communication skills

One of the stand-out skills of a good boss is the ability to communicate effectively - both on an individual and group level. Conversely, poor communication skills are the absolute hallmark of a poor boss. Especially when it comes to conflict management in the workplace.

Communicating isn’t just about expressing ideas clearly. It also involves empathy. As a leader, your team members will want to discuss a variety of issues with you, so be prepared to lend an ear and provide support for employees who may be experiencing challenging times. A complete lack of empathy is a sure sign of being a bad boss.

2. Lack of transparency

Bosses are often privy to confidential information and a good boss will aim to keep people informed as much as possible without breaching the trust of others. This is critical in gaining the trust and respect of your team - people don’t expect to know everything that is going on, but they do value transparency.

By contrast, a bad boss is more likely to take a cloak and dagger approach, often creating a veil of secrecy to deliberately highlight the gap between worker and boss. This approach will only alienate you from your team and discourage co-workers from placing their trust in you.

3. An inconsistent approach

For employees lumbered with a poor boss, there can be few greater frustrations than inconsistent decision making. It makes it difficult for people to be proactive or use initiative and will only undermine your team’s confidence in you.

A good boss, on the other hand, applies the same approach to the same situations. This provides structure in the workplace and creates a framework for everyone, including the boss, to follow. If it turns out sticking to your guns could produce poor results, be prepared to show some flexibility – but explain your reasoning to the team.

4. Taking the credit, passing the blame

A tell-tale sign of a bad boss is someone who hogs the limelight and takes personal credit for positive achievements but who will then also turn around and refuse to accept any responsibility when things aren’t so rosy.

None of us operate in a vacuum, and a good boss acknowledges that success is a team effort, but is prepared to take criticism on the chin when things aren’t going so well.

It can be challenging to wear ultimate responsibility for the mistakes of others. But that’s what effective bosses do. Poor bosses aren’t so keen to take the rough with the smooth, and this sort of approach can quickly mean being labelled as a turncoat.

5. Trying to micro-manage employees

Good bosses are macro-managers who focus on the big picture while trusting their team members with the tasks assigned to them. On the flipside, one of the obvious signs of a bad boss is the tendency to micro-manage.

Be prepared to give your people autonomy. You gave employees a job, so let them get on with it. If you’re not confident they are up to the task, hand the assignment to a more skilled person, or rethink why you hired the person in the first instance. Then focus your energies on the big picture issues.

6. A tendency to make unreasonable demands

A poor boss makes unreasonable demands on employees – like setting ridiculously high sales targets, expecting workers to stay back late at the office on a regular basis, or repeatedly denying requests for annual leave. Nothing will burn out your employees faster, and ensure you have difficulty in retaining your best people – a major cost and disruption for any business.

Have high expectations for your team. But don’t ask them to do anything you wouldn’t be prepared to do yourself. After all, a good business is a team effort, and as the boss you need to lead by example.

7. Trying to be the ‘life’ of the office

Employees want their boss to be a leader – not the office showman. Sending out joke emails, dominating the water cooler banter or taking up time sharing irrelevant anecdotes at meetings are all signs of a bad boss.

Nobody respects a fool, and as a boss you need to focus on creating a positive outlook and building a sense of camaraderie in the workplace. That’s very different from being the office clown. Why not find out the correct way to have fun at work and advance your career.

8. Choosing favourites

It’s a sign of a poor boss that favourites are fast-tracked through the ranks or continually picked for plum roles or new projects while more competent or experienced team members are deliberately overlooked.

Beware becoming a poor boss

Effective bosses treat all colleagues equally and promotions are based on merit and performance.

This will motivate your people to perform at their best and maintain high levels of productivity.

Sure, you will inevitably relate better to some people over others.

But never lose sight of the fact that your role is to guide and manage your team – not make friends.

Learn from Robert Half’s expert recruiters so you can build a talented team of employees or advance your career. Operating in over 300 locations worldwide and as one of the top recruitment agencies in Hong Kong, Robert Half can provide you with assistance where and when you need it.

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