8 warning signs that you are a bad employer

By Robert Half on 25 June 2021
Estimated Read Time: 5 minutes

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 are 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.

Are you a bad boss?

If you are in a leadership role, it is worth recognising the warning signs of a bad boss, particularly if your staff become acutely aware. When incompetence and insufferable leadership styles outweighs skill and leadership, a promotion to management can suddenly become a very hollow achievement.

With this in mind, let’s take a look at eight warning signs that you may be 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 bad boss. Especially when it comes to conflict management in the workplace.

Communication 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 hone your listening skills 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.

Related: The benefits of good staff morale

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 bad 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, demonstrates their leadership skills with 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.

Related: Conflict management in the workplace

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 leaders do. Bad 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.

Related: 7 key employee engagement factors that really matter to staff

6. A tendency to make unreasonable demands

A bad 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.

Related: Why is employee engagement so important?

8. Choosing favourites

It’s a sign of a bad 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.

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

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