Are you a toxic boss?

It’s a well-quoted statistic, that 75% of workers don’t leave their role due to the job being the issue, but because their boss is no longer someone they can work for.

Diane Hall

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That’s a staggering amount! Three-quarters of people leaving for pastures new because their boss is a pain in the rear…just how many bad bosses are out there?!


If I look to my own experience (because I’ve had a good share of bosses, being a self-confessed job-hopper), I must admit that I’ve worked for more poor bosses than good ones. The ones that I hold aloft as ‘good bosses’ aren’t just the ones I ‘got on with’ the best, but people who trusted me to get on with the job without the need to stand on my shoulder, the bosses who supported me and seemed genuinely interested in my progression within the company. In their care, I felt valued, important and in good hands, with regards to my career.


The toxic bosses in my working life showed incredibly bullying behaviour (I would really love to talk about this in detail, but if I want to avoid court action, I can’t); they were micro-managers who couldn’t let anything go without dissecting and criticising it; they were patronising and felt themselves superior to their workforce, never letting a chance go to show who was boss and who was the worker; they were managers who followed company policy to the letter without a shred of common sense in their body, even if the outcome was detrimental to their brand/customers; they had their favourites and allowed personal feelings and relationships to influence their decisions…if I studied long enough, I’m sure I could remember more. And I consider myself to have little experience of bad bosses in comparison to some people.


According to the recruiting company Robert Half, the following eight elements are inherent in a bad boss:

  • An inability to communicate

  • Keeping relevant information to hand and not sharing

  • Inconsistent decision-making

  • Taking the credit for the work of others but passing the buck when mistakes occur

  • Micro-managing

  • Making unrealistic demands of their staff

  • Having favourites

  • Stealing the limelight on every occasion

Do you exhibit any of these?

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Not so much in SMEs (though that doesn’t mean a small business owner couldn’t be like this), but in larger companies, people care often promoted from within the team in reward for their loyalty/time served, yet they tend not to have any of the skills needed to effectively manage people. Yes, they know the job inside out, but if their managerial approach is to belittle, bully or bulldoze over their staff, it won’t take long before the whole team divides and/or leaves the firm.


As well as a high turnover of staff, a toxic workplace may result in poor morale and reduced productivity in the staff that remain (which impacts the business’s bottom line), and it could damage its reputation. The staff member escaping the toxic environment could suffer from poorer mental health long after they’ve left.


In the fifties and sixties, and predominantly in industry and manufacturing, a metaphorical stick was applied to improve productivity. Employees nowadays appreciate more of the carrot when it comes to getting the best out of them. Plenty of soft skills and an understanding of how people interact and behave is crucial in today’s leaders, bosses and managers.


Soft skills include being flexible with deadlines and people’s responsibilities, effective delegation, really listening to the people you manage and supporting them to carry out their role. In some circumstances, if you give someone an inch they’ll take a yard, so the saying goes; however, most people will respect the freedom, ownership and trust afforded to them and will want to do their best for the manager and company in question as a result.


A small business owner should aim to delegate and apportion responsibility in their people, as this is a route to sustainable growth in the business. If the enterprise can never run without the owner, how can it ever be scaled up? The owner is one person, with a finite amount of time. If they were to suffer an illness or be in an accident, how would the business continue without them if they controlled every aspect of its running?


A business is only as good as its people; if you train them well and equip them with all they need to do their job and support them as they work, you won’t go far wrong, and a toxic workplace will be far from your fingers.

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