There's a good chance that your boss isn't a great leader -- such folks are relatively rare. For most of us, a competent boss can be just fine -- but even that isn't necessarily the norm. Per one psychologist's estimate, about 60% to 75% of all managers are incompetent or poor leaders. According to a Gallup report, companies choose the wrong person for the management job about 82% of the time -- and that's a problem because, according to the same report, "Managers account for at least 70% of variance in employee engagement scores across business units."
It's hard to get ahead at work if you're working for a toxic boss or in a toxic workplace, so it's best to be able to identify a toxic boss so that you can consider whether you need to change jobs.
Here are some signs that your boss or your workplace is toxic:
Signs your boss is toxic
A simple way to get an idea of whether your boss is toxic is to ask yourself whether he or she frequently upsets you, scares you, frustrates you, abuses you, or in other ways makes you very unhappy at work. Here are some specific ways that can happen:
The boss micromanages: If you're told exactly how to do every little thing, that can be frustrating and can slow you down. It also reflects a boss who doesn't trust you to do the job well, which is a poor recipe for successful teamwork.
The boss communicates poorly: If your boss rarely makes clear what needs to be done and then is upset that it hasn't been done, no one wins. A good boss will communicate well and make sure that his direct reports understand and are comfortable asking questions.
The boss doesn't listen: If your boss doesn't solicit input from others and doesn't consider ideas and thoughts when they're offered -- perhaps believing that only she is right -- then that can be very unmotivating to workers. It's also a sign that you're not respected.
The boss plays favorites: If your boss has a favorite underling or two and doesn't treat all subordinates with respect and fairness, resentments will fester and productiveness will be threatened. It can kill morale, too, if favorites get plum assignments and promotions. It can also be toxic if the boss's favorite employee is... the boss. If the boss routinely gives himself privileges that others don't have (such as an allowance to come in late or leave early or enjoy extra-long lunches) or doesn't follow rules that he expects you to follow, that can be toxic, too.
The boss is unprofessional: If your boss gets too chummy with you and/or your colleagues, perhaps even leaning on you emotionally, that can make things inappropriately complicated -- and stressful. Being very gossipy is also unprofessional, and can be harmful. Other unprofessional behaviors include cursing and yelling and complaining. Even being too "fun" can be unprofessional, if it gets in the way of taking the work sufficiently seriously. (Think, for example, of Michael Scott in the television show "The Office.)
The boss has unrealistic expectations: If your boss expects you to do more than is possible, that's setting you up to fail. It's a recipe for unhappiness in the workplace and a de-motivator.
The boss steals credit: If your boss is frequently presenting work and ideas to others as his own when they're not, that's a toxic behavior that makes for unhappy underlings. Along similar lines, if your boss does not take responsibility when things go badly on his watch, that's poor behavior as well.
The boss is a sexual harasser: Clearly, if your boss is sexually harassing you or anyone else that you're aware of, it makes for a toxic workplace, featuring anxiety and stress, among other things. This situation should not be tolerated, and if you find yourself in it, you should immediately go to Human Resources.
The boss is moody: If the boss is upbeat on some days and a tyrant on others, it can make for a nervous workplace. A boss who is generally pessimistic and a downer can make it hard to be enthusiastic about your work -- and can be hard to be around, as well. Good leaders inspire.
Signs your workplace is toxic
Any or all of the toxic boss behaviors above can create a toxic workplace, but they're not the only factors that can do that. Here are some additional signs of a toxic workplace:
Toxic coworkers: Think about the people you work with. If one or more of them are doing some of the things that toxic bosses do, that can be enough to poison the workplace. Maybe, for example, a colleague is always stealing credit or a coworker is sexually harassing someone.
Cliques: If there are cliques at work, with some people feeling excluded, that's an unhealthy situation and can keep morale depressed. It's even worse if a clique is a negative one, full of complainers or people who insult others.
Inequality: If rules are enforced for some but not for others, or if some people with noxious behaviors are not called out on it, that can foster resentment and an unpleasant workplace. Some workers might have some poor behaviors tolerated due to the value they create, but that can make others unhappy.
Neoptism: If one or more coworkers has been hired seemingly because they're related to the boss or someone else and not because they were the best candidate for the job, that can be frustrating and de-motivating. If they turn out not to be great at their job, that can hurt productivity and morale, too.
Some toxic boss behaviors or toxic workplace traits will likely remain no matter what you do, and your best response might be to seek another job, if possible. But some conditions and behaviors might be addressed. As a start, you might speak with someone in your human resources department to let them know and get their suggestions.
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