8 signs of a bad boss

By Robert Half on 7 May 2021

In the course of your career, it’s likely that you’ll have the opportunity to work with inspiring leaders, great motivators and wonderful mentors.

These are the people who can bring out the best in you, and your co-workers, ensuring that every team member reaches their full potential to help the company forge ahead.

Unfortunately, not every boss fits this description. The reality is that in today’s competitive labour market, some bosses have reached a position that far exceeds their ability. These are the bosses who put their own interests ahead of the team, fail to encourage growth and development, and create more havoc than they resolve.

If you’re unlucky enough to report to one of these bosses, the situation can reach the point where you start to reconsider your future with the company.

Do you have a bad boss?

It’s important to recognise the warning signs of a bad boss, and not just because it can hinder your career growth. A bad boss can provide textbook examples of what not to do when it comes to managing a team.

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

1. Poor communication skills

One of the stand-out skills of a good leader is the ability to communicate effectively – both on an individual and group level. Conversely, poor communication skills are a hallmark of a bad boss.

A boss who can’t communicate clearly, can leave you unsure about what is expected of you, or worse, see you make errors that could have been avoided with better explanations.

Good communication isn’t just about the way ideas are expressed. It also involves empathy. It’s natural that you or your co-workers will want to discuss a variety of issues with your boss, especially during challenging times. If your boss isn’t prepared to listen and provide support when it’s needed, it’s a sure they are a bad boss.

2. Lack of transparency

Bosses are often privy to confidential information, and a good boss will aim to keep everyone on the team informed as much as possible without breaching the trust of others. This is critical in gaining the trust and respect of team members – 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 create a veil of secrecy, deliberately withholding information from the team to highlight the gap between worker and boss. If this is happening in your office, it’s likely that you feel alienated from your boss, unable to trust them and uncertain of what’s really going on in the workplace.

3. An inconsistent approach

There can be few greater frustrations than having a boss who is inconsistent when it comes to decision making. Having structure in the workplace creates a framework for everyone to follow, and a good leader takes the same approach to the same situations.

Without this consistency, you can face an unpredictable environment. Not only is this unsettling, it can discourage you from being proactive or demonstrating initiative.

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 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. If your boss isn’t so keen to take the rough with the smooth, you can be left feeling resentful that your good efforts aren’t being recognised, while the finger of blame is firmly pointed your way when slip-ups occur.

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.

Effective leaders give their people a level of autonomy that matches their capabilities. When the boss assigns a task to you, it’s important that you’re allowed to get on with it. If your manager is continually checking up on what you’re doing, your personal productivity will suffer. Over time, you could even find that you lose confidence and start to question your own abilities.

6. A tendency to make unreasonable demands

A bad boss makes unreasonable demands on employees – like setting ridiculously high sales targets, expecting you to stay back late at the office on a regular basis, or repeatedly denying requests for annual leave. Nothing will leave you feeling burnt out faster than a boss who doesn’t hold realistic expectations for the team.

Good leaders don’t ask their people to do anything they wouldn’t be prepared to do themselves. These leaders do exist – it just may be that you’re not working with one of them in your current role.

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

Nobody respects a fool, and while some friendly banter can help to build camaraderie, a good boss is not the office clown. If your manager regularly sends out joke emails, dominates the water cooler gossip or takes up time sharing irrelevant anecdotes at meetings, the reality is that they’re ticking plenty of boxes for a bad boss.

8. Choosing favourites

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

This situation can damage morale, drain your sense of motivation and ultimately lower your productivity. After all, there is no real incentive for you to continually perform at your best level. More worrying, this can flow through to your performance reviews, potentially further damaging your prospects of advancement.

In any work environment you will inevitably relate better to some people over others. But your boss doesn’t have to be your friend. Their role is to guide and manage you, and help you reach your full potential so that you can advance your career. If that’s not the case with your current boss, exploring new job opportunities may be the best thing you can do for your career.

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