10 Signs That You Have a Toxic Boss

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toxic bos

Studies show that the number one reason that people leave a job is because they don’t like their boss. With that being the case, having a good boss is critical to having a good experience at work.

And if you’re reading this article, there’s a good chance that you have some concerns about your boss, and that you may not be enjoying your job as a result.

To help you assess whether or not you do have a truly toxic boss, this article defines what it means for a boss to be toxic, and walks you through ten signs that you boss may be toxic.

What Does It Mean to Have a Toxic Boss?

A toxic boss is someone in a people management role that is not only an ineffective leader, but one that also causes emotional damage to their direct reports.

Notice that when I think about a toxic boss, it goes beyond just being ineffective. There are managers out there that struggle with basic management responsibilities like setting clear goals, defining roles and responsibilities, and helping people understand how their job relates to the big picture. 

However, a manager that is just ineffective I don’t think is necessarily toxic. In my view, to be a toxic manager, you are someone that exudes behavior that results in ineffectiveness but is damaging beyond simply the result in team productivity.

Toxic managers commonly abuse their power, don’t have your back, can’t be trusted, and are even sometimes unethical. All of those factors lead to emotional stress and a bad work environment.

What Are Signs That Your Boss is Toxic?

1. They Demean You Personally

Quite possibly the top sign of a toxic boss is a manager that demeans you personally. It is normal behavior for a manager to provide coaching and feedback, and even criticize work that is not up to standards. However, the point that is crosses the line and becomes toxic is when a manager takes his or her feedback beyond the work itself and insults you personally in some way.

2. They Don’t Respect Boundaries

A toxic boss may expect you to always be available and immediately respond to their needs when they need it. They don’t respect separation of work and life and may expect unreasonably short reply times or action item completion times that overlap with your personal life.

3. They Throw People Under the Bus

Some of the worst bosses and colleagues are those that take credit for team successes and blame others for team failures. A toxic boss is one that will throw you under the bus to others when a project doesn’t go as expected, rather than taking ownership for their role in that as a team lead.

4. They Are Dishonest

A major sign of a toxic boss is dishonesty. If you see a boss lie about something, even a small thing, that can be a major red flag, and a sign that you may not be able to trust them on the bigger things.

5. They Don’t Care About You as a Person

Toxic bosses often view their people as means to an end. They view their team as folks that are there to help them achieve the goals that they want to achieve, rather than as people to lead and look out for. A perspective like that tends to cascade into some of the other signs on this list as well, like a lack of respect for boundaries, throwing people under the boss, and others.

A possible sign that a boss doesn’t care about you personally is if they don’t actually know anything about you outside of work. If they never take the time to learn anything about you, your interests, or your family, that could be a sign that they mostly just care about your work output.

6. They Put Unreasonable Pressure on You

Particularly in the venture-backed tech world, growth goals are getting more and more aggressive and are often absurd. Those goals come with a lot of pressure that gets pushed down through the organization. A toxic boss will make you feel the weight of those goals in a way that is detrimental to your work. They’ll make you feel that pressure to the point that you dread meetings with them because they’re pushing you about it every day.

Ideally, a manager fights for reasonable targets, and works to equip you to achieve the goals that you need to achieve.

7. They Micromanage You

A toxic boss is often a micromanager. That basically means that they dictate exactly how they want things done, insert themselves into the details of various projects, and don’t trust your ability to get it done on your own.

8. They Don’t Provide Needed Resources

A good boss is one that provides the resources that you need to hit what are hopefully reasonable objectives. A toxic boss doesn’t worry about setting you up for success, and doesn’t fight to get you the resources done that you realistically need to achieve your goals.

9. They Make Everything Seem Like a Fire Drill

A sign of a toxic boss is when every project feels like a first drill. It’s when things are not planned sufficiently, when roles are not clear, and when folks are constantly in a panic to get things done.

10. Other People Feel the Same Way As You

The final and possibly most important sign that you have a toxic boss is that other people on your team or at your organization feel the same way as you do. When multiple people agree that a boss is toxic, that’s a good sign that what you’re feeling is legitimate.

What To Do If Your Boss is Toxic?

If you find yourself in a situation where you think you have a toxic boss, you’re in a tough spot and will need to decide what to do.

What I would recommend is that if you find that your boss exudes one or two of the characteristics of a toxic boss, but is otherwise reasonable, then the situation may be salvageable. In that case, having a conversation with your boss about that behavior could be a good way to improve that working relationship.

However, if you find that your boss displays multiple signs of being a toxic boss, then I would recommend starting to starting to apply to other jobs, conducting interviewing, and getting yourself alternative job offers. From there, you can put in your two weeks and resign from your current position.

It may be scary to leave your current job, but it ultimately is worse to work for a manager that is going to make you miserable all the time.

Conclusion

Working for a bad boss is miserable. In fact, it’s the top reason that people leave their jobs. So if you find that your boss exudes multiple characteristics of a toxic boss above, it is probably best to leave the situation and find yourself a better job

About the author

Dan Slocum

Dan is the founder of Best Fit Work and is a business professional with over 10 years of experience. He has been a hiring and people manager on multiple occasions, and has also gone through the hiring process himself at a variety of different companies. Dan serves as a career counselor on the side. He writes to share content, tools, and resources to help people discover and thrive in their own best fit work.

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