Managing Employees

Are You a Terrible Boss? These 4 Subtle Signs Will Tell You.

Are You a Terrible Boss? These 4 Subtle Signs Will Tell You.
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Being a good leader is no easy task. There are a lot of characteristics a boss needs to be great. But there are just as many things that make a boss absolutely terrible.

Related: The 6 Most Familiar 'Bad Boss' Types and What to Do About Them

If you’ve ever had one of these terrible leaders, you probably know that employees aren’t inspired to do their best if their boss is awful to work for. Unfortunately, a lot of times, bosses are unaware that that's true -- that they themselves are making it hard for their employees to get their work done.

And, when this happens, they aren’t just hurting their employees with their bad habits, they’re jeopardizing the business itself.

Oftentimes, knowing that you're an ineffective boss is not obvious. You may think that the dynamics and protocol in your office are working just fine, when really there are problems that employees aren't bringing up to you -- and, in turn, there are reasons employees aren't doing that.

So, what do you do? Here are some of the more common warning signs of a problem.

1. You don’t trust your employees.

Sometimes bosses are terrible because they think they’re too good to do certain tasks, or they just push everything on to their employees. That can be incredibly frustrating and irresponsible for the employees, but it can be just as bad when a boss wants to do everything.

As an employee, it’s really hard to get anything done if your boss is constantly stepping in and trying to hold your hand when you really don’t need it (or, worse, the boss is chiming in with opinions about something he or she is completely clueless about).

Related: 7 Signs a Great Employee Might Be a Bad Boss

So, if you’re a boss having a hard time not micromanaging your team, you might try things like being clear about your expectations or hiring people you know you can trust, to get the job done right in the first place.

Even if you have the best intentions when you try to help, there’s a point where your actions honestly aren't helpful anymore and are slowing things down. Letting go of that control may be hard, but so long as you have the right people on your team, you’ll find that things run a lot more smoothly when you do.

Plus, when employees feel that you trust them, they’re a lot more likely to offer up new ideas, take risks and grow in their role.

2. You don’t respect your employees’ personal boundaries

There are a lot of ways this habit can manifest. It may mean calling your employee at all hours of the day and all days of the week when he or she isn't actually on the clock. Or, it could mean asking this person to put in too much time and energy into the job, well beyond what can reasonably be expected.

There are ways to push your employees without making them hate you or working them to exhaustion. It doesn’t do anyone any favors to make your employees work when they’re tired or sick, either physically or mentally.

Then of course there are the bosses who push their employees’ boundaries emotionally, make them uncomfortable, are demeaning, unload on them about their personal lives, etc.

Abusive bosses are typically narcissistic, denigrating, arrogant and nonsupportive of their employees. And, let’s be honest, that’s not something we are going to be able to fix in this article. If you think you might be abusive in that way, you should look into addressing those underlying issues.

3. You talk at people not to them.

Communication is huge when you’re talking about what skills and characteristics make for a good boss.

When a boss doesn’t communicate clearly -- whether by email, face-to-face, or via text messaging -- that lapse can create confusion and needless back-and-forth. It can mean that employees either waste time doing something they don't need to do, or that something important doesn’t get done correctly or on time.

There are also bosses who just bark orders at their team. This does not create an environment where people feel comfortable asking for clarification or for help. In that case, even if the job gets done, it’s really hard for employees to experience any kind of growth.

By creating a comfortable environment with open communication, you’re not only making it easier for employees to get their jobs done and done right, but making yours a healthier, more fun office setting for everyone.

And who doesn't want that? There are tons of benefits to having a fun, social workplace, including higher employee satisfaction, less stress and less turnover.

4. You never congratulate your team.

Employee recognition is super-important, but many bosses fail to see the benefits. An authentic thank you, or time taken to acknowledge an employee who's worked really hard on a project and done a great job on it, creates more confidence, increased performance and better professional relationships.


Being a boss requires a wide range of skills, and even the best bosses can still work on honing some of them.

Unfortunately, most employees don’t feel comfortable letting their boss know when they a problem exists. Even well-intentioned bosses can be creating a toxic environment without really realizing it.

Related: You Can Break Your Bad Boss Syndrome With a Charm Offensive

By paying attention to some of these warning signs, you should be able to recognize any mistakes and bad habits you’ve fallen into and work on fixing them to create a better functioning workplace.