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5 Tips to Deal with (or Avoid) Becoming a Bad Manager

November 9, 2020

By: Jennifer Lucas

I did a quick poll of my friends and coworkers, asking for bad boss horror stories. Most people had relatively tame ones -- bosses rechecking their work, being flighty or generally being unprepared to handle (and therefore explain) the responsibilities of a job. Personally, I experienced situations as strange as an upper manager named Dave who only promoted people named Dave (and one named Davena), a director who routinely made me – an administrative assistant -- smell the bathrooms (don’t ask), and a supervisor who would lose his train of thought in the middle of instructions to me and replace whatever else he had intended to say with the word “thing.” Example: “Jennifer, we have the meeting at twelve, so I need you to-- thing.” 

Other people polled had more … intense… experiences: extreme micromanagement, screaming, throwing people under the bus and physical threats. Wow. 

The saying goes, “People quit managers, not jobs.” According statistics compiled by LinkedIn , “Three-out-of-four employees report their boss is the worst and most stressful part of their job,” and “The average organization is 50% as productive as it should be, thanks to less-than-optimal leadership practices.” 

A company may be amazing, with excellent benefits, a great salary and a fun work environment, but if a manager makes life miserable for an employee, none of that matters. If that employee was talented, trained and dedicated, losing them is a loss for the whole company. The result of a bad manager: missed opportunities and financial losses for both employer and employee. 

First off, it should go without saying, but I’ll say it: Nobody should be physical threatened or physically threatening on the job. That is illegal, and your HR department should have procedures in place for dealing with such threats, including involving the authorities. If you feel unsafe, extract yourself from the situation! 

This extreme example aside, here are a few other bad boss behaviors that drive employees crazy (and away from a company). 

Micromanaging: There is nothing that will deflate your confidence more than knowing your manager is watching every step you take, waiting to pounce on your first mistake (real or imagined). 

Taking all the credit: These are the bosses who expect you to applaud while they accept awards and promotions for all of your hard work. 

Taking none of the credit: You feel like you might as well just stay under the bus for all the times a manager like this throws you there. The successes are theirs, and the failures are someone else’s. 

Being brutally honest – with an emphasis on brutal: Somehow, this extreme honesty never extends to compliments. These bosses throw performance feedback at you like a brick and believe that any kind of praise will make you too complacent. 

Making people scramble: Tight deadlines and changing procedures are part of most jobs and businesses these days. But it’s the boss’s job to try to mitigate these stressors, not make them worse. 

Lacking empathy: Now more than ever, it is abundantly clear that life happens, and we can’t be prepared for everything. Having a manager who lacks flexibility and understanding can add to already intense life pressure.

Employees: what can you do if you find yourself working for one of these characters? 

  1. Check yourself: Make sure your micromanaging, credit-taking manager isn’t that way for a reason. Do you know the standards you’re supposed to meet, and are you meeting them? Are you open to and applying constructive feedback to improve? If your boss is constantly going back and redoing your work, make absolutely sure it’s their problem, and not yours. 
  2. Try to relate, or at least understand: Some bad manager behaviors trickle down from what’s happening above. Some are reflections of a boss going through a tough time and trying to maintain control of some aspect of life. Knowing why someone is displaying challenging behaviors doesn’t fix the problem, but it can make it feel less personal and therefore less stressful. 
  3. Communicate: People who display some bad behaviors are rarely actual bad people. Choose a time when you are not upset and gather some specific examples of why, and ask for a meeting with your boss. Keep the conversation as constructive and nonconfrontational as possible and come prepared with specific changes that would make you more comfortable.    
  4. Go higher: If the situation has become toxic and you still want to try to stay with the company, go to HR or your manager’s manager. This should be a last step, after you have tried everything else, since it can cause lingering hard feelings on your manager’s part. Discuss your concerns diplomatically and factually. 
  5. Plan your escape, but try to help the folks left behind: There’s no reason to stay in a toxic situation and be miserable. Keep in mind, though, it’s easier to get a job if you have a job already (source). Don’t let the situation drive you out of employment. Spruce up your resume and get it out there. Use that time off you probably have stockpiled for interviews, and leave at the first good opportunity. But before you go, use the exit interview to outline exactly why you are leaving. Chances are you aren’t the first and won’t be the last!

Managers: What can you do to avoid becoming one of these characters? 

  1. Know yourself. Nobody is perfect and we all have our challenge areas. Whether you feel your temper rise too often at work or you find yourself double-checking everything you employee does, you could be contributing to an employees’ misery. Put yourself in their shoes. If you feel like self-reflection isn’t your strong suit, consider taking an Omnia Leadership Style Assessment. 
  2. Watch for employee engagement. Reduced or lack of performance can reflect your management style. Make sure you’re keeping your staff motivated by offering specific praise and showing appreciation for their work. (Read employee engagement article
  3. Have empathy. Like you, employees can have struggles outside of work and may need to take time to deal with it. They will appreciate your understanding and will work harder because of it. 
  4. Offer stability and security, when you can. Some people may not be as comfortable as you are with change or with tight deadlines. 
  5. Be understanding. If an employee has felt the need to talk to your manager about you, try not to take it personally. Be open to the feedback, even if you don’t agree with it. 

Being a strong leader and manager takes time and ongoing effort. Unfortunately for everyone, it is more noticeable and difficult when a manager slips up than when one employee does. When you can, use these slip-ups as a learning opportunity. And finally, most importantly-- thing. 

Jennifer Lucas

Jennifer originally joined The Omnia Group in 2005 as an analyst. After a brief stint away to work in project management and to start a family, her fascination with behavioral assessments pulled her back. She returned in 2011 as a member of the in-house analyst/project team. She writes and edits EPIC Profiles, Targets, special projects, and articles. She enjoys being able to provide guidance to build effective, productive teams and help find strong matches for both clients and candidates.

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