The 5 Daily Habits of a Terrible Boss

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By Blake Thorne


About half of workers at some point have left a job to get away from their manager.

Not the work, not the clients or coworkers. The manager.

We’ve written before about how 95 percent of managers are wrong about what best motivates employees at work. Now we know that many managers are so bad they’re making half their employees leave the job. According to another survey, 19.2 hours are wasted every week — 13 during the workweek and 6.2 over the weekend — worrying about what a boss says or does.

It’s not easy being the boss. But terrible habits make it hard to be a good boss. Don’t be a terrible boss. Avoid these common habits of bad managers and maybe your employees will stick around a while.

1. They lose their cool

Sadly, many people have horror stories of a terrible boss loosing their cool and flying off the handle. This type of boss is among the toughest to deal with. Losing your cool is a hard habit to break. If this is your boss, think hard about sending your resume elsewhere.

If that’s not an option, consider the right way to approach this person.

Lynn Taylor, a workplace expert and the author of “Tame Your Terrible Office Tyrant: How to Manage Childish Boss Behaviour and Thrive in Your Job,” recommends the “calm” method.

  • Communicate more frequently and in a venue that works for your boss.
  • Anticipate problems before they worsen, and have solutions.
  • Laugh: use levity to help your boss keep a rational perspective.
  • Manage up: set limits with your bosses diplomatically, and let them see the benefits of your suggestions.

And be careful about approaching this boss at the right time.

“Timing is important with emotionally prone bosses,” Taylor told Business Insider, “don’t go into the lion’s den in your zeal for approvals, and certainly avoid early mornings, just before lunch, or after some bad company news.”

2. They blame others

Spreading blame around to subordinates — and not accepting any for themselves — is a recipe for a toxic work environment.

It’s important to know why leaders do this and to build a strategy for thriving in this environment. If your boss is throwing blame around, there’s a good chance they’re somehow anxious about having blame placed on them (bosses have bosses, too, remember).bad-bosses

Vineet Nayar recommends working to understand the root cause of this anxiety. Nayar is founder of the Sampark Foundation and author of “Employees First, Customers Second.”

“Understand the root cause,” Nayar wrote in Harvard Business Review. “Step back and look at the big picture. Many pressures – such as year-end goals or unfinished projects — might be the cause of the boss’s anxiety. Make sure you aren’t feeding your boss’s insecurity by acting too aggressively. If you approach him or her collaboratively, you might just get better results.”

3. They contact workers who aren’t working

Fewer sounds are more stressful than the chime of an incoming email from a boss on a day off. Unfortunately, many workers — especially those gunning for advancement — see late-night and weekend emailing as a way to show initiative. Bad bosses encourage this behavior.

The avalanche of emails has gotten so far out of hand that some companies are instituting no email during non-work hours policies. Others are getting rid of email all together or shutting down the servers in the evening. Officials in France even banned after-work emails. How very French of them.

There was a time when contacting an employee after hours involved a lot of friction. Sure, the boss probably had the employee’s home phone number. But probably not handy. And what if the person was out? Or the line was busy? or any other number of totally reasonable situations. This all created an environment where after-hours communication was basically for emergencies only.

Now, bosses have a loaded gun of inbox messages to forward and a real touchy trigger finger.

Cliff Oxford, founder of the Oxford Center for Entrepreneurs, suggests both parties be up front about knowing the expectations for after-work communication. And bosses should know, if you’re going to interrupt Saturday night, it better be for a good reason.

“We need to have a conversation. And we need to come to an understanding between the company and the employee up front — before the hiring takes place. Happily, there is much we can agree on. No one should feel obligated to interrupt Friday night dinner just to check in,” Oxford wrote in an Op-Ed for the New York Times.


4. They don’t share a vision

There’s a major disconnect between employer and employee that has to do with company vision. In a typical hierarchy, the bosses are closer to the big picture direction of the company. They see more clearly what’s at stake and what’s up ahead.

It can be motivating. Unfortunately, many bosses keep this vision to themselves. They are up in the crow’s nest and employees are down in the boiler room, shoveling fuel into the furnace. The ship may be going somewhere great, but it’s hard to get excited about it when your down in the boiler room.

John Brandon, a writer and former IT manager, wrote that failing to share a vision was one of the biggest mistakes he made as a boss.

“Perhaps the worst thing I did as a boss during those years was that I didn’t hit home the whole point of the team. My last role involved leading a writing and design team, and I had some great ideas about how to make sure end users understand complex applications. My transition to the writing field worked smoothly because it’s essentially the same thing–distilling complexity. But I didn’t share the vision enough, and people often rebelled. They didn’t know where the team was going, and I expected them to read my mind. That was my biggest mistake of all.”

5. They only communicate about work

Look, nobody’s saying your boss has to be your best friend (sometimes it works). But employees have reported low morale especially around bosses who are only interested in talking about work.

Workers surveyed in a Gallup poll (the one where half of people said bad bosses made them quit) reported that they want to be in contact with their boss on a daily basis, and not just about work. Workers reported that they want managers to take an interest in their personal lives too.

On top of that, managers failing to take an interest in an employee’s career development is a problem for many workers. Workers want to know that they’re making progress and doing something meaningful. Too often, “where do you see yourself in five years” is asked in the job interview but never followed up on in the actual job. If bosses aren’t open to having big picture conversations, it’s hard for employees to feel valuable.

According to one study, opportunity for growth and professional development is the top priority among candidates applying for jobs.

Monique Valcour, a professor of management at EDHEC Business School in France, wrote that this is what separates the good managers from the bad.

“Becoming a great developer of employees requires managers to expand their focus from “How can I get excellent performance out of my team members?” to “How can I get excellent performance out of my team members while helping them grow?” Valcour wrote in Harvard Business Review. “Savvy managers know that doing well on the second part of the last question helps to answer the first.”

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