Exposing corporate landmines: Toxic bosses


Emmanuel Zvada

HAVING a toxic boss is more terrifying than watching a horror movie alone.

Toxic managers dot the landscape in most organisations, making them seem, at times, like war zones.

These managers can complicate your work, drain your energy, compromise your sanity, derail your projects and destroy even your career.

Your ability to deal with these corporate landmines will have a significant impact on your career.

This article will articulate various signs of a toxic boss.

Experiencing a toxic work environment is more common than you think.

When a workplace becomes toxic, its toxicity spreads beyond the company’s walls into the personal lives of its workers and their families.

As you share your story, you will be astounded to hear that almost everyone you know has gone through such horrific experiences.

l am fully convinced that most people have worked under very toxic, manipulative and micromanagement set-ups and some are still working in such environments.

The red flags in this article suggest that it may be time to move on if you have such a boss or to change your behaviour if you are the boss.

Bosses who trust no one are toxic

Trust is one of the core foundations of a successful organisation, but in a toxic work environment, trust is perceived as something that is unheard of.

Distrustful managers tend to micromanage subordinates, check everything that they do, or disbelieve them unless they can conclusively prove their point of view.

This lack of trust will lead to massive bottlenecks. Bottlenecks lead to loss of productivity.

A micromanager seldom delegates. They ask to be copied every email, will want to go to every meeting and will make every decision and solve every problem.

Closed door policy

Toxic bosses think they have all the answers and refuse to entertain other opinions.

They promote people who praise sing and demote those who challenge them. Learning to admit that you are wrong is one of the best things you can do for your underling if you are a manager.

If your boss refuses to admit that they are wrong when they are wrong, there is an element of pride and that pride breeds toxicity.

A toxic boss is incapable of acknowledging that they are a human being who, like the rest of us, makes mistakes.

Favouritism and office politics

A toxic workplace will never change as long as management allows gossiping, unprofessionalism, favouritism and office politics to flourish in the organisation.

Favouritism in the workplace is exactly what it sounds like: Favouring someone not because he or she is doing a great job, but for reasons outside of their performance.

Oftentimes, favouritism occurs when a manager and an employee have developed a friendship beyond the workplace. Nobody wants to be in a company where the boss plays favourite. By not treating everyone equally, a manager is fostering a sense of resentment and separation that can de-motivate other employees and damage team spirit.

They cut you off in meetings

If your boss or manager is not interested in hearing other people’s opinions and will deliberately shoot them down if they speak, he is a perfect example of a toxic boss. In such an environment, decision-making is top-down only.

In order for an organisation to run smoothly, decisions must constantly be made and how those decisions are made is an important factor to the success of an organisation.

The leader of an organisation must decide either to take full control of the decision-making process or allow input from junior employees when making decisions.

In a toxic work environment, there is no consensus on how to solve problems, the boss makes all decisions and this leads to bottled up frustrations that can cause loss of focus and a drop in productivity.

They micromanage

A micro-managing boss is every employee’s worst nightmare. When your boss assigns you a project but is constantly involved in every step, it’s a sign of being toxic.

What it means is that they don’t allow you to think on your own or take any action independently.

Oftentimes, toxic bosses cannot let go of responsibilities, and they may assign projects to others but will end up taking over anyway. Micromanagers needlessly complicate and lengthen processes while at the same time frustrating co-workers and subordinates.

If your boss snipes at you publicly or makes an example of you in team meetings, this is a sure sign that something is wrong, hence you can’t trust him.

Part of the role of a manager is to educate their subordinates both professionally and interpersonally, which means being respectful and never making them feel uncomfortable in front of their teammates.

If your boss is always cracking a joke, even in a “nice” way, they are not being respectful to you as a professional. If their comments make you feel bad about yourself, it’s fair to say the situation is toxic.

Wage theft is their culture

Most bosses who fail to pay their subordinates what’s due to them are toxic and it is a clear violation of international labour standards, as well as national legislation on employment.

Workers of all types in all industries can fall victim to wage theft, hence it’s a subject that needs to be unpacked and discussed.

The number of workers going for months without wages or with mismatched wages is on the rise, contributing to disintegration of families, high rates of poverty and the number of the working poor.

Nothing makes a job more miserable than a bad boss — particularly those who have no qualms overworking the staff.

Feeling unappreciated or that you are constantly being taken advantage of at work demotivates you.

What to do about a toxic boss

As you can see from the aforementioned examples, working with anyone having some or all of these traits is not only damaging to your physical and emotional health, it is devastating to the overall business.

I know someone who works with a toxic boss and the question is: What can l do about it?

There are many ways to deal with toxic bosses but the most successful ones are either to develop coping strategies or to resign.

Work can be enjoyable as long as you have a good relationship with your boss. A toxic manager can make life miserable because difficult bosses contaminate the workplace.

Toxic managers are a fact of life in organisations. Some managers are toxic most of the time; most managers are toxic some of the time.  In the end, knowing how to deal with people when they are being rigid, aggressive, self-centred or performing poorly separates the good from the great managers.

We have all heard the sayings: People do not leave companies, they leave managers.

People do not quit their jobs, they quit their bosses. As I see it, people just don’t want to work under a toxic boss.