5 Ways to Tell if You’re a Difficult Boss

If you feel like you have the traits of a difficult boss, here’s how you can improve yourself and your organization as a whole.

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Conflict of female boss and male office worker. Angry bossy business woman shout at irritated man, bad worker. Problem, mistake, stress, depression, overworked, frustrated. People at workplace concept

Managing people in any capacity is a challenging gig. Whether you run a team of 2 or 15, being the one with all of the answers and responsibility can be taxing. You juggle employee schedules, workplace politics, demands from higher-ups, direct reports, company-wide goals, and departmental tasks, all in one day (sometimes without a lunch break).

Even if you were once a caring, supportive, energetic, and charismatic boss, years of stress have worn you down, and it’s starting to show. If you find the energy in the room shifting when you turn a corner or begin a meeting, you might start to wonder if you are, in fact, a difficult boss. Here are 5 ways to tell.

5 signs you’re a difficult boss

A 2018 study from Monster found that nearly 76% of people say they currently have or recently had a toxic boss. The toxic traits respondents listed in the poll include a power hungry attitude, micromanagement, incompetence, and absence. Though it’s no surprise that bad bosses are bad for business, the origin of these workplace villains isn’t always obvious.

76% of people say they currently have or recently had a toxic boss. The toxic traits respondents listed in the poll include a power hungry attitude, micromanagement, incompetence, and absence.

The Miranda Priestlys of the world are not born overnight; the reality is most horrible bosses are a product of their environments. Perhaps the company culture encourages bad behavior, or one lousy boss bred another. No matter the cause, you have the power to break the bad boss cycle. Your employees rely on you to lead, support, and coach them in their roles, so here is how to spot your difficult boss behaviors and stop them in their tracks.

1. You don’t ask for feedback

If your team meetings, employee one-on-ones, and performance reviews consist of you firing out feedback and demands like a drill sergeant to silent workers, you might be a difficult boss. If you fail to provide the comfort and the opportunity for your direct reports to tell you how they think you could improve, the chances are that you won’t.

Creating an open door culture is crucial to collecting feedback from employees to create the best work environment. Encourage your workers to speak with you directly in your office or via email, send out anonymous feedback forms, and show a willingness to improve.

2. Your employees aren’t engaged

A surefire way to tell if you are a difficult boss is if your employees look miserable, bored, or just plain indifferent at work. If you can’t remember the last time you spoke to your workers about anything other than work, it might be time to evaluate what you are bringing to the table.

Disengaged employees can cost companies up to $550 billion a year. To combat this, managers should create a strong workplace culture by cultivating trust and organizing team-building activities.

According to a report by The Engagement Institute, disengaged employees can cost companies up to $550 billion a year. To combat this, managers should create a strong workplace culture by cultivating trust and organizing team-building activities. Even during COVID, virtual happy hours and fitness challenges can go a long way towards employee engagement.

3. You micromanage

Although most bosses check in with their employees frequently, if you find yourself checking in with them or offering feedback about even the most trivial of tasks, you might be a micromanager. Micromanagement is one of the most pervasive traits of bad bosses, but it can be challenging to detect if you are the offender.

Helpfulness can easily cross the line into micromanagement, and sometimes, you’ve just got to let your employees make mistakes. Mistakes allow employees to learn and improve. As uncomfortable as it may feel at first, try loosening the reins and giving your employees space to ask for help when they need it.

4. You don’t have boundaries

Have you ever sent out an email at midnight? Or drug out a team meeting past dinnertime? If so, it’s time to learn boundaries. Your employees have families, hobbies, and duties outside of work, so although an occasional emergency meeting can happen, don’t make it the norm. Your workers need time off to recharge and reset for the next day, so maintain firm expectations about working hours and stick to them.

Mind the clock during meetings and if there are loose ends, tie them up in an email or schedule a meeting for the following day.

5. You don’t say “thank you”

A simple “thank you” is worth its weight in gold. Most employees would walk on hot coals for a boss that appreciates them, and showing appreciation is as simple as those 2 words. “Thank you” means more to workers than holiday parties, company gifts, or snacks in the break room. It’s free, it keeps employees engaged, and it makes them want to stay.

Being a difficult boss isn’t always your fault; however, you have the power to change and improve yourself and your organization as a whole. A great boss listens, takes feedback, connects with employees, mentors, respects boundaries, and most importantly, says “Thank you” when an employee completes a task.

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