Have you ever worked for a toxic boss? Would you say that a bad manager is an isolated occurrence or a pervasive problem? According to a SHRM study, 49% of the workforce have thought about leaving their current organizations. And the driving force for the majority of these job seekers is bad management. Considering that managers have a major impact on employee satisfaction, retention, and productivity, it is important to understand the toxic boss problem and what can be done about it.
How Big of a Problem are Toxic Bosses?
Research repeatedly shows that bad bosses are a common problem in the workplace. A 15Five report showed that one-third of all employees would be relieved to hear that their manager is leaving. According to SHRM, six out of ten people said managers were the reason they left their organizations. A shocking 100% of companies interviewed admit to having bad supervisors. And perhaps even more surprising, one memorable study reported that 65 % of American employees would rather have a new boss than a raise. Clearly, there is no shortage of bad managers.
Are Certain Industries More Likely to Have Bad Bosses?
Toxic bosses are not restricted by industry. A study across several industries found the worst bosses (as voted by their employees) worked in retail, but there was no shortage of bad managers in healthcare, sales, construction, and more. Unfortunately, you can’t escape bad bosses by changing careers. Poor bosses are prevalent across industries and can be found in every country, state, and city.
What Problems are Caused by a Toxic Boss?
No, this isn’t an exaggeration — bad bosses can lead to real health problems. Harvard Business Review showed that working for a toxic boss makes a person more likely to suffer from stroke, heart attack, or another life-threatening cardiac condition. Bad bosses also increase the risk of chronic stress, depression, anxiety, lowered immune system, and the common cold. These problems cost $190 billion in U.S. healthcare costs annually, and lead to 120,000 annual deaths — which is more than kidney disease or Alzheimer’s.
The good news is that making headway on your toxic boss problem is not only great for morale — it can potentially mean big savings in company healthcare costs.
Bad managers are a leading cause of employee turnover, and reporting shows that 50% of employees leave their jobs because of bad managers. This is an expensive problem. Replacing employees costs anywhere from 1/2 to 2x that person’s salary. That means a 100-person organization with an average salary of $50,000 could be dealing with turnover and replacement costs of roughly$650,000 – $2.6 million per year.
With that kind of expense, why do so many organizations keep bad bosses around? Authoritarian bosses, for example, may drive strong results in the short term. But they burn their people out, causing higher turnover and lower productivity in the long term. People may put up with being told what to do and having their ideas devalued for a little while. But eventually, they will look elsewhere for a better environment where their thoughts and feelings are appreciated.
Beyond the complications of finding new employees, companies tend to underestimate the time it takes to get a new employee fully integrated. According to Wharton Professor Matthew Bidwell, it is not uncommon for it to take two years for a new employee to get up to the same speed as the one they replaced.
Poor bosses often cause productivity loss, as priorities are less clearly defined and issues are less effectively resolved. Teams with poor managers had 27% less revenue per employee than teams with great managers, according to Forbes.
What Does Bad Manager Behavior Look Like?
When team performance is poor, most employees know that the root of the problem is the manager. However, most managers assume problems are due to salary issues or fit issues rather than poor management.
Common Errors Bosses Make
Here are five common practices that bad bosses often exemplify:
1. Looking Up (and Kicking Down)
Bad bosses are focused on looking good for their superiors. They play politics and take credit for the work of their team. When bosses look up, they spend more time managing appearances to superiors than actually managing their team.
2. Poorly Timed Feedback
The timing of feedback is critical. Bad managers deal with a problem long after it has already occurred instead of soon after when the problem was fixable. Bad managers also give the wrong amount of feedback. Some give too much, providing daily input that is frustrating. Others give too little, providing only annual review feedback, which is not nearly enough.
3. Accusatory Tone
When bad managers do give feedback, it is often accusatory, emotional, and rarely productive. Bad managers do not plan their responses, nor do they have constructive conversations with direct reports on how to move forward. They react in a knee-jerk fashion, which is often more harmful than helpful.
4. Avoiding Relationships
Bad managers don’t get to know their people. They assume that people don’t want to get to know their manager, and thus keeping their distance is the most effective policy. They don’t want to be seen as playing favorites, or legal issues could arise.
Contrary to this thinking, relationships matter a lot to employees. You don’t have to be drinking buddies, but a boss should get to know her people, their strengths, interests, motivations, etc. There is ample research on the importance of fostering workplace relationships for employee retention, engagement, and burnout reduction.
5. Underestimating Rapport
Rapport is incredibly important in the workplace. It helps with engagement, which in turn helps with productivity. Rapport leads to less surprise turnover. Rapport also allows for candid conversation and fixing small problems before they become big issues. Bad managers often do not take the time to develop rapport.
Can Bad Bosses Become Good Bosses?
Having trained thousands of managers, we can say with confidence that the answer is yes. While intelligence and personality traits tend to be hard-wired, behavior is changeable, and behavioral skills can be taught. A “bad boss” is predominantly a people skills issue. Often, they’ve never been taught good people skills, and they don’t have an awareness of how they come across. These things can be taught if the boss is willing to learn and try to improve.
When is it Time to Leave a Bad Boss?
If the boss is tough and demanding, it is often better to stay. You can learn and grow a lot from a tough boss.
However, suppose your boss:
- Is overly aggressive
- Devalues your comments consistently
- Constantly searches for faults in your work
- Undermines you or your confidence
- Is disrespectful
- Lacks leadership
You’re dealing with more than just a tough leader in these situations. If you like the job and your company, you can get training to learn how to deal more effectively with difficult boss behavior. If things still are problematic, and you have discussed this with your boss and human resources without any progress, then it is likely time to move on.
What Should Companies Do About Bad Management?
Here are four suggestions:
1. Promote for the Right Reasons
According to the Peter Principle, people are promoted into managerial positions based on competency at their current job — not for their ability to manage people. Many people become managers for the money. How good of a job will they do if they are only there for the paycheck? Companies need to find a way to compensate top performers other than promoting them to management and consider managerial aspiration an important selection criterion.
2. Invest for the Long Term
There is often a sense of urgency in the workplace, a “get it done today” attitude. These quick decisions and band-aid fixes can be harmful in the long run and at the expense of your people. Filling a position as quickly as possible, without serious consideration of the candidates, and without thoroughly training the new hire can have long-term repercussions. Spending time and resources to hire the best manager possible should be a priority for every company. After all, the cost of a bad hire or promotion (not to mention the time and energy wasted) can be extensive.
3. Provide Leadership Training
Switching to management is usually treated like a promotion when it is actually a career change. Changing careers requires a little more guidance. Seventy-five percent of managers would like more training on being a good boss. Most people are not natural leaders, but through coaching and practice, people can develop the skills necessary to be effective leaders.
4. Lead by Example
Bad management spills over. Bad management at the top trickles down, creating a multiplier effect. To get good leaders at the lowest levels, there must be good leaders at the highest level.
Transforming from Low Retention and Productivity to High
Improving retention, productivity, and stress levels can significantly affect your business. If you’d like to transform your culture from high turnover to low; from lots of stress and healthcare costs to a more manageable number; from low- or mid-level productivity to high; please contact us. We’d love to understand your unique situation better and see how we can help with your transformation.