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What Are the Major Signs of a Bad Manager?


An often repeated quote says that “people leave managers, not companies”.

To a degree, that is an exaggeration. People switch jobs and companies for a range of reasons: pay, career advancement, learning opportunities, logistics etc.

But what is true, is that bad managers can greatly impact employee morale and productivity. Incompetence is one such situation, where the manager doesn’t know how to use the employees and resources he has.

Another scenario is when the boss creates a terrible work environment that demotivates people and disengages them from their work.

Astoundingly bad managers are both incompetent and demotivating. 

Below are some of the most glaring signs that a manager might be more of a liability, than an asset.


Sign of a Bad Manager #1. Overbearing micromanagement


One mental framework on how to understand managers is called “Theory X and Theory Y”. According to this framework, all managers fall into two major categories:


1)  Theory X bosses assume that employees are out to game the system, and don’t particularly care about the work they do. Workers want to do the bare minimum effort (if that) in order to get paid, and not an ounce more.

Managers who operate with this line of thinking assume they have to be much more hands-on and involved with their subordinates in order to achieve results. To this end, they might heavily use reward and punishment systems to encourage the employees to give their best.

Theory X managers that are too strict can quickly become the proverbial “boss from hell” that nitpicks everything and goes on power trips.


2) Theory Y managers operate on the opposite assumption, namely that employees truly want to work, and to make their work feel meaningful. Theory Y managers tend to give workers under them a wide autonomy to make the best decisions.

In his book “Good People, Bad Managers”, Samuel Culbert brings out extensive research that says overall, a hands off strategy is the best approach to management.

Almost always, the best thing a manager can do to improve productivity is to simply leave employees alone to do their jobs.

In the end, both managerial models have their pros and cons. But Theory X approaches can quickly spiral out of hand, and lead not just to poor performance, but also significant employee churn as they flee the dragon manager. With Theory Y at least, one has to solve only the failing productivity.


READ ALSO: Why Employee Engagement Is Important?



Sign of a Bad Manager #2. Blaming employee(s) for poor performance


During his decades of research, Samuel Culbert discovered one management scenario that repeated itself very often: managers blame the employees for their incompetence.

It’s easy to see why this could happen. At the end of the day, managers are employees too and want to get ahead like any other. But unlike their subordinates, they have much more power, and often times the ear of the CEO or another major authority figure in the company.

When things go sideways, and the results are lacking, unscrupulous managers will often simply throw employees under the bus to cover their own skin. This is despite the fact that managers are the ones that create or maintain business processes, delegate work tasks etc.

One such instrument that can be easily abused is the performance review. In Culbert’s opinion, a performance review needs to have a degree of reciprocity, where both manager and subordinate review each other.

This brings both parties on a more equal footing, encourages transparency and accountability.


Sign of a Bad Manager 2. Blaming employee(s) for poor performance



Sign of a Bad Manager #3. Doesn’t admit what they don’t know and thinks they can do everything


For whatever reason, some managers think they know everything about a business, and that whatever an employee does, they can do twice as better.

When it comes to making important decisions, know-it-all managers can cause a lot of disruption by refusing sound advice coming from employees because “they know better”.

Their decision process is not connected to the on the ground reality. Accordingly, the end result is less than satisfying.

These types of managers can be easily spotted because they almost never say “I don’t know” and instead choose to wing it or improvise a poor solution.


Sign of a Bad Manager #4. Coercing employees to work overtime


There are legitimate reasons when a manager can ask for overtime, but if it becomes the norm rather than the exception, then something is amiss.

If the company isn’t understaffed, that means the manager isn’t capable of properly organizing work times and schedules. Or figuring out what is a priority and what isn’t.

But because the work still needs to be done, the manager then has to push employees to stay longer to finish it.

These inefficiencies quickly add up, and result in increased overtime pay, employee churn, and even reduced productivity brought about by excessive work.


Sign of a Bad Manager #5. Ridiculous policies that crush employee morale


In order to encourage “productivity”, some managers choose to implement absurd measures and rules that restrict human interaction or are impossible to follow.

What usually happens is that these measures end up backfiring and crush the spirits of people who work at the company.

One such example is limiting worker interaction by forbidding chit chat in the office, timing bathroom breaks down to the minute, banning small office decorations, demanding you answer emails/calls outside work hours, exceptionally strict attendance policy (i.e. you get written up for being late 1-2 minutes).


Sign of a Bad Manager 5. Ridiculous policies that crush employee morale



Sign of a Bad Manager #6. The manager is too nice, and cannot handle conflict


Not all bad managers have to be difficult to work with.

Some can be so nice and gentle that they are not capable of handling even minor conflict.

Thus, they cannot resolve routine disputes between employees such as who does what, what comes first etc.

While the manager is a great person, people will find it frustrating to work for them because they can be too wishy washy, lack decisiveness and offer no clear guidance. 


Sign of a Bad Manager #7. Criticizes publicly, offers little to no praise


In an ideal scenario, managers offer (constructive) criticism in private, and praise in public.

However, some people are easily intoxicated by even a whiff of authority, so they throw this healthy principle out the window.

They will often belittle and berate subordinates publicly and blow things out of proportion simply to experience a power trip.

And this is despite the fact that offering praise to employees is a surefire way of increasing engagement with their work.

Signs of a Bad Manager - Importance of Recognizing Employee PerformanceSource


Sign of a Bad Manager #8. Is an absent manager


Often times, the best managers are the ones with a hands-off approach.

But some will take this to an extreme approach to the point where employees have no guidance, and have to figure things out on the fly by themselves or simply stay idle for lack of work.

Even if the business stays afloat, this absentee management can have pronounced negative effects on the employees since they will lack guidance, direction and most importantly a sense of narrative as to what they are doing 8 (or more) hours a day at the workplace.


Sign of a Bad Manager #9. Playing favorites with employees


A surefire way for a manager to ruin office morale is to play favorites with employees.

The manager will give special praise and privileges to one of them in order to set him up as a good example to follow for the rest of the team.

Problem is, this usually backfires and makes the other team members feel bitter and inferior compared to the favored colleague. But even the favored one isn’t as lucky as it seems. The extra attention can end up driving a wedge between him and his colleagues, and so isolate him.

This problem becomes even more pronounced if the manager chooses a favorite on emotion or friendships, rather than merit.


Sign of a Bad Manager #10. The manager is set in his ways


Adaptation is a key ingredient for any company to survive. Unfortunately, some bosses are too resistant to change and instead just cling on to old practices that may have worked in the past but are not presently competitive.

For people who work with them, these practices can across as needlessly absurd.

An example of this could be sticking to old and complicated software just because it’s familiar, even though there are much newer, powerful and feature-rich options available.




Finding a good manager can sometimes mean the difference between a business that limps along, and one that flies away towards new heights.

Employees love good bosses too since they create a safe space when they can work, and not be an extra cause of tension in their lives.

Unfortunately, bad bosses are difficult to spot. Sometimes, it’s only possible to do so after an extensive time period, and to this end, the above list can prove useful.  

*Drawings courtesy of Hasty Reader.

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