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  1. Blog
  2. Management

Are You an Abusive Boss? Watch Out for These 7 Subtle Signs

A journey of self-discovery

Are You an Abusive Boss? Watch Out for These 7 Subtle Signs
Image courtesy of Aw Creative

Good leaders are hard to come by, and management positions certainly aren't for everyone. The abundance of resources on “how to deal with your terrible boss” and the 41 percent of people who dislike their manager are clear evidence. But it’s not necessarily their fault. Many managers become managers with little or no management training, and the training that is available doesn’t necessarily improve their skills.

So, what if you are part of the problem? As a boss, you may pat yourself on the back if your management style doesn’t include shouting or gaslighting employees, but that doesn’t mean you’re not perpetuating abusive behavior. Watch out for these other subtle signs that you’re fostering a toxic atmosphere.

Read more:The Myth of the Female Boss

7 signs you might be an abusive boss

1. Meetings are one-sided

Think back to your latest team meeting. Did you speak for the majority? Did everyone sit back and sheepishly agree with your ideas?

Meetings should provide an opportunity for all team members to provide input, address issues, and collectively solve problems. When you run the show or automatically reject any suggestion, you hinder employees’ growth and creativity. Yes-men are great for your ego, but very bad for morale.

Tips to improve

Ask employees to share their opinions, and actively listen. Respond, ask further questions, dedicate extra time for discussion. Follow-up with employees on their ideas and how they might be implemented, and recognize employees for insightful (and even challenging) contributions. Give team members the opportunity to run weekly meetings.

Read more:How to Be a Good Manager, According to Experienced Managers

2. There’s no casual conversation between you and your team

Open communication is one mark of a healthy workplace. This extends into non-work-related conversations as well. When you fail to show interest in your employees as people (and not just as workers), they can feel underappreciated and unsupported.

If you notice direct reports are hesitant to talk to you about anything but work, this could also be a sign that your employees don’t feel comfortable approaching you. Of course, some employees will simply want to keep chatter to work topics only, and that’s fine. Respect that. But if you have direct reports with whom you can’t even banter about the weekend, they may be feeling stifled.

Tips to improve

Set up team get-togethers and organize team building activities. Reserve the first few minutes of your 1:1s just to check in on their mental health or chat about weekend plans.

Make a point to connect with employees daily, even if that’s just to ask them how their day is going.

3. Chatter stops when you walk in

An alarm should go off in your head if the office turns into a morgue when you walk in the room. This is a clue that your demeanor and interactions with employees have come off as unapproachable and/or threatening.

Tips to improve

Just like in number two above, get to know your team better. If they don’t see you connecting on a personal level and enjoying the day, they won’t feel like they can either.

Another cause: You might be micromanaging your team. This is a practice that’s damaging to productivity and to business. Work on effective delegation, and learn to trust your employees. You may find that when you back off, their work is better.

4. You compare your employees

No one ever wants to hear, why can’t you be more like so-and-so? Or, so-and-so accomplished X, why can’t you? It’s damaging to morale, and it breeds resentment among employees. Everyone has their own unique ways of communicating, and skills, and working styles.

Tip to improve

When possible, keep discussions of individual work progress to 1:1 conversations. This isn’t to say that you shouldn’t publicly recognize workers for great achievements, but that personal progress is largely between the employee and manager.

5. No one comes to you with questions or problems

An empty office can signal trouble. This might indicate that you’ve failed to create an environment of open communication, and employees would rather fend for themselves than enlist your help. Struggling employees is bad for business.

Tips to improve

The solution might be in the way you provide feedback. Do you deliver employee feedback only when it’s negative? Do you talk about progress only when there’s a problem? If your focus is only on problems, your employees aren’t going to want to come to you with one more. And wouldn’t you rather know sooner than later that an employee has spotted a issue?

Consider instituting an open-door policy (and let your team know). Ask for good and bad news in 1:1s. Celebrate the good, provide support for the bad. Asking questions is a great way to suss out problems and give your employees the resources to solve them. Questions like:

  • What went well this week? What’s not going so well?

  • What are obstacles in your workday? How might I help remove them?

  • Where can we improve as a team? How might we do this?

  • What can I do to better support you in your work?

Read more:How to Give Constructive Criticism to Anyone in the Office

6. Employee growth is stagnant

Good leaders are good coaches. If your team’s work isn’t improving, they’re not getting what they need from you.

Tips to improve

They might be afraid to come to you with ideas about how to improve or ways to innovate. Do you only welcome positive feedback? Do you like ideas only when they’re your own? Let go of your ego and consider how your behavior and attitude might be stifling creativity.

They might lack an understanding of where the team is headed. Do they understand business goals? Do they know how you as a boss are evaluated? Do they know how the team is evaluated? It might be time to let them know.

Read More:Are You a Manager—Or a Leader?

7. You can’t remember the last time you took a vacation

Unless you demonstrate healthy barriers between work and home, your employees won’t feel comfortable stepping away when they need to. This goes for those 11 p.m. emails too. One of the leading reasons women start their work week on Sunday afternoon rather than on Monday morning is because they're getting emails from their boss and coworkers.

Tips to improve

Learn to take a break. Take a vacation, and really leave work behind. Not only will you be setting a good example for the team, you’ll also come back feeling more balanced and better able to lead.

And if you absolutely have to be working late into the night or on the weekends, use the schedule send function in your email client and schedule that email to arrive in their inbox during normal working hours.

8. Turnover is high

One of the primary reasons employees choose to leave their jobs is because of a bad boss. So, if you’re throwing more and more goodbye parties lately, it may be time to evaluate your management style.

Tips to improve

There might be any number of reasons employees are leaving your team. One way to find out is to ask in an exit interview, but keep in mind that it’s nearly impossible to look someone in the face and say, because you’re a terrible boss!

The list above might provide some insight into why your employees are unhappy. You also might provide a confidential way for employees to give you feedback. Just make sure it’s anonymous.

Read More:5 Subtle Signs Your Boss Is a Control Freak (& How to Deal)

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