11 Signs You're a Bad Boss (& How to Fix That)

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Sophia Bernazzani Barron
Sophia Bernazzani Barron



If you're a people manager, you most likely have a lot on your plate.

a bad boss yells an an employee

But just because you've been tapped to lead a team doesn't mean you don't have room to improve. In fact, constantly challenging yourself to improve is more important for you than ever, because now, your team of employees are counting on you -- for coaching, guidance, mentorship, and advice.

It's tough to honestly evaluate how you're doing as a boss, so scan through the list of signs you're a bad boss below -- then read how you can improve if you see any warning signs.

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11 Signs You're a Bad Boss (& Suggestions for Improvement)

1. You're a micromanager.

It's hard for you to hand off tasks from your workflow to your employees, even though it may help them grow their own skills. When you do give employees assignments, you check in frequently on their progress. You correct employees or offer feedback at every possible opportunity. You give employees one assignment or project at a time, forcing them to reach out to you when they need more work to do. You ask employees to touch base with you before sending an email, giving a presentation, or holding a meeting with other teams or leaders. Technically, none of your employees have failed or made a mistake, because you step in when you see them going in the wrong direction.

Does this sound like you? Then you might be a micromanager. Micromanagement is consistently one of the biggest complaints coming from employees about their boss, and it can lead to demotivation, disengagement, and eventually, employee attrition.

How to Improve: As uncomfortable as it may feel for you, the only way your employees will learn and develop their own skills and leadership acumen is by doing the work themselves -- and, sometimes, by making mistakes. 

Not only are you doing your employees a disservice by not giving them heavier workloads and letting them work independently, you're also doing yourself a disservice. By loosening the reins and spending less time checking in, monitoring, and supervising the day-to-day work your employees do, you can dedicate more time to leadership education and development, brainstorming ways your team can have a bigger impact, and coaching employees on skills they've asked for your help with.

2. You only give negative feedback.

When employees submit projects for review, or during your employee 1:1s, you spend most, if not all, of that time talking about things they can improve, mistakes they made, or behaviors they can change. Performance review discussions focus solely on improvements that need to be made, and you're quick to point out errors or suggestions.

If this sounds like you, then you may be giving too much constructive feedback.

How to Improve: Even if this feedback is constructive and ultimately valuable for the employee, they won't be able to hear or process the nuggets of advice within the deluge of negativity. Make sure you're balancing your constructive and reinforcing feedback every time you chat with employees about how they're doing. Whether it's an article you're reviewing or their last year's performance, sharing what's going well along with what could be improved will teach employees to keep up the good work in those positive areas, plus it will offer a boost to morale.

Use these strategies to guide employee coaching conversations so you're balancing the feedback you give appropriately. 

3. You don't care about your employees' career development.

In career and coaching conversations, you don't ask your employees what job they would like to pursue in five years, or what promotion they are aiming for in their current role. Instead, you focus conversations on the work they're completing in their current role. You don't proactively offer to connect employees with other people within your company, or other job opportunities, that they may be interested in learning more about. You discourage or don't suggest that your employees work on side projects out of concern that it will take away from their performance.

If this is reflective of your management style, then you're not looking out for your employees' career growth.

How to Improve: Treat the career development of your employees as of the same importance of your own, because the truth is, their success is your success. In today's competitive job market, you can't expect that your employees won't be approached for other opportunities, either within your company or outside it, and if you support and champion the growth of your employees, they may be less likely to quit and work on a better team -- with a better boss. 

Hold regular check-ins that are strictly dedicated to discussing career development, employee goals, and brainstorm ways they can reach them. Encourage employees to connect with other leaders within your company to learn more about different parts of your organization. And if there are opportunities you think would be a good fit for your employees based on your conversations, send them the job listing to show them that you care about their growth, not just your own. Remember, employees quit because of bad managers more often than they quit because of bad jobs.

4. You don't encourage your employees to give you feedback.

Your employee 1:1s and performance reviews are solely focused on them. After meetings, check-ins, and major events, you don't ask for feedback from anyone but your peers or superiors. You don't provide 1:1 or anonymous avenues for anyone who works with you to tell you how they think you could improve.

In your haste to help cultivate your employees, you might have forgotten how much you have to learn from them about your own growth.

How to Improve: The odds are, your employees might be feeling anxiety about giving their boss feedback about how they can improve. That's normal, so don't give up if they don't give you feedback right away. Take time to ask questions and observe what communication styles your employees favor, and offer different avenues and outlets for giving you the feedback you need to improve. For example, your employee might not feel comfortable giving you feedback face-to-face, so encourage them to send you an email if that would be easier for them.

Ask your boss to set up time with your employees so they can speak privately about ways you can improve. Finally, make feedback from your employees a regular part of your own performance review conversations, so when the time comes for you to discuss performance with your own boss, they have feedback on what it's like to work for you so they can give you guidance, too.

5. You don't have a vision.

You don't update your team on insights you learn from meetings with other leaders and executives at your company. Your team has no insight into your yearly goals and plans for achieving them. Whether the feedback is good or bad, you don't tell your employees how executives feel about their performance. When you ask, your employees don't readily know the answer to "why" they do their jobs every day. Your team never meets with other teams in your department to collaborate and share learnings.

If all of the above are true, you might not be communicating a vision to your team.

How to Improve: A lack of vision on your team will lead to employee burnout and turnover. Every team and employee has to work hard and get things done, but the difference between teams that love the hard work and hate it is vision. 

Build a set of team-wide goals for the month, quarter, or year, ask your team for feedback, and commit to them as a team. Make goals and guardrails transparently available in internal team documentation, and regularly check in about progress made toward these big-picture goals. Hold semi-regular team meetings where you encourage and uplift your team for progress and innovation made toward achieving the vision. Communicate and evangelize the vision to other teams and company leadership so your team can be recognized for their good work by others as well. Most importantly, regularly seek feedback (see above) for how employees feel the team is iterating on that vision and how well they understand it, and make changes as needed.

6. You're inconsistent.

Whether it's things as simple as time-off requests or working from home policies, or if it's bigger things like career conversations, promotion criteria, or disciplinary action, the rules tend to change from person to person. You don't hold all of your employees to the same standard, and you don't hold yourself to the same standards or rules you've set out. Your suggestions and guidelines vary from meeting to meeting, and your employees express confusion or a lack of focus on certain policies or best practices. You reprimand different employees for different things.

It sounds like you're an inconsistent manager.

How to Improve: If you want employees to respect and trust your leadership, you need to standardize team rules and policies, across the board. Publish them in a shared team wiki if they're important, and scratch them if they're not. Even if these seem like little things to you, it will add up for your employees over time, and becoming frustrating and a source of lost productivity.

7. You're inflexible.

Your employees have to jump through multiple administrative hoops to request time off. Your team isn't allowed to work from home or work remotely for periods of time. You have blackout dates for requesting out-of-office time. Your employees have to take time off to go to doctor appointments.

If these are true, you might be an inflexible boss.

How to Improve: Inflexibility will drive your employees away, too -- from your team, and possibly from your company. Workplace flexibility is one of the most highly sought-after benefits of job seekers, and if your company isn't accommodating that fact, it will start to lose talent. While you may not be able to change your companies' HR policies, you can make sure that your team isn't being held to different standards and rules than others. Create a shared set of team guidelines, and try to stick to them, but understand when things come up. In cases of sudden illness or emergencies, your employees will appreciate your understanding and flexibility.

8. You don't respect your employees' personal time.

You send your employees emails and Slacks after 7:00 p.m. You send them multiple notifications during their out-of-office time. You expect your employees to put in time over the weekends.

It sounds like you don't respect personal time.

How to Improve: Simply put, you need to set team communication expectations, and stick to them. If you're going to send messages to your team during off-hours, that's fine -- as long as you set the expectation that they don't need to reply until their working hours the next day. In order to do their best work, your employees need to rest and recharge during their time off. It's your job, as boss, to encourage self-care and relaxation from time to time, and to set and respect boundaries so your team doesn't feel like they're always on the clock.

9. You don't talk about anything other than work.

You don't know much about your employees beyond their name, their salary, and their performance. When you make small talk at the water cooler or on the way to meetings, you only talk about work. And what's more, your employees don't know much about you, either, because you haven't shared any personal details about your life outside the office.

The office is a place of business, but you're doing yourself and your team a disservice by not learning about each other outside of the office.

How to Improve: Start asking your team questions about things outside of work, and listen to and remember the answers. Do they have children, pets, or family members that are a big part of their life? Do they play intramural frisbee after work? All of this is valuable information for building trust and rapport among your team, so make sure you're sharing information about yourself, too. If you build an environment of mutual trust and appreciation, employees will feel more comfortable coming to you with problems and concerns, and you'll be able to better support them when difficult times come up -- in their personal or professional lives.

10. You don't make time for team-building.

Your team has never gone out for dinner, drinks, volunteering, to see a sports game, or to an event together. Your team doesn't celebrate birthdays, work anniversaries, or holidays, and the most time you all spend together is in a meeting.

It sounds like you're not dedicating time to team-building.

How to Improve: Along the same lines of asking personal questions and making conversation about topics outside of work, team-building can go a long way towards fostering a positive group dynamic that will lend itself to less inter-team conflict, less negativity, and higher morale. Employees want to feel appreciated and noticed for working hard, and making an effort to reward them -- whether it's through gifts, awards, food and drink, or fun experiences as a team -- goes a long way.

Team-building can be as simple as setting up a group dinner and signing a card on an employee's birthday, or you can use some of these quick team-building or outing ideas to keep the momentum going.

11. You aren't building a diverse and inclusive team.

You rely solely on your own network, internal transfers, and employee referrals to fill open positions on your team. You aren't mindful of or involved with employee resource groups or recruiting efforts outside of your company. You don't publish content externally on LinkedIn about recruiting and building a stronger team.

You might not know it, but by de-prioritizing diversity and inclusion on your team, you're being a bad boss.

How to Improve: If you're not convinced of the importance of building diverse and inclusive teams already, it's time to educate yourself. Diverse and inclusive teams perform better and collaborate more effectively, so it's something your company and its leaders need to prioritize. This list, written by my manager, Emma Brudner (a good boss), details multiple different ways anybody can get involved with diversity and inclusivity at work -- so you can get started now.

If you would classify yourself as a bad boss after reading this blog post, don't despair. The strategies for improvement are a good place to start, and we have plenty more resources for managers on this blog. To learn more about being an effective manager, read our tips for effective team communication next.

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