10 Ways Toxic Bosses Drive the Best Employees Away


Employees don't leave companies, they leave bosses.

It may sound cliché, but it's true. A 2015 Gallup study surveying over 7,200 adults concluded that approximately half of them had left a job at some point to escape a manager. And those were the ones who were able to get out. How many employees become actively disengaged at work due to a toxic boss?

Losing a top notch employee isn't cheap. A study by the Center for American Progress found that the cost of replacing an employee varies between 16% of salary for low-earning positions to a staggering 213% of salary for skilled high-earning positions. Definitely not chump change, and a clear indication that an organization's best strategy should be to proactively retain talent.

Managers play a critical role in this and it's important to understand how negative behaviors can drive their best employees away.

They don't support.

People want to feel that their managers have their backs. They want confidence that their ideas are propelled forward and that they are defended when naysayers speak negatively. But toxic managers see employees as disposable, and only there to serve them. They feel little obligation to them and avoid taking a stand to support them unless there is a direct personal benefit.

They undermine.

Even worse than a lack of support is the manager who actively thwarts the efforts of her subordinates. She may, for example, reward a team member who her subordinate has placed on corrective action. Or she may publicly ridicule ideas proposed by an employee during a meeting. Instances such as these tell an employee in no uncertain terms that his manager is trying to discredit him.

They aren't transparent.

Toxic managers revel in secrecy and hidden agendas. They hold "meetings after the meeting" where their true opinions surface, often in direct conflict with what was expressed during the meeting itself. They withhold information and expect subordinates to do the same. Employees are constantly wondering what they are allowed to share and how much information isn't shared with them. When people have to fight for knowledge, they soon start looking elsewhere where they can feel more "in the know."

They compete with subordinates.

Strong managers understand that their teams drive their successes. They encourage and celebrate employee wins, which in turn keeps employees motivated to continue striving to achieve. Toxic managers instead see talented subordinates as threats. They worry that an employee will promote to their level or even replace them, and hold the unfounded belief that this would somehow diminish their own influence. This leads them to play the blame game when errors occur, or take credit when things go well. Neither bodes well for the manager-subordinate relationship.

They are too focused on status.

People want to know that their work speaks for itself. That while office politics always lurk in the background, ultimately quality work and strong ethics will always be rewarded. Weak managers see it differently - they feel that status and position on the office hierarchy are tantamount to success. These managers will discount the feedback of lower-ranked employees while fast-tracking ideas from higher-ranked employees based on position alone. When questioned, they say things like "how dare that person speak to someone at my level this way!" This leads to a lack of trust and a feeling of helplessness as subordinates realize they will never be able to influence change.

They are dishonest.

Honesty and integrity are critical to any relationship, the manager and subordinate relationship included. People can forgive a couple of white lies or a minor slip-up. But once a manager has been found to be lying on various occasions - unapologetically - his credibility is shot with subordinates.

They don't respect employees' time.

Everyone's time is valuable, regardless of position. When a manager regularly contacts employees outside of business hours, keeps them on calls beyond end of business day, and cancels meetings last minute, she is messaging that her employees' time is not important. Even more, she is communicating an expectation that her employees be available at her whim 24/7, leading to higher stress levels and uncertainty in her employees.

They are constantly testing.

Nobody wants to walk on eggshells all the time. A reasonable amount of employee testing is to be expected in the beginning stages of the manager and subordinate relationship, but if that testing continues indefinitely it leads to tension and distrust. Managers who criticize after the fact instead of coaching immediately, or who say things like "I wanted to see what you would say/do," encourage resentment and uncertainty in employees who want to succeed.

They don't respond well to feedback or concerns.

Communication is critical to any successful relationship. People want to feel that they can talk openly with their managers, whether or not there is agreement. Strong managers encourage and even solicit feedback, while weak bosses discourage it or respond negatively. The worst managers will turn the conversations around, using them as opportunities to point out weaknesses in their employees instead - taking the focus off themselves.

They constantly change direction.

People thrive when they know what to expect. Flexibility is good, but toxic managers often change course on a dime. Because they are followers more so than real leaders, they don't hesitate to change direction on the whims of superiors. When they refuse to advocate or provide constructive feedback against unnecessary change, they lose respect and credibility.

The bad news is that toxic management often results in the loss of the best (versus mediocre employees). Why? Simple. The best have options - and they know it.

The good news is that toxic management behaviors can be easily spotted and corrected - if the organization actively discourages this type of culture. Team leadership and personnel management are learned skills that can be reinforced with regular training, coaching, and by example. Companies with long tenured employees have mastered the retention equation by consistently demonstrating respect, recognition, and flexibility towards employees who, in turn, are happy to stick around and drive towards success.

This piece originally appeared on Leap of Faye.

Faye has spent over two decades leading, developing, training, and learning. She writes for multiple popular online publications and various business clients. She chronicles her experiences in business, making the leap to self-employment, and parenting on her blog at Leap of Faye. She can also be found on Facebook, Twitter, and Pinterest.