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4 min read

Have a Toxic Manager? Here's how you can cope!

Swetha Bhattacharya

Last Updated: 28 July 2023

In this article:

Recently, a group video call of a banking sales manager reprimanding his sales team for not meeting targets went viral. Most declared him an 'ideal' toxic manager. Others said the employee shouldn’t have recorded or uploaded the call on social media at all. 

Many employees find their managers difficult to please. But not every tough boss is a toxic manager. Certain traits and coping mechanisms are exclusive to toxic managers.

Let’s take a look.

Who is a Toxic Manager?

Toxic managers exhibit a behavior counterproductive to their teammates' well-being and workplace environment. They often engage in manipulating, abusing, or coercing employees. Their behavior increases the turnover rate and employee productivity while bringing down morale. They also adversely impact employee welfare and company image. 

But not every toxic manager is a bad manager. Here’s how they differ.

How a Toxic Manager differs from a Bad Manager?

A bad manager may not be toxic but lacks the skills, knowledge, or experience to lead their team and achieve business goals effectively. A bad manager may not know how to delegate tasks to their team efficiently. They may unintentionally make the work environment stressful or lack the vision to achieve organizational goals. But a toxic manager can be conniving, tyrannical, and use fear to get work done.

Bad managers often fail to do right by their team. But toxic managers like to do wrong intentionally to trouble their staff members out of spite or to assert their authority. If your employees feel suffocated, you may have hired a toxic manager.

Here’s how you can spot them.

How to identify a toxic manager?

Apathy towards employees

A classic example of toxic manager behavior is apathy. They lack compassion and don't try to forge an emotional connection with the team. Employee burnout doesn't bother them, either. 

Impact on employees

  • Strained employer-employee relationships
  • Difficulty attracting new talent due to the manager or company’s reputation
  • A rampant culture of fear and distrust
  • Undervalued and unappreciated employees

Ignoring or dismissing employee feedback 

Does your manager often ignore employee feedback and force their opinion on the team? That's a characteristic of a typical toxic manager. 

Impact on employees

  • Higher employee turnover when employees feel unheard
  • Creativity and innovation take the backseat when employees hesitate to share their ideas with a manager who regularly ignores their concerns

Total disregard for work-life balance

Working on weekends, a 60+ hour work week, no time for family, and no recollection of when your employees have a team outing—these incidents become commonplace under the supervision of a toxic manager. They push their employees to work long hours and undermine the importance of their personal lives and family care.

Impact on employees

The teams of toxic managers are often overworked and demotivated. Up to 34.3% of your staff quits because of work-life imbalance and a lack of flexibility at the workplace.

Taking credit for employees' ideas or work

Another typical toxic manager trait is stealing credit for their team's ideas and work.

Impact on employees

  • Employees get demotivated to think creatively and share their ideas with such a manager
  • Staff lose interest in their work and start looking for other opportunities

Making unrealistic demands

Toxic managers put up unreasonable demands and set unachievable targets for their teams; that too, without providing the resources or support needed to achieve impossible goals.

Impact on employees

You may lose up to 15% of your employees due to poor managerial support and ineffective management style.

Despite everything, it need not be the end of the road for toxic managers. Your organization can take corrective measures to cope and improve their behavior. 

Here’s how.

How can leaders improve toxic manager behavior?

  • Provide training on emotional intelligence, empathy, and compassion.
  • Conduct evaluation regularly to spot and correct toxic managerial traits.
  • Create effective mentoring programs to guide and support toxic managers in improving their behavior.

Employees, too, can take several steps to cope with a toxic manager. Here are a few.

How to empower your employees to cope with a toxic manager 

Create unbiased channels for employees to voice their concerns and opinions.

Unbiased channels, like the AI bot Amber, can be your Chief Listening Officer. She can engage with your employees one-on-one to gather genuine feelings about their managers.

Amber’s Rewind Report shows that employee grievance redressal within 30 days boosted employee engagement by an average of 11 points. This is an unprecedented figure for the metric, which never logged a double-digit increase before 2022.

Provide a confidential route for employees to report misconduct.

Anonymity is crucial in such cases. Amber’s Anonymous Bat feature uses textual analytics to address sensitive issues like employee harassment and abuse. It can even identify suicidal employees and report them to management promptly.  

Ensure a fair performance evaluation.

Some tools leaders can use are:

  • 360-degree evaluation surveys
  • Self-evaluation
  • Graphics rating scale to score the employee performance on a pre-decided scale
  • Developmental checklists to map each employee’s performance against their roadmap for development and desired behavior
  • Demanding events checklists decided by managers, highlighting an employee’s required skill and expertise at different life cycle events with the organization
  • Performance discussion surveys, like Amber’s, facilitate: 
    • Employee performance discussion and addressing any need gaps
    • Gathering employee feedback on performance appraisal

 Conduct Exit Interviews to map the impact of toxic managers on employee retention

Employees usually drop the, "It is not you, it is me," mode on their way out of an organization. They are open to sharing honest feedback then. Apart from exit interviews, you can also use exit surveys to seek suggestions on how to improve a toxic manager’s behavior.

In the end

Toxic managers may exist right under your nose, hiding behind employees who are hesitant to speak up. Poor experience at the workplace often pushes employees towards harmful habits like alcoholism, health issues, and family discord.

Not speaking up about poor work culture can alter workplace dynamics. It can irreparably damage the company's image and employees’ mental health. Any organization failing to improve the behavior of a toxic manager must show them the exit door to safeguard employee wellbeing and company culture.

AI-based tools like Amber offer a strong employee engagement platform to act as the bridge between you and your staff. This tool engages your employees and encourages them to open up freely. So, you get actionable insights about your employees' concerns.


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