unhappy employee

10 actions small business owners can take that make them a bad boss to employees

It’s one of those cases of being unable to see the forest for the trees — most bosses think they’re on the same wavelength as their employees. Unfortunately, in more situations than not, their employees are actually miserable.

No one sets out to be a bad boss, nor do they want to believe they’re the root of the problem, but the truth is that a disturbingly high percentage of managers are not meeting the needs of their employees.

If you want to avoid becoming a bad boss — or you fear that you may already be considered one by your employees — consider this list of ten actions that constitute the behavior of bad bosses.



Destabilizing the Workplace

Somewhere along the line we got the idea that since change is good, continually shaking things up must be better. This is definitely not the case. Constant change is incredibly detrimental in the workplace. It undercuts stability, causing workers to become exhausted, cynical, or depressed. This change can be reflected in anything from inconsistent policies to a failure to communicate clear expectations to departmental restructures and frequent layoffs.

When employees are kept from knowing where they stand and whether they’re meeting expectations, they react by withdrawing, and becoming less engaged. Performance, productivity, and retention begin to suffer. Eventually, they only invest enough energy to keep getting their paycheck; these disaffected employees spend the rest of their time updating their resumes and planning their next move.

What to do instead: While it may not be easy to keep your employees calm during uncertain times, you can assuage some of their fears by being transparent and communicating frequently. If change is inevitable, plan well, and make sure it only happens once in a great while. Then, spend time rebuilding trust with your team.

Turning a Deaf Ear to Ideas and Complaints

I’m gonna put this plainly: managers who don’t listen to their employees are toxic bosses. Ask yourself the following question: Do you often overreact to information, snapping or loudly disagreeing before the information has been fully conveyed? If so, you’re going to find yourself labeled as a boss who refuses to admit when they’re wrong and doesn’t respect their employees. What’s more, you’re going to stop hearing complaints, which means your employees’ foresight isn’t being leveraged to improve the company.

Employees want to work in an environment where their ideas are taken seriously and their judgement is valued. When leaders dismiss their ideas without considering them, employees lose initiative. Conversely, when employee ideas are both heard and encouraged, the company benefits through innovation, as well as increased motivation, job performance, and morale.

What to do instead: Actively seek employee insights — even if they are negative. Negative comments can often be used to strengthen a business. Work diligently to ensure all of your employees feel safe approaching you with any issue, and invite them to challenge your opinions.

You’re going to hear some things you don’t want to hear. Regardless of how you may feel, thank employees for every piece of feedback — building trust is your number one priority. And remember, an employee who complains isn’t necessarily a bad employee. In fact, it’s quite the opposite, they’re usually very passionate about the organization. Listen to them when they tell you they’re not the only one who feels the way they do. In most cases, they are not only being honest, they’re the only one who feels safe enough to come speak to you.

Allowing Office Bullies to Flourish

You might be tempted to dismiss those who claim they are being bullied in the office as being weak, or deserving of mistreatment. It may even be the case that the bully is one of your favorites. Bullies are expert manipulators; they rarely trouble you, are dependable employees, and perform well within the company. They do their bullying behind-the-scenes, using their social savvy to remain calm and surprised when you confront them regarding claims of harassment. They make it easy to take their side over that of the victim.

But here’s the thing, office bullies are a blight on businesses. Not only are the employees who are bullied at work more likely to quit, so are their coworkers. Other employees are empathetic to the victim, and don’t like working for a boss who allows, encourages, or engages in immoral and unethical behavior. What’s more, the cost of hiring and training new employees far exceeds the value of continuing to employ the bully.

What to do instead: No manager should ever allow bullying in their department. Your employees don’t deserve to be mistreated, and it’s your job to make sure they aren’t. If you witness or are informed of any incidents of bullying, take the suspect aside and explain that their behavior is unacceptable, and that you will not stand for it. A performance improvement plan may also be necessary, as working well with others is a critical skill in the business world. If they don’t adhere to the guidelines provided, fire them.

Openly Gossiping About Employees

Gossip can be toxic in the workplace, and supervisors who engage in it are incredibly unprofessional. Sharing your employees’ private information creates a workplace filled with suspicion and distrust — and indicates to others that you are a deeply insecure person. What’s more, the subject of said gossip is bound to feel disheartened by these rumors, ultimately disengaging or quitting altogether.

What to do instead: If you take issue with an employee’s behavior, address said employee and no one else. This conversation should be held in a private location where it will not be overheard.

Lying to Employees

If you’re in the practice of lying to your employees, you can fully expect to get caught. Your employees are not stupid — they’re capable of critical thinking and will find you out. Once they do, you can expect your reputation to suffer. Employees will inform everyone they know that you lied to them. Eventually, current employees, potential employees, clients, and community members will end up with a rather dim view of both you and the company.

A lack of transparency is another problem that’s bound to backfire. In the absence of clear information, employees end up frustrated and come up with their own truths — truths that are rarely positive. Rumors thrive, employee trust is damaged, and you end up with a mess on your hands.

What to do instead: If you want to foster a culture of trust, you must be transparent. A good manager keeps their employees in the loop — no matter if the news is good, bad, or downright ugly. This leads to employees feeling valued and trusted as important members of your team. As a result, their loyalty increases, and they take an active role in ensuring the success of the company. What’s more, when leaders are transparent, problems are solved much faster as employees help to find solutions.

Disrespecting Employees

Your employees are like finely tuned radar; they know how you really feel and what you are really saying beyond the words that come out of your mouth. They watch your body language, listen to the tone of your voice, and observe your demeanor and expressions. They see the degree of your respect for them in how often you ask their opinion, run work changes that affect their job by them, and delegate important assignments. They see it in how the company establishes new rules and policies, introduces new procedures to employees, and compensates, recognizes, and rewards them.

They know damn well if you don’t respect them — even if you never say it outright. Hear me now: respect is a two-way street. If you don’t respect your employees, they will never, ever respect you.

What to do instead: There are numerous ways you can demonstrate respect to your employees.

  • Treat them with kindness, courtesy, and politeness.
  • Encourage them to express opinions and ideas, and implement their suggestions.
  • Listen to what they have to say before expressing your viewpoint. Don’t interrupt or speak over them.
  • Never insult people. Name calling or putting down an employee (or their ideas) is a big no-no.
  • Don’t nitpick, belittle, judge, condescend, demean, or patronize.
  • Offer praise far more often than criticism.
  • Above all else, treat your employees the way you would want to be treated in their position.

Put into effect consistently, these actions will create a respectful, considerate, and professional workplace. The more employees feel respected by their leaders, the more likely they are to stick with the company.

Micromanaging

When you insist on controlling every aspect of your employees’ jobs, all you’re really doing is shooting yourself in the foot. Micromanaging is a terrible leadership tactic — it’s annoying, breeds mistrust, discourages self-reliance, stifles creativity, and creates an atmosphere of paranoia. A consistent pattern of micromanagement tells your employees that you don’t trust their work or judgment.

Micromanaging is also a major factor in prompting disengagement. A survey from Accountemps found that of those who’d been micromanaged, 68 percent said it decreased their morale, while 55 percent said it hurt their productivity.

What to do instead: A good manage provides clear instructions and specifications, and then allows employees to accomplish the end goal in their own way. Furthermore, a good manager delegates — and you can’t do that if you’re taking on everything. Determine what work is crucial for you to be involved in, and delegate the rest.

Ruling Through Fear

Do you view your employees as commodities you can use for your purposes? Do you threaten them with losing their jobs in order to get them to do what you want? Do you use disciplinary measures when simple, positive communication would correct the problem? If so, you may be a fear-based leader.

Other signs of fear-based leadership include:

  • Fixating on metrics — whether they be daily, weekly, or hourly. Viewing the employee as the sum of their numeric goals.
  • Promotions are given to sycophants. Fear-based senior leaders surround themselves with yes-men and yes-women because they prefer to hear the “right” answer rather than the truth.
  • Managers are concerned only with pleasing their superiors. They become rigidly devoted to the structure of the business — rules, punishments, and metrics.

Fear-based leadership isn’t true leadership. Oh sure, sometimes, it appears effective — but that’s only in the short term. It creates a sense of urgency in employees, an elevated sense of anxiety which generates a lot of activity, but not necessarily productivity. Employees turn their attention inward instead of outward; no longer interested in the organizational goals, the quality of their output, or the customer experience. Instead, they focus only on keeping their jobs and not stepping on toes.

Fear breeds anxiety, cynicism, distrust, and intimidation — all of which poison company culture. Transparency and honesty go by the wayside, and employees are afraid to ask for help, admit mistakes, or share ideas. This leads to the company being unable to change, create, and innovate — making their position in the competitive market unstable.

Finally, fear-based leadership is most often used as a cover for a manager’s insecurities. Their professional identity serves as their only source of power, and they’re afraid to lose it. They lack the self-esteem needed to build their employees up. Instead of making the people who work for them feel strong and capable, they tear them down. Trust me when I say that employees are very aware of these insecurities — while they may not try to exploit them, they’re bound to lose a lot of respect for you.

What to do instead: Your behavior affects the climate of the team; therefore, one of your most important responsibilities is to nurture a psychologically safe environment. This will not only encourage meaningful interactions among your staff, it will also positively impact the bottom line. One study showed that a positive work environment can improve financial results by nearly 30 percent.

Truly great leaders make those around them better. Offer rewards and provide constructive criticism to increase the self-esteem and energies of your employees. Inspire others to go above and beyond the call of duty without coercion and threats. Empowered employees are more likely to put their attention on bettering their team and the customer experience.

Dismissing the Need for Positive Culture

The workplace is where your employees spend more than one-third of their lives. If employees are happy and content at work, it reflects in their overall personality and growth. However, if they’re constantly deluged with negativity, their will to perform will suffer. Problems stemming from the negative environment — such as attendance issues, decreased productivity, and low morale — feed upon each other, and the entire organization suffers. Disillusioned employees eventually leave, causing management to lose credibility and the organization’s reputation to be tarnished.

What to do instead: Employees work to the best of their capabilities when surrounded by an encouraging environment that values human resource. Not only does this increase productivity and employee satisfaction, it also directly impacts the ability of the organization to attract and retain talent. There are a number of different company culture models — take time to discuss them with upper management and implement the one that serves your employees best.

Ignoring the Importance of Engagement

Simply put, employee engagement is the level to which an employee is committed to the organization. There are a lot of things that will tank employee engagement — the entirety of this list, for instance — but it essentially boils down to their emotions. How an employee is made to feel by their supervisors, and how, in turn, they feel about the company, is what’s at the heart of engagement.

What to do instead: Since employees are the most valuable asset a company has, they must be continually shown that they are valued. When management makes an honest and meaningful effort to connect and motivate workers, employees feel connected to the company and its goals — they want to see the company succeed. Studies have shown that companies with engaged employees outperform those without by up to 202 percent.

There are four pillars of employee engagement: collaborative relationships, supportive workplace culture, relevant feedback, and timely recognition. It’s your job to ensure that these pillars are in place, and fully supported.

Final Thoughts

If none of the actions in the above list sound familiar — or if you can rationalize these behaviors — ask yourself the following questions:

  • Do employees stop talking when you enter the room?
  • Do employees avoid eye contact with you?
  • Do employees fail to greet you in the morning, or say goodbye in the evening?
  • Do employees avoid talking to you at all costs?
  • Do employees decline to share personal details of their lives with you?
  • Do employees not smile when talking to you?
  • Do employees call in sick often?
  • Do employees communicate with you via email or chat, but others in person?
  • Do you not receive any compliments from employees?
  • Are you often excluded from social events?
  • Have employees become more disagreeable with you?
  • Is the employee turnover rate higher in your department than elsewhere in the organization?

If you found yourself answering yes to the majority of these questions, it’s time to take a good hard look in the mirror. You are the problem, and it’s time you learn how to be the solution. Gaining your employees trust will be no easy feat, but you owe it to them, the company, and yourself to get busy.



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Liz Greene

Writer, Marketing Specialist
Liz Greene is a writer, marketing professional, and full blown pop culture geek from the beautiful City of Trees, Boise, ID. When she’s not stalking the aisles of her local Ulta, she can be found shoveling down sushi while discussing the merits of the latest Game of Thrones fan theories.

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