10 inarguable signs you’re a toxic boss

You might think you’re a decent boss—you might even have employees that love and respect you—but there are certain habits and mindsets that might be harboring a negative atmosphere with your team that you don’t realize you’re fostering.

Below, we’ve rounded up some of the most common signs that you might actually be a toxic colleague or boss—even if you don’t realize it. Note that one or two of these events, isolated from each other, may not be cause for concern.

But if these events happen frequently or consistently, across many subordinates and many teams, or if it happens to be a defining feature of your managerial career, then you may want to reconsider how you’ve been managing your team.

1. Your employees are disengaged

If you find that most or all people who work for you start out talented, with lots of potential, and then over time become “mysteriously” disengaged from the work, less communicative, or less productive—you might be the problem.

“A toxic boss destroys productivity and team spirit, and so you will have this effect on people again and again, including top performers. It will be a recurring pattern across individuals and teams that you lead,” explains Justin Aquino, Founder and Head Coach of Cool Communicator LLC.

2. Your employees are avoiding working with you

“If lots of smart and talented people avoid you, or go out of their way to not work for you, this is because they either see your toxic behavior first-hand, or hear about it through others in their network, and choose to stay away,” explains Aquino.

“You might find yourself stuck with under-performing people, or people who themselves are toxic or with a negative attitude. Like usually attracts like.”

3. You think of your employees as overly sensitive

According to Aquino, you might be a toxic boss if you’ve received multiple complaints about your behavior towards others, but you brush them off as being “overly sensitive” or unimportant. 

“Getting complaints about your behavior is not normal. If you’ve gotten multiple complaints, especially from a variety of different people in different circumstances, it’s a sign that you’re doing something wrong, again and again,” he explains.

4. Your former employees are outperforming themselves elsewhere

You might be a toxic boss if the same people that seemed to underperform when working for you, transfer or get assigned to another manager, and suddenly outperform.

Especially if you’ve always seen that other manager as “too soft” or “too nice.” According to Aquino, he or she may be doing something to make team members feel safe and supported, and that leads to productivity. 

5. You get into arguments regularly

“If you find yourself getting into arguments with team members frequently, and those arguments often turn personal, you may be creating a cloud of negativity and discord around yourself that triggers people’s worst impulses,” warns Aquino.

6. Your team members fight over office politics

According to Aquino, if your team members fight with each other incessantly, especially over “turf” or minor gossip and office politics, you might want to take a step back and look at how you’ve been managing your team. This conflict sucks up time and energy and damages productive output.

“One client of mine told me a story about his former boss, who actively promoted an overly-competitive and aggressive climate in the workplace, thinking that would bring out people’s best work ethic,” shares Aquino.

“One day it actually exploded into a physical altercation between two team members and the police had to be called!”

7. You don’t check in on employee wellbeing

Another sign that you may be fostering a toxic work environment is when you lack the emotional intelligence needed to manage your employees.

According to Eden Cheng, Founder of WeInvoice, if you constantly ask for results or progress reports but fail to even ask your subordinates how they are doing, that can often lead to feelings of resentment as your employees start to think that you don’t care about their wellbeing at all.

“This can also tend to come in the form of isolation where you don’t feel the need to socialize with your team and instead keep yourself isolated,” adds Cheng.

“These are characteristics of a leader with poor communication skills, which can often breed negative emotions in the workplace.”

8. You regularly feel threatened by your employees

“If you find yourself feeling threatened by some of the skills and talents shown by some of the members of your team, then you may need to take some time to reevaluate yourself,” says Cheng. “A good leader doesn’t feel intimidated by the potential of their subordinates but encourages their growth instead.”

According to Cheng, if you find yourself harboring feelings of resentment or envy towards specific people in your team for no reason, you could end up isolating them or mistreating them, even without realizing it, which then results in a toxic work environment for all.

9. You’re constantly asking for extra hours

The toxic boss mentality goes “I’m working hard, they should too!” But, according to Reuben Yonatan, Founder & CEO of GetVoIP, if you’re constantly pushing for overtime then you’re probably ignoring the great work your team already does.

“There are better ways to gain productivity than undoing your employees’ work-life balance.”

10 You don’t know anything about your employees

You may know what their strengths and weaknesses are in terms of work, but what about their personal lives, goals, hobbies, and families?

“You don’t need to pry, nor do you need to be their best friend, but taking the time to get to know them as people keeps you from growing toxic,” says Yonatan.