Unfortunately for employees, bad bosses come in all kinds of flavors. There are the tyrannical bullies, the selfish, the sociopaths, the ones who can never admit being wrong. But out of all the toxic bosses, the ones who make us feel the worst are the ones who ignore us.
Research highlighted by Harvard Business Review has found that absentee leadership is the most common incompetent leader and the most derailing to our self-esteem.
“Laissez‐faire leadership behavior” can be destructive
Absentee leaders are ones that may be physically in the office, but their mind is elsewhere. They may be called leaders but they do not act like ones, avoiding the task of building meaningful connections with their team. They lack the self-awareness to keep track of company changes and their employees’ professional growth. They are not honest about your job performance, preferring to give empty praise. “We are doing fine,” their empty platitudes say, while everything is certainly not fine.
Worst, you prompt them to take actions about serious management issues and they never do anything. Their hands are completely off the wheel and you are left to steer this skidding company on your own.
In its analysis of the absentee boss, Harvard Business Review cited a 2010 study which found that “laissez‐faire leadership behavior” was the most common destructive leader employees face. An absentee boss is characterized by what they do not do. It is a hands-off approach to leadership where complaints do not get addressed, and achievements do not get recognized.
Being ignored feels worse than bullying
When our bosses give us complete free reign, it may seem freeing at first, but soon it feels alienating to have no clear direction about what you should be doing. Is anyone even listening to us? A 2015 survey found that laissez-faire leadership turned out to be the sole predictor of job satisfaction for employees.
Employees in the survey felt worse when they were ignored than when they were bullied. In fact, the impact of an absentee boss will leave lasting marks on us long after the initial interaction. Employees with absentee bosses reported a degraded job satisfaction for at least two years.
So bosses everywhere, pay attention. When you get promoted to a management position, the most important action you can take to improve job satisfaction is to make sure every employee feels heard.