How to Deal With Toxic Managers

by | May 9, 2024

Toxic managers in the workplace


Managers are an essential component of any organisation. 

A competent and supportive manager serves as the intermediary voice between top leadership and workers, and can foster a positive work environment, nurturing productivity and employee satisfaction. 

However, not all managers fit this description. Some exhibit toxic traits that not only undermine individual growth but also jeopardise the health and wellbeing of the team as a whole. 

People aren’t born toxic and believe it or not, that’s true of toxic managers too. Toxicity often, if not always, stems from an individual’s perception of their environment, but how people perceive their environment can change over time – thanks to training, life experience, personal and professional development, and even executive coaching. If a manager has not received proper training, this could lead to passive aggression at work. Likewise, if a manager struggles with feelings of insecurity or anxiety, they may project those feelings onto their environment, which may lead to traits like micromanagement and blame-shifting. 

Understanding what constitutes toxic behaviour in management is the first step towards mitigating its adverse effects. Remember: it’s important to always approach toxicity with a clear head and open heart, people are rarely cruel by nature, so it pays to keep the bigger picture in mind when dealing with toxic managers. 

Recognising toxic manager traits


Toxic leadership makes for rigid managers and they come in various forms, each exhibiting distinctive traits that impede team progress and erode psychological safety. Some common characteristics include:

  • Micromanagement: constantly hovering over employees’ shoulders and undermining their autonomy.

Example:

Jonathan requests updates from Sophie on every minor task that she carries out. He insists on approving trivial decisions, and reprimands her for not adhering to his preferred methods. She feels stifled and frustrated at work because of his toxic approach to management.

  • Lack of empathy: disregarding employees’ concerns and emotions, leading to a sense of alienation.

Example:

Arthur shares concerns about a heavy workload due to personal issues, only to be met with dismissive comments from his manager, such as “everyone has problems, you need to focus on work.” This lack of empathy exacerbates Arthur’s stress and diminishes his sense of belonging within the team.

  • Blame-shifting: refusing to take responsibility for mistakes and scapegoating team members.

Example:

During a team meeting to address project delays, Ellie (manager) deflects responsibility by singling out individual team members for criticism and attributing the project’s setbacks to their performance to absolve herself of any accountability. This behaviour fosters resentment and undermines team cohesion.

  • Aggressive communication: using intimidation tactics and hostile language to assert dominance.

Example: 

In a performance review session, Leanna berates her employee with harsh criticism, using demeaning language and raising their voice, causing her employee to feel belittled and demoralised. Such aggressive communication creates a hostile work environment and erodes trust.

  • Rigidness: resisting change and stifling innovation with an inflexible approach to problem-solving.

Example:

When presented with suggestions for process improvements from team members, Dean (manager) dismisses them outright, insisting that his way is the only viable approach. This rigidity stifles innovation and discourages employees from offering valuable insights, ultimately hindering team progress.

While these examples are fictitious, they portray scenarios that many of us will deem all too real. With the aforementioned toxic characteristics in mind, let’s consider the impact that this approach to management may have on a workplace.

How toxic managers fuel workplace toxicity


The repercussions of a toxic boss extend far beyond individual discomfort, permeating the entire team dynamic. Employees working under toxic or aggressive managers often experience:

  • Increased stress and anxiety due to fear of retribution or criticism.
  • Decreased morale and engagement, leading to higher turnover rates.
  • Diminished creativity and collaboration as employees refrain from speaking up.
  • Erosion of trust and camaraderie among team members, hindering effective communication.

Understanding the impacts that toxic leadership has on the workforce is essential when it comes to navigating and overcoming toxic approaches to management in the workplace. By understanding the specific challenges posed by increased stress, decreased morale, diminished creativity, and eroded trust, companies can do more to confront toxic behaviour and management styles. 

Dealing with toxic managers


Navigating workplace toxicity requires a strategic approach that prioritises both individual wellbeing and organisational health. If you find yourself grappling with a toxic boss, consider the following steps:

  • Keep record: document instances of toxic behaviour like specific incidents that include dates, times, and witnesses, to provide concrete evidence if needed.
  • Seek support from HR: approach the human resources (HR) department to discuss your concerns confidentially. HR and L&D play an essential role in addressing toxic management and can offer guidance and facilitate constructive conversations with the manager.
  • Explore development opportunities: encourage toxic managers to undergo coaching or participate in leadership and development (L&D) programmes aimed at building on self-awareness, emotional intelligence and conscious communication.
  • Evaluate organisational culture: conduct an analysis of your workplace wellbeing culture to identify systematic issues that may enable toxic behaviour to thrive. Use this analysis to advocate for initiatives that promote psychological safety and accountability.

Is your workplace doing what it takes?


Toxic management hinders organisational success. Nevertheless, armed with awareness and a commitment to positive transformation, individuals and organisations possess the potential to surmount this challenge. By vigilantly recognising the telltale signs of toxicity, initiating open dialogue to address concerns and championing initiatives for meaningful change, a path towards a healthier, more productive work environment emerges.

Combatting toxic behaviour in the workplace demands a collective effort, which appeals to everyone in the organisation to help build a culture of respect, empathy, and collaboration. It is through this collective dedication that the seeds of positive change take root, nurturing an environment where every voice is heard, every concern is addressed, and every individual is empowered to thrive. 

Remember! At the core of it all are two key points: a leadership team that is dedicated to workplace wellbeing, individual growth and organisational development, and a psychologically safe environment in which workers feel like they can stand up to signs of toxicity at work. 

Stay informed to unlock the benefits of improved workplace wellbeing.