Toxic managers are all too common. Ivey Business Journal pointed this out in a descriptively frightening way when they said, “toxic managers dot the landscape in most organizations,” and went on to depict this situation as making the workplace seem like a war zone. Business owners should not consider this tolerable. People are supposed to be working, not ducking figurative bullets. Did you know that Recruiteze is one of the top applicant tracking systems of 2018? That’s right! You can try Recruiteze today with our free trial!
Are Toxic Managers Undermining Your Business Goals?
Why you should care about toxic managers
Think about what toxic means, that something is poisonous, potentially “deadly.” Toxic managers exhibit behaviors that create an unhealthy environment in the workplace. Imagine trying to grow a plant in toxic soil; it’s going to grow malformed and unproductive, or not at all. When a manager is toxic, they inhibit employees’ ability to perform daily tasks and achieve goals, ultimately leading the whole company to struggle.
Ivey Business Journal said,
“Toxic managers divert people’s energy from the real work of the organization, destroy morale, impair retention, and interfere with cooperation and information sharing. Their behavior, like a rock thrown into a pond, can cause ripples distorting the organization’s culture and affecting people far beyond the point of impact.”
And Forbes reported,
“Disrespectful behavior isn’t just bad for morale—it also hurts a company’s bottom dollars. It’s estimated that workplace incivility costs companies $14,000 per employee due to lost productivity.”
All your big business goals come about, or not, because of the daily actions of managers and employees. If the little everyday dealings are healthy, then productivity, innovation, and profit thrive, if not, you can try to force your business goals, but they won’t turn out as well, will require more work, and are likely to not last. Sustainable productivity, innovation, and profits are nurtured from a healthy culture, like that plant in healthy soil mentioned above.
Most advice out there on toxic managers consists of telling employees how to navigate their workplace around a toxic manager. A little of the advice is geared toward informing managers that they may be toxic. But what about the people hiring and overseeing those managers? Don’t they, i.e. you, have an important say in this?
You’re paying employees to perform work-related tasks and achieve goals; how can they do their jobs effectively when they have to spend time, energy, and mental resources trying to overcome their manager? It actually seems like the employees are having to manage the manager. They have a job, and that’s not it.
You, as the business owner or CEO, should proactively address toxic manager behavior so employees only have to think about their work, their responsibilities, and maybe even their passion for their work, not making up for and protecting themselves from their manager.
The toxic manager issue is covered within advice on a strong company culture, but that’s a vast topic. Business owners and CEOs get distracted by pretty offices, employee perks, and fancy ideals and too often forget that the managers are the crucial element in making things happen, or not. CEO interviews, mission statements on websites, and even internal communications may state what sounds like a healthy culture, but employees spend all day with the actions, or lack-thereof, of their managers, and that’s the true “face” of the company, that’s what the culture actually is. Ensure that your managers are creating the culture you need for your business to succeed.
How to know when you have one or more toxic manager in your company
First, you need to know what a toxic manager is.
Basically, a toxic manager is someone whose behavior makes it difficult for other managers and employees to perform their jobs around and with them.
Toxic manager behavior includes actions like:
- Rejecting responsibility for their actions.
- Not communicating ideas, goals, expectations, and news.
- Avoiding necessary managerial actions, such as giving feedback, from fear of conflict.
- Suppressing or not encouraging other ideas, viewpoints, complaints, and creativity.
- Not making goals.
- Only seeing the short term goals or the surface success.
- Not following the company’s rules but expecting others to do so.
Definitions of toxic managers vary, from personal defects like having difficulty sticking to one plan, to unreasonable behaviors like not being willing to listen to other points of view, to being downright abusive such as calling employees names and other forms of harassment.
It’s not so much about removing, as managing
The Ivey Business Journal also points out that while, ”some managers are toxic most of the time; most managers are toxic some of the time.”
It isn’t practical or necessary to take disciplinary action or fire someone for one or an occasional toxic behavior, unless it is abusive, but it is best for the business to try to limit toxic behaviors, through a strong company culture and through looking for signs of toxic behavior and addressing them. While they vary in severity, they can all detract from your business.
After determining what a toxic manager is, you need to look for signs that one or more is undermining your business. These signs shouldn’t be hard to spot when you think to look for them.
How to know if you have a toxic manager issue
Some signs that you probably have a toxic manager issue:
- complaints, about the manager themselves, the business, or the work environment
- high turnover
- low workplace satisfaction
- low productivity
- unhealthy competitiveness
- employees acting embittered with each other
- employees that seem confused, about goals, their success or failure, or even the task at hand
- uninspired or disheartened employees
These aren’t all conclusive. You may have a wonderful manager who’s having to lead their employees with old equipment and the employees are upset about that, reducing workplace satisfaction and productivity. Of course, if an issue is worse in one team than it is with others, the manager of that particular team is quite likely responsible, making it much easier to narrow down. Investigate any of these worrisome signs to determine their cause. Some amount of toxic management is probably to blame.
Find existing toxic management behavior with employee surveys and exit polls, and maybe even monitoring what’s being said about your company by employees on social media and company review sites.
It is frighteningly easy, even in many of the most celebrated companies, to find reports on review sites of favoritism, poor communication, a lack of trust, and unreasonable expectations. But it’s also important to conduct employee surveys and ask specific questions like, “do you feel inspired?” or “do you feel listened to?” Employees are so used to dealing with toxic managers that they may not offer up complaints because it doesn’t stand out to them. That doesn’t mean it isn’t hurting your business; it just goes to prove why the absolute best companies are trying so hard to think both outside and beyond the box, because the box has holes in it. Exit polls are also quite helpful because they tell you what has gotten so bad that it has driven employees to quit, and they are more likely to be uninhibited about their answers at this point.
Don’t just react
Be proactive about toxic management by taking the following actions:
- Hire with emotional intelligence in mind.
- Encourage an open-door policy.
- Make your own goals and expectations perfectly clear.
- Encourage risk-taking and innovation.
- Work on a strong company culture that fosters the management you want.
- Monitor, monitor, monitor. You’ve got to keep up with employee satisfaction, retention rates, management’s actions regarding complaints, whether company culture is being adhered to, etc. Where it’s not watched, culture goes to seed. The best policies in the world mean nothing if no one is ensuring they are actually in place.
You don’t want to just catch toxic management behavior after it happens, you want to limit its ability to happen at all.
Toxic business concepts breed toxic management
One thing that fosters a toxic management environment that is arguably not the managers’ fault is the hierarchical nature of the management structure in most companies. They would have to be particularly interested in seeing things from the employees’ point of view and willing to proactively pursue this goal to overcome its effects.
In a previous post, we said,
“Oxford Economics proved that managers are woefully ignorant of their employees’ feelings and plights. They surveyed more than 600 executives and 600 employees in 2015 and discovered an alarming disconnect that impacts employee satisfaction and performance.
53% of employees reported ambient noise reducing satisfaction and productivity.
Only 35% of executives agreed.
63% of executives claimed their employees had the tools needed to filter out distractions in the workplace.
Only 41% of employees agreed.
52% of employees said work/life balance was very important to them.
Only 34% of executives agreed.
39% of employees said they were frustrated with the technology at their workplace.
Only 29% of executives agreed.
This discrepancy leaves a lot of room for employees to suffer decreased performance that is not their fault, poor motivation, and the belief that their employers don’t care about their needs when in reality they don’t see the needs.”
Try to reduce the hierarchy as much as possible, encourage teamwork among all, use team building exercises and employee rewards that get employees and managers to switch roles for a day, or literally get rid of the manager’s office.
SpaceX and IKEA have removed the office. Elon Musk has a desk among his employees, and so do the managers at IKEA.
“If someone at a management interview says ‘will I get my own office’, we have to politely say ‘no, you’ll sit with your co-workers’. We also expect managers to spend time working in the store so they can get a better idea about what customers want, the challenges co-workers face and, ultimately, where the money that pays their salaries comes from. A lot of people find our approach quite refreshing, even if it’s not what they’re used to – co-workers have more of a say and managers enjoy the sense of togetherness.”
Toxic management is poisonous to your business, and most of the time, employees are having to fix this toxic behavior all by themselves. That’s not their job. Let them do what they need to do and have a passion to do without hindrance or harassment by both monitoring to address toxic behavior when it happens and proactively reducing its appearance with a strong company culture.
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