25 Subtle Signs You Have A Toxic Boss and How to Deal

toxic boss


Bonnie Marcus M.Ed, CEC
Bonnie Marcus M.Ed, CEC10
Do you dread going to work each day because your boss makes your life miserable?
You’re not alone. According to a  Gallup survey, half of employees leave their jobs to get away from a bad manager and 41% of American workers say they’ve been “psychologically harassed” on the job. Working for a toxic boss can, in fact, be extremely stressful and has been proven to lead to many types of health problems.
The first step to getting out of a toxic environment is having awareness of what’s really happening around you at work. Once you’ve identified the signs, you can take action to avoid, stop or let someone know about the behavior, and start thriving in your career once more.

25 Signs That You Might Have a Toxic Boss

1. They’re always right.

They think they have all the answers and refuse to hear other opinions. They promote people who validate they’re right and demote people who challenge them.

2. They play favorites.

This is discouraging because it’s usually not based on performance. Their favorite has clear advantages such as access to resources or benefits that are not made available to others.

3. They take credit for your work.

If by chance you have the opportunity to work on an important project and get good results, they will present the findings and take responsibility for the work. Sometimes, you aren’t even allowed in the room.

4. They’re only interested in their own career advancement.

They spend a lot of time managing up and sucking up, but they have no time or interest in mentoring you. Conversations about your future or development are seldom had. 

5. They never give constructive feedback.

You’ll rarely get recognition for your work or helpful advice on how to improve, much less exposure to other parts of the company when you're doing a great job. They may only come to you with feedback when you make a mistake. 

6. They cut you off in meetings.

They aren’t interested in hearing other people’s opinions and will deliberately shut you down if you speak up. They may also block you from joining cross-functional meetings or from sharing your opinion in public forums. 

7. They make inappropriate comments or gestures.

Disparaging comments and body language such as eye rolls when you speak can be devastating. They may also demonstrate subtle (or not so subtle) gender bias.

8. They create conflict within the team.

They pit one team member against another to create unhealthy competition and to destroy feelings of camaraderie. 

9. They talk about people behind their back.

Gossip can be very toxic to a work environment. Be aware if they’re sharing gossip about others, they are most likely spreading rumors about you too.

10. They put people down in public.

It’s demoralizing and humiliating to have your boss say something demeaning about you in front of your colleagues or direct reports.

11. They micromanage you.

They assign you a project but then remain constantly involved in every step. They don’t allow you to think on your own or take any action independently.

12. They neglect you.

This is the opposite of micromanaging. They don’t have a clue what you’re working on or the effort involved from you or your team.

13. They blame others for their mistakes.

They never take responsibility for their failures and are quick to assign the blame to others. They are willing to throw others under the bus or double down on why they're right instead of fixing their mistakes. 

14. They know your emotional triggers and use them to taunt you.

This is truly sadistic behavior, but toxic bosses will use any means to have control over others. They may know things about your personal life that they use against you with grating comments or mean forms of manipulation. 

15. They lack integrity.

They aren’t guided by any one set of principles except their own self-interest. They break the rules for their own personal gain and do not follow general cultural principles that are instilled by your work culture. 

16. They gaslight you. 

Your boss may make you feel like you're crazy — like you are misremembering details about what they said or what you accomplished in order to maintain control over you. This process is called gaslighting, and it's a sure sign that your work situation is toxic. It can have a negative impact on your mental and emotional health. 

17. They make you doubt your abilities and accomplishments. 

Your boss may make you feel like your abilities aren't up to snuff or that your accomplishments aren't important or weren't the result of your actions. This is a way to keep you feeling low and to maintain control over your self-esteem. 

18. They don't care about your work-life balance. 

If your boss is always texting you on your day off or asking you to work overtime, they're displaying a toxic disregard for your existence as a human being. Especially if working during time off isn't a mainstay of your workplace culture. 

19. They tease and mock you. 

If your boss is always cracking a joke, even in a "nice" way, they're not being respectful of you as a professional way. If their comments make you feel bad about yourself, it's fair to say the situation is toxic. 

20. They're unpredictable.

If your boss is friendly one minute and throwing a temper tantrum the next, their emotional immaturity may be creating a toxic work environment. Healthy leaders are stable and professional when interacting with their employees. 

21. They operate out of fear. 

If your boss is always making you or your team feel fearful about your place in the company or your ability to meet goals, they may be using fear as a toxic means of control. Healthy leaders use positivity and common goals as a means of motivation — not fear.

What to Do About Your Toxic Boss

As you can see from this list, working with anyone having some or all of these traits is not only damaging to your physical and emotional health, it’s devastating to the overall business and your career. One incompetent or narcissistic bad apple can take down a business if allowed to persist.
Do you work with a toxic boss? If so, then you know just how difficult it can be to go to work every day. So, what do you do?

1. Develop coping strategies.

If your boss is that toxic, chances are, you're not the only one who feels this way. Find allies or develop other strategies for coping. Here are a few to start.

2. Talk to your boss.

You're the best judge of how to do this and whether you should at all. Your boss may not even be aware of their behavior, so it's possible that discussing how it's affecting you and your work privately may make them reassess it.

3. Go to HR.

If your boss is harassing you or doing anything else illegal or against the company code of conduct, this may be your first step. But it doesn't need to reach that level for you to go to HR with your issue. If your boss is generally behaving inappropriately, the company should know.

4. Resign.

If you've tried the previous steps and there's no hope of your boss improving, then it may be time to resign. You should, of course, weigh the pros and cons to determine if this is the right step for you. Sometimes, enough is enough.
This article reflects the views of the author and not necessarily those of Fairygodboss.
Bonnie Marcus, M.Ed, is an executive coach, author and keynote speaker focused on women's advancement in the workplace. A former corporate executive and CEO, Bonnie is the author of The Politics of Promotion: How High Achieving Women Get Ahead and Stay Ahead, and co-author of Lost Leaders in the Pipeline: Capitalizing on Women's Ambition to Offset the Future Leadership Shortage.

What's your no. 1 piece of advice for dealing with a toxic boss? Share your answer in the comments to help other Fairygodboss members!