9 Toxic Things Your Boss Should Never Say

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AnnaMarie Houlis4.87k
Journalist & travel blogger
April 15, 2024 at 8:19PM UTC
Toxic managers aren't always obvious. In some cases, the messages these bosses send are subtly toxic — and, subtle or not, it's still unacceptable in any workplace.
If your manager says any of the following nine things to you, they might be more toxic than they initially seem.

1. "Did you think this was well done?"

If you do a poor job on an assignment, your performance warrants a tough conversation and, in some cases, you could even lose your job. That's a possibility in any at-will employment scenario. But your manager should speak to you about why what you did wasn't was well done, as opposed to sarcastically asking you if you thought you did well. Rhetorical questions are not necessary; rather, they're a form of gaslighting that can hurt your morale and have adverse effects on your workplace performance.

2. "I know you're busy, but can you plan the virtual office happy hours? You're just so good at this stuff."

Women are too-often expected to take on the "office housework," because they're just "so good at it." (Benevolent sexism, much?) If your manager expects that you'll take on tasks like planning virtual social events, that could be a red flag. You should be expected only to take on your actual job responsibilities, and any kind of "momager" work should be work you choose to do, not work that you're penalized for not doing.

3. "[Colleague] did this, so you should, too."

Healthy competition in the office can be a good thing. But a manager shouldn't pit colleagues against one another or make you feel like the reason you should do a better job is because your colleagues are outperforming you — instead of because you should be growing and developing as part of your job.

4. "I should have expected this from you."

If your manager expected you to perform poorly, that should have been a conversation beforehand. A smart manager is proactive rather than reactive. 

5. "Let's schedule our 1:1 for 8 a.m."

A manager who respects their employees understands that a healthy work-life balance is key to employee retention. They also understand that you need adequate sleep to stay physically and mentally healthy to keep productive and efficient in your work. If your boss is ignoring your need for rest and flexibility by insisting on too-early or too-late hours for meetings, that isn't okay.

6. "Thanks for being the office mom!"

While it may feel flattering to be so well-liked in the office, your job is to do your job, not to take care of everyone else around you. Of course, looking after others and lending a helping hand is generous of you, and your manager's thank you may very well be a genuine one. But, again, you should be recognized in the workplace for the work that you do, not for your caretaking personality.

7. "I know you're on vacation, but..."

If you're given paid time off (PTO), it should be respected. Of course, there are times of emergency when you may really be needed, but in the majority of situations, there should be protocols set in place so that your time off isn't interrupted.  And that's true even in this new normal, during which your boss knows you're probably at home. Time off is still time off.

8. "Being on time for the meeting is being late."

Again, a good manager respects work-life balance. Being a couple minutes early is always a good idea to help get your ducks in a row and to show that you respect others' time. But if you click into the meeting on time, you're still, well, on time.

9. "You're doing so well because you're [insert irrelevant personality trait]."

Research suggests that sexism plagues performance reviews. Whereas men tend to receive constructive criticism and direction to move forward, as well as praise for their skills, women tend to receive vague feedback that doesn't help them to improve, as well as recognition of their personality traits that have nothing to do with their actual work. If your manager doesn't share an honest review with you that helps you to do your job better, it could be a major red flag.

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About the Career Expert:

AnnaMarie Houlis is a multimedia journalist for a gamut of both online and print publications, as well as an adventure aficionado and travel blogger at HerReport.org. She covers all things women's empowerment — from navigating the workplace to navigating the world. She writes about everything from gender issues in the workforce to gender issues all across the globe.

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