What Makes a Bad Boss Bad?

The 12 Characteristics That Make for a Bad Boss

Factory manager and worker arguing in front of warehouse
••• Jetta Productions/The Image Bank/Getty Images

Nothing sparks more commentary than asking about what makes a manager a bad boss

Consensus doesn't exist, of course, because bad bosses come in so many different shapes and sizes. What one person thinks of as a bad boss may not resonate with a coworker who has different needs.

Many bosses fall into the bad boss category because they fail to provide clear direction, regular feedback, recognition for contributions, and a goal setting strategic framework that enables employees to see progress. These kinds of bad bosses are what we call "generic bad bosses" because all employees need these things. Other bad bosses are bullies. They are nasty, overly critical, they badger employees, and employees can never do enough to please them. On the extreme end of the spectrum, bosses may harass, physically assault, and throw objects at employees.

But, several themes occur most frequently when citing bad behavior on the part of bosses. 

What Really Bad Bosses Do

Very Bad bosses most commonly do the following.

  1. Love brownnosers, tattletales, and relatives who report to them about employee's behavior. They choose favorite employees and cover up and make excuses for the poor work of their incompetent favorites. They ignore selected people and discriminate against many employees. They tend to give their favorites better schedules and assignments, more attention, and pal around with them outside of work.
  2. Fail to communicate, and may not even have clear expectations, timelines or goals. Bad bosses change their minds frequently leaving employees off-balance. Bad bosses change expectations and deadlines frequently. Employees have trouble knowing where they stand and whether they're meeting expectations. Employees fail to feel a sense of accomplishment when expectations don't exist.
  1. Use disciplinary measures inappropriately when simple, positive communication would correct the problem. Bad bosses ignore employees until there is a problem, then they pounce. 
  2. Speak loudly, rudely, one-sidedly to staff. Bad bosses don't provide the opportunity for staff to respond to accusations and comments. They intimidate people and allow other employees to bully employees.
  3. Take credit for the successes and positive accomplishments of employees. They are equally as quick to blame employees when something goes wrong. They throw employees under the bus loudly and in public.
  1. Fail to provide rewards or recognition for positive employee performance.

What Less Offensive Bad Bosses Do

Taking place more frequently (because the behavior is generally more acceptable) a bad boss is also someone who:

  1. Is not qualified for the boss job by either skills or experience. The bad boss doesn't know how to lead and interact effectively with people.
  2. Will not let go of problems or mistakes. The bad boss returns to discuss negative events continually and searches for faults in employees.
  3. Will not accept constructive feedback and suggestions for improvement. The bad boss can't deal with disagreement from employees who have their own opinions about work-related issues.
  4. Lacks integrity, breaks promises and is dishonest. Bad bosses make up stories when they don't know the answer to an employee's question and they are not motivated to find out.
  1. Does not have the courage to deal with a difficult situation despite knowing that it is the right thing to do.
  2. Causes dissension among staff members by his or her actions and comments.

If you feel harmed and you've decided it's time to do something about your bad boss, then you should consider these recommended options. You can also take steps to avoid being the target of a workplace bully.

Your first step, however, is to solicit help from your HR department because that's what they are there for. Most likely you're not the only person suffering. Who knows, there might already be complaints filed against your bad boss.