What Makes a Bad Boss Bad?

Top 12 Characteristics of a Bad Boss According to Readers

Factory manager and worker arguing in front of warehouse
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Nothing sparks more commentary than asking about what makes a manager a bad boss. From a former website poll and its lengthy comments thread, some common themes in reader responses describe the characteristics that make a bad boss—really bad.

Want to avoid becoming a bad boss? Afraid that you may already be considered a bad boss? Just want to commiserate with other people who have had bad bosses?

Consensus doesn't exist, of course, because bad bosses come in so many different sizes and variations.

What one person counts as a bad boss may not resonate with a coworker who needs different kinds of attention from her boss.

There are also bad bosses who stumble into this territory because they fail to provide clear direction, regular feedback, recognition for contributions, and a goal setting strategic framework that enables employees to see progress.

Other bad bosses are bullies. They are nasty, they name call, and employees can never do enough to please them. On the far end of bad, bosses may harass, physically challenge, and throw objects at employees.

But, several themes occurred most frequently in the comments received from readers over the years. These are worth noting because they reflect real life experience with bosses you would call bad.

Here are your thoughts about what makes a bad boss, well—bad.

What Do Bad Bosses Do?

Bad bosses, in order of their frequency in the reader comments thread, do the following.

  • Love brownnosers, tattletales, and relatives who report to them. 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.
  • 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.
  • Use disciplinary measures inappropriately when simple, positive communication would correct the problem. Bad bosses ignore employees until there is a problem, then pounce. They seek out the guilty when they want to correct a problem.
  • Speak loudly, rudely, one-sidedly to staff. Bad bosses don't provide the air time for staff to respond to accusations and comments. They intimidate people and bully staff. They allow other employees to bully employees.
  • 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.
  • Fail to provide rewards or recognition for positive employee performance.

These six were the top bad boss characteristics cited by readers. The following came up less frequently but were contributed by more than one reader.

The bad boss:

  • 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.
  • Will not let go of problems or mistakes. The bad boss returns to discuss negative events continually and searches for faults in employees.
  • 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.
  • 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 too lazy to find out.
  • Does not have the courage to deal with a difficult situation despite knowing that it is the right thing to do.
  • Causes dissension among staff members by his or her actions and comments.

    Reader comments also made the point that a lot of bad boss behavior is enabled, or at least allowed, by the boss's bad boss. These comments provide a snapshot about what employees believe makes a bad boss. Listen and learn or listen and commiserate. 

    Have you decided that it's time to do something about your bad boss? You have some options in an organization. You can consider these recommended options. You can avoid being the target of a workplace bully.

    You can decide that your actions might justify some of the boss's bad behavior and try to bolster the relationship for the common good. You can solicit help from your HR staff. Ultimately, you can try to fire your bad boss. Understand that this is a risky path that may end up with you losing. So don't start down this path unless you're willing to lose your job.

    Ready to Leave Your Really Bad Boss?

    These resources will assist you to move on—or not. It really is your choice if nothing else you've tried is working. You deserve a good boss.