When Managers Go Bad


Disclaimer: The following is purely from my own experience. No actual names for companies or people have been used. The term managers in this entry also encompasses supervisors.

In my working life I have worked under many different managers in many different settings. Some have been good, some bad, some truly awful, the kind that make you dread going to work. The type of manager you work under can make all the difference to your productivity and general well-being. A bad manager can completely destroy your piece of mind and confidence and nowhere does this have a more detrimental effect than in sectors that rely on customer service.

I discovered this while working in retail. Every day I would serve at least one customer who was, shall we say, difficult. Sometimes this wasn’t a problem, they’d accept that they’d misread the promotion once I had gone and gotten the sign from the shelf and pointed out the wording. However there were some who were not satisfied by this and uttered the phrase most dreaded by those beholden to a bad superior “I’d like to speak to your manager”. Cue the awkward silence while you waited for the manager to come to the counter. On arrival the manager would simper and placate the customer while simultaneously implying or outright saying I was a bad employee. This was while I stood there unsure as to whether I should stand up for myself or fall to my knees and apologise to the customer for being such a terrible individual.

It wasn’t so much that my work was being criticised or even that I was being undermined, it was the fact that I was sticking to the rules and my manager wasn’t. These were the same rules that if I had broken I would have been severely reprimanded for, the rules that the same manager had told me were not to be broken or bent for any reason. This kind of hypocritical behaviour not only left the rancour of injustice in my mouth it also made me question my sanity slightly. Had I completely fabricated the encounter where my manager had explained the rules and regulations to me? I would regularly check the staff handbook just to confirm that I wasn’t imagining it.

There was no way to officially complain about this manager’s behaviour. Although in theory there was a protocol for lodging complaints there was no way of me doing so without going through the same manager I was complaining about. As I was on a zero hour contract and in my probation period it was heavily implied that any complaints would be met with my hours being cut or dismissal. As I had bills and rent to pay I couldn’t risk it, so I carried on, my performance deteriorating with every day. Luckily I found a different job and could finally escape that manager, unfortunately I landed in another customer facing role where the managers were equally bad.

I won’t bore you with the details of that job but safe to say I have come across far more bad managers than good ones. In my experience there are a few characteristics that define a bad manager and I’m sure that everyone has come across someone in their working life who exhibits more than one of the following.

Will Not Take Responsibility for Failure

The bad manager will often blame a department’s failures on the people under them not recognising that they have to take responsibility for those people’s actions. If an employee is not performing as they should then it is the manager’s job to find out why and rectify the situation. It’s no good throwing your hands up and saying that it was the intern’s fault, the intern isn’t the one running the department.

Will Take All The Glory

While shirking responsibility when it comes to failures the bad manager will happily and without shame claim all the praise for a job well done. Their employees will receive no recognition for their work because in the bad manager’s mind it was all down to them.

Lack of Empathy

A bad manager does not empathise with the employees they manage, they see them as merely tools not individuals with strengths and weaknesses. In their mind someone doing their job very well is par the course and doesn’t require any recognition after all they get paid. Someone under-performing is simply a broken tool and should be replaced.

Laziness and Entitlement

The bad manager believes that they work harder than anyone else. Therefore when they spend most of the shift sitting in their office reading a newspaper this is because they deserve a break. So entrenched is this view that they will without irony command people to work harder while they put their feet up on the desk and play on their phone. This is not an exaggeration for emphasis, I have witnessed this exact situation more than once.

Cannot Take Constructive Criticism

A bad manager will not be able to digest the fact that they may not be the all star they think they are and in response will vomit up accusations and criticisms of their own. What is intended as a suggestion that will make the department function better (i.e. maybe it would be better if you changed how you organise the rota) is taken as a personal insult. It is a person more determined than myself who perseveres in trying to make things better when faced with the wrath of a bad manager.

Overly Cynical

The bad manager unreasonably believes that everyone is trying to shirk their duties. When an employee rings in sick they will jump to the conclusion that they are lying even if up until that point they had a perfect attendance record.

This is not a definitive list of traits but these are definitely the ones that stand out in my mind. Unfortunately there are only a few things you can do when under the tyranny of a bad manager, put up with it, lodge a complaint or leave. Unless action is taken against them they won’t change and even then they may choose to believe that they are being unfairly persecuted rather than at fault. If you are the owner or MD of a company look out for the signs of a bad manager such as high staff turnover and a drop in productivity. You will get more out of your employees if they are happy.




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