Just like a bad apple in a barrel, toxicity emanating from a bad manager can sour a workplace’s entire dynamic given enough time. Whether the individual exhibiting toxic manager behavior is above or below you in the hierarchy of command, navigating their presence can be challenging to say the least. The first step, of course, is identifying a toxic presence in the management team, so we’ll tackle that momentarily with a toxic manager checklist.

But first, if the toxic manager is your senior or peer, it is a noble move to seek help from further up the chain of command. In fact, even if you decide to move on to greener, healthier pastures, your choice to speak up will likely save others from the hardship of feeling maligned. In contrast, if the manager answers directly to you, having a clear sense of how to proceed can help you deescalate the situation with finesse while documenting it in case further action is required. So let’s dive into these points one by one. Yes, managing a toxic manager is a thing—and hopefully by the end of this article you’ll feel better equipped to master it.

Identifying Toxic Manager Behavior

There are two sources to look to when hoping to pinpoint whether one of your leaders is exhibiting toxic behavior. The first is how they conduct themselves, and the second is how employees interact with them. As such, you can look to a two-part toxic manager checklist:

Examples of Toxic Manager Behavior Traits: 

  • Authoritarian approach paired with unwillingness to hear employee perspectives
  • Hostile response to feedback and corrections
  • Leverages hierarchy to disempower others
  • Deflects attention from important issues or failings—or blames others for them
  • Inflexibility and resistance to change
  • A lack of trust in others or constant micromanagement
  • Unrealistic expectations of the workload that others can carry
  • Maligning, discriminatory, condescending, or resentful language
  • Embarrassing or undermining team members in front of their peers
  • Bullying, withholding, and violence in the workplace

Examples of Team Indications of a Toxic Manager:

  • Hesitancy to speak up
  • High stress or anxiety levels
  • Elevating number of sick days taken
  • High team turnover
  • Consistently missed targets
  • Unwillingness to talk to HR due to fear of retaliation
  • A siphoned flow of information from the team through the manager 
  • Inappropriate behavior and preferential treatment is tolerated
  • New ideas are shut down
  • Promotions remain in-clique and diversity is lacking

How to Manage a Toxic Manager

As they say, most employees choosing to give their notice don’t leave the company—they leave the boss. High turnover, plus the many other worrying symptoms of a toxic workplace culture such as theft, malingering, bullying, and discrimination, can all leave a substantial dent in your bottom line and may even lead to litigation. With that in mind, taking action having identified toxic manager behavior is a must. So how exactly does one go about managing a toxic manager?

It is critical to start with a private conversation in case there is a part of the picture that you’re missing. That toxicity may be the result of troubles at home or financial woes, and you won’t understand the landscape until you’ve explored it. That said, know that the team is also watching, so calm and constructive feedback in the moment—that focuses on the behavior rather than the individual—can let employees know that the current status quo is not considered to be acceptable.

When navigating managing a toxic manager, it is realistic to expect some pushback. They may counter your feedback or exhibit hostility. It is important to document every interaction with HR and scale this diligence in line with the severity of the situation. In some instances, modeling alternative behaviors and providing training and support may bring the manager in question back into alignment with your company’s leadership standards and help them continue to grow. In others, performance warnings and eventual dismissal may become necessary. Thorough documentation and a prudent process will allow you to protect the organization from a claim of unfair treatment or dismissal.

Toxic manager behavior can be a worrying sign that the broader corporate culture is decidedly out of whack. If you are concerned that all is not as it should be in your workplace, consider the value of a corporate culture audit to provide invaluable oversight and afford a clear path towards enhanced culture metrics and team performance. Would you like to know more? Check out how the process works or contact the Lauth Investigations corporate team for no-obligation advice today.