15 Red-Flag Signs You Have a Toxic Boss

A bad work environment isn’t typically caused by the stress of the work we do. Most people genuinely enjoy working in their field and growing within it. Typically, when we feel stressed at work it’s due to the people around us, particularly the boss. Having a toxic boss can be one of the biggest reasons why people leave a job. In this article, we’re going to share the 15 red-flag signs you have a toxic boss.

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15 Red-Flag Signs You Have a Toxic Boss

1. They constantly criticize you

In a growth mindset, most people take feedback, learn from it, and grow because of it. But there’s a difference between feedback that challenges you to rise to the occasion and feedback that shrinks you down to nothing. Constructive criticism is typically helpful in the workplace. Yet, when you’ve got a toxic boss, their criticism leaves little room for growth. Often, it’ll reduce your performance and willingness to put in effort. The thing with critical toxic bosses is that they often don’t have a good positive to negative interaction mix. Often, we need to have five positive interactions for every negative one. So, when you get too many critical comments from a toxic boss it often feels overwhelming because there just aren’t enough positive ones.

2. They attribute your impact to luck

Many high performers have been told that their success is due to luck or a mere fluke. But that isn’t actually true. Most often, top performers have strong work ethics, good habits, and an ability to execute more than others. A toxic boss will quickly dismiss your hard work and strategy by attributing it to some mystical fluke or just luck. Trying to convince your boss that the work you did yielded those results will be an uphill battle, especially if trying to get a pay raise or promotion. A great boss would see the effort and skill you’re putting in at work.

3. They block your growth

If you’ve got a toxic boss, they’ll work hard to block your growth. They’ll often see you as a threat or feel intimidated by you. They could play games and make you jump through hoops for a “chance” to get promoted or to “prove” yourself. But in the end, you’ll feel defeated because they were never serious about your career growth in the first place. A toxic boss would also prevent you from switching teams and maybe even companies. They might leave a negative review about you to the team you apply to or give a bad reference. Often, bad bosses have fixed mindsets and want you to stay where you are because they think you’re beneath them. You might find yourself getting put on performance plans that have fabricated content in it making it obvious that your growth is being stunted by your bad manager.

4. They micromanage your work

A toxic boss is often a micromanager. They’ll be more likely to take over your tasks if they don’t think it’s a good fit or they’ll want to approve everything you do. To prevent micromanagement, you might ask for feedback on how to think or approach something that they often want done in a certain way to ensure you approach things with the same way of thinking as them.

5. They take credit for your accomplishments

One of the big signs you’ve got a toxic boss is when they take credit for your accomplishments. They might say your work was a team effort or not give credit where credit is due when presenting data on key metrics. A toxic boss or bad manager would show the runaway results of something as if they did it themselves. In a good environment, a leader or a good boss would give a shout-out to the person or people who worked on a project to help ensure they feel recognized.

6. They gossip about colleagues

Office gossip is usually an indicator of a bad culture. In good cultures, it actually doesn’t exist. If your manager or superior is gossiping about colleagues to you, they might also be gossiping about you to other colleagues as well. Any time a boss mentions gossip they’ve heard from someone else about you is usually an indication that you’ve got yourself a toxic boss. A true leader would nip it in the bud if they heard someone gossiping in the office. They may say something like, “you should give so and so the benefit of the doubt” or “try approaching a conversation with them like this instead” to help them gossipers problem-solve their work relationship problems instead of spreading rumors at work.

7. They fail to give praise or recognition

A toxic boss is the type of person you’ll never feel appreciated by. You might proudly show them something you created or a target you just hit that you’re proud of, but ultimately, they’ll be dismissive of it. They might say, “good, you’re finally doing your job” or “that’s what you’re supposed to be doing.” And if you do something astronomically great, they’ll attribute it to luck or some supernatural phenomenon that had nothing to do with you. There will be no “great work” or “Wow, all that hard work and effort is starting to show some pretty extraordinary results.” You’ll feel deflated because you genuinely are trying your best but still feel like you’re falling short.

8. They avoid meetings with you

A busy boss might not be able to show up to every meeting with you. But on average, a good boss recognizes the importance of having face time with each member of the team. They’ll want to ensure that everyone gets some face time even if it’s just a short ten minute call. When you have a toxic boss, it may be weeks without a single meeting. The lack of having a meeting may cause issues as well. Often, when working with your peers, video calls give you more opportunities to bond with your superior. So, you’ll be better able to feel appreciated or recognized. You can share ideas and get feedback with ease. A toxic boss will reduce the number of meetings they have with people or they might choose to have them only with a limited group of people.

9. They delete conversations with you

A sign that you have a toxic boss is that they’ll delete conversations with you. This is often done if you confront them on something, they’ll delete the evidence. They might also do this if they’re planning on writing you up to put you on a performance improvement plan or a PIP. Often, deleting conversations is done with bad intentions. If you suddenly notice that a Slack history has been deleted by your boss, something bad may be lurking around the corner. It’s also a huge red-flag that your boss is toxic.

10. They constantly change the goal post

One of the clearest indicators that you have a bad manager is that they constantly change the goal post. A boss will tell you that change is necessary and that it’s important to revise plans and goals as you get more feedback, and that’s true. However, when the goal post is changed every time you accomplish something big and you never get the recognition you deserve, it might feel a bit more personal than it should. A goal post constantly being changed is a sign that the company isn’t doing well, targets aren’t being hit, and that the direction that the leader is taking isn’t the right one. The chaos of things going poorly, expectations never being aligned with your effort, and possibly the stress of having to adapt to every little thing can be unsettling.

11. Your colleagues ask you what you think of them

In toxic cultures, you’ll see a lot of turnover in leadership. And with new leaders coming in often, you’ll likely at some point get asked the question, “So, what do you think of the new manager?” Most people don’t usually ask this question when they meet someone they like. They usually ask the question to gauge what other people are thinking about the person. Offen, when you like a new manager, you usually just tell people that directly. If you’re asking for someone’s opinion on a person it’s usually an indicator that something is off with them. You probably want to tiptoe around the answer, but if you feel like something is off too, it’s probably a red-flag sign you have a toxic boss.

12. They think your traits are fixed

A toxic boss often has a fixed mindset. That means they believe some people are naturally talented and others aren't. A growth mindset boss would believe that skills are learnable and can be improved upon. The downside to having a boss with a fixed mindset is that when you learn and improve at something, they’ll likely dismiss it or discredit it to some fluke. A fixed mindset boss will not notice improvements in others as they don’t believe people can change. If you have a growth mindset and are continuously learning and working on your craft, having a toxic boss who doesn’t acknowledge or notice those changes can cause conflict at work. It can make you feel like you’re running on a hamster wheel at a super fast speed but not actually making progress in your path.

13. They pick favorites

Toxic bosses are most likely to choose favorites. The favorites they choose will be more likely to get opportunities for career growth and advancement leaving others in the dust. When it comes to assigning certain projects or important tasks, they’ll choose the colleagues they like best. It won’t be picking people for projects based on their competence or what they’re best suited for. You might be raising your hand or even directly asking for certain opportunities only to be overlooked for them. The bond they have with their favorite colleague will be unbreakable. And if you want to be in the in-group, you’ll need to play nice with both the toxic boss and their favorite colleagues.

14. You develop work anxiety

Whether it’s the Sunday scaries or just general work dread, a toxic boss can make you feel stressed or anxious about heading in to work each day. Often, the reason why you experience work anxiety from this kind of boss is because they’re unpredictable. It’s not the person who’s mean all the time that’s hard to work with, because you’d just do your best to avoid them. It’s the person who’s sometimes in a good mood and sometimes screaming at you or making your life difficult. When there’s an imbalance in someone’s mood, you start to feel like you’re walking on eggshells just to meet their needs. And that’s exactly where the anxiety starts. If someone’s words or actions can throw off your whole day because it blindsides you, you’ve probably got a toxic boss in your office.

15. They make you feel small

Have you ever met someone with a big ego? They puff themselves up to prove themselves. Well, if you look at that person’s boss quite carefully you’ll find they’re probably a bad manager. People with big egos usually inflate themselves because they feel small. So, it begs the question. Who’s shrinking them so small that they need to overinflate themselves? In the workplace, it’s usually their toxic boss. When you notice someone on your team is always hyping themselves up, the easiest way to get them to stop is to give them praise, recognition, or a compliment on their work ethic and performance. When people feel appreciated by the people around them, they usually stop overhyping themselves. So, if you see a lot of big ego energy on your team, look to see who’s leading them.

How do you deal with a toxic boss?

Trying to confront a toxic boss won’t get you very far. If your boss is causing you stress or making you dread going into work, it may be best to refresh your resume and look for your next gig. Fortunately, with Huntr, you can build a brand-new resume and cover letter to find a new role with a better management team. To start the job search and create your new resume, sign-up for Huntr today.

Nicole Martins Ferreira

Nicole Martins Ferreira

Nicole Martins Ferreira, Senior Writer at Huntr, brings a rich background in marketing, tech, and ecommerce to craft insightful content on job search strategies and career advancement. With experience from Super Magic Taste to Shopify, she excels in creating engaging, actionable advice for job seekers.

Nicole's expertise in SEO and content marketing, honed across diverse roles, enables her to effectively guide individuals through the complexities of the job market. Her contributions at Huntr are vital, offering readers valuable tips and strategies to navigate their professional journeys successfully, making her work an invaluable resource for job seekers everywhere.

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