What to Do When Managers Behave Badly

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What to Do When Managers Behave Badly

A new national study of leadership uncovered that many managers and senior managers lack the behaviors required to be good leaders. This calls into question: what if our managers are behaving badly with our employees, and what should we do about it?

In many organizations, managers behave badly, negatively affecting employees and the workplace environment, and putting their companies at risk. Bad management behavior can range from minor to major offenses, but can be destructive, eventually chase away great employees, and sometimes even cause a lawsuit.

Though not exhaustive, here are some common ways that managers behave badly on the job.

  • Taking credit. Taking undeserved credit for employees that did the actual work; claiming responsibility for successes; and deflating accountability for failures
  • Micromanaging. Failing to delegate, clinging to their responsibility and authority, micromanaging results, and constantly watching over employees' work
  • Fault finding. Seeing the negative in people, not forgiving problems and mistakes, and focusing on faults and weaknesses in others
  • Self-serving. Always thinking of themselves first; formulating expectations based on results that will make them look good
  • Neglecting. Failing to provide good direction, ignoring employees, not being available or responsive to them, and not communicating or providing regular feedback
  • Playing favorites. Unfairly treating some employees better than others, despite their performance
  • Chastising publically. Chastising, punishing, blaming, or embarrassing employees publically for their mistakes; throwing people under the bus
  • Abusing. Getting overly angry, displaying aggression, and abusing employees
  • Dividing. Dividing others, creating internal conflict and competition, and pitting employees against one another
  • Crossing boundaries. Getting too personal with employees; saying or doing things that are inappropriate for a professional relationship
  • Lying. Lying or deceiving employees; encouraging employees to be dishonest or cover up things
  • Bullying. Using psychological, emotional, or physical means to manipulate others and control their behavior
  • Retaliating. Retaliating against an employee who does something they perceive to be wrong or out of line, when in fact it isn't; unfairly taking adverse action against an employee
  • Unethical conduct. Bending the rules; cheating; and abusing or stealing company supplies, equipment, and time
  • Harassment. Harassing someone, making derogatory or discriminatory comments, or taking offensive actions

Why do managers behave badly? The reasons vary. For several, it's a matter of ignorance. They don't know any better or realize that what they are doing is inappropriate. They either learned to treat others poorly from other peers or from how they were managed, weren't trained in appropriate management, or were promoted for the wrong reasons.  They also may not understand the effects of their actions. Others do know better, but think they can get away with it. In addition, for many managers, bad behavior is largely an issue of pride...the more powerful they become, the more they become prideful and feel like they can use that power to exert control over others.

Regardless of the reason bad managers behave the way they do, they can cause enormous challenges in your workplace and the price of letting their behavior continue can be very high. The organizational impact of bad management behavior is huge: wasted productivity, performance problems, and turnover, not to mention the human impact of demoralization, stress, frustration, distraction, loss of concentration, and overflow into personal and family lives.

What can you do when managers behave badly? How can you encourage better behavior on the job?

You can break the cycle of bad behavior, and here are some useful strategies...

  1. Curb bad habits. Many bad managerial habits persist for years before they are dealt with because employers are afraid to address the situation. When issues emerge, nip them in the bud quickly, otherwise they escalate and habits become harder to break.
  2. Document everything. Document and take note of all incidences and situations that occur between employees. Encourage employees to document situations themselves or bring them to your department.
  3. Set expectations. Set clear expectations for appropriate managerial behavior, for example, the behaviors managers need to exhibit, the frequency with which they should be communicating and interacting with their team, and expected results.
  4. Create accountability for managerial behavior. Build in accountability for positive managerial behavior and your expectations through surveys, performance reviews, and bonuses tied to retention and engagement.
  5. Investigate situations. When you encounter a complaint, investigate the issue by talking to the affected employee as well as other employees on the manager's team who may be witnesses to the same behavior
  6. Confront them. Confront the manager, ideally as soon as possible after an incident or series of incidents, and have a discussion about their behavior and any concerns that have come up with employees.
  7. Pair the manager with a mentor. Pairing the manager with a peer or senior level mentor may help provide the manager with more assistance with their management responsibilities. Consider having them shadow their mentor.
  8. Provide coaching. Either provide internal coaching or external coaching to help develop and enhance a manager's self awareness and provide them with feedback, insights, and an accountability relationship to change their behavior.
  9. Gather employee feedback. Employee feedback about managers is crucial to understanding issues. Whether it's a survey, 360 feedback, interview, or focus group, gathering feedback about managers is critically important.
  10. Provide training. Provide all managers with initial management and supervisory training, particularly interpersonal and communication skills. Then, provide refresher training on managerial topics from time to time to keep key concepts fresh in their minds. 
  11. Encourage ongoing managerial development. Encourage managers to develop their leadership skills. Distribute ongoing "just in time" articles and other learning content related to management.
  12. Remove managerial responsibilities. As a last resort, you may need to remove managerial responsibilities, pull certain people off the manager's team, or even terminate the manager when the situation becomes too difficult or unmanageable.

It's a shame that some managers behave poorly in the workplace and don't use their positions of authority as ones that benefit and nurture their employees. There are plenty of employees out there who have bad bosses, but who are well-meaning, care about their work, and are committed to their organizations. HR is uniquely positioned to help change managers' behavior and protect these employees from the negative effects of their actions.

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