by Craig Liberman

Mental detox

Is your life consumed by a toxic boss?

Bosses have been the subject of many a psychiatric session
Is your life consumed by a toxic boss?

Most people have had at least one boss who could have been the sole subject of a psychiatric conference.

A quick whip-round among associates revealed a story of a boss who put chocolates in the pigeonholes of his two favourite employees every Thursday – in full view of the rest of the staff.

Then there was another one who liked to tickle his nose with a feather constantly and another who was seen doing his shopping in full drag.

On a more serious note, there are stories of unfair dismissal, bullying, shouting, inconsistencies and just plain lack of professionalism.

Stories about good and kind bosses, who encourage their employees, are fair and consistent and do not take out their personal problems on those who work for them, are the gems among the jagged black rocks.

We can all appreciate the fact that being a boss is not easy. Having to deal with finances, responsibility, a potentially difficult workforce – the list is endless. 

So are you a boss? What are the signs of your being a problem boss? The following signs, according to Ilse Terblanche, Cape Town psychologist, could point to there being problems in your domain:

Large staff turnover. If people come and go without having good reasons, such as a spouse being transferred, or wanting to change professions, there is a problem. If your staff start resigning despite not having other jobs, there is something serious underfoot.

Negative assessments. Most companies have annual assessments of their staff. If you get thrashed the minute the assessments are anonymous, but to your face people seem to be civil, there may be a severe problem with your management style or general attitude. 

Passive aggression. This is usually shown in a lack of co-operation, such as a refusal to take part in staff discussions, non-attendance of staff functions, minimum compliance with orders, obstructionist behaviour and a lack of team playing.

Factions on the staff. In any large company, it is inevitable that certain social groups will form. Some of your employees may even become friends. But if there are bitter, opposing factions, it may indicate a lack of trust in the judgment and fairness of decisions that come from the top. People are jockeying for position because they feel they cannot trust their boss to treat them fairly. Where a boss is ineffectual or unfair, much of the energy that should go into upping production can go into infighting and staff politics.

Work-to-rule. If one person on the staff does the work-to-rule thing ("This is not in my job description"), that person is nursing some private grievance. If the majority of the staff does so, there is a larger problem – and it could be you and your management style. Not being willing to go the extra mile is usually only done when people feel that the company they work for is abusing them in some way – either underpaying them, overworking them, or subjecting them to unfair or untenable working conditions. 

Low productivity. Frustrated and unmotivated employees are unproductive employees. If people are not happy in their jobs, they will not make an effort to up their production. Low productivity is a sure sign of autocratic and ineffectual management – or under-trained staff.

Frequent complaints. Happy employees do not complain about minor things constantly. Once vicious fights start breaking out about minor things such as the type of coffee bought for the coffee club or the type of toilet paper used in the staff toilets, there is usually a problem that is much larger. And it could be you. If official complaints get lodged regularly, or members of staff constantly demand to see those above you, you need to take a good look at yourself.

High amount of sick leave. If there are constantly people taking a day off and you are pretty certain there is nothing wrong with them, they either have personal problems of which you know nothing, or there is a problem or a person at work whom they are trying to avoid because they find it upsetting. On every staff, there is usually one person who abuses his/her sick leave, but when more and more people start doing it, there is usually a bigger problem.

Sudden silence when you enter a room. It could just be a lull in the conversation, but it could also be that you were the topic under discussion. And people do not suddenly keep quiet if they have been saying nice things.

Unpleasant atmosphere at work. It could be that you have one or two bad apples among your staff, who are poisoning the workforce. Or it could just be that people are unhappy with your decisions, with your appointments or with your management style. Work is not a social venue, but it is so much nicer when there is a pleasant atmosphere, rather than a polarised back-biting situation.

Nervous employees. If people are jumpy, it is usually because they feel their boss is unpredictable and not to be trusted. They probably get shouted at – often for no justifiable reason – and they do not trust whoever is in charge. If it is you, the time has come for some soul-searching and possibly a management course or two. The only way to manage people effectively in the long run is to get their willing co-operation. 

Disrespectful behaviour. If a large number of your employees are 'off' to you, or simply disrespectful, you need to find out why. Remember that respect is something that is earned, not something that is part and parcel of any position. 

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