Toxic managers: how to identify them and protect yourself

Harassment, blackmail, unnecessary pressure, manipulation, injustice, lack of respect, sexist or racist remarks… Toxic management takes many forms and affects more workers than we often think: according to the study "The workforce view in Europe 2019”, one in five Europeans would be a victim.

Although this type of managers are increasingly reported on social media, it is still taboo. Spotted too late, it can even lead to burnouts. How to anticipate a critical situation and recognize a toxic manager? How to protect yourself from one?

First step: identifying a toxic manager

Toxic manager profiles: tyrant, best friend, micro manager, robot, incompentent - Popwork

There are several types of toxic managers. One should try and identify the main personality trait of their interlocutor to know who they are dealing with:

  • Tyrant managers are sorely lacking in kindness. They maintain order by intimidating their collaborators or publicly revealing their weaknesses. Their criticisms and aggressive remarks undermine the esteem of teams who feel devalued.
  • “Robot” managers do not know empathy. With low emotional intelligence, they see their team members as resources rather than individuals! Only numbers and results matter to them. They do not seek to establish relationships with their collaborators and do not concern themselves with their growth or motivation. They are not looking to  get to know or understand their team on a personal level often leading to a lack of recognition.
  • “Best friend” managers have ambivalent behaviors. They confide in you, invite you to their homes, mix private and professional life. Boundaries aren't clear, so you don't always know which way to go. Reliable in appearance, they make few decisions for fear of offending their collaborator-friends. Their management is wobbly.
  • Micro-managers control in excess. They don't give trust and need to be at the center of things leading to very little delegation and close surveillance of their team. This unhealthy behavior stresses employees, who feel powerless, even trapped in tasks that are not up to their skills.
  • Incompetent managers simply do not have the professional background for the job. They were recruited by default, or by chance. Their inability to lead by example and to manage well is a source of constant frustration, irritation and injustice among their employees.

When management becomes toxic, it can take many forms. Identifying the type of toxic manager you are facing, putting words into what you are going through is the first step getting out of this situation.

Second step: communicate to better protect yourself and anticipate a deleterious atmosphere!

Identifying the type of toxic manager you are facing will allow you to take a step back from your situation, better protect yourself and avoid a burnout. Then, in order to improve your daily life, you should first try to adapt your reaction to the person you are talking to, which may, in turn, modify its behavior. For instance, when faced with a tyrant manager, it is advisable to remain as neutral and factual as possible, to avoid entering into a balance of power and to favor writing to keep track of your exchanges.

One of the difficulties in fighting toxic management is that we are not always completely sure. You are part of a team and wondering if your manager’s behavior is sometimes toxic? Maybe you are a manager and you want to make sure that you are not sometimes toxic yourself to a certain extent? When in doubt, we often choose not to talk about it. Yet the simple fact that you are asking yourself these questions is proof that there is a risk you need to address.

Identifying the type of toxic manager you are facing will allow you to take a step back from your situation - Popwork

Therefore, one must discuss the situation as soon as possible with other employees or managers. Explain the situation, relying on facts and concrete situations, and ask others what they think. This will allow you to have constructive feedback and different opinions on the same manager or on yourself.

And after ?

If management toxicity is proven, the group effect can give the necessary impetus to talk to management and find effective solutions adapted to the situation, such as reorganizing teams and working conditions, in-depth discussion with the toxic manager so that they become aware of their behavior or setting up of coaching sessions to boost employee confidence.

Even if you are not actually facing a toxic manager, having tackled the subject will allow your company and senior management to become aware of areas for improvement for managers. This will help them grow and adopt the right managerial posture in the future.