A broken and toxic culture makes work feel like wading through treacle. It’s tough, it’s no fun and unsurprisingly it has a negative impact on productivity and health. But most leaders have a hard time recognising and acknowledging that their company culture needs to change.

Poor culture is a problem in the UK. One report estimates that poor company culture is costing the UK economy £23.6 billion a year. One of the biggest challenges for UK businesses is recognising when they have bad managers.

Many managers aren’t awful people, they just don’t know how to manage. As a result of poor management, relationships within teams can disintegrate. At best, colleagues feel frustrated at not being managed properly and this has wider ramifications on employee health, happiness and productivity. It’s not good for employees and it’s not good for business.

Managerial incompetence ultimately forces people to leave. High turnover then makes the whole company feel fragmented. It doesn’t take long in business for a toxic environment to develop.

Then on top of incompetence you have the rude and tyrannical managers who bring another level of toxicity to the workplace. So, how do you know if you have incompetent and toxic managers in your company?

The unmistakable signs of a toxic manager

Nobody is smiling!

Look around the office. Are people chatty and happy? Or do the faces looking back at you epitomise a sea of despondency? Great managers motivate their people. Poor and toxic managers don’t. Grim faces in the workplace are a sure sign of toxic management.

People are afraid to speak up

The best business cultures are transparent and open. People feel able to speak up when there is a problem and feel confident that they will be listened to and that their manager will help them to resolve the issue and find a solution.

Conversely, employees are afraid of toxic and tyrannical managers. They live in fear at work and wouldn’t dream of taking a problem to their manager as they know they will be ignored, or worse shouted down and humiliated. The most common survival technique with a toxic manager is to keep schtum!

There’s always a focus on what has gone wrong

Toxic managers almost never give out praise. The focus is always on the things that haven’t gone well. Good managers know how to give kudos and recognise the efforts of the employees they manage. Bad ones don’t. Great managers go a step further; they give their people the freedom to make mistakes and learn from them. They understand that mistakes are the pathway to innovation.

Employees have no autonomy

Micromanagement is toxic. It stems from a lack of trust. When leaders or managers lack trust, they fall into a cycle of micromanaging everything. Instead of empowering employees and showing people how to do things, tasks get taken away. It is disempowering and demotivating. When employees have no autonomy over their work, they psychologically withdraw and disengage.

Staff are whispering in the stairwells

Rumours, gossip and workplace cliques are a sure sign of toxicity in the workplace. Even worse is when managers are influencing and getting involved in malicious gossip. For those outside of the gossip circle, this kind of behaviour makes people feel anxious, upset or angry. Gossip is the most toxic trait of a toxic manager and stems from poor leadership. If your staff are whispering in the stairwells, you have a problem.

Taking all the credit

Great managers want the people around them to succeed. They graciously push others forward to achieve and provide public praise for those achievements. Toxic managers, on the other hand, take credit for the work of their team.

Blaming others for their mistakes

Toxic managers don’t just take credit for other peoples’ efforts, they cover up for their mistakes by blaming others. Blaming others kills accountability. Managers who can’t take responsibility and are never wrong are bad leaders.

Picks favourites

A boss who plays favourites creates a feeling of worthlessness in those who aren’t part of the inner circle. It limits success because the wrong people get promoted while other talented people get sidelined. It’s an insulting and discriminatory environment to be working which needless to say has a negative effect on the overall productivity of any team.


Ultimately, toxic managers hold businesses back. They are inconsistent, don’t follow the values of the organisation and they lack any humility or self-awareness. Effective leadership requires the ability to show empathy, recognise their team’s and individual employee’s achievements and most importantly they care about the health and well-being of the people they manage and others in the organisation. Great managers are much rarer than you think. It’s a problem British businesses need to address if they want to succeed.

Dakota Murphey

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