30 January 2018

Why Bad Managers Could Be Ruining Your Business


Towards the end of 2017, MHR commissioned YouGov to carry out a survey on the subject of bad management. The idea was to gain deeper insight into the prevalence of bad management in the workplace, and its impact on retention rates.

There are countless articles stating that bad management is a problem – we’ve probably all read the line that “people don’t leave bad employers, they leave bad managers.” But now we evidence to support this claim.

Here are the survey’s key findings:

  • 80% of British employees have experienced what they consider to be bad management / a bad manager during their career.
  • 73% of British employees who have had this experience have considered leaving a job because of what they consider to be bad management, of which 55% have actually left their job.
  • 58% of British employees disagree that managers today are well equipped to deal with the emotional or human side of management.

Startling to say the least, but this was just the tip of the iceberg.

One question asked respondents to describe the most recent example of bad management or a bad manager they have experienced in their career. When reviewing the comments, we were shocked to see the extent of the problem.

The 1000+ responses were full of scenarios about managers being ill-equipped for the job, being unavailable, unapproachable or unwilling to listen, or failing to give proper feedback, guidance or advice.

Worse still, we were appalled by the amount of comments that mentioned bullying, aggressive behaviour, discrimination, dishonesty, and a complete disregard for mental health or other personal issues.

Below are some of the key issues that came up time and time again, and some advice for overcoming them.


1. Bullying

"... I was bullied for three years ... He made life absolute hell. I came close to taking my own life purely because of him."

"I was bullied by my line manager, I now suffer from anxiety and depression. Although she has been moved I hate my job but am now too ill to look for anything else."

“I had an experience of a manager who was unsupportive, unresponsive, selfish and overall a bully, often bringing people to tears and putting people under unnecessary pressure.”

“I reported in to the Managing Director of a private company who loved to play favourites, challenge the knowledge /expertise of her staff and pit them against each other in a game of psychological chess.”

Organisations should drive professional, respectful behaviours by having a clear set of values, and educate their employees on the cultural requirements of their behaviours in the workplace. Regular reminders of company values should be part of everyday work life for employees, and should be a primary focus when inducting new employees.

It is also important to have a clear zero-tolerance policy in place for bullying, including appropriate disciplinary procedures, which should be known to managers and staff alike. The policy should encourage individuals to come forward and report bullying behaviour, safe in the knowledge that they will be heard and respected.

You could even run an anonymous survey of your own organisation to gain a better understanding of the situation in your workplace – but be prepared to deal with the results!


2.  A disregard for, or lack of awareness around, mental health

“I was suffering mental illness, called up my supervisor to tell her I could not come in to work as I was on new medication and it was making me feel worse. She told me ‘I am very disappointed in you,’ and hung up the phone.”

“… a total lack of interest in the mental and physical well-being of the staff, only interested in the day-to-day business of the company.”

Every people manager should receive expert training on mental health from a recognised organisation that works in the mental health sector. This should be considered an essential part of their overall training.

Although mental health issues such as depression and anxiety are fairly common conditions, there is still much ignorance around mental health. In order for this to shift, we must equip our managers with the appropriate knowledge and skills to handle these sensitive issues.


3. Being unapproachable, unavailable or unwilling to listen

“Very recently I had a manager that didn't really manage at all. There were no 1-to-1s or appraisals and there was no collaboration or a consultative approach to new ways of working. They were also very unapproachable.”

“Not listened to by the manager. Talked over when trying to explain something. Undermined by going behind my back to the client. 'Marking' my reports and sending them back to me to rewrite. No leadership or motivation.”

“I have only met my manager once; we work remotely, so that's not good. He's a nice guy but promises a lot and delivers very little. He's very skilled at telling you what you want to hear without ever doing much about it. And the department runs riot and does what they want because the manager isn't there”.

Being approachable and available are two basic requirements of any people manager, so anyone not able or willing to do this should be repurposed to a different position. Unfortunately, some people become managers for the wrong reasons – a better salary or higher status, perhaps – and forget that their job means being the first port of call when a team member needs help, advice or support. Make sure you recruit managers who actually want to manage people.


4. A lack of feedback or support

Inability to converse in a cordial manner. Irregular contact and unable to provide informed feedback at reviews.”

“I was expected to do my job with little or no training, no feedback, and so no idea whether I'm doing OK or not. Swore at me when I told her I was on holiday the next week. Very poor management.”

“Lack of support, manager never present in the office. Feedback rarely given.”

“Basic managing skills not applied, no communication with staff, no clear expectations, no feedback on tasks completed.”

Feedback plays a vital role in productivity and the employee-manager relationship, and helps both achieve the necessary goals to drive the organisation forward. Too often, however, employees are left with little or no constructive feedback on their performance, leaving them feeling directionless and demotivated.

Feedback works best when given regularly, as and when it’s needed, as opposed to once or twice a year. Forward-thinking organisations are now adopting real-time performance check-ins, where managers offer mentoring and guidance to employees at key stages in projects, which promotes a culture of open communication and collaboration.


5. A lack of people skills or leadership skills

“I work for managers who are inconsistent and unable to make decisions. They just want a quiet life and to be popular. They have no leadership qualities and have no motivation. They are unable to discipline staff when required.”

Our manager has no leadership skills, poor understanding of how to be a team player, has little interaction with her staff on any level unless talking about herself. No awareness about what staff are doing or not doing, no sense of support.”

“Lacking in personnel skills, unable to communicate with staff. Lack of ability to plan. Demoralised staff instead of encouraging.”

“Lack of people management skills, specifically in the way they speak to people.”

“Lack of respect and poor communication, general apathy all round, should never had been in a management position.”

“I spoke with him confidentially and later found he had told people what was said despite it being a private and sensitive conversation.”

Organisations have a responsibility to prepare their people managers for the job. In addition to standard procedural training, this requires specific training on the human side of management, which includes the ability to handle various sensitive issues and personality types, as well as having difficult conversations with people. We can’t expect people to become fully formed people managers without training, guidance, help and support.


6. A lack of knowledge, unqualified

“The manager had limited knowledge of the processes and had to rely heavily on team members for tasks. Poor organisational skills effected team planning.”

“Manager doesn't have the knowledge of what the job entails, constantly allows poor performance and doesn't deal with his direct reports.”

“Lack of knowledge, lack of respect for employees.”

“Disorganised, poor communication, lack of confidentiality, poor decision making, too focussed on non-value adding management issues (conference calls, etc.), lack of knowledge of how systems/processes/procedures work to serve our customers day to day.”

 “A new manager came into my place of work, was completely uninterested in the successful events programme we had been running for years and wanted to throw everything out and start afresh. We all felt our knowledge and experience was totally undervalued. She appeared to be out to make her mark and left in just over a year.”

If you place someone who is unqualified or unprepared in the position of manager, you have to expect a certain amount of resentment from their team. After all, they would likely be managing a team of people who are highly skilled and knowledgeable in that particular area. To avoid this, ensure that your managers are properly equipped for the job, with industry expertise as well as managerial skills.

If they are new to the industry, put a programme of learning in place to accelerate their education; use 1-to-1 systems with your internal industry experts during the first two weeks before unleashing them on their new reportees. Also ensure that they have a support mechanism in place – a mentor or buddy who can help new managers adapt to an organisation or role.


7. Micromanaging staff, overly controlling

“I had a manager who micromanaged everyone in her team, did not delegate and wanted to be involved in every decision (or make it), however small.”

“Being micromanaged by someone with no people skills, who had nothing better to do than sit there nosing through your sent items and moaning about emails sent. Loved a bad atmosphere and made you feel afraid to breathe.”

“Micro management, constantly checking what you are doing and then not thanking or giving praise for a good job.”

“Feeling undermined and unvalued. Management like to micro manage staff, which causes mistrust and tension.”

“Micromanagement and not being given the freedom to work to my own strengths.”

Micromanagement is caused by either a lack of trust in others or insecurity around one’s own capabilities – i.e. feeling out of depth. Lack of trust tends to be a cultural problem that people managers inherit; sometimes new managers joining an established team fail to embrace the team’s bond and feel the need to do things their way. The former is an organisational issue, to be addressed by cultural change; the latter can be avoided through team building and open communication when a new manager starts.

Managers must let their people get on with the job, while being available for guidance and support when needed. After all, if your employees are fully equipped to carry out their work, they won’t need their manager to constantly get involved. Also, remember that not everyone is naturally cut out to be a great people manager.


8. Inappropriate behaviour in the workplace

“CEO often drunk during working hours, MD usually out with one of his lovers while staff had to lie to his family for him.”

“Sexual harassment and drunken insults.”

“Poor risk taker. Failed to understand staff concerns. Bully. Made sexual advances.”

“Managers being very condescending and personal, too hands on in an almost sexual way!!!! Disgusting, luckily was moved on/fired after numerous complaints.”

“Acting in an unprofessional manner sexually towards me.”

It is important that employees feel able to raise any serious concerns they have without fear of reprisal. An effective whistleblowing policy will allow employees to speak out through official channels while retaining their anonymity.

With sexual harassment in the workplace a recurring theme in the news, it would be a good idea for organisations to actively remind their employees of their harassment policy.

Although being under the influence of drink or drugs at work is totally unacceptable, it can reflect a serious struggle with addiction. In such cases, organisations should do what they can to support the addict through treatment, with the goal being to eventually return to work.


9. Discrimination

“I am disabled. Reasonable adjustments have been refused. I have had to appeal this decision and in the meantime have been bullied and harassed by managerial staff, making me fight for any rights along the way.”

“Didn't stand up for me against my sexist boss, didn't give me any training or direction, lack of information and communication.”

“I was experiencing discrimination at work for three years; they made my life a misery. My manager was informed several times through my supervisor, and his remarks were “I’m sure it will blow over,” or “well they are a close knit community.” Unfortunately it didn’t blow over; it got worse as they could do what they wanted. I had to leave a reasonably well-paid job as it was making me ill, and now work for minimum wage.”

Everyone deserves to be treated equally in the workplace – regardless of gender, age, ethnicity or background. To stamp out discrimination at work, organisations should have a well-publicised equality and diversity policy to outline their commitment to treating each person with equal respect.

The equality and diversity policy should also serve to educate employees on the many faces of discrimination, the effect it can have on individuals and organisations, and the repercussions for those responsible for it. Sensitivity and security are required when dealing with discrimination claims.


Final thoughts

These survey results show that bad management is at epidemic levels. Surely no other factor can be affecting employee engagement and retention rates as much as this.

While unprofessional behaviour is the fault of the individual, the fact that bad management is so prevalent indicates a wider, systemic problem. Ultimately, organisations are responsible for equipping their managers to effectively handle the human side of management. As this involves a specific set of skills, a specific type of training is required.

The appropriate skills and knowledge are relatively easy to impart, but attitudes and values are much more complicated. No amount of corporate training will change an individual’s personality, meaning some people simply aren’t cut out for people management. For this reason, it’s critical that you select the right people for your management positions.

When recruiting for managerial positions, ensure that you frame the job description in a way that focusses on the human/emotional side of management. Stress the fact that people management is about mentoring, supporting and inspiring a team of individuals, and that characteristics such as patience, empathy and flexibility are required in addition to leadership skills.

Also be clear about your organisational culture and values. By outlining the type of people you want to attract and the emotional training they can expect on induction, you will help rule out the wrong type of characters at the application stage.

One thing is clear: with employee engagement and retention rates severely affected, bad management is a serious problem that organisations can no longer afford to ignore.


All figures, unless otherwise stated, are from YouGov Plc. Total sample size was 2006 employees. Fieldwork was undertaken between 21-27th December 2017. The survey was carried out online. The figures have been weighted and are representative of British business size.

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Stephanie Murtagh

Stephanie Murtagh is a Product Marketing Manager at MHR. Having recently graduated from the Graduate Management Programme at MHR, she is now responsible for supporting MHR as an innovative and value oriented HCM provider.

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