9 Manager Mistakes That Damage Workplace Culture

The people we work with can have a direct impact on our happiness and our overall well-being.

Maskot/ Getty Images
Maskot/ Getty Images

When it comes to how we feel about our work, who we work with plays a crucial role. Recent research, including a survey from employee engagement platform Ten Spot, has found that managers are playing a key role in the Great Resignation. In fact, 46% of participants said they currently have a manager who makes them want to quit their job. And even among respondents in managerial roles, 81% said they were considering leaving because of their own managers. The choices we make as managers have a direct impact on workplace culture and attrition. 

We asked our Thrive community to share with us their experiences with managers who negatively impacted their workplace culture, and what they wished they’d done differently. Which of these things has a manager of yours done? 

Micromanaged employees

“I once had a manager who seemingly did not seem to know better but would stare me down while completing assigned work, which was not only micromanagement but downright anxiety-inducing. This manager said they wanted to make sure the work was done and stayed by my side until it was. I do not know of many competent people who perform well under micromanagers.”

—Karisa Karmali, online fitness trainer, Ontario, Canada

Didn’t give direct feedback

“While I’ve had several excellent bosses, I’ve also suffered under a number of really bad leaders. The worst was when I reported to the CEO of a small public relations firm. He could not give direct feedback. Instead, he would go to his partner, the organization’s president, and have him provide the feedback. If the CEO was upset with you, for any silly reason, he’d pass by your office without acknowledging you. At one point, he didn’t speak to me for two entire weeks and he would walk by my office multiple times per day. It was extremely childish.”

—Laurie B., communications professional, Minneapolis, MN

Discouraged career growth

“I was ready for a reset and joined the Great Resignation after my manager overlooked me, again, for a raise or promotion. He let me down in great style last fall, explaining that by doing both my senior supervisor job plus the vacant manager job for three years, I was simply unqualified to finally get the title and salary of manager. In other words, he simply would never promote me. I thanked him for his honesty and gave myself permission to quit.”

—Danièle Gauvin, corporate communications manager, Toronto, ON, Canada

Hired unfairly 

“I had a manager who only hired people she knew, even if they didn’t have the skills, experience, or an interest in doing the job. These people hurt the team in many ways, from needing extra support to producing shoddy work to demonstrating open disrespect for the work and the process. I wish she had taken her hiring responsibility more seriously and sought strong talent and included her direct reports in the interview and selection process. She also hired, managed, and promoted her brother’s partner, which appeared as nepotism. I wish she had avoided this conflict. It gave the impression that she considered herself above the rules that others were required to follow. This attitude of superiority was pervasive.”

—Anne W., tech writer, San Francisco, CA

Publicly criticized others

“I had a manager in my very first job who terrorized our entire staff! He would ridicule anyone he didn’t agree with in front of our entire staff. I would have preferred that he take us aside in private to discuss his concerns. This could have provided good feedback rather than create fear, resentment, and eventually high turnover.”

—Cathy Connally, co-author, Flavour with Benefits: France

Took credit for other peoples’ work

“The most toxic behavior I have experienced is seeing a manager take credit for other people’s work, and not acknowledging or thanking others for their contributions. Or worse — being threatened by others and stifling their development. A good manager is someone who brings out the best in others, who trusts their team members, and who empowers them.”

—Leticia Corbisier, leadership consultant, Brussels, Belgium

Spread negativity 

“Years ago I was in an organization that was young and exciting, but I was reporting to a manager that made everything seem dark. This manager spoke poorly of everyone, from those on her team to senior leaders to her family members and pets. There wasn’t a positive comment that she would make. Although I believe I can learn from every situation and become stronger, I do wish that she would have taken a moment to appreciate one thing about each person and recognize the value that someone can bring.”

—Elana S, senior PX business partner, Cambridge, MA

Urged employees to work harder, not smarter

“I once had a manager who strongly believed that arriving early and leaving late was the sole indicator of dedication and commitment to your job. She was adamant that the more hours you put in, the more productive you were. My view was diametrically opposed to this. I believe that clock-watching and long working days are no measurement for output. I had expressed my difference of opinion, but it fell on deaf ears and as such, it was the primary reason I left that organization.” 

—Candice Tomlinson, coach and hypnotherapist, Sydney, Australia

Used fear to lead

“I once worked for a company that had a CEO who led from fear. They eventually decided to replace that manager with a new CEO who led by example and new ideas. This company wanted the spirit and the letter of the company to be more aligned. On paper, inclusiveness was one of the cultural drivers, and it also became real once this new person came in and completely changed the culture with his mere presence. Managers can profoundly affect workplace culture based on their ideas, leadership style, and personal values.”

—Taty Fittipaldi, global leadership certified professional coach, Mountain Lakes, N.J.

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