Top 9 Ways to Spot a Bad Boss

Top 9 Ways to Spot a Bad Boss

Lessons I’ve learned from reading Employer Reviews

If you believe what you read in BRW, apparently all you need to worry about when looking for a great boss or employer are the following (taken from BRW’s “Top 10 tips” for employers on, “how to become a better place to work”):

  1. Offer staff a free day off on their birthday
  2. Allow working from home one day a week where possible
  3. Offer paid maternity, paternity and adoption leave
  4. Be flexible with working hours
  5. More part-time or job-share positions
  6. Wellbeing programs such as gym memberships and free flu shots
  7. Make the workplace family friendly
  8. Offer grievance counselling
  9. Let staff take time off when they need it
  10. Flexible annual leave (offer buyback schemes)

While these are great benefits (and let’s face it, people would argue a few of them should be mandatory!), the problem is if that’s how you’re making a decision on who to work for, you could be focusing on entirely the wrong things. Even if you’re looking for your first job, it’s important to know what to look for because you don’t want to end up leaving your first job after only a few months, it looks terrible on your CV!

I moderate Employer Reviews on JobAdvisor so I read A LOT of anonymous reviews from employees talking about their employers and I can honestly say, with the exception of, ‘opportunities to work from home’, almost never do any of these benefits come up as a reason someone likes or dislikes their job.

So, what are the important things to look for? When you boil it all down, the most important factor is your boss. After all, the person who directly manages you is someone you will spend most of your time with at work and the person who will help your career develop. The chances are that employees who have a manager who supports them will have a far better experience than those with a micro manager who has little to no interest in their team members. So, if you’re looking for a great boss, and want to avoid the bad ones, here’s what to look for:

  1. Do they have a clear vision?As much as we all dream about more time off, in reality the happiest people are those that are chasing a worthwhile vision of the future. It’s a great feeling to be busy when you have something inspiring to work towards.

    One of my favourite quotes is, “A vision without a task is but a dream, a task without a vision is drudgery, a vision and a task is the hope of the world.” According to the reviews I read, the happiest people work for a boss with a compelling vision for the future and a clear path to get there. So, try asking your potential manager what their grand vision is!

  2. Do they have a great team?I read lots of reviews that talk about how they love working with people who are great at what they do. You learn from them, they inspire you and it’s always great to be part of a winning team. Great bosses attract great people, bad bosses don’t. To avoid a bad boss, make sure you meet the team before taking the job. Yes, it’s perfectly OK to ask for an introduction to your would-be teammates before signing on the dotted line.
  3. Do they trust their people?Many bosses talk about trust but their actions betray their real feelings. “I trust you to work from home… but I need to know what you’re doing with your time.” Okaaay… so you actually don’t trust me! Great bosses tend to have reviews on JobAdvisor that talk about “being treated like an adult”, so to avoid a bad boss, ask them (and their team) about their management style and their attitudes to things like working from home.
  4. Do they believe in fairness?Many reviews talk about, “jobs for the boys” and political environments where brown nosing gets you promoted ahead of ability and performance. Great bosses make it very clear how you’re measured and what you need to do to progress. Then they stick to it. If your boss can’t articulate how your success will be measured, take it as a warning sign.
  5. Do they collaborate and listen?Some bosses work so hard to convince everyone of how perfect they are that they don’t want to hear anything which might upset their fragile self-confidence. The best bosses are the ones who are secure enough to know they’re not perfect, so they engage and collaborate with their employees. They also don’t always need to be right, freely admitting when they’re wrong. They actively seek feedback and take appropriate action on that feedback. Ask the team, “does the boss listen to your ideas?”
  6. Do they hold people accountable?I was a little surprised about this because I always thought that “more accountability” was what bosses wanted to see from their employees. Actually, it’s not only what employees want to see more of from each other, it’s also what they want to see more of from their bosses! Thinking about it, it does make complete sense. Job satisfaction doesn’t come from getting away with poor performance or having a bludge. Job satisfaction comes from a job well done, so ask your boss how they keep the team accountable for performance.
  7. Do they have a high EQ?Emotional intelligence is, “the ability to identify, assess, and control the emotions of oneself, of others, and of groups” and is one of the most important things to look for in a boss. Bosses with low EQ can tend to ‘lose it’ and are terrible at managing a team full of different personalities because they tend to take a ‘one size fits all’ approach. Some basic warning signs for low EQ include negativity, being highly judgemental and the inability to read non-verbal communication (e.g. if someone is feeling uncomfortable).
  8. Do they have influence?It’s frustrating to work for a boss who doesn’t have the influence with those in more senior positions to you when you need that influence to help get the job done. This can mean you’re tempted to go above your boss’ head, which is rarely a good career move. Ask your boss how well different teams work together and if there are any relationships that might cause challenges in getting the job done.
  9. What do their employees say about them online?Until now, it’s been very difficult to get an insight into what it’s really like to work for employers before you take the job. Now, however, you can go online to do your research. While I might be a little biased, is a great source of information to help you spot a bad employer (and find a great one) before you take the plunge – all it takes is a few seconds to share your own anonymous review and you’ll gain access to thousands of reviews of Australian employers.

    So there you have it. In summary, make sure you do your research because if you don’t ask the right questions up front, you might regret it!


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