Managers, Here Are 6 Toxic Behaviors That Are Destroying Your Employee’s Confidence

Here are six toxic behaviors that are destroying your employee’s confidence.


Heidi Lynne Kurter

2 years ago | 5 min read

Despite the emphasis being placed on company culture, toxic managers still exist in the workplace today. In fact, a Monster poll revealed that 76% of workers currently have or had a toxic boss. Although many argue that toxic managers have good intentions, the truth is, their toxic behaviors can destroy an entire company causing the best workers to flee.

Not only does their toxicity permeate the team but it spreads company-wide leaving employees feeling dejected, cautious, mentally drained, and as if they’re constantly walking on eggshells.

I once reported to a toxic CEO who was preoccupied with his own importance. He used his position of authority to devalue, belittle and abuse others, specifically women. Despite leading the HR department, he mistreated and attacked me, and had no intention of taking my recommendations seriously. When I tried to speak up, I was reprimanded and retaliated against.

To survive, I used my PTO days to salvage what was left of my mental health and dwindling confidence. While his toxicity was primarily directed towards the leadership team, other employees witnessed and experienced it too. Expectedly, employee turnover increased causing some individuals to abandon the industry altogether.

Here are six toxic behaviors that are destroying your employee’s confidence.


While these subtle snubs may seem like insignificant comments, over time, microaggressions can take a real psychological toll on victims. 

Research from Georgia State University explained, “this suffering can lead to anger, depression and even lower work productivity and problem-solving capabilities.” Furthermore, these seemingly innocent comments can undermine an inclusive culture.

Yvonne Morriss, cofounder and CEO at IP Toolworks, defined microaggressions as “giving someone nicknames, treating people differently for similar situations, underestimating someone’s ability as a professional because of their gender or background, and invading personal space.”

Those casting micro-assaults commonly target women, Black people, LGBTQIA+ members, minorities, religious groups and those with disabilities.

A common microaggression women and minorities face is white men assuming they’re not educated or as intelligent as them. An example is a man assuming a woman is a secretary or assistant when in actuality she’s a leadership team member.

Another common microaggression is mansplaining. Mansplaining is when a male coworker condescendingly tries to explain a concept to a woman about which she never asked. This is his attempt to assert dominance and show that he knows more than her.

A few examples of microaggressions are:

  • Tone policing
  • Victim blaming
  • Sexual harassment
  • Sexist/discriminatory language
  • Stereotypes
  • Wage gaps
  • Implicit bias
  • Offensive language (discriminatory, heterosexist)

Gaslights Employees

Gaslighting is used to make the victim doubt their thoughts, experiences, memories and perceptions, which leads them to question their sanity. It’s a manipulation tactic managers use to instill fear and gain control over their victims.

Common phrases used to gaslight someone are:

“I never said that”
“If you were listening/paying attention...”
“You’re the only person I have these problems with”
“I’m sorry you feel that way”
“You’re too emotional/sensitive”
“That never happened”
“Don’t you think you’re overreacting”
Managers who gaslight their workers are always changing what they say and dismissing the other’s concerns. For example, the toxic CEO I worked for would challenge my perspectives and lash out at me when I tried to stand up for myself against his mistreatment.

Rather than hear me out, he became reactive and turned it on me or pretended it never happened. This left me questioning the situation and fearful to bring up any other concerns.

That same CEO never communicated his expectations leaving me to anticipate what he wanted. Although I’d constantly try to get him to clarify expectations, he never acknowledged them.

I did my best to meet his expectations despite not knowing what they were but instead faced a lot of harsh personal attacks. It was only when he knew he pushed me too far that he’d publicly acknowledge my efforts to keep me from leaving before insulting me again.

Uses Intimidation And Fear To Produce Results

Traditionally, managers used intimidation to evoke fear from their employees. Their belief was that employees would perform at their best if they’re in constant fear of losing their job, being humiliated, or punished.

The reality is, intimidation and fear have the opposite effect. Instead, employees are too busy worrying about disappointing their boss that they’re unable to fully focus on their work.

Toxic managers are quick to punish employees for making mistakes rather than coaching them through it. It’s impossible for employees to learn and grow in their role if they don’t learn from the mistakes they’ve made.

It’s no surprise their confidence deteriorates because they’re unsure what’s expected of them and therefore remain stagnant in their role. Additionally, they’re reluctant to ask questions, seek help or offer a better way of carrying out a task.

Scapegoats Employees

Toxic managers avoid acknowledging their mistakes or accepting responsibility for them. Instead, they blame others to deflect accountability. Contrarily, that same manager expects accountability from their employees.

However, their lack of accountability shows employees that managers are exempt from owning up to their own mistakes. This is how toxic leadership perpetuates.

The “do as I say, not as I do” mentality is then passed on to employees who later step into management roles. It’s improbable to promote a culture of ownership and accountability when managers are dodging mistakes and blaming others.

Assumes The Worst

Rather than asking why a deadline was missed, an error wasn’t caught, an employee is late or the quality of their work is suffering, toxic managers assume the worst.

Their pre-existing mistrust in the employee is justified and they’re quick to write the employee off as incompetent without ever speaking with them to understand what happened.

Yet, if the manager would’ve taken the time to talk to the employee, they would’ve learned the root cause behind the mistake, such as the employee is struggling with fertility issues, depression, health concerns or an abusive relationship, to name a few.

Managers who assume the worst not only devalue their employees but make them feel like they’re always trying to shake the negative assumption their boss holds about them.


Micromanaging suffocates employees and makes them doubt their expertise and abilities. Moreover, it increases stress which can lead to health issues.

Daivat Dholakia, director of operations at Force by Mojio, stated, “micromanaging provokes paranoia, making employees waste valuable time combing through their work over and over again.”

It’s a highly ineffective management style. Dholakia said, “you want your employees to feel trusted and respected, not as if they're being watched 24/7.”

A manager’s role is to coach, support, develop and help employees achieve their best work. This is done through delegating, appropriately challenging and empowering employees to make autonomous decisions.

Jordan Nathan, founder and CEO of Caraway, said, “giving employees the freedom to make small everyday decisions is crucial to running an effective business. It also keeps them happy and reduces turnover.”

Justin Nabity, CEO at Physicians Thrive, added, managers who try to control everyone lose the ability to empower them. When employers aren’t empowered, they don’t feel like they’re a part of the company. Furthermore, it prevents them from owning their role and ability, thus it makes them feel incapable and pull back.


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Heidi Lynne Kurter

Heidi Lynne Kurter is a Workplace Culture Consultant and Leadership Coach helping agencies cultivate intentionally inclusive workplace cultures that turn employees into evangelists. In addition, she transforms managers into strong and impactful leaders. Heidi is also a Forbes Senior Contributor where she writes extensively about workplace culture and leadership strategy. She's an active member of her community as a domestic violence mentor, a volunteer leadership coach for Babson College students, a mentor for Ivy League students, and mental health and anti-workplace bullying advocate.







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