10 Signs Your Boss Is Manipulating You

businessman presenting at a meeting

Your bad boss could be slowly killing you | iStock.com

We know them too well: the scary bosses who keep the night owl company and wake up the rooster, the ones who enter dreams and leave them as nightmares. Their messages vibrate wedged phones on crowded trains, and they are the phone call that startles a quiet movie hall.

At best, tough bosses can teach you to stand up yourself and be your own manager. But at worst, they can deplete morale, strain personal relationships, increase the risk for heart disease, and even shorten your lifespan.

Some of us are lucky to find bosses who lead by example. For those who deal with difficult managers masquerading as mentors, here are a few signs to know whether you’re being manipulated.

1. Your boss deflects real conversations

man sleeping on office desk

Honest, effective communication is vital between employees and their managers | iStock.com

Laying a solid foundation to any relationship begins with honest, effective communication. Employee engagement thrives when managers are there are for them, providing feedback and helping set and achieve goals. Satisfying relationships with immediate managers and top officials, as well as company pride, often drive employee morale.

Conversely, an inattentive, disengaged boss can leave you feeling confused, stressed, and miserable. It’s not for nothing that managers brought about 70% of the variance in employee-engagement scores. If your boss does not have time to talk to you, either in person or over the phone, it might be a red flag.

2. Your boss focuses only on your weakness

Employees argue at work

Bosses must use positive reinforcement | Hulton Archive/Getty Images

A good manager is one who focuses and builds on an employee’s strengths to achieve individual and company goals. Going back to Psychology 101, positive reinforcement is an effective tool to boost efficiency in the workplace.

Research shows extrinsic rewards, such as bonus benefits, along with intrinsic rewards of encouragement, praise, and empowerment, lead to a healthy, efficient employer-employee relationship. A boss who cannot look beyond an employee’s weakness seldom provides constructive criticism or helps in personal development.

3. Your boss is your interruption

businessman on the phone

Interruptions hamper the workflow | Douglas Miller/Keystone/Hulton Archive/Getty Images

It can be frustrating when you are constantly shot down or when your ideas go unheard. Good managers listen patiently, are humble, and are self-assured to promote a healthy exchange of ideas. Interruptions at work deplete time, hampering the workflow. This gets exacerbated when it comes from a supervisor and can cause exhaustion and anxiety.

4. Your boss’ ego affects team productivity

Still of Dwight Schrute from NBC's The Office

Power-hungry bosses make ineffective leaders | NBC

If bosses like to show they are in charge, chances are they are not running a tight ship. Power-hungry bosses might soar to the top easily, but they often are ineffective leaders. In fact, experts say they might even sabotage teams. They establish power by intimidation and sideline strong employees to protect their status. It’s a worrisome sign if your boss needs constant assurance they are in charge.

5. Your boss shows no empathy

Stressed businesswoman in an office

A boss who shows empathy often has more productive employees | iStock.com/kieferpix

Your boss does not have to be your best friend. But being able to create a comfortable, feel-good environment at a place where you spend the majority of your day is critical for a job well done. Empathy is an essential trait in a good leader. You want to feel like your supervisor has your back.

If managers want to run cohesive, productive teams, it’s important they view employees as people first, especially while working with global teams. A Center for Creative Leadership study, involving 6,731 managers across 38 countries, showed empathy goes a long way in job performance, building respect, and a supportive work environment. It’s hard to dislike a boss who notices you’re stressed and asks you to take time off.


6. Your boss lets you take the fall for his or her mistakes

man looks confused at computer

The most common type of office bullying is being accused of something you didn’t do | iStock.com

With great power comes ownership. If your boss enjoys the high ranks without the responsibility, you might want to be careful. The most common type of office bullying is being falsely accused of things you didn’t do. If your boss is someone who does not hesitate in belittling you in front of your co-workers, that’s a sign of a weak leader.


7. Your boss keeps tabs on your work hours

bill gates

Bill Gates used to memorize employees’ license plates | Sean Gallup/Getty Images

There are many ways your employer could be spying on you. But on the scale of 1 to Bill Gates (memorizing employees’ license plates), if your boss shows signs of being a stalker, you should be wary.

Trust is a two-way street. No employee wants to feel like he or she is being watched at work. Companies try different ways to monitor employee interactions through email and official communication channels, but if it’s irrelevant to your performance, your boss might have crossed a line.

8. Your boss has unreasonable expectations

Melissa McCarthy in a still from The Boss movie

Bad bosses can be as toxic as smoking | Universal

This is real. Job insecurity and unreasonable demands placed by a bad boss can be as toxic as smoking. Placing unreasonable demands on workers ties into the lack of empathy and little regard for an employee’s life outside of work. If your boss expects you to be at his or her beck and call, you’re signing up for a life of stress with little room for a real break.

9. Your boss micromanages you

An employee performance evaluation illustration

Nitpicking can demotivate employees | iStock.com

No one wants to feel like they can’t do the job they’re paid to do, especially if it comes from the person who hired you. Micromanaging or paying attention to small, irrelevant details can adversely affect an employee’s confidence and interest in the job.

key nonfinancial motivator is giving employees an opportunity to lead a task to ensure growth and development. An unhealthy work atmosphere is one where the employee doesn’t feel confident in his or her abilities to rise up and any chance for effective communication is shot down.

10. Your boss snoops on your social media

Woman looking on social media applications on a black Apple iPhone 5S

As long as it doesn’t affect your work, your employer shouldn’t pry into your personal life | iStock.com/Anatolii Babii

It might be a warning sign if your boss wants to add you on Facebook or snoops on your life outside work. Social media add color to an employee’s personal life and might contain information you wouldn’t want shared at work.

Lawmakers from 15 states have initiated legislation that would prevent employers from gaining access to personal social networking accounts. If your boss shows overt interest in your social or online persona when it’s irrelevant to work, it might be time to take it up with human resources.

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