9 Clear Signs You Can’t Trust Your Boss
Working for an employer you respect and trust is essential for your health, happiness, and success in the office. These red flags suggest that your higher-up doesn’t deserve your faith—and that it may be time to move on.
1. They have a closed-door policy
Part of being a manager includes being available to answer questions, help you work through tasks you might be struggling with, and generally be your go-to adviser, so it’s a problem when managers make themselves inaccessible. “You might not be able to trust your boss if they don’t seem approachable,” explains psychologist Nikki Martinez, PsyD. “It makes you feel like you can’t go to them with questions and concerns.” She cautions, however, that it’s possible to read the situation wrong, so definitely attempt to go to them for guidance and problem-solving before making any assumptions. “The reaction may surprise you, and can resolve the issue immediately if they can be trusted,” Martinez says.
2. They gossip
Even if you vent to your co-workers about other people you work with on other teams—or even about your boss!— it’s not appropriate for your employer to talk to you about your peers. “This is a strong indication that they talk about all of you to all of you,” Martinez explains. A simple way to correct this is to say something simple like, ‘I’m not really comfortable talking about John while he’s not here,’ or countering with a good quality of the person they’re talking about. “This sends a subtle message both that you are not the person to talk to like this, and if you are lucky, you’ll make them stop and think about this behaviour,” Martinez adds.
3. They take credit for work you do
What makes a boss look like a true, valued leader? When their employees succeed, improve and grow. A boss that can’t be trust however, will throw you under the bus for their own sake. “When your boss takes credit for your work and the work of others, it breeds resentment and distrust,” Martinez says. “You can resolve this by letting your boss know, preferably as a team, that it’s important to all of you to be recognized for the work you do. You all work hard, you all have ambitions and goals, and the hard work you do being acknowledged helps you move towards these goals.”
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4. They make decisions that benefit only their performance
When your employer doesn’t put their team’s happiness and success ahead of their own personal gain, it’s their employees who suffer the most. And it creates a toxic environment where anxiety is high. “When a manager/supervisor/leader clearly does things that benefit him/her directly rather than making the sometimes difficult decisions that further a greater benefit, you can see that they’re not committed to the organization’s mission,” explains author, speaker, and leadership trainer Guillermo V. Vidal. “You can bet they will look to save themselves first when the going gets tough.”
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5. They act insecure
The age-old saying “fake it till you make it” is every great leader’s mantra. Why? Part of taking care of a team is acting confident so that your charges never doubt that you’re there for them and aiming to help them flourish. A boss with low self-esteem, however, may lash out at anyone who’s deemed to be a threat. “Often a boisterous persona masks insecurities,” explains sales coach, expert, and principal Safiyyah Saafir. “These insecurities are inflamed by the perceived threat of competence in others. In such a case, you can be seen as overstepping your bounds by just doing your job, which can impede career growth.” Be wary of bosses who are overly concerned about what others think of them; they’ll focus more on looking like they’re doing a good job than actually doing a good job.
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6. They make an example of you in meetings
Part of the role of an employer is to educate their employees both professionally and interpersonally, which means being respectful of any sensitivities and never making someone feel uncomfortable in front of their teammates. “If your boss is sniping at you publicly or making an example of you in team meetings, this is a sure sign that something is up and you can’t trust in him or her right now,” career expert and author Ilene Marcus says. If it’s because your boss is annoyed with you, it doesn’t really matter what you did or didn’t do—he won’t be your best ally right now. “Although some of their marks and comments may be issues you have discussed in your evaluations or one-on-one meetings, if it’s happening publicly, even under the breath, your first priority is to stop trusting and figure out a plan of action to address the situation.”
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7. They don’t give great explanations for their choices
When your boss is part of a leadership team with other parts of the business, there are certain topics, decisions, and plans they can’t share with the broader team. However, it is their job to answer your questions with as much clarity and honesty that they can. If they aren’t doing this, it might be a signal they are hiding something. “As your superior in the organization, the boss is responsible for keeping you informed about policy, programs, changes in plans and overall company strategy. If your boss stops telling you the ‘why’ behind assignments, plans, meetings, and other office issues, it’s a clear signal that may have nothing to do with you, although now has everything to do with you,” Marcus says. “Your manager’s key job is to provide staff with the tools, resources, and direction to staff so that they can perform their job.”
8. Your boss overlooks you for opportunities
You may not always be the best candidate for a promotion or a raise. But good leaders will discuss these matters with their staff so that everybody knows where they stand. “If you’ve discussed the skills or opportunities you’d like to take on with your boss but find they offer them to someone else, this can be a sign that your boss can’t be trusted,” says Ben Brearley, former Management Consultant and founder of Thoughtful Leader. In this situation, your boss might have feelings about you or your performance that they aren’t addressing, and it’s a time to raise your hand in question.
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9. Your boss says one thing, then flip-flops
Whiplash never feels great, especially in the workplace. Working toward a goal only to be told later to do the opposite can make you doubt your role and importance at the company. Try not to take it personally, according to Brearley, because it could be the sign of a weak supervisor. “Your boss may have been put under pressure by somebody and now feels that they need to change their opinion to match someone else’s,” he explains. “This can lead to you being wrongly blamed for a mistake because you were operating under orders that have now changed.” If this happens, it is pretty solid sign that your boss can’t be trusted.
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