Do you have “toxic” managers? Three ways to find out.

Cartoonimage of a man in a suit reacting with horror to something on his computerLast week, I wrote a post on LinkedIn about a report I’d seen stating that 30% of managers are toxic.

That post got a ton of discussion, with wide-ranging opinions from “that’s too high” to “that’s too low” to “what the heck is ‘toxic,’ anyway?”

What fun!

I don’t know if that 30% is valid or not. The article I read pointed to another article summarizing a research report, which is no longer available online.

Here’s the thing, though: that 30% number is ultimately irrelevant.

The real point is that your experience of good, bad, or indifferent managers will absolutely influence your opinion of whether managers in general are good, bad, or indifferent.

If you’ve had predominantly good managers, you’ll be in the “30% is too high!” camp.

If you’ve had predominantly bad managers, you’ll be in the “it’s too low!” camp.

Your experience means it’s impossible for you to have an objective opinion about how many good, bad, or indifferent managers you have in your organization.

The only way to know is to find out for real.

And there are three simple steps you can take.

1. What’s your employee turnover rate?

People leave managers, not companies.

If you’re a small-to-medium sized company, your overall turnover rate is your window into whether you’ve got a problem.

Larger companies should look at division, department, or even team turnover rates.

Some industries typically have higher turnover than others (which, of course, leads to a whole new set of questions around whether that should be accepted as okay or not), so you’ll want to verify your turnover rate relative to that of your industry.

2. What types of issues come up in exit interviews?

Does your HR department conduct exit interviews with employees who are leaving – whether voluntarily or not? (If not … why not?)

Is the information they glean available to you?

As someone with plenty of “30% is too low” experience, I can tell you that, in my corporate youth, I made some … comments … about my managers in exit interviews. Not, perhaps, my wisest moments, but I have wondered if those comments made it back, in some form or another, to the managers themselves and/or to their managers.

If your company conducts exit interviews, the information shouldn’t just die in the interviewer’s office. The only good reason to do exit interviews is to use the feedback to make improvements, whether that’s recognizing that you have a manager who needs support or, more happily, that you have a manager who’s doing a great job (or some other unrelated-to-management question).

3. Do complaints get buried?

My last article, “Ever work for a ‘whiz kid’?“, tells the story of how I and my teammates went to two senior leaders where I worked at the time to tell them we had a problem with the team’s manager.

Nothing was done.

If you’re getting any kind of feedback – even, and yes, I’ll say it, even if it’s just rumors and gossip – and you’re not at least poking around a bit to see what’s going on, then you’re burying potential problems.

Sure, there are situations where disgruntled employees are simply troublemakers.

But not always.

Wouldn’t it be better to know, rather than assume or guess? Because if it is a problem employee, versus a problem manager, then that too is something needing attention.

In short …

This is a very high-level overview. Actually determining your organization’s culture goes deeper, by far, than these three questions. But this is a good place to start.

Because if you want a strong, humane culture in your organization, these are things you need to pay attention to.

Whether it’s 30% or 10% or 40%, any ineffective manager (I won’t even say “toxic”!) is a problem.

Because the cost of replacing employees who leave because of that manager is a whole lot higher than you might think.

A good culture starts with good leadership. And the ROI on developing and maintaining a good culture (and good leadership) is also higher than you might think.


Here’s the LinkedIn post.

Find out what it really costs when a manager fails: download the employee replacement costs spreadsheet here. I’ll wager it’s more than you think.

Got problem employees? Download the mini e-book The Five Most Challenging Employee Types (and how to manage them).

Want to explore options for developing your managers into good leaders? Let’s talk – click here to contact me.


gljudson Difficult people