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2 Why do companies keep toxic managers?

In the second of my articles, here are other reasons that organisations keep toxic managers.

Friends in high places

Some managers are protected by their hierarchy. They have ‘friends in high places’, so can do nothing wrong. This is especially useful for toxic managers, as it means they can keep their positions and continue with their normal toxic behaviour, without risk or blame.

Those protected by their bosses are rarely fired. Many of these bosses are deaf to negative information about the managers they protect, even from peers or Human Resources. There needs to be extreme toxicity, and the start of a consensus in management around the protecting boss, before they listen to the criticism. But even then, it may take a long time before they take action.

Too expensive to fire

There is an unwritten rule in many organisations that when a toxic manager is discovered late in their career and considered too expensive to fire, they are left in place. Top management will compare the cost of the lay-off with the total salary left to be paid before retirement. When the cost of the lay-off is greater than the salary left to pay, the toxic manager is often left in place to continue to harm their subordinates.

It all comes down to profit. Financial cost takes priority over toxicity, in the same way as the successful toxic manager, where financial success takes priority.

Company culture

I have worked in family-run companies where managers are in place because of their relationship to the family: they are cousins, spouses, children, friends or whatever. Competence is not a criterion for hiring, but the relationship to the family group is. As a result, managers end up in positions where they are incompetent, and many of these companies have a high ratio of toxic managers. It becomes part of the company culture, even if the family does not admit it or want it.

This situation is further complicated when a manager needs to be disciplined for doing something wrong, but is not. This occurs when senior leadership is concerned about the repercussions of such discipline on other members of the family in other departments. So in the end, no punishment is imposed, and immobility becomes the management philosophy.

While the family remains in control, no change is likely: it is their company, and this is the way they want to manage it. Subordinates in the system not in the family group must accept the situation or leave.

Managing upwards

Another way toxic managers can stay in the organisation is to become experts at managing their bosses: managing upwards. They give the boss what they want, when they want it, and in the manner they want it. These managers can use this expertise and the resulting special relationship with their boss to hide their toxicity.

Not toxic enough

And finally, there is the excuse that they are not toxic enough to take action. Results are average or a little below, so there is no reason to intervene. They are not good enough to promote or bad enough to fire, so management leaves them in place.

Perhaps, subordinates might not complain enough, having resigned themselves to working with the toxic manager. Resignation that the toxic boss will stay in position, and that they are unable to leave or decide to stay and suffer.

This state of resignation is a little less toxic for the organisation. Fewer people leave because the competent ones have already left. Absenteeism stays high. Subordinates go through the motions of work. But the situation remains toxic, and employees are not working in an optimal condition.

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