Bad Bosses Are Destroying Employee Happiness: new data shows

Employees are the core of every business, and research after research show keeping them happy can be the difference between a failed or a successful startup.

Think about it, employees who are happy at their job are more productive, creative, and more likely to stay at the company long-term; all factors which can lead to a high-performing team.

Yet, today’s employees are not happy — they are unmotivated, unsatisfied, and feel unvalued at their workplace.

Reconciling with these employees should be a priority in today’s workplace.

The Harvard Business Review found that employees between 30 and 45 years old have had the greatest increase in resignation rates, with an average increase of more than 20% between 2020 and 2021.

Additionally, Statistics Canada says employment fell by 200,000 (-1.0%) in January of this year — part-time (-117,000; -3.3%) and full-time (-83,000; -0.5%). The number of people who were employed but worked less than half their usual hours rose by 620,000 (+66.1%) in January, the largest increase since March 2020.

A toxic workplace culture characterized by poor of work-life balance, xxx, and bad bosses has fueled this Great Resignation in North America.

To learn more about what makes employees unhappy, Real Estate Witch surveyed 1,000 full-time employees in the U.S. about their frustrations at work.

They found traditional incentives like high-pay and good benefits are important, but today’s employees work better when businesses respect their mental health and personal boundaries.

The reality is, without proper training or support managers can become bad bosses, and as Real Estate With says, this results in approximately 75% of employees feeling frustrated with their managers.

So how can you recognize bad bosses at your startup? Keep reading to find out the typical behaviour trends and what you can do to address this situation in the workplace.

What Makes Employees Unhappy? 😫

Today’s employees aren’t happy — they’re exhausted, stressed, angry, or bored at work.

Nearly 60% of workers feel some negative emotions about their job, with nearly 1 in 4 feeling only negative emotions.

It All Comes Down to Communication

According to the REW survey, the number one reason employees are frustrated with their manager is because of unclear communication (31%), followed by micromanagement (27%).

All good leadership comes down to communication.

Today’s leaders achieve far more employee engagement and credibility when they take part in genuine conversation with people at work — either with those who work for them or with them.

A conversation, at its core, is a frank exchange of ideas and information with an implicit or explicit agenda.

Smart leaders engage with employees in a way that resembles an ordinary person-to-person conversation rather than on a series of commands or a one-way top-down approach. This hierarchical system is no longer useful or even realistic.

Conversations need to be less memos, emails and publications, and more… human.

👉 In this blog, you’ll find the 6 must-have conversations your managers should be having with their teams

Additionally, fewer than 1 in 3 workers (32%) say they are expected to respond to employer communication only during normal business hours.

The rest are expected to respond before or after work hours, on weekends, or during paid time off.

Goes without saying this is unacceptable. Your managers should be able to set clear boundaries and expectations with their team.

Bad Boss Behaviours 😡

Data proves the old adage true: “People don’t quit companies. They quit their managers.”

Employees who have a positive relationship with their managers are more likely to be loyal, collaborative, and productive in the long run.

Supervisors are responsible for creating an environment that encourages and motivated workers.

Yet, it is extremely common where the opposite is the norm.

As we mentioned in previous blogs, there are more disengaged employees at work than engage workers. They  monopolize managers’ time, drive away customers, and produce less and lower quality work.

Usually this falls on the manager’s action.

Nearly 1 in 5 employees (19%) say they experience personal attacks or unkind remarks from their managers, and 1 in 7 (15%) experience harassment or bullying.

That criticism is also reflected in performance reviews, with 1 in 5 workers (20%) saying their managers tear down their confidence and negatively impact their self-esteemduring reviews.

As a result, nearly one-fourth of employees (23%) feel stress, dread, or anxiety when they have a performance review.

1 in 8 Workers Are Discouraged From Taking Breaks

Managers who use cruel and negative feedback to incite hard work may actually accomplish the opposite.

Poor performance reviews can lead to disengaged employees and even push employees to burnout.

But don’t worry, this can all be fixed by training and developing your managers into coaches who  know how to provide effective feedback.

👉 Here is A Manager’s Guide to Cultivate Accountability and Effective Feedback at any Startup

These bad-boss behaviors can quickly cause employees to become disillusioned, leading to lost productivity, higher turnover rates, and lack of psychological safety within the organization.

Lack of Psychological Safety

2 in 3 Employees Are Expected to Answer After-Hours Communication

Psychological safety is defined as an individual's perception of the consequences of taking risks and being vulnerable in front of their teammates. In other words, psychological safety is the belief that you won't be punished when you mess up.

It turns out our brain processes a challenge from our boss, the competition of a colleague, or the dismissiveness of subordinates as a life-threatening situation.

Upon entering a situation such as the examples listed above, the part of our brain that processes fear, the amygdala, kicks into overdrive, taking over the higher processing centers of our brains.

As the amygdala kicks in, so makes our fight-or-flight response which continues to shut down the analytical aspects of our brains.

When our fight-or-flight response begins, our critical thinking skills take their leave. In a way, we begin to lose our minds when we need them most.

This 'brain shutdown' is what happens when the workplace feels threatening. Our thinking brains shut off, and our primal instincts take over, leading to nothing productive.

The REW survey shows 1 in 8 employees (13%) say their employer explicitly discourages them from taking breaks, and more than one-fourth (28%) say they regularly work through lunch.

1 in 5 (19%) feel uncomfortable taking breaks because their employers may view them as unproductive.

👉 Here are 10 Myths and Realities about Productivity and How to Boost It At Your Startup

This hostile environment and behaviour from managers leads to unsafe spaces for employees.

When employees come to work with feelings of defeat and mistrust, they are unproductive and inefficient at their jobs.

These teams have a low capacity for success.

On the other hand, psychologically safe teams can operate at a high capacity.

Team members feel motivated to come to work, causing them to be productive and successful.

👉 High-Performing Teams Need Psychological Safety: Here’s How You Can Create It on Your Startup Team

Half of Employees Would Take a Pay Cut to Be Happy at Work

A good salary is extremely important to any employee — at the end of the day, this is what pays the bills and allows for a standard of living.

However, many workers who fill unfulfilled at work, especially if its in a toxic environment, would be willing to move to another company which might pay less but will offer tranquillity.

A majority of employees (56%) would actually accept a salary decrease if it would guarantee they’d be happy at work — with nearly 1 in 6 (16%) saying they’d take a pay cut of $20,000 or more.

Even when higher wages remain important — do NOT underpay your employees — today’s workers would rather work somewhere that prioritizes good leadership, work-life balance, and opportunities for growth.

Besides salary, the top five factors that contribute to job satisfaction include:

  • Good leadership (61%)
  • Good benefits (59%)
  • Good work-life balance (56%)
  • Opportunities for career growth (52%)
  • Positive company culture (51%)

Invest in your people, and your business will succeed.

Inflexible Work Accommodations

Remote work is here to stay... At least that's what we've heard multiple times during the past two years.

However, now that COVID-19 restrictions have loosen around the world and there is more understanding on how the virus affects people, many companies want their employees to come back into the office full-time.

While several people are happy to go back into the physical space, many others have found WFH to be a more accommodating to their lifestyle.

This awareness might come from the advantages of working remotely such as saving time and money from not commuting, enjoying time with family and pets, and also, time and distance away from bad managers and toxic workplace environments.

As an employer, you need to understand that is a reality, and if you're not willing to offer flexible accommodations to your employees, they might back their stuff and head to the next company who does understand and is willing to offer remote work hours.

The REW survey shows about 70% of Americans who work in an office would prefer to work remotely at least some of the time.

About half of full-time remote workers (47%) do not want to return to an office.

Despite a strong desire to work remotely, more than 1 in 4 employees (28%) say their companies have “poor” or “absent” remote work options.

If you're still unsure on how your company could manage this hybrid opportunity, below are four incredible resources that can help you manage the remote work circumstances, from meetings to feedback sessions, and leading with conflict.

1. No More Excuses: Your Ultimate Guide to Remote Team Management

2. Lessons Learned from Companies Who Have Been Working Remotely

3. Your Ultimate Guide To Hosting a Productive Employee Performance Review Remotely

4. How to Lead Through Conflict in Virtual Teams

Final Thoughts

Bosses make or break teams.

Through data, we've uncovered what makes employees unhappy at work, and the bottom line is bad bosses.

But this doesn't have to be the case at your company. To avoid this, you can provide leadership development training to your team supervisors.

Properly trained managers will allow them to know how to optimize team dynamics, offer psychological safety, and will beable to unlock employees' highest potential.

Resulting in everyone at your startup feeling valued, listened to, and overall, happy at work.

Consider checking out Unicorn Lab's leadership development program to unlock your managers' potential.


The proprietary data featured in this blog comes from an online survey commissioned by Real Estate Witch, where one thousand full-time employees in the U.S. were surveyed Feb. 10-12, 2022. Each respondent answered up to 21 questions related to their workplace experiences.

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