"They gaslight you": The 10 red flags to look out for in a toxic boss.

Your boss always seems to be watching YouTube videos when you walk in. It’s a real talent. You wonder if they wait until they hear someone in the hallway, then pull up their browser. Just to screw with you.

It’s like when you catch a coworker watching porn, but the opposite. They’re proud of what they’ve accomplished.

We’re talking about a particular kind of boss.

We ask Team Mamamia what horrible bosses in the past have made us do. Post continues below.

Video by MMC

The kind who kisses ass, then drops their pants for you. Who lies about their qualifications. Who ignores problems until they walk into their office crying. Who feels entitled to put their name on your reports. Who raids your budget to fund their own projects.

A boss who fires half their staff while scoffing at the possibility of a cut to their own salary — which doubles yours.

Their main superpower is finding ways to sneak parts of their job into everyone’s back pocket. This kind of boss depends on someone like you. Someone who does all the stuff they can’t be bothered with.

1. A boss that makes everyone beg to do their job.

It’s one thing to take on extra duties if you’re asked to. Something else when you take them on simply because your boss doesn’t understand their job. That’s effort you’ll never be rewarded for.

Your boss makes everyone want to do their job, for free. Because they drop the ball so often, almost on purpose. So you beg them to take over. They actually make you feel nuts for wanting to, as if you’re the unreasonable one.

They’ll say, “If you really want that task, be my guest.” Or they’ll say, “This was never supposed to be my responsibility anyway.” Anything to avoid showing appreciation.

2. A boss who gaslights you.

You voice discontent. And they respond with dismay. They’re confused about what you’re trying to accomplish here.


Try being more positive. It’ll help you get what you want. Even if you already tried that, and it didn’t work.

They offer support if you’re overworked, takes it away at the last minute, then asks why you’re so upset. You weren’t entitled to an assistant. They were just thinking out loud when they said all that.

They tell you they’re planning to create a new position, but you‘re probably not qualified for it. They just wanted to be honest.

3. A boss who manipulates you with praise.

You’re doing a fantastic job. What a rock star. But they don’t believe that. If they did, they’d treat you like one. Pay you like one.

After a while, the praise just irritates you. Reminds you that you’re doing good work, just not getting paid for it.

Over time, you see a pattern. Your boss praises everyone in public, then does a reversal in private. Tells them they’re not qualified for promotions. They’re not able to fund their project after all. Now you see. You’re being taken for granted. Used up.

4. A boss who says “yes” when they mean “no.”

The boss loves your idea. You should write up a proposal. So you do. It takes up most of your week.

But they don’t read it. They just pretend to. They tell everyone they’re approving it. But when you start asking for the actual resources, they stop responding to your emails. Or they suddenly want to slow down.

They keep saying “yes,” but never give you a dollar amount.

They want to plan a meeting to talk about things in more detail. Here, read this study. Read that one. Consider this angle. Maybe you could get external funding for this. It’s a clever dance. They get to remain positive and encouraging, while wearing you out.

5. A boss who likes shiny things too much.

Medals. Plaques. Trophies. They love award banquets more than anything. And you get an award. And you get an award…

It’s like a shitty version of Oprah.

And you know what your boss says at meetings? We should divert part of the department budget for better awards. Not raises. Just plaques made from finer wood.

6. A boss who always puts themselves first.

Funny how all the things your boss wants can magically happen within 24 hours.

They’re always looking for a bigger, better conference table.

When your boss doesn’t get what they want, they shut down. They revert back to the strategy of letting everyone else do their job.

If you can see some of these traits in your boss, seek help. Image: Getty.

7. A boss who talks tough to the wrong people.

It’s easy to take a hard line with a reasonable person. We don’t especially enjoy conflict. We do our best to accommodate others. We compromise. Settle. Put our own needs last.

Your boss loves these opportunities. They talk about “tough decisions,” and screw over the person least likely to complain.

But then your resident nut job causes a scene, and gets everything they want. Your boss stands up for themselves at first, then folds. They might even ask you to make a sacrifice to appease the basket case.

Wow, great leadership. They're not so tough after all, just a bully. A bully who gets bullied by other bullies.

8. A boss who unveils buzzwords at retreats.

This is their moment. Their special day. They're going to prove to everyone why they're in charge. And you get… coffee and a cinnamon bun.

Get ready, they've brought their slide show and dry erase markers. An itinerary. Worksheets for you to fill out. A list of this year’s buzzwords.

They're even wearing their Converse sneakers, because they're going to be on their feet for hours, writing things on boards and giving motivational speeches. They're going to get everyone fired up, despite the gulf in your budget.

9. A boss who wants to be a cult leader.

They don’t want staff. More like an entourage. Followers. People to make them feel important. People to laugh at their jokes. To marvel at their career. To love their stories. When they call you 'my team', you feel the sudden need for a shower.


Maybe it’s the modifier. It’s their team.

Like they own you, or a part of you. So you’ll do what they say without question, but always with a smile. Always upbeat.

They tell you about all the people they know, even though you know them as well. Maybe they'll finally learn that you’re also a big deal — you just don’t make a big deal out of it. Then all of a sudden they want to be your drinking buddy. They still aren't going to give you a raise, though.

10. A boss who doesn’t want equals.

You’ve tried to get along with your boss. Give them the benefit of a doubt. Second and third chances. To see their side.

But you’ll never really respect them. Or maybe you just believe in completely different things. Your values don’t even begin to line up.

You’re not going to make a toxic boss see the light. They might glimpse it through eclipse glasses. But they’ll forget. They’ll revert to their same behaviours. Because that’s what got them where they are.

Where they are is the top. They don’t see any need to change. They’re king of the hill. Even as a flood washes their hill away, they still might not change. Not until it’s too late. Not until you’re also screwed.

Maybe you’ve crafted a set of strategies to deal with them while you had to, as I’ve written before.

But those run out. They work on mediocre bosses, but not toxic ones. Not in the long run. Eventually, the toxic boss sees what’s going on. They resent you for constantly going over their heads.

They’ll start sabotaging you. Gaslighting you. And more. That’s when it’s time to check out.

Don’t hang around until your toxic boss makes you a miserable person. Don’t go toxic yourself.

This is the kind of boss you can’t be honest with. The kind of boss who makes people quit. You might dream of resigning with a dramatic flair. Telling them just what you think. But you can’t. The last thing you want is a boss haunting you from the landfill. Just leave. Every minute you spend on them is one you’re not investing in yourself. And that’s just dumb.

You can read more of Jessica's work on her Medium profile here, or follow her on Twitter @JessicaLexicus.