Leadership plays a crucial role in creating a productive and healthy work environment. Effective leaders can inspire and motivate their employees as well as provide clear direction and constructive feedback when needed.
In addition, they serve as role models for their team and employees. A positive leadership style allows leaders to not only improve the success of their team but also contribute to the success of their organisation.
Negative leadership on the other hand is a leadership style where a leader uses a variety of negative strategies to achieve their goals. These strategies may include a lack of empathy, harsh criticism, micromanagement, verbal abuse, and creating a culture of fear and intimidation.
The detrimental effect of negative leadership is witnessed not just by the immediate employees, but it affects the organisation as a whole. Decreased productivity and increased stress and anxiety among employees due to a toxic work environment ultimately affect the organisation’s performance and culture.
Additionally, negative leadership can have a severe impact on mental health in the workplace and can lead to a toxic work environment that can, in turn, lead to stress, anxiety, and depression among employees.
Hence, negative leadership can have severe and long-lasting consequences, and organisations need to recognise and address negative leadership to ensure a positive and supportive work environment.
5 types of negative leadership in an organisation
There are several types of negative leadership that can harm employee productivity:
Criticism can leave a significant impact on employee morale and productivity. While constructive feedback is helpful for growth and development, prolonged criticism without constructive feedback can lead to decreased confidence and motivation. This state at the workplace can harm the employee’s performance and overall job satisfaction.
Employees who face constant criticism may become defensive, and disengaged, and may be less likely to take risks or innovate. Furthermore, if the criticism is perceived as unfair or unwarranted, it can lead to feelings of frustration and a lack of trust in the leader, leading to a toxic work environment.
Micromanagement from a leader who is excessively involved in the work of their team can cause their employees to feel like they are not trusted and lead to a lack of autonomy. In such cases, the creativity of the employees takes a hit and they tend to lose interest in the work.
Lack of communication
When there is no proper communication between the leader and their employees, it may cause a state of frustration and confusion. This can lead to misunderstandings and a lack of sense of direction about their role in the workplace.
Conflict within the team and between the leader and employees is an outcome of poor communication which can further lead to low job satisfaction and high employee turnover, and disrupt the state of mental health in the workplace.
There are a number of forms of bullying at the workplace that range from verbal abuse to intimidation. This leads to a toxic environment at the workplace where the employees feel threatened and unsafe.
Preferential treatment of certain employees over others affects team performance and builds frustration and resentment within the team. Favouritism creates an atmosphere of competition rather than collaboration and leads to employees working in silos and not expressing their opinions about the projects.
The damaging effects of negative leadership to employees
Let’s explore a few of the damaging effects of negative leadership and how it can harm both employees and organisations as a whole.
Decreased employee morale
One of the most immediate impacts of negative leadership is a decrease in employee morale as well as overall job satisfaction. Negative leaders often engage in behaviours such as micromanagement and aggressive criticism which can be both demoralising and damaging to an employee’s self-esteem and confidence which in turn directly impacts their work performance.
Increased employee turnover and absenteeism
Negative leadership can also contribute to high employee turnover rates. When employees have lost confidence in the leadership and are unhappy with their working environment, they are likely to look for other job opportunities or even avoid work altogether.
Extended periods of leaves and taking a lot of time off work are clear signs of absenteeism. This of course has a significant impact on job performance which impacts both the individual and their team.
Negative leaders could also unintentionally stifle creativity and innovation among employees as they are a lot less likely to take any kind of risks and bring about new ideas due to the fear of criticism from the leaders. In a positive and supportive work environment, employees would be more confident and comfortable in sharing their ideas.
Lack of trust
When employees are constantly subjected to negative and critical behaviour from the leadership, they are likely to lose trust in both the leaders and the organisation. This in turn affects work performance on both an individual and team level, making it difficult for the organisation to operate effectively.
Negative leadership can severely harm an organisation’s reputation. When employees are unhappy and have lost trust in the leadership, they are more likely to speak negatively about the organisation. Whether it is communicated internally within the organisation or externally, both can have a damaging impact on the organisation’s image and brand. Additionally, there is a possibility of attracting negative media attention which can further harm the organisation’s reputation.
An obvious impact of negative leadership is decreased productivity among employees. When employees are dissatisfied, they lack motivation and are less likely to work to their full potential. This can negatively impact the organisation’s overall performance.
Lack of employee engagement
Employees who are unhappy and dissatisfied may display a lack of interest in not only their work but also the organisation’s goals. They are less likely to participate in any company events or contribute positively towards the culture in any way.
Increase in employee burnout, stress and anxiety
When employees have to deal with critical behaviour, it can lead to a lot of stress and anxiety and negatively impacts their mental health. In addition, negative leadership can result in a toxic work environment, which can make it difficult for employees to maintain a healthy work-life balance.
A lot of the points above are interconnected. The effect of one can lead to another. For example, decreased productivity among employees can lead to decreased morale and vice versa. Hence it is important to note that the effects of negative leadership cannot be reversed overnight due to the long-term effects and can cost an organisation a lot of time and money to address and resolve the issue.
Steps to deal with negative leadership as an organisation
Let’s look at how an organisation can deal with negative leadership.
Whether it is for a newly joined leader or one that needs improvement, providing training and development opportunities is a good first step. All companies are different and function in different ways. For leaders to get accustomed to the company culture and policies, training and development could be very beneficial.
This can also help leaders develop new or existing skills that can contribute to successfully leading a team while also fostering a positive work environment.
Improve company culture
Does negative leadership come first or poor company culture? Both could impact the other. Hence it’s important to foster a company culture that values positive leadership and encourages employees to speak up when they see negative or critical behaviours. Open communication and employee feedback or surveys are good ways to understand how employees are feeling in general and address any issues they are facing.
Accountability and taking action
Holding leaders accountable for their negative behaviours is a strong way to stand up for both employees and the company. This can be achieved through strict performance evaluations, regular feedback sessions, and disciplinary action if necessary.
By setting clear expectations and taking action when needed, organisations can avoid the long-term damaging effects of negative leadership.
Set up processes to help employees cope with the effects of negative leadership
Often, by the time the issues are identified by the organisation, the damage is done and the employees are already struggling with issues commonly found at the workplace such as stress, lack of motivation, distrust and anxiety. In these cases, the organisation must provide support to the employees.
Talking to a mental health professional is a great way to help employees work through the difficulties they experienced at the workplace. A mental health professional can help employees build awareness of how to cope with past stressors and move on towards having a positive outlook.
Identifying growth opportunities and helping the leadership team build new skills ensures that the environment at the workplace is supportive and the employees feel motivated and confident about functioning at the workplace.This further contributes to productivity at the workplace and helps build a positive work culture.
3 things an employee can do to deal with negative leadership
Speak up or escalate when you feel the work environment is affecting you negatively
Prolonged negativity at the workplace can take a toll on your mental health and affect your performance, and can also lead to employee burnout. If you feel like your work environment is affecting you negatively, it is important to bring this up with your manager or with the Human resources department.
It is important to set expectations in the workplace. Maintaining healthy boundaries at the workplace helps you to have a healthy work-life balance, thereby ensuring you can leave work at the workplace. Setting clear boundaries with your leader about your working style helps to maintain a good professional relationship with them.
Consider speaking to a mental health professional
The stress and anxiety of negative leadership can take a toll on you, and it is important to take some time to talk it out with your peers at the workplace or with your mentor at work. Talking to a mental health professional is also an effective way to help you work through the stressors you experience at the workplace.
Keeping these points in mind, it is also important to find areas of growth outside the professional environment which can help provide you with a sense of purpose. Achieving a sense of accomplishment beyond the workplace helps to build confidence and stay motivated which in turn contributes to productivity at the workplace.
From decreased morale to increased work stress, the damaging effects of negative leadership are far-reaching and can have a debilitating impact on the well-being of employees. When leaders engage in negative behaviours, such as engaging in bullying or favouritism, it impacts the work environment and the organisation as a whole.
Each employee is a valuable asset to the organisation and it is, therefore, crucial to identify and address negative leadership behaviours. Creating a positive and respectful work environment requires active engagement with employees and staff to understand what is functioning well and what issues need to be addressed.
Taking proactive steps helps the employees feel supported, builds trust and increases their willingness to be engaged and productive which in turn leads to increased organisational success and creates a positive and supportive work environment where employees can thrive.
About the Author
Samhita Kumar, M.Sc. is a therapist at Wysa and has a master’s in counselling psychology. She has three years of experience as a therapist with a therapeutic orientation that combines person-centred therapy and cognitive therapy.
She has worked extensively with adolescents, young adults and adults across a range of concerns and her areas of expertise include stress management, health, well-being and interpersonal relationships.