Third of UK employees have experienced a ‘toxic manager’

A third of employees (33%) in the UK have experienced a ‘toxic manager’ at work in the past five years, and over four in ten (41%) have left a job due to their dissatisfaction with management.

The findings are from Corndel’s Workplace Training Report 2024, based on research conducted with 250 HR decision makers at large organisations and 1,000 UK employees. Toxic manager traits including micromanagement, inflexibility, intimidation, gaslighting colleagues and a deflecting accountability.

This is having a significant impact on employees’ experiences at work. Nearly half of the employees (47%) state that mental health support and empathy from their workplace are crucial for their job satisfaction, and 46% feel that a positive workplace culture boosts their job performance, increasing to 55% among younger employees aged 18-34.

Meanwhile, nearly seven in ten (69%) HR leaders admit that ‘bad managers’ are a prevalent issue within their organisations and only 54% of HR professionals believe their organisation’s leaders possess the necessary skills to cultivate effective high performing teams. But in contrast, 81% of HR decision makers are confident that their managers uphold the organisation’s values.

James Kelly, left, co-founder and CEO of Corndel, said:In an era where company culture is actively promoted and workplace mental health is marketed as an employee benefit, ensuring that employees’ lived experiences meets their expectations for management culture is key. The evolving expectations of employees are moving beyond free breakfasts and ping-pong tables to influencing organisational structures built on empathy and inclusion, with mental health and wellbeing support baked into the culture.

“HR decision-makers must prioritise finding solutions for toxic workplaces, recognising that empathy, emotional intelligence and mental health support are critical factors in enhancing employee retention, performance, and job satisfaction.”

‘Accidental’ managers lack key skills

This significant number of toxic and ineffective managers could be in part due to the number of ‘accidental’ managers being promoted into more senior roles when there’s been a lack of qualified candidates over the past few years, particularly as a result of the UK’s skills shortage. Recent research by the Chartered Institute of Managers found 82% of workers who enter management positions have not had any formal management and leadership training, and half of people who don’t have an effective manager plan to leave their organisation in the next 12 months.

Cultivating leadership and management skills to grow high-performing teams

HR leaders nearly unanimously agree (99% of those surveyed) that leadership training is an effective approach to combating a toxic workplace culture – and more than half (54%) are convinced that workplace training can completely eliminate toxicity.

Over six in ten (62%) organisations will increase their training budgets in 2024, up from 48% in 2023. Furthermore, 90% of HR decision-makers recognise that mental health significantly impacts business performance, highlighting that we’ll likely see a shift towards improved mental health and wellbeing policies being woven into workplace culture in the near future.

Kelly added:Our report emphasises that urgent action is required to prevent the domino effect of toxic managers on employee wellbeing, engagement, and retention. By prioritising leadership development that focuses on ‘human’ management skills, emotional intelligence and mental health support, HR teams can combat toxic management cultures and build motivated, psychologically secure teams.”