British Bosses Behaving Badly, Survey Finds

29 Sep 2014
One in three bosses (35%) behave badly, with 11% 'bad' or 'despicable,' according to a survey of over 1,000 British workers.

12% said their boss has displayed inappropriate behaviour, mainly bad language, bullying, lying and breaching confidentially. The research suggests that British workers feel its time their bosses cleaned up their act.

10% suffer under real life ‘David Brent’ equivalents, with inappropriate behaviour rife amongst Britain’s workplaces, according to an ICM independent survey of workers commissioned by management consultancy INSPIRING Business Performance.

More people had taken action as a result of the boss’s bad behaviour than not, including 13% seeking another job and a further 4% quitting without a new job to go to. The survey also revealed that badly behaved bosses can have a real and financial impact of profitability with employees less productive – 10% of workers purposely disrupt the workplace and 8% take ‘sickies’ as a result of badly behaved bosses.

INSPIRING analysed survey responses against its leadership behaviour index to measure general worker views of their bosses’ performance against benchmarked good practice data.

British workplaces are rife with bad leader stereotypes like Hitler and Brent but good ones too, like Karen Brady, Alan Sugar and David Cameron. However, British workers are less keen on having visionary bosses like Richard Branson, wanting instead those that are good at team building.

Men more often had a lower opinion of managers than women, despite male employees generally earning more and seen as having more opportunity in the workplace. Men are also more likely to raise issues directly with the boss and play the disruptive office prankster than their female colleagues, who appear to be more accepting of badly behaved bosses.

Age also alters how bosses’ behaviour makes people think and act. Young people are the most likely to have a problem with it while the older generations are more tolerant. 32% of 18-24s gossip compared to just 13% of 55-64s. 18-24s are also far more likely than any other age group to disrupt other colleagues, do less work (16%) or take sick days (12%) as a result. 55-64s are most likely to raise concerns directly (19%) and the over 65s are most likely to seek another job (21%).

Bosses behave differently is different parts of country too. Scots and Londoners reported the highest number of impeccable and well behaved leaders, compared to South West England which had the lowest number behaving well and the highest considered bad or despicable.

Yorkshire and Humberside wins on the number of David Brents (19%), the North East on Hitlers (13%), Scotland and London on Alex Fergusons. Those in Yorkshire and Humberside “tell it straight” to bosses more than other parts of Britain, whilst the South West is most likely to be disruptive.

John Telfer, managing director, INSPIRING, said, “While not every boss in the country is bad there are clearly a good number of rotten apples as well as people that need more help to be a good boss. While it’s fun to make comparisons between badly behaved bosses and well known characters, the reality is less funny. There’s a financial cost that shouldn’t be ignored as workers become less productive. Measuring bosses behaviour and its impact on the bottom line is vital for companies looking to maintain profitability and growth in the future.

“British workers are often the source of valuable information and management need to gather these opinions and see what it tells them about how they treat their people and what they can do to make improvements,” Telfer continued.

Notes to editors

  • INSPIRING’s British Bosses Behaviour online survey was conducted by ICM amongst a random sample of 1,175 full or part time workers aged 18+ in Great Britain between 26th -28th October 2012. Surveys were conducted across the country and the results have been weighted to the profile of all adults. ICM is a member of the British Polling Council and abides by its rules. Further information at
  • Elements of the data were then analysed by INSPIRING using its leadership behaviour index to measure general worker views of their bosses’ performance against benchmarked good practice data.
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