When millions of employees began working from home in March to slow the spread of Covid-19, the work culture went home with them. Toxic environments found in uncivil behaviors in break rooms and gossipy cubicles moved into workers' homes.

For workers in toxic cultures characterized by mean, aggressive, and controlling micromanagers, those behaviors came home with them as well.  

Employees now find themselves in the uncomfortable position of feeling unsafe and unsure about how to react over a computer screen to patronizing language, passive-aggressive comments, or regular interruptions.

The ripple effects of toxic-boss behaviors in virtual settings can produce drastic negative effects on how workers perform. To expose what may be happening in your organization right now, here's what to pay attention to:  

1. Bosses who only want things their way

Toxic bosses demand that things go their way all the time. And when a situation doesn't go their way, they naturally don't have the capacity to handle the problem without causing more problems. For example, if team members propose a better solution to a business challenge in a videoconference, toxic bosses will try to bully their way into changing their minds and ridicule their rationale, on the spot. Uninhibited emotions show up much easier over a computer screen when you operate through dominant behaviors like bullying. This "my way or the highway" campaign may later manifest in private virtual meetings where toxic bosses will divide and conquer by turning team members against one another.

2. Bosses who put other people down

Pay attention to the tone and subject matter by bosses in virtual meetings. If they speak negatively and badmouth other people in the presence of the team, you can bet that they'll be doing the same about you in front of other people. The first clue that you are working for a toxic boss is the negative energy they bring with them to videoconferences.

3. Bosses who can't stop talking about themselves

Toxic bosses may start virtual meetings by getting straight down to business and leaving people tense and on-edge. They won't check in and ask how their team members are doing, or demonstrate any empathy for the current WFH challenges posed by the pandemic. Toxic bosses are selfish by nature and only concerned with having bottom-line conversations that concern or benefit them. 

4. Bosses who express how they really feel with poor body language

Becoming more aware of your own body language can certainly help leaders communicate more effectively. Watch for these signs by toxic bosses: 

  • They lack good eye contact and avoid looking directly into the camera or roll their eyes in a passive-aggressive fashion to show displeasure. 
  • They fold their arms, which comes across as being closed off, uninterested, or disengaged.
  • They don't nod when being spoken to, which would help others feel more connected and relaxed. A lack of timely nodding with a straight face to a good idea or suggestion signifies poor listening skills, that you're silently disagreeing, judging, or making the other person wrong.
  • They lack smiling genuinely. To communicate right off the bat that you're safe and approachable in the virtual presence of your team, a good leader starts off with a smile. Toxic bosses rarely do.

5. Bosses who are rude

In virtual meetings, toxic bosses may abruptly cut off their employees as they present a view or idea that doesn't align with their own. A toxic boss may deliberately shut others down if he or she doesn't like their opinions.