Employer Branding

Why a Bad Boss is Bad for Employer Brand

There’s nothing worse than working for a bad boss. But what if the boss is so bad that it tarnishes the good name of the company, or worse still damages the employer brand?

In recent weeks Uber boss Travis Kalanick has been in the news for all the wrong reasons. Firstly for the damning open letter by former employee Sandra Fowler about alleged sexual harassment at the company. Now Mr Kalanick himself published this profound apology to all his staff after being caught on camera being abusive to one of his own drivers.

Now there is the attitude that it is the boss’ company and they can do what they want, but can they really? The impact this kind of exposure generates is priceless and sometimes it could cause so much irreparable damage that the company may never recover.

A Gallup poll of more than 7,000 U.S. workers found that the number one reason people quit their jobs is poor leadership. In other words, they are suffering under the leadership of a bad boss. “People leave managers, not companies,” Gallup wrote in their survey findings. “In the end, turnover is mostly a manager issue.”

But how does a bad boss affect employer brand?

Jonas Fischer is the co-founder of PeerCulture. He says:

Employees often see their CEO as the embodiment of the company’s core values. While a leader is certainly not the brand, great leaders are the difference makers when we think of the world-class, exceptional employer brands. When a crisis occurs, it can be an opportunity for the organization to reinforce their values by making the situation right. The key is how they respond.

Talent attraction and retention

Being a desirable place to work is one of the main reasons candidates seek to join a company and employees are loathed to leave. And it can be desirable for a number of things like the office location, flexibility, career progression prospects or the reputation of the company boss. There are some CEOs whose reputation is often bigger than their companies such as Tesla’s Elon Musk, Virgin boss Richard Branson and Ginnie Rometti of IBM. They are almost like super CEOs so if they are in the press for the wrong reasons then it’s going to be difficult to attract and keep the top talent.

Brand reputation

The most successful companies to work for are known just by their brand name and it’s no different in recruitment and reputation is up there with things that matter the most to employees and candidates. Nowadays, saying who you work for is far more important than having a job. In fact, research shows that 69% of job seekers wouldn’t take a role with a company that had a bad reputation, even if they were unemployed. Meanwhile 84% would consider leaving their current job if they were offered another role by a business with an excellent reputation.


Having a bad boss doesn’t just affect the person at whom it’s directed – it can affect an entire office and more importantly the morale of that office. And if it spreads to other people, it could affect employees’ overall perception of the company they work for and just like a domino effect, this can affect the productivity of the company itself.

The Harvard Business Review did a study on just how damaging a bad boss is and found that no matter how much the company invests on things like excellent rewards schemes, career progression, stimulating work environments, health insurance, and other perks — it won’t make much difference to the people stuck with bad bosses.


Company culture and cultural fit can have a huge impact on a person’s happiness in the workplace and if the issue is a bad manager then it’s a problem. When employees feel like they are routinely being treated unfairly, or are being disrespected, you have a culture problem.

A company with a culture that fosters a lack of respect will not only reduce a company’s productivity, but more importantly, it’ll make going to work a lot less fun for everyone and employees are likely to leave. Company culture is essential for a successful business but if it’s the person at the top who is making the company an uncomfortable place to work then unless they seek to correct it, then it won’t be long until they won’t have a company at all.

Management by fear

If you ask any manager they would never admit they manage by fear, and their employees certainly won’t tell them that they fear them. But sadly there are fear-based managers everywhere. It’s true that these managers use fear to control people or threaten their employees and keep them on edge in order to keep them compliant and docile. But it also means employees feel their managers are unapproachable about basic things like pay, just as Uber driver Fawaz Kamel found when he complained his income was falling and blamed Uber’s fare structure. At best this is annoying that you can’t have an open and honest chat with your boss, but at the very worst this could lead to an employee suffering from mental health problems and lack of self-worth. This in turn means they will be off work with stress, or making excuses not to go in or they will end up leaving.

Adam Glassman, Recruitment Strategies Manager at Alorica, says:

Above all, your employer brand is driven by your people (it’s not your ping-pong table, sorry to say). How your employees work together, and more importantly, how your leaders treat their teams becomes paramount. That defines your culture, your work environment and the ‘feel’ of the employee’s work experience.

Working under a bad boss is bad news for everyone and while Mr Kalanick has admitted he needs help to be a leader, sometimes it takes a complete overhaul of the whole company from the top down to get things right.

By Ushma Mistry

Editor & Content Strategist at Link Humans, download our new eBook now: Measuring Employer Brand: The Ultimate Guide and check out our latest product The Employer Brand Index.