Why Incompetent Leaders Burn Everyone Out


Long working hours, micromanagement, work-life imbalances, and being consistently overloaded and overwhelmed with more work than you can handle—these are often what jumps to mind immediately when it comes to the question of what causes job burnout.


It’s a dire question to ask, particularly for Singapore; according to a 2019 Cigna 360 Well-Being Survey, Singaporeans are among the most stressed-out employees in the world. Worse, a 2019 study by Kisi reported that Singapore is the second-most overworked city in the world, and the second-worst globally in terms of work intensity.

As the saying goes, though, “people don’t leave bad jobs, they leave bad bosses.” Between bad leaders that make you want to tear your hair out and absent ones who are often unavailable and inaccessible, incompetent leadership is often the proximate cause of employee burnout across the world. Here’s why.


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Bad Leaders vs. Absent Leaders


It’s not just toxic or abusive bosses that can make job stress (and blood pressures) skyrocket; non-abusive but incompetent leaders are also a huge source of job dissatisfaction and eventual burnout.


According to a 2018 Gallup study, the most common causes of job burnout are as follows:

  • Being treated unfairly at work
  • Being overloaded with work
  • Unclear roles at work
  • Insufficient communication and support from manager
  • Excessively high time pressure

Clearly, all five of them are consequences of either bad or absent leadership. In fact, studies have shown that absent leadership can be even more harmful to employee satisfaction and well-being than bad leadership.

While the effects of the latter tend to last for about 6 months, absent leaders have an even more adverse long-term impact on their people that can last up to 2 years.


At the end of the day, people take their cues from their leaders. Horrible bosses can inadvertently create (or at the very least, greatly exacerbate) a high-stress working environment that makes people up to three times as likely to experience job burnout.

Similarly, an absent boss who provides little to no feedback or employee recognition sends the signal that he neither supports, trusts, nor values people anywhere near as much as they should be.



Un-Empathic Leaders


Perhaps most importantly, though, both bad and absent leaders often display poor emotional intelligence. They frequently lack self-awareness and empathy, which renders them far less effective as leaders; unempathic leaders are likelier to be oblivious and/or dismissive towards their employees’ needs.


Consequently, they repeatedly fail to inspire, strengthen or connect with others in ways that encourage workplace engagement and improve well-being. In the absence of such leaders, people often tend to feel neglected and under-valued, which quickens the onset of burnout.



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