Hating the boss is as old as capitalism. Toxic pharaohs and dastardly generals have been around for centuries, and historically, people had novel if morally dubious ways of dealing with the problem.
Bad bosses fail to recognise there are limits to their authority, and they don’t grasp the notion of responsibly exercising that authority.
Despite the proliferation of court cases and exemplars of poor impulse control that are all around us, there’s things you can do to survive and perhaps thrive in a bad work environment.
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Seek to understand why and when
Try to get behind the nastiness, change your approach, use empathy. Perhaps your boss behaves poorly owing to circumstances beyond her/his control? If you judge this to be the case, opt to behave as professionally and calmly as possible. Work out the trigger situations and behaviours and make sure you are not contributing. Try to find ways and methods that make everyone’s load a little easier. It’s hard, but practise emotional detachment where possible.
Maintain professionalism and decorum
Is your boss the proverbial smiling assassin? If you know this to be true, return the smile and duck the poison darts. Keep a log of this person’s proven or provable misdemeanours (be specific, dates, times and factual, not others who witnessed same) and quietly bide your time. If you monitor the political environment, there may be a suitable moment to have this person moved. Until then, keep busy, and look out for job opportunities elsewhere. If it gets unbearable – report it to their manager, HR or the CEO… armed with your facts.
You have to look after yourself, but you also have to take responsibility for not fuelling a bad situation. Be a rose among prickly thorns and manure!
Is this company really where you want to be?
If it is – but this one person is making life hell – then focus on that written log, not a verbal venting log to a loved one. Meanwhile, develop a “brag list” of your own accomplishments during your tenure, and keep seizing opportunities to showcase your talents. Persist, and your reward may be promotion above that boss, or better still, you’re headhunted to another company. Be ready to switch, if opportunity strikes. Finish all that’s required of you and depart with your head up and a (relieved) smile.
Review your situation
Perhaps it’s time to quit? That toxic manager isn’t going anywhere anytime soon, and the senior leadership team or board clearly can’t see the problem. If you, your loved ones and your sanity are suffering, there is no reason for you to put up with the situation. Finances may be dictating otherwise, of course: if they are (and this is true for most of us), devise a plan of eventual escape. You don’t have to die in prison. Note the word “plan” – this doesn’t mean succumbing to drink or bad habits, or never-ending venting to friends.
What if I’m given the boot anyway?
Toxic bosses are good at throwing the broom around, and things get swept out. Good! They have spared you days, months and years of suffering.
Eve Ash is a psychologist, author, filmmaker, public speaker and entrepreneur. She runs Seven Dimensions, a company specialising in training resources for the workplace.