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In a Great Role with a Bad Boss?

Dilbert, signs of a bad boss comic strip. Cartoon credit: Scott Adams

The signs of a bad boss

There are many signs that we work in a team with a bad boss. A few are a leader that micromanages, fails to give credit, takes credit for the work of others, overloads the best performers, doesn’t deal with conflict, doesn’t honour commitments, shows favouritism within the team, throws others under the bus, and doesn’t advocate for team members amongst other behaviours. 

We’ve each heard the statement that we don’t leave bad jobs, we leave bad bosses. It is more than a myth, it is a fact which DDI highlighted through their Frontline Leader Project report. They observe that almost 60% of employees quit because of their boss.

Why is this important?

Simply because bad leaders create a toxic, or negative, workplace that tends to stifle productivity, creativity, and morale. It is easy to understand how extensive exposure to an unhealthy workplace can spill over into our personal lives affecting our relationships and when left unchecked our wellbeing.

So, how do we manage a workplace with a bad boss?

Recognizing the effects of toxicity

If you think you are one of the unlucky few that has a bad boss, you will be surprised to learn that as many as 80% of employees surveyed said their boss was a source of stress for them (from mild to severe). So, it is a pervasive issue despite the billions spent every year on leadership development programs!

A first reaction might be to “just quit”! Interestingly, this is not always feasible for a variety of reasons. The one I hear the most is: “I just don’t have the energy to look for another job!”. This is a direct consequence of working in a toxic or semi-toxic environment – exhaustion and a growing sense of hopelessness. A study in Sweden highlights the link between stressful workplaces and health issues, a more than 50% higher likelihood of stroke, heart attack, or other life-threatening events.

Of course, there may be reasons for staying. We have a great job. This helpfully buys us time to move into a more positive environment. So how do we cope with a bad boss until then?

Time to take control

There are a few steps we can take right now to manage the situation:

  1. Connect with your network for support
  2. Prioritize eating, exercising, and sleeping well
  3. Submit requests for what you need/want
  4. Consider speaking to HR
  5. Explore other opportunities
  6. Set personal boundaries for resigning

Submit requests

In ordinary times I would coach an individual to provide feedback as a mechanism to raise self-awareness within the boss of his/her/their impact. This is one circumstance where feedback is not typically effective, that is because bad bosses tend to be closed to feedback. So, when you need something, it is important to be specific about those needs. For instance, clarify the resources and support necessary to complete a task, address why it is necessary, and clarify how it will benefit both the boss and the company. 

In these circumstances, it is helpful to choose a moment where the boss is in an upbeat mood, or at least calm, to maximize the chances of securing the ask. Additionally, it is extremely helpful to rehearse the conversation you want to have. Hear what it sounds like when you say it, manage your state of mind, and anticipate the possible reactions you might experience. This preparatory activity is best done with someone from your network or a coach.

Set Boundaries 

There is a time where we need to be ready to simply quit the job. The signs that we are best off resigning are:

  • You dread getting up and going to work each morning
  • A feeling of physical or mental vulnerability at work that doesn’t go away
  • You take work stress home with you, and it affects your personal relationships
  • You spend more time thinking about your bad boss than doing work
  • Self-esteem is low and isn’t bouncing back

When circumstances indicate that it is time to leave, we need to give ourselves the mental okay to do so. This means letting go of our secret hope that things will improve, accepting that they won’t, and giving ourselves permission to make a change. It could just be the best gift we can give ourselves, personally and professionally.

Final Thoughts

Recognizing bad bosses, their role in workplace toxicity, and the effect on our own well-being is the first step in stepping away from it. A few key actions help us assess our options, define the path forward and find the strength to make the best decision for us.

Your turn

Sign in to the Community Member Area or comment below to share your tips for how you have managed bad bosses or toxic workplaces. 

Give it a try!

Cartoon credit: Scott Adams

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