7 things to do if you have a toxic boss
Navigating relationships at the office can be tough. And while you don’t have to get along with everyone, it makes it particularly hard when that person is supposed to be your leader. Workplace expert Michelle Gibbings on what to do if you think you have a toxic boss.
Hollywood has made an industry of portraying nightmare bosses; think Miranda Priestly, Gordon Gekko, Katharine Parker, and Montgomery Burns, to name a few, while Ellen Degeneres has recently apologised in response to allegations of a toxic workplace at her talk show.
Sadly, many people find themselves working for people whom they don’t like, respect, or at worst, bully them, but in times like we face now, with uncertainty and extreme pressure, our working relationships become more important than ever.
So what do you do when you find yourself working for a horrible boss? Throw in the towel? Put up with it? Hope it gets better? While the approach to take depends on your circumstances, you need to reflect, plan and act.
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1. Think long term
Reflecting on my career, some of the toughest jobs and hardest people to work for turned out to be pivotal and vital experiences. Before you throw in the towel, consider the long-term benefits and what you gain from the role. They could be pushing you because they see more potential in you than what you’re showing.
2. Mind your health
Working for a bad boss can take its toll on your physical and mental health, so make sure you take care of you.
Find time to exercise and meditate, and ensure you get enough sleep and eat well. If you aren’t in peak physical condition it will be far harder to manage the impact and stress.
3. Build a support base
Focus on your network and create a diverse network of people you can turn to for advice and support. This includes having a network of advocates who will vouch for you, so figure out who those supporters and detractors are in the workplace and build on those relationships.
4. Assume good intent
Dr Brenè Brown in her book, Dare to Lead, writes about how you can change how you approach issues and people by assuming that people are doing their best.
“The assumption of positive intent is only sustainable when people ask themselves this question: What boundaries need to be in place for me to be in my integrity and generous with my assumptions about the intentions, words, and actions of others?” she writes.
Setting boundaries in this context is about making clear what’s okay and what’s not okay, and why and talking with them about how you can better work together.
5. Protect yourself
Behaviours are infectious and if your boss acts unethically or poorly, be wary and ensure that their behaviour doesn’t rub off on you.
It’s critical to know the line you won’t cross, because as soon as you put your toe across the line and behave in a way that’s out of kilter with your value set then it is easier to continue that way.
6. Search for learning
There’s a well-known saying: ‘I am thankful for all those difficult people in my life, they have shown me exactly who I do not want to be’.
We learn something from everyone we work with – be they good, bad or somewhere in between. Your search for learning helps to expand your understanding of self and of others.
7. Vote yourself off the island
If your work is making you so unhappy that it’s impacting your wellbeing and the wellbeing of those around you it’s usually time to consider ‘voting yourself off the island’. That means taking control and making the decision to go somewhere else or do something different, especially if you feel you have been discriminated against or a report of sexual misconduct has gone ignored.
It’s your career, so take charge of it and make it work for you.
Michelle Gibbings is a workplace expert, the author of Step Up: How to Build Your Influence at Work, Career Leap: How to Reinvent and Liberate your Career, and the new book Bad Boss: What to do if you work for one, manage one or are one