Does walking into your workplace every morning feel like a march into the maw of a monster?
Your job isn’t supposed to feel that dangerous and daunting.
Work is where you go to share your genius, solve problems, and make an impact in support of a company or organization.
But, if the mere thought of work stirs a gnawing panic in the pit of your stomach, it’s probably time to admit you work in a toxic environment.
And more times than not, that toxicity can be blamed on a bad boss.
A study by Everest College revealed that of the people surveyed, 75 percent of them said the most stressful aspect of their jobs is their immediate manager.
Toxic bosses — especially ones who bully, berate, and intimidate — are the shadow side of leadership. Their inappropriate behaviors make employees feel miserable, which leads to diminished productivity and ultimately, lower customer satisfaction.
Employees used to suffer bullying in silence, but not anymore. The culture has shifted and more people have begun to speak up about bosses who behave badly.
When the Pressure becomes too much
You should never have to internalize your rage and frustration just to make it through the work day.
Everyone deserves to have a safe, healthy workplace. So, before you read further, let me be perfectly clear: Your mental health and emotional stability are your primary concerns.
No job is worth making yourself sick. If you are at a point where your anxiety is becoming debilitating, and you are experiencing physical and emotional pain day after day, then it’s time to bail.
Do whatever you have to do to get out of there and go find a healthier, safer environment to work in.
But what do you do if you can’t afford to leave your job at a moment’s notice?
Or, what if you love everything about your workplace except your overbearing supervisor?
What if you truly want to grow with the company and make your mark there, in spite of your current crappy situation working for a schmuck?
Is it possible to survive in the demoralizing environment while you wait for the next opportunity to reveal itself?
It really depends on your resilience, your ability to adapt in stressful situations, and your mental fortitude. Are you able to shut out the noise and be productive in spite of your boss?
The truth is, your life doesn’t have to be miserable. You can work for a Grade-A asshole and refuse to be affected by their outbursts, silent treatments, and micro-aggressions.
You start by taking steps to protect your precious energy and self-confidence.
Strategic consultant and executive coach Jen Roberts of Difference Consulting suggests trying these actionable strategies to stay grounded and focused when the tension levels with your boss start to soar:
Get in the Brain of the Bully
Try to understand your boss’s reactions and behaviors from a different perspective.
Ask yourself the questions below to get clear about what’s really going on:
What is your boss trying to do or accomplish?
Is there a hidden agenda?
What are they worried about?
What information or answers do they need to feel comfortable?
Are they facing risks, pressures, or deadlines?
What’s their motivation?
“While it’s difficult not to take your leader’s behavior personally, it can be helpful to try to understand where they are coming from,” Roberts said. “What you discern from the answers might give you insight into the situation, and help you decide how to respond.”
Knowing their bad behavior isn’t about you, but is rather a reaction to circumstances that have nothing to do with you, might be all you need to know to endure the bad behavior and let it go.
Have a Difficult Conversation
When bad behaviors cross the line and begin to affect your work, it might be time to hash it out by having an uncomfortable discussion. Be willing to bring issues to your boss’s attention with clear, fact-based examples of their behaviors that you find most disturbing.
“Many bosses aren’t aware of how they’re being perceived by others or the impact they’re having on you,” Roberts said. “As with correcting any behavior, the timing of your feedback is important. When a challenge arises, you need to address it quickly, privately, and with specific details of what happened, the impact on you and your work, and how you’d like to see things change moving forward.”
Set clear boundaries
You teach people how to treat you through your personal boundaries.
When you plant a stake and say, “This far, but no further,” you establish standards and reveal which behaviors you are no longer willing to accept. Strong boundaries protect your power, energy, and self-worth. They ensure you are treated with the respect and professionalism you deserve.
Think about a situation where you permitted your boss to run roughshod over you. That’s where you need to establish a boundary.
It’s scary. I get it. It takes courage to stand up to a bully. When you feel intimidated or unsure of where you stand, it’s hard to muster the courage to protect yourself. But, if you never make your boundaries known, nothing will ever change.
Relish in Intentional Free Time
Do you overextend yourself because you feel there’s no other choice?
Well, stop doing that; there are always other choices.
For example, you can commit to switching gears as soon as you get off work by engaging in activities that help you turn off your work mind.
Refuse to hand over a single free minute to the demands of your boss, unless you choose to. That means ignoring calls and emails, if you need a mental break.
Be intentional about your time away from work. Lose yourself in fun hobbies; exercise; spend time with friends; binge on a Netflix marathon — whatever. You get to choose the menu of options and you get to decide what you do and when you do it.
“With very few exceptions, you don’t have to be ‘on call’ 24/7, work 15 hour days, or be available 100 percent of the time,” Roberts said. “You have a right to shut your door and work. You have a choice when it comes to committing to projects and workload. These things are almost always negotiable when you communicate effectively.”
Figure Out What NOT to Do
Rather than spinning out and feeling defeated day after day, what would happen if you put your energy into thinking strategically and learning from the situation?
What knowledge can you garner from working under the intense pressure and scrutiny? Can you learn new skills that will ultimately increase your value and enhance your body of work?
Observe how your leader responds to different situations. Notice what they do well and what they don’t do well. How would you handle situations differently? What could you do better, given the opportunity?
Your challenge is to find something — anything — your boss actually does right. Villains with no redeemable qualities only live in Marvel movies. Real people in the real world are complex, with a mix of good and bad qualities. Your boss had to show promise at one time, otherwise, the company would not have promoted them.
So find it and learn from it.
Protect yourself and never completely let your guard down. It’s a sad reality to admit, but sometimes bullying bosses can be vindictive.
Keep a journal and log dates, places, names, times, etc. Always follow up conversations with an email where you summarize what was said, especially ones that feel intimidating and manipulative.
Get Support From HR
When all else fails and nothing changes after you attempt to solve the problem on your own, it’s time to take your concerns to the next level.
“Most organizations have a policy around bullying. Explore your company’s policies. Be courageous to take action and follow the procedure,” executive coach Dawn Bentley of Aurora Executive Coaching & Consulting said.
This is when you’ll be grateful you took time to document the situation in your journal.
Many workplaces offer free Employee Assistance Programs where you can confide your challenges and deal with stress.
Every company knows the consequences of not dealing with bad bosses. Remember the media frenzy when Roger Ailes’s bad behavior was exposed? No company wants to deal with the repercussions of protecting a toxic leader; they’re motivated to address the problem quickly.
Don’t Internalize the Negativity
Refuse to let the poison your leader serves you inside your head. It will only knock your confidence off kilter and shake your belief in yourself.
You are worthy and have every right to be there. Trust that voice inside that knows you are capable of doing the job you were hired to do.
Your past wins are the foundation of your success to this point. Call upon them now to remind yourself who you are what you deserve.
It’s Probably Not About You
When it comes down to it, you are most likely not the problem at all. Your boss is likely dealing with their own demons that cause them to lash out.
“Toxic behavior is learned, and more often than not, it is a way of protecting ourselves — even if it is done rather clumsily,” said Bentley. “So, try not to take it personally! Instead, breathe, reflect, and then decide how you want to respond.”
Here’s a beautiful secret you may have forgotten: You get to decide how your story ends.
You might decide to cut your losses and get the hell out of there. That’s perfectly reasonable and recommended if you truly cannot stand another minute.
However, you could decide to endure the pressure a while longer with the strategies above to see where this grueling experience might lead you.
You know what they say about pressure and time? They transform lumps of coal into diamonds.