Some bosses are overtly toxic—they throw things at employees, enact regular “punishments” and just generally exercise bad behavior. Others are more subtle in the ways in which they torture their employees, and the negative effects of dealing with them are therefore more insidious in nature. Either way, you should not just resign yourself to a situation in which you’re faced with a bad boss—according to Forbes, having a bad boss can increase your chance of a heart attack by 50%. Here, 7 signs you’re dealing with a toxic supervisor, as well as some tips for making the best of a difficult situation.
Ideally, you've been hired to do a job of some sort. If your boss gets in the way of you doing your job well, or doing it all, that's an issue. A sure sign of a toxic boss is someone who shuts down your ideas or initiatives constantly, for whatever number of reasons they may be able to give you for a 'no.' The inclination to cut you off at the knees betrays a lack of trust or demonstrates that they're threatened by your potential success. Either way, they are setting you up for failure.
Survival Tip: If you feel safe discussing this phenomenon with your boss, this is always the best course of action. Maybe they truly do have valid reasons for nay saying your ideas and if so, these need to be discussed as you may just not be the right person for your job. If this fails, or you fear your boss would react poorly to direct confrontation, try testing out your ideas without asking permission first (so long as they don't involve budget). If this isn't an option, you may try casually pitching your ideas to other colleagues, particularly if they outrank your boss.
A good boss deflects praise to his or her team, always. The reason for this? In the power seat, you're already getting the credit for the success of your team (and on the flip side, the flack for their failures). As a boss, therefore, you shouldn't need credit on top of credit. If your superior is always stepping into the spotlight to shine in the glow of praise for your hard work, they're a bad boss.
Survival Tip: We'd like to be able to tell you that those who work hard with their heads down will eventually be rewarded, but it's just not true. As the old saying goes, "you must toot your own horn, lest it go un-tooted.' (Editor's note: This may have only been said by this writer's grandfather, but still.) If your boss is taking all the credit for your ideas or hard work, you need to take the uncomfortable step of letting your contributions be known. Put together a progress report that can be circulated to your superior—once he or she knows that your achievements have been sent to them in writing somewhere, they will (ideally) feel less comfortable taking credit for them.
One of our editors once had a boss who liked to take digs at her, but they were never direct digs. They would be daggers delivered with a smile and a giggle because, after all, she was just kidding. Often, they were related to competency or the execution of a certain task, but even more often they were personal. It was an incredibly insidious form of torture that, over time, wore her down and demoralized to the point at which she had to quit and move to Bali. (Yes, it was this editor.) This is passive aggressive behavior, and it is toxic in any relationship.
Survival Tip: If you are a sensitive soul, we suggest you seek other employment arrangements ASAP. If this isn't an option, or you're able to let it roll off your back a bit, just remember that the only reason a person makes someone else feel bad constantly is that they feel bad about themselves. So, every neg your boss is directing your direction is really just negative self-talk that they're projecting onto you. This old grade school adage may therefore be helpful in handling this situation: "I'm rubber, you're glue. Whatever you say bounces off of me and sticks to you!" Dorky but effective.
Unless you're in the first year of your career, your boss shouldn't oversee every small step you take each day. Such behavior again indicates a lack of trust that will wear on you over time. Plus, being micromanaged is just annoying.
Survival Tip: We'd also try submitting a daily progress report here, to see if this alleviates your boss's need to breathe down your back all day every day. If this doesn't work, your best option may be to approach them about the issue. We suggest you positioning it such a way that makes them feel as though you're simply valuing their time, e.g. "I'd really like to help free up your schedule with respect to my tasks."
This boss basically treats you the way you treat your significant other when you talk to your friends about him or her over wine—it's all about the bad stuff, and zero percent about the good. Bosses are generally busy, and it's important for them to be concise in their efforts to manage and improve their team. Still, acknowledgment of the positive accomplishments of employees is important—those who shun this step in favor of only pointing out the failures and missteps are toxic with a capital "T."
Survival Tip: Trick your boss into complimenting you by complimenting a co-worker every time you see your superior—all the better if it's someone who reports to you. Eventually, they may start to mimic your behavior, and once they've done it with one employee, it's only a matter of time (hopefully) before the good vibes trickle down to you.
This boss may be brilliant, and they may have brilliant ideas, but this doesn't necessarily mean they know how to execute on them. They also may not know how to manage people. This boss is common in startups, wherein those with the big ideas are often awarded the role of CEO though they do not have the experience required to operate at such a high level. Though the behavior of these bosses is rarely malicious, it can be incredibly frustrating to work for them as they don't yet know how to break big ideas down into small tasks, or how to then delegate and manage those tasks.
Survival Tip: Ask for projects, lots of projects. Never stop reiterating how important it is for you to have a specific projects, and set your own deliverables if necessary. If you don't, you may "float" in a space in which you are not accomplishing anything despite innumerable, lengthy brainstorm sessions. This is not good for your sense of accomplishment or the health of the business.
If you and your co-workers live in fear of being fired, you have a toxic boss. It's one thing to feel as though you have to put effort forth to achieve in order to maintain employment, but it's quite another to fear that the slightest misstep will land you in the unemployment line or, even worse, that you could be let go for absolutely no reason. In some industries, unfortunately, this type of bullying is the norm.
Survival Tip: Try first to evaluate your actual chances of being fired for making a mistake or just because your boss has had a bad day. Has he or she let people go on a dime before? If the answer is no, then you may just need to practice meditation and other techniques for dealing with stress and eliminating unfounded fear. If the answer is yes, you need to start looking for a new job, ASAP.