Bosses From Hell: What Are You Gonna Do When They Come For You?

The world’s best boss supports and respects employees. As a result, job satisfaction and company success skyrockets. But a difficult boss can undermine productivity and workplace morale–ultimately undermining the company’s bottom line. Nearly 49% of the workforce says they’re unhappy at work, usually because of a toxic boss or a lack of appreciation. What about your boss? Is she or he someone who rushes around moaning about the shortage of time and creating crises for everyone in his or her path? Is your boss the sort who sets short deadlines, overloads you with more to do than is humanly possible and then breathes down your neck? Does your boss take credit for your ideas or refuse to give you the time off you need to recharge and renew yourself?

Working under a subpar boss can be a nightmare. Andrea worked for a major East Coast newspaper. Her boss routinely awakened employees in the middle of the night and on weekends to get an obscure fact from the West Coast for a next-morning deadline. “Naturally everything was closed, so there were times when I ended up calling Tokyo at 3:00 a.m. to get the information he wanted,” she said. “It was always one crisis after another.”

Iron-Fisted Rule

A CareerBuilder study found that 58% of managers reported receiving no management training. Managers are often promoted into higher positions because of their ability to change and control other people. Although the boss from hell can be blatantly iron-fisted, some are much more subtle. Their over-responsibility, poor communication skills and inability to express feelings make them ineffective managers. Bosses who are out of touch with their emotional lives are likely to be insensitive to the needs and feelings of their subordinates. If they are uncomfortable expressing feelings, they are less likely to provide positive feedback, praise and appreciation.

Instead of seeking advice, asking for input or showing humility, bad bosses are notorious for ruling with an iron fist, using intimidation as a defense against their own insecurities and unwittingly undermining—rather than supporting—subordinates to reinforce their own, more powerful position. They tend to pressure employees to match their own inhuman standards of long hours and frantic pace. Employee morale nosedives and burnout skyrockets under such autocratic rule.

Countless millions of people become anxious at the thought of facing a new week with an unreasonable supervisor. Hard-driving bosses often surround themselves with people who can match their crisis-oriented pace. They set impossible and incredibly high goals and then push employees to replicate their own frenetic work patterns, often against employee natural work pace. A president of a national company set a wide precedent for work weeks of sixty hours or more and more late-night meetings. Some CPA firms send a memorandum to employees just before tax season reminding them that a 54 hour workweek is considered the minimum. And a major national bank told employees to “change tires working 90 miles per hour.” These pressures impose feelings of fear and guilt, making employees feel insecure about their jobs unless they spend weekends at their desks.

Profile of Bosses From Hell

  • Watch over employee shoulders to monitor their work while 
refusing to delegate
  • Push and hurry employees to the point that they feel undue stress and burnout
  • Make unreasonable demands in terms of work hours, workloads and deadlines
  • Have unpredictable, erratic moods so employees never know what to expect
  • Create a climate of frenzy, urgency and tension without respect for employee feelings or personal lives
  • Manage time inefficiently because of over-scheduling and over-committing
  • Judge themselves and employees without mercy as they struggle to hit impossible targets
  • Tend to be overly critical and intolerant of even the most minor employee mistakes
  • Are insensitive to personal issues and/or mental health challenges of employees

Dr. Jekyll / Mr. Hyde

Under a toxic boss, the work climate is unpredictable and inconsistent, just like the climate in an alcoholic home. Apprehension, fear and insecurity are normal reactions if you’re in an unpredictable job position. Overly critical, overly demanding bosses become roadblocks to productivity and quality in the workforce, causing disharmony, absenteeism, tardiness, mistrust and conflict. Their leadership style lowers productivity and morale and destroys team playing and creative brainstorming in the workplace. Judith shared with me the difficulty she had working under Susan, the district sales manager at a multi-million-dollar computer company:

“Susan’s toxic work habits make it unbearable for her sales reps. She’s in the office by 7:30 a.m. and doesn’t get home until eight or nine o’clock. The morale of the sales reps is rock bottom because she won’t leave them alone to do their jobs. She can’t delegate and wait until a task is accomplished and burns out trying to keep her hands in everything they do. She’s always breathing down our necks by phone or email. She’s afraid nobody’s going to do the job as well as her. The sales force doesn’t function as a team. Their spirits are shattered, and they’re constantly frustrated that they’re not accomplishing enough in a time frame to satisfy Susan. Some of my fellow workers try to respond to everything she wants, and they’re getting as crazy as she is, just constantly working. I’ve seen people come into the office with bloodshot eyes, completely drained. They look as if they haven’t slept in three or four days. She’s like Jekyll and Hyde—tough to read—constantly flying off the handle and jumping down people’s throats. When she notices you’re under the pile of work, instead of offering support, she harps on what you’re doing and then jumps you.”

An office manager for a prominent attorney, said her boss is a bully with giant-size mood swings: “One day he’s happy, the next day he’s snappy. He comes in, walks into his office, shuts the door and stays there all day long. Everybody walks on eggshells and has learned to steer clear of him for fear of becoming the target of his anger. Although part of my job is to inform him of problems that need to be addressed for the good of the business, I’m reluctant to tell him critical things he needs to know because I’m afraid he’ll blow up at me. When I do have meetings with him, I have to measure each word to make sure I don’t use the wrong approach or sound too negative, because if I do, it will set him off.”

Do You Quit or Commit?

Does any of this hit home for you? Do you have a toxic boss who causes your emotions to run the gamut from fear, anger, confusion, guilt and embarrassment to sadness and depression. In order to cope, you might guess at what your boss wants and find yourself making stabs in the dark. Poor self-esteem, lack of control over your career, poor coping skills and problems in interpersonal relationships can all result as you try to meet demands from the dysfunctional powers that be. Rather than focusing on quality production, you concentrate your efforts on covering your tracks, distorting the truth and watching your back.

Instead of benefiting companies, subpar bosses are costing them money in terms of personal injury lawsuits, workman’s compensation and medical insurance claims—$160 billion a year by some estimates due to stress and emotional burnout, employee absenteeism, diminished productivity and stress-related illnesses such as high blood pressure, heart disease, abdominal problems and a host of mental health problems such as depression and anxiety. If you have a boss from hell breathing down your neck, no one can tell you to quit your job without knowing the intimate details of your work and personal life. That’s your call. But if your current position is all you can find, even if you’re not thrilled with it, you wouldn’t want to trade one problem for another by being unemployed in today’s economy. And if your job is tolerable and pays the bills, you have to weigh the financial advantages in light of your job’s negative aspects, plus the other factors in your life such as the people who are dependent on you and your amount of debt. So if you’re debating whether to quit or stay put, before you throw in the towel make sure your emotions aren’t biasing your decision. And think it through thoroughly.

How To Act Right When Your Boss Acts Wrong

You can’t fire your boss, but you can take action that will benefit you in the long run.

  1. Avoid anger, frustration and impatience. Use good judgment. Steer clear of inappropriate, offensive, inflammatory, derogatory language or gossip. Remain tactful, diplomatic and professional even when you’re frustrated. Talk with your boss and try to understand his or her human side. Attempt to find an idea, pastime or point of view that gives you common ground to connect with your boss so you can stay objective and see the problem bigger than just the two of you.
  2. Schedule a meeting with your boss. Find out what the expectations of you are and the expectations of your boss’s boss. Ask exactly what type of performance is expected of you in order for you to receive an excellent review rating. According to some experts, 99% of the time work hours are not among the factors. This approach ensures you won’t be downgraded for not putting in extra hours. Make sure your boss understands your point of view, the importance of your personal life and your expectations concerning job demands. Make priorities, set goals and schedule your time accordingly.
  3. Reach out to coworkers. Other colleagues are usually experiencing similar boss issues. Start support-group meetings before or after work or during lunch in designated places onsite. By meeting together and talking about problems constructively, you can develop a rich support system to draw from in the job setting. Take the high road and schedule a group meeting with the boss and explain your concerns in a professional way. Ask for feedback or ground rules so everyone can be productive and collaborative. Refrain from mean spirited conversations such as back biting, blame, rumors or gossip and seek to build professional partnerships and problem shoot with your boss in order to develop a climate of teamwork.

Profile Of Bosses From Heaven

Of course, all bosses are not subpar. In fact, you might be fortunate enough to have the world’s best boss. Toxic bosses come in all shapes and sizes, and so do good bosses. But a list of characteristics distinguish managers who earn the title “Boss From Heaven.” They do the following:

  • Give clear direction
  • Possess a degree of emotional intelligence and empathy for employees
  • Acknowledge workers for outstanding performance
  • Provide regular feedback
  • Build trust, partnerships and a climate of psychological safety and stability
  • Delegate and encourage independence
  • Encourage teamwork toward clear, predictable goals
  • Afford employees ample time off for self-care and mental health days

All Rights Reserved for Pablo Varela

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