How To Handle the Stress of a Bad Boss
by Nora Battelle, Multimedia Staff Writer at Thrive Global
76 percent of Americans — a clear majority — said they have or recently had a toxic boss, according to new research conducted by Monster and released today.
A positive work environment is crucial to performing good work — and to managing your own stress — and leadership often plays a vital part in setting that positive tone.
Toxicity, in the survey, took several different forms, and the numbers on all of them were high: 26 percent of bosses, according to Monster’s survey, are “power-hungry,” 18 percent are “micromanagers,” 17 percent are “incompetent” and 15 percent are simply absent (“What boss? He/she is never around,” as the survey phrased it).
These numbers are a stark contrast to the 19 percent of employees who see their boss as a mentor and the 5 percent who indicated that their boss is someone with whom they have “the best relationship.”
Alan Benson, Ph.D., a professor of Work and Organizations at the Carlson School of Management at the University of Minnesota, explains the significance of these numbers to Thrive Global: “Facing a bad boss can be one of the greatest challenges we can have when managing our careers.” He suggests that there are three courses to take when faced with a bad manager who stresses you out: “Exit the team, voice your concerns to the boss or to HR or just suffer through it.” The choice you make, according to Benson, should “depend on your exact circumstances,” but his advice gives some helpful questions to consider as you decide on your approach.
When to go to HR
“Toxic,” in the survey and otherwise, is used as an umbrella term for a lot of different types of behavior.
But if toxicity, in your case, means you are deeply concerned about the way your boss treats you, you should go to HR. Benson suggests going to HR if your boss is creating a toxic work environment or potentially breaking the law — that may mean you are experiencing bullying or other kinds of harassment. But whatever is causing your discomfort, you should not have to deal with it alone.
When to consider talking to your boss
In some less serious cases, it can actually be worthwhile to address your concerns and stress with your boss directly. “Consider speaking to your boss if you love your team and your job, and your manager and corporate culture is receptive to upward feedback,” Benson explains. It may be possible to talk out some of your issues.
As you go into the conversation, it’s worth considering if you’re judging your boss too harshly for a limited number of mistakes. Benson explains the psychology behind this: “Often, we’re too good at remembering when things go badly, and we generalize a few bad instances to infer that someone is bad at something generally. Psychologists refer to this as the ‘horn effect,’ and it’s the cousin of the better-known ‘halo effect,’ which states that we look on someone favorably for the few times that they do very well.”
You may have formed a negative impression of your manager early on in your relationship that isn’t entirely fair to their leadership, but can be hard to shake: “People also tend to overweight first impressions and last impressions, compared to events that happened in the middle. These are called the primacy and recency effects. So be careful not to judge people too harshly for just a few memorable instances,” Benson recommends.
Penny Queller, the Senior Vice President and General Manager of Enterprise Talent Solutions, gives a similar note of caution: “Take the time to reflect on if your boss is truly toxic or if they just have bad days…. Having a bad day here and there with one person doesn’t necessarily mean it’s time to call it quits.”
So consider what’s impacting your relationship with your boss. If only a few bad days or a negative first impression looms large in your mind, you could be judging your boss too harshly for human mistakes. Try to extend them the benefit of the doubt in the same way you hope they would for you, and, if your workplace culture allows it, have a conversation about the problem.
When to consider leaving
“Consider quitting or changing teams if you don’t like your current role, or your issues with your boss are a matter of incompatible personalities,” Benson says. Sometimes, personalities don’t mesh, and if you aren’t in love with your current position, it might be worth moving on.
“If you don’t trust your boss and think they would ‘throw you under the bus’ at the first chance they get, then that is a tell-tale sign to leave,” Queller adds. Trust is essential to a good working relationship, and if there’s none between you and your boss, then performing to the best of your professional ability will be very stressful and unnecessarily difficult. You deserve a job “where you respect your boss and feel valued and challenged each day,” Queller says.
Still, there may be no one signal to know when it’s time to go, cautions Benson: “There are lots of reasons — personal reasons, career reasons, work environment reasons — that signal it’s a good time to change positions.” But a bad boss might be what makes you choose that change — a change which, in turn, can bring with it a work environment where you feel happy and productive instead of anxious and stressed.
Do you have a difficult boss?
Raise your self-awareness with this: