It is easy to say you hate your boss but is it really about your boss or is it an extension of the job you don’t like? If you aren’t doing a job you like, it is easy to resent anything remotely connected to it, including your boss. If this is you, then the responsibility for making things right falls squarely on your shoulders and not on your boss. You should consider changing your life and doing something you love instead.

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A job that you love will eliminate your resentment, bring you purpose, satisfaction. You can even tolerate a boss you don’t like if you love what you are doing. Although for your wellbeing, that is not always acceptable. When you love your job but have a toxic boss, this article can help you find solutions.

What Is a Toxic Boss?

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In 2018, Randstad USA released a study that showed that people left for their current job for a new job due to 2 major reasons – the practical aspect ( such as pay, paid time off, and commute) and personal experiences (such as interpersonal relationships with the boss and other employees). 58% of workers in that survey said they would stay at a job with lower pay if that meant they would work for a great boss. According to Gallup, half the employees in the US have quit their jobs at one point in their careers to get away from their bosses. The figures are also similar in Africa, Asia, Europe, and the Middle East.

A toxic boss is one who runs a stifling and fear-based dictatorship at work. Some of the most common traits that a toxic boss would display include:

1. Rudeness.

You can always tell if your boss is toxic if they have no issue displaying acts of rudeness towards their employees. During meetings, a toxic boss can cut off their workers mid-speech because they presented an idea that they didn’t like. They deliberately shut others down when they don’t like them or their opinions. A toxic boss would make disparaging comments about other people, even to their faces. They can even go as far as using confrontational body language when talking to their employees.

2. Micromanagement.

It is normal for bosses to want to be on top of things at work but they do that by allowing their employees to work and report to them. Toxic bosses, on the other hand, have a hard time letting go and trusting their employees do their work well. They insist on not just being in the loop, but also getting their hands on every aspect of your work and micromanaging you. Employees suffer demoralization under the stifling watch of micromanagers.

3. Set unrealistic expectations.

A good boss would always push you to challenge yourself by raising the bar, but also be there to give you support and guidance along the way. Toxic bosses on the other hand can sabotage your career and the workplace in general by setting unrealistic goals. When employees find it hard to meet their goals or complete a task, leaving them hopeless and unproductive.

4. Incompetence.

Toxic bosses, especially those recently promoted to management positions, lack leadership competencies. They have no skills at managing the people directly under them and it shows. When the employees begin to realize that their boss lacks the competence and skills to lead them effectively, they begin to lose interest in the person and work.

Can I Refuse to Do Something at Work?

While it is best employee practice to occasionally comply with requests from your boss to assist with tasks outside your job description, there are times where you have every right to refuse to take on some responsibilities – especially if it is someone else’s workload.

Of course, it cannot be easy to just confront your boss and say no. In fact, it can be a scary scenario to imagine. However, finding the courage to do so will go a long way towards making your work life more bearable and less miserable. Several studies have shown that pushing back will help employees feel less victimized. Even better, these studies also show that employees who push back do not suffer the same level of psychological discomfort as those who take the abuse from their horrible bosses.

However, before you confront your boss, make sure you have a valid reason to take a stand. Some reasons may sound like excuses and you are better off watching those play out and seeing how things progress from there. But there are other times when you should never allow your boss to get away with walking all over you. Regardless of how bad you want to keep your job, you need to know how to find a balance.

When Should You Say No to Your Boss?

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No job is worth your peace of mind. The trick to learning how to say no is to first learn the situations where it is absolutely okay, even recommended, for you to stand your ground and reject your boss’ request. Here are five scenarios to help you do that.

1. When you are the target for workplace harassment and abuse.

Workplace abuse, harassment, and bullying is a commonplace occurrence, especially if your boss is toxic. On no condition should you accept abuse, harassment and bullying from your higher-ups as the status quo. Do not allow yourself to be victimized over a job, no matter how much you love or need it.

2. When your boss expects you to bully others.

Some organizations have toxic company cultures that encourage an atmosphere of bullying among staff. If the work environment rewards employees who use others to get to the top and ignores their means for getting the, it promotes toxicity.

In organizations like this, it is not uncommon to find one or two people who are always on the receiving end of cruelty. The bottom line is that if you notice this kind of behavior at your workplace, not only should you not participate but also stand up for the victims of this toxic culture. While you might not be able to do much on your own, you can make the constant bullying less acceptable for others to participate in. Your decision to take a stand could also help others stand their ground as well.

3. When you have to break the law.

All around the world, workplaces are asking their employees to do things that are against the law or look the other way when it happens. Some of the things that happen include asking the employees to lie about numbers, hedge safety concerns, over-bill a client, or illegally firing someone.

It is a lose-lose situation because saying yes could mean putting others at risk and giving you jail time and saying no could mean losing your job. Whatever path you choose won’t be easy but you can solace in the fact that there is always a better job with better opportunities for growth out there. That’s the lesser of two evils. As far as the law is concerned, breaking the law because your difficult boss said so is not an excuse, neither is it a plausible line of defense. Participating in illegal activities could damage your professional reputation and harm your chances for future job opportunities.

4. When your boss asks you to do something unethical.

On the other hand, standing up to a boss that asks you to do something unethical is not so clear cut. There is a high chance that your boss may not like being reminded that what they are asking you to do or what they’re doing is unethical and it may get you fired. However, this does not mean you should rollover and accept the demands. Rather, sit down with your boss and have an honest conversation about your concerns. Because your boss may not realize that what they are asking for borders on being unethical, try not to make accusations, overreact or be judgmental while you touch on the subject. Give them a chance to do the right thing before you act on your concerns.

5. When your boss makes unreasonable requests.

Work sometimes spills into overtime and it is not uncommon for employees to work late, take work home, or even work weekends. But some bosses can be extra demanding and make unreasonable demands after the other. For example, they might demand that you sacrifice your vacation time or weekends for frivolous tasks. Some may even go as far guilt tripping you or you risk being shunned. At some point, all of these sacrifices will begin to make you feel smothered until you snap.  

What Do You Do When You Hate Your Boss?

1. Practice empathy.

This can be hard to do, especially as it involves a boss you hate. However, it is important to consider some of the external pressures that they may be under. Most bad bosses are not necessarily bad people. They may have weak leadership skills that get worse under the pressure to deliver results. If you empathize with your boss, they will begin to empathize with you as well.

2. Consider the role you play.

There are exceptions where the reason people who struggle to get along with their bosses are part of the problem. They may display behaviors that make it hard to be valued or recognized at work. It can be hard to hear that you might have a role to play but by introspection and acknowledging that you might be doing something wrong, you can set about fixing the relationship.

Try to be as objective as you can and ask yourself what criticisms your boss has offered. What areas have they told you need improvements? What aspect of your behaviour sets them off? Also, consider the possibility that some of the feelings you harbor towards your boss are transferential. Maybe they remind you of someone that has hurt you in the past and that resentment can color your relationship. When you consider the relationship your colleagues who work successfully with your boss have, it might give you a few pointers on how to do things differently.

3. Have an honest conversation with your boss.

If the feedback from your colleagues does not do much to help, it might be time to go direct to the source and talk to your boss about the problem. Be delicate and tactful about the way you approach the conversation and always ask questions with a positive note. If after your conversation, you conclude that you have no role to play in your tumultuous relationship with your boss, you can then start a conversation with your boss on repairing your relationship.

4. Take it up.

If open communication and changed behavior on your part does not i prove your relationship and if your colleagues have the same problem, you should consider taking up the case to your superiors or HR. If you decide to take this route, prepare a substantial case for why your boss is a liability to the company. Talk about how their poor management skills are causing your small team, unit, or the organization to suffer. You will need documented evidence of your boss’ behavior such as written correspondence or witness statements that breach the company rules. The more people willing to go on record, the more unlikely it is for your superiors to sweep it under the carpet. Also, bear it in mind that you may need to make a credible threat of litigation against the company. However, this should be your last resort. If you do not have a strong enough case, HR will not back you up and you might lose your job.

5. Stall or move on.

If any of the above steps do not help your relationship with your boss and there is no likelihood of a class action, your remaining options are limited to either stalling and enduring your boss until something better comes or leaving. If you choose the first option, there is always a possibility that your boss will move on. Play for time and limit contact with them until that time. But remember to set a time limit, so it doesn’t become a way of life. The best option is still to leave and go on a job search. Clean up your LinkedIn profile, update your resume, apply, and go for job interviews.

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Frequently Asked Questions:

Should you quit your job because of a bad boss?

Absolutely. It will take quite a while to recover from the effects of working with a toxic boss. As terrifying as quitting is, staying on with a bad boss is even scarier.

How do you tell if your boss is intimidated by you?

It is rare for your superior to feel threatened by you but in the rare chance that it happens, you can tell from the way they become short with you and set about to deliberately sabotage or undermine your efforts.

How do you outsmart a bad boss?

The best way to outsmart a bad boss is to out-micromanage them. Map out your tasks for that day ahead of time and stick to the plan. Also, do a good job ahead of time so they cannot micromanage you or make unreasonable demands.

Can I tell my boss I’m unhappy?

You can tell your boss you are unhappy and even give them the reasons behind it. However, try not to blame them or make them feel responsible for your unhappiness.

What should you not tell your boss?

On no account should you tell you push back at your boss in a confrontational manner. Do not flat out tell them “this is not in my job description,” or “you are wrong; that’s not what you said.” Always err on the side of caution and be tactful about what you say. Also, avoid conversations about previous employers, politics, religion, and personal matters.

How do I complain about my boss without getting fired?

Do not outrightly make threats. If there is a guideline to follow in your employee handbook, use it. More importantly, document everything – even when you think it is inconsequential. If you can get more employees to cosign your claims, even better.

Can HR help with a bad boss? Can I go to HR about my boss?

Yes. You can report to HR if your boss is discriminating against you or targeting you and it is affecting the quality of your work.

When should you talk to HR?

You should talk to HR when you are being bullied, harassed, or when your boss is doing something illegal, violating company policy, or when you have raised the issue with them and nothing changes.

Is talking to HR confidential?

HR is not obligated to keep whatever you say confidential, so don’t share anything you wouldn’t wish to get out with them, even outside the work environment. They are there to serve the company and if they hear something that needs to be shared, their job obligates them to share it.

How do I talk to HR about a toxic boss?

Always go to HR prepared to defend your case with proof and documentation of your boss’ toxicity. When reporting, watch your tone and the kind of words you use so you do not say anything that can be misconstrued or perceived as malicious.

What should you not say to HR?

Do not make the mistake of thinking HR is your friend. Avoid sharing personal stories or issues that have no correlation with your job. Also, avoid sharing details about your previous employment, especially ones that paint you in a bad light.

Wrapping Up

A boss is a big determinant on whether you will have a great work experience or not. Don’t take it for granted. If you have gone through the outlined steps and things still don’t appear to improve, it might be time to consider leaving.