Toxic bosses are far too common. In fact, if you’ve worked with a toxic manager at some point, you’re no longer the exception. You’re the rule. Nearly three-quarters (71%) of American workers have experienced a toxic manager at one time or another, and about a third (31%) are currently working under one. That’s according to a recent Harris poll of a nationally representative sample of 1,233 employed U.S. adults. The report refers to a toxic boss as “a boss or supervisor who has exhibited any toxic behaviors” like unprofessional conduct or micromanagement. Unfortunately, a jaw-dropping 53% of employees in the U.S. admit to working on weekends or over the holidays because of their horrible bosses.
The signs of a toxic manager can be subtle or obvious. Some red flags include making unreasonable demands, taking credit for the ideas of others and unacceptable behavior like yelling or using inappropriate language. If you’ve never been in this predicament (lucky you!), you might ask yourself why anyone would endure such an unhealthy work culture. It’s not that easy. Many people stay because they need the salary and benefits, while others love the company or are sticking it out until they retire.
Working under a toxic boss can be detrimental to your career and well-being. Rather than suffer in silence, let’s examine five ways to deal with the situation without quitting your job.
Take a step back
The first step in this process is to recognize the unhealthy behavior. Then, try to determine whether you are being singled out or if colleagues are being treated similarly. If you find that your manager’s style is consistent across the team, the issue is clearly with them and not you. Try to understand why your manager is behaving this way. If they are micromanaging, it might be because they are a first-time manager who isn’t accustomed to thinking strategically. However, if they cross the line by being verbally abusive, it might signal more serious underlying issues.
Provide direct feedback
While many managers are self-aware, others are not. So, the most straightforward way to handle a toxic boss is to have a candid one-on-one conversation. This approach also helps determine if they are truly toxic or simply insecure. If your manager is open to suggestions and tries to be more supportive, that’s a good sign. But if they take your feedback and ignore it, it’s time to be your own advocate, set boundaries and seek support.
Find allies internally
The worst thing you can do when faced with a toxic boss is to isolate yourself. Instead, try to increase your visibility within the organization. The more people familiar with your performance, the more likely you’ll find allies at higher levels. You may even develop alliances with colleagues who can become trusted friends and mentors. The best part is that these professional relationships can eventually set you up for a lateral or vertical career move down the road.
Set and enforce boundaries
While you can’t control what others do, you can control how you respond. Don’t surrender to the situation. Instead, stay focused on your job responsibilities and set healthy boundaries. Some examples are not checking work email in the evenings or letting your manager know you need advance notice of work-related travel. Once your boundaries are set, communicate them clearly and often. It’s inevitable that, over time, you’ll experience pushback. If that happens, calmly enforce your limits, but don’t back down.
In FlexJobs’ Toxicity in the Workplace Survey, over half of respondents admitted to experiencing increased anxiety because of a toxic boss. With stress levels rising, self-care is even more essential. Try not to succumb to the drama. Instead, preserve your health by taking regular breaks during the day. Also, take time off when you need it to keep your sanity. Most importantly, make an effort to foster a positive mental attitude. If necessary, seek the help of a mentor, coach or therapist. You’ll benefit from having the support of a professional who can provide you with an unbiased outside perspective.
Developing and preserving a healthy work environment is one of the primary responsibilities of employers. Unfortunately, toxic managers are still prevalent in the workplace. Instead of letting them make your life miserable, focus on what you can control. If you implement these strategies and still feel stuck in an unhealthy environment, don’t hesitate to look elsewhere. Ultimately, you deserve to work for a company where you can thrive rather than just survive.