How do you survive a toxic boss?

Your manager is always ready to criticize whatever you say and do. Your motivation is in free fall, and your performance suffers the consequences. How do you survive a toxic boss?

In business, an inflexible person in a position of authority can cause a lot of psychological and social damage around them. They may not realize the negative influence they have on you and your colleagues. You may be dealing with a superior who intervenes too often or too widely in the activities of his team members because he has trouble trusting others.

This phenomenon of micromanagement is not uncommon. And the Harvard Business Review reported in 2021 that people have strong negative emotional and physiological reactions when their boss or superior helps them unnecessarily or without being asked.

If you haven’t already tried, it may be a good idea to establish a frank dialogue with someone in authority who is struggling to delegate. Ask for a meeting with your manager to address the aspects that bother you and show them that they can trust you. Sometimes a simple conversation about your needs can be fruitful.

Narcissistic manager?

However, if your manager is toxic and has traits associated with psychopathy or narcissism, one discussion probably won’t be enough.

A series of studies by Manchester Business School, on 1200 employees, showed that as levels of psychopathy and narcissism increased among leaders, so too did the prevalence of workplace bullying, counterproductive work behaviour and psychological distress and depression among employees.

Abigail Philips, lead author of this series of studies and organizational psychology researcher, recommends that companies better consider a person’s dark personality traits before assigning them a position of responsibility. She also suggests implementing mediation programs to manage workplace bullying issues.

Ask for help from human resources

Case in point, toxic and abusive behaviour should not be allowed to pass. Talk to someone you trust in the human resources department.

Mental health should not be taboo or taken lightly. About 55% of workers in Canadian small and medium-sized enterprises (SMEs) live with at least one mental health problem, according to a 2022 report by the Relief Research Chair in Mental Health, Self-Management and Work at Laval University. Thus, nearly a third of the people who participated in the study feel anxiety or go through depression whose severity exceeds a clinical threshold.

Members of the human resources team can be a great support if they’re up to date with the psychosocial risks that affect both the employee and the organization in general.

Avoid interactions

While waiting for the human resources team to find a solution, it’s best to avoid interactions with your manager as much as possible. When the discussion is unavoidable, try to limit the topics of conversation to the professional context only.

Give little or no information about your private life which could be used against you if you’re subordinate to someone with a manipulative personality.

As much as possible, control your emotions during these exchanges. “However, this doesn’t mean rejecting them if they generate situations of suffering in the context of work”, notes the French sociologist Aurélie Jeantet.

Keep in touch with your colleagues 

Keep close to coworkers that you get along with and trust. Lack of social support from colleagues can aggravate the consequences of a situation of psychological harassment at work.

Remain caring and cultivate those links rather than spreading your unhappiness to your colleagues or, even worse, isolating yourself. If necessary, these colleagues will be able to testify about the behaviour of your toxic boss to the human resources team.

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