A group of young adults in professional attire seated by a window sill

Before coronavirus and the “work from home” culture, we spent more time at work than at home. While we may not leave home for work these days, we still spend a lot of our weekday hours working. So it makes a big difference whether your workplace is a positive or negative environment. A toxic boss can make even the best of jobs undesirable. 

I have had more than one toxic boss throughout the years. There are a lot of different kinds of bad bosses. I’ve seen bosses who micromanage, bosses who push back on every decision you make or bosses who expect that your job is to solve issues in their personal life. I’ve even known bosses who twist an employee’s words and tell straight up lies. Sometimes, it can feel like being back in high school. 

Working for a toxic boss is tough. It can take a lot out of you. It requires more compromises than it should to cater to your boss’ whims.

Here are a few things to keep in mind when dealing with a boss whose behavior is toxic:

Keep clear boundaries.

It’s great to have friendships with the people you work with, but if you have a boss who is putting their personal problems on your shoulders, that’s neither healthy relationally nor professionally. In that scenario, it can be easy for professional lines to get blurred. It’s OK to care about your boss or to worry about them, but at the end of the day, their personal life is their responsibility.

At the end of the day, their personal life is their responsibility.

Remember that they have formal power over you within the company. It’s not that friendships are impossible, but they do complicate things. If you are friends with your boss, then try to keep work things in the office and personal things outside. Even so, lives and people aren’t so easily segmented. A good relationship, either personal or professional, makes people healthier. 

Remember that they’re human, too.

No one is perfect, and everyone has room for improvement. One would hope that people in management are good leaders, but that’s not always the case. New managers are figuring things out. People who have been in management for a while sometimes stick to the comfort of old habits even when they need a new approach.

Do your best to be understanding and begin with compassion instead of frustration. There is always more going on in someone’s life than we are able to see. 

Do your best to be understanding and begin with compassion instead of frustration.

You can’t change them.

People who are set in unhealthy, negative habits have to work themselves out of those habits. Whatever the problem may be, it’s their problem, not yours. Instead of trying to alter their behavior, try modeling the qualities you wish they had. Even though they’re the boss, you can still be an example of a good supervisor. 

Don’t stoop to their level.

If your boss is trying to drag you into their toxicity, then don’t let them. Keep working toward good, professional communication. You don’t want to be the kind of boss they are. Don’t let their bad conduct become yours, too. 

Don’t let their bad conduct become yours, too.

Show up and continue to shine.

Your toxic boss may not be giving you the credit you deserve, but that doesn’t mean that no one is noticing. Keep putting in the work and it will pay off, whether that comes as a promotion or a job offer from a different company. Your boss is not the gatekeeper to your future. You are in control. So keep learning from their mistakes and rise to a level they never will. 

Even in times where it has been discouraging to go to work, I’ve found solace knowing that I can learn, grow and keep improving on my own career journey. You can learn from the mistakes of a bad manager, and you’ll be much better for it. To borrow a famous quote, you can be the manager you want to see in the world. 

Have you ever had a bad boss? What did you learn from the experience?

Image via Ali Mitton, Darling Issue No. 21

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