Don't let a bad boss get you down

Knowing how to manage your situation will make things easier in the long run, writes Anneli Knight.

Knowing how to manage your situation will make things easier in the long run, writes Anneli Knight.

Last year the Harvard Business Review published examples of bad boss behaviour, including remarks such as: "If I wanted to know what you thought, I'd ask you." Another boss noticed a staff member throw a paperclip in the bin and, in front of his 12 subordinates, admonished him for being wasteful. He also made him retrieve it.

Psychologist and workplace trainer Michelle McQuaid says the effects of a bad boss on the employee can be serious.

Anxiety and depression, susceptibility to colds and flu, lack of confidence and poor job performance are among the side-effects of a bad boss.

We're also prone to retaliation, including being rude, stealing time from the job and backstabbing.

In addition, research by Bayer University in the US shows people dealing with a difficult boss are more likely to have relationship stress at home.

"As a boss, is that the legacy you want to leave your employees?" McQuaid asks. But despite the strain a bad boss causes, we don't rush to resign. McQuaid says 22 months is the average time it takes a person to leave a job where their boss is behaving badly.

"They think, 'Oh, they're the boss' or 'I don't know if I can find another job' and they kind of stick at it thinking it will get better."

It can be hard to change the behaviour of a bad boss, especially if that person doesn't want to change, McQuaid says. But we can all learn techniques to understand and manage our boss's mood triggers and stay resilient.

1. Reduce the stress it's causing you.

"The stress is your enemy more than the boss," McQuaid says. "When you're under stress, you see less of the world, your peripheral vision narrows, you only see the thing right in front of you, which is often your boss." McQuaid suggests building positive "jolts of joy" into the day to break the cycle: go for a walk, listen to your favourite song or watch a clip on YouTube to decompress.

2. Pinpoint what your strengths are.

Does your boss enjoy telling you you're useless? Then spend 10 minutes a day working on your strengths. This will make you more productive and feel better about life. It builds your confidence and gets your mind off your boss.

3. Be nice to your boss and to others.

When you do something kind or appreciative for another person, the natural tendency is to return the favour. "If you can, do this towards the boss: offer to get them a coffee, or lunch while you are out. If not the boss, then maybe other colleagues," McQuaid says.

4. Work out what triggers their worst behaviour.

If you and your colleagues understand what triggers your boss's bad behaviour you can pre-empt and even try to diffuse the situation. Or at least you'll know when a rant is coming and you will not be caught off guard.

5. Have a conversation.

"Think about what a win-win situation will look like. We're often good at articulating what we'd like them to do differently but not good at saying what we would like to see more of - and how you and the boss can work to make that happen. A win-win makes the boss feel safer and helps them see why it's in their interests to change."

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