Career Advice

How to Deal With a Toxic Boss

Business Gone Bad!

It’s definitely a nightmare scenario, but toxic bosses do exist. Perhaps you have firsthand experience, or maybe you have heard horror stories from friends. Either way, you know a toxic boss is something to be avoided at all costs. But unfortunately, it’s not always easy. Often times, we find ourselves in undesirable situations and have to do our best with what we have. If you’ve found yourself dealing with a toxic boss, don’t lose hope.

We tapped an expert to help us tackle this task. Dr. Stephanie Sarkis is a clinical specialist, counselor, author, and overall expert in helping people navigate difficult emotional situations. She’s here to help you save your sanity when dealing with a toxic boss.

Glassdoor: How can employees distinguish between a boss you dislike versus a boss that’s truly toxic?

Dr. Stephanie Sarkis: A boss that is truly toxic can demeaning and soul-crushing. Toxic bosses may practice “gaslighting”, manipulation tactics that make you question your competence and even your reality. One of these tactics is when a boss blatantly lies, and when called out on their lie, they vehemently deny they ever said such a thing. 

Glassdoor: What kind of mindset or attitude is important to adopt when dealing with a toxic boss?

Dr. Stephanie Sarkis: Remember that you always have options, even if it truly feels like you don’t. When you feel like you don’t have a choice in what is going on in your workplace, you can feel stuck and burnout can kick in. Options include looking for a new job, transferring within your company, seeking advice from an attorney, and there is the option of accepting you have a toxic boss and learn to detach from it. Keep in mind that this last option comes with a high emotional cost to you.

Glassdoor: When do you know when enough is enough? And does that mean quitting? Talking to HR?

Dr. Stephanie Sarkis: It depends on how invested you are in your job, and what options are available to you.  

If you wake up every morning dreading your job, it may be time to make a change. Life is short. While you don’t have to like your job every day, dreading facing the day is something different altogether.  

Glassdoor: What do you see as a common mistake with people trying to handle a toxic boss? How can these be avoided?

Dr. Stephanie Sarkis: A common mistake is letting the boss get to you, and reacting with the same amount of anger that the boss directs your way. This can backfire on you. Never let a toxic boss see you sweat – they live off knowing they can push your buttons. Your boss could also report you to HR for an outburst. Keep in mind that fighting fire with fire with a toxic boss does nothing to change his or her behavior.

Glassdoor: Any advice for job seekers who are trying to steer clear of potentially toxic managers?

Dr. Stephanie Sarkis: Learn more about gaslighting in order to identify and protect yourself from these manipulative behaviors. The more you know what to expect from toxic people, the earlier you can identify them and plan a coping strategy – even if that includes finding a new job.  

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