Many of us spend a lot of time at work. For those of us who don't work remotely, this probably means we spend a lot of time in the direct physical proximity of our superiors. If you have a good relationship with your boss, that's great! If you feel like your relationship with your boss is toxic, that is not great. In fact, research shows that working in a toxic environment can lead to low self-esteem and lower feelings of satisfaction at your job. It can also lead to people outright quitting their positions, which can have some serious impacts on the rest of your life.
Of course, sometimes it is in your own best interest to quit your job in a toxic environment, but if that's not an option, the ideal is probably to make your relationship with your boss (and coworkers) as solid, healthy, and pleasant as possible. Even if you don't spend a lot of time interacting with your boss directly, it's important to strive for an open and comfortable working relationship. And yes, even if you aren't in direct contact with your boss, they can still have a toxic effect on your work life, especially if they are consistently negative in their feedback or don't respect your time outside of working hours.
If you feel like your boss is toxic, don't panic. While the decision to leave a job or not is ultimately up to you, there are steps you can take before moving to the last resort. Here are some tips for dealing with toxic bosses:
1. Achieve Self-Satisfaction From Within
If you're meeting your boss's reasonable expectations (and this is, of course, going to vary on your individual job and role), and you feel like they're searching for things you're doing wrong, it may be time to search for a feeling of a satisification and accomplishment within yourself instead. Some bosses simply don't give positive feedback, or do so very rarely — the "no news is good news" type of leadership. Especially if you're already prone to being a people pleaser, or co-dependent, this can be a really difficult situation to deal with.
My personal advice is to do your job to the very best of your ability and congratulate yourself on it, even if your boss doesn't recognize it on a regular basis. And don't sweat the small stuff. As Travis Bradberry over at Forbes points out, "Don’t allow your boss’ obsession with details to create feelings of inadequacy, as this will only lead to further stress and underperformance."
2. Talk It Out With Your Friends
Even if you have an awesome relationship with your superiors, work can still be a huge source of stress. If your relationship with your boss feels toxic, don't let it boil up inside. Talk it out with your friends; they're likely to also have some dreadful stories from their jobs, and you can commiserate together. Talking things over with your friends is also a great way to gain perspective and tips on how to approach these sticky situations.
3. Don't Forget to Take Care of Yourself
It's easy for what we do to become our identities. While it's great to be passionate and invested in your job, it's not so great to have your job consume your entire identity. Especially if you have a toxic relationship with your boss, it can feel like you're putting your all into your job only to be met with negativity, which, in my opinion, seems like a recipe for disaster. It's important to value yourself and invest time in self-care. There are ways to work self-care into your job space, as well as to practice self-care at home.
Self-care is different for everybody, but a good starting point is to consider your mental, physical, and emotional health: What are your needs? Take a realistic look at your life and schedule. Which aspect of yourself is getting the least love and attention? That may be the best place to start with self-care.
4. Be Realistic About Your Goals
As Martha White at Time points out, "Sometimes we can fall into the trap of setting goals for ourselves that are too high, which just discourages us when we fail to reach them." This sentiment can apply to our work lives in general, but especially in terms of a toxic boss, setting unrealistic goals for yourself can feel like an endless cycle of frustration and disappointment. If your boss has inconsistent or unreasonable expectations, you probably won't be able to meet them all the time. If you focus on impressing your boss or getting a particular reaction out of them, you may set yourself up for failure as that may simply never happen.
Instead, set goals for yourself that are realistic in terms of your duties, and if you do strive to go above and beyond, make sure you give yourself credit for that, and don't do it only to garner a reaction from your peers or supervisors. We can't predict how other people will react to us (or in this case, notice us positively) but we can treat ourselves well.
5. Talk To Your Boss
Yes, I saved the scariest one for last! While it's sometimes OK to simply buckle down and deal with a toxic boss, sometimes talking to your boss about your relationship is the best step. The key here is to make sure you articulate yourself clearly without coming across as aggressive or blame-y. My suggestion is to spend some serious time preparing yourself before you actually initiate the conversation: You want your feelings to be worked out for yourself before you bring them to the table with your boss. I suggest making a list of your points, as well as talking it over with a trusted friend or family member.
I think it's also a good idea to have some specific ideas for what changes you'd like to see, or what different approaches you'd like to implement. While it's so tempting to go into a hard conversation on the defensive, I think it's important to keep in mind that you're doing this to improve your relationship with your boss, not unleash all of your frustration on them. The use of "I" statements can be effective here, as well. For example, instead of telling your boss "You make me really stressed out" or "It ruins my morning when you call before my shift starts" (even if those things are true), framing them that way may put your boss on the defensive mode. "I" statements can help you articulate how you feel, and what changes you'd like to see.
So there you have it! Dealing with toxic people in any setting can be really emotionally draining, as well as stressful, and the stakes can feel even worse when that person happens to be your boss. While the decision to leave a job or not because of your work environment is ultimately yours, I think it's worth-while to consider ways to improve your relationship with your boss, as well as doing some self-exploration to see what you can manage in terms of your own satisfaction and expectations.