What to do when your boss is a bully or worse

Don't get yourself into a place where you allow yourself to get so frustrated and angry that you end up storming out the door, screaming "I quit"

By Peg Streep (The Shrink)

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Published: Sat 19 Aug 2017, 10:41 PM

Last updated: Sun 20 Aug 2017, 12:43 AM

She's 34 years old and 10 months into her job at a design company and she's beginning to flag because dealing with her direct superior, Karena, is wearing her out. "Is being made to feel small or lousy a management style?" she asks, with a wry smile. "My boss seems to think so. Mind you, this isn't personal-she does it to everyone-but, gee, the day-to-day is so nasty and wearing. If you ask a question, she makes a point of saying that a smart person wouldn't ask it to begin with. She never compliments; she makes every criticism barbed. I know work can't be fun, fun, fun all the time-that's why it's called work and not a vacation-but is it supposed to make you feel discouraged and flat?"
Does this sound familiar? It might because studies show that, indeed, bullying disguised as a management style and in-the-office incivility is on the rise. There are rules about sexual harassment and it's pretty much impossible or too risky to date a colleague lest things go south and you get accused of harassment, but what about nastiness? Bullying? Or other behaviours that in any other context would be clearly called abusive. It turns out the workplace is pretty permissive when it comes to that.
Studies show that incivility-defined as behaviour meant to harm an individual in violation of mutual respect-has doubled over the past decades, suggesting once again that Karena, the supervisor in our original example, isn't a lone wolf. Examples include using a condescending tone, ignoring coworkers, or making derogatory remarks.
So do you have to put up with being put down or negative behaviour? No, you don't.
Setting goals for yourself and deciding what you need to get from your working day in the future are key to making sure that your next job isn't a mismatch. Your own priorities-both short and long-term-should be factored in as well. Studies show that the best way to set goals is actually to write them down, making a chart of both short and long-term priorities, and seeing how they fit-or don't fit-together. If your primary goal is to make as much money as possible and a secondary goal is to have more leisure time, you need to recognise that there's a great likelihood that these goals aren't in sync.
On the other hand, if work environment and collegiality are tops on your desirable list, you will likely need to do some research and perhaps go on informational interviews to get the inside scoop.
Your priorities are highly personal, and so it's your task to know what does and doesn't matter to you.
Don't get yourself into a place where you allow yourself to get so frustrated and angry that you end up storming out the door, screaming "I quit" because while it may feel highly satisfying in the moment, it serves no one, most particularly you. In my book, Quitting, the most self-destructive ways of quitting are those I call The O.K. Corral and The Big Bang, The O.K. Corral involves invoking some moral high ground which alludes to your integrity or morals; in Cecile's case, her parting words might be "I won't work for abusive people!" The mess storming out leaves professionally is one thing, and the emotional baggage is another. Ditto on The Big Bang which is that emotional moment when you finally snap and lose it and head for the door. Mind you, some managers who actually want to fire you but would prefer you quit for any number of reasons will try to engineer a Big Bang quit. Don't play into his or her hands.
Quitting needs to be part of a plan-your plan.
Making sure that you don't react emotionally is the only way you'll actually stay in some control of the situation. In addition to setting goals for yourself, start implementing them. Update your resumé, figure out your references ahead, and set a goal for how long you're going to stay before you depart. Needless to say, it's common wisdom that it's less stressful and easier to get a job when you have a job and you're much less likely to take another misstep because you're anxious about paying your bills. Do what you can to save money as you begin to set a date for leaving. -Psychology Today
Peg Streep is an author. She is currently writing a memoir and working on two books about psychology.

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