Bad bosses and toxic managers micromanage, overwork you to an exhaustive point, tear you apart in public, transfer blame when convenient and take credit for your work.
Caught in a toxic situation with the boss? Make sure to change the status quo. Image Credit: Shutterstock

Did you know that being around a toxic boss for a long time could make it difficult for you to ever leave?

Evidence in neuroscience shows that people who were in toxic relationships had higher levels of the stress hormone cortisol. Cortisol damages the hippocampus, an important part of the brain for memory and learning. It also impairs the brain’s reward system responsible for processing pleasure and motivation.

Debu Mishra talks through a few steps needed to get the better of a bad boss Video: Debu Mishra | Editing: Irish Belleza

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What does a toxic boss look like?

Everyone encounters a toxic boss sometime in their career and toxic bosses are a major contributor to workplace stress. In most cases, toxic bosses are oblivious to their own behaviours.

Some of the tell-tale signs of toxic bosses:

Public humiliation /criticism

Resorts to frequent and unwarranted criticism. Focuses on highlighting flaws and mistakes without providing constructive feedback or acknowledging accomplishments.


Shows clear favouritism/ has an inner circle while disregarding or mistreating others. Creates a toxic and divisive work environment, causing resentment and diminishing team morale.

Bullying, harassment, threats

Engages in bullying, harassment or threats. This can include verbal abuse, intimidation, not approving leave or deliberately assigning work for the weekend. Creates a hostile workplace.

Micromanagement or disrespect for others’ capabilities

Overrides ideas or work deliverables and imposes own viewpoints giving detailed instructions. Assumes that nothing will get done without supervision and control.

Lack of information and transparency

Withholds information, makes decisions behind closed doors or keeps employees in the dark about important matters

Pinning blame and stealing credit

Quick to point out faults and blame others when faced with failures. Claims credit for team’s work and doesn’t recognise their contribution.

The underlying reason for such toxic behaviour is a combination of - The need to be seen as an achiever; and the need to feel powerful by making others feel small. Understanding this will help you greatly in changing how it impacts you.

A step-by-step guide for coping with a bad boss

  1. Move from feelings to facts. Raise your own awareness of all situations in which you have been at the receiving end of your boss’s toxic behaviours. Journal it or write it down by recalling as much detail as you can. Also, practice appreciative inquiry and write down the positives that you see in your boss. Find reasons to stay invested in the relationship.
  2. Change your boss. Pick the top few toxic behaviours that you want your boss to change. Communicate your request to your boss by tapping into your boss’s reward circuit. “When you [describe the behaviour], it [describe the Impact it has on you]. If you could [describe how they should Change the behaviour the next time], it would help us [describe the reward/achievement and how both you can benefit from it].”
  3. Set goals to stay calm. Toxic bosses derive their power by getting you agitated and stressed and making you feel small. Only you can break this reward circuit. By staying calm, you will stop them from getting what they want. Reflect on potential reasons behind your boss’s behaviour, such as work-related stress or personal factors. Seek understanding, not justification.
  4. Give talk time. Talk to friends and people you trust. A coach or mentor can help you develop strategies for coping with a bad boss. Talk to your loved ones. Just having a listening ear can ease most of the stress.
  5. Get fit. It is the first step of stress detox and helps both the mind and body. Begin with 30 minutes of comfortable strolls or walks and some good motivation playlists. Eat healthier and get adequate sleep. Changing your fitness also changes how you think and approach work and life.
  6. Raise your own game. By developing your own skills, and performing better you can become more visible to your boss and the larger organisation as well. Enhancing your credibility will contribute to your long-term success and may prompt some change in your boss’s behaviour.
  7. If all fails, change your boss. If you do not see any positive changes in your boss, try moving to some other team/unit. Let it be known why you are seeking the change. But sometimes toxic behaviour permeates the organisation’s culture. If your boss’s toxic behaviour is tolerated by the larger organisation and you are unable to move within, it may be time to talk to a recruitment consultant.

By setting specific objectives, breaking them down into manageable steps, and regularly reminding yourself of your motivations, you can stay focused and determined when dealing with a difficult boss.