Thirty-two year old Sarah Mayo from Dubai is visibly uncomfortable as she remembers the manager from her previous organisation. The scars still burn. She recalls how the experience dented her confidence and self-esteem, leading her to battle with severe anxiety several years after leaving the job. “The senior manager in question joined the company eight years after I did,” she remembers. “She was intent on destroying the respect, expertise and success I had built, with my employer.”
It still unsettles Mayo deeply to discuss her freely, but she sketches an idea on how her manager would lie her way out of trouble and blame others for her shortcomings. “She claimed my ideas and work were her own. She even reduced me to tears in front of my colleagues during a work meeting,” adds Mayo. It was a rather torturous time for her, and she spent days in anxiety that devolved into depression. “Two years later, I am still taking medication,” she says.
The senior manager in question joined the company eight years after I did. She was intent on destroying the respect, expertise and success I had built, with my employer. Two years later, I am still taking medication.
Twenty-eight year old Maya Das (name changed on request) from Sharjah has a series of unpleasant memories from working at an Indian media house. Her boss was permanently on edge and touchy; she wouldn’t hesitate to create a scene in the middle of office. “When we were working from home during the pandemic, it felt like there was no log-out time from work. She would text whenever she wanted, insist on us working at odd hours of the day. She would have weekly zoom calls, just to pick apart our stories. My English wasn’t so good, and she would mock me publicly when I made grammatical errors,” says Das.
She warily remembers the threats that would ensue when her boss did not get an instant reply, “I remember the words, ‘Reply, or it gets worse from here.’“
That’s what toxic managers and bad bosses do. They’ll micromanage, overwork you to an exhaustive point, tear you apart in public, transfer blame when convenient and take credit for your work. In short, they create a mangled web of dysfunction in the workplace. Working with such managers is detrimental to a person’s mental and physical health. It can eventually lead to chronic anxiety, depression and panic attacks.
Signs that you have a toxic boss
1. They lie constantly
2. They transfer the blame to you when they’re in the wrong
3. They take credit for your work
4. They do not give recognition or praise, but are quick to point out your faults
5. They bully you, intent on screaming and shouting and creating a scene
7. They do not plan properly
8. They play favourites
How to deal with a bad boss
Manvi Singh, a 31- year-old interior designer from Dubai (name changed on request) tears up a little as she recalls how her boss insisted on her coming to work, even though she was rather ill. “Everyone at work could see that I was ill. I kept shuttling between hospital visits and office. But my boss refused to give me any leave ¬- made me work from home as well. I was driving to work every day, till finally my father put his foot down and told me to resign from the job. I quit and could finally focus on treatment properly, and recovered.” Sometimes quitting and removing yourself from the situation is the only option. However, that is not always available to everyone. Moreover, there’s a lot of mental work that needs to be done too.
How and why do we let such bosses and managers affect us so deeply? A lot lies in our inability to say ‘no’ and our keenness to prove ourselves. These are traits that a toxic manager wields as a sword over the heads of such employees.
Psychologist Ritasha Varsani from LifeWorks Counseling and Mental Health Clinic, Dubai, emphasises the importance of setting boundaries. She explains that sometimes people draw weak boundaries at the office. “Many a times, when they are new to the workplace, they have a fear of proving and pleasing the organisation. This takes a toll on our mental health. Out of fear we agree to everything,” she says.
Communication is key
Varsani gives the example, that if the work hours are from 9am to 5pm, there are bosses who assign work after hours. “We need to communicate properly to our boss too, and show that we will not accept any work after a point,” she adds. “Communication is key, where you make it clear what you are comfortable and what you cannot tolerate. You know what affects your physical, emotional and spiritual health.”
However, she acknowledges that with some bosses, it’s not always so easy. She cites the instance of a client, who despite having clear boundaries, felt suffocated in her work environment. The boss had a dominant personality, and would belittle her, which prevented her from reaching her full efficiency. Explaining what one must do if they don’t have the option to leave the job, Varsani says, “You need to communicate regularly from time-to-time what works and what’s not working. Clarify the expectations upfront.”
Seek professional help
It’s a drain on your mental and physical health to constantly be in such a negative environment. You begin to doubt yourself more and live permanently in a state of anxiety. Reach out for professional help and slowly rebuild your sense of self.
"Many a times, when people are new to the workplace, they have a fear of proving and pleasing the organisation. This takes a toll on their mental health. Out of fear they agree to everything"
Speak to Human Resources
Keep the Human Resources (HR) department in the loop and explain the situation. See if there are others who feel the same, and address the issue with the HR.
Share with your colleagues and friends
Talk to your colleagues and let them know how you feel. It’s essential to have a strong support system, especially at the workplace.