Toxic Bosses

Learn how to survive (and thrive) despite their iron rule!

By Edeline Anne Goh

Mandy* always dreamed of becoming a writer. That’s why she was over the moon when she was offered a job in a magazine. At first, everything went well at her new job but within a few months, Mandy  realised that her boss had started asking her to take on other people’s work.

From then on, things went from bad to worse. Mandy found herself working long past office hours due to last minute instructions from her boss. She was also expected to stay in the office, after hours, just because her boss was still there.

Mandy’s health began to deteriorate. She was regularly forced to take medical leave because of severe acid reflux, which the doctor said was probably due to all the stress she had to endure at work. However, despite having been diagnosed by a doctor, Mandy’s health problem was not taken seriously by her boss, who demanded that she work from home during her days off. She was even accused of lying about her illness.

Mandy’s love of writing had also disappeared and work became something she absolutely hated. She was asked to write articles without being given proper direction which resulted in her having to rewrite each one several times until it ‘felt right’ to her boss. Eventually, Mandy lost all confidence in her abilities as a writer and finally decided to put an end to her misery by quitting her job.

Mandy’s employer is considered a “toxic boss” If you’re wondering whether your own boss fits the description, here’s a checklist that can help you decide:

  • Are you spending more than 10 hours in your office every single day?
  • Are you forced to work through weekends and public holidays while everyone else gets to enjoy time off?
  • Should your workload be distributed to 2, 3 or even 4 people instead of one?
  • Is getting a week off for a family vacation like catching a shooting star and putting it in your pocket?
  • Do you love your work and your colleagues but can’t stand your boss?

If you ticked 3 or more on the list, you’ll want to read on to find out how you can survive — and maybe even thrive — under the iron rule of a toxic boss.

Unbearable Pressure

While the exact definition of a toxic boss can be rather subjective, it cannot be denied that they definitely exist. Their ridiculous demands and unrealistic expectations can put you under unbearable pressure where you end up grappling with high levels of stress, experiencing lack of sleep and straining your body due to overwork and anxiety. This puts you at a high risk of many physical and mental health conditions. In other words, toxic bosses take a toll on your health and in extreme cases — may even cost you your life.

The question is: how do you maintain your health and keep the job that you love while under the wings of a horrible boss? You can start by defining your toxic boss based on the list below and then trying out the coping tips for each one.

Types of Toxic Bosses

The Ultimate Bully

The Ultimate Bully is intimidating. He shouts at you in front of your colleagues, treats you with disrespect, expects you to grab coffee for him, pick up the trash in front of him and on and on. He lacks the values and morality of a real leader and relies on being a nasty, authoritative figure instead.

Coping Tip: Dealing with the Ultimate Bully requires you be strong and stand firm. You too deserve the same amount of respect as he does. So, the next time he cuts you off while you’re talking or does anything else that’s rude or unacceptable, call him by his name (in a respectful manner) and let him know what you need. You will earn his respect when he realises that you’re able to stand your ground and that he can’t bully you into submission.

The Non- Communicator

Are you playing a guessing game at work? Is your boss making decisions without filling you in about it and then expecting you to ‘read his mind’? Does he go in and out of the office without saying a word? Has he not uttered a single comment after reviewing your work? This kind of behaviour will leave you frustrated and stressed as you remain lost and search for clues on how to do things right.

Coping Tip: Some people are more withdrawn than others so you’ll need to take the initiative to communicate. For example, if you need his opinion on something, drop him an email, inform him that he should get back to you by a certain date and if he doesn’t, tell him you’ll assume that the proposed action is okay.  Aside from that, ask him open-ended questions using ‘what’ or ‘how’ when you require information.

The Overtime Enthusiast

Are you expected to arrive at the office before the sun rises and leave long after it sets? This may sound a little dramatic to some but there are actually a whole lot of people who never see daylight during the work week! Some bosses believe that working for long hours is all that matters, not the quality or even the quantity of work that is done. You on the other hand feel mentally and emotionally drained which affects not just your performance at work but your health too.

Coping Tip: It is important to set the boundaries of what your working hours are as well as your workload. If you’re unsure, the best thing to do is to have a private meeting with your boss about your job description and to clarify with him if you have any queries.

The Finger Pointer

Are you expected to be a ‘sponge’ at work – absorbing and cleaning up everyone else’s mess? Are you always the ‘fall guy’ when a mistake is made even though you’re not the culprit? Well, it is time to prove your innocence! Some bosses find it easier to have someone to blame rather than handle a mistake properly. However, if you defend yourself, it might turn into a ‘he said, I said’ argument and the winner will most likely be the one who holds the higher position in the company — namely the Finger Pointer.

Coping Tip: Being pushed around all the time is no laughing matter and at the end of the day, you’ll start losing your passion and motivation for your job. You can begin to solve this issue by speaking up if you’re blamed for someone else’s mistake.

A toxic boss can turn your life into a living hell but remember that your boss is human too. Talk to your boss calmly and ask if there is a problem. Honestly discuss the obstacles you face at work. However, if all your attempts at resolving the issue goes unheeded and situation gets out of hand, get in touch with your company’s Human Resources department. You can also find out about your rights as an employee by looking up the Malaysia Employment Act 1955.

Remember, you have the power to change the way you’re treated at work. Whatever happens, do not let a toxic boss ruin your career and your dreams.

*Name changed to protect privacy

Shocking Fact!

In Japan, dying due to complications caused by working too hard at the office is such a common phenomenon that the Japanese actually have a word for it — karoshi. Literally translated, karoshi means ‘death from overwork’. According to the International Labour Organisation, this term has been used in Japan since the 70s. Karoshi essentially refers to fatalities or associated work disability due to cardiovascular attacks (such as brain strokes or cardiac failure) aggravated by a heavy workload and long working hours.

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