Michelle Ward has worked for a slew of mean managers in her career. One of the most notable, she says, was a bully. “The better you did your work, the more he’d verbally abuse you,” she recalls. The second was when she was an assistant to an executive who made her unpack five boxes — which she had spent all day packing — so he could have diet orange soda when he came into the office that night.
But Ward, now a career coach, says that dealing with these types of managers came down to one thing: standing up for herself.
“By standing up for myself and/or not engaging, it allowed me to keep my self-confidence up, regardless. It didn’t make it an unemotional situation and it didn’t make me enjoy working there, but it felt better for me than taking his [abuse],” she says.
When it comes to managers, there are many personality types to deal with — demanding, micromanaging, hands-off or even relaxed. But perhaps the worst kind of manager to deal with is one who is downright evil.
Bosses are mean to their employees for many reasons. Don Hurzeler, author of “The Way Up: How to Keep Your Career Moving in the Right Direction,” says one is reason is that people imitate the behaviors they experienced early on in their own careers.
“If someone is new in the business, impressionable and sees their boss manage by intimidation and by being a bully, they may think that is the way to be when they become a boss,” he says.
Some mean managers may not be confident in their own abilities to manage, he adds.
“To cover up the fact that they have a poor self-image and poor management communicationskills, they become that mean dictator that no one dare question,” he says.
Some mean bosses will tell you that they’re nasty because they have high standards, but that’s just an excuse, says Kathi Elster, president of K Squared Enterprises, an executive coaching firm, and author of “Working With You Is Killing Me” and “Working for You Isn’t Working for Me.”
“The real reason that a boss feels they can be mean to their employees is because they are unhappy with their own situation at work. Let’s face it, being the boss means that you are in a power position and have control over those who report to you, and it can be tempting to take out your own disappointment on those in a weaker position.”
It’s important to note, however, that there’s a difference between a boss who is perceived as mean because he is tough and a boss who is mean because he is a bully, says Treivor Branch, author of “The Drama-Free Workweek” and CEO of The Branch Solution LLC, a workplace issues and conflict resolution consultancy.
“A bully enjoys belittling and berating employees to cover up their own insecurities. The bully may scream, yell or humiliate employees to make them feel incompetent and fails to recognize or reward good work,” he says. “A boss who is simply tough has high standards of excellence, but at the same time recognizes and rewards employees for good work.”
Doing good work might be hard in a toxic work environment. While some employees may be able to perform effectively under a mean boss, more will
“Employees perform best in a happy, healthy work environment. Fewer workers taking on greater responsibilities is already a recipe for disaster. Now, add mean or spiteful bosses; employee stress shoots through the roof, thus impacting their ability to effectively complete even mundane tasks,” he says. “Bosses who are mean will eventually experience a decrease in employee commitment, a rise in errors and poor work quality, as well as increased interpersonal conflicts and team dysfunction.”
If you have an evil boss, here are seven tips from Branch and Hurzeler:
1. Make the distinction
“Make sure you have not confused ‘demanding” with ‘mean.’ There are lots of demanding bosses out there, who demand you do the job you are paid to do. If you are not qualified to do that job or cannot do the job for some reason, the problem is actually yours. What might sound mean to you is probably just the facts being placed before you. Suspect yourself and do all you can to deliver as required on your job,” Hurzeler says. “If you have delivered on time and as promised, and the boss is still mean to you, sit down and talk to the boss. Maybe you have missed the point of his or her ineffective behavior, or maybe you do have room for improvement. The boss will learn of the negative effect that they are having on you and may work to change his or her ways. If you don’t bring up your grievances in a clear and constructive way, nothing will ever change.”
2. Take a break
“Working for a mean or bully boss can be one of the top stressors in the workplace and can cause severe stress-related health problems. In view of this, it is essential for employees to take a stress break when they are confronted with a mean or bully boss. Take time off from work for at least a week and be sure to visit your doctor during this time,” Branch says.
3. Don’t shut down
“If you fold up under the pressure of a mean boss, the boss is then given the sword to take you out of the game. The mean boss wins and you lose,” Hurzeler says. “Bring your best game to work every single day and you will outlast or win over the mean boss. You win. Mean loses.”
“Employees should begin to document the mean boss’s behavior. Make note of negative actions taken by the boss and how they are impacting employee productivity. Include details such as dates, times, specifics of the mean boss behavior and employees targeted. Include what attempts, if any, were made by you or other employees to address the situation and the outcome of such interventions,” Branch says.
5. Constructively confront
“Meet with the mean boss to address your concerns. Keep your emotions intact. Do not scream, yell or become aggressive. Keep your tone calm and even. Be careful not to point the finger or focus on the individual, but rather seek to understand and resolve any concerns the boss may have which lead to the mean behavior. Ask open-ended questions. Ask how you can better support the boss,” Branch says.
6. Report the boss
“Make your human resources department aware of the situation, especially if the situation escalates following your discussion with the boss. Be sure to present your documentation. In addition, you may want to contact an attorney as some of the boss’s actions may violate laws regarding hostile work environments and may be eligible for legal action,” Branch says.
7. Plan your exit
“The negative impact of working with a mean boss is too great. If you are in a situation where you work for a mean or spiteful boss, plan your exit. Update your résumé and begin circulating it internally and externally,” Branch says. “Work your network to learn about unadvertised opportunities in other areas of the company or at another company. No employee should have to work in a mentally, emotionally and, in some instances, physically debilitating environment.”