How do you survive the wilderness of the workplace? When you love your job and your boss makes it his job to support your creative energies, it is easy.
But, when the boss is like a wild grizzly seeking whom he may devour…that is a problem. It is no less difficult as a Christian to navigate these difficult forests. But, the Toxic Boss Survival Guide has many helpful ideas for how you may move forward.
This is the last of a three-part series discussing the authors’ ideas.
“It might seem to you that you don’t have a lot of options available to you – which is one of the things that makes working for a toxic boss so miserable. The reality is that you do have options…”
The authors of “The Toxic Boss Survival Guide” look to the Air Force SERE approach to survival.
This starting place may seem obvious, but the book provides some specifics on how this works. You must know that it is likely a short-term solution and you will need to determine if it is right for your particular nasty boss context.
Seek support from peers: It is once again, important to have people to talk to about the abuse you are facing in the workplace. Be careful with whom you are sharing the trials however.
If you share with friends and family, the boss can take over your friendships and family interactions. If you share with your coworkers, your notes, emails, or conversations may end up being overheard by the boss and make it worse. You must also be careful of gossip…though I would suggest in the context, this is not gossip [more later in a another blog].
Focus on the work: There are those who are in such a toxic environment, where nearly all relationships experienced at work are deeply affected by the noxious conditions, that a focus on the work is all in which an employee can find joy. Your rewards must be found in your own production and development.
Hunker down and weather it: This short-term solution depends on the probability (or possibility) that the employee will outlast the abuser. To accomplish this approach, you may need to do what one subject in the authors’ study did: develop an imaginary shield that would deflect the toxic behavior of the boss.
Stay honest with yourself: Often the subjects in the study started with hunkering down, but ended up here. Do not compromise your Christian commitment to truth and justice. The authors speak of this as “values.” Taking the high road will make it possible for you to live with yourself [see article]. You do not want to become toxic yourself.
Pray, meditate, practice yoga: Though I am not big on yoga, focusing on the goodness of God, looking to His promises, and meditating on them will go a long way in keeping sanity your primary feature. It is this particular practice that will do the most in establishing your Positive Mental Attitude.
Focus on your own career: This has a longer-range focus than focusing on your work. Though decisions made with this mindset can sometimes create a manipulative approach to work and be toxic in itself, in the context of a toxic workplace, it may be important to consider the work you do with strategic foresight.
This can also help you come to the place of peace knowing you have other work possibilities and gifts that can be used more effectively somewhere else.
Adapt to it: “Feed the ego. Give up some control on simple tasks.” The authors do not recommend going “over to the dark side,” but adapting to the toxic boss’ needs. This is truly a last resort and may be difficult to accomplish. Keeping your values and feeding him may be at odds.
Just as the term implies, the employee chooses to stay in the organization, but face the boss as little possible. Again, the authors have various ideas for doing so.
Lie low: Keeping your head down is the oldest trick in the book. This is different than “hunkering down” as you are looking for ways to be out of contact, so simply bearing with the circumstances.
Ignore it: Do not take their bate. As often as possible, ignore their destruction and move on.
Work from home: Some organizations may allow you to work from the comfort of your living room recliner. Take advantage as many in the workplace are doing now. The authors mentioned one participant in their study that stayed home one day a week and it was enough to help her survive.
Call in sick: Dishonesty is not appropriate to the Christian, but should there be allowance in your sick policy for emotional distress, use it. You may even be struggling with physical responses to the stress and trauma like sleeplessness or migraines. Certainly these are legitimate “sicknesses” to claim some rest from the nightmare.
Win and your boss may be gone…lose and you will be.
Resisting is not for the fainthearted, though many Christians claiming the Matthew 18 confrontation principles will believe it necessary to confront their boss. Though I argue elsewhere this is unnecessary, it is a valid step in a toxic situation.
Go over his or her head: As noted by the authors, going over the boss’ head to their boss or the board may create more hardship. Some go to the HR office, but often are disappointed in the results. Unfortunately, as noted in other articles, abusers more often than not win these fights.
Cover your butt: I say it more nicely than the Guide does, but the idea is simply to collect evidence as you watch the abusive tactics of your boss. Be able to point to specifics when it comes time to confront him or bring charges to the higher-ups.
Some Christians might suggest that this is a “keeping a record of wrongs.” However, evil behavior is recorded throughout scripture when there is no repentance. Look at the Psalms which are full of curses upon abusive people. When there is no repentance, accountability is called for.
Give feedback: This action step may be the most dangerous and unlikely to succeed. Abusers will not normally respond to feedback no matter the kindness with which you give it. If they are not toxic, they may possibly respond well. Most of the study participants had no success with this and gave up after the first try.
Stand up for yourself: If your boss is a tyrant, or bully, this may work. Just like the big kid in sixth grade, they may actually back off and find a new kid to crush if you stand up to them. But, it may get you a black eye as well. I recently interviewed one woman who would stand her ground. The leader turned his evil eye to others.
Rally troops for a counterstrike: Safety is normally in numbers. As a subordinate you have no real power. The power comes through groups. However, as evidenced by our own experience, sometimes even the numbers do little. We collected 40 signatures on a letter to the board and they still did little or nothing to resolve the issues we face.
Manipulate the boss: I discovered in my organization that the CEO’s mother had to be manipulated to believe ideas were hers before she was sold on them. The CEO, a toxic boss himself, played to his mother’s ego in order to seek changes in the ministry.
Unfortunately, especially for those who love their work and their organization, leaving can be the only means of safety. You must consider yours and your family’s welfare (see trauma article).
There can be great suffering that is not momentary but lasts for years because of the physical / neurological response to abuse. The authors did not address this issue and I consider it to be paramount in your deliberations to stay or leave.
Most people say leaving was the right move. But, the Guide notes the difficulty many have in actually leaving their job. Many do not leave until their health deteriorates – emotionally or physically.
It is also difficult to leave people behind. Some have shared with me both the frustration of others not getting it (and continuing to support the boss by staying) or sadness in leaving others in the predicament. It is like running away from a bear knowing you are faster than the other guy with you…and you know the slower one is going to be the meal.
The Toxic Boss Survival Guide ends with the testimony of Cheryl. Her story is instructive and shares many common characteristics of the stories I have heard. Abusive boss, failure of his supervisor to recognize it, long and agonizing investigation process by the HR, further agonizing investigation process by the executives of the corporation, and finally a firing after most of the team has resigned and damage has been done.
When I began to read the Guide, I was expecting to find real help for those who wish to stick it out under toxic leadership. However, like nearly everything I have read and experienced, “sticking it out” is not usually the long-term solution.
This Guide, though, provides excellent short-term help in simple, easy-to-read format and language. As mentioned at the beginning of this series of blogs on the book, most people who are under toxic leadership do not have the time or energy to read a scholarly work on toxic leadership.
In this case, the Toxic Boss Survival Guide is just the ticket.