CA­REER

Is your boss sap­ping life out of you? We of­fer tips on tack­ling toxic ones.

Friday - - Editor’s Letter -

The change in the of­fice at­mos­phere was al­most instant, says Jemma*.

It was Au­gust 2015 and she was work­ing in the job she had al­ways wanted – as a so­cial me­dia ac­counts ex­ec­u­tive – in Dubai, a city she had al­ways dreamt of liv­ing in.

‘I had chal­leng­ing projects and re­ally vi­brant col­leagues – it was every­thing I’d worked to­wards,’ says the 27-year-old. ‘I’d get up in the morn­ing and couldn’t wait to get to of­fice.’

Then, that month, a new man­ager ar­rived, and every­thing changed.

Her brusque at­ti­tude, hy­per­crit­i­cal as­sess­ment of staff and mi­cro­manag­ing were ini­tially seen as a way of es­tab­lish­ing au­thor­ity. But as the weeks passed, it didn’t change.

‘She con­tam­i­nated the of­fice,’ says Jemma, from The Greens. ‘She had a way of un­der­min­ing every­thing ev­ery­one did. If she per­ceived you’d done some­thing wrong, she would send an email say­ing so – and make it global. It was hor­ri­ble. Morale hit the floor. Peo­ple for­got about try­ing to in­no­vate for our clients. We just wanted to keep our heads down and go un­no­ticed.’

By the end of the year, three of Jemma’s col­leagues had left the com­pany. She her­self clung on un­til Fe­bru­ary, but as her stress, anx­i­ety and work­load in­creased, she too de­cided it was time to move on.

‘No one wanted to be there,’ she re­mem­bers. ‘In the end, I ac­tu­ally took a pay cut to move.’

Jemma’s man­ager was what psy­chol­o­gists have termed a Toxic Boss – and she’s far from unique.

The Amer­i­can Psy­cho­log­i­cal As­so­ci­a­tion re­ports that 75 per cent of peo­ple claim to have a bad man­ager. And while that fig­ure may be an ex­ag­ger­a­tion – who doesn’t oc­ca­sion­ally blow off steam with a moan about the boss? – there’s no doubt there are se­nior staff out there whose ef­fect on those be­neath them is noth­ing short of poi­sonous.

And if you are work­ing for such a per­son, be­ware.

New stud­ies show that hav­ing a toxic boss is not only bad for the com­pany – their man­age­rial meth­ods in­evitably re­duce pro­duc­tion and ef­fi­ciency – but also bad for you as an in­di­vid­ual: for your pro­fes­sional de­vel­op­ment, for your health and well­be­ing, and for your gen­eral hap­pi­ness out­side the work­place.

Re­searchers from Har­vard Busi­ness School and Stan­ford Univer­sity in the US found last year that poor man­age­ment could be linked to heart prob­lems and acute stress in em­ploy­ees. More wor­ry­ingly, be­cause stress of­ten leads to sleep de­pri­va­tion, this, in turn, could spark a whole range of other health is­sues in­clud­ing kid­ney and liver prob­lems, fa­tigue, poor skin and hair loss.

It gets worse. One ex­pert, Pro­fes­sor Chris­tine Po­rath of Ge­orge­town Univer­sity, also in the US, reck­ons hav­ing a bad boss can even re­sult in obe­sity. That, she ar­gued in a 2015 pa­per, is be­cause ex­pe­ri­enc­ing rude­ness has been shown to in­crease glu­co­cor­ti­coid lev­els. This is a hor­mone that boosts ap­petite. The more our body pro­duces, the more we are likely to eat.

Along sim­i­lar lines, a study car­ried out by Univer­sity Col­lege Lon­don found toxic man­age­ment can have a dis­pro­por­tion­ate ef­fect on a per­son’s hap­pi­ness out of the of­fice. ‘One of the ma­jor causes of gen­eral mis­ery [out of work] is mis­ery at work, and this is es­pe­cially true if your boss is un­car­ing, self­ish and ar­ro­gant, be­cause you are stuck with that for eight hours a day,’ says Pro­fes­sor Adrian Furn­ham, who con­ducted the re­search. All that’s the bad news, then. But here’s the good: it is pos­si­ble to iden­tify th­ese bosses and adapt ways to neu­tralise their neg­a­tive ef­fects on you.

Fri­day speaks to ex­perts – life coaches, psy­chol­o­gists and HR staffers – to of­fer you, first, the best way of un­der­stand­ing th­ese nox­ious heads and, sec­ond, the strate­gies to re­main ef­fec­tive, ef­fi­cient and, yes, even happy while work­ing with them… 1 THE BULLY The bully rev­els in in­tim­i­da­tion, hu­mil­i­a­tion and keep­ing those be­neath her in a con­stant state of anx­i­ety that what they are do­ing is, in some small way, not quite right. Some­times this is ex­plicit (shout­ing, crit­i­cal emails with ev­ery­one on CC), some­times less so (side com­ments, ex­clu­sions, ‘jokes’ at one per­son’s ex­pense). But ei­ther way it isn’t pleas­ant.

Yet, say ex­perts, it can be han­dled with­out re­sort­ing to the nu­clear (and of­ten messy op­tion) of com­plain­ing to the hu­man

Hav­ing a bad boss can even re­sult in OBE­SITY, be­cause ex­pe­ri­enc­ing RUDE­NESS has been shown to in­crease lev­els of a HOR­MONE that boosts ap­petite. The MORE our body pro­duces, the more we EAT

re­sources de­part­ment. Key tips are to stay pro­fes­sional and po­lite, re­main fo­cused on the job, and at­tempt to open lines of com­mu­ni­ca­tion.

‘Be hon­est and calm, and tell this per­son one-to-one that you are open to pos­i­tive feed­back in or­der to achieve the com­pany’s goals,’ says Cindy van de Kreke-Freens, pro­fes­sional de­vel­op­ment coach with Au­then­tic­ity Coach­ing and Con­sul­tancy in Al Bar­sha, Dubai. ‘But do also feed for­ward that you feel some of their be­hav­iour is coun­ter­pro­duc­tive and should be stopped. That is rea­son­able.’

And re­mem­ber, if things go too far, there are laws in the UAE to pro­tect against work­place dis­crim­i­na­tion. ‘Make a de­tailed note of in­ci­dents when they oc­cur, keep all emailed com­mu­ni­ca­tion and gather ev­i­dence of bul­ly­ing if needs be,’ says Fadwa Lko­rchy, psy­chol­o­gist with Dubai Com­mu­nity Health Cen­tre (DCHC). ‘When you re­port a bully to HR with this ev­i­dence, it will be taken se­ri­ously be­cause no com­pany wants this to es­ca­late fur­ther.’ 2 THE MI­CRO­MAN­AGER This is the boss who makes you feel un­der con­stant sur­veil­lance – be­cause, es­sen­tially, you are. They’re not just happy with run­ning the de­part­ment, they want to run your projects too. In short, they sweat the small stuff. And that means they make you sweat it too.

‘The re­sult,’ says Priya John­ston, a UK-based higher ed­u­ca­tion HR ex­ec­u­tive, ‘is that every­thing you work on takes longer, you feel less trusted, be­come less likely to in­no­vate, and your sense of worth to the team goes down. And no one can ful­fil their po­ten­tial un­der those cir­cum­stances.’

Yet mi­cro­man­agers aren’t nec­es­sar­ily bad bosses; they just tend to be per­fec­tion­ists.

‘They are in­se­cure and lack trust in other peo­ple to do the good job they feel they would them­selves,’ says Fadwa. ‘This can be frus­trat­ing if you work best in­de­pen­dently but it is a case of win­ning trust. Be proac­tive by keep­ing them con­stantly up­dated, ask­ing spe­cific ques­tions on how

they want some­thing done, and stay­ing, if pos­si­ble, ahead of sched­ule.’

As the de­mands on them grow, th­ese mi­cro­man­agers will re­alise they need to cede some con­trol. At that point, Fadwa adds, they will ap­pre­ci­ate the com­pe­tence you have demon­strated – and will, gen­er­ally, al­low you more free­dom once again. 3 THE MATE MAN­AGER Ev­ery­one likes a boss who’s friendly, but few of us ac­tu­ally want to be, well, friends with the boss, right? Yet some man­agers will pos­i­tively try and in­gra­ti­ate them­selves with staff. Ca­sual meet­ings af­ter work, en­gag­ing in of­fice gos­sip, and con­tin­u­ally jok­ing about – th­ese are all signs of the in­ap­pro­pri­ate mate­m­an­ager. And while it seems harm­less enough, it could spell trou­ble for you.

‘Bosses can oc­ca­sion­ally be great to hang out with,’ says Cana­dian busi­ness coach Evan Thomp­son in his es­say Why Bosses and Em­ploy­ees Shouldn’t Be Friends. ‘But ev­ery­one needs to have their own space and lives. If you see some­one in a stress­ful work en­vi­ron­ment five days a week, it’s nat­u­ral not to want to be around them in off-work hours.’

Fur­ther­more, be­ing in the friend zone could cre­ate con­flicts of in­ter­ests and cause re­sent­ment – and ac­cu­sa­tions of favouritism – among other col­leagues.

So how can you po­litely avoid that with­out of­fend­ing the boss?

‘The most im­por­tant thing is to learn to set firm bound­aries,’ says Dr Travis Brad­berry, US psy­chol­o­gist and best­selling author of sev­eral books cov­er­ing the sub­ject in­clud­ing Emo­tional In­tel­li­gence 2.0. ‘Don’t al­low his po­si­tion to in­tim­i­date you. By con­sciously and proac­tively es­tab­lish­ing a bound­ary, you can con­trol the sit­u­a­tion. Re­main friendly with your boss through­out the day but don’t be afraid to say no to [in­for­mal meet­ings] af­ter work.’ 4 THE PLEASER A nice name for an ut­terly odi­ous char­ac­ter. The Pleaser says yes to ev­ery de­mand from higher man­age­ment – even if that means the work­load and ex­pec­ta­tion that falls on his de­part­ment is en­tirely un­re­al­is­tic.

He would rather you work un­til mid­night than risk dis­ap­point­ing his own su­pe­rior slightly by say­ing, ‘Yes, we can de­liver this project, but with the staff num­bers avail­able, it might take an ex­tra two or three days’.

His catch­phrase is ‘more (work) with less (staff )’. He’s of­ten a bor­der­line bully to those be­low. He cares less for the job than climb­ing the greasy pole.

Com­mu­ni­ca­tion is key here, says Suzanne Degges-White, North­ern Illi­nois Univer­sity pro­fes­sor, coun­sel­lor and reg­u­lar Psy­cholog y

To­day con­trib­u­tor. ‘Maybe you can ini­ti­ate a heart-to-heart, shar­ing your con­cerns about fail­ing to de­liver on im­prac­ti­cal prom­ises,’ she says. Be­cause this boss’s main con­cern is get­ting good re­sults to im­press se­nior staff, he may very well, she adds, ‘ac­tu­ally take the feed­back to heart’.

Cindy from Au­then­tic­ity Coach­ing agrees. ‘He wants the de­part­ment to push bound­aries but he also needs it to be sus­tain­able,’ she says. ‘Feed­ing for­ward your con­cerns should have an im­pact.’ 5 THE IN­COM­PE­TENT We’ve all had them. Man­agers you wouldn’t trust to run a bath, let alone a de­part­ment of a dozen or more peo­ple. How they got to the top is a mys­tery only beaten by how they re­main there. Pre­sum­ably she has some qual­i­ties. If only she’d make them more widely known.

Yet, while in­com­pe­tent man­agers are of­ten fig­ures of fun, they are just as toxic as all the oth­ers on this list. ‘Work­ing for some­one who is clearly not cut out for the role is ex­haust­ing, frus­trat­ing and ac­tu­ally very de­mor­al­is­ing,’ says Fadwa from DCHC.

The key to suc­cess here is to ac­cept the man­ager’s flaws; share your own knowl­edge with­out giv­ing the im­pres­sion you be­lieve your­self more qual­i­fied; and, thus, set your­self up as an em­ployee that can be trusted, firstly, to do a good job and, se­condly, to oc­ca­sion­ally deputise.

‘Share the in­for­ma­tion that this boss needs to grow into the role, and you’ll be­come an ally and con­fi­dant,’ says Dr Brad­berry. Next time a pro­mo­tion comes up, she may just point se­nior man­agers in your di­rec­tion.

All of which should leave you in a bet­ter po­si­tion to deal with toxic bosses of all shades and shapes.

But there is per­haps one last piece of key ad­vice: it’s just a job and, if you’re truly un­happy, there are oth­ers out there.

‘You should love go­ing to work ev­ery morn­ing be­cause this is what we spend so much of our life do­ing,’ says Fadwa. ‘If you are not get­ting that sat­is­fac­tion, there’s no rea­son you have to stay there. This is Dubai. There are op­por­tu­ni­ties every­where.’

Ev­ery­one likes a BOSS who’s friendly, but few of us ac­tu­ally want to BE FRIENDS with the boss. Yet some man­agers will TRY and hang out and be PALS with the staff. This could spell TROU­BLE for you

Work­ing with an inept boss who’s a mess? The key is to ac­cept his flaws – and then be­come an ally and con­fi­dant

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