toxic boss workplace how to handle

Got a toxic boss? Here’s how you handle that.

People don’t leave companies, they leave people.


Most of us have had the experience of working for wonderful leaders. I’m not talking about the charismatic or visionary leaders, but the nice people. The ones that took an interest in who we are, how we do our work and what we wanted out of our careers. The leaders that took the time to listen to us and made it a purpose to improve our work environment and jobs. Most of us have also worked for the other kind. The toxic leaders that surprise you that they are even named as a ‘leader’ in your organization. I’m talking about the kind of leader that tells you what to do, doesn’t value or care about your opinion and is down right painful to work with.


Been there – done that? Or am there – doing that?


Wondering how you should handle the situation?


1. Quitting is harder than it seems.


When removed from a situation of working for a toxic boss, almost everyone will say ‘just walk away’. Want to know a secret? Quitting is harder than it seems. Why is that?

  • Looking for a new job takes time and energy and if you’re working for a toxic boss you’re more than likely working harder than most. Why? Because you’re trying to cover more bases and second guess more situations so that you can avoid the conflict that inevitably will come.
  • Being with people is important and spending time with other humans is something most (if not all) of us need to function and want to have. We all enjoy speaking to people. I’m not talking about strangers but with people we spend 8 – 10 hours a day with, 5 days a week. Those are the types of people that invariably start becoming friends. Walking away from friends is hard.
  • We often think the grass isn’t greener on the other side, despite the saying to the contrary. All companies are dysfunctional right? All companies have toxic bosses and the evil you know is better than the evil you don’t?
  • Confidence is required to change jobs and to go out into an industry that you don’t know or into a job that you don’t master is definitely scary.
  • We are all optimists, even the most hard-core pessimists amongst us. That’s why future projections always go up. We always believe things will get better. Maybe the toxic boss will get fired or more likely, promoted away!

Look at the list above. See yourself in some of these excuses? And don’t be fooled, these are all just that : excuses.

But that isn’t a bad thing – to have excuses. It is a basic, fundamental part of who we are and how we function. It is about being human.

Nobody likes to admit to failure, so we come up with excuses. Even though failure is the most proven method and route to success, we still don’t like it. It is too ingrained in who we are as a species and probably for good reason. Failing to avoid that lion or failing to get food probably came with some dire consequences. Those kinds of things don’t get worked out of our psychology in a generation.

What is important in the process is accepting that it is an excuse and then figuring out what to do next.


2. Each situation is unique when looking at an exit scenario.


Quitting might actually not be the best option right away. This isn’t an excuse. This is understanding the reality of the situation you are in. You might have a mortgage and no savings. You may be working on a remote island with no other jobs anywhere. You need to figure out what your own circumstances are and then develop a game plan to overcome them.

Often it is financial. If this is the case, then phew! You’re in the right spot. Building wealth and savings is one of the things I do well, so get off this page and look around this website. Then come right back again. You can fix this one. Generating enough savings to cover the period between your walking triumphantly out the door, after dancing on your boss’s desk and throwing your boss’s papers all over the office and the time you get a new job can be managed. You just need some time and a little guidance.


It may be that your skill set is so specific that jobs are hard to come by or you may have no skills to get a new job. This takes a bit more effort than the financial one. Re-tooling yourself with skills to do another job, while working, can be a herculean undertaking. Studying nights or weekends when you have a partner and kids can be next to impossible. I said “next to impossible” which means it is hard but not impossible. You’ve got to want it enough. You’ve got to want getting out more than being with your toxic boss. Motivation and determination are best friends and can do amazing things together.

However, this isn’t about how to do that. I’ll save that for another post. I’ve got insights and tips to share on that subject so stay close to Chief Money Man to learn more at a later stage. Better yet – sign up to my email list so you can be sure not to miss it.


Let’s just assume you can’t leave right away for whatever reason and let’s look at some practical ways you should be managing your situation.


3. Take your toxic boss seriously and approach this like you would a war.


Don’t treat the situation lightly. I’ve been there – done that, and I know these situations are hard and can be crippling. Don’t think you are immune to it or that you have thick skin, so thick that it doesn’t affect you. It does, and it will. Confidence in your abilities is usually the first thing to go. You don’t notice it at first – as who notices “confidence in one’s abilities”, but it comes, slowly but surely and soon enough you’ll find yourself hesitant in doing things that you once did blindfolded.

Make no mistake. Your toxic boss is out to destroy you. When it is conscious or not, they are taking you down no matter what. Faced with that knowledge, you need to get yourself ready for not just the battle but also the entire war. You have to be ready to be the foot-soldier, the infantry, the cavalry and the strategic general all at the same time.


4. Stop thinking you can change your boss or how things are done.


Toxic environments come from toxic leaders. Toxic environments can be stupidly designed processes that mean you’re working to 2am every night focusing on stupid rather than smart. They can also be demeaning environments or places where you are ridiculed or embarrassed. Whatever your situation is, you know the source.

Often we try change the source. After all the person is human. They should be able to take feedback on changes we could make, or they could make.

Don’t go down that road. Don’t talk to your boss about the things you find toxic. Whatever they are. In all likelihood, your toxic boss won’t be open to your “suggestions” or your offer to “talk”.

You need to take a surgical approach and make specific requests instead.

The workload is too much given the resource model. Be specific that you need more people in the team to handle the deliverables. Don’t make it about you but make it about the work product. Be specific about the quality of what you could do on deliverable 1 if you cut deliverable 2 and how that would benefit the team and your boss.

All requests need to have an angle where they make your boss’s life easier or better. Obviously, the goal is that your life gets better but you need to really “sell” your requests.

No matter ow toxic people are, when they see upside for themselves, they usually accept it. If not, keep reading.


5. Reach out more broadly in your organization and to your friends.


Your friends? Yes, your friends. We all need support when things are hard. Talk about it and you’ll feel better. Ask for advice and receive it. All ideas can be helpful. As humans we actually like helping other people. It might not always seem that way, but in our smaller communities you’ll find that we do like helping others. We all have various degrees of altruism.

Talking about a problem can make it better. Talking about ideas to solve a problem can also lead to great solutions that may be workable.


However, when reaching out in your organization, you need to be careful. You never know, in the corporate world, who you can or can’t trust. Even the most friendly lunch partner could take your words and spin them to your detriment. So when you talk about your situation within your company, talk about your process problems or atmosphere problems and your solutions to make it better. And then why, by making it better, the company or productivity or whatever will be better. Never mention your boss unless the person opposite you suggests it. If they do, don’t go all crazy on them and unload your issues. Rather acknowledge their suggestion and say ‘maybe, possibly’ and then turn the conversation back to your solutions and their benefits.

Spreading the word or seeding is a powerful technique that needs to be approached with caution and executed over time. If you are too hasty it will seem like you have an agenda. If too slow, the message won’t get momentum.


6. Take care of yourself first.


To win a war, you need to be in great shape. And don’t keep smirking when I say this is a war. Toxic situations are definitely a war, make no mistake about it. To win a war you need to be your best. You need to eat well, sleep well (or as well as you can) and you need to exercise. Yes, you heard me soldier!

3 proven techniques to ensure your mind is working at its best! When you focus on other things, your mind often works in the background to find strategies and solutions to your problems. Also getting fit, eating well and getting enough sleep helps change your mindset to a positive one. You’ll need a positive attitude if you’re going to get through this!

You are the most important person in all of this. So take care of yourself first. Don’t neglect this one.


7. Look around your own company


A classic way to escape your toxic boss is to find another role in your own company. So as you talk around your organization, fish as well for opportunities. Use your network and if you don’t have one, then build one. There is always a great opportunity to have lunch with someone or even a coffee, tea or glass of water. Whatever your poison!

Moving out your current role may be an effective way to defuse the situation and shield you from further damage.

As you look around for opportunities, you’ll invariably come into contact with HR. Resist the temptation to talk about your toxic boss in a negative way if this happens. Rather talk about the missed opportunities and the positive effects if things could change. Don’t be frontal in any of your attacks.

Wars are not won through charges across an open field. That never ever works.


8. Work on an exit strategy.


Knowing when to leave is not easy, so you need to plan for it. The better you start seeing your next destination, the easier you’ll see when it is time to leave.

Read the signs as well. Your own signs!

If you wake up in the morning in a cold sweat about going to work. If you feel physically sick or in a panic when you’re at work, then best start speeding up the exit plan.

Refer back to Number 6 at all times. If you feel you might be in danger (physically or mentally) and your strategies are not working, then it might be time to retreat. Retreat equals quit. Quit means getting out now.

Remember Number 2 as well. You have to have your plans in place if you decide to retreat. You need to know your retreat lines are safe from enemy fire and you won’t get killed as you pull out. That takes planning. And planning takes time.

You might be tempted to rush right to your exit strategy. Don’t! The best exits are the planned ones. Planning takes time – I’m repeating this because it is important.


9. Be gracious in your exit.


If you’ve got to this point, I’m assuming you have worked on the exit strategy and been through the time consuming process of building the plan. You have the financial means to walk away or you have another job lined up or in the works. If not, go back and build the plan and don’t come back to Number 9 before you’ve finalized them, checked them and checked them again.


If you’ve done all that, then follow the below with attention to detail.

  • Give proper notice and do your job right up until the day you leave.
  • Have a handover timeline and process. Make sure you plan how your job will continue to be done and share that with your boss.
  • Do not bad mouth anyone. Not even the toxic boss. Don’t go screaming into that exit interview with all the dysfunctional things you’ve seen and been subjected to.


The above are important as the world is a small place and reputations are built over time and lost overnight. Never intentionally make enemies. Don’t think just because you might have a non-managerial job that you can go full kimono in the exit interview as it won’t hurt you. It will.

Exit interviews hardly ever lead to anything when toxicity is involved. I’ve seen too many case of disgruntled employees going off about their boss and nothing happening to believe something will happen. It is not worth it. Just walk away gracefully and take the higher road. It is the better road to take.


10. Now what?


You’re out! You’ve removed yourself from a toxic environment. Maybe the grass is indeed greener, maybe it is browning and not as good as you expected. That’s no longer an issue. You’ve proved yourself a worthy adversary. You built your plans, you executed on the above steps. You tried suggestions, you tried changing jobs internally, maybe one of those worked and you stopped there? Maybe you went the full distance and you are in a new organization. Whatever the path you took and the destination you reached, you’re a winner. You are no longer in the environment that was killing you.

Maybe you fall into another toxic environment? Not great, but it can happen. Never fear as if you’ve done it once, you know the approach and can do it again.

Set the steps in the motion and play out your strategy. I’ll bet you it will be even faster this time to get you over the finish line.

Even better, you may be in your dream job, working with a great team in a functional organization. If you are? Good for you. You did it!


So go ahead, do something about where you are and set the wheels in motion to get yourself into a better place.


It all starts with the simple decision to do something about it.








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