Many corporate horror stories often begin and end with bosses from hell. Sharing experiences of working with a bad boss is almost like a rite of passage in the corporate world.

Grumbling about the boss may enhance camaraderie among employees, but human resource (HR) professionals should recognise that such behaviour can quickly become toxic and can endanger employee engagement and productivity.

Big bad boss

Bad bosses do exist, but their behaviour may not necessarily be a personality flaw. There are managers who are simply unaware they are terrible. A lack of training for these managers is often the reason for such behaviour.

Writer Robert Sutton defines a bad boss as someone who leaves a subordinate or another co-worker demeaned and de-energised through actions such as yelling or screaming. Not all bad bosses subscribe to such overt actions while bullying their staff.

Passive aggressive behaviour, such as mocking and teasing, excluding staff from important meetings, two-faced deeds and sarcastic e-mails are just as damaging to a person’s self-esteem.

But before concluding that your manager is the devil incarnate, engage in a candid self-assessment. Most bosses would not choose to discriminate without cause, but if you have been continually underperforming or have a lousy attitude towards work, your manager may have reason to be annoyed with you.

Oh, behave!

Everyone has a right to a professional environment at the workplace. And as the boss’s bad behaviour disrupts the workplace harmony, lowers morale and affects productivity, it is imperative that this should be addressed as soon as possible.

Giving feedback to the superior who is behaving badly should be one of the first things employees should do, especially if the manager is unaware of his behaviour. It is important to clearly and objectively inform him how his actions and words affect you and your performance. If his behaviour affects everyone in the team, arrange for everyone to meet the boss together on the matter.

What should be discussed is how each party can work together to contribute to the team’s goals and objectives. Most unwitting bad managers are open to discussion and compromise. However, if the discussion ends in an impasse, appealing to the bad boss’s superior or to your HR manager may be necessary.

To stay or to go

Many people love their jobs and enjoy working with their colleagues. However, having to work with a unbearable boss may compel them to think twice about staying in the company, even if there are no other push factors for them to leave. 

According to a Work, Lipids and Fibrinogen study of more than 3,200 employees, a year of working under a manager with poor leadership skills increased men’s risk of cardiac death by 25 per cent.

This means that if a bad boss is giving you too much stress, requesting for a transfer or even leaving the organisation is necessary to preserve your health and sanity.

But if you have decided to stay, the first step in managing a bad boss is acceptance — acknowledge his shortcomings and be resigned to the fact that he will not change.

The next is for self-preservation purposes — keep a journal of incidents, documenting them as objectively as possible. It may be difficult, but you need to remain professional at all times.

HR’s role

The HR department may not be the go-to place for every disagreement, but an employee’s complaint against a manager should be looked into.

In the first place, HR should work together with managers to cultivate a work environment where employees are able to raise work-related issues or problems without fear of censure or retaliation. Leaving the organisation should be an employee’s last resort. 

Such efforts demonstrate the organisation’s commitment to providing a conducive and professional workplace, which is a boost to its retention strategies. It is worthwhile to remember the corporate adage: “People join good companies but leave bad bosses.”