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WORKPLACE SURVIVAL: Managers from hell

There is nothing worse in a work place than dealing with a horrible boss or co-worker. Dr. David Posen MD (2013) in his book “Is Work Killing You? performs a reality check when he says that “people do not leave jobs, they leave bosses”. It is bad enough when your boss is incompetent but an “abuser, creep jerk, harasser or bully” (Sutton R. in Posen 2013) on top of it makes most situations intolerable. Lets talk about conditions that make people miserable at work and cost employers in productivity and lost time; bosses and coworkers that make workplaces psychologically unhealthy.

We have made in-roads in developing more physically safe jobs and the focus has shifted to creating more psychologically safe workplaces. We now have standards and guidelines for psychological healthy and safe workplaces at the National level i(2013). They were developed in collaboration with the Mental Health Commission of Canada, the Canada Standards Association (CSA) and the Bureau de Normalisation du Quebec (BNQ). We have examples everywhere where change is needed. I hear complaints from many of my clients about their managers. Creating psychologically health workplaces is cited as good business practice but organizations and institutions historically are slow to change. The cost to organizations in terms of lost time, and productivity, LTD. and Worker’s Compensation assessments is immense.

My book, In Harm’s Way: Professional Health Care Workers at Risk, A critical argument for organizational change focuses on health care organizations but leaving because your boss is horrible can happen anywhere. Family members have experienced bullying in their workplaces: police and justice, banking, manufacturing and health care. We’ve all had micromanager who follow our every move and absent managers who are never available at crucial times in our work.

One of the worst experiences  was when I was working at a youth treatment facility and a boyfriend of a patient with a history of violent behaviour was threatening and aggressive and would not leave the facility when I asked. I was the senior person in charge as the family therapist and I had parents and young people in my care at risk in the situation. There were no supervisors available to call and the police did not show up when I called them. Fortunately, one of the parents helped me usher the angry young man out of the building without harm to anyone. I felt totally alone and abandoned by management (and the police) not an infrequent experience at the facility. This is a not so positive model for the young people in the facility; “Fend for yourself, the adults around you are unable to keep you safe and the police do not think it is important enough to come.”

How many of you have had absent supervisors leaving you alone to struggle through a difficult situation on your own? The main ethical and legal role of a supervisor is responsibility for their supervisee’s work, and yet often they abandon that task. Organizations are responsible for the work that their employees do but in our society we tend to privatize responsibility, shifting the problem to an individual one.

The first step in surviving a horrible boss is awareness that you are likely not the problem no matter how much you are blamed. There are many types of bosses from inept, unconscious, uncaring to abusive and malevolent (Posen (2013). Inept ones are generally bosses promoted beyond their level of ability (the Peter principle). Often promoted mostly because upper management thinks they can manipulate them to their needs, not because they can manage people well. Unconscious bosses are oblivious of all the unhappy people around them and how their behaviour affects others.

Uncaring bosses are bosses that know what they are doing but do not care. They work people to death, abuse and exploit them, and have a superior attitude (I’m great and you are not”. Sounds psychopathic and yes they are. “Snakes in Suits: when psychopaths go to work (Babiak & Hare, 2006) outlines these types of bosses. This can include abusers, harassers, and malevolent bosses who exploit, intimidate and berate in public, abuse and harass workers often receiving pleasure from their actions. Included in these are the ones that manipulate others for the own needs and are constantly seeking for weakness in others to exploit (Posen, 2013).

This last group is in the minority but unfortunately from my experience, good bosses are usually the ones in the minority. The ones I have worked for have been generally inept, absent, uncaring or micromanager who want to control every move. They seem to have difficulty trusting in the competent staff they have hired to do the job. I worked for a dentist when I was 18. He was intimidating and overbearing and most of his staff lasted a month at the most. I lasted six months mainly because this was my first real job and I was quite naïve. I left as soon at the first opportunity.

Another boss was domineering and threw me into a highly complicated situation with only two days of training. He then blamed me when things did not turn out as he had hoped. Not much I could do because I had to pay the rent. Some wise soul told me to “love him to death” because he really had all the power and I had very little in this situation. I did that and survived until I found a better job.  Power is mostly in the hands of employers and employees have very little, an all too real fact. Even with a Union, evening the playing field, we still need jobs to survive. It is highly competitive in most areas of the work world and unless we have skills that are highly in demand, we are at a disadvantage to negotiate healthier conditions.

Complaining about your boss to their superior may or may not work. They both likely have more power than you. Confronting your boss about their behaviour may or may not work? In the case of bullying and harassment talking to your physician and/or a psychologist is likely the fist step in dealing with the situation, not speaking to the person who is harassing you. A change to the Workers Compensation Act in 2014 protects workers against mental stress on the job. You will likely have to consider the loss of your job. Not a great situation, but you do have some protection and it is better than ruining your health and life staying in an intolerable situation.

It doesn’t matter how much you take care of yourself outside of work,  you likely won’t survive for any length of time, if you are miserable and stuck with a horrible boss   It is important for you talk to someone you trust, preferably outside of work, to review your options and next step.

If you would like to schedule an appointment with someone experienced in this area please call me, Dr. Denise Hall at 604-562-9130 or send an Email to


About the Author:

Dr.Hall's background includes a Communications degree at SFU and a MA in Counselling Psychology from the Adler School of Professional Psychology in Vancouver and Chicago. The author completed a Doctorate program in Clinical Psychology from California Southern University. In 2015 as a result of Dr. Hall’s doctorate research on organizational health she published in Harm’s Way: Health Care Workers at Risk an argument for organizational change. Dr. Hall took poetry writing at UBC (Lorna Crozier) and Creative Writing courses from Langara College including Free Lance Magazine writing and Write the Wild Horse. The author has published articles through the Rehab Review and Rehab Matters magazine of the Vocational Rehabilitation Association of Canada (Compassion Fatigue, Dual Relationships, and Pain Disorders) and was on their Editorial review board. Dr. Hall has published articles in Cognica (Compassion Fatigue) the magazine of the Canadian Counselling and Psychotherapy Association and the International Network in Personal Meaning (Forgiveness). Both her websites have articles: Http:// focuses on work related and career issues and Http:// focus on personal growth issues, such as stress, depression, analyzing dreams, fear and anger. The author has a newsletter on Substack

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