What Can You Do About Bad Bosses?

A bad boss can make an otherwise rewarding job miserable, and harm the company as well. Here's what to do in this situation

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A bad boss is one of the most common complaints the global workforce has. You might have a conveniently located office, good pay, flexible hours and excellent colleagues but a bad boss can make you consider giving it all up to look for new opportunities. In fact, a recent Gallup poll of more 1 million employed U.S. workers found a bad boss or manager to be the number one reason people quit their jobs. The researchers found that 75 per cent of workers who voluntarily left their jobs did so because of their bosses and not the position itself.

This was backed up by a Danish study of 4,500 public service workers from 2013 found that people don't leave jobs, they leave managers. Matias Brødsgaard Grynderup, one of the researchers behind the study said, "We may have a tendency to associate depression and stress with work pressure and workload; however, our study shows that the workload actually has no effect on workplace depression." This study seems to suggest that most employees quit jobs because of their bosses and not because of the workload or working conditions.

While this seems to be the most common reaction, there might be an alternative at hand. Instead of letting go of your otherwise desirable job, science recommends figuring out how to manage a bad boss better.

What Makes A Bad Boss?

Recent research published in Frontiers in Psychology as a special article collection on the dark side of leadership in October 2018 claims to help organisations identify potentially problematic leaders to reduce their negative effects. The first thing that the researchers found might surprise you—it appears employees aren’t completely blameless either.

"Surprisingly, not only leaders' but also followers' dark-sides have emerged as hindering factors for organizational functioning. We are moving away from the somewhat unidimensional view that leaders are omnipotent and solely to blame for negative outcomes in organizations," said Professor Susanne Braun of Durham University, UK in a press release, who co-edited the research collection together with Professor Ronit Kark, based at Bar-Ilan University, Israel, and Professor Barbara Wisse, based at the University of Groningen, Netherlands, and Durham University.

Their research employed a range of techniques to find out how the traits of leaders and followers interact with each other. They found that different characteristics combine to produce different results, coming up with 'Three Nightmare Traits' at the core of dark leadership. According to them dishonesty, disagreeableness and carelessness are the three main negative qualities that bad bosses exhibit, which can combine to result in serious negative consequences for employees including absenteeism, turnover, stress and poor performance.

What Can You Do About It?

"A good start could be a positive organisational culture that buffers against negative leadership. Perceived accountability, organizational transparency, and values such as trust, respect and support can offset some of the negative effects a few individuals may have on the overall organization," explained Kark.

Another option would be identifying individuals with dark-side traits before hiring them. Diligence is required in early hiring and selection stages, when candidates with dark-side traits may seek to take control of the process," she added. "Structured interviews, work samples, and focus on actions and feelings can help to spot inconsistencies. Checking the facts through information from previous employers is a must."