Tuesday, November 2, 2010

Toxic Bosses Are Hazardous To Your Health (and Career)

We’ve all heard stories about the nightmare of working for a toxic boss. Some of us have even had the unique displeasure of doing so ourselves. Red flags to such behaviour often appear as early as the interview process. What follows are the warning signs of a toxic boss. If you heed this advice, you might be able to avoid a negative work environment and a horrible life experience. At the very minimum, you will be able to gain some insight as to what you are signing up for.

Disrespectful Behaviour: Be wary of unprofessional behaviour, especially if it rears its ugly head even before your actual interview. Simple mini-moments of disrespect include e-mails that aren’t returned, changes to interview dates and times without notice and a lack of apology for having to reschedule meetings foreshadow your potential supervisor’s style.

Visual Cues: If, upon meeting you for the first time, your ‘would-be’ boss scans you from head to toe as they extend their hand to greet you, they are intuitively sending a message that you are not as important as they believe themselves to be. Body language experts will tell you that such an action, albeit subtle, is the nonverbal equivalent of a belittling comment. This action is a good sign that your talents are not going to flourish in the environment.

Defensive Body Language: If you are good at your job as is revealed and supported by your marketing collateral i.e. résumé, social networking profile, portfolio of work, an insecure hiring manager or boss will find you threatening and will use the power of their position to make your life miserable. Telltale clues that the person you are talking with are intimidated by your ‘credentials’ include constant shifting, avoiding eye contact and rifling through papers as you talk.

Bad Attitude: If your interviewer exhibits a general lack of enthusiasm or interest in the company, watch out! It could be a bad day, or it could be a bad boss. To help suss out the reason for the behaviour, ask for information about company turnover rates and turnover rates for the division or individual manager. Once those rates have been revealed, you can then compare those rates to industry standards. If the interviewer claims not to have that information at hand, don’t buy it!

Distrust of Others: A toxic environment is often revealed by the attitude of key members in the organization. When a boss or hiring manager openly displays a lack of trust in people, especially for those on the team in which he or she is supposed to lead, take the time to inquire about the problems/issues that are facing the company and what their causes might be. If the answers to these questions consist of blaming others in the organization, especially those on his or her team, Run like the wind!

Fear Used as a Motivator:
Ask the prospective boss or hiring manager about the others on the team with whom you will be working. During the interview process, it is perfectly acceptable to ask about how well the team works together, stays focused and meets objectives. Once these questions are answered, you can then follow-up on the question by asking about the consequences to the team for the inability to remain focused and/or reach objectives. When managers disrespect and distrust others’ motivations, they resort to extrinsic means with which to motivate. These extrinsic means include threats, public or private berating/humiliation and comments about employee terminations.

Word Choice: Word choice sets up a dynamic that can raise or lower the energy in any room. If your boss or hiring manager is in the habit of starting every sentence with a negative message and then tries to diffuse the initial comment, it is likely that negativity is plays a key part in his or her emotional life and that they carry that negativity over into work. Listen more than talk; your ears are your best hunch barometer.

Mask of Charisma:
Those in the company of toxic bosses and hiring managers who appear to be overly friendly can liken the experience to children being lured into dangerous situations with candy. If you are being presented with an opportunity that sounds too good to be true, be wary. Think to yourself, if everything here is as good as they claim it is, why is the position open in the first place?

Self-Absorption: If the ideas of your boss [or interviewer] seem to be more important than finding out about your thoughts on a particular subject, if you provide an answer and the interviewer tells you you’re wrong, or if your boss [or interviewer] interrupts you and offers their own answer to the question, it is an indication that [s]he will be difficult to work with.

Know that there are very few perfect bosses in today’s work environment. All bosses and hiring managers have their own idiosyncrasies. Unfortunately, the worst of these peculiarities lower morale and productivity, cause abrupt personnel turnover and lengthy hire lag, and generate complaints and grievances.

On the ‘up side’, it takes a lot of effort to be a bad boss. True professionals, however, have the skill and ability to use the proper antidotes to make potentially bad situations more tolerable, and, at times, even more rewarding. Know that truly bad bosses will eventually be flushed out and put out of their (and your) misery. As Groucho Marx once said, "Time wounds all heels."

Copyright © 2010, Career Matters. All Rights Reserved.Permission to Reprint: This article may be reprinted, provided it appears in its entirety with the following attribution: Copyright © 2010, Career Matters. Reprinted by permission of Mary Salvino.“Career Matters” is a blog hosted by Mary Salvino, Senior Consultant for SMART Career Planning.com. This blog is dedicated to those who are seeking advice on managing their career and future job opportunities. We welcome readers to share their experiences, post their comments or ask questions about career related matters. For any questions or comments that are better addressed privately, please feel free to e-mail Mary directly at Mary.Salvino@shaw.ca