In the new comedy “Horrible Bosses,” three friends are so miserable at their jobs that they resort to plotting to kill the supervisors who torture them day in and day out.
The down-and-out men are reluctant to leave their jobs because of the trying economic times, a situation with which many workers can empathize. And while it’s the luck individual indeed who’s never know the trials of a difficult boss, most of us find ways to cope without resorting to murder-for-hire.
While the over-the-top characters in “Horrible Bosses,” including Colin Farrell as a drug-addled boss who instructs his subordinate to fire the fat people in the office and the hyper-sexualized Dr. Julia Harris (Jennifer Aniston) who blatantly harasses her assistant Dale, aren’t the type most workers would generally encounter, human resources professionals say there are some hallmarks of poor supervisors.
Bad vs. good
A tyrant boss is sometimes also the one who’ll berate an employee in front of others for a problem or a poorly done assignment.
“People think, ‘I showed them a thing or two.’ That really doesn’t show anything but your lack of management skills,” said Susan Crocker, owner of Susan E. Crocker Human Resources Consulting.
It’s said that leaders are born, but sometimes they’re made. A bad boss may simply be an untrained one, perhaps someone who has been promoted into a management position without guidance.
“Sometimes you can take a great employee and they’re not a good manager,” she said.
But modern training programs have helped make leadership a learned skill.
“The role has evolved over time,” Crocker said. “For example, sexual harassment in the ‘60s and ‘70s was not treated the same as today. Just watch an episode of ‘Mad Men.’”
One way to improve your relationship with your boss, Crocker said, is to give her feedback about how you work best and about the job she’s doing as a supervisor. But if she’s reluctant to sit down for that annual appraisal, it may be a red flag, Crocker said.
“Bad bosses do not want to do performance evaluations. They don’t want to get feedback. Usually someone who doesn’t want to get feedback doesn’t want to give feedback.”
“Instead of having face-to-face conversation with a subordinate, they use only e-mail, and a lot of times the e-mail is not well thought through,” she said.
Good bosses, on the other hand, communicate well with employees (including listening well), lead by example and share the load.
“They can go to the copier as well as head up a meting,” Yarborough said.
Coping without criminality
Most workers would never resort to trolling the Internet for a hitman, but they still have to get through the day. And that’s not always breeze, whether you’re dealing with a slacker, a micromanager, a megalomaniac or just an inept boss.
Life coach Dianne Greyerbiehl said she’s seen an increase in the number of clients in recent years who are stuck at a job because of the economic climate but are dealing with a horrible boss.
Many workers in that position live in fear of their bosses or of losing their jobs, she said. “The more they think about that, the worse they get. And sometimes, depending on the boss, the boss begins sensing they’re scared, so they begin taking advantage of it.”
One of the best things workers can do, she said, is to stay calm. And while that’s easier said than done, she offered several tips on retraining your brain to keep yourself cool and collected.
Fear and anxiety, she said, initiate pathways in the brain that lead to weak decision-making and even poor health. A more peaceful state of mind, on the other hand, helps us perform better.
Make a point to notice or create small positives in your day: a smile from a coworker, listening to music you like, thinking about a relaxing weekend or even lunch plans, talking to someone you like.
“Those little moments, if people pay attention to them during the day, actually begin to add up…and they find themselves getting calmer and feeling more peaceful,” she said. “It begins to build quite rapidly in making you feel more calm.”
Need an immediate fix? Try focusing on your breathing, which tends to make people breathe more slowly and deeply. Run your hands under warm water, or relax your jaw, tongue and eyes for 30 to 60 seconds. All these steps will engage the parts of your brain that ease tension and promote calm, making it easier to handle fist-clenching situations.
Once you have your wits about you, focus on improving communication with your boss. Try to talk to him or her one-on-one, face-to-face, Crocker said.
But if you feel confronted or attached, remove yourself from the situation. If possible, ask for time to think about the topic at hand and meet back up in an hour or a day to discuss things. If you can’t get out physically, try to step back mentally as if observing the situation from outside.
“Distance yourself from the attack that’s happening because if they’re attacking or in any way angry with you, where you lose a lot of footing is if you allow yourself to be pulled into their emotions,” Greyerbiehl said.