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Mean Boss: Signs, Symptoms & What To Do To If This Happens To You

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Did you know that around 82 percent of employees would quit their jobs because of a bad manager?

Multiple types of managers can be labeled “bad”, from the “underappreciating” to the “unwilling to teach”, but right on top of the list sits the mean boss.

A mean boss isn’t just someone whose leadership is highly questionable, but they also demonstrate abusive behavior that affects their team members both professionally and personally.

In this guide, you’ll learn what a mean boss is, how to recognize them, and how to handle them.

Mean Boss: Covering the Basics

Bad boss behavior can take various forms, but poor leadership is a common factor.

While most employees can tell they’re dealing with a difficult boss or an over-demanding one, many can’t identify a mean boss simply because they tend to excuse the abusive behavior as “part of being a manager”.

Can Bosses Be Mean?

Yes, bosses can be mean.

They can be good at delegating tasks, meeting deadlines, achieving targets, setting up plans, and so on, yet still be mean.

There’s a difference between displaying assertiveness or acting authoritatively and being mean to establish your superiority or prove your control.

A good boss is authoritative without being aggressive. They’re confident and assertive without being abusive.

How Do You Describe a Mean Boss?

A mean boss is a toxic, abusive boss, that’s the best way to describe one.

They’re a nightmare to work under because their behavior is condescending almost all of the time they interact with employees.

Not only are mean bosses abusive to workers under them -whether verbally, psychologically, or professionally-, but they also abuse the power of their position.

They know that employees mostly won’t retaliate because they’re afraid to lose their jobs, so they take advantage of the situation.

What Are the Signs of a Mean Boss?

A mean boss is one of the common signs of a toxic workplace.

According to Harvard Business Review, failing to provide employees with a psychologically safe culture is one of the actions of a bad manager that leads to quitting.

But how can you determine whether a workplace is toxic or a boss is mean? How do you handle it?

This section will help you answer these questions.

Let’s start by discussing behaviors and actions so you can pinpoint mean bosses.

They Don’t Care About Your Wellbeing

Mean bosses don’t care how the job is affecting your personal life, health, or mentality. They just want the work done, regardless of the employee’s well-being.

They Lose Their Temper

Does your boss snap at you suddenly during briefings or meetings? Do they lash out at employees and/or yell at them to get the job done?

An effective leader would never do that, only a mean, horrible boss.

They Take Credit for Your Work

A terrible boss steals credit to make themselves look better and give their presence at the company of more value.

A good boss knows that the success of any team member reflects their own, so they’re not threatened by it.

They Belittle or Insult You

If your manager keeps bullying you by calling you names, insulting your competency, and/or dismissing your efforts, they’re clearly the office jerk and a mean, terrible boss.

They Don’t Advocate for You

If your leader doesn’t support you professionally; like recommending you for a well-deserved promotion or defending you in a conflict when you’re in the right, you’re dealing with a mean, bad boss.

Their Feedback is Harsh

Constructive criticism is a primary strategy for employee engagement and development.

A manager who is unnecessarily rude with their feedback is a mean boss.

In this case, the purpose of the review is to just reveal your weaknesses and/or taunt you without providing solutions.

They Choose Favorites

Preferential treatment among employees is a major sign of a bad boss. This can range from unbalanced distribution of tasks to showing double standards.

Being unfair in the workplace can contribute to harboring feelings of resentment towards a boss.

They Shut You Down

A boss who doesn’t listen is never a good leader.

Mean bosses don’t value others’ opinions or accept suggestions.

They believe an idea is bad unless it’s their own.

They Give You the ‘Silent Treatment’

A good boss should be a role model of professional behavior.

Giving employees the ‘silent treatment’ is an amateur, passive-aggressive move and a sign of bad management.

They Threaten You

One of the things your boss should never say to you is any form of threat of physical harm.

Workplace violence is no joke, and it’s a bullseye sign of a mean boss.

How Do You Deal With a Mean Boss?

Recognizing that you work with a mean boss is the first step in the process of handling them. Here’s what you can do next:

Bring Up Your Concerns

If your work environment forces you to stay silent for fear of consequences, then it isn’t worth staying in.

But if you’re not speaking up because you’re worried about the awkward conversation, the fear may only be in your head.

Muster up the courage and voice your concerns directly to your boss.

This may be the wake-up call that they need to improve.

Even if nothing changes, you owe it to yourself to never cower and know where you stand.

Talk to HR

If you don’t want a confrontation with your mean boss just yet, you can turn to HR for guidance on how to effectively deal with difficult coworkers.

Bringing the matter to HR’s attention can also push management to look into the boss’s behavior and offer solutions for your problem.

Focus on What’s Within Your Control

As an employee, one way to deal with a difficult boss is by focusing on the job.

If there’s nothing to criticize about your work or professionalism, they’ll likely leave you be or -at the very least- have a weak case against you.

Don’t Gossip

Engaging in workplace gossip is bound to come back and haunt you.

You may be venting to some coworkers only to have an opportunistic person relay your words to the boss for a chance of being in their good books.

Keep Track of What They Do

If you keep tabs on your boss at work, you’ll end up with a map of their behavioral style, professional preferences, and pet peeves.

This will help you navigate interactions with them, better adapt to your work environment, and spare yourself much of the strain.

Decide Whether to Stay or Go

A bad boss doesn’t mean a bad company. A bad boss also may not be permanent.

Study the pros and cons to make up your mind about whether the job is worth staying in or if it’s best if you leave.

Don’t take anyone’s word for granted though. It’s “clearly a dead-end job” only if you decide so.

Frequently Asked Questions

Can You Outsmart a Toxic Boss?

Yes, you can outsmart a mean boss by anticipating upcoming tasks and getting them done before they come to you.

Staying one step ahead will help remove you from under the microscope.

How Do You Recover From a Mean Boss?

Constantly reminding yourself of your value and working on improving your skills are the best approaches to getting over a mean boss.

Wrapping Up

In the business world, they say a bad boss is inevitable in an employee’s career.

But if you’re working with a mean boss, there are ways to pinpoint them and deal with the situation to come out with as little damage as possible.

As always, feel free to leave a comment if you have any questions.

A mean boss bullies their employees, belittles them, and doesn’t support them.

The best way to handle them is to speak up, talk to HR, and focus on doing a good job.

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