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How to Cope with a Difficult Boss When Quitting Isn't an Option

Updated on March 8, 2013

No Bullying

All schools have no bullying polices but many work environments don't police bully bosses
All schools have no bullying polices but many work environments don't police bully bosses

What is a Toxic Boss, Why do People Stay and How Can You Cope?

If you wake up every morning dreading going to work, you might have a toxic boss. According to, toxic bosses are unpredictable, moody, aggressive and incompetent. They often blame others for anything that goes wrong and take no responsibility for the atmosphere of chaos they create. Sadly, they are often praised by their upper management for their ability to "manage people."

Some of the external signs you may recognize include high rates of unscheduled absences and staff turnover, many complaints by customers and employees, a rise in disciplinary actions and grievance procedures and low employee morale.

If this describes your work environment, the stress you may feel at work is your body's way of responding to the situation. Very rarely, you can improve the problems by going above the boss' head to either his manager or to the human resources office or by taking legal action. However, in most cases, taking these actions just puts you in the boss' bullseye for more of the same treatment or worse.

You may wonder why anyone would stay in such a deplorable work environment. The reasons for staying are as varied as the people who stay. Many workers can't afford to leave their job. Some stay because of fear of the unknown. For some, the frightful job market means that no other job offers are likely. Some lack the skill set to find a better job. Some can't match the pay level at another job. Many older workers in their 50s or 60s have worked too many years at the same company to quit and lose retirement benefits.

If you're among those who have to stay on a job with a boss who is toxic, you may need new tools in your arsenal to keep from losing your mind. Here are some ways to cope. Maybe they will help and maybe they won't but it can't hurt to try.

  • Act as if the boss isn't toxic and maybe you'll see change
  • Just do as you are told, even when it makes no sense
  • Pray for acceptance of the situation
  • Smile and be pleasant when in the boss' presence
  • Look for the positive instead of dwelling on the negative
  • Think before you react in a negative manner
  • Use "I" statements to describe how you feel
  • Walk away if you feel the situation is volatile
  • Be hopeful for change instead of hopeless
  • Look within yourself to see if your actions contribute
  • Find a confidante or a safe place to vent your feelings
  • Don't dwell on the situation but focus on other areas of your life
  • Accept that you can't change another person, only your reaction
  • Keep notes if necessary to protect yourself

There will always be negative people in the world. If you work for a boss who is unreasonably demanding, overly arrogant, very demeaning and totally incompetent, you are not alone. Take charge of your own life by controlling your own thoughts and actions. Maybe the boss will eventually show his true colors to those in charge. Whether or not that happens, you will at least feel a sense of inner peace if you can step away from the anger you undoubtedly feel.


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      Sandy Wallace 4 years ago

      Thanks, Elizabeth Mara! I agree that focusing on the negative just makes the situation more difficult. In today's economy, a good job is worth keeping, even if you have a boss who is difficult.

    • Elizabeth Mara profile image

      Elizabeth Mara 4 years ago from New Hampshire

      Hello, Sandy Wallace,

      Thank you for a well organized, clearly presented hub. I have used a number of these coping skills myself from time to time. I had my own reasons to stay ina toxic work environment, once, and was nearly as tired of defending and explaining my choice to well intentioned others as I was gearing up for each Monday morning. Luckily, that situation resolved. I find most helpful are the ones that bring my attention either back to myself and what I can control, like my responce or attitude, or that bring me a moment's distraction thinking of another issue entirely, like a self promise to soak in a tub when I get home! I think anything that focuses on a negative, or on something I can't control, just makes the weight of what's wrong feel heavier. Thanks for a great hub and some encouraging ideas!