How to Handle Mean Bosses

How to Manage Mean Bosses - People Development Network
How to Manage Mean Bosses - People Development Network

How we handle mean bosses

Mean people suck. However, in most cases, you can face them either by tolerating them, limiting your time with them, or eliminating your exposure to them.

It’s not as easy if that mean person happens to be your boss (or one of your direct reports).

If you are a leader, and you have a mean boss (or two), or mean direct reports, your responsibility to address their behavior goes beyond your personal sanity–it’s also about the negative impact on the team and culture (and perhaps even your customers or clients!)

A New York Times article, No Time To Be Nice At Work, highlighted the negative impact that mean bosses have on engagement, service, and results.

Officevibe’s research found that employers spend USD$360 billion each year in healthcare costs as a result of bad bosses.

There’s definitely a cost to mean bosses in the workplace.

Mean bosses are bullies – and they bully others with remarkable frequency and intensity. Research found that 72 percent of US workers – 65 million of them – have been bullied, are currently being bullied, have witnessed bullying, or are aware of bullying in their organizations. 56 percent of all bullying in US workplaces is by bosses.  Even worse? 72 percent of employers do nothing about it.

When it comes to mean bosses, what choices do you have? The same three options you have with mean people in your personal life.

Tolerate: you can choose to ignore or dismiss their behavior, but understand that your team’s service, engagement, and results will suffer if you do.

Insulate: you do what you can to interact with the person as little as possible. You may even take the long way around the parking lot or building to avoid crossing paths. However, your culture and perhaps your customers will experience negativity.

Eliminate: This choice is the only appropriate one. It means taking a stand with statements like: “Here is the behavior I have observed. It is inappropriate and must stop.”  It may mean providing coaching, giving time for them to adapt, and could ultimately mean “setting them free” (helping them find employment elsewhere). If you do not feel you can tell your boss this, you may have to take the issue to his or her boss.

Doing nothing only makes it worse. Doing nothing gives mean bosses tacit approval to continue behaving badly.

A safe, inspiring, productive workplace does not happen by default – it happens only by design. Leaders, be intentional about workplace inspiration by crafting an organizational constitution that outlines performance standards and values expectations. Then, hold everyone accountable for results AND respectful behavior in every interaction.


S Chris Edmonds

S Chris Edmonds

S. Chris Edmonds is a speaker, author, and executive consultant. He shares insights on organizational culture, servant leadership, employee engagement, and workplace inspiration. He writes books and articles and records podcasts. In his free time, he's a working musician with the Brian Raine band in Denver, CO.
S Chris Edmonds

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