Those of us who have had to deal with annoying or aggravating bosses know how it’s tough to shake it off at the end of the day, but a new study explains why it’s so hard, and why so many of us suck at it and wind up bringing our stress home—where it doesn’t just hurt you: It hurts your family, your friends, and your other relationships. Let’s look at the study and talk about some ways you can learn to check your bad boss at the office door when you leave work.
Science Explains How Your Bad Boss Follows You Home
Most of us have a hard time dealing with stress. We’ve discussed ways to fight it, but it’s still everywhere in our lives, especially at work. Sadly, few of us are able to leave it behind at the end of the day. If you have a boss who micromanages you or makes you feel bad just for showing up in the morning, a new study, conducted by the Université Francois Rabelais and published in theJournal of Business and Psychologyexplains why it might be time to take action. Researchers questioned 1,100 employees at different companies to find out how closely a boss’s management style and employee morale correlated. The results weren’t surprising. Title image remixed from Jhayne.
According to a story at The Atlantic, employees who felt their autonomy and their contributions were respected reported higher morale and better on-the-job performance. Employees who felt like their boss didn’t trust them to do the work they were assigned, or who “motivated” them by making them feel bad for not being more productive were the most stressed out, and subsequently took that stress home with them, where it overflowed into their personal lives and relationships.
A separate study by Baylor University, published in the journal Personnel Psychology drew the line between stressed out employees who felt abused by their supervisors and higher instances of familial tension and difficulty at home. None of this may seem surprising to most people—if you had a hard day at work, it’s likely you’ll have little patience for issues that you’d normally be able to deal with at home. Even so, these are the first few studies to put a fine point on the fact.
What You Can Do About Your Stress, and Your Bad Boss
Dealing with a bad boss is a tricky proposition. I know a number of people who love their jobs but hate their managers, and when someone tells them to just quit and find a different job, they resist—mostly because they feel like everything else about their job is so perfect, they just need to get over this one thing to make it worthwhile. Quitting is an option, but it’s not the only one. Let’s look at some others.
- Get a hobby, or another activity to de-stress right after work. One of the best things you can do to leave your stress at the office is to treat yourself to something rewarding and relaxing immediately at the end of your workday. Hit the gym every day after work, for example—you’ll do your body and mind a world of good, and it’ll help you work off the stress of the day so you’ll get home and open the door without that extra baggage. Photo by ck. (Shutterstock).
- Visualize, meditate, or take time alone to power through it. One of the tips we mentioned when discussing chronic stress and what you can do about it is to take some time alone and practice muscle relaxation techniques or visualization techniques that remove you from the things that stress you out. Whether you do it in the car before you head into the house every day, or before you begin the commute home from work, take some time to let your conscious mind take over, identify that you’re stressed, and break it down so you’re more aware of your actions and your responses to your family and friends.
- Transfer to a different team or role in your company. Some companies encourage this and others don’t, but if yours does, it might be time to find another department to transfer to. Talk to your HR rep or, if you know they’re looking for talent, a person in that team and ask if you can apply for the position. You’ll have to handle this delicately: You don’t want your current boss to sabotage your efforts, but you do want to be up-front about your desire for a change of scenery. If you can swing it diplomatically, you may be able to stay with your company, continue to do what you love (or even try something new) and leave your bad boss behind.
- Build your case. You don’t want to start treating your boss with the same unprofessional demeanor that they treat you with, but you will need to start thinking on your feet and coming up with ways to parry their attacks and barbs. Whether it means you have to document your work so you can prove how busy you are (great for when they make you feel bad for not being productive enough,) or start keeping a work diary or an awesomeness journal to document your successes and prove your value, it’s time to start a paper trail in your favor to use when your boss complains. Worst case, it’s a paper trail you can use when applying to new jobs.
- Let your boss know. This one’s really tricky, but if your boss is a bad boss not out of malice but out of ignorance or ineptitude, a tactful and professional approach may work wonders. Of course, this won’t work on a boss that’s a jerk or just doesn’t care, but if the problem is that they’re busy themselves or suffering under the weight of their own boss and letting it bleed through to you, they may be receptive to change—and once you talk through it, they may be on your side. I can vouch for this from experience. No one wants to be stressed out, and if you can appeal to your boss’s better nature, they may understand and be willing to compromise and work with you instead of against you. Photo byMatthew W. Jackson.
- Talk to HR or your boss’s boss. Again, you have to really have faith that this may actually work and you won’t be retaliated against. In many cases, a bad boss is just the person standing in front of a worse boss, or the bad boss and their boss have a closer relationship than you think. HR may also be a trap—not every company takes complaints by employees seriously, and as soon as it gets back to your boss, you could be in for it. However, if you do trust your company’s HR rep or your boss’s boss to mediate, or know they value you more than your boss might, talk to them. Focus on the issue or behavior and not the person, and let them know you want to help your boss, and you’re otherwise happy and engaged in your role, but these very specific things have you stressed out. Ask how they can help, how they’ll follow up, whether your conversations are confidential, and when you can expect to hear from them. Some of what they do is confidential as well, but make sure you get some confirmation you’ve been heard.
- Just quit. There is a tipping point where nothing you can do will make a bad boss any better, and no amount of exercise after work or therapy is going to change the fact that your boss makes you miserable every day, and in turn you inadvertently make your family and friends miserable when you’re around them. Even if the job is great, it might be time to look for better opportunities where your work will be appreciated. It can be difficult, but your health and your relationships are worth it.
Whatever you do, if your boss is stressing you out and you can see the signs of it seeping into your personal life, you need to do something. What you do is really a matter of the degree of stress you’re feeling. If you think it’s manageable with exercise or meditation, then don’t wait—start now. If you know you’ll never really be able to deal with it, and your boss will never change, more drastic action may be warranted. In the end though, stress impacts your productivity, your health, and now, studies show, the health and well being of the people closest to you. You—and they—deserve better. Photo bymarekuliasz (Shutterstock).
How do you deal with an aggravating boss every day, and how do you leave them behind when you leave the office? When do you make the call that it’s time to go? Share your coping mechanisms and stress-relief techniques in the comments below.