Depression (often referred to as an adjustment disorder by the medical community), burnout and lack of motivation on the part of an employee can often be caused by the incompetence of an immediate superior, and aggravated by a management style that hurts and humiliates a competent employee.
In less than a year, as a consultant, I’ve worked with several clients who described very similar situations to me. I’ve chosen to speak about this issue because these difficult situations often have one thing in common: the incompetence and poor attitude of a lousy boss. What’s going on?
Veronica’s hardship case
Real story, fake name
Veronica is a skilled manager and director of a management team that handles customer service. When a new director was hired to be her boss, everything changed at her work.
In the days following the new director’s arrival, he got to know people and seemed to sense that Veronica is a skilled person. But instead of seeing her as an ally, a potential right-hand woman, he acted threatened and purposely isolated himself; he constantly scrutinized her work for mistakes and picked useless confrontations with junior staff who naturally did everything they could to get in the “good books” of the new director.
After several months of anguish, and suffering from various physical ailments, Veronica consults and recognizes what she is the victim of; a burn-out. She distanced herself from the director who was undermining her self-confidence, took stock of her skills and competencies, updated her CV and applied for several jobs that matched well with her experience. For Veronica, finding a new job is the only way she can escape this difficult situation without taking a medical leave of absence for depression.
Even if Veronica manages to leave her job in a positive way, she won’t be leaving with her head held high – an experience familiar to anyone who has been deemed to be a threat by a superior.
The consequences of toxic management
A toxic management style can lead to frequent employee absences, which often presage a long-term leave of absence. On top of the negative consequences this can have on a team’s performance, it can also lead to increases in team members’ workloads, business and insurance costs, and less income for the affected employee, who must also consult a doctor to receive a diagnosis of “trouble adapting” to a workplace.
Victims of malevolent bosses often end up weathering months of suffering, not only during work hours but also at night and on weekends, as their work situation consumes their thoughts and becomes the go-to subject to talk about with friends and loved ones. Insomnia is common. Finally, the employee will admit defeat, tell their employer they will be absent due to “burn out” or even quit their job entirely.
Incompetent and tricky managers
Whether male or female, some careerist managers have mastered the art of selling themselves to higher-ups at work and during hiring interviews. These people succeed in inspiring confidence and can use this skill to get promoted or transferred to a desirable new position. In addition to having a special gift that allows them to appear competent and to disguise their weaknesses, they might also know how to appropriate the hard work of underlings who – no matter how demanding or difficult a situation – still manage to deliver acceptable or above-average work.
These shifty managers have an insidious way of handling their communications with others while projecting an aura of competence and control. They know how to manipulate potential allies by acknowledging and praising them, ensuring that the skills the person possesses will be available for the manager to exploit as necessary.
That being said, these types of managers still possess valuable skills; they just lack integrity. They use a ruse to obtain a title, a salary, and the attendant responsibilities that give them an appearance of success without considering the impact that their shady behavior will have on other employees and the people whom they choose to ostracize.
The manager who in unlucky enough to possess skills that a lousy director lacks will often become an enemy to be neutralized. The director will ignore the knowledge and skills of the manager, and will go out of their way to point out the person’s weaknesses, which are often practically irrelevant in the context of work. Over time, the competent and hard-working person will be transformed into a weak scapegoat for the director’s problems. This approach works all too often.
Under the management of these types of people, employees at all levels who want to retain their jobs submit themselves to this toxic management style. However, they pay the price with personal anguish, humiliation and a lack of acknowledgement of their work, which often culminates in the total breakdown on their mental and physical health. After many missed workdays, the exhausted worker may finally see a doctor to obtain a medical leave of absence due to their “trouble adapting” to the workplace – a term that essentially says the person should adapt to a torturous situation.
Quick tricks and solutions to avoid burn-out
The ideal way to deal with such a manager is to become as shifty and cunning as they are, transforming the misery of their management style into an opportunity for you to add new skills to your toolbox and evolve professionally as a result. Deploy a win-win strategy by massaging the ego of your malicious boss while remaining friendly and non-threatening. Secure their trust discreetly in order to become indispensible to them, and hold fast to this strategy even when colleagues make fun of you. This works, and it can be pulled off, but not always.
Other possible solutions:
- Become emotionally detached from the situation by analyzing the facts and taking notes.
- Be proud of your skills and do your best at work.
- Try not to fall into the trap of judging yourself severely and losing your self-confidence.
- Take the necessary steps to be transferred to another department.
- Start a targeted job search with the goal of quitting your current job, proudly.
- Although it costs energy and time, it’s also possible to bring harassment charges against your deplorable boss if other employees are willing to team up with you.
- Prioritize your mental and physical health over vengeance and financial security.
Burn-out, a phenomenon that is unfortunately all-too-common
The technique of undermining the confidence of colleagues is often used in a sneaky way by opportunist and manipulative managers. Some such managers are young and ambitious, others are more experienced, but all are incompetent and unable to manage a team of employees. However, these types of managers also hang on to their job for as long as they can while undermining the job security of the staff members they oversee. A high rate of absenteeism and leaves of absence by employees can tip off the direction of a company that something is amiss with the manager of the team.