Please ensure Javascript is enabled for purposes of website accessibility

Have a Toxic Boss? Keep These 3 Things in Mind

By Daniel B. Kline - Jan 9, 2019 at 7:03AM

You’re reading a free article with opinions that may differ from The Motley Fool’s Premium Investing Services. Become a Motley Fool member today to get instant access to our top analyst recommendations, in-depth research, investing resources, and more. Learn More

Be careful, and put your well being -- and not your career -- first.

It's funny when a villainous cartoon boss torments his employees. When Mr. Burns ends a company party by releasing the hounds -- or Mr. Spacely bellows "Jetson, you're fired!" -- it's amusing. That's at least partly because so many of us have worked for irrational tyrants.

Not everyone encounters a truly awful boss. You're more likely to get a jerk, or someone well-intentioned but incompetent. But if you find yourself working for someone that's deplorable, and not in an endearing cartoon way, there are things you need to keep in mind in order to avoid becoming another victim.

An angry man points.

A toxic boss can make your life miserable. Image source: Getty Images.

1. You're more than your job

For people dedicated to their work, their job becomes their identity. They think of themselves as the vice president of human resources or the assistant controller first, and it seems impossible to separate from that identity. That makes it harder to see a way out when you're in a situation with a toxic boss.

The reality is that there are other jobs that actually deserve your level of dedication. Leaving may be hard, but if you can't rectify the situation (or your terrible boss is the owner or CEO) then leaving with your head held high may be your best choice.

2. Integrity over everything

Waylon Smithers seems like a nice guy when he's not working for Mr. Burns. In his capacity as Burns' right hand, however, he's often forced to do things like position employees over the trap door that shoots them out of the boss' office.

Sometimes you're part of the problem, or at least complicit by proximity. You don't have to make a pointless stand, but if you're put in a position that feels wrong protect your integrity over protecting your job.

3. The best can be yet to come

Quitting your job to flee a toxic boss comes with short-term pain, especially if your former boss decides to badmouth you on the way out. But that's not a good reason to stay.

You deserve to be in a positive work situation, one where you're happy to come to work and free of needless tyranny. But that doesn't make the short-term uncertainty of leaving any less scary. Embrace the pain -- know that while it's going to hurt, and it may hurt for a while, ultimately you can't stay. Working for a toxic boss will slowly kill you, and if the situation can't be fixed then you have to leave.

Of course, the best thing about coming from something terrible is that nearly anything else should be better. Even an incompetent or mediocre boss will be a breath of fresh air, and if you find a great boss -- well, you'll appreciate it more given where you came from.


Homer Simpson has, of course, been a victim of Mr. Burns' vindictiveness (and, for many years, his inability to remember Homer's name). Unlike many real toxic bosses, Mr. Burns actually shows kindness quite often. He has given Homer his job back countless times, and has largely overlooked that he's a terrible, perhaps criminally incompetent safety inspector.

You, however, are probably not a borderline alcoholic who sleeps at his or her desk. That means you don't deserve a toxic boss -- even one that sometimes shows a kinder side. You deserve better, and should take the steps needed to eventually get the work situation you deserve.

The Motley Fool has a disclosure policy.

Invest Smarter with The Motley Fool

Join Over 1 Million Premium Members Receiving…

  • New Stock Picks Each Month
  • Detailed Analysis of Companies
  • Model Portfolios
  • Live Streaming During Market Hours
  • And Much More
Get Started Now

Related Articles

Motley Fool Returns

Motley Fool Stock Advisor

Market-beating stocks from our award-winning analyst team.

Stock Advisor Returns
S&P 500 Returns

Calculated by average return of all stock recommendations since inception of the Stock Advisor service in February of 2002. Returns as of 08/12/2022.

Discounted offers are only available to new members. Stock Advisor list price is $199 per year.

Premium Investing Services

Invest better with The Motley Fool. Get stock recommendations, portfolio guidance, and more from The Motley Fool's premium services.