What to Do When the Boss Is a Tyrant

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Does your boss roll her eyes when you speak? If you're regularly subjected to that or other hostile signals or remarks, searching for a new job is one option. But it isn't your only option.

The financial crisis and its aftermath are partly to blame for an uptick in bullying by bosses, AMNewYork reports: "These days, it seems office tyrants are having a free-for-all, and it's harder than ever to do something about it." Stress makes bosses crankier, while downsized teams have placed more authority in the hands of people who can't manage well, the paper says. Meanwhile, the usual escape route - finding another job - is both less promising and riskier.

The story cites the case of a 31-year old woman who left AIG after receiving the eye-roll treatment so often it looked like her boss was having a seizure. She attributed the hostility to the boss' stress sparked by the firm's bailout and a heightened need to "appease clients."

Last September, the University of Phoenix published a study by two faculty members at its School of Advanced Studies that concluded bosses used threats and intimidation during the financial crisis that bred a "culture of fear" associated with layoffs. However, financial services fared better in communication with employees than other economic sectors in the study, while non-profit and governmental leaders came off the worst.

Coping Tips

If you become a target of a boss' hostility, AMNewYork offers these tips:

- Try not to take negative feelings home with you.

- Don't buy into someone's verbal attack on you. It's the bully who has emotional problems or weak management skills, not you.

- Confide in someone who is not a co-worker, away from your workplace.

- If your boss is not "entirely irrational," consider speaking to him to air concerns.

- Consider contacting your HR department - but only if you've seen them handle issues well before.

On that last point, Lewis Maltby, author of Can They Do That? Retaking Our Fundamental Rights in the Workplace, told the newspaper:

Unfortunately, the state of HR has gotten worse in the last 20 years. HR used to be an independent department with VPs that were at the same level as the boss. Now they often work for the legal department, which is bad, or for the CFO, which is worse.

If you don't see a way to get things back on the right track, don't wait long to start your job search. Things can go downhill quickly, and you'll be much better off pursuing new leads while still employed than if you are fired.