Why Your Bad Boss Could Literally Be Killing You

We’ve all experienced it—the bad boss. Perhaps you’ve had a manager who publicly belittles subordinates, has explosive outbursts or even accepts credit for others’ successes. Despite the billions of dollars spent on leadership development, bad bosses are common in the American workforce. One study found that 56% of American workers report having toxic managers. Another survey by the American Psychological Association found that 75% of Americans say their boss is the most stressful part of their workday. Also, a recent study by Gallup found that one in two employees have left a job at some point to get away from their manager. As Lynn Taylor, a national workplace expert and author, says, “a bad boss won’t just jeopardize your career growth—they’ll also negatively impact your personal life.” While research suggests that a toxic boss could be bad for your health, there are coping strategies that can help.

Health risks

While staying in a stressful work situation may seem more secure than quitting, there are health risks associated with working for a bad boss. A survey of 3,122 employees in Sweden found that those who work for toxic bosses were 60% more likely to suffer a stroke, heart attack or other life-threatening cardiac condition. Other studies show that people with bad bosses are more susceptible to chronic depression, stress and anxiety, all of which increase the risk of a lowered immune system. Some research even indicates that it takes people 22 months to restore their stress levels to a healthy range after working for a bad manager. A recent study published in the International Journal of Environmental Research and Public Health also revealed that detrimental work environments might contribute to greater odds of having cardiovascular disease risk factors including high blood pressure, high cholesterol and diabetes. Although the idea of quitting may seem scary, the reality of staying in a job with a bad boss can be even worse.

Coping strategies

While you assess your situation and evaluate other career options, there are healthy ways to cope with a bad boss.

Have empathy

While your manager might seem like a nightmare to work with, there may be a reasonable explanation behind it. Learn to empathize with your boss and consider your part in the situation. One reason they may seem aloof or rigid is that they have low emotional intelligence. Don’t fault them for a skill they don’t have. Instead, try to adapt by communicating differently so that they understand your perspective. You can’t necessarily change their behavior, but you can change how you react to it.

Practice self-care

Taking care of your mental and physical well-being during this stressful time is essential. Remind yourself that this is a temporary situation. Find activities outside of work that bring you joy and fulfillment. Consider mindfulness and relaxation practices like yoga and meditation. Get plenty of sleep and exercise. Surround yourself with a strong support network—especially people that understand your situation. This may also be an excellent time to seek out a coach, mentor or other trained professional that can help guide you towards a more rewarding career opportunity.

Set boundaries

If you have a manager who is calling you at all hours and expects you to cancel your vacation plans to attend that all-important meeting, it’s time to reset expectations. One way to establish healthy boundaries is to master the art of gracefully saying no. Bestselling management author Suzy Welch offers these four tips:

1. Have a list of responses ready. For example, if you’re too busy, you could say, “Thanks for thinking of me, but I’m overscheduled to a fault right now.” Alternatively, if you’re not the right person, you could say, “Thanks for thinking of me, but I can assure you there is someone who is a better fit for that job.”

2. Prepare a simple explanation if it’s needed, like, “No, I’m afraid I have a family obligation that I just can’t get out of.”

3. If you can’t say “no” flat out, negotiate and offer an alternative.

4. End the conversation on a confident note.

Speak up

Don’t wait until your last day at the office to explain to your boss and HR how you feel overworked and undervalued. Set up some time with your manager to outline your concerns, provide feedback and offer some potential solutions. Tell them what you need in terms of direction and support. Even if they don’t respond favorably, you’ll know that you attempted to improve the situation.

When all is said and done, if you can’t find a way to cope with your current manager, it’s time to find another opportunity. Alternative options could include another position inside or outside the company, freelancing or starting your own business. Don’t sacrifice your health to stay in a toxic work environment. Ultimately, we don’t quit jobs; we quit bosses. Find a boss that leads, motivates and most importantly inspires.

If you’ve been thinking about being your own boss for a while but aren’t sure if it’s the right time, download my free guide: 5 Signs It’s Time to Leave Your Soul-Sucking Job!


  • Caroline Castrillon

    Founder/Career and Life Coach

    Corporate Escape Artist

    Caroline Castrillon is the founder of Corporate Escape Artist and a career and life coach whose mission is to help people go from soul-sucking job to career fulfillment. Caroline made the leap to entrepreneurship after a successful 25-year corporate career and has never looked back. Prior to Corporate Escape Artist, she worked in leadership positions for small tech firms and for large Fortune 500 companies including Dell and Sony. She has an MBA from the Thunderbird School of Global Management and is a Certified Professional Coach (CPC) and Energy Leadership Index Master Practitioner (ELI-MP). In addition to Thrive Global, she also contributes to Forbes and has been featured in publications including the New York Times, Entrepreneur, Inc. and Success Magazine.