More than 1,000 Americans share their worst experiences with their bosses

If you contemplate waltzing into the office and planting a resignation cake on your boss’s desk ­– while your portable speaker is blasting out, Take this job and shove it by Johnny Paycheck –you’ve probably got a bad boss on your hands. And you’re not alone, according to Max Woolf

Based on a recent poll from Monster, a full 76% of employees say they currently have or recently had a ‘toxic’ boss.

That’s why ResumeLab, decided to deep dive into the matter. We polled more than 1,000 US professionals who had the misfortune of having to work under a terrible manager to learn what makes someone a hellish manager and how their behaviour affects various aspects of workers’ lives.

Below is a rapid-fire rundown of the study’s key findings:

  • A full 85% admit they would put up with a bad boss for at least a year, and a stunning 38% are willing to stick around for more than three years.
  • Performance ≠ good leadership. While productivity is often used as the most significant factor in promotion, only 15% of over-achievers go on to become good managers.
  • Money (75%) is the primary reason why people stay, followed by the belief that things will improve (72%), and likability of colleagues (62%).
  • Disrespectful treatment (72%), the boss is always right (69%), and getting reprimanded in front of peers (68%) is by far the most hurtful behaviours employees hate.
  • Quitting takes courage, but 83% of those that took a leap of faith report being thrilled with their decision. Curiously, the least chosen strategy (35%) was to ask HR for help.

How long Americans are willing to put up with a toxic boss

Short answer: a long time.

Based on our findings, a vast majority of employees are willing to work under a manager they regard as a bad one for an extended period of time:

  • Less than one year (15%)
  • 1–2 years (48%)
  • 3–5 years (27%)
  • 5+ years (10%)

The reason?

Most of the time, it’s all about money (75%). Other reasons include hope for a better future (73%), and the job itself (62%).

It’s worth noting that for 35% of Millennials, not having the skills to transition out of a job is one of the core motivations to stay, which is almost 10% above the average compared to other generations.

Where bad bosses come from

You might think that most bad bosses are ‘A’ players that were eventually promoted into leadership positions.

That’s not the case.

In fact, based on the findings of the 2014 CEB study, only ~15% of employees identified as stellar performers will go on to become managers.

So—where do toxic bosses come from?

According to our respondents, an eye-popping 40% of bad bosses are external hires. That could be a robust signal to HR pros to shift their focus and spend every ounce of their energy to evaluate candidates’ leadership skills.

The effects of a prolonged toxic relationship with a superior

If you’ve ever worked under the ‘leadership’ of a horrible boss, you know first-hand it can be a soul-crushing experience straight from Stephen King’s The Shining.

That’s why we wanted to examine the symptoms employees experience from a prolonged toxic relationship with their superiors.

Unsurprisingly, 80% of respondents grow frustrated. Another 70% of respondents feel apathetic as displayed by the lack of interest, enthusiasm, or concern for their work.

Other symptoms include difficulties with sleeping and concentrating (51%), and over a quarter will suffer from decreased sex drive.

But what makes a boss… bad

So – what are the deadly sins that make bosses bad?

  • Criticizing employees in front of other people. A staggering 70% of respondents were criticized in front of their peers, and 83% of them felt bad about it.
  • Systematically killing initiatives and ideas. More than half of the respondents had their ideas and initiatives systematically killed, and a whopping 83% of them felt it was very wrong.
  • Denying a raise or promotion without a valid reason. As many as 42% of respondents had bosses that wouldn’t let them climb up the ladder and/or refuse to give a raise without reason.
  • Lying to people at work. A full 42% of bad bosses will be blaming others for their failures. And out of those respondents who experienced this, as many as 84% feel it’s very unfair.

How to handle a hellish boss if you can’t leave (yet)

As you know from our study, leaving a toxic superior isn’t always an option. That’s why it’s good to know some robust ways to deal with insufferable bosses, even if you can’t stand them.


Start by asking yourself: is there an option to approach the person about their workplace behaviour? Is it safe to give them the much-needed nudge and hope it won’t have the same impact as a fly on the windshield?

If you don’t think the confrontation will yield any fruit, leverage behavioural therapy tactics that will help you slash the impact of the bully.

Namely, start to look at the situation through the lens of the fleeting nature of time. Remind yourself that whatever unpleasant they do, it’s temporary, like a medical injection, which will be just nothing in a few years.

If you don’t think you can dissociate yourself from the soul-crushing behaviour of your boss, consider fighting fire with fire. Dealing with an abusive person is very much like handling a schoolyard bully: if you can’t walk away, the best option is to retaliate and fight back.

Max Woolf is a career expert at ResumeLab. He’s passionate about helping people land their dream jobs through the expert career industry coverage.

In his spare time, Max enjoys biking and traveling to European countries. You can contact him via LinkedIn.

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