Don't Let a Toxic Boss Ruin Your Career

Do you work for a toxic boss? Do you dread coming to work every day? The Public Speaker explains how to have a successful long-term career despite a difficult boss.

Lisa B. Marshall
4-minute read
Episode #293

I received an email from a listener who wanted to know how to be have a successful long-term career, despite having a toxic boss

There is plenty of evidence that shows toxic bosses can destroy morale, block teamwork, and ruin an individual’s career. Is it possible to survive working for a boss like this?;


First, what do I mean by a “toxic” boss? I’m talking about the manager who:

  • is quick to criticize and slow to praise.

  • calls out individuals with the intent to humiliate instead of coach.

  • takes credit for the team’s good work, but blames them when there’s a failure.

  • has high employee turnover.

  • fosters hostility within the team.

See also: How to Deal With a Toxic Boss (Part 2)


If this quote from a recent article about toxic bosses in the Huffington Post sounds familiar, then you might be working in a toxic situation:

"This particular client . . . has been existing in a toxic work environment for so long, as to internalize the demeaning, hateful messages she receives on a daily basis. The hate has had its (intended) effect and she believes the boss' hype that she's marginal at best."

Don’t let a toxic boss ruin your career! Let’s talk about your options:

Option #1: Do Excellent Work

Although you will certaintly be distracted by a toxic boss, it is criticially important that you continue to focus on doing your job to the best of your abilities. Don't let a bad boss bring down your standards.  Continue to meet deadlines, document ideas, and maintain good relationships with coworkers and clients.

If someone thanks you for your work, ask if they’d be willing to document their satisfaction. Look for other ways to get positive feedback since you won’t be getting it from your manager. The idea is to let everyone in and out of the company see what excellent work you do so the negativity of your boss will have little effect when stacked up against the positive experience of everyone else.

In essence, the advice is to ignore the boss and march on with integrity and competence.  If you wait long enough, you might get lucky and your toxic boss gets the boot!  

Option #2: Find Another Job

However, if you have waited as long as you can and you are not able to manage the stress of your hostile work environment, it may be time to move on. If you dread going into work each day, it may be time to try something new.

Studies have shown that working for a bad boss can double your risk of having a heart attack. I know it takes quite a bit of effort to mount an effective job search - especially if you are working for a toxic boss - but keep in mind how much better you will be once you are settled into a new position.

If you're at the end of your tether, recommend you activate your network right away. At a mimimum, make it known that you are open to new opportunities both internally and externally. Just be careful not to mention that the reason you want to leave is your toxic boss. You should be diplomatic and not burn any bridges. Simply say that you are ready for new challenges.    

Option #3: Talk to Your Boss

What if you can't tolerate your toxic boss, but moving to a new job isn't an option?  Say you have a job you really love except for the issues with your boss, for example.

If you want to save your current job, then you may want to take a risk and talk to your manager. Let him or her know that their behavior is hurtful and demeaning and cite specific examples. Try to be as neutral as possible when describing the situation. The idea is not to accuse your boss, but simply to bring the behaviors and their possible unintened consequences to his or her attention.  You never know, they may simply be unaware of the behavior and the effect it is having on you.   

If your manager reacts badly to the confrontation, or if the behavior continues or gets worse, schedule a meeting with the manager above them or with human resources. But keep in mind you may not get the support you need and you should be ready to leave if necessary.  It is unfortunate, but it may be the only option left. 

And no matter which option you choose for your particular situation, be sure to...


About the Author

Lisa B. Marshall

Lisa B. Marshall Lisa holds masters with duel degrees in interpersonal/intercultural communication and organizational communication. She’s the author of Smart Talk: The Public Speaker's Guide to Success in Every Situation, as well as Ace Your Interview, Powerful Presenter, and Expert Presenter. Her work has been featured in CBS Money Watch, Ragan.com, Woman's Day, Glamour, Cosmopolitan, and many others. Her institutional clients include Johns Hopkins Medicine, Harvard University, NY Academy of Science, University of Pennsylvania, Genentech, and Roche.