Have a Toxic Boss? Get Out!

by Marcelo Rodríguez

We get used to everything and anything: from the inept and the incompetent to the toxic and the abusive. My thesis gets confirmed every time I get emails commenting on my previous posts: Let’s Play a Game: Who is Missing at the Law Library Table? and Top 5 Things to Do in a Toxic Workplace. It amazes me that after so many months, I still get so many emails regularly from people realizing how bad they have it at work and thinking they don’t have a way out in their current jobs.

Exit sign
Photo by Isravel Raj on Unsplash

I want to recognize that as bad as it might be to have a toxic boss, it could be even more difficult for people to leave that exact same situation. People get used to these abusive and traumatizing circumstances because they are patterns that seem familiar, and perhaps they have occurred to them previously in childhood or other relationships. If that is your case and you feel trapped and overwhelmed, I highly recommend you to seek professional help and therapy. You deserve better and you should get out of such a demoralizing situation before it turns you into a “zombie” at work: just going through the motions and not being your full authentic self.

For the purpose of this post, I’m going to mention a few characteristics that I’ve noticed in and read about toxic supervisors or bosses. This list is by no means exhaustive and I invite others to add more in the comments section below.

A toxic boss or supervisor:

  • minimizes your emotions and gaslights your reality;
  • is not interested in your feedback, ideas or contributions to the job;
  • does not respect your personal space or time;
  • tells you one thing in person or in front of others and does the complete opposite;
  • puts people down in front of other people;
  • micromanages;
  • gives you no concrete instructions and then expects everything to magically fall into place;
  • does not give you all the information or tools you need to do your job;
  • gives you no credit or takes credit for your work;
  • wants to or controls the flows of information internally and externally;
  • lacks self-reflection or self-awareness;
  • takes you away from or adds you to projects without you even knowing;
  • does not recognize her mistakes, nor takes responsibility as the leader of the team;
  • does not let his team talk or contribute in any way;
  • does not celebrate or acknowledge your accomplishments;
  • thrives in the chaos they create themselves.

This is not a checklist. More than focusing on how many of these characteristics and others you see in your supervisor or boss, you should observe how many times they actually happen. Even if your boss or supervisor has done only one of these things, the main question is whether or not it’s a pattern. There is a major difference between your boss snapped and apologized versus your boss behaves in this way on a regular basis. Think about how many times these toxic and abusive behaviors happen, how many in the office are experiencing them or the people that used to work there before. Let me be clear. No one deserves to have any of these toxic characteristics happen to them at work, not even once. However, once they do happen, they can be quite insightful and revelatory. Say something and wait for the aftermath. Did they apologize and did it again anyway? Did they apologize and retaliate against you directly or indirectly? Is this happening to other people currently or in the past?

Photo by Austin Chan on Unsplash

Hopefully now that you have an idea what a toxic boss looks like, you might be ready to explore a way out. I want to give you the three best reasons why you should get out that I often tell other people.

You should get out because it’s not your responsibility to deal with your toxic boss’ roller coaster of insecurities. The reality is that we don’t know what motivates this person to be toxic and constantly create an abusive working environment. However, your job is not to figure them out, understand their reasons or find alternative ways to work together. Your job is to do your job. This person’s inability to be self-aware of the tremendous impact that her actions have on the team and the ultimate work product rests solely on the toxic boss. Perhaps the people supervising them also bear some of the responsibility. However, if your toxic boss controls the flows of information, do not expect anything from the institution itself.

You should get out because they’re never going to change. For reasons beyond the scope of this post, most of the time people on the receiving end of this toxic behavior think that if only they do something differently or change something themselves, the boss will treat or see them in a more positive and kind way. This is probably what I read the most in the emails I get from people going through these situations. The reality is that toxic supervisors or bosses never change. They lack the self-awareness and incredible amount of constructive feedback required for any change to truly happen. From their perspective, everything is working great and you are the one with the problem. They won’t change just for you or for anyone they hire afterwards to replace you.

You should get out because you deserve better. We spend a considerable amount of time at work, thinking about work, worrying about work. Therefore, we all deserve a working environment that appreciates our contributions, gives us feedback on how to improve and the tools to do so, celebrates our accomplishments and allows us to be our full selves. If that is not the case where you currently are, please assess your situation and get out.

Thanks to the Great Resignation Liberation and a deluge of retirements, jobs abound in law librarianship. Take the first steps you deserve!


Notes Between Us (NBU) is a blog about conversations and topics of interest to the writers. The writers are expressing their personal opinions solely. The essays represent their personal beliefs and not that of their workplaces or any organization they are associated with.