There's an old adage that says people don't quit their jobs, they quit their boss (i.e. a bad boss drives them out, not the work itself). So how do you know when to actually take that step? Science helps, as does my experience (I've had more than my share of quit-worthy bosses).
If any of these five signal lights are flashing, it's time to exit bad boss boulevard.
1. Your boss makes you feel like you're shrinking.
Your boss is supposed to lift you up, fuel your personal growth, challenge you, teach you, guide you. The best bosses help you improve on weaknesses and encourage you to leverage your strengths. 2018 research from Maryanne van Woerkom of Tilburg University found that when bosses help employees leverage individual strengths it leads directly to the employees' enhanced personal growth and sense of self-efficacy.
The opposite of this means you're not growing, you're shrinking. You're being wasted, or even diminished as your talents go undeveloped and underutilized.
Even worse is a boss who is demeaning, fails to listen to you, or doesn't value your input, causing you to withdraw. The "Exit" sign should be beckoning to you in this scenario.
2. Your boss makes you feel as if your values are being compromised.
I'm not talking about the boss who has you bending the rules once in a while in reasonable ways to achieve an important and meaningful outcome. I'm talking about the perpetually oily, tone deaf, morally corrupt, do whatever it takes no matter the cost types that leave you repeatedly feeling like your value system is being compromised.
Your values are the little things you do each and every day that exemplify who you are, the daily little impressions that leave a huge permanent impression. When your most closely held, non-negotiable values are being tested, it wears on the heart, mind, and soul. Prolonged happiness is impossible, a gnawing sense of incongruence inevitable.
2015 research from Anglia Ruskin Univeristy (in the UK) identified the irrefutable strength of the link between our values and how we think, feel, and act at work. Thus, having your values in question puts into question the very essence of your time spent at work.
3. Your boss gives oversight, not oxygen.
In doesn't get much worse than a micromanaging boss who doesn't give you room to breathe.
On the other hand, University of Michigan's Gretchen Spreitzer conducted a study of twenty years of research on empowerment at work and found empowered employees report stronger performance, higher job satisfaction and company loyalty, lower turnover, and increased motivation.
Back to the opposite now. You know that's exactly how being micromanaged makes you feel. Utterly soul-crushing. Time to exit stage right.
4. Your boss causes you to question yourself more than your situation.
This is different than shrinking, more specific. This is a boss who continually erodes your self-confidence because nothing is ever good enough, he/she never gives you a compliment and is in fact overly critical (or even worse takes credit for your accomplishments), or who blatantly appoints favorites (and you're not one of them).
The constant beat downs distract you from the real issue--your boss and the situation you're in, causing you to doubt yourself at an increasingly alarming rate. This is a crime.
A 2013 study from the University of Texas at Austin's David Yeager showed that students who had professors express confidence in their abilities did better on tests than those who didn't. I've seen this exact dynamic play out in the workplace repeatedly. Enhancing others confidence breeds success which breeds more self-induced confidence. Without the front end, a boss instilling positive feedback and belief, you're doomed to an acidic cycle.
The net here is you should be questioning the "way things are always done around here", the status quo, convention, competition--not yourself. If you are, question why you're still there working for this person.
5. Your boss's own career isn't exactly going well.
I know people whose entire career was aided by one superstar leader who pulled them upward as she/he ascended.
And, unfortunately, vice versa.
I've personally experienced this, working for a boss who was known to be on the ropes, a poor performer who wasn't respected up the food chain. It had an impact on how I was perceived, that maybe I was a part of the problem.
Not a good scene--and time to paint a portrait of a better one elsewhere.
Like any sign that indicates you have a health problem, there are signs you have a boss problem. And they're just as dangerous if ignored.