How to Deal

Knowing When It's Time to Leave an Abusive Boss

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By Lily Garcia
Special to washingtonpost.com
Thursday, December 6, 2007; 12:00 AM

I have a boss who is increasingly irrational and hostile, did I mention mean? I have tried to talk in "I feel ... when you ..." statements with no luck. It's not just me. I need a new job -- problem is, I'm 57 and finding that very difficult. Also, my employer pays very well so leaving would cost me bundles. I am close to the edge with this boss who seems to be provoking me sometimes -- doing exactly what she knows I would hate. Several people have quit, so it would not be rational for her to invite me to leave also -- she won't have anybody to work.

A close friend of mine once worked for such a boss. This manager's behavior was erratic and irrational and ranged from dismissive to openly abusive. My friend tortured himself for quite some time with the thought that, if only he could find the right approach, the right formulation for the expression of his concerns, then he might be able to get through to this person. No such luck. He finally came to the conclusion, as should you, that an irrational person is not susceptible to rational arguments.

Much has been written on the concept of corporate sociopathy. Try a quick search online and you will find an overabundance of blog sites, Web sites, and books, mostly written by frustrated workers, exploring the pathology of their abusive supervisor's behavior. As he embarked on the long search for another job, my friend took comfort in such resources, ultimately "diagnosing" his boss as having narcissistic personality disorder and becoming a dedicated pupil of the coping techniques for those coexisting with narcissists. It may help you, as well, to tap into the vast community of employees toiling under mentally unwell supervisors. Finding common ground with others may help to ease your sense of frustration, validate your feelings and fortify you for the transition you need to make.

You do need to leave. Your boss may or may not fire you, but the important question is what you want. And it sounds like your modest desire is to be treated respectfully and rationally. So start looking.

As I have discussed in the past, being an older worker is not necessarily a job search liability (Finding Work for Older Workers, Oct. 6). The right employer will recognize the inestimable value of the experience and wisdom you have cultivated over the years.

Join Lily Garcia on Tuesday, Dec. 18 at 11 a.m. ET for How to Deal Live.

Lily Garcia has offered employment law and human resources advice to companies of all sizes for 10 years. To submit a question, e-mail hradvice@washingtonpost.com. We reserve the right to edit submitted questions for length and clarity and cannot guarantee that all questions will be answered. The information contained in this column is not intended to be legal advice.


© 2007 The Washington Post Company

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