Ask a psychotherapist: How do I deal with a toxic boss?

Ask a psychotherapist: How do I deal with a toxic boss?
Ask a psychotherapist: How do I deal with a toxic boss?

Working with a bad boss is a nearly universal experience. By some accounts, 60% of working Americans have left or considered leaving a job because they didn't like their direct supervisor, according to a survey from human resource consulting firm Randstad US.

There are three main signs that a boss is creating a toxic environment for their workers, says therapist, author and speaker Esther Perel. Those signs include: the boss enabling behaviors where people can't collaborate, an environment where there's a lack of trust, and the tendency for people compete with each other.

The stress from a toxic work environment affects not just individuals, but the business as a whole.

"All that stuff not only creates a negative work culture," Perel tells CNBC Make It, "but it doesn't allow the company to succeed. It doesn't allow people to actually do the work that they need to do."

Perel recently launched a podcast called "How's Work," that explores office dynamics through coworker therapy sessions. She offers three steps that people can take to address a toxic manager.

1. Bring the group together to identify the main problems

First, it's crucial to determine whether a boss is making things difficult for the whole team, or for an individual.

"If you're feeling it, and it's just you, then the problem may not just be on the manager's side," Perel says. In those cases, individuals may want to discuss with their boss directly, so they can improve communication and come to an agreement on the expectations of the job.

But if a boss is creating a toxic work setting for an entire team, it's time for multiple members of the team to get involved.

"Don't go at it alone," Perel says. Instead, gather examples to identify the main underlying issues preventing the team from getting work done effectively.

Then, decide as a group how to deliver feedback to the manager. Perel suggests requesting a meeting and giving notice along the lines of: Would you be willing to listen to some feedback we have, that we believe would improve our work here?

2. Give honest feedback to your boss

The worst thing workers can do is have a venting session about a bad boss.

"Don't just come in order to vent and to complain and to say all the things that they're doing wrong," Perel says.

Instead, keep discussions to how certain behaviors impact the business's bottom line.

Perel suggests following this script: "In order for us to do things better, these are the things that we need from you. And at this moment, we are not really receiving that kind of guidance from you."

If workers have a hard time summarizing what they need but aren't getting from their manager, Perel says the main sources of conflict she sees in the workplace are related to power and control (Who has the decision-making power?), trust (Who has my back?), and respect and recognition (Am I valued?).

"Giving honest, candid feedback to your manager is one of the greatest things that you can do," Perel says. "It shows that you care. It shows that you are responsible. It shows that you are involved. And it shows that you are grounded in reality."

3. Come with a clear request

In order for feedback to be effective, workers should bring solutions to the meeting that a manager can take action on.

"So you've also come with a clear request," Perel says. "You don't just come with the criticism. In any case, behind every criticism, there is a veiled wish."

For example, if a manager hijacks meeting times and doesn't allow workers to contribute, there could be an issue of power and control. A solution would be for the manager to create an agenda ahead of the meeting to outline which individual contributors will present at the meeting, what they will cover and what the desired outcome should be by the end of it.

When you may need to call for backup

Perel notes that if a boss is not receptive to meeting and discussing how to improve the work environment, it may be time to escalate it to someone above them.

Multi-generational workplace expert Lindsey Pollak also stresses that there's a difference between a micromanaging and critical boss, versus a boss who may be hostile, rude or even abusive. If it's the second case, it may be necessary to get HR involved.

"I would encourage you to have documentation if it's that egregious," Pollak told CNBC Make It. "Have example emails or very specific descriptions of conversations or abusive moments that you can take to human resources or a senior person."

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