The Culture Corner: Tales of a Terrible Boss

Here in the Culture Corner, Shaara gives her expert advice on real-life workplace culture issues. Have a story worth sharing? Submit your situation with this form for a chance to get a response in the culture corner.


“I work for a misogynistic narcissist. He thanks no one for their good work, he fails at fostering a bonds among co-workers (purposefully, I think), he makes everything about him and his success, and is bottleneck for the entire company because he insists everything runs through him for his approval and then delays reviewing things only to make so many revisions every time that no one feels motivated to even try and do their best work. He notoriously outs people for errors in front of the company and never offers constructive criticism, only admonishments as if I am a child. Our company is very male-dominated AND very white-male-dominated. This is a toxic workplace. Very much so. How do I survive this? I cannot afford to quit but every day I wake up depressed beyond measure to do my job.

There are few things worse in life than having a terrible boss, and sadly we’ve all been there. That said, there is certainly a scale that ranges from bad to unbearable, and the latter often leaves employees feeling like they have nowhere to turn. The good news? You always have a choice, even when it feels like you have no options on the table. Having an insufferable boss doesn’t mean you have to accept those circumstances. Here’s what we can learn from this all-too-common issue: 


  • First and foremost, don’t take it personally. Bosses like this — who are constantly putting people down while lifting themselves up — are not a reflection of you, your work, or your value. In other words, it’s not you, it’s them.
  • Consider what allies you can confide in. Are there HR people, other leaders, colleagues who can commiserate? It’s important to find ways to create community for yourself that will keep you from feeling helpless and unmotivated. If your organization doesn’t already have employee resource groups, or an Employee Assistance Program, consider organizing a group that can provide community  for yourself and for others feeling the same way.
  • While the boss described here sounds very awful, I actually think there’s an even bigger problem. This sounds like an all-around toxic, white-male dominated, patriarchal culture. If you ask me, this seems more of an organizational issue that’s bigger than the boss. 
  • As you take a look at the situation and begin to weigh your options, consider the following: your mental health, the short and long term impacts on your career and life, the levels of stress and risk of burnout – or worse. 
  • Sucking it up is not a healthy long-term solution. You don’t just want to survive – you want to THRIVE. Put yourself and your needs first.  
  • Realistically, it’s probably time to start looking for another job – as hard as that may be to consider. Make a plan for  your exit. Put some confidential feelers out there and begin planting seeds to facilitate movement. You always have options. Think about all of your strengths and talents  and consider the big picture.


  • More often than not, managers and employees don’t see eye to eye on company culture. In fact, according to Entrepreneur, one study “found that managers had a much more positive view of their corporate culture than did their employees.” Let that sink in, and confront the fact that your impression of your organization’s culture is likely not entirely accurate.
  • Curiously investigate your company culture: take the time to get feedback from employees, notice how people are showing up at work, practice observance, be open to hear from your team, and conduct quarterly surveys.
  • See if you can create a more inviting and inclusive place. Consider facilitating employee resource groups, team bonding, collaboration, and employee empowerment tactics.
  • Minimize hoops to maximize productivity — nobody benefits from a path that looks like A>B>C>D when it could just be A>D.
  • Keep in mind that positive reinforcement has been proven to go further than negative reinforcement. Use public forums to celebrate and recognize accomplishments, and give critical feedback in private. Encourage, rather than scold. Make your team feel proud and capable, and they will work harder to not disappoint. When disappointment is consistently a given, then how can anyone be motivated to give it their all?
  • If you’re not sure what type of culture your company has, try taking this short assessment to find out.

Organizational Impact:

  • Cultures like this cause everyone to suffer, including the bottom line.
  • When a boss yells at an employee in front of others, it not only impacts the person in the hot seat, it also impacts the people around them, creating an air of negative energy and a sense of fear. 
  • This culture breeds people walking on eggshells too afraid to do anything for fear of a humiliating reprimand. That is the fastest track to a lack of innovation, poor customer service and ultimately obsolescence. 
  • Of course, having this kind of toxicity negatively impacts employee engagement  , turnover, and talent acquisition – ultimately increasing your cost of doing business. 
  • Your business is only as good as your culture. It’s time to implement immediate changes.

I, like many others, have been in these same shoes. My workplace culture was so toxic, and my boss so nasty, that it began to infect my personal life, causing me to shout in my sleep, be short with my husband, and feel lousy pretty much 24/7. I know what it’s like to feel stuck… and as hard as it can be to remove yourself from the situation, it is almost surely worth it. 

If you are an employee, then you need to do what’s best for you, which is probably leaving the team. If you are a founder, CEO or people manager, then you need to do what’s best for the team, which probably means taking a hard look at yourself in the mirror, and taking the time to understand and improve the organization’s culture. 

That’s all for now in the Culture Corner, but stay tuned for more advice to riveting real-life inquiries! If you have a story or question of your own, I’d love to hear from you (anonymously or not) — just fill out this short form!