Having a bad boss is almost a rite of passage for young workers. The common understanding around a position with ineffective leadership is that the experience of being miserable at work builds character and will help you later. However, research conducted by TTI SI shows that this simply isn’t true.
We break down that research on our page, Competencies, Conflict and Career Growth: How Real Work Experience Impacts Young Workers. Read through for all the details, but the bottom line is this: bad bosses negatively impact the skills of their workers.
“Several students also showed a decrease in four competencies: appreciating others, conflict management, goal orientation; and interpersonal skills. After reviewing the reflection essays of the students involved, the researchers determined that there was a statistical correlation between the decrease of their ‘conflict management’ skill and the severity of the conflicts reported by the students during the internships.”
While on-the-job experience is crucial for students, it can also result in a decrease in their people skills, at a crucial time in their mental and emotional development. This should be concerning for workers of all ages; the mental toll of a poor work environment cannot be discounted for long-term development and wellbeing.
So, what can you do?
How Can Workers Combat This?
First, let’s talk about how workers can guard themselves against long-term effects of a negative work environment.
If you’re feeling a negative emotion, document it! Try to name the specific emotion to help you narrow down the cause. Are you embarrassed because your boss belittled you in front of your team? Are you angry because your good work was ignored? As you become more adept at identifying your emotions, you will become more empowered to control them.
Communicate Issues with Bosses (and Their Bosses)
Clear communication is a must for every workplace. If you’re a junior team member, you can’t control how your team chooses to communicate, but you can control yourself!
Practice expressing yourself calmly and clearly. If there’s a problem, make sure to address it as neutrally as possible. In the words of Indra Nooyi, “Whatever anybody says or does, assume positive intent. You will be amazed at how your whole approach to a person or problem becomes very different. When you assume negative intent, you're angry. If you take away that anger and assume positive intent, you will be amazed.”
If it becomes clear to you that the other person is not acting with positive intent, take note and continue to do your job to the best of your abilities. If that person is your boss and their behavior is interfering with your work, don’t be afraid to take the problem higher up.
It can be scary to stand up for yourself in this way, and unfortunately, it could mean that you are removed from your position if the company is toxic. In this circumstance, make sure to document every negative interaction; keep all emails, instant messages, and note in-person conversations. This can help you later, if you need to file for unemployment or take necessary legal action.
Take What You Can from the Experience
Remind yourself that you are not powerless in your workplace! Your voice and experience matters, and your company should recognize that. If they don’t, you are in control of your career.
Move onto a different opportunity when the time arises, and in the meantime, don’t get discouraged. Keep practicing your communication skills, get what you can out of the experience, and remember, it’s not forever!
How Can Leaders Combat This?
Now, it’s time to place the responsibility where it truly belongs: on leadership.
The first step for leaders is the same as workers; increase your self-awareness. Emotional intelligence for leaders is key to their success, and the first step to developing emotional intelligence is to develop self awareness. (If you want to learn more about emotional intelligence, read here.)
Make sure you aren’t taking out frustration on your team! The way you handle conflict and crisis will define you as a leader. Figure out your own patterns of behavior and work on recognizing and disrupting the negative patterns. Your team looks to you for guidance; make sure you deserve it.
Actively Work to Improve Communication
How accessible are you to your team? Do you have an ‘open door’ policy of communication, or are they discouraged from speaking up? Do you communicate in your preferred style, with no consideration of theirs?
Make sure that your team knows that they can express themselves to you without fear of retribution. Host town hall style meetings where individuals can express concerns or considerations, and your entire team listens. Hearing negative feedback isn’t ever pleasant, but it is valuable. Make sure to actively address concerns as they arise.
If someone is quitting, make sure to have an exit interview. If your business has interns, hold an interview at the end of the internship. The information you receive here is invaluable. Take it to heart, and don’t write off negativity as unjustified or unhelpful. Assume the same good intent and look for where the fault could be in your processes or organization.
Focus on Servant Leadership
It’s a lot of pressure to think about how your behavior directly impacts the development of others, but you’re not the boss for no reason! Take this responsibility on and embrace a people first mentality. It will get you where you need to go in a turbulent market.
Engagement boosts profits in the long run, so invest in your people right now! Tools like behavioral assessments, career development, and personal coaching will all help you and your team understand and respect each other and your individual work styles.
Don’t Be ‘That’ Boss!
While conflict in the workplace is inevitable, it doesn’t mean that leaders have free reign over their teams. If you’re a boss of anyone, you are directly responsible for their skill development and experience. If you’re a worker, you can empower yourself to understand how others affect you and shape your own experience.
If you’re interested in learning more about what the TTI SI research team is working on, visit our new portal and read more peer review, published research.