Would You Rather: Bad Boss Edition

Apparently, you only have two choices.

A pleasant combination of both.

If you’re a lucky duck, your boss at work is like a very good piece of furniture — unobtrusive yet supportive and there when you need it. The taxonomy of good bosses ranges far and wide: there are supportive bosses; bosses who trust you implicitly; bosses who leave you alone; bosses who are not regular bosses, but cool bosses. That’s wonderful for those blessed with people in charge who are kind, normal and good at their jobs.

But, if you have a bad boss — and you certainly know if you do — then there are apparently only two kinds, according to this paper Stress, Well-Being, and the Dark Side of Leadership, written up by the Science of Us.

There Are Only Two Kinds of Terrible Bosses

If you consider the traits of all of the bad bosses you’ve had in your life, you’ll see that they easily fit into two categories of badness. First, the dysfunctional boss, not nearly as bad, just irritating and not very good at their job.

Dysfunctional bosses, the authors explained, aren’t malicious — in fact, they can have their employees’ best interests at heart — but lack the competence to effectively do their jobs or manage their subordinates.

A dysfunctional boss is the boss you probably like but secretly wish wasn’t your boss because you could probably do their job better than they can. A dysfunctional boss climbed the ladder, found that it was nice up there and is really, really trying. They want the best for you, but they don’t quite know how to make that happen, and so you try to do your job while quietly cleaning up after their inadequacies. Not the healthiest working relationship, but obviously not the worst. Resentment and frustration will build with this kind of boss, but you can tell that they’re trying. If you’re feeling generous of spirit and have had enough sleep, some of their behavior is excusable, but for the most part, this boss should not be your boss in the first place

Much more insidious and far worse, however, is the “dark boss” which sounds like what would happen if Voldemort ended up in middle management.

Dark bosses, by contrast, are so called as a reference to the “dark triad” of personality traits: psychopathy, narcissism, and Machiavellianism. These are the ones “who enjoy the pain and suffering of others — they’re going to be mean, abusive, and harassing in daily life,” co-author Seth Spain, an assistant professor of organizational behavior at Binghamton University, said in a statement. They’re also the ones who feel more comfortable ditching morals to get ahead, whether that means knowingly taking credit for someone else’s work or throwing them under the bus.

If you’ve cried in the bathroom at work more than once a week because your boss made you feel like garbage and you’re not entirely sure why, then you have been under the influence of a dark boss. This boss is not a boss to step to; you cannot win with this boss. This boss is in charge, they will stay in charge and while laboring under their reign, you will suffer until you either quit your job or they get found out for being terrible.

Neither of these bosses are good, but the great news is that hopefully, there are only a few in the bunch. Over the course of your career, you will likely encounter the former; the latter rises from the murk once every few jobs and is the stuff of cocktail party horror stories and bad Glassdoor reviews. You don’t want that boss, though not every dark boss is as evil as described. It’s safe to say that most dark bosses only contain bits and bobs of these traits, not the whole package.

Having worked under both kinds of bosses in varying degrees, I’d have to say that I’d take a dark boss over a bumbling boss any day. Incompetency drives me bonkers; emotional manipulation and psychopathic tendencies are no walk in the park, but I can at least compartmentalize that behavior and accept that yes, this person is just a bad person, so as long as I stay out of their way and do my job, things will ideally work out.

Say you had to pick. Which boss is worse?

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