Whether your bad boss has the demanding ice queen persona of Miranda Priestly from The Devil Wears Prada or they’ve got seriously questionable habits, like Mad Men’s Don Draper, the end result is always the same: pure misery. Now, one researcher is looking into just what makes a bad boss so rotten. Before you assume your boss just hates you or become SO unhappy at work that you quit your job, see if your boss is a fit for one of the awful manager types he found.

Seth M. Spain, an assistant professor of organizational behavior at Binghamton University, dives into bad bosses in his newest chapter, aptly titled “Stress, Well-Being and the Dark Side of Leadership,” for the ongoing research series, Research in Occupational Stress and Well-Being.


According to Spain, there are two kinds of bad bosses: dark and dysfunctional. While neither is easy to deal with, if you have a dark boss, run! He classifies “dark bosses” as your true nightmare leaders, ones who you can expect to be, “mean, abusive and harassing in daily life,” says Spain. Key characteristics of these bosses include Machiavellianism (basically thinking doing shady sh*t to keep power is okay), narcissism and psychopathy, topped off with lots of moral shortcomings. Thankfully, these traits don’t always spell doom for your career, as Spain notes that narcissism can actually inspire leadership development, since employees must shine if they want to be noticed. Of course, these benefits are often outweighed by the negative impact of an unsupportive and unproductive work environment.


Meanwhile, Spain characterizes “dysfunctional bosses” as well-intentioned leaders who are in over their head and simply not very good at their jobs. While “dark” bosses exhibit destructive behavior on purpose, “dysfunctional” bosses can enable destructive behavior by accident with ineffective leadership. If you have a dysfunctional boss, you don’t need to be looking over your shoulder in fear, but you do need to be ready to pick up their slack, which can result in way more, often unpredictable, stressful situations.

Now that science has nailed the two bad-boss personas and identified them as a major cause of workplace anxiety, the next steps are researching the most effective ways of dealing with them. In the meantime, newbie bosses looking to avoid the “bad boss” label should check out our must-read advice for first-time managers. In between delegating and leading like a pro, take a few tips from Brit + Co‘s 2016 Boss Babes for even more leadership inspo.

Have you ever had a bad boss? Tweet us @BritandCo and let us know how you handled the situation!

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