When Hosea Namachanja, a university student, got a job at a boutique he felt lucky. Not only would the pay boost the upkeep allowance he got from his guardian, but his boss seemed to care for him, providing breakfast and lunch.
To the 23-year-old, it was the best work environment, and to show his gratitude, he worked diligently, and soon customers started flocking to the shop in huge numbers.
Then someone cautioned his employer to be wary of university students, saying they always turn out to be ‘thieves and rude’.
The relationship started to sour.
“He started micromanaging me for fear that I was shortchanging him. Every time I would sell something and needed to look for change, he would send his two small boys to accompany me so that ‘I do not steal some of the change,” he recalls.
Lydia Wanjiru too has experienced a toxic boss.
She had applied for a receptionist job at a construction company and felt that her lucky stars were finally aligning when she go a call to report to work.
Upon arrival, she was told that the job she had applied for was not available, but they needed someone to clean the compound, offices, and washroom.
In hindsight, she says that was the first red flag that she was entering a toxic workplace, but she ignored it.
“I was desperate for a job and gladly took one. The company paid per hour, so my monthly salary equals the number of hours times the rate,” she explains.
That meant that to earn decent pay, she’d have to put in the hours. She would get to the workplace by 7:30 am clean the office before the staff reported. Then during the day, she’d make sure the washrooms and compound were clean.
But Lydia says her supervisor went out of her way to frustrate her. Sometimes she would keep the office locked, denying her a chance to do her work only to later lie to the management that Lydia was absconding from duty.
Other times she’d work for extra hours, but the pay remained the same.
“At the end of the month when the salary came, it was less not commensurate to the hours I had worked.
After raising the issue, the supervisor told me that the company does not have extra money to pay for my extra hours,” she says.
Elvis Mayaka, the Managing Director at TLT Connected, a telemetry solutions company says toxic bosses are manipulative, passive-aggressive, insecure, demeaning, narcissistic, bullies, and gas-lighters. They have psychotic tendencies.
Often, he points out, such bosses do not take responsibility or be accountable.
So, what do you do?
In the long run, he says the best option is to prepare to quit by starting to scout for opportunities outside the workplace. Short-term, do not stoop to their level.
Be factual, document your work, and do not gossip or get into their drama.
“They thrive in drama. Documenting your work leaves a trail of proof in the event they say you are not performing and attempt to terminate your job.”
He adds, “The thing about toxic bosses is that they form alliances with like-minded bosses. If a toxic boss has worked in a company for more than five years, the administration almost always knows about the toxic traits but chooses to do nothing about it. A sign of praising toxicity.”
Bridget Wanyaga, a leadership coach with Ascend Training and Leadership notes that often than not a toxic boss is two-faced.
They could be treating their juniors badly but in the presence of their seniors, they are the manager of the year.
She says they live by the cliché mantra that a boss is always right.
Understanding where the toxicity of your boss is coming from is like a crash course in human psychology. This means recognising that it is not about you as an employee, but them as employers.
“When you understand this, some sense of objectivity comes in,” says Ms Wanyaga.
Since being under a toxic boss is draining, she advises that you should ensure you have somewhere or something to do to deflate or vent out the frustrations.
“Self-awareness should be your guide since you have other facets of life that demand from you.”
How do you know as a boss that you are toxic?
As a leader, you need to be secure in who you are as a person, confident in your skills and capabilities, and humble enough to know that you do not know everything.
“If any of these is lacking, there is a high likelihood of toxicity,” says Ms Wanyaga.
When should you quit?
Mr Mayaka shares that if stress and depression are your daily dose then your mental health is at risk. When the morning alarm does not excite you to go to work then your engine is almost tapping out.
When your productivity and health are on the line, then the writing is on the wall, leave as fast as you can.
However, even after you leave, Mr Elvis notes that a toxic person would never say a good thing about you. Sometimes when you keep on applying for jobs but you do not get the job, it could be your toxic boss overworking.
“Scrap the company from your curriculum vitae.”