‘My Boss Is Emotionally Unstable And It’s Awful’

“As it happens, Helen Gurley Brown cries quite a lot. She cried for three hours at Trader Vic’s the night Jerry Lewis attacked her on The Tonight Show.She cried one day in the beauty parlor just after returning from a trip to see her mother. She cried the day a Hearst executive refused to let her run a cover of Cosmopolitan magazine because there was too much boosom showing. (That’s the way she pronounces it. Boosom.) She cried the day Richard E. Berlin, president of The Hearst Corporation, put his foot down over a cover line that said, “The Pill That Makes Women More Responsive To Men.” She cries all the time because people don’t understand her. Jerry Lewis does not understand her, her mother does not understand her, and from time to time, the Hearst Corporation does not understand her.”

The late, great Nora Ephron wrote this about her former boss, the late, great Cosmopolitan editor Helen Gurley Brown. Apparently Helen cried often at work to a point that she was called emotionally unstable. But you would hardly know this if you had read any of the articles about her that came out when she died. Most of them were about how she was a savvy woman who told woman to play up their sex appeal to get ahead in their career. Now, yes, Nora was an observant and brilliant writer but I am sure the other employees at Cosmo noticed when Helen would openly weep. But when it is your boss, what can you do? You could tell a coworker to go get their sh*t together, but you can’t tell your boss to do that. And often, as part of your job, you are forced to take care of this emotional wreck of a person. Being an involuntary therapist can ruin a perfectly good job.  We talked to some people who have been through this.

Sarah DiVello told The Grindstone:

“My last boss was the most emotionally unstable in a series of what can only be described as stupendously bad bosses. She regularly over-drank, especially on business trips, resulting in one incident where she fled the room in the middle of a client presentation to go vomit in the public bathroom. And guess who got to take care of her for the next eight hours in said public bathroom? (Note, this woman was a Senior VP of a major financial services company.)

Eventually, I quit (and no, the ‘Great Upchuck Incident’ wasn’t even the straw that broke this camel’s back!), but have often wondered how she got away with such bad behavior all those years…I can only assume she had something really juicy on one of the C-level executives.”

Emotionally unstable bosses are one of the most common type of toxic bosses. This person is often explosive and prone to angry outbursts full of yelling, cursing and finger pointing. This boss attempts to control with fear and intimidation, and may even make verbal and/or physical threats. According to a Gallup poll, a bad relationship with the boss is the number one reason for quitting a job.

So how do you fix this? According to Heather Morse of TheSavvyGal.com if things are consistently really bad you should be documenting your boss’s behavior. Not every tiny thing but definitely when they have an outburst. Then comes the really tough part. You need to confront your boss but don’t do it in like Fight Club style. She wrote:

“As uncomfortable and horrifying as it may seem, communicating with your boss — albeit in a professional way — about the outbursts, insults, control issues or backstabbing is key to defusing the situation. Arrange for a private, face-to-face meeting to sit down and discuss the problems.

When in the meeting, don’t just sit there and read off the notes you have taken but instead engage in a conversation and listen to what your boss also has to say. It is vital that you are not defensive, and remain calm, polite and constructive. Stay away from loaded words like “always,” “never” and “hate,” and remember your goal is not to attack your boss, but to point out what has been making you uncomfortable.

Let your boss know his actions have been creating a tough work environment and it affects your performance. Ask her or him about your performance and what she or he may be unhappy with and how you can fix it. If you have made mistakes, acknowledge them and find an agreeable solution. Let your boss know that you don’t expect her to be perfect, only that she treat you with respect and common courtesy.

Unfortunately, there is a good chance your boss will not appreciate your feelings. She might lash out at you, and the toxic behavior may only increase after this meeting. If this happens, add it to your documentation and move on to the next steps.”

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    • RCIAG

      HR is useless. HR is in it to cover the company’s arse while leading you to believe they’re all about you &/or your issues.

      As Sarah said, keep that resume up to date & keep looking.

      • Sara DiVello

        RCIAG: I lol’d and then I cried Helen Gurley-style (just kidding) when I read your comment because I couldn’t agree more. It’s all smile and nod and you may start to think they actually care about you, you know–being HUMAN Resources and all–but then wham! You realize their priority is to cover the company. Le sigh.

    • RCIAG

      HR is useless. HR is in it to cover the company’s arse while leading you to believe they’re all about you &/or your issues.

      As Sarah said, keep that resume up to date & keep looking.

      • Sara DiVello

        RCIAG: I lol’d and then I cried Helen Gurley-style (just kidding) when I read your comment because I couldn’t agree more. It’s all smile and nod and you may start to think they actually care about you, you know–being HUMAN Resources and all–but then wham! You realize their priority is to cover the company. Le sigh.

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