Mean Boss? 4 Ways To Handle Her “Downward Envy” of You — Take The Lead (2023)

If you have ever endured hostility from a boss after you achieved something you assumed would make her proud, then you have been on the receiving end of “downward envy.”

(Video) Is your boss jealous of you? What you can do

Or maybe your boss makes assumptions about you, where you come from, your achievements and your career path, and it makes her envious.

Whatever reason, envy is not a productive emotional state for the workplace.

New research in theAcademy of Management Journalfrom scholars at the University of British Columbia, University of Minnesota and Ohio State University show that such green eyed bosses have two paths of behaviors when they encounter “subordinates who have something the supervisor desires, but lacks.” And you can definitely control which way your jealous boss behaves.

“If you have ever endured hostility from a boss after you achieved something you assumed would make her proud, then you have been on the receiving end of #downwardenvy.”

Defining “downward envy as the painful feeling of inferiority” as a “self-threatening yet adaptive emotion,” the study shows that a boss will respond with either “abusive supervision, which is intended to reduce the gap by ‘leveling-down’ or the better alternative of “self-improvement, which is designed to ‘level-up’ against envied subordinates.

In other words, if your boss sees you as achieving too high, she can either go low to bring you down, or go high to bring herself up. The great news is you can steer which way your envious boss may go. Here are four tips to deal with an envious supervisor.

Warmth and competence.

Responding to your boss with “warmth and competence,” the study shows, is your best remedy for a jealous boss. If you act towards your boss in a way that would not provoke a feeling of further threat, then the likely reaction will be to try to come up to your level of success. Even if you are not feeling the love, treat your boss as a “friend,” or in a friendly manner so that she does not act out of envy against you.

“Take the mean boss example, and imagine it’s happening to three of your other colleagues. One shouts back and is now on the outs with the boss. One shrinks and says nothing, and will be the target of this bully boss from now on. The third calmly says, ‘Excuse me; there’s no need to yell. I think we can find a good resolution to the problem.’ Assertive. Smooth. Not taking crap, but not slinging any either. Which of the three would you rather be?” Suzan Colon writes inGrok Nation.

Encourage a culture of success.

Discuss the possibility of self-improvement, learning new skills, collaboration and inclusive acknowledgment of progress within the organization. These tools are meant to “level up enviers relative to envied targets. As an example, enviers may work harder in order to experience successes that match those of the individuals whom they envy,” the study shows. “Individuals in leadership positions often have access to multiple sources of professional development such as advanced training programs, overseas engagements, and opportunities to solicit advice and counsel from connections within and outside the organization.”

(Video) 4 2 Classification Struggles

Don’t get mad, get empathetic.

Whatever is driving your boss to fuel her envy of you, try to be empathetic and see where she is coming from. Perhaps you have a degree she envies, or a home life she perceives as ideal. Rational or not, speaking honestly in a way that makes you come off as more friendly and less threatening can help. “This means understanding, as best you can, what pressures, what motivators, what hopes and fears drive their behavior. Management comes with it a multitude of pressures from many sources: boards, senior managers, employees, customers, investors and sales reps to name a few,” writes Victor Lipman inForbes.“The more you understand the pressures your (difficult) boss is under, the better equipped you’ll be to cope. No guarantee this will change your own experience, but empathy is a powerful emotion.”

“If your boss is showing signs of envy, try to be empathetic and see where she is coming from. #downwardenvy”

Realize that envy is the culprit.

Definitely continue to be your marvelous, innovative self, but realize that seeing you as a threat is driving the envy, so don’t provoke the jealousy by boasting about your accomplishments or making sure everyone is aware of your pristine career and every ounce of your brilliance. “If they see that everyone is aware of your value, they will be concerned that you may sooner or later leave them, take credit for their achievements, or even take their job,” writesTomas Chamorro-Premuzic, Chief Talent Scientist at ManpowerGroup, a professor of business psychology at University College London and at Columbia University, and an associate at Harvard’s Entrepreneurial Finance Lab. “At the early stages of your career, your success is mainly a function of managing the dark side of your boss; at the later stages your success will mostly depend on managing your own dark side, especially if you are interested in being an effective leader.” Chamorro-Premuzic writes inHarvard Business Review.

Take care of yourself in the face of envy and abuse.

An envious boss may lash out by swearing, yelling or belittling you in meetings, by email, phone or in private. Do your best not to internalize the abusive behavior, but to try to understand your need to set an emotional boundary and see it as your boss’ anger and envy response and that it is not your fault. For sure do not try to minimize your accomplishments or whatever it is that triggers the envy response.

“It can be very hard to be frequently criticized no matter how hard you work, treated like garbage because your boss is in a bad mood, or flipped on at the drop of a hat. For this reason, it is very important to be extra kind to yourself and do the things that will help you feel better and maintain your self-esteem in this difficult environment. This may include: positive self-talk, taking short breaks to breathe and re-group, coming in early or staying late after your boss leaves so that you can work more when it is more peaceful, planning fun things for yourself before or after work, finding time for exercise (even if it is a brisk walk around the block at lunch),” writes Karen Arluck, a clinical psychotherapist, inForbes.

And if you are on the receiving end of the envy, remind yourself that it is your success and your attributes that are inciting someone to want to be like you. As difficult as it may be to endure, it is a compliment.

“If you are on the receiving end of envy, remind yourself that it is your #success and your attributes that are inciting someone to want to be like you. As difficult as it may be to endure, it is a compliment.”
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“The more encouraging conclusion from our studies comes from the evidence suggesting that supervisory leaders may choose self-improvement over abusive supervision as a strategy for reducing gaps with envied subordinates,” the study shows.

In Take The Lead’s 9 Leadership Power Tools, Gloria Feldt, Take The Lead co-founder and president, establishes Power Tool # 2 as, “Define Your Own Terms—First, Before Anyone Else Does.” What that means in context of dealing with a boss who has “downward envy,” is making sure your credentials are understood and that you are not an intentional threat to anyone. You are your excellent self.

Feldt writes, “Whoever sets the terms of the debate usually wins. By redefining power not as “Power-Over”, but as “Power-To” we shift from a culture of oppression to a culture of positive intention to make things better for everyone.”

“Your warmth, authenticity and competence give you the power to change an emotionally-charged work relationship into a positive one. #ChangeTheWorkplace”
(Video) Jim Chalmers defends prioritising ‘most vulnerable’ with social security changes

Realize your warmth, authenticity and competence give you the power to change an emotionally-charged work relationship into a positive one. Your boss would rather be your equal than be the one who envies you.

About the Author

Michele Weldon is editorial director of Take The Lead, an award-winning author, journalist, emerita faculty in journalism at Northwestern University and a senior leader with The OpEd Project.

Changing the Workplace

Michele Weldon

Advice, business, Michele Weldon, women in the workplace, women leaders

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What behaviors are considered to be abusive supervision? ›

Abusive supervisors consistently mock and humiliate their direct reports, invade their privacy, remind them of their past mistakes or failures, give them the silent treatment, break promises made to them, and put them down in public (Tepper 2000).

What is abusive supervision in the workplace? ›

Abusive supervision is defined as sustained displays of nonphysical aggression from supervisors to their direct reports. It includes the display of both hostile verbal and nonverbal behaviors. Recent research has studied how abusive supervision impacts both the subordinate's and their partner's family life.

What is the measure of abusive supervision? ›

Abusive supervision is defined as, “subordinates' perceptions of the extent to which supervisors engage in the sustained display of hostile verbal and nonverbal behaviours, excluding physical contact” (Tepper 2000).

How common is abusive supervision? ›

According to epidemiological studies, abusive supervision is much more common than physical violence or sexual harassment; one in seven employees reports that his or her current supervisor is abusive, approximately 50% of employees can expect to have an abusive supervisor at some point in their working life, and most ...

Which are the 3 main warning signs that someone may be an abuser? ›

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A boss can be tough, hold you to high standards, and even have a cold personality. But if she consistently treats you with disdain or disgust, while keeping you around at the company, she might be emotionally abusive. A boss should never cause you to feel deep personal shame or guilt.

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Research has shown that "abusive supervision is a subjective assessment made by subordinates regarding their supervisors" behavior towards them over a period of time. For example, abusive supervision includes a "boss demeaning, belittling, or invading privacy of the subordinate".

What is abusive leadership theory? ›

Abusive leadership is defined as “subordinates' perception of the extent to which superiors engage in a sustained display of hostile verbal and non-verbal behavior, excluding physical contact” (Tepper 2007).

What are the most severe supervisory actions? ›

Cease and desist orders are typically the most severe and can be issued either with or without consent.

Which of the following are the 4 main indicators of abuse? ›

sleep disturbance. inappropriate sexual behaviour based on the child's age. promiscuous affection seeking behaviour.

How do you deal with an abusive boss? ›

If you have an abusive manager, take some steps to protect your job satisfaction and mental health:
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  2. Speak to managers beyond your own. ...
  3. Document your experiences. ...
  4. Join a union or workers' support group. ...
  5. Speak to the abusive manager. ...
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They highlight the main ethical standards that supervisors and supervisees consider regarding their respective roles and professional boundaries as part of the supervisory relationship: informed consent, confidentiality, competence, non-exploitation and record keeping.

What is the hardest form of abuse to recognize? ›

Emotional or psychological abuse

Emotional abuse often coexists with other forms of abuse, and it is the most difficult to identify. Many of its potential consequences, such as learning and speech problems and delays in physical development, can also occur in children who are not being emotionally abused.

What types of abuse are the most damaging? ›

Emotional abuse may be the most damaging form of maltreatment due to causing damage to a child's developing brain affecting their emotional and physical health as well as their social and cognitive development (Heim et al. 2013).

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A bad supervisor is unable to communicate clearly, it is usually difficult to determine what the boss really wants and they rarely listen to you. Communication is a key to good management, giving clear and concise instructions will help your employees to be successful at their work.

What is a toxic boss? ›

A toxic boss is a manager who demoralizes and damages the people underneath them. Their repeated, disruptive behavior drives employees to become disengaged, diminishes their sense of belonging, and takes away their autonomy and sense of purpose—all of which are vital for thriving at work.

How do you know if your boss is emotionally abusive? ›

Signs You Work For An Abusive Boss
  • Micromanages and monitors your work while refusing to delegate.
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What are 6 behaviors that indicate emotional abuse? ›

Examples include intimidation, coercion, ridiculing, harassment, treating an adult like a child, isolating an adult from family, friends, or regular activity, use of silence to control behavior, and yelling or swearing which results in mental distress. Signs of emotional abuse.

What are examples of toxic leadership behaviors? ›

Below are the most common behaviors you may see in toxic leaders or colleagues:
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Unethical leader behaviors such as falsifying information, promoting their own self-serving personal vision; censure opposing views; demand their own decisions be accepted without question; engage in one-way communication; show insensitivity to followers' needs; and rely on convenient external moral standards to ...

What is an example of a coercive leader? ›

A supervisor who threatens to demote, terminate, or suspend an erring employee, for example, uses coercive power. Unlike personal power, which individuals can wield over themselves, people cannot use coercive power on themselves.

What is trauma leadership? ›

Trauma Informed Leadership recognizes and honors the emotional scars that people may struggle with. It can help the leader have empathy and compassion for their employees, both powerful emotions themselves for a leader to have.

What causes abusive leadership? ›

Abusive behaviors are often the result of power discrepancy, where the leader is the one holding more power and resources in the leader-member pairing. The abuse can be worse where the followers' goals and resources needed are completely controlled by the supervisor.

What is the biggest challenge as a supervisor? ›

The most challenging part of being a supervisor may be applying the right amount of leadership. You want to give your team strong, clear guidance, but without obliterating their independence. Finding the sweet spot between micromanagement and lack of leadership takes work.

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What are the 5 signs of emotional abuse? ›

5 Signs of Emotional Abuse
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  • They are Manipulative. ...
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Can you list 3 indicators of emotional abuse? ›

threatening, shouting at a child or calling them names. making the child the subject of jokes, or using sarcasm to hurt a child. blaming and scapegoating. making a child perform degrading acts.

What is an example of psychological abuse? ›

Psychological abuse can include someone regularly: Embarrassing you in public or in front of family, friends, support workers or people you work with. Calling you names. Threatening to harm you, your pets, children, or other people who are important to you.

How do you fight back a toxic boss? ›

Try one or more of these tips to find some common ground with your boss—or at least stay sane until you find a new gig.
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Show your boss that they made a mistake in targeting you. Address the issue with your boss in a calm and assertive manner. The goal is to defend yourself without being aggressive or mean in return.

What are the 4 key ethics? ›

Beneficence, nonmaleficence, autonomy, and justice constitute the 4 principles of ethics. The first 2 can be traced back to the time of Hippocrates “to help and do no harm,” while the latter 2 evolved later.

What is gatekeeping in supervision? ›

The ACA Code of Ethics mandates that supervisors act as gatekeepers when they deem supervisees do not meet standards for entry into the counseling profession. These multiple supervisor roles may present a supervisory or ethical dilemma when working with problematic supervisees.

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Gatekeeping implies passage, or movement, between two (or more) places. Certain criteria govern when passage is appropriate. Authority rests with the gatekeeper to apply the criteria and so to allow, or not allow, passage. The gatekeeper must take responsibility for that decision.

What is the number one type of abuse? ›

Neglect is the most common form of child abuse.

What is the biggest form of abuse? ›

By far the most visible form of abuse is physical abuse. This kind of abuse is condemned by almost everyone and it is estimated that one in four women are victims of this kind of abuse. The most common forms of abuse include hitting, throwing and scalding, even suffocation is on the list.

What is the easiest type of abuse to recognize? ›

Physical or sexual abuse may be easier to identify, as they often have physical evidence and a clear incident to reference. Emotional abuse is more often characterized by a pattern or collection of behaviors over time that can be difficult to recognize.

What age group is most abuse? ›

The highest rate of child abuse is in babies less than one year of age, and 25 percent of victims are younger than age three. The majority of cases reported to Child Protective Services involve neglect, followed by physical and sexual abuse.

What is the most common type of abuse experienced? ›

Neglect. Neglect occurs in 61% of child abuse cases. 12 It is the most common form of child maltreatment in the United States.

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increased fear, guilt and self-blame. distrust of adults or difficulty forming relationships with others. disrupted attachments with those who are meant to keep them safe. mental health disorders such as anxiety, attachment, post-traumatic stress and depression disorders.

What is manipulating demand level? ›

Manipulating demand levels involves games in which the supervisee attempts to manipulate the level of demands placed on him/her. Often the supervisee uses flattery to inhibit the supervisor's evaluative focus. Redefining the relationship occurs when the supervisee attempts to make the relationship more ambiguous.

What can poor supervision lead to? ›

Ineffective supervision can be very damaging to a workplace as it can lead to poor working relationships between staff and managers, prolonged conflict within teams or the workplace, increased staff absences, lack of clear direction for staff, poor communication, and reduced job satisfaction.

What is excessive supervision? ›

A micromanager is a boss or manager who gives excessive supervision to employees. A micromanager, rather than telling an employee what task needs to be accomplished and by when—will watch the employee's actions closely and provide frequent criticism of the employee's work and processes.

What is bad supervision? ›

We consider bad supervision to be that which leads to one or more of the following outcomes: limited learning for the trainee, potential harm to the trainee, providing subpar care for clients, and restricted professional growth of the supervisor.

What is an example of behavioral characteristics of a caregiver who may be an abuser? ›

Behaviors of Caregivers who may be Abusers

Refusal to follow directions or complete necessary personal tasks. Displaying controlling attitudes and behaviors. Showing up late or not at all.

What are the three areas of conflict in supervision? ›

Power, organizational demands and worth are three important elements of conflict.

What are the 5 P's of supervision? ›

The “5-Ps” identify Predisposing, Precipitating, Perpetuating, Protective, and Predictive Factors that each and every practitioner should know about a person's life situation as a basis for developing a clinical case formulation, documentation, and work with a person.

What are the 5 keys of supervision? ›

The five key supervisory roles include Educator, Sponsor, Coach, Counselor, and Director. Each is described below. Note that in your role as a supervisor, you will be using these five roles, in some combination, simultaneously, depending on the needs of the team members.

What causes abusive supervision? ›

Supervisors are more likely to engage in abusive behaviors when they 1) have their own negative experiences, stress, poor treatment, or sense of injustice; 2) have authoritarian or unethical leadership styles, 3) are low in emotional intelligence, or 4) have a tendency to be anxious or upset (i.e., are high in negative ...

What is the hardest part of supervision? ›

The Right Level of Leadership

The most challenging part of being a supervisor may be applying the right amount of leadership. You want to give your team strong, clear guidance, but without obliterating their independence.

What are the 3 behavioral indicators? ›

Behavioral Indicators
  • Begging, stealing food.
  • Extended stays at school; early arrival and late departure.
  • Constant fatigue, listlessness or falling asleep in class.
  • States there is no caretaker.

What are the 4 steps to manage conflict? ›

4 steps To resolve Conflict: CARE
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  • Actively Listen. Listen to what the other person has to say, without interrupting. ...
  • Review Options. Talk over the options, looking for solutions that benefit everyone. ...
  • End with a Win-Win Solution.
Mar 13, 2017

What are 4 primary causes of conflict at work? ›

4 Causes of Workplace Conflict
  • Poor Communication. This is one of the main causes of conflict between employees in the workplace. ...
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