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How to Navigate a Toxic Relationship with Your Line Manager

Female worker punching male colleague in face, through a piece of A4 paper.

The heavy presence of toxic managers within the professional world, is no stretch of the imagination. In fact Stagwell Global’s ‘Harris Poll’ research noted that 71% of workers have had a toxic manager at one point in their career. The research goes onto to claim that 31% are currently stuck working with one. A research conducted by the Chartered Management Institute (CMI) highlighted that one in three workers quit due to bad management. But what about the others?

Woman's face surround by hands

Most employees are stuck working under a toxic manager due to financial constraints, choosing job security over wellbeing. But unfortunately, this approach can prove detrimental, in the long term. In a survey conducted by the CIPD (Chartered Institute of Personnel and Development) 50% of workers, under bad management, reported negative impacts on their mental health.

It is estimated, that the impacts from Occupational PTSD, can take twice the amount of time spent working under a toxic manager, to overcome. So remember, every day you choose to ignore, the predicament you find yourself in, your sacrificing two from your professional future.

But what if you cannot leave, even though you truly want to? Below I have highlighted steps you can take to safeguard yourself, your mental health and your future.


1. Establish mental defence barrier


Understand that your managers actions are not a reflection of your capabilities. Pull yourself out of the equation and focus primarily on the individual. Now study them closely and see if you can identify signs and patterns in their behaviour. Once you do, study it and learn from it. Some of the most important lessons I ever learned were from toxic managers. Once you start viewing the individual as a test subject, you will establish a mental barrier and regain the control you thought you lost.


2. Self-Assessment


Begin by assessing how the toxic relationship is affecting you. Are you feeling stressed, anxious, maybe demotivated? Is your performance suffering? Allow yourself to really commit to this process so you can achieve a thorough understanding on how you are being affected. Understanding the impact will motivate you to take action.


3. Document Incidents


Keep a record of any instances of toxic behaviour, including dates, times and specific details. This step should be easier if you completed step one. As you would be clearly able to identify the signs and behavioural patterns of a toxic manager. Keep the documented information safe as you may need this if the matter needs to be escalated. Do not forget to take note about how those actions made you feel.


4. Focus on Your Well-Being


Before we progress to the next step, let’s decompress, so we get proactively ready to continue on. Engage in stress-relief activities, practice mindfulness and seek support from friends and family outside work. You need this to ensure you have complete control of your emotions. As your pushback continues, you will find it challenging, even daunting, as most at this point are stepping out of their comfort zones. When operating outside the norm our emotions are immediately heightened, it is important you balance these with improved control.


5. Maintain Professionalism


Despite the challenges, strive to uphold professionalism in your interactions with your manager. Focus on fulfilling your job responsibilities, to the best of your ability and continuing through these steps. Having a structured approach to dealing with situations, as complicated as this, requires patience. Avoid placing yourself under unnecessary scrutiny by permitting your emotions to get the best of you.


6. De-escalation attempt one, direct approach in person


If you feel confident and comfortable, attempt to address the issues directly with your manager. Request a private meeting and ensure you clearly write out your concerns, to raise during the meeting. Use “I” statements to express how their behaviour is affecting you. Stay calm and professional during the conversation. Ensure you highlight specific behaviours that are impacting you, in turn the knock on affect it is having on specific work areas. Follow the meeting up with an email, thanking them for their time and bullet the points discussed and any agreed actions.


7. Set Boundaries


Following the meeting ensure that clear boundaries are established, in line with agreed actions. Stick to these set boundaries and address any violations, professionally and promptly in writing. Reference the violation and how it has breached the agreement reached in the formal one-to-one meeting. Reiterate your desire to find a middle ground to mediate the problems raised.


8. De-escalation attempt two, direct approach in writing


Should your manager continue violating set boundaries then put together an email and request that they stick to the original agreement from the held meeting and work with you to resolve and mediate the problems raised for the benefit of the business. Reference points raised from previous emails, with dates and end the written communication by again thanking them for their time and:

"I am confident we will get over this hurdle and positively progress moving forward."


9. De-escalation attempt three, utilise internal resources


If the toxic behaviour ensues, utilise your company’s internal resources, such as HR or employee assistance program. Consolidate all your evidence (Incidents journal, meeting notes, emails and anything else that can help your case) and raise a grievance against your line manager. Most company policies stipulate that a grievance will be responded to within 14 days, so spend this time increasing your focus on well-being activities. The next steps usually involve a meeting with a HR assigned impartial manager, who will investigate your grievance. Once concluded you will be notified in writing, the outcome of the investigation. If you are not happy, you should be able to appeal.


10. De-escalation final attempt, utilise external resources


If for any reason you are not happy with the verdict, not given the opportunity to appeal and still stuck with a toxic manager, consider utilising external resources. The first point of contact I would recommend is ACAS. Prior to contacting them, ensure all relevant evidence is collated, as they will be requesting it. This includes all documentation from HR. ACAS will review your case and if approved, it will proceed to an early conciliation. You will be assigned a case worker, who will reach out to your company to resolve this issue. Should the issue remain unresolved and the case worker feels like the company has violated their duty of care towards you, then ACAS will provide you with a certificate in order to escalate the case to an Employment Tribunal. At this point I would recommend seeking legal advice from an accredited legal firm. You can also seek help from the citizens advice bureau.



Being trapped in a toxic relationship with your line manager is a challenging situation, but remember that you have the power to take control of your career and well-being. By recognising the signs, seeking support, and taking assertive action, you can gradually break free from the toxic relationship and move toward a healthier and more fulfilling work environment. Do not allow yourself to become disillusioned by the situation, understand that failing to deal with this problem, head on, most certainly will have some form of repercussion. By being decisive and proactive you can limit the effects of Occupational PTSD and take charge of your career.


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Ready to take charge of your career but feeling stuck?
Ready to take charge of your career but feeling stuck?

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