5 Powerful Practices That Neutralize Toxic Managers

Why do managers and CEOs have so much power over people who are working hard for them and the company? originally appeared on Quorathe place to gain and share knowledge, empowering people to learn from others and better understand the world.

Answer by Bernie Klinder, Entrepreneur, Investor, Consultant, on Quora:

Everything in life is a choice. You chose your profession, your level of training, your career options, your employer, where you live, etc., ether by direct action or inaction. The sooner you take responsibility for everything in your life, the better your life will be. You are the architect for what you experience in life, and you teach people every day how to treat you. You teach them what is acceptable and what isn’t.

I’ve been in bad work environments, some of them in large Fortune 500 companies, where managers constantly told people they were lucky to have a job and fired or made examples of people they didn’t like. They had everyone on edge, constantly wondering if they were next. In most cases, it wasn’t isolated to a department – it impacted entry level employees all the way up to senior management themselves.

But I found a few people who didn’t seem to be bothered by it all. When I started paying attention, I noticed that the managers didn’t treat them harshly the way they treated others. It was classic bullying behavior – the managers picked easy targets, people they knew were afraid of losing their jobs. People who wouldn’t stand up for themselves. The managers spread all sorts of falsehoods on what the employment law says they can do. It almost seemed like it was a contest between them on how awful they could be and how far they could push people, and they were always testing that line.

So I asked a few of my colleagues why this didn’t bother them.

Here’s what I found out:

  • They weren’t living paycheck to paycheck: Rain or shine, they put away at least 10% of their pay into a savings account. They had no credit card debt, and could go for months with no income. They knew they would be fine.
  • They knew their value in the marketplace and had several other job offers. Most had at least three “soft offers”. They networked and stayed in touch with every smart person they’d worked with. (LinkedIn makes this easy) They knew others in similar positions at other companies, and who was hiring. By keeping in contact with the top 10%, is was easy to make a call and get referred into a position that was never posted externally. If they lost their jobs tomorrow, they knew they could walk out and land another job in a week. They knew who the decent employers were, and where to avoid.
  • They were always expanding their skill set:They took on extra responsibilities, took advantage of every training opportunity, and focused on building their resume. They checked employment listings to see what skills were in demand, always looking to “what’s next”. They didn’t allow themselves to become so specialized into a single function that had no value outside of that company. (I’ve seen several people do the opposite, thinking if there was no one else who could do that job they would have job security. It never ends well.)
  • They had a plan: The problem with toxic work environments is that the good people with career options leave, which means the only people who stay are the ones who can’t leave and can’t get hired anywhere else. For people looking to expand their skill set, this is an opportunity to learn, take on bigger roles that are vacant, and build your resume. They usually have a defined plan: I’m going to learn this skill, get this much experience, get this certification on their dime, and leave in X months.
  • They knew employment law. Every manager acts like they could fire you tomorrow. “No one is irreplaceable”. I’ve actually had a manager tell me that he proactively fires people who begin to think they are irreplaceable – just to keep the other in line. Don’t stand for this. One of the first things you’ll learn in management training (and an MBA HR class) is how easy it is for an employee to get a manager fired. If your manager says “The law says X”, don’t take their word for it – look it up. Know the Federal and State laws on firing, constructive discharge, “other duties as assigned”, unpaid overtime, exemptions, work breaks, etc. Never argue with your boss. Keep detailed notes of bad behavior, threats, etc. A few week after I left one crappy firm, the Department of Labor called me to verify accusations of management behavior made by an employee. I had a pages of detailed notes: dates, times, locations, who said what, who was present, etc. A few months later I got a big settlement check for back wages and damages – all out of court, and I didn’t have to do a thing.

Of course I realize that there are reasons people get trapped in dead end jobs. Limited opportunities in the local area, waiting for retirement, unable to move. But those are still choices. If you can’t leave on your own, at least follow these steps so you have options if they make the decision for you by laying you off or firing you. It’s always easy to find a job when you already have one. If large numbers of people get laid off, it will be even harder to find work. Having a plan ready to go, and knowing your options will help you sleep at night. It also gives you the confidence to stand up to these bullies, for your own sake and the sake of your coworkers.

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