Podcast: Should I Break Up With My Boss?
Updated: Feb 26
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Should I break up with my boss?
Did you see this one coming? In keeping with our Valentine’s series, ”Should I Break Up?”, let’s dare to ask ourselves: Should I Break Up With My Boss?
I’m your host, Joy Ryan, of Joy At Large. I host this podcast channel The Unlimited Series to bring you tools of the facilitation trade to difficult dilemmas we face at work and home. If you’ve heard our first episode, we’re on the scene with a tool called Process Communication Model - a personality/communication/conflict Swiss-army knife used by NASA, Bill Clinton, Pixar and so many more, researched by Dr. Taibi Kahler.
We exposed the false beliefs in our previous episode: Should I Break Up With My Partner? Today, let’s bring PCM to a question we’ve all faced at some point in our lives: Should I Break Up With My Boss?
One unique thing about this pandemic is the blanket of stress we’re all facing at the same time. I’m a nerd so I’m going to use this analogy. It’s like COVID has put the whole world in this microwave, and all the people-shaped molecules are jittering and vibrating at a higher frequency all together, at the same time.
Think about it. It used to be that someone was having a bad time and bringing that stress to the word environment. Today, we’re arriving at our screens and every single person is enduring the same stress of a lockdown, albeit in very different ways.
Which begs the question: Should I break up with my boss?
I once had a boss who stormed into the office, heels clicking under her weight and temper. She was angry. She was angry that someone had started a meeting without her because a client had arrived early. She threw her coat on her assistant’s desk, narrowly missing her assistant, and entered the meeting room smiling. She belittled her team in front of her client, saying she: “paid for everyone’s salary here!” and when the meeting was over, she kept my colleague in the room to give him an earful.
There was once I had a similar treatment. I’d booked a flight that arrived the morning of work and wanted to come into work anyway. She stamped towards the meeting room (again), and clicked her fingers at me to follow her. I was in my early 20s, I remember, wondering what this was all about. She slammed the door behind us, and then cornered me and demanded to know why I was coming into work the morning of my arrival. I think she thought I wasn’t going to survive the day after a long flight… but I think I felt my heart stop, and though I was at least a head taller than her, she struck such an imposing figure that she seems so much larger in that moment.
This isn’t half as bad as an ex-colleague of mine at a different job, who was pulling long hours consistently for months while getting sexually harassed by her boss. She had a great work ethic and a high tolerance for pain, that she endured the physical toll of her gruelling schedule and psychological wearing for months: she lost her eyesight temporarily, suffered crippling headaches and fainting spells in the office… but got back up each time she felt well enough to work.
There isn’t enough podcasting servers in the world that will contain all the horror stories people have experienced with their bosses.
The question we don’t ask until it’s too late is: Should I break up with my boss?
Here’s the PCM angle.
There are three levels of distress, one that follows the other. In everyday words, the way we experience unhealthy emotions appears in three ways. One is worse than the next. That last stage appears as depression but can take the form of extreme anti-social behaviour, extreme victimisation, extreme paranoia, extreme passive-aggressiveness and so on.
Usually people have an instinct to protect themselves and leave their jobs (or get fired) before they stay too long in the third and more severe level of distress.
“Should I break up with my boss” is less a question about how horrible they are, and more about how this stress is showing up for you.
There are a few different ways in PCM that the second level of distress shows up: are you… overworking and burnt out? Are you… making more mistakes at work and getting criticised for it, and see people you love leave you? Can’t seem to take responsibility for yourself anymore? Manipulating others? Becoming more detached from reality, escaping through new hobbies, or becoming a recluse?
In PCM, distress is observable, sequential and predictable. We can see it. One level follows the next, and we can know what will happen next before it happens.
In the stress of that job, I spaced out. In the stress of her job, my ex colleague worked even harder. We knew how to cope. And we need to work. So, what’s wrong with living in the second level of distress?
“That’s everyone I know who works hard. Something’s gotta give.”
And you’re right. It’s our choice. You choose what you want to feel, think, and do with your life - all the time.
Enduring a difficult boss is a choice.
Let’s circle back to the PCM rule of distress: what comes after second, is third. If second is where we fail to think clearly, like overworking and being less productive because of it, fail to communicate clearly… third is the state of ambivalence: what’s the point anyway?
This is a state of depression that takes professional help to work on. A friend who left her job after a year of toxic bosses who constantly belittled her and her work, is another year into still finding herself again and the process has unearthed other past traumas that compound to her road of feeling empowered, free of anxiety, and clear minded again.
The price of living in second level and then third level distress is something that’s hidden, not advertised. After all, who wants to lose a hardworking employee who overworks when stressed?
And what keeps us from developing a sense of self-awareness enough to realise we’re in an emotionally unhealthy state? It’s the same distress that clouds our ability to think clearly about our situation, and invites us to feed ourselves false beliefs, like that there is no other way when the reality is: you have a choice.
I won’t forget this story a client of mine shared with me.
This was about her very first job out of university. She was hired to be chief of staff for a very senior person at an MNC (multinational corporation). Her experience is summarised in this instance: a shareholder’s meeting was scheduled for the next day. He arrived at the venue she’d arranged, it was the end of the work day. He saw something she’d prepared, and wasn’t happy. He told her to replace them. She was at a loss. Where was she going to find a replace with all the businesses closed for the day? “That’s not my problem. Fix it.” During her time there, she stopped talking to her friends, stopped eating and sleeping well, and was at his beck and call every minute of everyday. This is very normal in an Asian work culture, and normal for every intern / entry level job. Living in second level distress is an institutionalised rites of passage into the working world. And there, we continue to believe this is the way the world works. We make substandard choices for ourselves, and our loved ones, sacrifice our health, and erode how well we know ourselves.
When she handed in her notice, her boss threatened her. Today, he continues to check in on her, keeping tabs on her. Not in a way that’s caring, but in a way that’s monitoring her moves. It’s eerie… but years later, she’s worked on having a healthier balance with herself and work. She knew it was time to break up with her boss - she gave herself a set amount of time to get something good on her CV before giving him an Adios! Any longer will have prolonged her path to recovery.
And so, should I break up with my boss?
If you can see yourself in second level - or even third level - distress for an extended time, it may be time to say Boy, Bye. Or girl. Or them. Quoting Beyonce.
And that’s today’s PCM take on bosses.
What you’ve just heard is a simplified, shorthand use of PCM on figuring out when enough is enough with a boss. PCM is short for Process Communication Model. And this episode was brought to you by a certified PCM trainer, Joy Ryan, that’s me, of Joy At Large which is a facilitation studio based in London.
What we haven’t talked about is abuse of power. The boss-employee set up invites the game of politics, and to that, we echo the concept you’ll hear in our previous episodes about Should I Break Up With My Partner: if your boss is consciously “making you feel bad” by manipulating, attacking, undermining, blaming and all the glorious self-eroding tactics you can count up… then get out. Break up.
If it’s unconscious, they are stressed and unconsciously taking it out in unhealthy and uncommunicative ways… there’s room for growth if they are self-aware and willing.
But in this episode, we turned the spotlight on you: are you self-aware of how you’re dealing with this stress? I live with a partner who doesn’t get fazed easily by a bad boss or a bad colleague…. Water of a duck’s back ought to be his middle name. He also has a solid sense of who he is and what he’s about. While everyone is Slacking about how stressed their are about their work, he feels the stress but contains the stress of work within 9-6pm, and decompresses with me and the XBox - separately of course!
I hope this episode has helped you ask questions that matter: what are you showing right now? Is this sustainable? Are you aware of the consequences of the choice you make to stay or break up with your boss?
We’re here for more “Should I Break Up?” mini-casts. Stay tuned and send in a request, a story, an idea you want us to talk about.
Happy processing! This is Joy Ryan, signing off.
Follow our seasonal podcast series Should I Break Up? here.