A bad boss may be the kick in the rear you need to change your life

It’s clear that having a bad boss can send your stress levels through the roof. But research suggests that it could also increase your happiness.

A study published in the journal Work and Stress found that bad bosses make us so miserable that the situation makes us reach out to friends and find ways to improve our lives: “under some conditions, the process of dealing with emotional exhaustion can enhance happiness.”

But how? The researchers suggested that if your supervisor constantly stresses you out, you might feel better if you plan and finding support from others. They point to coming up with a strategy to change your job and your life and reaching out to others about it.

“We posit that perceiving low supervisor support enhances the employee’s engagement in the development of an action plan, which, when paired with an active search for instrumental social support, boosts happiness,” the study said.

How they did it: The researchers usedthe sustainable happiness model,” and conducted multiple studies. Participants included “81 Portugal-based team leaders working under direct supervision; 177 US-based supervised full-time workers and 242 US-based employees working full-time and under direct supervision.”

Emotional exhaustion and what comes afterward

Anyone who’s had a bad boss knows it’s tiring; managing office life under a troublesome leader can take up enormous resources and even lead to burnout.

The researchers acknowledged bad consequences of emotional exhaustion, citing outside research— including  “poorer performance,” “higher incivility,” and “depression.”

But there’s a silver lining: we are more resilient than we know.

‘Posttraumatic Growth’ and how we bounce back

One group elaborated on this idea of our resilience, called “posttraumatic growth.” The Posttraumatic Growth Research Group at UNC Charlotte reportedly came up with the term “posttraumatic growth,” but acknowledges this concept has been around for a while. (The author Ernest Hemingway, for instance, had the famous observation that “the world breaks everyone, and afterward many are stronger at the broken places.”)

For instance, the study said that “…the literature on recovery from challenging and highly traumatic life circumstances suggests that people may be able not only to overcome them but also to experience positive outcomes in their aftermath,” citing outside research.

The Posttraumatic Growth Research Group said that this idea “tends to occur in five general areas,” including the perception that “new opportunities have emerged from the struggle,” “closer relationships with some specific people,” and “an increased sense of one’s own strength.”

However, not everyone is resilient, and for some people, having a bad boss or a stressful or traumatic work environment can haunt their entire career:  “we most definitely are not implying that traumatic events are good,” and that ”posttraumatic growth is not universal,” the Group said.

Coping mechanisms

If you’re feeling emotionally drained at the end of every work day because of your supervisor, there may be a solution if you aren’t quite ready to search for a new job with better management. The best piece of advice from the study is to expand your social network, and your professional one. Those human contacts can sustain you long after you find a solution.


As for managers and team leaders, the best advice is to back off until an employee asks for help with a bad boss. If help comes too early, the employee may not work to improve his or her own situation, the researchers suggested: “it might be useful to just provide support when and if requested. Otherwise, the employee may not engage or delay the engagement in coping activities that can enhance his/her happiness.”