This Isn't What I Signed Up For
Kathy was elated. She had just landed her dream job. You know, the one she had been trying to get for three years. But soon her boss began making up nasty stories about her, spreading lies around the office. Worse, every time her boss made a mistake, the boss blamed it on Kathy. Soon, Kathy had to make a choice – confront her boss and defend herself against the terrible accusations or risk losing her job...
It has often been said that the relationship between a boss and their employee is like a marriage. Indeed, some employees work closely together with their bosses up to fifty hours a week, sometimes under difficult circumstances. It is very important, therefore, that the relationship between boss and employee be a healthy, functional one, and mutually respectful. If that respect is lacking, the workplace can become a very stressful and potentially harmful environment.
As in any marriage, both parties need to demonstrate a full commitment to each other for the relationship to be successful. Commitment provides security and bolsters trust. A recent poll strongly suggests a correlation between job satisfaction and commitment levels between bosses and employees. Naturally those who were satisfied with their jobs felt a stronger level of commitment to and from their bosses. Those who felt dissatisfied at work reported low levels of mutual commitment. 
Like a bad marriage, there can be considerable negative physical, mental and emotional side-effects if a healthy commitment is lacking between boss and employee. Psychological issues such as depression, alcohol and drug abuse, eating disorders, frustration, isolation, and resentment may be experienced if exposed to excessive workplace stress. Proven physical complications related to workplace stress include gastrointestinal issues, headaches, skin conditions, allergies, sleep disturbances and respiratory illnesses.  Even more troubling, the link between work-related stress and “metabolic syndrome”, which is a group of medical problems that when taken together can cause both cardiovascular illness and diabetes, has been strongly proven. Prolonged exposure affects the nervous system and neuroendocrine activity, raising the levels of the stress hormone cortisol. This is the hormone that regulates our “fight or flight” response and has been correlated to blood sugar imbalances and higher blood pressure. 
What Do I Do?
What should you do then if your boss is stressing you out? You need that job so a quickie divorce is out of the question, right?
Unfortunately, dealing with a difficult boss can be very tricky because at once you are forced to deal with competing objectives: the need to keep your job and the need to defend yourself. At this crossroads, it is best to keep in mind your long term goals and resist the biological urge to fight or flee. Yes, you have to stand up for yourself, but engaging in an argument or impulsively quitting may not serve you in the long run if it costs you your income, so try to stay cool and speak without emotion if you find yourself in a stressful situation.
Take the high road and be the reasonable one. This will diffuse current tensions and help you in the future should it become necessary to involve supervisors down the road. If you are subjected to an attack, ask your boss what they are upset about. This not only puts the burden back on them but it shows that you are capable of empathy. Sympathize with your boss' emotions if you must. Try to agree a certain amount to what they are saying but do not agree to negative generalizations about you. That is when to draw the line and calmly defend yourself. 
If you find that you are not able to cope with workplace conflict without being confrontational or argumentative, you may want to modify your approach to conflict and adopt coping strategies. Training in creative problem solving or mutual gains bargaining, which is designed to foster a “win-win” solution and to create a lasting agreement, may help.  Seek social support where necessary. That is, turn to the people to whom you would normally turn in a stressful situation for support.
If the stress at work continues, it is advisable to involve supervisors, who may be better able to engage in fair behaviors and compensate for workplace injustice.  Be sure that you have carefully documented your boss' actions as well as your own work before approaching the supervisors. Never confront the situation with accusations but with facts. Also, in this way, you will come across as the competent one and prove your boss to be unreasonable. 
For your own sake, never get involved in office gossip, as tempting as it may be. Be careful what you say to others about your boss. Gossip travels fast and you may inadvertently give your boss just what they need to attack you.
With a cool head, office smarts, and a little planning, the workplace need not be a stress-fest. You can take control of the situation and make your workplace productive again.
 [“Employers and Employees - Making the Marriage Work: The Importance of Employee Commitment” http://www.insightlink.com/employee_commitment.html]
 [“Intervention in Occupational Stress: A Handbook of Counseling for Stress at Work”
By Randall R Ross, Elizabeth M Altmaier 1994]
 [“Chronic stress at work and the metabolic syndrome: prospective study” Tarani Chandola, Eric Brunner, Michael Marmo 2006 http://www.bmj.com/highwire/filestream/338381/field_highwire_article_pdf_abri/0.pdf]
 “Dealing with Difficult People” Nando Pelusi, Ph.D., 2006 http://www.psychologytoday.com/articles/200609/dealing-difficult-people ]
 [“What Goes Around Comes Around: The Impact of Personal Conflict and Stress”. The International Journal of Conflict Management 2000, Vol.11. Raymond A. Friedman et al.]
 [“Emerging Perspectives on Managing Organizational Justice”, edited by Dirk Douglas Steiner, Stephen Gilliland, Daniel Skarlicki http://www.ruf.rice.edu/~jgspaper/P_Currall00_IJCM_Conflict.PDF ]
 [“5 Ways to Deal with a Difficult Boss”, Lauren Bayne Anderson http://college.monster.com/benefits/articles/2136-5-ways-to-deal-with-a-difficult-boss
Christie Hunter is registered clinical counselor in British Columbia and co-founder of Theravive. She is a certified management accountant. She has a masters of arts in counseling psychology from Liberty University with specialty in marriage and family and a post-graduate specialty in trauma resolution. In 2007 she started Theravive with her husband in order to help make mental health care easily attainable and nonthreatening. She has a passion for gifted children and their education. You can reach Christie at 360-350-8627 or write her at christie - at - theravive.com.