Bad bosses generally come in two forms: dysfunctional, like Michael Scott from the TV series The Office, and dark, like Gordon Gekko from the film Wall Street.

Researchers, including Seth M. Spain from Binghamton University, State University of New York, are building a framework to better understand the behaviors of bad bosses and reduce workplace stress.

In a new chapter from Research in Occupational Stress and Well-Being titled, “Stress, Well-Being, And the Dark Side of Leadership,” Spain looks to establish a taxonomy for identifying bad bosses and their distinct behaviors.

He said that there are two definitions of a bad boss, and both can cause a great deal of stress to employees.

“They don’t want to hurt you,” says Spain of dysfunctional bosses.

“Through lack of skill, or other personality defects, they’re just not very good at their job. Largely, that’s what we would call dysfunctional.”

Degrees of the Dark Side

Dark bosses, on the other hand, have destructive behaviors, and hurt others to elevate themselves, says Spain.

A person’s direct supervisor is a lens through which they view their work experience.
These bosses are looked at through the three characteristics called the “Dark Triad,” which includes Machiavellianism, narcissism, and psychopathy.

“[These are] people who enjoy the pain and suffering of others—they’re going to be mean, abusive, and harassing in daily life,” says Spain.

That’s not to say that there aren’t degrees in which these characteristics are displayed. Everybody exhibits these behaviors at some level, he adds.

Impact on Employees

According to Spain, bad bosses, whether they’re dysfunctional or dark, can cause a great deal of stress to employees.

“A person’s direct supervisor is a lens through which they view their work experience. We think, in particular, that a boss can be an incredibly substantial source of stress for people who work for them,” says Spain.

Having this framework of behaviors that bad bosses exhibit can be the first step toward fixing them, ultimately reducing stress in the workplace, he adds.

“We believe that these characteristics are extremely important for understanding employee development and career advancement.

“Understanding the role that these characteristics play in stress experiences at work is extremely important, especially since bad leaders can cause so much suffering for their subordinates.”