Accessible version of Dealing with a stressful boss

The accessible version of the Dealing with a stressful boss learning module.

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In this module, you will learn strategies you can use to address the stress and anxiety you may be experiencing when things are tense with your manager.

To access the non-conforming version of this module, see Dealing with a stressful boss learning module.

Below is the transcript for the Dealing with a stressful boss YouTube video.


Improving our understanding about diverse personalities or management styles can make it easier to work for people who are different than us. For example, some people speak fast when others speak very slowly; some people talk high level when others share a lot of detail.

Take a step back and try to understand the bigger picture of what they’re managing on a daily basis. Maybe they’re stressed out or having trouble coping.

They may be going through a rough patch, not feeling themselves or may not be aware of an ongoing challenge that’s being created for you. Talk to them about what you notice in an objective way, be kind and don’t make it personal (or take it personally yourself).

It’s important to take care of yourself and to take time to recover when you’re feeling stress.

It’s also important to understand what your manager can do to help reduce your stress responses, so you can have a positive conversation with them. 

In a respectful conversation with your manager, clearly state what they can do (or how they can communicate differently) to help you stay motivated and feeling positive. 

If the issue can’t be resolved, or you don’t feel safe speaking with your manager, reach out for help. This can be to a trusted friend for advice, or you can contact HR, speak to your manager’s leader or reach out to a professional through your Employee and Family Assistance Program or in your community.

Communicating with your manager when there's tension

Problem: You’re having a hard time communicating with your manager – maybe they aren't approachable; unpredictable, appear too busy to listen; are difficult to speak with or you feel like they’re giving you a hard time. How can you talk to them about the issue in a way that’s not uncomfortable?

It’s not uncommon for employees to feel tension with their manager. A 2023 study commissioned by Workplace Strategies for Mental Health and conducted by Mental Health Research Canada found that 27% of Canadian respondents reported that their direct manager is the most frequent source of workplace stress or trauma.

The good news is, most managers aren’t making things difficult for you on purpose, and there are things you can do to help address tensions and build a healthier working relationship.

Hello! My name is Carlos. In this lesson, you'll learn to try the following to help resolve tensions with your

Try to understand their management and communication style, and how it may unintentionally contribute to tension or stress for you.

Take a step back and put yourself in their shoes. What are they dealing with at work or in their personal life right now? Maybe they're under a lot of stress and aren't coping well.

Maybe there’s something you can do to help them – which can in turn help you.

Talk to them objectively about what you’re noticing in their thinking, mood or behaviour. Don’t make assumptions about their intentions. 

Knowing what you need and what needs to change is an important step for you to manage your stress and to start a conversation about what can make things better.

Respectfully let them know what you need and what works to help keep you motivated and feeling positive at work.

If you don’t feel safe speaking to your manager one-on-one, reach out to someone who can help you consider how to approach the situation.

Working with your manager's style

Although these suggestions are to protect yourself when dealing with a difficult manager's style, please remember to consider reaching out or even finding a different job if this is damaging to your health and wellbeing. 

If you feel like your manager’s style is…


(Overly emotional, intense, intimidating, unpredictable, reactionary or even bullying)

Protect yourself: Stay calm and resist responding until they’re calm too. Their stress level is likely high, and any unwelcome or unexpected response could make the situation worse.


(Not trusting employees to do their jobs correctly, or feeling like employees or upper management will let them down or are out to get them)

Protect yourself: Don’t challenge or question them unnecessarily. Provide ample information about your work whenever asked. Don’t take risks or try new things without getting permission first.

Risk averse

(Fearing being judged or criticized, preventing them from taking even reasonable chances. They may avoid change and want to explore ideas extensively before they’re ready to take action)

Protect yourself: Slow down and stick to the procedures and your responsibilities. Point out any risks associated with not changing or keeping the status quo.

Hot and cold

(Agreeable to your face, but then goes against you behind your back, drags their feet or doesn’t do what they say because they have trouble expressing their opinion)

Protect yourself: Don’t argue or debate with them. Ask what they want and how they want it. Don’t assume they’ll agree or provide you with support when needed, but don’t be afraid to request it when necessary.


(Enjoys being the center of attention, and may only focus their attention for a short period of time on any one thing before getting excited, or upset, about something else)

Protect yourself: Pay attention when they’re in front of you and let them have the floor. Resist giving any advice or taking focus away from them – if you feel the need, save it for another time.


(Worries about minute details of work that others are doing, and their demands seem impossible. They may slow you down by wanting to be involved or aware of every step along the way)

Protect yourself: Pay close attention to detail with this manager, but you also may want to find ways to assure them your work will be up to agreed-upon standards.

If your attempts to talk to your manager or protect yourself from undue stress at work is ineffective, reach out for help before allowing it to cause serious strain to your mental health. 

How you can talk and help your manager

If your manager hasn’t been themselves lately or doesn’t appear to be coping well with their own stress, how can you talk to them about it?

  • Ask them how they’re doing. Give them the opportunity to share their own challenges to help you understand what they are experiencing.
  • Remind them of what they usually do well (e.g., “You usually give me space and support to get the job done.”).
  • Say what you notice (e.g., “Lately I’ve noticed you’re  becoming increasingly involved and don’t seem to trust me to get the job done.”).
  • Tell them how your work is impacted by their words or behaviour. (e.g., “I’ve been less able to focus when you are looking over my shoulder and my work is suffering.”)

Focusing on what they have done right in the past and sharing your perspective objectively about what’s lacking right now helps to keep the conversation positive and focusing on solutions.

If they share that they’re struggling right now, you can ask how you can help. You may also want to encourage them to take a break or get some support for themselves.

Let your manager know what they can do differently

Your manager may not realize their approach is causing you stress. If you are comfortable doing so, It’s okay to let them know what they can do differently. 

Take time to understand what your manager can change to help keep you feeling motivated and positive at work. You could ask them to do any of the following. As you read through the list, jot down these or other ideas that could work for you: 

  • Be honest when you don’t agree 
  • Give respectful feedback
  • Be flexible about how I get the job done
  • Trust me to get the job done to your standards
  • Respect my boundaries about work-life balance
  • Be patient when I don’t understand
  • Support me to learn and grow from my mistakes 
  • Be balanced in feedback so that it’s not just focused on what went wrong
  • Recognize the positive or a job well done
  • Avoid raising your voice or other body language that feels disapproving, irritated or negative

Phrases you can use to help express what you need

In this lesson, you'll learn phrases you can use to help express what you need…

  • “Having instructions in writing or feeling like I can ask questions can help me better meet your expectations.”
  • “I find that when I have time to rest and relax in my personal time, I’m more productive at work.”
  • “What can I do to help you feel like you can trust me to get the job done?”
  • “I’d like to get feedback more regularly so I’m sure that we’re on the same page.”
  • “Sometimes I need time to process information so I can fully understand.”
  • “Is it possible to re-frame feedback that may be hard to hear in a way that focuses on what I need to do next time, rather than what I did wrong?”
  • “It’s very motivating for me when my hard work is recognized privately or with the team.”
  • “It causes me a lot of stress when people shout or raise their voice.”

Tip: Stick to what will work for you. Avoid using “you” statements that sound critical or lay blame, as this could make your manager feel defensive and less open to hearing your views on what will make things better.

Your personal plan to manage stress right now

Consider sharing with your manager what you will personally do to help yourself manage stress right now. This demonstrates personal responsibility in addition to your requests for their changes in behaviour.

Some ideas may be: 

  • Take the breaks I’m entitled to and use them for my well-being
  • Use my vacation and mental health days
  • Go for a brisk walk during my break
  • Focus on what’s within my control in the situation
  • Make sure I’m getting enough sleep
  • Reach out to a friend or family member
  • I will book an appointment with a mental health professional 
  • I will start a mindfulness meditation practice 


Below are a list of some of the Workplace Strategies resources which can help you reduce anxiety and deal with stressors more effectively. 

Professional assistance and support

Remember: Your manager isn’t likely trying to make your life stressful intentionally. They may just need to learn how to communicate with you in a more productive way, and that’s something you can help with.

If you want to talk it through with someone before you have that talk with your manager, or if you’re struggling to figure out what can make things better, try reaching out to your Employee and Family Assistance program or a professional counsellor or coach.

If you’ve tried everything you can think of or you just don’t feel safe having the conversation with your manager, you could reach out to Human Resources or someone else in your organization that can provide insight or help.

Knowledge check

See Responses below to see the answers to the following 2 questions.

1. Your manager is suddenly stressing you out. What might you say?

  • Ask how they are doing 
  • Remind them of what they usually do well 
  • Talk to them about what you notice 
  • Tell them how your work is impacted by their words or behaviour 
  • Any of the above depending on your situation

2. If you need help from your manager what might you ask for?

  • Instructions in writing to help you meet their expectations
  • What you could do differently to gain their trust?
  • Feedback more regularly to know you are on the right track
  • Any of the above, depending on your needs 


  1. Any of the above depending on your situation. 
  2. Any of the above, depending on your needs. 

Tip sheet and resources

We’ve put together a tip sheet with the main learning points of this module. We recommend you save or print it as a reference. There are also free resources you can use if you want a deeper dive on this subject.

We welcome your feedback on this module or any of our resources. Please contact us with your suggestions. 


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