Are you the person in your company who cleans up your boss’s messes and soothes the hurt feelings they leave in their wake?
If the answer is yes, says bestselling management author and CNBC contributor Suzy Welch, “you’re probably a toxic handler — a job likely handed to you without having been asked, and one you should shed as soon as humanly possible.”
The concept of the “toxic handler” was first introduced in a 1999 Harvard Business Review article written by Canadian business academics Sandra Robinson and the late Peter Frost. In the article, Welch tells CNBC Make It, “Frost and Robinson did a brilliant job describing the heroics that toxic handlers often perform to keep their teams functioning.”
“Usually,” Welch says, ”[toxic handlers] are close in stature to the boss — a second-in-command, so to speak. And in that role, they manage to do their own jobs, plus spend an inordinate amount of time putting out the fires their boss has started.”
Welch says this job is an “unhealthy full-time side hustle,” and one that probably sounds all too familiar to many professionals.
In almost every situation, “being a toxic handler is a dead-end gig.” For one, it’s emotionally draining. And in many cases, “jerk bosses do get fired, and their toxic handlers are usually the collateral damage that goes out the door with them.”
“There’s no shame in being a toxic handler,” she emphasizes. “It’s a role usually imposed on the nicest people in an organization.”
But if that role has been given to you then it’s in your best interest to give it back, even if that means going to HR about the situation. “Your toxic boss may not be happy — he needs you to survive,” she says. “But if you want to survive, you have to let him clean up that mess himself. ”
Suzy Welch is the co-founder of the Jack Welch Management Instituteand a noted business journalist, TV commentator and public speaker. Think you need Suzy to fix your career? Email her at firstname.lastname@example.org.