Feel like killing your boss?

We all get frustrated in work from time-to-time, especially when the boss is piling the extra work on, seemingly oblivious to the fact that you’re already working every waking hour and coming perilously close to burn out.

It’s at this point that your  ‘fight or flight’ instinct might kick in, and while some will choose ‘flight’ and look for a way out, others will choose ‘fight’ and look for a showdown with the powers that be. Some will even look at their boss and wish they’d drop dead – if this sound like you, it’s perfectly normal, and you’re far from alone.

Have you ever wanted to kill your boss?

If you’ve ever gone into the office with murder on your mind, you’re not alone and not necessarily a psychopath – not only is this more common than you might think, it could actually be quite a healthy state of mind. So long as you don’t actually cross the line, of course.

A new study by Dr Julia Shaw, a criminal psychologist and honorary research associate at University College London, has found that more than half of employees have imagined killing a person they know at some stage in their lives.

On the face of it, this sounds like the behaviour of a crazed maniac, but Dr Shaw suggests it’s not an entirely negative process, and having feelings of ill-will to bosses and decision-makers in the workplace is actually a way of empathising with them.
Speaking at the Cheltenham Science Festival, Dr Shaw said: “Popular targets are your boss, ex-partners – the list goes on, you can picture where your fantasies might go. Now, of course most of us don’t engage in murder ever, luckily.”
“You think things through, you imagine what the consequences would be like, you imagine what it might be like to actually go through with it — and guess what your decision generally is? ‘I don’t want to do that, because those are not the consequences I would like’.”
So, if your boss is really grinding your gears and you feel like grinding their face into the floor, the fact that you won’t actually go through with this is perfectly normal and a completely natural process for humans – our evolved intelligence enables us to plan and predict outcomes that can arise from specific behaviours.

Dr Shaw added: “Fantasies and empathy exercises are critical to making good decisions, particularly in situations where you don’t have much time. While things are pretty good – that’s the time to do empathy exercises.

“Now is the time to wrestle with your morality and do a health check, because you don’t know what the future brings and you don’t know what kind of quick decisions you might make later.”

It’s not all good news though – a US study found that found daydreaming about violence could harm your own mental health and wellbeing.

The study looked at 139 participants, some of whom were asked to imagine behaving violently towards people they hated. Those that were asked to think violent thoughts were found to be less contented and more likely to get stuck with repetitive thoughts that can have a negative impact on mental health.

Even so, Dr Shaw said murderous thoughts were essential in making sure people acted in accordance with their moral code.

How to calm anxiety at work

If you’re having murderous thoughts about your boss, you’re probably not mentally in a great place and it could even trigger feelings of anxiety and depression. If you suffer any form of anxiety in the workplace, here are five coping mechanisms that could help:

  • Slow down your breathing – Feelings of anxiety mixed with fast and shallow breathing can bring on a panic attack, so try to sit back in your chair and breath in deeply for five seconds, then breath out until you don’t have any breath left. Repeat this several times until your chest feels less tight and your mind has stopped racing.
  • Get up and about – When anxiety strikes, the office can feel very heavy and claustrophobic, so take time away from your desk, preferably completely out of the office and outside if possible. A brisk 10-15 minute walk should be enough to clear your head.
  • Break up your workload – Being overworked is a major cause of anxiety and burn out. If you’re feeling overwhelmed, try to break down your tasks into smaller jobs with realistic time frames to manage your own expectations and the expectations of others. If you still feel the workload is too heavy, speak to colleagues and your line manager to work out a solution.
  • Work from home – When work is becoming too much, it throws out your work-life balance. Working from home is a tried and trusted way to get you back on track. If you’re worried about missing meetings, you can dial in via conference call. And check out How to work from home for everything you need to know about remote working.
  • Speak to someone – If any area of your work or home life is becoming too much, it always helps to speak to someone – you’ll be surprised how many people have been through or are going through the same as you. If you’d sooner speak to someone anonymously, try any of the following numbers:
    • Mind – MindInfoline 0300 123 3393
    • Anxiety UK (formerly National Phobics Society) – 08444 775 774
    • Anxiety Alliance – 0845 296 7877
    • No Panic – 0844 967 4848

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