It’s not fun dealing with a bad boss. No one likes it and it can be hard to figure out how to handle the situation correctly.
You can’t quit every time you get a bad boss, but you also can’t start a riot in the office.
I’ve had a bad boss on more than one occasion. I remember one boss years ago who was prone to bad mood swings especially when she was stressed. She would sit and seethe at her desk under an angry black cloud that would affect the whole office.
Often, she lashed out at her female co-workers, myself included, with vicious, public put-downs. Today, you’d call this workplace bullying but back then you either put up with it or like me, you left.
Clearly, I’m not the only one who’s had a bad boss because I hear bad boss stories all the time from friends, family, former colleagues and clients. The problem seems rife despite improvements in the law.
A good boss makes his men realize they have more ability than they think they have so that they consistently do better work than they thought they could.
~ Charles Erwin Wilson
On the other hand, I’ve also been fortunate to work under some great bosses. These were leaders, not managers, who saw my potential and nurtured my talent. They showed me another side; that there are good bosses out there, strong leaders who empower you, encourage you to to make bold decisions and ultimately develop your own leadership skills.
So, I know what I’m talking about when it comes to dealing with a bad boss or a poor leader.
It’s important to add here that you might think you have a bad boss but you really don’t. It could be that your boss’ management style simply isn’t to your liking, or that your personalities clash. Perhaps your boss doesn’t need to be fixed – maybe you should change your attitude?
How to tell if you have a bad boss
Here are some signs that you might be working for a bad boss or a poor leader.
1. Your boss doesn’t help you succeed
2. Your boss doesn’t appreciate you or make you feel valued
3. Your boss is mean, belligerent, or abusive
4. Doesn’t communicate well with the team
5. Uses fear as a motivator for their team
6. Is a control freak
7. Doesn’t take responsibility for team failures
8. Doesn’t listen to ideas or suggestions from others
9. Doesn’t seem to have a goal for the team
10. Doesn’t provide constructive feedback (or any feedback)
11. Doesn’t compensate you fairly for your work
12. Delegates all their tasks and doesn’t work as a team member
OK, you’ve read the list and confirmed that you definitely have a bad boss. Here are some tips for dealing with him or her:
1. Don’t let it affect your work
If you’re like most people you’ll want to slack off or stop performing well. When someone isn’t being nice to us, or is being a poor leader, we tend to respond with lower performance, a poor attitude and behavioural problems.
Don’t do that!
Make sure you keep working hard despite your bad boss. In the end, the only thing your poor performance is going to damage is your career and any other opportunities that could come your way.
2. Take notes (about everything)
Make sure you document every conversation, request, piece of feedback and criticism (especially “off-the-record” chats about performance). Your bad boss may try to question your performance or output and you want to be able to stand up for yourself. Keep a paper trail. Email is preferable, so if you’re receiving verbal instructions it’s always a good idea to send a follow-up email like this;
“Hi Cheryl, Thanks for talking to me about the Johnson account. As per our discussion, I’ll be working on these 6 things: [list of things]. If I’m leaving anything out, please let me know.”
3. Talk to HR
If you have a Human Resources department in your company, make sure you speak to them and get your concerns documented. You’ll be able to make a case for any unfair treatment, unlawful firing or discrepancies in your performance review.
Your HR department might also have received other complaints about the same person and can make a legitimate case to talk to them about their behaviour. While you should definitely talk to HR, make sure you’re tactful and give a review that isn’t vindictive. Although HR managers are meant to be impartial, ultimately they represent the best interests of the company, not you.
Anything you say can and often will get back to your boss. So don’t let your emotions get the better of you. Be professional in your assessment of your boss’ behaviour and only talk about how that behaviour is affecting your ability to do your job well.
4. Be patient
While you should never put up with abuse of any kind, you can practice patience with a bad boss. If you have a HR department they might call you both in for conflict management.
If you don’t have the help of HR you might have to handle talking to your boss on your own, but choose the right time to broach the topic. If the company is entering a busy period it might not be the best time to bring up a conversation about your boss’ performance. The stress your boss will be under will not make him or her react favourably to your concerns.
Having experienced bad bosses and HR issues myself, there is one more piece of advice I can give you regarding patience.
It could be a sign that it’s time to change your life. Everything happens for a reason, right? So, if you’re really unhappy working for a bad boss then maybe it’s time to move on.
I was well motivated. What I wanted to do was work for myself. I had 22 jobs before I started my business at the age of 23 and I didn’t want one more boss telling me what to do. So I was motivated simply because I didn’t want a boss.
~ Barbara Corcoran
While I don’t recommend trying out as many jobs as Barbara Corcoran, don’t quit your current job straightaway either.
This may sound like I’m contradicting what I said earlier about never getting a job. I’m not. I’m advocating patience and suggesting you play the long game.
Channel your frustration towards your own life and use it to get clear on some of the big questions.
Then, find someone who can help you take that first step. Ideally, this is a person you resonate with who has already achieved success doing what you want to do.
In other words, plan your exit strategy well before you jump ship. Contrary to what you hear about Internet marketing, success rarely comes quickly – and certainly not overnight!
It takes at least 12 months to build an online business and get it to a point where you’re earning an income from it, sometimes more, sometimes less. Several factors influence the growth path, like your business model, the amount of money you have to invest and your current knowledge or experience in business, marketing and sales.
So, an online business is no different to any other kind of business. There are many elements that need to come together before everything clicks.
This takes time, which is why I recommend you get yourself ready while you still have a salary coming in each month.
5. Be a leader yourself
Maybe your boss is a hands-off type of leader and isn’t interested in taking the reigns?
Why not take the initiative (making sure to let your boss know) and become an informal leader to your co-workers and the people you directly serve?
Of course, to do this you’ll have to know your department well. But this could lead to other opportunities that you may not even be aware of. Other managers may see your initiative and leadership abilities and reward you.
Don’t be surprised by who notices you.
It’s happened to me several times and led to opportunities that changed the course of my career and life. Like moving to a different team and being fast-tracked into management. Or being headhunted by a consultant that enabled me to launch my own training company.
These things happened because I used the challenge of working under a bad boss to network and develop my own leadership abilities.
6. Observe your boss
If your boss likes things done a certain way, or hates it when someone says a certain phrase, take note of these things. You don’t have to suck up to your bad boss, but avoiding things that trigger their anger can help make your work life easier.
You might get to a point where you understand your boss’ motivations a little more clearly and are able to see why/how they operate.
It’s also a great exercise in self-awareness and compassion. Because the more we understand others the better we know ourselves.
Have you considered that your boss might be going through a hard time themselves? Maybe their marriage is breaking up. Or they have a serious health challenge. Perhaps their boss is giving them a hard time. They could simply be unhappy and looking for an escape route like so many people.
Remember, we’re all human and just because they’re a bad boss, doesn’t make them a bad person.
Try tweaking a few of your behaviours or processes to make working with your boss a little easier. At the very least, changing your response towards them will help you handle the stress and become a better, more tolerant person.
7. Keep your CV (Resume) polished
If you’re really unhappy at work make sure you’re ready to search for a new job at a moment’s notice. If you can, put out feelers to different recruiters or companies and start making connections in your network as well as on LinkedIn.
Did you know that as many as 60% of all jobs go unadvertised?
This is called the hidden job market and such jobs get filled quickly through connections, direct approaches and right timing. It’s important to keep your LinkedIn profile updated as well as having a current CV (resume) on standby. The last thing you want to do is spend all night updating your information because your boss fired you earlier that same day.
Working for a bad boss can drain you and make your time at work a complete misery.
But it doesn’t have to be the end of the world.
There are several strategies for dealing with an incompetent boss, including changing your own attitude towards them, keeping an eye out for a better job opportunity (with a good boss!) or better still, starting an online business.
Because if you find it impossible to work for someone else, or keep running into bad bosses then maybe it’s time to back yourself? Just remember that although entrepreneurship is definitely more rewarding, it has its own challenges.
Do you have a bad boss story? Please share it in the comments below and tell us what you learned. You might help someone.