Pop culture loves to make fun of bad bosses, from the bungling boss in the Dilbert comic strip, to the inept Steve Carell from The Office, to the banal, overtly boring boss, Bill Lumbergh (Gary Cole) from the hilarious movie Office Space. But bad bosses are no laughing matter for the legions of employees who have to face them every working day.
Unfortunately, with the rightsizing of corporate America over the last several years, there are probably more overworked and under-trained bosses now than ever. Still, most employees stick it out hoping their bad boss will either quit or sink their own ship and hang in there due to a tepid economy and challenging job market. Most people will simply tell you they need the job.
There are some bosses who are so unprofessional and so unreasonable, whereby you should just walk away from the job. But for the most part, you can survive a boss who’s quirky or difficult to deal with. Here are five tips for surviving, and maybe even thriving, when you have a bad boss:
1- Don’t just quit—yet
Don’t employ a knee-jerk reaction and quit—at least not until you’ve tried a few coping strategies. People are usually disappointed in that they think they’re going to get a better boss somewhere else and all they really get is a different boss somewhere else. If you think the problem is that your boss can’t (or won’t) change, ask for a transfer to another department providing you enjoy your company and your work.
2- Consider scheduling a meeting with your boss to discuss
Make sure you’re in a quiet, undisturbed place so that you have their complete attention, and you are calm and collected. Suggest meeting outside the office for breakfast or lunch. It’s possible that your boss is unaware of his/her actions, and this meeting could be very positive for all involved. If you can, explain the changes that would make working conditions better, improve productivity, and make for a happier atmosphere. Suggesting specific alternatives makes it easier to make positive changes in a tactful, friendly, non-accusatory manner.
What Makes a Manager a Bad Boss?(About.com Poll Results – total votes 29,285)
- Provides little direction: 30%
- Micromanages and nit-picks your work: 25%
- Belittles and puts down staff: 19%
- Offers little or no recognition for success and hard work: 11%
- Is indecisive and seemingly changes direction at whim: 9%
- Other: 2%
3- Acknowledge your boss when they get it right
Many managers never receive praise or acknowledgement because somehow, it is mistakenly believed that praise should only flow from managers to employees. You may be anxious about approaching your manager to offer advice, but good managers are appreciative for constructive, useful feedback, and will be thankful for any opportunity they get to learn how to do a better job. Tell them how their ideas, changes, new procedures, etc., have improved your ability to do your job well.
4- Find a mentor with the company
If you love the company but not the boss, another solution is to develop a mentoring relationship with a boss/supervisor in another part of the company. Mentoring is a fantastic strategy that you should consider even if you have a good boss. A mentor is someone who can help you in many ways, from offering advice, to acting as a sounding board, to suggesting you for a promotion.
5- Don’t sacrifice your health or mental well-being
At some point, if you’ve exhausted all diplomatic approaches, enough is enough. The worst thing you can do is simply to do nothing, hoping the problems will get resolved. No job, boss, or company is worth losing your health or mental well-being. If you can’t find a way to resolve the issues and/or your boss simply will never change his/her behavior, you should immediately start working your network and begin looking for a new job.
Don’t assume you know what the boss is dealing with. Maybe he or she has an incompetent, unstable boss. If you can, delicately pick the brains of an employee who worked for your bad boss before you and find out what pleases them and what pushes their buttons.
If your boss is in the habit of bullying or aggressive behavior, then you might be able to solve the problem altogether by filing a complaint with your boss’s boss. Also, keep in mind that things like discrimination and sexual harassment are illegal in the workplace which means that every boss—no matter at what level—must answer to the code of the law.