How to Deal With a Bad Boss: 15 Top Tips

Having a bad boss is the worst. Learn what to do to manage the situation...

Reviewed by Hayley Ramsey

Employees wondering how to deal with a bad boss in a meeting

Most of us have experienced a “bad boss” at least once in our career. These are bosses who micromanage, play favorites, engage in bad mouthing, are frequently unavailable or consistently put their own interests above those of their subordinates. And they can make your working life a nightmare.

But there are some methods you can apply to better deal with a bad boss — and save your sanity in the long run. Keep reading to discover 15 tips you can use to deal with a bad boss.

1. Identify the problems

If you’re dealing with bad management, one of the first steps is to identify exactly which of your boss’s behaviors trigger you. It’s common to feel emotional responses like stress and anger at work but to not be able to pinpoint the cause. And oftentimes, a bad boss will have a pattern of behaviors that negatively impact you in the long term.

Perhaps they ask for excessive status updates, expect you to be available 24/7, or give destructive criticism. Whatever the triggers, it’s important to first identify them so you can better solve the problems with your boss.

2. Self-reflect

It is common to criticize the faults in others while overlooking those in ourselves. But if you’re dealing with a bad boss, it’s important to practice some self-reflection in order to determine if there is anything you did that may be contributing to the issues.

For example, if you frequently miss deadlines, this may be why your boss feels the need to ask for excessive status updates. Or if you aren’t as productive as your boss expects, ask yourself if you could work on increasing your productivity at work.

3. Don’t let it affect your work

As hard as may be, try to not let a bad boss negatively impact the quality of your work. After all, this will most likely only exacerbate the issues — and hurt your career at the same time. So try to not consciously or unconsciously seek retaliation against your boss by letting your performance slide.

Even if your boss doesn’t recognize your value, continue to deliver a high standard of performance for yourself. This way, you can demonstrate to yourself what you’re capable of.

4. Talk to your boss

Before throwing in the towel and looking for another job, it’s important to talk to your boss in order to try to improve the situation. After all, they may not be aware of how their behavior is negatively impacting you.

When speaking with your boss, make sure your body language isn’t defensive, and try to use “I” statements. For example, instead of saying “you micromanage,” it’s better to say, “I work best with a higher level of autonomy.” This way, your boss is less likely to feel personally criticized.

5. Set boundaries

Boundaries are an important element of every healthy relationship — and this applies to both professional as well as personal relationships. So, it’s important to consider your own boundaries and what you will and won’t tolerate.

For example, if your boss doesn’t respect working hours, you can choose to no longer answer your phone or check emails over the weekend. If you are frequently working overtime and are overwhelmed, make it clear to your boss that you can’t take on more work.

6. Consider their perspective

Perspective involves trying to understand the feelings, viewpoint and situation of another person. And it can be highly beneficial in relationship building and conflict resolution — particularly in the workplace.

Try to consider what pressure your boss faces. Do they have their own demanding boss? Are they overworked? While certain circumstances may not excuse their behavior, they may provide an explanation and help you develop more compassion for them.

7. Adapt your behavior

Sometimes at work, we have to be flexible and adapt our behavior and way of working to our boss’s management style. Since we don’t have control over the behavior of others, at times, we may have to change our own behavior in order to work with bosses more effectively and harmoniously.

For example, if you prefer to send updates via messenger, but your boss prefers to speak face-to-face, then try adapting to their preferred communication style. Although you shouldn’t completely change the manner in which you work best, recognize if there are minor adaptations you can make.

8. Help them succeed

If you’re dealing with a toxic boss, it’s going to be easier for you if stay on their good side. And helping your boss succeed is a way to do just that. Since bosses are responsible for their subordinates’ work, working a high performance is one way to also help them succeed.

However, you could take this further by finding other ways to make their job easier. For example, if you have time, try volunteering to take on projects that are normally not in the scope of your role.

9. Take care of yourself

Dealing with a bad boss can be an immensely stressful experience. In fact, toxic management has even been shown to lead to burnout. Therefore, make sure to prioritize your health and well-being as much as possible.

Getting enough sleep, eating healthily, and incorporating exercise and movement into your day are the basic tenants of a healthy lifestyle. And they shouldn’t be neglected — no matter how bad your boss’s behavior is.

10. Develop a social network

Having a bad boss can be an isolating experience. After all, your boss should ideally be one of your main advocates and confidants at work. And if you don’t trust your boss, then you may feel like you lack belonging in the organization.

In order to counteract these feelings of isolation, try to develop a social network with other colleagues. Ask colleagues if they’d like to have lunch together or meet for a virtual coffee chat. These connections can improve your working life and enable you to better cope with the stress of a bad manager.

11. Find a mentor

A boss typically has more experience than their subordinates and can act as a type of coach or mentor. However, if you have a difficult boss, then you most likely won’t be able to develop this type of relationship — or reap the benefits that can come with it.

Therefore, it can be a good idea to seek a mentoring relationship with another senior colleague in your organization. You could offer to buy them a coffee in turn for the opportunity to pick their brain.

12. Adjust your expectations

Unfortunately, the workplace does not always function how it ideally should. There are many people in leadership positions who are woefully unqualified for their roles. And if you’ve had incredible bosses in the past, then it can be natural to compare your current boss to your previous ones.

However, this will just set you up for disappointment. By accepting the reality of your situation as opposed to what it ideally should be, you may be better equipped to tolerate having a bad boss.

13. Take it as a learning experience

If there is one positive aspect that can come from having a bad boss, it’s that you are receiving a crash course in leadership. Because our brain often remembers negative experiences more than positive, your boss’ failings will most likely stick with you — and you’ll be sure to never repeat them.

Having a difficult boss can help you develop as a person and discover what you value. For example, if your boss often gave harsh feedback, you will be sure to always be constructive and kind when you give feedback.

14. Speak to HR

Making a complaint to the human resources department about your boss should never be the first line of action. However, if attempts to resolve the issues by speaking to your boss were futile, or your boss has abusive behavior, then it may be necessary.

When speaking to the human resources department, make sure to remain calm, professional and non-accusatory. It’s also a good idea to come prepared with specific examples and evidence.

15. Find another job

If your boss’s bad management is creating a toxic work environment and negatively impacting your mental health, then you may need to being a new job search. But while it may be tempting to quit your current job, you’ll want to be careful to not jump out of the frying pan and into the fire.

Make sure to carefully vet your next boss so you don’t end up in a similar — or worse — situation. Look for red flags during the interview and don’t be afraid to ask the hiring manager about their management style and philosophy.

If you decide to find a new job, check out this video for some job search tips: 

Key takeaways

Dealing with a bad boss can be a challenging situation to navigate. However, there are some ways to make it easier to manage. To better deal with a toxic boss, be sure to:

  • Identify the problems so that you can pinpoint what exactly triggers you.
  • Avoid letting your boss’s behavior negatively affect your work and keep your performance up.
  • Speak to your boss in order to find a solution and better cope with the situation.

Suffering through bad management isn’t easy. But with the above tips, you’ll be in the best possible position to deal with your bad boss, and not let them ruin your career — or your day. There’s always another option, too. Humor! Find some bad boss memes and chuckle your way through.

Have you ever had to deal with a boss like this? What did you do to combat it? Let us know in the comments!

Originally published 22 November 2017.