In recent years, it has become a widely acknowledged, data-quantified truth that people don’t in fact leave jobs, but rather managers, with poor and ineffective leadership estimated to be costing the UK economy more than £19bn a year. Indeed, recent polls by Gallup and The Herman Group found that between 50 and 75 per cent of workers are not looking to pursue other interests or a bigger pay cheque, but rather simply trying to escape bad managers and poor leadership.
Yet this raises an interesting question. If you love your job, why should you be driven away by the behaviour of one individual? Instead of jumping ship and having to start from scratch all over again, you can learn to handle your boss – a practice known as “up managing”. This will ensure that the actions of one bad egg won’t be a barrier to your career advancement, and that you can actually look forward to going into work each day.
So regardless of if the person in charge is a bully, a nose-poker or just an idiot, here are a few tips on how to deal with a bad boss.
1. The Narcissist
Before the wellbeing of the company and the staff under their charge, narcissistic bosses care first and foremost about one thing: themselves. Typically they will be quick risers who have kissed more than their fair share of corporate behind and pay more attention to impressing those above them than below – usually to the detriment of everyone in their department.
Luckily, they are relatively easy to deal with. The key goal is simply to stay on their good side: humour them and keep them in the loop about your projects, and maintain a good relationship. Chances are they will move on to their next promotion fairly quickly anyway.
2. The Invisible Man
Although the constant absence of your boss might initially be a positive thing, at some point the lack of leadership and presence will cause issues. Aside from becoming directionless on projects, the lack of feedback and exposure can cause your own professional growth to suffer.
You can use it as the perfect opportunity to stand out though. Take initiative and prove your ability; if the boss’s phone is going straight to voicemail again, find someone else to greenlight your course of action. Be resourceful and communicate with other teams and managers – it will not go unnoticed, and neither will your boss’s non-existent leadership style.
3. The Micro Manager
Being a micromanager is one of the most annoying things a boss can do in the workplace. For a competent employee, being coddled, patronised and told how to do your job is incredibly irksome – especially when said boss then suddenly decides to become “hands off” on the projects where the team actually needs some direction.
If your boss is a controlling perfectionist that proofreads every email you send, then you need to indulge them for the time being, keeping them abreast of every move you are making until they feel they can trust you. Then you can push the boundaries a little, and suggest to them that you would like to take on more responsibility.
Alternatively, micromanagement can simply be a result of misjudgment or lack of knowledge on your boss’s part. Ensure they understand your skillset and your competencies – they might not realise you’ve had prior training in a particular area, for example.
4. The Idiot
The broadest definition of a bad boss is one who is completely out of their depth, and leaves the poor employees they are responsible for scratching their heads about how exactly they got there. It’s important though to establish that they are actually incompetent; just because you disagree with a particular decision doesn’t mean that your boss is a fool – bear in mind that they may be looking at the bigger picture and having to deal with influences that you don’t know about.
If you’re absolutely sure that your glorious leader is in fact a moron though, you’re left in a bit of a sticky situation. On the one hand you can brave the storm, continue to work hard and not let your boss’s sheer inadequacy reflect too badly on you, or on the other hand you can raise your concerns with senior management. This is a risky strategy though, as if the head honcho disagrees you are left in an uncomfortable position; careers expert Vicky Frost claims that the best thing to do in this case is to cut your losses and try your luck elsewhere.
5. The Goalpost Mover
A good manager sets realistic goals to measure the success of an employee’s performance; a bad one constantly changes those goals leaving staff without a clear idea of which direction they are meant to be pulling in. Even worse is when the boss is so demanding that they make it impossible for anyone to perform well – in this case you have to draw a line in the sand.
“While a little bit of pressure can inspire workers, too much can take a toll on morale,” says Jacquelyn Smith in Forbes. “When employees are constantly being pressured to perform at an unsustainable level, productivity tends to drop off”.
In this instance it is advisable to talk to your boss directly, and explain your concerns. Discuss the logistics of getting certain tasks done, and demonstrate (visually if you have to) why a certain demand may be unrealistic; it is important that everybody is on the same page and that there is a compromise in the perception of productivity.
6. The Bully
Many people would argue that there is a difference between a bad boss and a bullying boss; while the former can be forgiven their flaws for their intentions, there is absolutely no excuse for the latter. The effects on an employee of a manager who is abusive and intimidating can be much worse than any of the others on this list.
While some may feel more comfortable confronting this kind of behaviour than others, a good place to start is by confiding in a trusted colleague – especially if you feel you are being singled out for treatment. If you feel up to it, you can speak directly with your boss and attempt to clarify the situation (and even offer solutions to move forward); if you don’t want to take this route, or you do, and nothing changes, then you should speak with HR.
If you are making a formal complaint, you will most likely be required to submit some form of evidence of your mistreatment, so save emails and keep a journal of any incidents that occur. In some US states it is even legal to make recordings, such as in the case of former Fox News anchor Gretchen Carlson.
Ultimately though, don’t let the bullying affect your self-confidence or your work performance. Take some time to re-assess why you love your job, and seek positive reinforcement from colleagues – feeling happy and valued at work is hugely important. Bullying – in whatever form it takes – is horrible and not acceptable in any workplace, but it can be addressed and dealt with by speaking up and managing the situation via a safe and formal process.
7. The Car Crash
A disorganised boss can be tricky to deal with – especially when you are tidying up after them in addition to managing your own workload. Although basic organizational skills should be the absolute minimum requirement for managing people, it is often the staff in the firing line when things get overlooked and deadlines get missed.
There are solutions though. Sit down with your manager at least once a week and go through everything that needs to be done – ensure you document it in an email so that there can be no disagreement later on. Be proactive and get the answers you need – and don’t waste time wondering why or how such a whirlwind ended up in a position of such responsibility.
8. The Child
A boss who is mean and moody all the time certainly won’t win any popularity contests, but worse than that – the lack of communication and openness will reduce the effectiveness of the team. A childish approach to management will result in a counter-productive blame culture in the workplace, which is detrimental to everyone and discourages taking responsibility.
The worst part is, there is no real way to manage bosses like this. Unless you have done something that is genuinely your fault, the problem most likely lies with them, and the only real recommended course of action is to consult with HR. Remember, good bosses are mature in their approach and see the bigger picture; only bad bosses seek conflict.
9. The Credit Taker
These guys are just the worst. You pull out all the stops on a project or a piece of work, putting in the hours and producing something you are truly proud of. But only one person gets the recognition and the rewards: your boss. How did that happen?
This kind of boss is particularly difficult to deal with; after all, they’ve likely got this far on the back of other people’s achievements. Confronting them head-on will rarely have the desired effect, although a more diplomatic approach – such as asking them to validate your achievements on your appraisal – might bear fruit. It is unlikely they will be willing to take co-credit though, so when possible try to let the team know what you were responsible for producing before they have a chance to steal your thunder.
10. The Favouritist
Unfortunately, favouritism is something that happens in every workplace – whether consciously or subconsciously. And unfortunately, there is little you can do about it (unless you take up smoking – see the episode of Friends where Rachel tries and fails to address this issue).
If you feel you are on the wrong end of favouritism, career advisor Nicole Williams claims that the best course of action is to do nothing. “Don’t whine or gossip to coworkers,” she argues. “Instead, focus on your own progress. Map out your career goals with your boss, figure out what they admire in their employees and be sure to exceed your goals. That’s your best shot at coming out ahead.”
11. The Sex Pest
A pervy boss can be at best an irritating distraction, and at worst, a serious and unacceptable harassment case. In a professional environment, there is no excuse for this kind of behaviour; nobody should be made to feel uncomfortable or have their dignity compromised, whether by a suggestive look or remark or something even more serious.
Luckily, most companies in 2017 feel the same way, and take accusations of unwanted attention seriously. The course of action here is crystal clear – go straight to HR and make a complaint (again, try to document proof if you can), and let someone you trust know what is going on, especially if it has been going on for a period of time. Whatever you do, don’t think that it’s part and parcel of a workplace environment and that you should just learn to cope with it – it isn’t, and you shouldn’t. There are stringent procedures in place to make sure that it is not tolerated.
Bad bosses can be present in many guises – some more serious than others – but there is always a potential solution to consider before you throw in the towel and go elsewhere. Some managers are unwitting in their incompetence, and through good communication can have the error of their ways pointed out to them; some managers are just malicious, and you don’t need to put up with that.
Be careful though. Just because you don’t like your boss doesn’t mean they are bad at their job, and creating conflict might not end well – especially if it is you in the wrong. You don’t have to get along with your manager on a personal level, but as long as you can maintain a professional relationship, you should both be fine.
Have you had any particularly unpleasant experiences with bad bosses? Let us know in the comments below…