There’s a common saying in business: people leave managers, not companies.
If you despise your boss, you’re certainly not alone. Research shows that up to 57% of employees resign from their jobs for this very reason. Many more people significantly consider the idea regularly.
Bad bosses aren’t just frustrating in the workplace. They can undoubtedly impact your self-esteem and mental health. That said, you can learn how to deal with your situation — no matter how aggravated you feel. Here are some tips to consider.
Examine the greater system
Tell them what you need
Help them and help yourself
Avoid the drama
Learn their triggers
Consider when to go to HR
Reevaluate your job
Let’s say you resent your boss. You can’t stand how they lead their team, run meetings, or delegate work. When they talk to you, you instantly feel annoyed. These feelings are real but may not reveal the full picture. Before pinning everything onto your boss, consider looking critically into your company.
Is your boss a pawn within a disorganized or toxic system? Are they overworked and underpaid? Do they face immense pressure from other higher-ups to perform? Are their problematic tactics a result of the workplace culture?
You may not know the answers to these questions, but it’s still helpful to ask yourself them. This isn’t to excuse your boss or their bad behavior. But having a greater understanding of where it comes from can help you feel more tolerant and empathic.
A non-directive, vague, or overly hands-off boss can be just as frustrating as a tyrannical one. That’s because you’re often left guessing what they want. And all this guessing may result in you wasting time doing tasks that don’t really need to get done.
Instead of seething privately, consider being more direct. Let your boss know exactly what you need to succeed in your role. For example, maybe you need more feedback on your projects. Perhaps you want the ability to work remotely.
Of course, they can still turn down your request. But if you don’t ask, you don’t even have a starting point.
Sometimes, a boss is bad because the two of you just don’t have a great relationship. If that’s the case, consider how you can mend your side of things.
Maybe you offer to take on a difficult project. Perhaps you stand up for your boss during an important meeting. Consider how these gestures might make your boss feel better about themselves and you.
Finally, you should consider your own weaknesses (i.e., passive communication, poor time management, struggles with being a team player) and try to improve them. You may notice your initiative towards making these slight changes strengthens your relationship.
Maybe your boss irritates you because they bring their emotions or opinions into the workplace. Perhaps they worm themselves into office gossip or triangulate you with other employees.
But even if it’s tempting to involve yourself with the drama, resist the urge. Gossiping almost always backfires. This also applies to you commiserating with coworkers. Try not to badmouth your boss with them — you never know what might get back to them.
If you already feel stuck in the drama, it’s time to correct your course. Prioritize getting your work done and eliminate personal chatter as much as you can. You and your boss are not friends. While remaining civil is professional, you don’t owe them a personal relationship.
An attuned parent recognizes that hunger causes their toddler to melt down. A wife knows that when her husband spends time with his side of the family, he might feel upset during the car ride home. And you can start to identify the patterns that trigger your boss’s problematic behavior.
Once you know these triggers, you can plan for them. You can also try to avoid them (i.e., if you know that lateness irritates your boss, you can ensure you arrive at all meetings on time).
Of course, it isn’t your job to control your boss’s behavior. But knowing what to expect can eliminate surprises and help you feel more in control.
As much as possible, try not to take a bad boss’s behavior personally. Be aware of your emotions, but don’t let them dictate your choices.
Regardless of your boss’s behavior, try to stay professional. Be polite and courteous. Get your projects done on time. In other words, aim to perform how you would if you had an excellent boss. Trying to seek revenge by slacking off or producing subpar work will only hurt you more.
It may be a good idea to document infractions when you encounter them with your boss. Keep your records short and concrete. Include the date, the incident, and any witnesses. Keep this paper trail private.
It’s worth documenting issues related to:
- Sexual harassment
- Workplace theft
- Substance abuse
- Breaking the law
- Aggression and hostility
- Benefits (your paycheck, vacation time, health insurance, etc.)
It may be helpful to involve your human resources personnel if you experience ongoing issues with your boss. When illegal acts occur at work, HR is required to take action.
That said, ethics vary from company to company, and HR only has so much control in the workplace. They also can’t guarantee your confidentiality.
When it isn’t a specific legal issue, HR may not intervene at all. Instead, they might encourage you to approach your boss directly. And even if they talk to them, there is no guarantee things will change.
Despite your best efforts, working for a bad boss is not always salvageable. If these tips don’t work, you may need to reassess your options.
Maybe you can switch departments and work under someone else. Perhaps you can switch to a different location. But if these aren’t feasible choices, you might need to consider resignation.
Toxic workplaces can be extremely problematic, and it’s okay to leave an awful situation. If you choose to do so, continue to aim for professionalism and diplomacy. As the saying goes, don’t burn any bridges.