Have a bad boss? Here's what to do if you don't want to jeopardize your job
A career coach breaks it down.
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Have you ever been hired for a job and realized months later that your boss was…not what you expected? Maybe they yelled at you for no reason, blamed you for things that you didn’t do, or didn’t pay attention to you when you spoke. While it’s natural for bosses to have their off days, these kinds of behaviors can affect the morale of workers and the culture of the work environment if they occur on a regular basis—which can make you feel resentful not only toward your bad boss, but toward your job as well.
But is there a good way to handle a difficult manager, especially when you don’t want to be forced to look for another job? According to Betsy Westhoff, a certified leadership coach at Ama La Vida, there is. Scroll below to find out the steps you can take to manage your relationship with your boss, as well as how to decide if it’s time to get HR involved. Because while not every work environment is going to be perfect, that doesn’t mean it should be toxic.
HelloGiggles (HG): What constitutes a bad boss?
Betsy Westhoff (BW): I always say, you know a bad boss when you see one, hear one, or watch one.
Through my own personal experience and through my coaching work with clients, a few negative qualities have consistently risen to the top of the bad-boss list. These include someone who:
- fails to listen and has a propensity to interrupt. Great leaders listen to their team members and incorporate their feedback into how they work.
- takes credit for others’ work. Bosses should be highlighting the great work of their team and providing them with opportunities to shine.
- does not defend team members. A bad boss often throws their team under the bus and doesn’t stand up for them when challenged by others.
- is not invested in the growth and development of the team members. The way a boss continues to rise is by investing in the people below them so that they can continue to grow.
- is secretive and not transparent. It’s important for bosses to communicate the strategy and priorities to their team so that people understand why decisions are made. Secrecy creates confusion and misdirection.
- micromanages. This often signals that the boss is insecure as a leader, which trickles down to how they manage their team, requiring unnecessarily frequent updates and specific directives.
- avoids confrontation and does not provide or accept feedback. As difficult as it may be, bosses need to provide direct feedback to help their team grow.
- is reactionary, moody, or persistently all doom and gloom. No one enjoys working for someone when you’re always fearful of what mood they will be in that day.
- constantly changes priorities. Bosses need to be consistent and provide solid footing in order for the team to do its best work.
HG: Is there a way to manage the relationship you have with your boss when you don’t want to jeopardize your job?
(BW): This is what we call ”managing up,” which is an incredibly important aspect of anyone’s job. This is a catch-all phrase reminding all of us that we are responsible for managing our leaders as much as they are responsible for managing us. You want to:
- Use mostly written communication. This way you can reference what you said [if challenged]—with the utmost respect, of course!
- Repeat what you hear in meetings to be sure you are clarifying expectations. This is particularly important when you are establishing priorities.
- Work to get ahead of your boss’s triggers. You can control your actions and words but not theirs, so try to identify behavior patterns and avoid the pitfalls. For example, if you notice your boss is always short with you at the end of the day because they’re stressed about getting out of the office to pick up their kids, try to avoid difficult conversations at that time. Schedule your important meeting in the morning.
- Keep a log for the really egregious behavior. Some behavior is truly stepping over the line.
- Work to gain perspective. Ask yourself: How critical are these issues? Are they personal to you or are they impacting the team, or even the company, more broadly? This may be a time to check in with yourself to make thoughtful decisions about your reactions and how you want to move forward. Once again, you can control your actions. You cannot control theirs.
HG: How do you know if you should talk to your boss about their behavior?
(BW): Turn to a mentor, someone you know you can trust who can give you advice. Debate options with this person. Explore your network to see who might be a good resource for you to discuss your options.
HG: When should you bring up your boss and their behavior to your HR department?
(BW): You should absolutely escalate to HR if your boss’s behavior ever crosses the line into what feels like misconduct or harassment versus simply poor management. There should be zero tolerance for this kind of behavior in the workplace, and this should be escalated and documented immediately.
Don’t forget that your HR business partners are there to support you. You can absolutely go to them to discuss the situation even if it does not cross the line into harassment territory. Often HR team members are trained as coaches and are skilled at navigating difficult work situations/relationships. They may be able to help you think through an action plan on how to move forward with your boss, and may even be able to provide anonymous feedback to your boss as well.