What To Do When You Have A Bad Boss

Have you ever had a boss whose management style does not work for you at all?

You know the feeling? You’re on edge at your desk. You find yourself avoiding them when they walk down the hall. You’re afraid to submit your PTO form. You dread your 1-on-1 meetings.

Yeah… not a fun way to live you work day, is it?

During a recent coaching session, a client was struggling with how she felt about her job. Like many of my clients, she wasn’t super pumped about going to work each day and was kind of just slogging through until the weekend. She couldn’t figure out if she wasn’t excited about the client she was working with or if it had to do with being in an entry level position and the busy work that often comes with it.

We discussed these ideas for a bit and then she started opening up about her boss...

She mentioned that she and the rest of her team were afraid to leave the office before he did at night. As a result, my client and her colleagues would sit at their desks every evening (often done with their actual work) until their boss left, which could be as late as 9pm. Whenever she did try to leave earlier, her boss would make her feel guilty about it.

When she finally got out of work at an unpredictable hour, she’d come home, try to make something quick for dinner, fall asleep and wake up to do it all over again. Her social life was being confined to the weekends and her brain wasn’t getting the time it needed to let go of the work day before going back to the office the next morning.

Now, we’ve all had late nights at the office and some industries require crazier hours than others (finance ladies I’m looking at you!). But in this case, most of my client’s late nights were due to the fact that her boss was still sitting in his chair! No wonder she wasn't excited to go to work! There is only so long you can handle someone holding your personal life hostage before you start to resent them and your work and motivation suffer.

Whether it’s being expected to work crazy hours even if you’ve gotten all of your work done or having someone breathing down your neck at all the time or not feeling like you are getting the support you need, having a boss whose management style doesn't work for you can have a big impact your day and work satisfaction in general. In some cases, it may even impact the trajectory of your career.

I have a friend who once questioned whether or not a sales career was right for her because her boss’s management style was having such a negative effect on her performance. As a former sales person, let me tell you that it was clear from the day I met her that she would be an excellent fit for sales. The fact that she was questioning her ability to sell blew my mind.

After continually asking her boss for support (and subsequently not receiving it), my friend decided to interview for a sales position at a new company. Surprise: she is now absolutely crushing it as a rep for them. In fact, she's even won sales awards since moving there. She has a manager whose style works for her, feels supported in her work environment, and is therefore able to thrive.

Having a boss who is supportive of your career growth and whose management style suits you can make all the difference in your work ethic, general happiness at work and even your ability to move up through the ranks of your organization.

If you are lucky enough to be in this situation right now, take mental note of what makes your boss so fantastic. Understanding this will help you the next time you look for a new job or if you become a manager yourself one day.

If you are reading this and feeling like your relationship with your boss is causing you to question your career direction or your work to suffer, I’m here to tell you it doesn’t have to be that way! Don't fall into the trap of thinking that this is how work must always be - it's not.

Instead, use the steps below to take a step back, remove some of the strong emotions you're feeling regarding your boss, and determine how to best get the support you need.

First, Let go of what you cannot change

Rather than holding onto resentment or constantly railing against your boss to colleagues or friends, accept that you cannot change them. They are the way they are and probably have been that way for many years. Your complaining isn’t going to change anything. Period.

Yes, once in a while a vent session is cathartic and necessary. However, if you find yourself in a pattern of complaining (without actually taking any action), I guarantee you’re wasting your precious time and energy and it's not going to improve your situation.

So, take a deep breath and let go of all that pent-up negative energy you have towards them. Doing so will help you examine the situation from a less emotionally charged, more clear-eyed place.

Second, Recognize what it is about YOU that is causing Your Boss to bother you so much

To start, examine what exactly it is about your boss that irks you. Now, turn it around: What is it about YOU that makes these qualities bug you so much?

A little bit of an unconventional thought process, but stay with me here…

Every person we meet reflects something about ourselves back to us.

Sometimes this comes in the form of people who are super similar to us and we become fast friends through our commonalities. Sometimes this reflection comes in the form of something we struggle with ourselves or hold strong values around.

For example, maybe autonomy is a very strong core value for you. You don’t like being told what to do and you like the freedom to make decisions for yourself. Now, insert a boss who constantly micromanages or consistently keeps you so late at the office that you’re unable to enjoy your post-work plans. In both of those cases, the person managing you is in conflict with a deeply held value of yours. No wonder you’re so frustrated and angered by them!

Understanding what it is about YOU that is stirring up frustration when you interact with a specific person really helps to shift your perspective. It can often prompt you to get out of your helpless mindset regarding the situation, take some ownership around what that person is bringing up for you and make a conscious choice as to how you want to react to them.

Next, Think about what you are learning from this situation

Similar to the idea that each person we meet reflects something in us, each person we meet also teaches us something.

What might you be learning from your relationship with your boss?

Maybe you are learning how to handle conflict in the workplace. Maybe you’re learning to take better direction or constructive criticism. Maybe you’re learning how to stick up for yourself. Maybe you’re learning what type of management style does or does not work for you.

I truly believe that every person we encounter is put in front of us for a reason.

While we might not like all of the people we meet, there is something we are learning from each of them. Sometimes we can recognize this immediately. Other times it takes consciously putting aside the emotions that person stirs up in us and doing a little investigative work to figure out the lesson.  

Then, Determine what you need and Speak up for yourself

Decide what you need from your relationship with your boss in order to be successful in your job and maintain your motivation on a daily basis. Then talk to them about it.

This may mean scheduling more 1-on-1s with your boss so you can get more regular feedback on your work. Or this may mean explaining to your boss how important autonomy is to you and finding a way to take greater ownership of some projects so you feel less micromanaged. 

Yes, these conversations can be tough and feel extremely nerve-racking, but effective communication is essential to a healthy work environment.

The good news is that now that you’ve done some reflecting on the issue with your boss, you’ll be able to better communicate your needs and come from a more level-headed place in those conversations rather than responding out of pure emotion.

Learning to advocate for yourself will help both you and your boss to better understand your goals, where you are struggling and get you the support you need.

Finally, If all else fails, find a new manager

If you’ve taken the above steps and still can’t seem to get anywhere with your boss, you’re not out of options.

Talk to your HR team about your situation and see if they can mediate some conversations between you and your boss. Or, if that proves ineffective, see if you can switch to someone else’s team altogether.

If you’ve decided that you’re just not that into the company anymore or want a fresh start, begin looking for a new job.

The great news? Now that you’ve had a less than ideal manager, you have a better sense of what qualities you are looking for in your next boss.

As you’re interviewing, you can ask your hiring manager all sorts of well-informed questions about their management style, team structure, etc. that you never would have thought to ask had you not had this negative experience in the first place.

Don't forget an interview is a two-way street. You have every right to ask questions of your interviewers to make sure the job, boss, company, etc. are the right fit for you too. While you can never know exactly what someone will be like in post-interview life, being able to ask these questions will set you up for a much better likelihood of having a boss whose management style works for you in your next position.

So remember, if your boss's style doesn't jive with you, don't lose hope! You now have 5 steps you can take to examine your situation and figure out your next step. And, as always, if you could use some further help, please let me know!

Be well,