What To Do If You Have A Bad Boss?

Tips and Solutions for Common Types of Terrible Bosses

Anytime you work for a company, the relationship you have with your boss is tremendously important. So, as an employee, having to deal with a terrible boss can be a challenging and stressful experience. Thankfully, in my career to date, I have (for the most part) worked for some really great Managers. And I don’t think I’d be the person I am today, especially as I’ve worked in corporate business, without (in particular) a couple of the most amazing bosses anyone could have ever worked for (in my humble opinion). But even some of the solid bosses that I’ve worked under in the past have had certain character flaws and weren’t always the greatest Managers all of the time. So, I’ve had issues from time to time to deal with as a result of a bad boss or a bad boss moment.

Last year I watched an online course on how to deal with terrible bosses by Chris Cross (who is described online as a Lecturer & Thought Leader, who teaches on Project Management & Leadership). You can find out more about Chris at his website. But in his online course that I had the pleasure of watching he outlined around 16 types of bad bosses and how to deal with them. I didn’t realise there were that many – and I certainly haven’t experienced all the types of bad bosses which Chris dealt with in his course.

But unfortunately, many of us have had to face the frustration of working for a boss who is, at least at times, inconsistent & unpredictable, who seems to always play favourites, who can make terrible decisions, who denies you access to resources, and who lies to you – even to your face. I’m confident that the numbers of us that have had bad boss experiences are ‘many’ of us, because I recently saw a stat from CareerBuilder.com which said 58% of Managers had received no training to do their job. That’s a staggering statistic. It’s no wonder many employees have such a hard time.

So, I thought I’d take the time to outline below some of my own experiences with all of this, as well as some tips & possible solutions that you may find helpful if you ever come across some of these bad boss experiences or if you’re regrettably working for an absolute dipstick!

THE YOYO – The Inconsistent Boss

A boss who is inconsistent or even unpredictable can be extremely challenging to work with, let alone work for. These types of bosses are those that are prone to changing their priorities, their methods, and their moods on a whim or on regular basis.

I worked for someone that changed the method for strategic planning twice in the same year – utilizing 2 different external consultants, each of which cost the company a bundle of cash with questionable ROI (returns on the investment). This same boss of mine changed the values for the company x3 times in as many years, and so was unable to effectively implement any version of the values for the business.

Now, I’m not the type of person that enjoys change. But I’m accustomed to being in roles which require driving change, particularly as I’ve worked in the technology space for the past 10 years. But having to work for anyone who rides a pendulum of unpredictability can cause some significant stress and anxiety in the workplace, making it difficult for employees to do their jobs effectively, especially when business priorities are shifting like sand.

Some Possible Solutions

To deal with this type of boss:

  • Try to understand the reasons behind the changes & priority shifts and be as open as possible to these changes from your Manager.
  • Be patient and ensure that you focus on being productive even as these priorities change.
  • Keep clear records of the instructions you have been given, as well as the work you have completed. This can be an annoying thing to have to do, as it can mean having an additional layer of administrative duties that you need to perform. But the idea, however, is:
    • To be able to point out the patterns & trends from the various changes and utilizing your records to have some constructive discussions around this (when the opportunity is created or arises). One example of having clear records is requiring that your business meetings have set agendas & accurate minutes of any meetings held. These should, as a minimum, record decisions & action points that are made by the business or the group that has met together.
    • Also, to be able to demonstrate your achievements against any priorities & tasks which have been set for you and completed by you and/or your team.

LUCIOUS MALFOY – The Boss Who Plays Favourites

A boss who continues to play favourites can create a toxic & hostile work environment. It is not uncommon for this type of boss to act against the advice of some of his subordinates, or to be overcritical of some in his team and not others. Perhaps things can be fine for you if you’re one of the teacher’s pets. But if your boss, for whatever reason, puts you on the fringe or measures & treats you with different yardstick than others in the team or (perhaps worst of all) actively creates factions within his own team – well that’s a different story.

Maybe it’s a case of your boss liking the “yes-men” in his team more and treating them one way (that is, normally by treating them really well), but treating you poorly merely because you have a mind that can reason on its own. Or maybe you’re the sort of person that has enough integrity to be honest with your boss or let your boss know when & why you think he’s (perhaps) making a bad decision. But, if you have a boss that takes exception to this then you may find that you’re suddenly not the flavour of the month.

And when this happens, it can then lead to a work environment where, due to the woeful treatment & biased actions of your boss, you approach your work with a lack of motivation and experience reduced job satisfaction. It can become a very uncomfortable and unfair working environment if your boss treats some as his favourites, whilst treating you inadequately because he’s deemed you to be someone that isn’t part of the clique!

Some Possible Solutions

To deal with this type of boss:

  • It is important to maintain a professional attitude and demeanour and to keep your focus on the work that you do.
  • Avoid getting involved in office politics and do your best to not let the behaviour of your boss affect your morale.
  • Focus on the high quality of your own work, try to concentrate on being an outstanding performer, and aim at demonstrating your value to the company in the work you do. The best way to stand out and gain recognition is to let your work promote & speak for you.
  • A good boss ought to judge you by the work you do and your character, and not by your ability to be a sycophant. If your boss then isn’t able to judge you favourably when you’re a good worker and with a professional character then it’s highly likely that he is the problem, and not you.

DUNNING-KRUGER – The Boss Who Makes Terrible Decisions

A boss who makes terrible decisions can be another major challenge for employees.

Have you ever worked for someone that had a track record of hiring terrible people for key roles? I mean, if it happened once or twice you could probably overlook it. But what if you worked for someone who in a 5 to 6-year span hired around x10 Managers that were subpar at best, or that (apparently) interviewed well but ended up being Managers that were simply more talk than action, or (perhaps worst) were just plain incompetent or lazy. How would you deal with a boss who had hired a Financial Controller for the business, and even after this Financial Controller was employed for 3 years they still couldn’t provide the business with annual budgets tracked monthly (and this Financial Controller was probably earning $150K to $200K per year). I wish these weren’t real-life examples for me!

Well, when your boss makes bad decisions, it would be hard for it not to have a negative effect on you as an employee. But what can add to any negative effect experienced is that this type of bad boss can often be quick to blame others for their mistakes and slow to admit their faults, if they admit to it at all. So, having any respect for this type of boss can be a colossal challenge. And working for someone like this can lead to a toxic work environment, where employees may also be afraid to speak up or make constructive suggestions.

Some Possible Solutions

To deal with this type of boss:

  • It is important to stay professional and to avoid getting into arguments.
  • Try to find ways to demonstrate the impact of the boss’s decisions on your work and the company as a whole.
  • Share your thoughts and opinions in a constructive manner, and provide alternative solutions when appropriate.
  • Showing that you are invested in the success of the company can help to earn & maintain the boss’s respect and (hopefully) help them to make better decisions in the future.

PHAROAH – The Boss Who Doesn’t Give You the Tools to Do Your Job

This type of boss can be frustrating for employees who want to excel in their jobs and outshine their peers. Without adequate resources, any employee will be unable to do their jobs to the best of their ability. What can make matters worse, however, is that this type of boss can also work against you by removing or hindering your authority and your support.

This problem has taken different forms in my time as a Manager. When I used to work in Cinema Exhibition we would basically go through an annual decrease in staff hours when minimum wage increased each year. You still had to do the same amount of work, but just with fewer labour hours. When I started to manage smaller technical teams it literally becomes a case of being able to achieve what you can get done if 40hrs (or 60hrs, if you’re a fool like me and would put in an additional 20hrs a week and not get paid for it); or 80hrs if you had a team of x2; or 200hrs if you had a team of x5… and so on. Another way in which I’ve had to experience this was when I first started Project Management & Software System Implementation/Enhancements, I would be asked to roll out a piece of software in the New Zealand market which was already in production with our Australian counterparts. When I asked to be able to see the software in action, I was initially denied travel across the Tasman or even online demonstrations from my Aussie colleagues. Instead, I’d be given a printed manual and essentially told, “Go and have this in use by all multiplex sites by September!”, or some similar command along these lines!

Some Possible Solutions

To deal with this type of boss:

  • Be proactive and ask for what you need. Clearly communicate to your boss what resources and support you need to perform your job effectively. Be specific and present a strong & reasoned case for why these tools are necessary.
  • In addition to this, you could build relationships with other employees and departments. Having a network of allies within the company can help you (in essence) bypass your boss and get the resources you need to do your job.
  • Learn to adapt and be resourceful. If you can’t get the tools you need from your boss, look for alternative solutions. Utilize your own skills and creativity to find ways to get the job done.
  • Document your work and accomplishments. Keeping a record of what you’ve accomplished, and how you’ve done so, can help you demonstrate your value and the impact you’re making on the company. This ought to help you negotiate for more or improved resources in the future.

PLUTARCH HEAVENSBEE – The Boss Who Lies or Makes Empty Promises

In many ways, this type of boss may be the worst! How could anyone work for someone who engages in deceitful behaviour? But sadly, many employees encounter a boss who lies or makes empty promises in the course of their careers. This type of behaviour can be demoralizing and cause serious harm to both the employee and the organization as a whole.

A boss who lies to their employees is often motivated by a desire to manipulate them or just get what he wants. He may make promises about promotions, pay raises, or other incentives that never come to fruition. I worked for a boss once that would disadvantage me by saying things like, “this is the same for everyone”, which really wasn’t the case. And when he coupled this with his ‘Malfoy-like’ tendencies I’d find out later that I was getting treated one way, whilst others were getting benefits I wasn’t receiving. All of this sort of behaviour can be especially damaging because it can erode an employee’s trust in their boss, and the natural result of such actions is that it’s difficult for an employee to perform to the best of their abilities.

In addition to the negative impact on individual employees, a boss who lies or makes empty promises can have a broader impact on the organization as a whole. This type of behaviour can lead to low morale, high turnover rates, and a toxic work environment. It can also damage the reputation of the organization, making it difficult to attract and retain top talent. And it can sometimes make it difficult to maintain good relationships with Clients, and possibly Suppliers.

Some Possible Solutions

To deal with this type of boss:

  • Don’t take everything at face value. Be cautious of promises or incentives that seem too good to be true.
  • Document everything. Keeping a record of any promises or agreements can help you hold your boss accountable if they don’t follow through.
  • Communicate openly and honestly. If you feel like your boss is not being truthful, have an open and honest conversation about your concerns.
  • Seek support from others. If your boss is not following through on their promises, talk to HR or a trusted colleague for support and advice.

As noted several times above, working under a bad boss can be extremely challenging. And dealing with these sorts of challenges can be draining to your energy levels, your motivation and your levels of morale. But it’s important to remember that you have the power and ability to manage the situation. If you find yourself working under a boss who is inconsistent, plays favourites, makes poor decisions, doesn’t provide the tools you need, lies or makes false promises, then there are strategies you can adopt to minimize the impact on your work and career.

These strategies may include setting boundaries, staying professional, seeking support from colleagues and HR, and being proactive in finding your own remedies to the problems you have to face with your boss (or that he creates for you). Above all, it’s important to remember that you don’t have to put up with a toxic work environment. You always have the option to find a better work situation. Just be sure to keep an eye on your mental and emotional health. This is a top priority, and if you’re doing all the right things and your relationship with your boss or your working situation doesn’t improve, then seeking a different (better) work environment may be the best course of action for you.

If you don’t have family & friends as well as various ‘non-business’ activities, find these outlets and add them to your life immediately. Family and friends – anyone who truly cares about you, and is able to be honest with you – will be your best counsellors. And I find the best way to take my mind off any issues I have at work is to leave them at my place of work, so I can enjoy myself doing other things whilst I’m not there. I’ve heard so many colleagues encourage me to leave the work problems we have at work. This is great advice. These problems will be waiting for you when you return to work, so there’s no need to take them home with you!

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