Career Advice Workplace

How To Deal With a Bad Boss

By: Dora Segall
Aug 4, 2020 • 10 min read

How To Deal With a Bad Boss

Having a bad boss is one unpleasant experience that almost everyone will deal with at some point in their professional life. You might find it tricky to respond to a problematic employer without feeling as though you are putting your job at risk. Read on for some step-by-step on dealing with a bad boss appropriately and effectively.

bad boss

Step 1: Identify the problem

Bad bosses come in many shapes and sizes. While it might make sense to nag a negligent employer for some more explicit expectations and guidelines, an overly strict boss may require an appeal for empathy. Before you take action, make sure you know what makes your boss bad so you can respond in the right way. If you are dealing with a more severe than job performance, such as sexual misconduct or any form of discrimination, skip ahead to step 4. 

Step 2: Try self-correction

Once you know exactly what you believe your boss is doing wrong, examine your own performance to see if you are doing anything that might explain your boss’s behavior. This especially applies to an excessively strict boss, who might be frustrated with your own work performance. See if you can improve in any area where you might be lacking and see if your boss’s attitude changes.

Step 3: Turn to others

Definitely make sure to look to the rest of your team as a frame of reference. If you realize that you have been performing a task differently, you may be unintentionally responsible for your boss’s frustrations. Do not be afraid to seek help from a coworker in any area where you might be struggling.

Step 2: Talk it out

 It can be intimidating to speak up to a supervisor, but you would be surprised at how illuminating a brief conversation with your boss can be. If changing your work strategy does not change their behavior, ask them. You can do this either over email or in-person when it seems like a good time. If they ask what you want to discuss, do not be afraid to tell them! Your boss gains as much from your work as you do and, in many cases, is paid by someone higher up to lead a team. So, chances are that they will want to improve if it means strengthening the performance of their employees. Make sure when you speak with your employer to make yourself the focus of the issue, for example, “I feel that I could be doing better organizing these reports” instead of “I feel like you did not teach me how to organize reports well.” Even though it may seem unfair, your boss will respond better when they do not feel like you are blaming them. Upon talking, you may learn that a problem actually arises from a miscommunication. Perhaps they are unhappy with the way you have been doing your job without realizing that you misunderstood their expectations of you. Or, they may realize they did not teach you how to do something and address their own error.

bad boss

Step 3: Phone a friend

If you find that talking with your supervisor was not helpful or illuminating — maybe they said you are doing a great job or that you simply need to try harder — consult a coworker again. See if they have had similar problems with your boss. If they did but were able to work around them, see how they did so. No one is perfect, and that includes your supervisor. If their behavior is annoying but relatively harmless, for example, acting particularly impersonal and brusque but not necessarily hostile, it might just be their way of acting and worth tolerating. If your coworker feels comfortable speaking with your boss, any complaints will carry a lot more weight when they come from two separate employees.

Step 4: Seek internal resources

If you find that your boss’s behavior is especially problematic, you may need to report it. This applies mainly to conduct prohibited by law or company policy. However, it may be worth reporting someone who is simply a bad boss if they fail to change their behavior. Trust your own instincts and learn about your options. If your workplace has an HR department, reach out. They will serve as a third party for any issues you are having with your boss and respond appropriately. This is so that you, as a subordinate, do not have to while protecting your privacy in the process. For smaller workplaces, talk to your boss’s boss. If they do not have one, skip to step 5 or 6.

Step 5: If necessary, take legal action

This applies only in scenarios where your boss’s behavior violates local, state, or federal law. The USA government has a page detailing Labor Laws and Issues on their website. If you have spoken to your HR department or boss’s boss, they should be able to take the lead on any legal issues. If not, consider filing a complaint with your local or state government. Note that laws, unfortunately, are limited in their capacity to protect workers. Some state laws apply only to companies with a certain minimum number of employees or in other specific cases.

Step 6: If necessary, quit

You are in no way obligated to stay at a job where you are mistreated. Limited employment opportunities in today’s economy might make it seem easier to just suck it up and deal with a bad boss. However, if you are experiencing misconduct or a hostile work environment, doing so is not fair to yourself. Nor other employees who may be experiencing the same issues. You deserve to be treated as a person, whether you are the superior or subordinate of someone in your workplace.

Bad bosses can be tough to deal with. Make sure you know the severity of the problem you are facing. If your boss simply has some annoying flaws, remember that no one is perfect. Quitting is always an option, but weigh your situation carefully before deciding whether it is the right option for you.

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