Sharon Jayson recently penned an article in USA Today highlighting some of the effects a bad boss can have on an employee. One of the most damaging effects of a bad boss is the toll on an employee’s health. In the article, 75% of adults said the worst aspect of their job is their boss and the stress created by the work environment often lead to stress-related health issues.
What is one to do if they have a toxic work situation? Getting a promotion/transfer/new job is an option to get away from a bad boss, however the present employment climate does not make this viable for all. One consultant in the article is quoted as saying that employees “hunker down and hope the bad boss gets in trouble and removed or kicked upstairs and you get somebody else or you get that transfer.” I have to disagree, that type of attitude (hunker down and hope) is defeatist – I have no control over my situation – and overly passive – I hope the boss gets in trouble. While you cannot change the individual into “World’s Best Boss”, you can find ways to manage the negative effects and create processes to work with the individual (while you are pursuing a transfer or new job!).
- Find Common Ground: Is there anything that you and your supervisor can agree upon? Something you share in common? A co-worker and I share an interest in triathlons (she is much better than I am at the races) and I will often use this topic as a conversation starter. This type of touchpoint conversation keeps our working relationship in a more positive space.
- What is Important to Your Boss (personally): Ask him/her if they have any big weekend plans and then follow-up on Monday and inquire about the event. Find out what you boss loves to talk about (fishing, kids, sports, gardening, technology) and ask him/her about this topic from time to time. My boss loves to talk about his kids and their athletics – asking how his son did at a tournament and my boss’ eyes light up. I learned this by listening to what he said and saw how he reacted to certain topics. Our conversation about his kids’ games do not make him a good/bad boss, but we interact with each other in a more positive way because of these interactions.
- What is Important to Your Boss (professionally): In the workplace, what does your boss really care about? New ideas? Cost savings? Strong monthly numbers? When you discover what your supervisor cares about in running the department, you know what information to feed him/her from time to time.
“Barbara, just wanted to share that the new procurement system we implemented last month has already saved the firm an average of $750 a week and reduced order fulfillment from 2 weeks to 5 days. Thought you would want to know.”
Sharing the successes that are important to the boss is another way to improve the relationship. Which leads us to:
- Make the Boss Look Good: By sharing successes of the department, your boss can use these examples to showcase the department to his/her higher-ups. This in turn will make the boss look good and could possibly change the way he/she views you. Also, by making the boss look good, it increases the chances your supervisor will be promoted to another group and you won’t have to deal with him/her anymore.
- Don’t Take the Fall: We have all heard the phrase “Fall on the sword…” or “Take the fall…” in describing when one takes the blame for another or for an unfortunate event. If you have a bad boss, do not take the fall no matter how the boss tries to talk you into being the consummate “Team Player”. Instead be proactive in communicating with others inside and outside your department to keep your reputation intact. A contact of mine had an incompetent supervisor and it was beginning to affect her work (his decision-making timeliness was measured by sundials). To avoid her reputation going down the toilet, she communicated with internal and external partners to let them know where projects stood. That way, clients knew the hold up was not on her but rather on the next level up. Caution: when communicating with internal/external partners, never disparage your boss (throw him under the bus), stay positive and trust that your partners will be able to read between the line to see a pattern of where projects are stalling.
- Find Workarounds: So you have a bad boss, chances are tomorrow/next week/next month the bad boss will still be there. Try to find way to work with the poor supervisor in order to get things done. A friend had a supervisor who was a disaster in client meetings, the boss would go off on tangents and lose the clients’ attention. My friend realized he needed to provide his boss with talking points prior to the client meetings (meetings background, client needs, key players, etc.). Should he have to do this, no, but in order to not look foolish in front of a client and lose the business (and thus lose his job), he provided his boss with Cliff Notes to assure a successful meeting.
Having a bad boss can be a nightmare, but just as every nightmare will eventually end once you wake up, so will the bad boss situation. This supervisor will not be your boss forever, but until the nightmare does end, try some of these ideas to help lessen the negative effects.
I would love to hear other’s ideas of tips they used in dealing with a bad boss.
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You have some amazing points Kevin. I have used all of these strategies in my past, but finally realized that there was more effort required than benefit to me. The best kind of career coach, is someone who has been there. Sounds like you have been there!
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Highly descriptive blog, I enjoyed that bit.
Will there be a part 2?