How to … deal with a bad boss

by 25 Jul 2007

Why is it important?

Nearly one in four of the UK’s bosses are bad or dreadful, say employees, according to the Good Boss Report from the Good Boss Company, which campaigns for better bosses in the UK. And the report, which surveyed 1,000 employees, confirms there is a direct link with how we view our bosses and how we feel about our jobs.

Fifty-eight per cent of respondents have looked for another job because of their boss. However, 71 per cent who believe they have a good boss feel satisfied or very satisfied with their job.

A bad boss can have a dramatic effect on individual and overall morale in the workforce. But the solution doesn’t have to be leaving your job or the department.

Where do I start?

One of the reasons many of us find a bad boss intolerable is because we feel powerless to do anything about it. Start by making your viewpoint more positive and proactive – put yourself back in control.

To do this you need to feel confident and upbeat. Keep your perspective on the way your boss behaves: it is easy to let the situation affect your home and personal life. Try to leave your frustrations at work.

Establish the root cause

Work out why your boss makes your life difficult or uncomfortable. Is it one or a combination of things? The Good Boss Report found that 45 per cent say their bosses are poor listeners and 38 per cent claim that their bosses publicly criticise or humiliate them.

It is easy to blame your boss for everything and overlook their good points, which can mask the real problem. If you simply don’t like them, try to separate the person from their actions.

What steps can I take?

Make some practical and positive suggestions that will encourage your boss to help you. If they are the type of boss that expects you to work late, remind them in advance of the days when you cannot.

Suggestions that make you more productive are also a good approach, advises Andrea Gregory, founding director of the Good Boss Company.

“It’s very difficult for a boss to argue with a comment like: ‘When you ask me to produce summary reports at the last minute, it really makes it hard to do my best work … I’d like to incorporate more research so they are more useful for our internal customers. With more notice, I think I could improve them quite a bit’,” she says. Obviously, having made a claim like this, it is vital you deliver on it.

Build mutual respect

There’s a fair chance that difficulties between you and your boss may stem entirely from pressures placed on them. Put yourself in their shoes, look at their priorities and suggest ways of helping them. Bear in mind that they themselves may have a boss making unreasonable claims on them. Changing the way your boss behaves to improve your working environment, would put them at odds with their own boss, says Gregory.

“This often sets up impossible conflicts. Allowing you to have a better work-life balance may mean they have to compromise on important deadlines.” Showing that you are willing to help your boss doesn’t mean you have to concede to all their demands. But working together to help achieve corporate aims may prove to be the bonding experience you both need.

What if nothing works?

It may be that your efforts fall on stony ground and you alone cannot effect the necessary change to improve matters. In such cases it is likely to have more to do with your boss than you. Seeking advice from someone more senior in your department may help, especially if the situation becomes extreme. If you do decide to move on, learn from it so that you can head off similar problems in future.

Above all, don’t dwell on it. “In years to come when you reflect on your current bad boss, they will probably seem a much smaller part of your life than they do right now,” says Gregory. “You may even feel able to laugh at the memories.

Second opinion on how to deal with a bad boss

By Andrea Gregory, founding partner of the Good Boss Company

What's the worst behaviour you've experiencedpersonally from a boss and how did you deal with it?

I once worked with a boss who was very cold, controlling and who blamed her team for her own omissions. She had a way of questioning that undermined people's self-esteem and confidence.

During a reorganisation she made two of my senior team members redundant while I was on holiday, so I spent much of my well-earned break not on the beach, but making very expensive long-distance phone calls to support and help the remaining team members.

She was challenging to deal with because her behaviour was so subtle. I always talked to her about my concerns and she usually backed off after that. We never liked each other, but I was meticulous about updating her on what our department was doing.

What tips would you offer on dealing with a bad boss?

Keep calm and decide for yourself what behaviour is reasonable and what isn't.

Do your best to ignore behaviour that doesn't directly affect you.

Communicate - it is the key to improving their behaviour.

Find an appropriate time to talk to your boss about your concerns.

Don't: bottle up your feelings; be miserable and say nothing; take time off sick; or explode with anger. Of the don'ts, the first three avoid the issue and the last would mean behaving as badly as your boss.

Should your approach differ depending on the types of bad behaviour you have to endure?

Yes, there is a considerable difference between having a boss who frustrates you and one that bullies, intimidates or harasses you. You have every right to feel safe at work and anything of this order shouldn't be tolerated.

If the behaviour of your boss has, in your view, reached these proportions, enlist the help of your HR department and/or consider using the grievance procedure to raise your complaints formally. Try writing to your boss, setting out your frustrations and concerns, before taking the matter further.

For more information


How to Manage Your Boss: Developing the perfect working relationship by Ros Jay, Prentice Hall Business, London, 2002, ISBN 9780273659310

How to Work for an Idiot: Survive and thrive without killing your boss by John Hoover, Career Press, Franklin Lakes, NJ, 2004, ISBN 9781417526123


By Scott Beagrie. Courtesy of Personnel Today magazine.