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Wednesday, 12 April 2006

Dealing With The Big Bad Boss!

Written by Miles Cooper

Our resident careers guru, Miles Cooper, shares some strategies for dealing with a bad boss

A number of years ago I worked under a guy (who shall remain nameless!) whose obsessive and domineering manner turned a successful and growing enterprise into what can only be described as a shambles.

Around 4.30pm every day he would patrol the corridors in an attempt to ensure that nobody felt they could leave a little early, no matter what the reason.

He would give out assignments but then remove all autonomy and responsibility from the employee by ‘managing’ the projects to death.

He rarely gave anyone any praise or congratulations unless he could find a way to reflect this back on himself. Through time all the good people we had in our department left the organisation, because of this man. In short, he was a perfect example of the old axiom that job-seekers join great companies but leave because of bad bosses.

Like anything else in life there are good bosses and bad bosses. Let’s face it, we’ve all been there, to one extent or another. We’ve all had good, nurturing bosses who’ve made a significant contribution towards our career development and have had a profound affect on us. Then there are the not so good bosses...

Maybe you have had a boss who is sexist or racist. Or perhaps a boss who takes all the credit for himself. Maybe your boss thinks you have no life outside work and makes you stay late everyday. Or perhaps a boss who gives out too many tasks with impossible to meet deadlines (or constantly changing deadlines). Maybe your boss is a pathological liar. Or perhaps the boss plays favourites.

Bad bosses - whether ogres, control freaks, micromanagers, or just plain fools - can be found in all organisations. Modern culture loves to make fun of bad bosses, from the pointy-haired boss in the Dilbert comic strip to the cringe-worthy David Brent from The Office,” but bad bosses are no laughing matter when you have to face him or her every working day.

One recent study found that almost 80 percent of the employees surveyed identified their boss as a bad manager. And almost 70 percent in that same study stated that their immediate superior had “no clue” what to do to become a good manager. {mospagebreak}

One eminent careers writer estimates that 90 percent of the workforce has been subjected to abusive behaviour at some time. He bases his conclusions on a survey of nearly 1,000 workers over eight years.

So, what can you do if you are working for a bad boss? This article will provide you with the tools you need to manage the situation as best you can, but remember that sometimes the only solution is transferring to a different part of the organisation, or even switching employers.

Make sure you are doing everything right

The first solution is an honest analysis of your actions and behaviour. How have you been handling yourself in your job? Have you always taken the high road, or have you resorted to occasional backstabbing, gossiping, or underperforming? If you’re human, it’s likely your bad boss has affected your performance, so try ignoring all these distractions and focus on your work to see if that changes anything. Find other sources of positive reinforcement for doing your job to the best of your abilities.

Compile a list of bad boss behaviours

The second solution is a bit more involved, but should be a cathartic experience for you. Make a list of all the things that your boss does that drive you nuts. Let the list sit for a few days and then review it again, adding or deleting activities upon further reflection.

Next, rank the list from most annoying to least annoying. Pick the top two or three worst offences and develop some suggestions for how your boss could act differently in those situations. Edit the suggestions to remove sarcasm or anger. Show the suggestions to a trusted friend who has no vested interest in the situation. Edit the suggestions again.

Once you feel comfortable that your suggestions are positive and helpful, consider scheduling a meeting with your boss to discuss. Perhaps suggest meeting outside the office for breakfast or lunch. Leave your emotions at the door, but be prepared for your boss to have an emotional reaction.

It’s possible that your boss is unaware of his/her actions, and this meeting could be very positive for all involved; however, it’s also possible that the meeting will end badly.

Keep a journal of incidents

The third solution involves documenting each bad behaviour of your boss in a journal. Don’t judge or write emotional reactions; simply document the facts of the situation and how the bad behaviour impacted on your performance, as well as that of other people in the department.{mospagebreak}

Again, this process may be enough to relieve you of the stress so that you can cope. However, at some point in the future - perhaps as you are leaving for a new job - you might consider taking the journal to a trusted colleague in human resources or even a mentor within the company.

Find a mentor with the company

 If you love the company but hate the boss, another solution is to develop a mentoring relationship with a boss/supervisor in another part of the company. Mentoring is a fantastic strategy that you should consider even if you have a good boss because a mentor is someone who can help you in many ways, from offering advice to suggesting you for a promotion. And in coping with a bad boss, a mentor can be a good sounding board for you, and perhaps after you have documented all the offences, someone who has the pull and the power to do something about your bad boss.

Report your bad boss

A last resort is reporting the bad actions/performance of your boss to his/her supervisor, or to someone in human resources. While logic would hold that the company would not want a manager who is hurting performance or productivity, the reality is often that you can become branded as a trouble-maker or whinger and that your days at the company can quickly become numbered.

Don’t sacrifice your health or self-esteem

The worst thing you can do is simply to do nothing, hoping the problems will get resolved. No job, boss, or company is worth losing your health, sanity, or self-esteem over. If you can’t find a way to resolve these issues and/or your boss simply will never change his/her behaviour, then you should immediately start working through your network of contacts and begin looking for a new job, either within or outside the organisation.

Again, if you love the company, a transfer might be the best option, but keep in mind that your boss might be so evil as to sabotage that transfer.

Try not to quit before you find a new job, but again, if work just becomes too unbearable, you may need to consider quitting simply to save yourself.

It is after all, only a job....

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