How to Manage a Horrible Boss

Wednesday 11 November 2015
A Great Manager Can Inspire You to Take Your Career to the Next Level but an Incompetent Boss May Lead Your Career to Ruin.
Women shouting at man with microphone

As the adage goes, ‘people don’t leave jobs, they leave managers,’ and recent research by Approved Index confirms this – showing that almost half (42%) of workers have left a job because of a bad boss.

The survey of 1,374 employees also found that almost a third (30%) feel their current boss is a bad manager, with recruitment ranking as the worst industry for terrible managers – closely followed by travel and tourism, marketing and PR and accounting.

And the effect of a bad manager-employee relationship is not just felt by the two parties.

A survey of 233 professionals found bullying bosses affect the whole workplace, making life miserable for an entire group of colleagues. Researchers’ claim “second hand” bullying or “vicarious abusive supervision” can be more insidious than physical abuse, and often leads to more job frustration, a greater likelihood of co-workers abusing one another, and a greater lack of confidence throughout the office.

While the image of the tyrant manager who rules by fear is easy for one to identify with thanks to a multitude of TV series, Travis Bradberry, co-founder of TalentSmart, identified five other prominent types of bad bosses to be aware of: from the meddling micromanager, who will not give you a moment’s peace, to the incompetent boss holding a position well beyond his/her capabilities.

The robot boss, meanwhile, seems unable to make a decision without data, while the visionary has plenty of good ideas but very little focus. And finally there are the seagull bosses, who only interact with their bosses in short bursts – leaving an almighty mess for you to clear up.

Read the sorry tale of the accidental manager

More than just being an annoyance, working with a bad manager each day can have severely detrimental effects on your mental and physical health. Recent studies have shown links between having a lousy boss and an increased risk of heart attack, chronic stress, sleep deprivation and high blood pressure, to name just a few.

“The evidence is clear that the leadership qualities of ‘bad’ bosses over time exert a heavy toll on employees’ health,” said Jonathan D. Quick, an instructor in medicine at Harvard Medical School and a co-author of the book Preventive Stress Management in Organisations. “The evidence is also clear that despite the rationalisations some leaders may use to defend their stress-inducing, unsupportive style, such behaviour by leaders does not contribute to improved individual performance or organisational productivity.”

Managing Up Rather Than Packing Up?

While changing jobs may at times seem like the only option, an uncertain job market and financial responsibilities makes the decision complex.

Therefore, academics and HR experts have advised that under-pressure employees revive their relationship with their manager by rethinking how they can better manage the boss they already have, despite all their flaws and shortcomings; otherwise known as managing up.

As opposed to rebelling a dysfunctional boss, ambitious professionals will attempt to understand their boss’s demands and exceed all their expectations and needs. Management coach and bestselling author Margie Warrell has five key tips for managing your boss:

1. Identify Their Prime Motivations

Find out what your boss cares about in the workplace, and how he/she identifies with success and failure.

By putting yourself in your superior’s shoes, you can adjust your work and behaviour to fit better with their core values, concerns and priorities.

2. Work Around Their Weaknesses

While there may be a temptation to make your boss look bad, it is likely to only result in damaging the results of the team and your reputation. Instead, try to cover for your boss’s weaknesses, allowing him/her to focus on their strengths.

For example, help your disorganised managers by helping them keep on top of things. Also don’t be afraid to mirror your boss’s style. How does he/she like to communicate; e-mail or face-to-face? Working with his/her preferences is an obvious way of managing your boss without them ever knowing it.

3. Remain Professional

Never let your boss’s bad behaviour be an excuse for your own. While it may be easy to succumb to resentment or resignation and mentally check out of your job, doing so not only undermines your own integrity but it can put you at risk of being branded as a whiner, a slacker, or both.

So if your boss is a shouter, don’t react by shouting back. If they are petty or small-minded, don’t descend to smallness yourself (however tempting)!

4. Talk With Your Boss

Urge your bad manager to have a private 15-minute conversation with you. By having the courage to speak up rather than cower in silence, you can make your boss know that you are unhappy about his/her behaviour, as well as allowing for them to provide an explanation – and maybe even an apology.

5. Do Your Research Before Jumping Ship

If you feel you have to leave your current job, then take time to research the culture, the leadership and reputation of your new organisation or department. How big are the teams? Any rumours of discrimination?

Furthermore, use your contacts and networking to get a sense of both the environment within the team you might be moving to, and those who are creating it.