It’s a tricky situation many employees have found themselves in. You’re in the perfect job and you enjoy the work, the hours are good and your colleagues are usually up for a post-work drink on a Friday. There’s just one problem — and it’s a big problem: your boss is awful.
Whether they’re a bully, incompetent or manipulative, bad bosses can make life extremely difficult and even derail a career. They’re also very common. According to a study by Life Meets Work 56% of American workers claim their boss is mildly or highly toxic.
A survey by the Equality Group found 63% of Brits state a bad boss is the number one reason why people quit their jobs — and half said their current or previous bosses have caused them significant anxiety and stress.
The Workplace Bullying Institute says there are 25 habits that can qualify a boss as a bully, including uncontrollable mood swings, credit-stealing, unreasonable demands, and gossiping. A useless boss can also have a serious impact on staff morale, particularly if employees are aware their manager is being paid a lot to do very little.
The obvious answer is to quit and start afresh somewhere new, but this isn’t always possible — and it can be a shame to leave a job you enjoy because of a bad boss. So what else can you do?
“There are many obstacles in any work environment, but few are quite so difficult and frustrating as having a boss that you dislike,” says Stuart Duff, partner and head of development at Pearn Kandola. “It’s widely shared that one of the most common reasons employees leave a job isn’t the organisation or even the work, but the person who is in charge: the manager, the boss, the leader.
“This is because of the amount of influence that a boss has over us. Decisions that affect our wellbeing, our engagement and ultimately our physical and mental health are in their hands, and if we feel as though they aren’t on our side, it can be hard to shake the negative feelings that we might harbour for them. In addition, many day-to-day decisions can be taken out of our hands by our boss, leaving us feeling powerless and stressed by the perceived lack of control.”
Remember you can’t change them
Firstly, it’s important to remember that you can’t change other people. “Much as we would all sometimes like to, we can’t change our boss. Instead, act as a role model and display the positive behaviours that you would expect your boss to demonstrate, such as listening, empathy and inclusive decision making,” Duff says. “At the end of the day, you can’t force your boss to change so, remember, if anything is going to change, it’s got to be you.”
Read more: How to avoid annoying people via email
Work out what the problem is
It’s easy to say you hate your boss, but it can help to work out exactly what has caused this intense dislike.
“Is it something specific or is it a general feeling about the person? Is it really hatred — which is a very strong, generalised feeling — or is it frustration with a specific aspect of your boss’s behaviour? If you tell yourself you hate someone, you have little chance of changing that mindset,” Duff says.
“If you focus on specific things that your boss is doing that you don’t like or agree with though, then you stand a much better chance of moving past it.”
In an ideal world, you should be able to talk to your boss about a problem — but this is difficult if they are the problem. The chances are, a bad boss may not be open to a conversation about their behaviour.
Instead, try making requests about things you need — whether it is resources, support or changes to your working environment. Put across your request clearly and with solid reasoning and make sure you explain why this will benefit them. Be prepared for rejection, however — and stand your ground.
See things their way
Empathy and perspective taking are very important skills in all aspects of our work, but never more so than in managing relationships with colleagues, Duff says.
Therefore, it can be useful to practice perspective taking — understanding a concept from a different point of view — with your boss. If they have a short fuse, it may be that they are under pressure from their own superiors. If they are abrupt with you, it may be that they are pressed for time.
“The steps to better perspective taking are straightforward,” Duff says. “Suspend your own judgement of the situation, ask how the situation looks from their perspective, check your understanding of their perspective by asking questions, avoid explaining why they were wrong, visualise how they might feel and convey empathy for their situation.”
Leave if you have to
Quitting a job is never an easy decision, particularly if you enjoy your work and you have rent and bills to pay. Be prepared to stay put while you look for a new job, which may mean gritting your teeth. But it’s also good to remember that a job is a job — and a difficult boss isn’t worth sacrificing your mental health for.