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How To Work For A Bad Boss

October 22nd, 2006 · 4 Comments

There are few things in life more stressful than going into work day after day to work for a difficult person. Generally three reasons exist for how that person became your supervisor or manager:

  • Seniority promotion – this happens when a person has worked for a company for so long they almost have to promote the employee. The employee might not have any management skills whatsoever but the company feels it’s time to promote him or risk losing him to another company. Basically this person became the boss by default.
  • Technical promotion – this person is either a workaholic who got promoted by working 60+ hours per week or has such a strong technical acumen for the position upper management figured he’d make a good manager. Many times the person lacks the critical balance between people skills and technical skills. This boss may be a technical wizard, but he’d rather spend his days alone in a lab or in front of a spreadsheet than deal with employees.
  • Job transfer – this person came to be your boss either from another department or division or another company all together. His management style is not entirely known initially.

Regardless of how your boss came to be, I’d like to share a couple ideas on how to cope with working for a bad boss. In some cases this person may actually be affecting your productivity and you need to figure something out or risk losing your own job. In other cases it’s a matter of finding a way to get through eight hours each day without losing your mind.

One of my first jobs out of college I worked for a bad boss. In the years I worked for him I never once heard him admit he was wrong. He fit into the technical promotion category of bosses. Technically he had strong knowledge of our company’s products and services, but dealing with people was a leftover task into which he’d put little effort. In another instance I had a boss who would come and go randomly throughout the day. He’d take vacation days or handle personal matters without any notification to his employees. I’d have his boss come to me now and then asking where he was and none of us in the department had a clue. Finally I had one boss who would make lewd, sexual comments forgetting that he was in a management role and not just an employee (as if the comments were acceptable either way). I’m amazed he never had a harassment lawsuit filed against him or the company. I’m sure you could add your own bad boss stories as well (email me at and I’d like to hear from you.

Now that I’ve laid out what creates a bad boss and ones for whom I’ve worked let’s discuss ways of coping with it. Below are five ways of handling working for a bad boss:

  1. Keep a log of his actions you think are either inappropriate in the workplace or actions your boss has taken that are not in the best interest of the company. When you feel you’ve gathered enough evidence of poor management skills present it to your HR or personel department or possibly have a “skip-level” meeting where you skip over your manager’s head and meet with his boss. Be aware that corporate “whistle-blowers” sometimes get hit by a backlash from upper management from being a snitch. However, if you believe it’s in your company’s best interest for you to make these actions known then act on them.
  2. Discuss with your colleagues their professional opinion of the boss. Once you separate the kiss-ups from those who tell it like it is you can then assess whether your experience with your boss is on par with the rest of the department or if you are the only one who sees it this way. Once you have several employees agreeing with your view of the boss you have several options. At a minimum you can commiserate with each other on how this boss hurts the organization and others. Working together you can all decide whether to go forward with item #1 above and make this manager’s action known.
  3. Visit our friends at and visit the articles on how to work for a difficult boss.
  4. Don’t overlook the obvious: speak to your tough boss directly on how you see things going and what are some suggestions to improve things. Don’t put him on the defensive. Tell things in the third person rather than saying “you always do this” or “you never do that” which could come across making him look bad. If this person just cannot be reasoned with you should have a sense of how it is going early on in the discussion.
  5. As a last resort, develop a game plan to get yourself moved to another department or another company all together. It’s a draconian measure, but if you are to the point where you cannot sleep at night or this boss’s belligerence is affecting your after-work life then it’s time to move on.

Bad bosses are part of life that many of us experience from job to job. Hopefully the lessons you learn working for a bad boss teach you what not to do once you become the boss.

Tags: Business

4 responses so far ↓

  • 1 givemebigmoney // Mar 18, 2007 at 10:16 pm

    This post can also be found at

    Thank you for your submission.

  • 2 The Engaging Brand // Mar 23, 2007 at 7:19 am

    Blog Carnival Of Leadership Development

    Welcome to the March 23, 2007 edition of carnival of leadership development. I have been overwhelmed with articles but here are the ones that I thought would help you and your thinking. Matt Hutter presents How To Work For A

  • 3 Betty // May 23, 2010 at 10:37 am

    I have a boss who likes to correct me every chance she gets in meetings. Recently I had to perform an onboarding with a new employee and we started talking about a particular process. I had said that one particular issue was a big mistake and my boss pounced on me and asked me why it was a big mistake. Correcting me is one thing, but not in front of others.

  • 4 Matt M. // Feb 21, 2011 at 5:55 pm

    It’s inevitable that either you or someone you know will work for a bad boss sometime during your professional career. Bad bosses can come in a variety of forms and can cause untold damage to a firm’s productivity (and in some cases, people’s health).

    Working for a bad boss has a large effect on your work experience and your performance. Whether you’re the one in this relationship, or know someone affected by a bad boss, we have a few tips for how to cope and make the most of the situation.

    Matt M.
    CEB Views

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