How To Effectively Complain About Your Boss

Toxic work environments are difficult, but they are made even worse by a boss or other higher-up who seems untouchable. It might seem like there's nothing you can do about it, but it's still possible to complain — you just need to know how to do it effectively and without jeopardising your job.

Photo remixed from The Muuj.

If you want to complain about a boss online, be aware that complaining about colleagues is a very risky business. If you really need to do lodge a complaint about your boss, here are a few of the best practices.

How Human Resources Wants You To Do It

If you're going to complain about a boss, you need to have a good reason. For better or worse, you can't just complain about your boss because she or he is rude. The human resources people I talked to while researching this post mentioned the word legitimacy a lot — as in, your boss needs to be doing something harmful to you as a person or the company, not just being a jerk.

The main legitimate reasons cited are:

  • Discrimination
  • Illegal activity (whistle blowing)
  • Overtime or break violations

Incompetence, you'll notice isn't on the list, and unfortunately, there is no good way to complain about someone's inability to properly do a job. You can, however, offer constructive criticism directly to your boss or someone higher up.

In those instances, it's very important to complain with a solution in mind, which, as we've covered in a similar manner before, is also a good way to get on your bosses good side.

If your boss is being hostile for no good reason, you might also consider talking with someone higher up about the issue. This is especially handy in a retail space, where you're probably not getting paid enough to deal with a bad boss, and the owner might not be on the floor enough to see what's happening. Don't complain immediately after an incident, and make sure it's a repeated issue. Again, word it in a way where you have a solution, not just a complaint, and if it's at all possible, document your complaint.

The HR people I spoke to also suggested getting your core job outline in writing, so you can refer to it if your boss is asking you to do something outside the spectrum of your usual tasks. Use this with caution, though: You don't want to be seen as lazy, but if your boss regularly abuses your good nature and willingness to help out, it's good to make sure your boss is aware of your required duties.

More than anything else, you should talk with your boss first if you're comfortable doing so, especially if your problem is something as simple as not getting a break or proper lunch time. If your complaint involves serious issues like discrimination or illegal activity, you should have proof.

So how do you document those sorts of issues? Here are a few techie options.

Photo by Jake Sutton.

How Technology Can Help You

You need to have proof about your complaint. This isn't as hard as you'd think. You can track these types of things easily, ensuring you'll have any facts you need. When possible, you should not hide your actions, especially when recording conversations, but you still want to be able to click the record button quickly.

Webcam: We've shown you how to turn a webcam into a surveillance system, and while you certainly don't need to go spying on your boss, a webcam is a simple way to record anything from you computer. You'll need to use it at your discretion, but if your boss is doing something you feel needs to be addressed on a larger scale, a webcam recording is an effective means to get your proof.

Audio Recording: Most mobile phones have an audio recorder of some kind, so use it. If you're on a jailbroken iPhone, a tool like CameraButtons can automatically launch you video recording by holding down the volume buttons so you can record without ever taking your phone out of your pocket. Otherwise, turn on the recorder when something is happening and bring that to your HR department or other boss.

If your boss is doing something nasty that doesn't fit into the above-mentioned categories, you can always talk with someone about the issues without complaining. Mention them without hinging the whole complaint on your boss and you won't put your job in jeopardy, but you might make your work experience a little smoother.

How About You?

Have you ever complained about a boss with a positive outcome? Share your suggestions in the comments.

Photo by ThenAndAgain.


    Working at a red rooster I had a horrible time. After bein there for four years, a manager of two year made me lose it. She was always abusing people (15 yos and the like) with things like giving 2 hour shifts, denying breaks, once she said I couldn't go out back to where my drink bottle was, on a day where the store was over 40 degrees and fans and previously been barred. She also said I wasn't allowed to adjust the screen height on the monitors. I told my boss and the store owner and he said too bad. Then she got the role of rostering. Next thing I'm being rostered onto shifts only to have them pulled a couple of days before them, and then nothing. So I called head office. They say I'm only a casual and they don't deal in gossip. Then hang up. Absolute disgrace. Now I haven't worked there since January.

      Workplace Standards (or whichever the equivalent body for your state is) are the ones you wanna talk to buddy.
      Under any of the new laws they can get in quite a bit of poop for that behaviour.

    I have see people attempt to deal with their bosses appropiately through HR and found HR to be just as incompentant. This person held out and got a pay out based upon systematic ruling. However the toll it took on that person to battle it to that point, it would be been better for her to simply leave.

    Ultimately, in Australia we have a tight labor market. Vote with your feet. Provide the feedback when you leave. Ultimately it will cost the business more to re-hire adn recruit.

    I just use facebook...

    I prefer to challenge them to a pistols-at-dawn duel...

    Hate to break it to you, but recording a conversation without the consent of all parties involved is illegal, plain and simple. If contested by the other party it would be classed as heresay evidence, especially if it was used in any sort of proceeding regarding unfair dismissal of said boss. Which would backfire on your arse completely.

      I'm glad someone else had the sense to mention that here. I wish Lifehacker were a little more diligent on giving their advice.

      Hate to break it to you but the laws a different from state to state. So how about quoting some actual laws rather than opinions?

        Not under FEDERAL LEGISLATION people. Ffs how hard is it to look up the Acts.
        Federal laws trump state laws any day of the week, but here's the state laws anyway:
        Qld: There is no state telecommunications interception power, despite a Parliamentary Report tabled in December 1999 and

        Anything else smartass?

        and it's not opinion because I've done my Investigative Agents license, but I'll forgive you because you weren't to know that.
        And because I've done my license, I know for a fact that using any pre-recorded audio in any legal proceeding is just about the quickest way to get your case thrown out of court. As I said, it's called HEARSAY. Photos are the only submission that counts next to written & signed or sworn statements. Video is usable as long as there is NO AUDIO alongside it. Not talking about volume turned down, I'm talking dubbed out altogether.

        Oh, and here's another great resource because you were too lazy to look it up yourself:

        ...and here's the Federal Act because I'm feeling generous:

        and tell you what... here's a link to the specific section of the FEDERAL ACT:

          Ollie, all I read in the Federal Act that you linked to is a list of people who may use a surveillance device. Where does it state that a member of the public can not use a surveillance device??

          You appear quick to insult someone who is not a trained "Investigative Agent"; now prove to me (a Queenslander) that I am breaking the law if I record a conversation that I have with another party.

            Come on Ollie, you said that Federal trumps State law.

            You and I have a conversation in Brisbane and I record the conversation. You want to take me to court over the fact. What are the elements to the offence? Miss one and your case will be thrown out court.

            Here is a tip for you: As an investigator, don't think that you are a lawyer (unless you actually are one) or you risk losing professional credibility.

      In Queensland it is perfectly legal to record a private conversation if you are one of the parties involved in the conversation. You can do this without notice to any of the other parties. Different if it's over a telecommunications device.

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