Bad bosses, or managers who regularly disappoint you, are common. This disappointment you feel can be varied. Maybe you crave mentorship and you feel ignored, or you desire autonomy but you feel controlled. Or maybe you would just really appreciate your supervisor actually responding to your emails once in a while. You are not alone. This survey of 1,500 employees found that 24% of them felt they were working for the “worst manager they’ve ever had.” And the impacts of dealing with a bad boss can range anywhere from general job disengagement to affecting your sleep habits, your relationships with others, and even your self-worth.
That said, in my years of working with managers, I’ve never met one who intentionally set out to be bad at it. Most people in supervisory roles are doing their best with the skills, knowledge, energy, and focus they possess within the circumstances. Also, relationships with bosses are exactly that: a relationship. That means it takes more than one person to create the dynamic, so staff also bear some responsibility for maintaining a healthy and productive boss/employee relationship.
This means that if you work for a bad boss, you have some agency over how that relationship plays out by way of how you interact with and react to them. It’s important to avoid focusing on trying to change your boss or spend any time wishing your boss was someone else. Instead, accepting them for who they are is the first step. Then, you can focus on your own interactions with them.
Here are four types of bad managers, and a few tips on how to handle each one of them.
How to deal with a boss who is a micromanager
Micromanagers are famous for having a low tolerance for ambiguity. They resist letting employees make their own decisions and monitor work closely. Micromanagers do this because they need a lot of information to feel confident and prepared to deliver on their own work. Many micromanagers are also born from other micromanagers. Meaning, they behave this way because their boss does and so on up the company’s leadership pipeline.
In these instances, try letting go feeling like you’re not trusted. It’s probably not the case. Instead, give your boss what they need to be successful and effective at their work. Ask them how frequently they want to be updated and in what format. By all means, don’t withhold information from them. Also, be willing to examine your own behavior and correct it in the event you might be encouraging micromanagement. For more advice on working with micromanagers, see my full guide here.
How to deal with a boss who acts like a buddy
These are managers who seem to care more about what their team thinks of them than making tough decisions, delegating work, or holding others accountable. Often, “friend managers” have compromised their ability to act as a supervisor because they frequently engage socially with their team or exchange too much personal information with staff. When tough decisions have to be made, they are inappropriately influenced by social interactions, struggle with worry over how they are thought of by staff, or confide in some but not in others (creating unfair work environments).
If you work for a “friend manager,” the first step is to break up. Stop being friends with your manager. By remaining too friendly with your boss, you are actively contributing to all the challenges that are in play. If cutting ties cold turkey is too extreme, make a commitment to not discuss work when you hang out socially. But better yet, just stop hanging out socially. By creating distance, many find their job experience improves.
How to deal with the “lone wolf” boss
This is the non-manager of managers. They function as an individual contributor, solely focused on their own work and deliverables while still approving timecards and vacation requests. They seem to have little concern or focus on the development of the team. Some people love working for these bosses because they have ultimate freedom and autonomy. But if you’re someone looking for mentorship or the experience of being led with strategic direction, this supervisor leaves you feeling unfulfilled.
In these cases, identify what is missing from this boss relationship and find it elsewhere. If you’re looking for a manager who readily shares their own experience to guide you, find a mentor. (Here are a few tips on how to do that.) Or, if you’re looking for a boss to teach you skills, seek out professional development classes or consult with a tenured colleague. Ask them for advice on career advancement. These bosses aren’t the worst to work for, so you might also just enjoy the freedom they afford.
How to deal with a boss who is a jerk
This is maybe the worst type of boss to work for: the jerk. These managers lack self-awareness and behave in ways that can be disrespectful and hurtful. These are the bosses who are very difficult to accept for who they are; they are easy to just plain dislike.
In theses cases, first try to envision them as someone other than your boss. Think about them as a son or as a daughter. Maybe they are parents or volunteers at a local nonprofit. Here’s the thing, jerks are jerks for a reason; they routinely behave badly. But, they are also human. Sometimes, finding their humanity can give you the patience to endure their antics. Then, inventory all the benefits or positive aspects of working for them or the company. Post that list so that you are reminded regularly. If their behavior is unethical or illegal, consider reporting them via your company’s policies. And, by all means, look for another job if those strategies aren’t fruitful.
Bad managers are common but the good news is that they aren’t everywhere. The same survey that found almost a quarter of employees were working for “the worst manager they’ve ever had” also found that 64% were working for the best boss they ever had. Great bosses are out there. If you’re working for one that leaves you unsatisfied, either develop your strategies to interact with them or accept that it might be time to find a new manager.
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