How to manage a bad boss

A bad boss can have a significant impact on your day-to-day working life as well as your career in the longer term. Whether it’s a chaotic workplace, a lack of feedback or unwarranted negative performance reviews, the knock-on effect of bad management can be substantial.

The good news is there are ways you can protect yourself, stay sane and make the best of a difficult situation.

Are you really dealing with a bad boss?

Before you draw up a strategy for dealing with your bad boss, make sure he or she really is one. Is there something specific going on in your boss’s life that could be causing the problems in the short-term? Is there something going on behind the scenes at work that you don’t know about? Is the real problem someone further up in the organisation? The more understanding you can have of the situation, the better able you will be to navigate it.

Work around them

If you decide that your boss really is a problem, realise there is nothing to be gained from highlighting their shortcomings or trying to bring about their downfall. If your boss really is as bad as you think, others will see this too. Instead, show that you can work for anyone.

If your boss has trouble making decisions, learn to anticipate what they will eventually decide. If your boss often changes his or her mind, keep written records of what you’re being told to do so that you can refer back to them if there is any confusion (or anyone tries to pin the blame on you).

Try to stay one step ahead. This will help you anticipate what your boss needs but also help you see any problems that might be looming.

Don't let it Affect Your Work

Perhaps the most destructive impact of a bad boss is everyone else giving up. Don’t be tempted to adopt sloppy habits and start cutting corners. Don’t allow yourself to take passive-aggressive revenge by calling in sick or dragging your feet on projects.

The best way to ‘fight back’ is to hold on to your own high standards. You never know who is watching. It could even be that your boss’s boss is aware of the problem and is looking around for the right person to promote.

Speak up

Give your boss a chance to respond to your concerns. This can be daunting but it is important to voice any difficulties you are experiencing rather than suffering in silence. Just as it is important for a boss to give feedback it can be incredibly useful for them to receive it in the form of honest information from those working for them.

There is a good chance your boss has no idea how difficult you are finding things and does not know that you would like things done differently.

It may be that your boss is unable to see your point of view or is unwilling to change things but at least you will have expressed your concerns.

Identify triggers

If your boss has a particular trigger, take note and act accordingly.

If tardy timekeeping is the problem, don’t give them the opportunity to be annoyed. Arrive early every day. If good grammar is their obsession, check and double check your work.

Document everything

Be smart about keeping records. Make sure all requests, feedback, criticism and conflict are written down with times, dates and other relevant information.

If your boss likes to give you instructions verbally, follow up each time with an email confirming the course of action agreed. Clarify any instructions you are unsure about.

Hopefully you will never need to use any of your records but it pays to have the option.

Avoid future bad bosses

The best way to deal with a bad boss is to avoid them altogether. When considering a new job try and find out as much as you can about the manager you would be working for.

See if you can meet for a coffee and a chat with those who already work in the department. You can explain that you are keen to learn about the company and its culture but if you approach the issue carefully and with discretion you should be able to get a feel for the person in charge too.