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Five ways to deal with a horrible boss

From Gordon Gecko in ‘Wall Street’ to Miranda Priestly in ‘The Devil Wears Prada’, a bad boss story makes a good movie. However, when you are working for one, it’s not so much fun. A horrible boss can make your working day feel like hell and impact your effectiveness and self-esteem. 

Dealing with a bad boss is not about getting even but getting savvy about how you manage it. Here are five critical tips to consider.

  1. Understand what’s driving their behaviour
    There’s a difference between a boss who is a good person but in a stressful situation and not coping very well, and a boss who thrives on power and is a narcissist or a bully.

    The first step is to understand what’s driving their behaviour and determine if it’s consistent or out of character.

    If their behaviour has changed, be interested in what may have caused this. For example, your boss’s workload and stress levels may have increased due to surging demands from their boss or clients. If that’s the case, being proactive and supportive is a great way to build a better relationship. Find out how you can help them. In return, your boss will likely see you as someone helpful and reliable.

  2. Think long term benefits
    In contrast, if your boss is a narcissist and constantly displays poor leadership behaviour, you are not likely to change them. Instead, think about the benefits you gain from the job regarding experience, connections and other elements. Next, determine if it is worth sticking it out for a bit longer.

    In reflecting on my career, there are times when I worked for people who were hard to work for, but the experience and benefit gained in the role made it worthwhile. However, it is crucial to set a time limit because prolonged exposure to an unhealthy working environment isn’t good for your confidence and well-being.

  3. Build your support crew
    You want to have people around – both inside and outside the organisation – who will support and advocate for you.  Your support crew will help set you up for your next job and ensure you maintain a healthy and robust sense of self. Plus, having an effective internal network can help counter-balance the challenges of working for a lousy boss.
  4. Stay visible
    With more and more of us working from home, it’s crucial to ensure your work and presence remain highly visible.  Everything you do and say (and don’t do and don’t say) affects your impact and relationship with your boss. So, find ways to showcase your work and the value you bring to the role.
  5. Put yourself first
    Your health and well-being always need to come first. This means you need to:

    1) Know your rights – if their behaviour is illegal (i.e. bullying/harassment), then seek advice on your next steps and counsel from people you trust to determine the best course of action
    2) Know when to exit – if their behaviour is impacting your health and well-being, then build your exit strategy
    3) Manage the impact – put in place daily practices, such as exercise, meditation and reflection, to manage your health and well-being

    Dealing with a bad boss isn’t something anyone looks forward to, but unfortunately, at times, it is an inevitable part of the working world.

Stay true to who you are. Back yourself. Always take the higher ground. And remember, corporate karma often wins in the end!


Written by Michelle Gibbings.
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Michelle Gibbings
Michelle Gibbings is a workplace expert and the author of three books, including her latest 'Bad Boss: What to do if you work for one, manage one or are one'.


Michelle Gibbings is an opinion columnist for the CEOWORLD magazine. You can follow her on LinkedIn. For more information, visit the author’s website.