A bad boss can be a huge source of stress and unhappiness. Many on the receiving end feel the only option is to quit. In fact, a 2019 study by global staffing firm Robert Half, found that about two in five (39 percent) of the professionals they surveyed in Canada had left a job due to a bad boss. However, quitting can come at a price. Why should you have to leave what may be a terrific organization? Why should you have to abandon a title and salary you’ve worked hard to attain? What if your next boss is just as bad? Feeling forced to quit is never a good thing. Here we provide a few measures you can take to resolve the situation.
1. Speak to your boss.
This is an important conversation so be prepared. First, decide the goal of the meeting. What changes do you wish to see? Do you need more resources and support? Clearer direction? Better communication? More feedback? Are you being treated unfairly or disrespectfully? What exactly do you want your boss to start doing, stop doing, or make happen? Focus on one issue at a time and give examples when possible. Whatever it is, be forthright, polite, and calm. Practice what you will say and anticipate possible responses.
During the conversation, verify that you have interpreted your boss’ intention correctly. Rather than saying “you make me feel” try “when you do X, I believe you want to achieve Y; is that right?”. Ask your boss to clarify their intention, needs, and objectives. Importantly, be aware of your reactions because once we feel negatively towards someone we often assume they always have the worst intentions. Diffuse your emotions by stepping back and considering your boss’ values. What must they do to achieve their deliverables? What do they need from you to meet their objectives? Seeing things from their perspective might help you understand them better.
2. Consider approaching HR.
If talking to your boss does not improve things you will need to consider your next steps. One option is to approach HR. How comfortable you feel doing that may depend on how well they have supported other employees with similar complaints. While individual complaints are confidential, you may be aware of your HR department’s reputation for handling such things. If you do meet with HR, clearly explain the issue and what you have done to resolve it. They may have helped others in a similar situation and suggest a way forward that you had not considered.
3. Take care of your physical and mental well-being.
Coping with a bad boss can seem all-consuming but you should make time for exercise and other activities that take your mind off work. Try not to let sleep suffer and do what you can to unwind before bedtime such as meditation, yoga, or reading. Be mindful of negative internal conversations or self-talk which can become habitual under duress. When you start down a negative thought path change direction by focussing on something that makes you happy, such as an upcoming trip. Negative self-talk does nothing but sap energy and heighten anxiety.
4. Make time for your support network.
It’s important to engage with your support network when experiencing stress or anxiety. Connect with people who encourage and support you. Time with friends or a weekend away with the family can be invigorating and remind you that work is just one component of your life. Talking to a trained coach or therapist would also provide support and expert advice.
5. Explore job opportunities within your current organization.
If a new job seems your only option, explore opportunities within your own organization first. You might be able to escape your boss without leaving the company. Find out how internal positions are posted and network with other departments. Update your résumé, research suitable positions, and create a convincing case for transitioning to a new role. Apply as much effort in securing your new internal job as you would a job outside of the company.
6. Quit with dignity and professionalism.
Sometimes, leaving the company may be your only option. If the situation is overwhelming, you are depressed, anxious, or unable to do your best work, it’s probably time to go. Although it may be tempting to tell your boss exactly what you think of them when you resign, it is better to not burn bridges in person, or via your resignation letter, which will be kept on file. However, if HR asks for an exit interview you may choose to oblige but stick to the facts and be professional about it. When you quit, be ready to leave the building with your personal belongings, contact lists, and important papers, just in case you are not allowed back to your desk. Return all company items and get a receipt. Even if you are desperate to get away from your boss, it’s wise to honour the agreed notice period.
7. Transition properly and deliver on your commitments.
Ensure your boss and colleagues understand what you will do before leaving. If you say you will complete something, make sure you do. Don’t give anyone a reason to criticize you after you are gone.
8. Don’t criticize Your boss.
Never vilify your boss in a job interview. Even if the interviewer seems sympathetic, they may infer it’s you who’s the problem. Decide in advance how you will explain your resignation or desire to leave. Do not let the conversation devolve into a complaining session.
If you have a bad boss, you might take comfort in knowing you are far from alone. Despite billions of dollars spent annually on leadership and managerial development, bad bosses exist in every organization and industry. Forge Coaching & Consulting can provide expert advice about how to cope in this difficult situation. If you have a terrible boss, we can help.