Archive for Tuesday, June 2, 2009

Bad bosses: Check out tips to make best of a bad situation

June 2, 2009


If you report to a miserable, soul-sucking boss at work, chances are, in this economy, you’re going to have to suck it up.

Hundreds of thousands of employees are being laid off every month and jobs are scarce. And for years, companies have been cutting back on training managers properly in the first place. Many are completely unequipped and untrained on how to manage their employees effectively.

But there are ways to deal with even the nuttiest nutjobs sitting in the corner office. We talked to Randall S. Hansen, founder of, a career development Web site, and Harvey Hornstein, who has written “Brutal Bosses and Their Prey,” about the best strategies for handling the worst managers.

1. Incompetent

You know that freshly minted MBA graduate who has never spent a day in the real world? Well, now he’s going to overhaul your department, make you all apply for your jobs again and solve all the company’s inefficiencies.

Yeah, right.

This type of boss usually knows the employees know more than he does, so avoid showing off your knowledge, which will only feed the boss’s insecurities, Hansen said.

“Never say, ’This is how it’s always been done,”’ he said. Never challenge his ideas in front of others. Instead, meet with the boss privately about assignments and ask to brainstorm about various ways to approach the task. (Especially if you know his way is going to crash and burn.) Go into the meeting with a few alternatives and let the boss feel like he is helping you find the best solution.

“You have to behave in a way that helps them maintain authority,” Hornstein said.

2. Toxic, aka The Evil One

The boss who screams, puts you down, goes ballistic, crushes your ego and leaves you damaged.

Unfortunately, there are not a lot of strategies that work to reform this sort of nastiness.

Hornstein says there can be two different motivations driving this predatory boss. One type simply enjoys making others feel small, so he can feel bigger. That can be a psychopathology, of sorts, he said. He suggests learning the “predator’s” patterns and avoiding him during those trigger moments.

Hansen added if the Toxic boss is behaving especially hateful toward you, it may be worthwhile to re-evaluate your own behavior or ask an independent third party if you are inadvertently doing something to set this maniac off.

A different type of motivation may stem from the boss’s own anxiety. His explosions are a way to cover up that emotion. In this case, helping ease the boss’s concerns can ease his outbursts and abuse, Hornstein said.

In either case, keep a journal, with specific dates and details that document your boss’s bad behavior. Do NOT keep this record on your work computer. The documentation will help if you end up reporting the manager to a superior or to the human resources department.

Try to develop a mentor relationship with someone higher up in your organization, so you can go to him or her and seek advice.

3. Inconsistent

Hansen recalls his Jekyll and Hyde faculty adviser when he was an undergraduate. “I would go in one day, and I’d be God’s gift to the major. The next day, the adviser was threatening to fail me ... I never did discover if it was a mental imbalance or drug use,” he said.

On a good day, this boss is loving you, lavishing praise on your outstanding work. The next day (or maybe even the next hour), the same boss is trashing you to every other manager or hating the same idea she loved the day before.

“Either they don’t remember the original directive or they’ve changed their mind about it,” Hansen said.

The silver lining, as Hornstein points out, is this boss has the capacity to behave well.

“It’s in there somewhere...appeal to the good guy,” he said. Offer good-faith responses to specific criticisms.

Hansen suggests keeping a paper trail of the positive feedback and getting your accomplishments periodically “on the record.” Consider sending a weekly (or bi-monthly) status report memo about what you have accomplished in the past week or on the current project.

“Typically, the boss will respond with something,” Hansen said. Save it. You can use this paper trail in your performance reviews, because you can’t be sure which of the boss’s personalities will show up to work that day.

4. Passive-aggressive

A professional woman in public relations told her boss when she was offered a better job, which she intended to accept. Her boss convinced her turn down the offer and stay. The next day, he fired her. The other job: Gone.

This is the boss who will never confront you directly. He will complain to someone else or punish you with more work or bad assignments or make jokes at your expense.

The passive-aggressive handles hostility or anger in an underhanded or devious way that is hard for others to prove. Hornstein says this type of boss is very difficult to deal with because his behavior is subversive. It is important in these cases to have a mentor or another advocate in the company to speak up for you in management circles.

Hansen suggests trying to talk to this boss outside of work, by requesting a breakfast or lunch meeting. Do not get in a power struggle or let him see he or she is getting under your skin. In a non-confrontational way, put the onus on yourself. Tell the boss you work better or more efficiently with a certain type of direction and/or feedback. Offer suggestions and ask your boss for ways to improve the communication between the two of you.

5. The Glory Hog

You spend countless hours working on a project for your company. You pour your own unpaid time into it. And, when it’s time to present the idea, launch the innovation or tell the success story, guess who takes the credit for your idea and your work? You guessed it: The Glory Hog, the boss who is just as quick to steal the credit as she is to blame her employees when something goes wrong.

She’ll sell you up the river to save her own skin, and her directives change with the direction of the political wind. She plays favorites with employees and takes part in the office gossip.

“This is the second worst type of boss to have, after the toxic boss,” Hansen said. They know what they are doing. This boss is likely to praise you privately or want to give you a raise, but will never promote you. Document your accomplishments and bring them with you to performance reviews. Try to steer clear of the gossip and politics yourself. Stick to protocol.

It’s especially important to find and develop a relationship with a mentor, apply for internal job postings or transfers and look for ways to get yourself promoted.

6. Control Freak

Hansen worked for a senior level executive once who would walk the hallways at 4:45 p.m. every day to make sure Hansen’s employees didn’t leave a minute early. This is the micromanager; the one who has your home phone and cell phone on speed dial; the one who checks in several times a day and would read memos over your shoulder, if she could.

This is typically the boss with too much time on her hands, who has trust issues and trouble delegating.

In this case, it can be helpful to set boundaries, time frames and checkpoints at the start of a project. Consider offering to send an afternoon “status update” e-mail every day. In a private, non-confrontational meeting, suggest you may be more productive and efficient with more structured checkpoints and fewer spontaneous interruptions. Try to find some mutual ground and establish some boundaries.

“You’re never totally going to get out of that loop,” Hansen said. “But you may be able to cut it in half.”

7. Unreasonable Demander

You’ve got a stack of paperwork on your desk, and your boss adds three more things he needs done immediately on your pile. Your job description has grown to include your duties and the duties of two other people in the department who were laid off months ago.

“Sadly, this is the fastest growing type of boss with so many cutbacks and so few employees to do the work,” Hansen said.

It can be helpful if you take stock of your duties and create a log of the amount of time devoted to each task. When you are assigned a large project with an unrealistic time frame, break it down into its components and assign a time allotment to each piece. Don’t refuse an additional assignment, but ask your boss to help you prioritize your tasks. Certain tasks may not be as important anymore and others may have to be delegated elsewhere to create a manageable workload. Talk to your boss in the spirit of sharing information and trying to find a solution, instead of simply complaining about your workload.


BrianR 8 years, 11 months ago

Number 4 should be entitled Aggressive because the described behavior isn't passive-aggression. It is simply overt aggression perpetrated by a spineless coward.

Passive-Aggressive is probably one of the most misused psych terms around and, in this instance, it is definitely being misused.

MaryKatesPillStash 8 years, 11 months ago

Gee, Brian, why don't you set us straight with a good example of passive-aggression at work?

I think's a good article, one that rings a lot of bells with me. I would venture to add another category: "The Sexual Harasser" or "The Inappropriate Commenter." I think this occurs a lot in the workplace--via male and female bosses alike. Employees, especially in this economic state, sometimes feel uneasy "rocking the boat" and reporting gross behavior to appropriate authorities. I've had bosses who have said downright disgusting things to me that I felt were too trivial to get the boss reprimanded for, but that made me feel icky and degraded nonetheless.

Chris Golledge 8 years, 11 months ago

Brian is right; this is a misuse of the term. Here is a working definition,

RoeDapple 8 years, 11 months ago

I have always maintained that if I could not get along with my employer/manager/supervisor that it was time to move on. However............ The Division Manager for the company I retired from was so wrong for the position it was difficult to stay quiet. Our 'personality conflict' finally reached the boiling point and I screamed,"I've only got two more years here, but I'll be here long after you're gone!" (Inside I was sure I'd be fired momentarily). Two years later I retired, six months after he had been escorted off the property by company security, dismissed for sexually harassing the office help. Unfortunately I wasn't at work that day, or I would have been doing cartwheels in the parking lot....

Also, much earlier in my career, an employer who I could not do enough for, who always had a put down, was seen at a local restaurant celebrating his birthday with family. The next year, after discovering he liked licorice, I put a glass container full of licorice on his desk while he was away for a meeting on the same date. After asking around he found out it was me and called me in to his office. He stared back and forth from the candy to me, finally saying," In 42 years I've never had an employee give me anything but grief. Get to work."

....but we got along great after that................

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