Four Strategies for Dealing with a Bad Boss

Just about everybody has to deal with a bad boss somewhere along their career journey. It can be frustrating, but, ultimately, whether you succeed in the job depends on satisfying your supervisor. And even if a situation feels unmanageable, the job itself may be too important to your career to quit.

So how do you deal with a problematic manager? Here are some strategies that you can use to turn a tough situation into one that works for you:

  1. Your boss doesn’t take you seriously. This happens often for people in entry-level positions; rather than support the work that they were hired to do, their manager has them doing administrative work or running personal errands. It’s best to deal with this kind of situation diplomatically, by pointing out that you have important work to do, and that meeting your deadlines is important to you. You could also suggest that you’d like to work more on important team projects. Politely but firmly make it known that you want to be doing your job, not work that has nothing to do with it.
  2. Your boss takes credit for your success. This is a hard one—after spending significant time on a project, your boss presents it to clients or higher managers and claims all of the praise. Or, worse, throws you under the bus for their own mistakes. You may not be able to handle this directly, but you can still make sure that important people know about your contributions by mentioning them in meetings or including senior managers in emailed reports about the project.
  3. Your boss is abusive. If you feel that you’re being unfairly singled out for criticism, or even being spoken to inappropriately, it’s best to honestly ask your supervisor what you can do to improve, or if there’s something that you can do to help the relationship. Make it clear that you aren’t comfortable being treated that way, though, and that you want constructive critique of your work. It may help to frame the conversation around how you can best do your job.
  4. Your boss behaves inappropriately toward you. Maybe your manager tries to involve you in their personal life, or even harasses you sexually. Either way, rules about boundaries between people in work environments exist for a reason, and you have every right to object to anything that makes you feel uncomfortable. To avoid he-said-she-said scenarios, make sure that you make your concerns known to your supervisor, and that you say no to any inappropriate advances, and document any incidents. If you have a human resources department at work, ask about how to make a formal complaint, and be ready to present your evidence of misbehavior.

In general, HR will follow procedures based on policies that you can usually find in an employee handbook and will take a neutral role in any dispute with a supervisor. If you find that trying to solve and issue with your boss isn’t working, HR or a more senior manager should be your next step.

Maybe the biggest lesson to take away from working for a bad manager is this: When you find yourself in a supervisory role, remember how it felt to work for that person, and think about how you can be an effective leader without resorting to the same behaviors.

Your career success is your responsibility. Don’t let a bad boss ruin things for you—you can take charge of negative situations and make positive moves for your job success and career growth.