Career Advice, Watercooler

Horrible Boss? Work With It

Maybe you know the type: A boss so rigid, cold and lacking in emotional intelligence that he scarcely seems human. Or a manager who micromanages and criticizes you and everyone else constantly. Bosses like that can make you want to quit – or murder them, as the stars try to in the new movie “Horrible Bosses”, which opened over the weekend.

Almost half of workers have worked for an unreasonable boss sometime in their career, and more than half of them stayed in the situation, according to an Office Team survey. Another 38 percent quit the bad boss – either immediately or more waited until after they had another position lined up.

So what can you do about the really nasty bad boss who torments you or micromanages you when you need to stay in the job? Plenty – including being aware of your workplace rights, and bringing up any potentially illegal behavior such as sexual harassment or discrimination based on your age or race or a disability. (The EEOC website gives guidelines on anti-discrimination statutes covering gender, race, religion and how to file a charge.)

Even if you don’t plan to file a complaint with HR or with the EEOC, if your boss’ behavior is egregious, record the circumstances as snapshots with dates, times, places and what was said, said Dawn Lennon, a strategist, coach, author of the book Business Fitness—The Power to Succeed—Your Way.

“Bosses really don’t mess with you if they think you have a constituency within the organization,” Lennon said. She recalls one of her bad bosses as dismissive and lacking in integrity. One day she got so frustrated she punched a filing cabinet, and then called a vice president she knew and told him about her situation. “He ran interference” and eventually she reported to someone more reasonable.

Here are six ways to hang onto your job and your sanity when you spend your work days with a horrible boss:

  • Try to understand what makes your boss tick – both the things that lead to praise and those behaviors that are likely to upset your boss, HR executive Gonzague Dufour suggests in a blog post. Ask yourself: “What are your boss’s demons? What work issues do you think keep him up at night?” He wrote “Managing Your Manager” after many people asked him how to deal with bad bosses.
  • Another approach that may work with a command and control boss comes Dufour via’s careers columnist Anne Fisher: “Limit the pain, target the gain.” Set limits on how long you must endure the beastly boss, and then seek out ways to make yourself more marketable and valuable in the time left. These ideas, from Gonzague Dufour, a veteran HR manager and author of Managing Your Manager.
  • Look at what you’re learning. If the job is giving you the chance to grow, add experience and gain credibility, you may find it better to put up with boss’ behaviors, suggests Nicole Williams, LinkedIn’s connections director and author of the book Girl on Top. A pro and cons list – looking beyond the boss to the organization that employs you – may help clarify this, Williams suggested. Then it’s your decision to stay and make the best of a bad boss.
  • Speak up for yourself. Say ‘Please don’t talk to me that way.” Or “I don’t feel comfortable when you talking to me this way.” said Williams. This may help you gain some respect in your boss’ eyes or may force the boss to consider his behavior as inappropriate.
  • Build leverage and well-placed connections. Go to lunch with the department head across the hall. Develop friendships around the organization – and then refer to your conversations with higher-ups when you’re with your boss, Lennon suggests. These “followers and fans” may be your future boss or recommend you to her too, she said.
  • Cultivate a dispassionate, objective outlook. Listen for instructions, and ask questions said Lennon, and ask several every time to make sure you’re clear and on track with what the boss wants. While you’re doing this you could teach yourself to see and skip the emotional triggers that your boss flips.

Finally, it’s important to recognize the difference between tough and construction criticism and nasty behavior. Some young people, unused to any negative feedback, may need to understand the distinction – after all, long hours and lots of requests for revision does not mean your boss is evil, said Williams.