Surviving a Bad Boss

Toxic. Bully. Saboteur. Insecure. Narcissistic. Micromanager. Jerk. If any or all of these sound like your boss, welcome to the club no one wants to join. Fellow club members can tell you how to survive a bad boss and win by landing a better gig with a good boss.
Before you label your boss, though, keep in mind that anyone can have a bad day. So don’t rush to judgment the first time your boss snaps at you or fails to notice you excelled at a task. But don’t be a doormat either.
Join the clean desk club.

If the boss is a micromanager, keep your desk tidy. She sees that as a sign that everything is in order, says psychologist Meredith Fuller, author of Working with Bitches.

Think ahead.

Anticipate her needs and reassure her you’ve got things covered, Fuller says. Flood her with information about what you’re doing before she even asks. That will ease her mind and save him her the trouble of constantly riding your, ahem, case.

Lay low.

With a boss who is always looking for a head to bite off, keep your head down. If you have a good idea, keep it to yourself. One new employee at a major news gathering organization learned that lesson the hard way. She suggested to her boss that the company could get by with one worker to cover the Sunday shift instead of two. The boss yelled at the worker for not finding enough to do. Six months later, he began scheduling one worker per shift on Sundays.

If your boss is undermining your work, reach out to other people at your company and beyond. One woman with an abusive, lying boss had worked with other teams in the company. So when her boss claimed she was underachieving in certain areas, she asked her other contacts to send emails up the chain praising her work in those same areas. Another good contact is the person who held your job before you. That same woman contacted her predecessor and learned he had filed a complaint about the abusive boss as he was leaving. He agreed to back her up on her complaint—the one she filed on her way out.
Leave emotions at home.

To resolve conflict with a bad boss, get your emotions out of the way, says Gini Graham Scott, author of 2016 Fairy Tales: 9 Fairy Tales That Explain the 2016 Election Campaign. Use your reason to analyze the situation and think of different ways you might respond. Then work through the possibilities -- compete, confront, collaborate, avoid or delay, and compromise – and decide which one works best for this situation and this boss.
Make a list of what you’ll take.

One worker has a policy for lying and broken promises from bosses -– one strike and out. Managerial incompetence gets two strikes. Sexist or inappropriate comments: three strikes. Ethics violations, especially if the boss is asking you to be unethical, are probably a one-strike offense.

Not in sickness or health.

When you realize your boss is making you physically ill, it’s time to go.

Sometimes the best solution is to leave or as one worker said, "GTFO." With that in mind, keep your walking papers—your resume and/or CV—up to date. Every time you add a new accomplishment or get a complimentary email, add it. Keep your eyes open for new opportunities. You’ll be out the door with a better gig before you know it.
Surviving by Shutting Up: One Worker's Story
In one worker’s first full-time newspaper job, the reporter—OK it was me-- landed the kind of story that every reporter dreams about. The fire chief’s wife had been charged with arson, sentenced to prison and served her time.
Now she was a free woman again and she wanted to tell her story—how does a prison newbie function among hardened criminals—to me.
With approval from the managing editor and publisher, I started the story that consumed my life. For weeks, the fire chief’s wife called me at work, at home, and at all hours. She told me about serving time with a serial killer, about the constant hunger and never ending fear. Even the most seemingly innocent question—do you have children—could provoke anger. That’s not a good question to pose to a woman in prison for killing her kids. Her cellmates threatened her, saying that the only way she’d ever leave prison was in a box.
Sounds like a good story, huh? Only a handful of people got to read it. When I completed the rough draft, the managing editor said that with a little polish, the piece should be a contender for a press award. But then something changed. Best guess: her husband decided the publicity would be bad for his family and pressured the publisher not to proceed with my story. The publisher called me into the managing editor’s office. It was almost Christmas.
He cleared his throat in that distinctive way he had. Errrr, “That’s the worst damn story I’ve ever read in my life,” he told me. I quickly looked to my managing editor for support. He wouldn’t meet my eyes or speak. I quickly figured out what my managing editor already knew: the publisher’s mind was made up. My story was dead. We were not going to win this day.
I was young, not known for holding my temper and not well-versed in surviving a bad boss. But that day, I was smart. The publisher wanted a reaction. Best case for him: I would feed his anger by arguing. He could have berated me for an hour and then ended by firing me for talking back. I would leave the office with a tear-streaked, blazing red face, no story…and no job. Next best case for him: I would agree with him that the story was terrible and leave the office, head hung low. Instead of picking either option, I simply sat silently as the publisher raged, hoping to get a reaction. When his temper was spent, I walked out with my self-respect and my job.

I channeled my anger into action. Two months later, I had a new job at nearly twice the weekly salary at a newspaper with supportive bosses and owners. The owner there thanked me for a job well done by sending my boyfriend and me to New Orleans for five days. He gave me a Christmas bonus with two more digits in it than the first publisher handed out my last holiday there—and no side order of abuse. After surviving a bad boss, I could appreciate this good boss even more. Even better, I knew how to survive and thrive.

Comment Box is loading comments...

Search for your next job now:


Back to listing

The Washington Post Jobs Newsletter

Subscribe to the latest news about DC's jobs market