If you’ve had more than a handful of jobs, chances are you’ve experienced a bad manager at least once in those roles. While there are so many ways managers can be ‘bad’, some of the most common include them being unapproachable, unreliable, unresponsive and unprepared, says Sally McKibbin, a career coach at Indeed.
“Perhaps they don’t lead by example, or maybe they have poor communication skills or low emotional intelligence,” McKibbin says. “More overt examples of a bad manager are bullying or harassing staff, showing favouritism, micromanaging or displaying negativity to those around them.”
So, if you’re dealing with a bad boss, what can you do? Ahead, McKibbin, along with Mary Spillane, clinical psychologist and mental health expert at Headspace app, share five ways you can handle it.
Decide If You’re Staying or Going
Both McKibbin and Spillane agree — the first step in handling a bad boss should be deciding if you’re willing to stay in the role or leave it.
“Making a decision to stay or go helps to accept the situation as it is,” says Spillane. “Once you’ve accepted your decision, you’re then able to make effective steps in the direction you want to take.”
McKibbin suggests asking yourself these questions as a starting point:
- How are you feeling about going to work every day? Why are you feeling this way?
- Do you feel anxious about interactions with your boss?
- Is your unhappiness at work creeping into your personal life? What areas are suffering?
- What would it be like — and how would you feel — if you left your job?
“We spend the majority of our time at work, so it’s no surprise your unhappiness at work will impact other areas of your life,” McKibbin says. “If you’re working with a manager who doesn’t align with your values, you’ll need to assess whether you can continue working in this type of environment, especially if it’s impacting your productivity at work, personal life and mental health.”
Don’t Let It Affect Your Work
If you’ve decided to stay, you’ll need to stop the situation from affecting your performance. Spillane suggests trying to focus on the things about your role, workplace or manager you do like. “Coming back to what you enjoy about a role can help to better manage the downsides,” she says.
She also suggests speaking to someone inside or outside of your organisation about the challenges you’re facing and asking them for advice on how to handle it. Finally, try to remain engaged in activities outside of work so that you aren’t always thinking about what’s happening at work.
“Be sure to take time to debrief with family and friends, and stay as motivated and positive as you can when you are at work,” says McKibbin.
Identify Triggers Within Yourself
Next, you’ll need to practice some self-awareness, which can be achieved through mindfulness, Spillane says.
“With this increased awareness, you’ll be able to better identify when you feel upset or stressed at work, and can start to notice patterns,” she says. “You’ll then be more able to be proactive in managing difficult situations at work.”
Another thing to do that’ll help you handle a bad manager — though certainly easier said than done — is to set boundaries with them. Spillane suggests you start by getting clear in your mind about what those boundaries are and then trying to communicate these directly.
“If possible, get your manager to agree to these boundaries so that you’re able to refer back to them if things become unmanageable,” says Spillane.
McKibbin notes, though, that if you can’t manage to set boundaries with your manager, you’ll need to find coping strategies that work for you.
“This will be different for everyone, so take time to check-in with yourself, journal or speak to people to trust to find what may work for you,” she says. “It also depends on the situation. If you can, try and understand your manager and adapt your style to accommodate their ways of working.
Escalate the Situation, If Needed
Finally, if you’ve decided you want to stay at your company, and you’ve tried the above ways of handling the situation but are still struggling, it might be time to escalate the issue.
McKibbin notes, though, that you should try speaking with your manager directly about your concerns or raising the issue with HR or another manager at your workplace first.
“If nothing changes, or if you’re being bullied or harassed by your manager, seek help from a professional or external parties, or, where necessary, report them to the relevant authorities,” says McKibbin.