How to Deal With a Horrible Boss You Can’t Stand

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Sometimes, you and your boss just don’t click. Whether your supervisor is prone to fits of rage, has a tendency to micromanage, blames you for his mistakes, or plays favorites, a less-than-harmonious relationship with your boss is no fun.

If the sight of your boss fills you with dread, you’re not alone. One-fifth of American workers are actively disengaged at work, often because they work under bad managers, Gallup’s 2013 State of the American Workplace survey found. Bad bosses aren’t just a pain for employees. According to Gallup, “managers from hell” cost the U.S. economy $450 to $550 billion every year.

While telling a boss you hate to take a hike might be an appealing notion, it’s not the most professional way to deal with the situation. When your boss is giving you grief, here are five things you can do to cope.


1. Take a look at yourself

Employees are often quick to blame all problems at work on their boss. But sometimes, the boss isn’t really the problem. Maybe you’re really unhappy with the direction your career is going, and projecting that onto your supervisor. Perhaps you’re jealous of your boss’s success. Stress at home could be making you hyper-sensitive at the office. Sometimes, correcting an unpleasant situation at work begins with adjusting your own attitudes and behaviors.

“When you’re looking at your boss, the first thing you need to do before you judge, is look at yourself,” Annie McKee, co-author of Becoming a Resonant Leader: Develop Your Emotional Intelligence, Renew Your Relationships, Sustain Your Effectiveness, told the Harvard Business Review.

2. Put yourself in his shoes

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Getting frustrated with your boss is easy, but before you rush to judge, try to look at things from his perspective. Your supervisor may be under a lot of pressure from his boss, and that could be filtering down to you. Or there could be other stressors that you’re not aware of.

“There’s a lot about their job that you don’t know about or see, so don’t assume that they’re out to get you,” Andy Teach, the author of From Graduation to Corporation, told Forbes. “Sometimes they act a certain way for a reason — perhaps their boss is putting a lot of pressure on them — so try to be understanding.”


3. Set boundaries

One sign of a bad boss is constant late-night emails, phone calls when you’re on vacation, pressure to spend all your waking hours at the office, and regular last-minute requests to work weekends. While an always-connected culture is the norm in some industries, everyone deserves a little time away from work to recharge. If your boss expects you to be available 24/7 but you’re getting burnt-out by not having any down time, it’s time to set some boundaries.

“It’s completely appropriate to gently remind management that, barring emergencies, you don’t work weekends,” Dana Brownlee of Atlanta-based executive coaching firm Professionalism Matters told Fortune.

4. Take the high road

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Don’t succumb to the temptation of fighting fire with fire. While you may want to argue with your boss about his decisions, correct his mistakes in meetings, deliberately ignore his advice, neglect to include him on important communication, and air your complaints to your co-workers and higher-ups, retaliating against your boss in these ways is only likely to make an already bad situation worse, especially when you’re at the bottom of the office totem pole.

“Organizations are power hierarchies, and your boss is automatically one level up from you,” Marie McIntyre, a career coach and author of Secrets to Winning at Office Politics, told Forbes. “All of these situations come down to leverage … If you declare war on your boss, 90% of the time you’re going to lose, because your boss has more leverage than you do.”


5. Know when to speak up

An annoying or incompetent boss is one thing, but some managers really do cross the line. If your boss sexually harasses employees, is abusive, is discriminating against you, breaks the law, or engages in other unacceptable behavior, it’s time to talk to HR. If that doesn’t resolve the matter, you may need to escalate the complaint by talking to a lawyer or filing a complaint with the appropriate authorities. Though speaking up about your boss’s bad behavior may cause problems for you in the office (retaliation is sadly not uncommon), sometimes it’s the right thing to do.

“Some concerns are so critical that the need to make someone aware of the problem outweighs personal risk. If your boss’s behavior could endanger customers, employees, or the business, then you have an obligation to tell someone,” Marie McIntyre, author of Secrets to Winning at Office Politics, wrote on her blog.

Follow Megan on Twitter @MeganE_CS

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