How to Navigate Working for a Bad Boss

By The Intersect Group

Ah, the bad boss. He or she shows up in the workplace often. If you’ve never had one, count yourself lucky.

How prevalent are bad bosses?

McKinsey & Company recently wrote one of its Insight reports on how an employee’s relationship with a boss or manager has an absolutely huge impact on their enjoyment and performance.


McKinsey surveyed workers and found that 56 percent said their boss is “mildly or highly toxic.”

Once again: 56 percent said their boss is “mildly or highly toxic.”

How unfortunate is that!?

What’s more, 75 percent said their “boss is the most stressful part of their workday.”

So, how can you “live” with your bad boss?


First, let’s define what makes someone a “bad boss”

Characteristics of a bad boss:

  • Doesn’t communicate well (or at all).
  • Unclear with expectations, deadlines, goals, etc.
  • Chooses favorite employees (“teacher’s pets,” but at work).
  • Shouts at or publicly shames or bullies their team members.
  • Takes credit for their team members’ work.

A less egregious bad boss is someone who

  • Doesn’t accept constructive feedback.
  • Doesn’t have the courage to deal with an uncomfortable or difficult situation or problem. Unfortunately, most of these difficult situations entail dealing with a non-performing employee.
  • Doesn’t know how to lead or manage others and refuses to learn how.
  • Gossips about colleagues/team members.
  • Breaks promises and lies.
  • Fails to let employees know when they’ve done a good or excellent job.


Strategies for “living” with a bad boss

Aside from looking for another job and a new boss (which, by the way, is a good thing to do if things never improve for you), here are some tips to help you navigate the minefield of working for a manager such as the one described above.


Take a hard look at your boss’ management style

You’re doing this with the idea that you’re going to “manage up.” That is, you’re going to figure out your boss’ management style and then work to “manage” him or her accordingly. Some examples:

  • You send your boss an email with several questions. And your boss replies but answers only one.

Stop sending more than one question at a time and send a separate email for the next question.

  • Does he forget things or change his mind?

Write these interactions down and refer back to them if he contradicts himself.

  • Is your boss a micro-manager?

Then inundate her with information and do so before she asks for it.

  • Does your boss not give enough information on a task or project?

Ask for a short meeting and ask lots of questions.

In “managing up,” you basically take a look at your boss’ weaknesses and then work around them. In other words, keep on top of your boss’ weaknesses and shore them up. You’ll become indispensable as a result.

Is this fair? Of course not: it’s not “fair” to be doing all this extra work in order to “manage” your boss. It even sounds utterly wrong that an employee has to “manage” his or her boss. After all, managing is a manager’s job!

But work – like life – isn’t fair. Instead, look at this as a great lesson in working with people far different from you in your work style. After all, you’re going to be working for and with people who are difficult your entire working career. Best to learn how to make the best of it.


So what about an egregiously bad “bad boss”?

If a boss is a bully. If a boss is a liar. If a boss enjoys confrontation, stand tall. Never cower but don’t escalate the situation.

Instead, aim to ask questions, work to diffuse the situation.

Document the situation. Depending on how bad it was, head to HR and make a report, all the while understanding that things may get even uglier. No one should have to work in such a situation.  Hang in there as long as you can – documenting the bullying, shaming, lying, yelling, etc. Work hard in your off hours to find another employer (or a job in another department).

No matter if your current boss is wonderful or a tyrant, it’s always a good idea to keep your resume in circulation and/or look for your next position.

The Intersect Group constantly receives new job and career opportunities from our clients, so take a look and register with us if you find any that look appealing. Contact us if you have any questions.