How to deal with bad bosses
Imagine this: Your boss is terrible enough to make you consider quitting your job, but you still need that paycheck. What do you do?
Three-fourths of US workers stay with that bad boss because they need the salary, according to a 2020 survey by resume advice site ResumeLab. In the same survey, about 62% of respondents said they stayed despite a bad boss because they liked their jobs and colleagues, 59% said they didn’t want to lose benefits and 53% said they couldn’t find a better job elsewhere.
For those in such a situation, Tom Gimbel, a workplace culture expert and CEO of Chicago-based employment agency LaSalle Network, has a few tips for you. He says there are seven types of bosses out there — and while five of them can make your life a nightmare at work, you can still find ways to manage your relationships with them.
Here are those five types of bad bosses, from most to least common — and how to deal with them, according to Gimbel.
A grinder boss works extremely hard and expects you to perform at their level, even if that’s an unrealistic request.
The key to working with them is openly discussing what they want you to achieve — whether on a daily, weekly or monthly basis — and creating a defined list of tasks that you can cross off as you go, Gimbel says.
Even if you can’t complete every task in the amount of time they expect, showing them that you’re working through your list “is usually enough to pacify them,” Gimbel explains.
They never think anyone’s doing enough anyway, so demonstrating that you’re making progress is a useful course of action, he adds.
A ghost boss takes an extreme “hands-off” approach, failing to keep track of their team’s work and not being available when their team needs help, Gimbel says.
His recommendation: Regularly update your boss about your work and ask questions whenever you need help. If they don’t respond, turn to another manager or a senior-level employee on your team. Then, keep a paper trail showing that you’ve been asking for their help and updating them.
If your work gets criticized down the road, you can use that as proof that you were doing everything you could.
Narcissist bosses make decisions according to their own wants and needs, and fail to consider the people around them at work, Gimbel says. They also love flattery, he adds — which is the key to working with them.
Try complimenting one of their ideas to help you get on their good side. If you don’t think their idea is a good one, then follow your compliment with a request for clarity.
That conversation could look like: “That sounds like a good idea. Can you explain how that would work if this issue comes up?” or “I like the idea. How can we get enough resources to execute it?”
A “want-to-be-your-BFF” boss is exactly what it sounds like: They want to become friends with everyone around them, even if it means leading a team poorly. They’ll socialize more than doing actual work, distracting you in the process, Gimbel says.
Your solution here might be uncomfortable, he acknowledges: You need to “draw the line” with them and set boundaries with someone above you on the corporate hierarchy.
If you find yourself trapped in a conversation that’s lengthier than you expected, find a way to respectfully convey that you need to get some work done instead. That could sound like: “It was great chatting. I have to finish up some work before the end of the day, so I’ll catch you later.”
A volcano boss starts out like a ghost boss, providing no direction for their team because they’re simply not there to assess the work being done. But then, they erupt at their employees when an assignment isn’t up to their standards — even when their lack of leadership is to blame.
Gimbel recommends using a similar strategy to working for a ghost boss: Update them about your work, reach out with questions and most importantly, document everything that shows you made the effort to ask for help.
How to recognize if you’re one of them
If you’re a boss, “look at yourself in the mirror” and determine whether you fall into these categories, Gimbel says. If you’re worried, you could consult your coworkers — maybe even in the form of an anonymous survey.
Try asking questions that relate to each type of bad boss. For example, you can determine if you’re a ghost boss — or at least close to one — by asking, “How involved am I in your work? Do you feel that I ‘m too involved, or not involved enough?” and “How does my level of involvement affect the work you do?”
If you do fall into one of these categories, find out how you can improve. Ask your coworkers questions like: “What do you think my employees need from me that I’m not giving?”
“The real problem with people who have these bad boss characteristics is that they either don’t realize it or don’t care, so they’re not looking to fix it,” Gimbel says. “If you are trying to fix it, you’re probably on the right track.”
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