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How to Survive a Boss You Hate

Like Cast Away, but Wilson is your desk stapler

Beth Castle
Managing Editor, InHerSight

Chrissy Teigen gif

So, you hate your boss. Well, you’re not alone. According to Gallup, the number-one reason people voluntarily leave their jobs—a whopping 75 percent—is because of bad bosses, not their role, not the company, not their coworkers. The workplace adage, “People don’t leave bad jobs, they leave bad bosses,” never fails to ring true. When managers don’t respect their employees, grant them autonomy, show them kindness, and praise their good work, turnover rates rise. You’re probably nodding your head, z-snapping, or whatever else right now to the tune of those data points.

Hold the I-told-you-sos, if only for a second. Just because you hate your boss doesn’t mean you get to email them a Ha! and wait for something to change. It’s up to you to start the conversation about what needs fixing because you’re the one the negativity is affecting most. These are some constructive ways you can start addressing the issue. 

Understand where your boss is coming from

Before you allow yourself to boil over completely, try to understand your boss’ situation so you can better accommodate their needs (this is called managing up, and it’s a strategy at which every effective relationship-builder excels). There are two factors you should consider: the pressures or stressors your boss faces and your company’s culture.

Maybe your boss’ boss is breathing down their neck about an upcoming deadline, or maybe your high-pressure office environment is turning your boss into a micromanager. The first you can manage by making expectations clearer during 1:1s or simply asking, What can I prioritize in my role to help you meet your main goals? The second is something that might take a variety of strategies before something sticks; you can learn more about micromanagement here

Whatever the reason, remember your boss is human. Stress and fear of failure or disappointment manifest in predictable ways. Once you understand why your boss is behaving a certain way, you can better navigate your relationship and, perhaps, build a healthier one.

That said, don’t confuse practicing empathy with minimizing your emotions. It’s perfectly possible to understand why someone is the way they are and also recognize inappropriate behavior. Don’t devalue your experience just because you know the cause.

Do a little self-reflection

Isn’t understanding our own weaknesses such a joy? Ha, maybe not. But self-reflection is certainly helpful in scenarios like these. You might hate your boss for valid reasons, but you also might be part of the problem, especially if you’ve already reached the full-on loathing stage. At this point, you’re likely not communicating effectively because you’re already upset, further exacerbating the problem. That’s not productive.

Take a step back and see how you can adjust your own behavior to better your situation. Which employees in your office work well with your boss? What are they doing differently? Is there any feedback you’ve received from your boss that seems like an accurate assessment of an area where you can improve? 

Talk to your boss

If you’ve done both of the above and things still aren’t improving, you need to speak more frankly with your boss. You can wait for this to happen naturally—maybe a project doesn’t go well and so you bring it up during a recap—or you can schedule a time. If the latter, make the meeting as private and non-confrontational as possible. Ask your boss out to lunch or set up a  1:1 to talk through your issues.

Starting that conversation can be difficult. A good way of approaching it is through forward-thinking positivity. You’re not having this meeting to complain. You’re having it so you don’t feel like quitting anymore. 

Here’s an example:

I’ve learned so much on this team so far, but I think our work would be stronger if we had a better understanding of each other’s needs and communication styles. I’d like to have an honest conversation about what we can do to grow our working relationship.

Make a formal complaint

Making a formal complaint to HR should be a last resort, although an important one. If your boss’ behavior is abusive or consistently and negatively affecting your performance, then you might need the support of an HR representative. They can facilitate mediation or, if necessary, disciplinary action.

Formal complaints are typically easier to lodge if there are other people adversely affected by your boss. So if your coworkers feel your boss is aggressive, hard to communicate with, or their micromanaging is holding up productivity, then you should rally them to speak up too. You’ll also need to make a strong case that your boss’ behavior is adversely affecting the company’s bottom line. Has turnover increased significantly under your boss’ management? Is your boss bleeding money in their department? These are things to consider when making a formal complaint.

You should know, though, that even the most well-composed formal complaints aren’t always taken as seriously as they should be. Depending on your company’s culture and policies, you might deal with more politics and red tape than you bargained for. 

Read more: Have a Difficult Boss? Whatever You Do...Please, Don’t Do These Things

Look for another job

Sometimes surviving a boss you hate isn’t about sticking it out until things get better. It’s about understanding what you need to survive you career. And that might mean you need to leave a toxic situation.

This is something I can speak to personally because I’ve quit a job before, and it was because, try as I might, my relationship with my boss and my higher-ups didn’t change—even when I spoke to them about it, even when I met with other managers and HR.

Read more: 6 Signs It's Time To Leave Your Job

What finally pushed me to move on was when I realized how I felt at work every day was affecting my personal health and my relationships with others.

If you hate your boss so much that you’re miserable every day, then it’s time to start looking elsewhere. At this point, between you and your boss, you’re the only one who cares about your negative dynamic, and as long as that’s true, you’re only going to feel more upset, more overlooked, and more bitter. Move on.

Read more: Your Guide to Fighting Verbal Abuse at Work

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