How To Cope With A Bad Boss (Instead Of Complaining To Co-Workers)

Along with the COVID-19 pandemic came a new set of vocabulary terms. Phrases like "social distancing," "pods," and "quarantine" quickly became a part of the new normal. The pandemic also resulted in a mass uptick in anxiety, especially in workplace environments. "Fear, uncertainty, loneliness, isolation, disruption — people feel like life is out of control," Darcy Gruttadaro, director of the Center for Workplace Mental Health at the American Psychiatric Association Foundation in Washington, D.C., explains to SHRM

At the same time, employees have become far less tolerant of poor workplace conditions, according to CNBC. "The experiences of the pandemic have brought these conversations of dysfunction to the fore," says Sharon Block, the executive director of the Labor and Worklife Program at Harvard Law School, adding, "More workers are speaking up and speaking out about the quality of their jobs in a way they haven't before." This change led to what organizational psychologist Anthony Klotz calls the "Great Resignation" — more and more people are deciding to quit their jobs, feeling the effects of burn-out on their bodies

Oftentimes, a bad boss is to blame for less-than-ideal workplace environments, whether they lack understanding and respect, have a tendency to micromanage, or are just plain disorganized. Although complaining to your co-workers during coffee breaks can be cathartic, there are far more effective ways of coping with a bad boss.

Anticipate their requests

David Henzel, the co-founder of TaskDrive, lists micromanagement as an ineffective — and unfortunately common — leadership tactic, per Forbes. Rather than commiserate with your co-workers at the water cooler, predict your employer's needs. In other words, complete tasks before they're assigned and provide your boss with regular email updates. When it comes to difficult managers, it's important to keep digital records. "[Micromanagement is] more about your bosses' level of internal anxiety and need to control situations than anything about you," says Jenny Chatman, a professor of management at Haas School of Business at UC Berkeley, in a conversation with Harvard Business Review. As she goes on to explain, "They are nervous about anyone else being able to do things as well or in the way they would do them." 

The bottom line? "If you rebel against [micromanagement], you will just get more of it," warns Jean-François Manzoni, a professor of management at INSEAD. Understanding your boss's goals and preferences will go a long way. As Manzoni clarifies, "You absolutely, positively must deliver and deliver in a way that doesn't increase your boss's stress."

Look inward and take breaks

Before confronting your boss (or complaining to co-workers), look inwards to understand where your annoyance may be coming from. Harvard Business Review points to the idea of "transferential figures" –– or redirecting feelings surrounding one individual usually a parent or childhood authority figure –- to another. For example, a boss who shares traits with an overbearing grade school teacher may stir up similar feelings of resentment. In understanding your present, it's essential to first address your past. 

For starters, set healthy boundaries between your job and home life as a way to combat potential triggers. Avoid staying late by completing office tasks during scheduled hours. Talk to a therapist, and, given the proper resources, treat yourself to a mini vacation. "The truth is, there is no nobility in not taking well-deserved time away from work; the benefits of taking a day off far outweigh the downsides," Chris Chancey, the CEO of Amplio Recruiting, tells Business News Daily. "With proper planning, you can take time away without worrying about burdening your colleagues or contending with a huge workload when you return.

Turn to your colleagues for advice

As Bryan Passman, Co-Founder of the talent acquisition firm Hunter + Esquire, advises Forbes, ask your co-workers for advice rather than resorting to complaints. Phrase your grievances as questions as opposed to criticisms. After all, gossip has a way of warping as it spreads. Just look at the game "Telephone."

For starters, ask your colleagues how they deal with your boss's quirks, whether that means impatience, lack of respect, or habit of taking undeserved credit. If your co-workers are more tenured, they may have curated effective communication strategies. Maybe they've even worked to overcome similar barriers. However, if they're also at a loss, turn to the Human Resources department for help. Remember to keep those receipts on file — you never know what you may need as evidence in the future.

Karla Reffold, Chief Operating Officer at Orpheus Cyber, assures Forbes that bosses come and go. Maintaining healthy workplace relationships with your co-workers is the key to future success. 

Be honest with your boss

If there are no discernible improvements, schedule an honest conversation with your boss. As conflict management coach Shannon L. Felder outlines for Real Simple, "Identify the things your boss does that diminish your capacity to meet expectations and maximize productivity. Have suggestions for actions your boss can take to make things better." Furthermore, "Do not assume negative intentions, but approach the conversation with an open mind." Follow up with a quick email – documenting your professionalism will go a long way.

Ultimately, understand that creative differences are a common part of any workplace environment –- it's up to you whether they're manageable or not. "Your whole career you're going to have people who are difficult. The more adaptable we can be at managerial relationships with different people, the better off we're going to be in our careers," Mary Abbajay, president of Careerstone Group, explains to NBC Better by Today. In her words, "See if you can't adapt a little bit more."

Prepare to part ways

If your workplace environment hasn't improved, it may be a sign you need to quit your job. "There's no reason you should be miserable," Mary Abbajay advises NBC Better by Today. Because a bad boss can have long-term ill effects on your mental health, it's important to protect yourself. "You are not going to be at your best or be successful if you are more worried about your boss than about your job," concludes Abbajay. Give yourself permission to move on. 

The viral phenomenon known as "rage applying" could be your first step in finding solace, per CNBC Make It. "It's a more active way to respond to one's dissatisfaction," explains Amy Zimmerman, Chief People Officer at Relay Payments. At the very least, researching new jobs can help you regain a certain amount of control in a toxic situation. "When I was rage applying," explained one frustrated employee, "it was a way for me to feel like I had control over my life. Like, I don't have to be here, I can go."