How to Handle a Bad Boss Like a Pro

Your job may be rewarding and fulfilling, your coworkers are great, and the company perks couldn’t be better...but, your boss? That's another story.


If you’ve ever had to work with a challenging supervisor before, you already know what a damper it can put on your entire attitude about your career. It colors your whole perception of your position, and can quickly turn your dream job into a nightmare.


Here are five different, but common, types of frustrating managers, along with some strategies you can use to co-exist with them.


The One Who Micromanages

You’ve never been able to come up with your own plan of attack for a project because it’s your boss’s way or the highway. You’re still waiting for the moment you can turn something in without it being returned looking like it survived a red pen apocalypse.


Your supervisor is the quintessential micromanager, and the obvious lack of trust in you is really beginning to wear you down. You’ve reached the point where you would like the opportunity to use your skills and insights to make a difference in the office—without your boss constantly breathing down your neck and correcting you.


How to deal: In most cases, micromanagers have good intentions, they just want to be on top of things and prevent work from slipping through the cracks. First, start with proving you can handle your position without frequent help from your boss. Get your work done on time and ahead of schedule, don’t show up late for meetings, and send proactive updates about your progress so that they still feel like they’re in the loop.


The One Who is Terrible at Providing Feedback

When it comes to feedback, your boss has room for improvement. They either don’t give any at all, or the input is vague and unhelpful. (Both leaving you to wonder how your work is being received.) Or s/he crosses a line and gives recommendations that are far too harsh.


How to deal: It’s important to remember that your relationship with your boss is a two-way street—which means you’re entitled to share thoughts and ideas for how you could improve the way you communicate and work together. You can’t expect your supervisor to be a mind reader.

Let them know what you need. Ultimately, your boss wants you to become better at your job because it makes them look better when you’re performing well.


The One Who is Absent

Your boss’ office sits empty so often there are cobwebs between the arms of their desk chair. You aren’t sure where he or she is, but you know it’s not in the office—in fact, you can’t remember the last time you saw them for a full eight hours. You’re perfectly comfortable with being a self-starter and getting your own work done. But, at the same time, you’d like to know that your supervisor is just as engaged in the work.


How to deal: It’s not up to you to dictate your boss’ work agenda and tell them when they need to be in the office. However, you should schedule a regular sit-down with them; this will allow you to get up to speed on what you both are working on.


The One Who is a Workaholic

And expects you to be as well…on vacations, holidays, weekends, and the middle of the night. Your boss doesn’t seem to care—they’ll email you any time, any day. Of course you’re willing to go the extra mile to impress your manager and move up a rung on the career ladder. But you also need a decent amount of balance between your work life and personal life. We all do.


How to deal: Your supervisor might be a workaholic, but that doesn’t mean you need to be one too. It’s up to you not to set that expectation. That means that unless something is truly time-sensitive, you should resist the urge to respond immediately in the middle of the night or on the weekends. Boundaries are important for work-life balance.


The One Who Seems Unqualified

Your supervisor is constantly asking you for advice about how to approach a project. When a question comes up in a large team meeting, they immediately look to you to provide the answer.


You’re glad they value your skills and insights so much. But, a boss is somebody you want to learn from—not somebody you want to feel like you need to manage. That’s not your job.


How to deal: This can be challenging. You don’t want to go over your boss’s head or throw them under the bus. But you also don’t want to continue doing the work while your manager gets the credit. Start by asking your boss more questions about how you should handle things. And when a question comes up in a team meeting you feel isn’t your place to answer? Put in your quick two cents and then pass it back to your manager for elaboration. If your boss is truly unqualified for their position, it’s bound to come out.


When the Bad Gets Worse

Of course, there are some bosses so bad that there's nothing you can do to improve your situation. Sometimes your manager's behavior is inexcusable, and there's no amount of effective communication that could make you feel comfortable and confident in the office.


How to deal: In some cases, your best bet is usually to pack up your desk and hit the road, such as:


Harassment: Sexual harassment in the office is unacceptable. If you feel comfortable enough to report the issue to your human resources department, do so. And, remember that you're completely justified in leaving your position and even the company.


Blatant mistreatment: Are you dealing with a boss who blatantly yells at or insults you? You don't have to put up with that mistreatment. It's time for you to put in your notice and find a job where your manager will provide the support and encouragement you deserve.


We all know that our boss plays a key role in our working life. Fortunately, in less severe cases, there are strategies you can use to improve the relationship you share with your boss. Put them into play and see if things get better over time.


Last Updated: April 3, 2017
About the author

    Alexandra Hoeflicker

    Alex is a Tucson-raised, Austin-based brunch aficionado. She enjoys a solid cup of coffee and browsing used record stores.