We may have laughed through the 2011 blockbuster Horrible Bosses, but having a monstrous manager can be bad for your health and self-esteem. In fact, Swedish research in 2009 found that working for a beastly boss is a bigger risk factor for heart attacks than smoking or a lack of exercise.
And while bullying, manipulation and straight-out sabotage are more akin to plot lines from the latest John Grisham thriller, when your boss is the instigator of such poor behaviour, your daily working life can seem like pure hell. These days, shoddy management takes on many forms – from the classic bully to the passive-aggressive “friend”. Here, we get expert advice on how to deal with different bad-boss scenarios, and practical tips to ensure you come out on top.
"My boss is a bully – he doesn’t pass on information, gives me no notice for meetings and OVERlooks me for projects”
Simone, 31, Perth, WA
A 2010 survey found that nearly 60 per cent of people identified their boss as a bully, but, cautions career coach Kylie Hammond, it’s important to distinguish between normal behaviour and actual bullying: “Being asked to attend meetings at the last minute is annoying, but take it in your stride and show flexibility. You’re equally responsible for cultivating a productive relationship.”
"My boss acts like my friend, but uses that to avoid giving me pay rises. I feel I am being manipulated”
Kate, 35, Sydney, NSW
No-one likes to be played, but to make it in the workplace your boss could be your closest ally. According to Gallup research, you’re more likely to remain with a company, feel satisfied with your career and be productive if you have office friends – particularly the boss. Keep personal and business issues separate in discussions, advises Hammond. “If your boss manipulates you based on your friendship, set boundaries and say: ‘I respect and value our friendship outside of work, but I think it’s important we focus on my work contribution in this discussion.’”
“My boss pigeonholes me as admin – yet I’d love to do more creative work. How can I demonstrate what I can do?”
Carrie, 29, Redcliffe, Qld
Firstly, make sure you are in the right job. If your role is administrative, then there will be no guarantee of creative projects. However, according to career coach Sally-Anne Blanshard, if you do find yourself in a less-than-fulfilling position – but one that has the potential for growth – you could steer your own role by showing your boss how multiskilled you are. “If you’re assigned the admin, blitz that and show you have capacity to take on extra projects, or assist with creative tasks,” she says. “No manager likes to see you twiddling your thumbs, so the more capable you come across the more you’ll be assigned.”
"My boss always gives me muddled briefs and insufficient feedback. How can I get him to communicate better?”
Vicky, 28, Ballarat, Vic
A survey by employee-engagement expert James Adonis found that poor communication is the third most common reason for employees feeling frustrated at work. But, says Vivienne Anthon, CEO at the Australian Institute of Management^^, communication works both ways. “You have to bring some skill to the table and manage up to get what you want – stop thinking the boss should communicate exactly the way you want.” What strategies can she offer? “You need to know how your boss likes to communicate and work with that, even if it’s uncomfortable for you. Secondly, understand how the boss takes communication and present in that fashion. If the boss needs to know how you reached a decision, have the answer.”
“I’m determined to prove myself at work, but even when colleagues congratulate me, my manager finds fault”
Zoe, 34, Adelaide, SA
It’s easy to lose confidence at work. A global report‡ from talent-management company DDI found that 60 per cent of employees say their boss sometimes, most of the time, or always damages their self-esteem. Kalena Jefferson, human resource director at Kelly Services Australia#, advises tackling the problem head-on. “Gather examples that demonstrate when you’ve excelled and arrange a meeting to discuss performance. Ask for feedback to clarify expectations and make sure you understand what high performance looks like.” Jefferson also says we should have faith in our colleagues’ opinions. “These are people you engage with daily and being respected by co-workers can have just as much weight as your manager’s opinion.”
“My manager shows enthusiasm for my ideas – but then passes them off as her own”
Janey, 28, Wollongong, NSW
“Although being part of a team requires give and take, if others take credit for your ideas it can feel unjust and potentially hamper your career development,” agrees Jefferson. So how can you protect your ideas, especially when a 2011 survey by Persuadable Research Corporation revealed that 11 per cent of respondents claimed their boss acts unethically? “Ask to present an idea you are personally passionate about to more senior staff. As a last resort, keep a diary of your ideas and when you shared them with your manager, so if the problem escalates you have a record,” suggests Jefferson.
How to get along with the boss
■ Recognise your boss’s strengths and weaknesses and work with them rather than against them.
■ Know whether they like you to get on with a project or check-in each day, or whether they prefer a face-to-face catch-up or an email.
■ Instead of moaning about your boss’s lack of diplomacy, focus on the positives – do they encourage you, inspire you and allow you freedom?