Q: I love my job but hate working for an arrogant, self-centered boss. He thinks because everyone immediately does what he asks, we respect him, when it’s really that none of us want to lose our jobs. Since he was part of the initial trio who started a successful company, he makes a lot of money. What I hate the most is that he doesn’t pay any of his direct reports what we’re worth so that he and the other owners can earn enormous dividends. The unfairness galls me. He also expects me to breathlessly listen to his words of wisdom when I’d rather get back to work.
Since I don’t want to quit an otherwise great job, how do I handle working for a jerk? Or do I need to resign?
A: Anyone who works enough years risks running into at least one bad boss. Those who resign may find themselves working for an even more problematic boss at their next job. Since you’ve decided to stay, at least temporarily, manage the situation by trying the following:
- Don’t allow it to affect your work:
You want to keep your job until you choose to leave it. This means you need to remain on good terms with your boss and other key decision-makers in your organization. Don’t slack off or mentally check out, don’t let your morale flag, and don’t take your bad boss’s behavior out on your job by indulging in problem work habits.
Make sure your boss is the problem. Does your boss micromanage deadlines because she sees you waste time on personal calls or procrastinate on projects? Is your boss neglectful but you compound the problem by not initiating contact? When another person irritates you, ask yourself, “What part do I play in the problem?” and then fix any parts of the problem that you can control.
- Watch what you say to whom:
Remain engaged and upbeat at work, and resist the temptation to share your negative views. Save your venting for your spouse or non-work friends, so you don’t acquire a complainer’s reputation.
- Look beyond:
Don’t let a bad boss narrow your vision. Keep your sanity by focusing on the larger picture, such as what you’re learning that you can use in your current or next job. Meanwhile, avoid concentrating exclusively on your boss’s deficits. If you focus on his strengths, you’ll more easily endure working under him.
- Avoid passivity:
Don’t let a boss push you beyond reasonable limits. Have the courage to speak up, as bad managers often lack self-awareness and don’t realize they’re mediocre supervisors. I’ve helped many of my coaching clients develop diplomatic statements that partially “reform” their problematic bosses, such as, “I can be more productive if ….”
You can also go to your HR representative, particularly if you’ve factually documented your boss’s problem behavior. Before you voice proactive comments, however, develop your options in case things get ugly.
- No tit-for-tat:
You may find yourself tempted to stoop to your jerk boss’s level. Don’t. You’ll simply become a jerk as well. Further, if he’s your boss, he has the power to fire you.
- Don’t rule out leaving:
When you love your job but not your salary or boss, ask yourself: “Could I love another job as much or more?” We often grit our teeth about issues such as salary while letting inertia keep us in jobs in which we’re comfortable. Perhaps it’s time to move on?
- Avoid other bad bosses:
Organizations often promote individuals into management because they’re effective as individual contributors or have seniority. In your case, your manager might have been “carried” forward out of loyalty by the two other individuals with whom he started the company. Before you take a new job, make sure you interview with the individual to whom you’ll report and let your “gut” speak to you. Do you instinctively like the new boss or do you sense the same arrogant tendencies present? If so, continue your search.