She complained over and over again about her boss. He belittled her, threatened her, and intimidated her. He knew he could get away with it, so he was relentless. One Friday, she went home, soaked herself in a warm bath, and consumed enough drugs and alcohol to make sure she never had to worry about him again.
Weeks after her suicide, a group of employees requested a meeting with the president of the company. They told him that the woman’s “blood” was already on his hands, and that he needed to fire her out-of-control supervisor. The president finally did what he should have done years before, and told the supervisor to go packing.
For years afterwards, this company was listed by a major magazine as one of “the best companies to work for.” This is a hard story to Google. But it’s easy to remember. I worked for this company for a long time.
75% of working adults say the worst aspect of their job is their immediate boss…
According to an article in USA Today, psychologist Frank Hogan told a session of the American Psychological Association’s annual conference that “seventy-five percent of working adults say the worst aspect of their job — the most stressful aspect of their job — is their immediate boss…. Bad managers create enormous health costs, and are a major source of misery for many people.”
You don’t need the USA Today piece to tell you what you probably already know from your own experience. Most workers over 18 have experienced at least one “horrible boss” — one that they would have just as soon traded in for a substantial cut in pay. While of course each horrible boss is different in his or her own inimitable way, many of them fall into familiar categories.
Here a few of the more familiar ones.
This guy (or gal) just loves a pulpit. The more of your fellow employees in his audience while he’s intimidating you, the happier he is. He just loves to remind you how replaceable you are, and how lucky you are he hasn’t shown you the door. He’s not above making fun of a particular characteristic in your personal appearance or history.
There’s a way to stop The Bully in his tracks though. If he’s going on and on about you, either in a one-to-one or public setting, your best way of dealing with him is the direct way. And you need not stoop to his level. Let’s say The Bully says to you “you’re stupid.” You can then reply by saying something like: “That’s funny. Because no one else here seems to agree with that. Would you like to share with the rest of us what trying to insult a subordinate in public does for you? How does it make you feel?” Be bold with your question. And if others are present, be sure to look in their direction right after you ask the question. Then wait for an answer. In most cases, The Bully will retreat into his shell.
This particular boss is much stealthier than The Bully. He doesn’t need an audience. He makes sure no one else is in the room when he talks to you. He loves to start sentences with phrases like “don’t quote me,” or “this may not come to pass.” The name of his particular game is control. He just loves to talk about a possible promotion or pay increase for you at some distant, cloudy time in the future. Don’t fall for it! Tell him it’s warm in the office, and you’d like to open the door for a bit of air. Your play here? You want the secretary or some other third party in on the conversation. Once The Liar knows you intend to see to it that his tall tales are made public, you’ll take control away from him.
This can be a tricky scenario. The Incompetent will try to get you to do his job as well as your own. It’s tricky because if you have a way of letting everyone else know that it’s you who’s doing the work, and not your incompetent boss, you just might wind up with his job. Be careful though. You could also wind up being exploited — with no reward or promotion to show for the extra effort.
The Jerk (aka The Thief)
The Jerk’s behavior can be very similar to that of The Incompetent. In this case though, if you have work that’s original or that distinguishes you, he’ll try to take credit for it. You handle this scenario in a similar way you handled The Liar or, for that matter, The Bully. Make sure you keep things public. Let everyone else know about your fine work. Blow your own horn. This simple PR tactic on your own behalf can cause The Jerk to fall on his own sword if he dares to lay claim to your original work.
In exceptional cases where these simple tactics fall short of what’s needed to stop your horrible boss, it’s not a bad idea to consult a labor attorney. One hour’s time with the right lawyer just might give you some relief. I’d be wary though of running to your human resources department. The Bully, The Liar, The Incompetent, and The Jerk all have ways of retaliating if you lodge a formal complaint.
Holding on to a job is not a cakewalk. You need to be wary, be resilient and be courageous. If you are, you might just surprise yourself with your ability to tame your horrible boss.