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Advice / Succeeding at Work / Work Relationships

Feel Like Your Boss is Out to Get You? Here's the Real Deal

Have you ever had a boss who was on your case all the time? Who assigned you the hardest projects, held you to the most unrealistic expectations, and, overall, seemed to have it out for you?

I have. Actually, I’m in the middle of it right now. Ever since I started my most recent job, I feel like I’ve been on the bad side of my boss. He’s constantly asking me how I’m spending my time and what I’m getting done, making me feel like no matter what I respond with, it’s not enough. On top of that, he recently decided to assign me a special project—one that requires the two of us to work together very closely. Why? In my mind, it’s clearly so he can keep tabs on me.

But after endless complaining to my friends and family about this boss who clearly has it out for me, someone wisely pointed out that I could actually have the wrong point of view—and that this terrible boss could, in fact, be acting that way for a reason.

And while that realization may not make my life any easier for the time being, it does give me a little peace of mind to know that maybe I’m not doomed to be on this guy’s bad list forever.

So, if you have a boss who just won’t get off your back, take a second to consider these alternate explanations.

1. Your Boss is Waiting for You to Prove Yourself

A good boss typically holds his or her team to high standards. But when you’re the newest member of the team and your boss isn’t familiar with your attitude, commitment, and work quality, that means you may be scrutinized more closely than the others.

Sound unfair? It can definitely feel that way, but put yourself in your manager’s shoes: He has a tight-knit group of employees and knows what he can expect from each of them: how they work, how they communicate, and what they’ll produce. When someone new joins that team, of course he’ll want to keep a close eye on her until she shows that she can deliver the same quality as the other team members.

The challenge for you, now, is staying strong until you reach that point. It can be easy to crumble under the pressure—wondering why your boss points out your tiniest mistakes, gives you the hardest assignments, and monitors your work closer than any of your colleagues. But once you prove you’re a superstar, you’ll have your manager’s respect—and finally be able to breathe.

2. Your Boss Thinks You’re Capable of More

If you’re constantly being pushed to do more than you can handle or harder work than you’re used to, it might not be that your boss is trying to drive you to quit—but that he or she knows you’re capable or more and is showing you some tough love to encourage that possibility.

I’ve experienced it, and as a former manager, I’ve been the source of it, too. When I pinpointed an employee who had the talent to move beyond his current position, I did everything I could to push him in that direction. That sometimes meant giving him an assignment, but providing less guidance than I would to one of his teammates, knowing that he had the talent and drive to do it himself—and possibly in a way better than I could have advised.

Did it put some extra pressure on him—and probably cause him some extra frustration? Sure. But it also pushed him to achieve more than if I’d coddled him and made his job easy.

Knowing that, I now try to think on the optimistic side and realize that a tough boss may just be trying to push me to reach my potential. And even if that’s not his or her explicit objective, it can be my opportunity to do it anyway.

3. Your Work is a Reflection of Your Boss’

As an employee working on the front lines, your numbers speak for themselves: the dollar amount of your recent sales, your customer satisfaction rankings, the number of calls you take, and the success rates of your recent projects.

But a manager isn’t evaluated based on his own numbers (since he’s typically not doing the bulk of the selling or calling or troubleshooting)—he’s judged on yours.

Now, that doesn’t automatically mean that extra, unwanted attention from your boss is an indication that you’re underperforming. Think about it: Maybe your boss is preparing to ask for a raise or a promotion, or the higher-ups are suddenly pushing him to meet an aggressive goal. If the figures he’s judged on are generated directly by his team, he’s going to push them for the best possible numbers.

It might seem like you’re getting pushed extra hard—and, well, you are. But it might not have as much to do with you as an individual as you think. It might be based more on your manager’s own performance.

If you have a tough boss, take heart. It may not be that he or she truly has it out for you. If you stick it out just a little longer—and put forth your best effort—you’ll make it out alive.

Photo of woman looking through blinds courtesy of Shutterstock.