A friend who shall remain nameless has been talking to me a lot lately about how much she loves her job but hates her boss. To be sure, her stories of her manager’s many misdeeds provoke a horrific reaction in me, and I find myself grasping for encouraging things to say in response. It’s not an easy situation to navigate—but what’s the alternative? Leaving today and taking a gamble that everything will line up elsewhere?
Yes, having a boss you hate is a big reason that people start the job search, but it’s not the only way to handle the problem. And if getting a new gig isn’t something you want to consider at the moment, then you’re going to figure out how to deal with the imperfect scenario: great job, crappy boss.
1. Take a Good Look
At yourself, at your boss, at your team and the department you’re a part of, at the work you do. This isn’t exactly new advice, but have you considered if it’s you that’s the problem, or at least a little piece of it? You’re no doubt a fantastic employee and any manager would be lucky to have you working for her, but still, it doesn’t hurt to evaluate the reasons that you can’t deal with your horrible boss just to rule out your involvement. If she micromanages you, could it because you turn in incomplete products to higher-ups? Or, if she’s never around to answer questions, could it be that you’ve proven yourself to be incredibly reliable and she’s not aware you’d like more feedback?
Figure out exactly what it is about your manager that’s problematic and determine if there’s anything you can change or address. If there’s nothing (and that’s possible!), maybe you could adjust the way you react to her behavior so you don’t escalate situations. For example, if she’s constantly emailing you at odd hours, expecting immediate responses, it’s up to you to gently set guidelines for your response rate—rather than responding snappily.
Also, if there’s anything, anything at all that you find redeeming about her, write it down and look at it whenever she makes you want to quit on the spot. Is she supportive of the company’s flex work policy? Does she give you free rein on big, meaty projects? Yes, consider yourself lucky to have the autonomy. Sure, your boss may not be the best manager, but look at the big picture and see how the view is.
2. Remind Yourself Why You Love Your Job
That’s right. Continue to bask in the glow that exists from simply loving your job. Make a list of all of the things about your position that you dig. Write down everything from unlimited organic milk to your standing desk to being able to work closely with the graphic design team. Nothing’s too small for this list. And if you are really, sincerely passionate about your position, this should be the easy part.
Once you have your list, you can go on doing your work and rejoice in the fact that there is so much that you appreciate and value. Does it make sense to leave all that behind because of a bad boss? Plenty of people make that very move, but unless your manager is causing you severe anxiety or making it so you dread going into the office every day, try to really hone in on the parts of it that are working well. Avoid letting your big, bad boss see you rattled.
If this person is as insecure or incompetent as he needs to be to be making one of his reports so miserable, it won’t do you any good to let him think he’s gotten you flustered. Try to stay positive in his presence, even if that means grinning and bearing it in the moment (and unleashing a rant to your best friend later). If you love your job, it probably means you’re doing good work, work you’re proud of. Concentrate on maintaining that stride, and maybe—just, maybe—some of your frustrations will begin to dissipate.
3. Wait it Out
If you’ve examined the situation thoroughly and concluded that there’s nothing wrong with anything you’re doing and your boss is, indeed, a really awful person, trust that you’re not the only one who sees it. Few truly terrible individuals can fool others for very long. If your manager regularly undermines you, if she takes credit for work you’ve completed, if she puts on a totally different face in front of the CEO, rest assured that it’s highly unlikely you’re the only one seeing the manipulative side of her. No matter how much praise is bestowed on her now, it’s probable that, at some point in the (hopefully near) future, someone else will take stock of what’s happening, and eventually she’ll be put in her place. One can hope, right?
In the event that it’s not just a brutal personality you’re dealing with—the job description didn’t say being nice was a requirement—make sure you’re documenting everything. You deserve fair treatment and respect for the work that you do, and if your manager is disrespectful and manipulative in emails, don’t delete them. It’s a headache thinking of what leveraging the paper trail would mean, but it’s better to have leverage than not.
But honestly, if the love-my-job-hate-my-boss situation doesn’t improve over time—you can’t deal, her behavior worsens, she doesn’t get the boot but rather gets promoted—you might have to move on. In reality, it’s probably a better use of your time to start the job search than it is to convince a higher-up or an HR person that your boss needs to go.
If a large part of the reason you adore your job is because of the type of work itself, look into companies with openings for similar positions. If, on the other hand, the company culture and all the people who aren’t your boss are your primary reasons for finding happiness at the office, then start poking around for a potential internal transfer. Either way, you deserve to work with people who bring out the best in you—so don’t let a great job keep you from working with an awesome boss. Somewhere out there is a position that’ll provide you with awesome responsibilities and a manager you’ll love.