You know how to do your job. But your boss can’t do hers. Here’s how to deal without resigning, being rude or running away. BY JO UPCRAFT
HO SHEE WAI, director and registered psychologist, The Counselling Place
CATHERINE LI-VAN ROOIJEN, career coach
Your alarm goes off and the dread hits you within 30 seconds. But it’s not your actual work causing this sense of doom – it’s your boss! Maybe she rules by fear. Perhaps she steals your ideas. Or she undermines you in front of others.
Career coach Catherine Li-van Rooijen has seen a rise in employer-employee problems over the past two years.
“Clashes are a common issue for many of my clients,” she confirms. “It’s ingrained within our culture to strive for the top fast. This can lead to immense pressure when someone does reach her goal, and the stress on her can be huge.”
While this doesn’t justify the poor behaviour of your boss, it could explain it. So, before your dislike for your supervisor reaches epic levels, here’s how to deal.
SO BAD! Your boss is new and having a tough time. She’s struggling with her role to the point where you think you could do her job better. You and the other team members have offered assistance, which has only provoked her inner dragon, insecurities and irritation.
SO, BEAT IT! “She was employed as your supervisor to do that role, not your role, so you have different KPIs to fulfill,” says Catherine. “The last thing you want to do is to make her feel insecure as the repercussions could come back to you.”
Ho Shee Wai, director and registered psychologist of The Counselling Place, recommends assisting your boss instead of undermining her. Start by providing her with a low-down of how things are currently running within your department. “This will give you the chance to highlight issues that are occurring – perhaps because of her, but without making her feeling accused – and present her with the opportunity to highlight her expertise as well as skills by offering proactive input,” Shee Wai suggests.
“Gain her trust by letting her fix her initial mess-ups, rather than pointing them out.”
SO BAD! You work for a small start-up where the boss is also the HR manager. Your boss is not great and everyone else feels the same way. Problem is, she’s also the human resources (HR) manager, so you don’t know where to turn.
SO, BEAT IT! If your boss founded the start-up and handles HR, then she decides how the company is run. Says Catherine: “You can find solidarity in the entire team feeling the same way. However, don’t create an ‘us’ and ‘her’ mentality. This is pointless and will only exacerbate unprofessionalism.”
Shee Wai suggests appointing a spokesperson your boss values to speak to her about certain issues – but not all of them at once! “As a small start-up, be prepared for economic or practical restrictions.”
In such a case, you may want to decide whether or not this is a viable work environment for you.
SO BAD! You and your boss have different working styles that clash. Your role requires you to work closely together, but she gives you awkward tasks, overlooks your suggestions, and lets on that everything you do is wrong.
SO, BEAT IT! “Pay close attention to your boss and whom she favours. What do they do that causes her to hold them with higher regard?” asks Catherine. “Look at their skills that she likes.”
Catherine says it’s common that a manager who leads in this way is fuelled by insecurities. “She could see you as a threat, which is why she constantly challenges you. Be sure to continuously support her, and even praise her for certain decisions. Reassure her that you’re not working with any hidden agenda.”
If her behaviour continues, speak discreetly to her superior or to HR for advice.
SO BAD! You’re drowning in work. As someone who’s bad at saying no, you’re having trouble coping with the load your boss is piling on you. You’re doing your best but can feel yourself crumbling. However, whenever you stand your ground, she accuses you of complaining.
SO, BEAT IT! “If you’re truly doing your utmost to accommodate her, don’t continue to suffer in silence,” says Catherine. “As a conscientious person, you’re likely to feel bad that you cannot manage, but you’re not a robot. Note your workload, deadlines and any issues, and arrange for a one-on-one chat.”
When you see your boss, keep it positive. Tell her how much you enjoy your job, and then explain why you are unable to complete everything to a suitable standard at this rate.
“Present her with a spreadsheet of your current tasks as she may not realise how out of control it is,” adds Catherine. “Ask how you can work together to better manage your time and skills, so you can perform at your optimum for her.”
SO BAD! Your boss is unapproachable. Her attitude causes you to miss deadlines and make mistakes as you never get responses from her regarding your work. And then you get scolded!
SO, BEAT IT! “Let your boss know that you are not approaching her because you are too lazy to think for yourself, but because you’d like her input to ensure you’re on the right track,” says Catherine.
Shee Wai adds: “Schedule a regular weekly meeting for her input at her convenience. Ask her how to achieve this process without interfering with her day. At your first meeting, clarify areas where she’s happy for you to work autonomously so she doesn’t see you as needy.”
SO BAD! Your boss is flaky, indiscreet and inconsiderate. Her unprofessionalism does not make her a great role model, and it’s causing you to lose your motivation, respect and love of learning on the job.
SO, BEAT IT! “Remember that you do not only work for your boss; you work for the organisation, your other team members, and to support yourself as well as your family,” says Shee Wai.
“Look within yourself rather than at your manager to be clear about the reason why you are working and to remain motivated. If you need mentorship, seek it from other senior staff. Learning is your own responsibility. As long as her behaviour is not impacting on your performance, let her do her thing.”
“I love my job, but not my boss.” Brand manager Rebecca*, 45, shares her awkward work environment.
“I have a female boss who has been with the company for more than 10 years. I joined a few years ago and manage a small, tight team, and I’m the one who has direct contact with her.
“My team and I constantly pitch new, fresh and enticing ideas, but she always shoots them down. Of course, we take her dislikes graciously and ask for further suggestions. However, her comments are outdated or dull, and she appears to be too narrow-minded or insecure to accept our fresh thinking.
“We’re all striving to move our concepts forward, so we don’t get left behind, but she doesn’t seem to understand or appreciate this. It has been like this since I started, and it’s getting worse. She is sometimes openly frustrated, refuses to negotiate, and has shouted at me in certain meetings.
“Unfortunately, the team takes her disparaging comments personally. Although we adore one another and the brand, this had reduced our motivation and confidence, and created a negative office atmosphere.
“Sadly, when I approached her superior with our concerns, she had the same outlook. It’s very disheartening and difficult to know how to proceed.”
*Name has been changed.