A terrible boss doesn’t just impact the way you work in the office — they affect your entire life.
According to a survey commissioned by Lynn Taylor Consulting, a whopping 19.2 hours are wasted each week worrying about what a boss says or does — 13 of which occur during workweek, and 6.2 over the weekend.
“A bad boss will likely jeopardize your career growth and impact your personal life,” says Lynn Taylor, a national workplace expert and the author of “Tame Your Terrible Office Tyrant: How to Manage Childish Boss Behavior and Thrive in Your Job.” “A good manager will help you thrive and bring out the best in you. While it’s rarely top of mind, you can empower yourself with a terrible boss, especially if you watch for red flags.”
It’s important to identify these signs early on, before you get too involved, especially if you spot them during the job interview. This way, you can decide if it’s something you actually want to deal with (or you can figure out if you’ll need to start looking for a new job).
Using the book “Bad Bosses, Crazy Coworkers & Other Office Idiots” by Vicky Oliver and an interview with Lynn Taylor, we’ve compiled 21 signs your boss will eventually crush all happiness you’re clinging to — and steps you can take along the way.
Your boss is never, ever wrong.
Learning to admit that you’re wrong is one of the best things you can do for your colleagues. If your boss refuses to admit that they’re wrong, this means they’re not willing to go out of their comfort zone for you.
A national independent study by Lynn Taylor Consulting found that 91% of employees said that owning up to one’s mistakes as a manager was an important factor in employee job satisfaction.
“Admitting to mistakes sends a message to your employees that it’s a safe environment to take smart risks — and without that, you’re sapping innovation,” Taylor says.
Your boss over-promises.
An over-promising boss is an untrustworthy boss. “You might have been promised a series of promotions, increased responsibility, or a raise, but all you get is silence,” says Taylor. “It’s often helpful to get to the truth through emails, if one-on-one discussions are getting you nowhere. If the responses aren’t coming via email, or at all, be wary.”
Your boss expects you to be just like them.
Most people like others who are similar to them. But good bosses know that different types of personalities can improve their team. If your boss is constantly trying to cast their image onto everything you do, try following one or two of their suggestions and thank them for the rest. Stay true to your colors, but also show that you value your boss’ suggestions.
They have a pesky habit of calling you on your day off.
You put in your hours and get permission for a long weekend off, but your boss doesn’t hesitate to call you during your off hours. To deal with this kind of boss, Oliver says you need to set your boundaries early.
“‘Separation anxiety’ can kick in if you have a power-hungry boss, and you inadvertently chip away at that power,” adds Taylor. “You’re best served to instill a sense of comfort with a terrible boss who’s demanding, much as you would with a ‘terrible two’ toddler — whether you plan to take a day off, leave early, arrive late, or take vacation.” If you’re going to be gone, give ample warning and let them know that things are under control, with appropriate detail.
Your boss is a micro-manager.
Is your boss so pushy and overbearing that you find yourself unable to accomplish anything efficiently? This may be a perpetual problem, so get ready for it early.
If they want a play-by-play of every meeting, email, and call, then take detailed notes of every business interaction and send them to your boss, suggests Oliver. Your boss will think that they’re on top of things and will leave you alone.
“By over-communicating with a micro-manager or needy boss, you’ll diffuse their desire to constantly check in, while you build all-important trust at the same time,” says Taylor.
They don’t want to hear your viewpoint.
Stubborn bosses are as pervasive as the company water cooler. “But there’s a fine line between appearing insubordinate and arguing your case,” says Taylor. If there’s something in it for your boss, you have the best chance of changing behavior.
“Avoid the temptation to fight the same battles repeatedly. Change your argument to find compromise, and document your case if you’re passionate about your perspective. Just don’t win the battle and lose the war.”
Your boss has favorites.
This will cloud their ability to recognize your skills and the value you add to the company. They also fail to see that they’re treating you unfairly.
“No matter how hard you work, or the results you achieve, they somehow become dwarfed by those of the teacher’s pet,” Taylor explains. “It’s worth modeling good behavior in this scenario, praising others on your staff or those in other departments, for their team effort. You’re giving recognition to those who deserve it and demonstrating the powerful impact that has for people like you.”
Their feedback isn’t relevant.
Do you feel like you’ve gained nothing after receiving feedback from your boss? Is it so vague that it’s not helpful? Your boss may either be unsure of what to tell you, meaning they’re not equipped for the job, or they don’t want to tell you anything useful, says Oliver.
You boss could be withholding information in order to have some kind of advantage. This person is not a team player.
“You’ll have to decide if your career will remain stagnant reporting to this boss; if a lateral move is possible; or if you can still grow due to interactions with other senior members of the team,” says Taylor.
They’re passive aggressive or ignore you.
One of the most unnerving, tell-tale signs of a terrible boss is one who rarely lets you know where you (or they) stand. “Most employees would rather get direct criticism from their manager than face a seemingly pleasant, but backstabbing boss,” Taylor explains.
If they’re simply not attentive, that’s also a problem. “When your boss has the attention span of a fly, it not only saps your motivation; you feel like you’re spinning your wheels,” she says. “Try observing how others get the manager’s attention.”
Your boss hogs the limelight.
Does your boss constantly use the word “I” when associating with success? Do they fail to invite you to meetings to present your own work?
They may be intentionally keeping you out of the limelight so that they can stay in it, warns Oliver.
“Territorialism is in the DNA of a bad boss,” Taylor adds. “They can become glory hogs and take credit for your hard work. Your best option is to manage up and understand the real root of the problem.”
Your boss gossips.
When your manager spreads rumors or gossips about the staff, it’s disheartening and awkward — and entirely unprofessional. “Your terrible boss may try to drag you in, but you’re better off diplomatically staying out of the fray,” says Taylor. “Otherwise, you may find yourself inadvertently alienating others if word spreads further.”
Try segues that bring current projects back into focus: “Hmm, I hadn’t heard that. But while I have your attention, I’d like to mention some good news about the XYZ account.”
Your boss constantly changes their mind.
Does this sound familiar? In the morning, they tell you one thing. After lunch, it’s a different story.
“Pick the [suggestion] that benefits you most and pursue that direction,” Oliver advises. “Kick the habit of being dependent on him in the first place. Never ask for permission. Instead, simply inform him of your intentions. If he has a problem with any of your decisions, he’ll let you know.”
Taylor says fickle bosses are challenging, because they can trigger never-ending false starts. “And that can affect the initiatives you give to your team, causing a colossal productivity and morale drain.” It’s often better to wait before going full bore on a whim from this kind of boss, she says. “Also, you can be the voice of reason by asking non-threatening, thoughtful questions about the newest idea or flavor of the day. That can give a terrible boss pause, and foster a more strategic approach next time you’re given an ‘urgent’ project.”
They’re quick to blame you for mistakes, but rarely express gratitude when you succeed.
Does your boss put you down in front of others? If you let it go once, it’ll happen over and over again. Good bosses know they should have this conversation with their employees in private.
Oliver suggests apologizing to your boss behind closed doors.
“While it may sound counterintuitive to apologize to someone for something that clearly wasn’t your fault, amazing things happens when you can bring yourself to do so,” she writes. “An intimate bond is forged. All you have to say is something akin to, ‘I blame myself for your outburst earlier today. Clearly, I’ve been relying on you too much. If you have any issues with me, I’d appreciate hearing about them in the privacy of my office.'”
You’re not given a chance to grow.
There are few things more aggravating at work than being kept stagnant with the same routine responsibilities over a long period of time, especially after you’ve voiced interest in expanding your level of contribution.
“If you feel your sentiments are going unheard, you may still proactively demonstrate your more strategic skills on a current project and propose them to your boss; contribute new ideas to your boss’ pet project; get more specific with how your background and credentials could specifically be better tapped for XYZ initiatives; or, with your manager’s permission, offer to volunteer on a related department’s project where your skills set applies, building on your existing credentials,” says Taylor.
It’s getting harder for you to wake up in the morning.
If you have a knot in your gut every time you have to face your boss, or if it’s taking you twice as long to drag yourself out of bed every morning, take notice. You may just have a terrible boss.
“The worst thing you can do is nothing,” says Taylor. “Better to first examine if this is a relationship worth salvaging with some diplomatic, high-road tactics.”
Your boss never discusses your future with you.
Are the discussions with your manager mostly transactional, with rare discussions about your future growth path? A good boss will discuss your prospects for long-term growth within the company — and not just during your performance evaluation, Taylor explains. “Savvy bosses check in with their team on a regular basis, rather than being reactive or waiting for an emergency, such as your brand new job offer.”
Your boss throws tantrums easily.
No one should be subjected to an out-of-control boss. “If you have been, your next step might be to check out your favorite job board,” says Taylor.
But if your manager only has occasional outbursts, you may be able to work through the situation.
“Consider the acronym CALM: Communicate — more frequently and in a venue that works for your boss; Anticipate problems before they worsen, and have solutions; Laugh — use levity to help your boss keep a rational perspective; Manage up — set limits with your bosses diplomatically, and let them see the benefits of your suggestions,” she says. “Timing is important with emotionally prone bosses. Don’t go into the lion’s den in your zeal for approvals, and certainly avoid early mornings, just before lunch, or after some bad company news.”
Your work is never enough.
“It’s 8:30 a.m. and your inbox is crashing the corporate server due to your boss’ excessive requests and inquiries,” says Taylor. “You could work 24/7 and still find your boss dissatisfied.”
Your manager must realize that you have limited time in a day, and can’t do all things (well) at once. If you don’t speak up, your boss will keep pushing.
Your boss operates by irrational fear.
If your boss acts as if the world is coming to an end, that spawns fear throughout the office and hurts your concentration. “Try to be a beacon of rationality by posing the ‘what ifs’ to your boss, and point up the positives of the situation with real facts,” Taylor says.
Your boss lies.
A boss who lies is untrustworthy — not a good foundation for a productive relationship. “Some can become so immune to their own stories that they can convince themselves that the lies are true,” says Taylor. “They may legitimize their fibbing by rationalizing that others do it, deflect this character flaw by pointing the finger to others, or use mistruths to generally hide blunders.”
Other bad bosses just can’t face the fall-out that will result from telling the truth.
“Examine what motivates your boss to lie,”she suggests. “Make sure you have all your facts before you start any questioning. And remember that it’s best to encourage honesty than to go on the offense or use sarcasm.”
Projects are suddenly whisked away.
“You’re given the plum project of the year on Friday, but on Monday, John is now somehow in charge,” Taylor says. “It feels like the rug was just pulled from under your cubicle.”
You have the right to get clarity, albeit tactfully, she explains. You want to avoid: “Why is John handling my project?!” Use a cool down period to collect your thoughts, diffusing any signs of emotion.
Try something like this in a face-to-face meeting: “I want to do the best job I can here and was really looking forward to managing that project. What happened that changed that plan?”
“You may not be the only one on the receiving side of this form of mismanagement, so don’t assume you’re being singled out,” she says. “If you’re seeing a pattern of losing work assignments, ask to handle specific new projects and gauge the responses before making your next move.”
This article is published in collaboration with Business Insider. Publication does not imply endorsement of views by the World Economic Forum.
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Author: Jacquelyn Smith is the careers editor at Business Insider.
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