8 ways to deal with a difficult boss at work

8 ways to deal with a difficult boss at work
PHOTO: The Straits Times file

A lousy boss can make your work life a living hell. After all, a popular saying goes: People don’t leave jobs, they leave managers.

Not only do you feel undervalued and unmotivated when your employer is not up to the mark, the stress and distress of working under someone difficult can also lead to health problems — both mentally and physically.

While you may think that packing in is the only course of action you have left, hang tight and try these tips on how to “manage up” first. Before you resign (excuse the pun) yourself to the fact that this is all there is to your career, there are ways you can handle aforementioned boss to improve your situation.

Read on and try these to stay sane — at least until you find your next gig.

1. When they micromanage you

Good management should allow people room to showcase their skills, talent, creativity and initiative. Bad management tries to control every aspect of your working day and oversee projects to the point you might as well just pass it over.

Manage it: Try looping them in at the beginning of projects for their advice and input, and then let them know you’ll update them once you have something to show them. Make them feel like you’ve got the control from the get-go and that you’re taking the lead, so they feel less in need of constantly stepping in.

If that doesn’t work, you can always politely explain you’ll get back to them as soon as you have updates, but until that point, there’s no need for unnecessary emails. Make it as friendly and emotionless as possible, to ensure you’re not coming across as if you have an issue (even though you do).

2. When they belittle you

Whether it is one to one, in front of colleagues or worse still, in front of clients — your boss should never belittle you. It’s not good management and it’s counterproductive to your work.

Manage it: The worst way to deal with this, is to belittle them back. You need to avoid any retort that lowers yourself to their level. Instead, privately speak to them face-to-face or via email (if you wish to document the incident) and recount what they said to you.

Explain to them that although you understand where they are coming from, it wasn’t the right thing to say and ask them to not talk to you in that fashion again. Give suggestions on how they can rephrase what they said. Remain composed and calm.

If you’ve raised the issue and it continues, feel free to take yourself to HR to request their help on how to move forward.

3. When they are disorganised and/or forgetful

Ever feel like you’re doing your boss’ job for them? Do you have to remind them of every meeting, every client project, every e-mail they forgot they sent? Do you end up becoming a PA for them as well as your actual role? It can be very frustrating to have a boss who seems all over the place.

Manage it: I’m sorry, but we think the best course of action here is to let the water boil and stop stirring it. Step away from helping and concentrate on your own tasks instead. It may seem harsh, but you are graded on your KPIs, not your boss’.

They will have to recognise that they need to step up. They will also grow to understand your value — which hopefully they will appreciate come the next performance appraisal.

4. When they expect you to drop everything for something they’re working on

This happens a lot and can often happen out of their control too. Things crop up out of the blue and sometimes, we just all have to be reactive. This is absolutely fine.

What’s not fine, is when they constantly drop last-minute work on you and demand it gets done ASAP, because of their poor planning. It makes you always on edge waiting for the next large pile, and it throws you off your own to-do list too.

Manage it: If you can take these ad hoc pieces on, do so, but then push back timelines on other projects. If they then question why that isn’t done, explain you can only work on one thing at a time and had to prioritise their requests.

Or, if you’re swamped, you need to start pushing back on these ‘urgent’ projects and make them do it themselves, explaining you simply don’t have the bandwidth to take it on. Make sure you reason with them and stay professional.

ALSO READ: 13 types of Singaporean bosses you will meet in your career

5. When they delegate everything

This is very, very frustrating to put up with every day. As your workload piles higher and higher, they seem to swan about the office with much less stress on their shoulders.

A good manager delegates work, a bad manager delegates to the point they have no real ‘graft’ to do while their subordinates are drowning in deadlines and workload. Earnest managers will be prepared to help alleviate their team’s pressure, not make it worse.

Manage it: Never confront them on their workload, or ask what they’re doing every day. You will not win. All you’ll do is aggravate them and make them become defensive, which will probably lead to more work being dumped on you, just because.

Instead, try to keep them updated regularly with projects you’re buried in as well as your daily duties. Let them know calmly that you cannot take on new tasks because of everything else. Ensure your workload is feasible enough that they understand you’re not making excuses, but physically cannot do any more.

6. When nothing you do is quite right (or up to their standards)

Everyone has different working methods, levels of perfectionism and ways to deal with workloads. It’s bound to happen that you have disagreements and discussions with your manager. That being said, if you can never do anything right ever, then there’s a more serious issue at hand.

This is especially so when your boss has overloaded you, and then blames you for not fulfilling the workload.

Manage it: You can ask your boss to give more instructions when they critique your work, explaining you want to do well but seemingly never seem to hit the mark. Ask for ways you can improve yourself.

You can also actively ask your boss what they liked or what they felt you did well about your work, to encourage them to also give positive feedback.

If you feel nothing changes, it might be time to send them an ‘official’ email to explain that your morale is low due to continual negative feedback, and ask if there is a way forward to lessen such comments.

You should also document what you do from morning to evening as well as what you have on your plate and how often you’re doing overtime or weekend hours. Present this to your boss in a meeting to try and get them to give you more leeway to complete the tasks.

If this fails, you need to take this to higher management.

7. When they want constant communication, well into your personal time

It’s always good to communicate with your colleagues and boss, but it’s also good to leave work at work to have a decent work-life balance. If you have work communication only via emails, it’s easy to switch off.

But what if calls, texts and other forms continue way past official work time? Worse still, what if you ignore the 9pm texts only to be scolded the next day for not replying?

Manage it: If you use Whatsapp at work — when you head home, try not to read their texts. And as tempting as it can be, don’t respond. If it’s an emergency (a real one) they can call. If they question you on this, politely explain that you don’t look at your phone very often after you leave the office, because you have personal things to handle. A good boss will respect this.

8. When they gaslight you

Gaslighting can be extremely emotionally exhausting and manipulative. It can also be very hard to pinpoint. Those who use gaslighting as a technique to control others do it very slowly over time, so those on the receiving end struggle to ‘see’ what is really going on.

It makes the victim question their reality and doubt their instincts, and increasingly think everything is their fault. This is a very serious issue, and can be very harmful to your mental state.

Not sure you’re being gaslighted? Telltale signs are: Blatant lies, saying something then pretending they never said it (such as telling you something when you’re alone only to deny it in a group meeting), constant negative feedback interspersed with random positivity to confuse you, telling you other people have made comments or said something about you (but never telling you who), and being defensive by saying things like “you’re so emotional” or “Don’t you think you’re being irrational”.

Manage it: Don’t confront your employer directly as they will simply feel threatened. Minimise contact and remember to trust your instincts. Put your foot down if you have to.

Always record down everything when you do have to speak to him or her, such as what was said and what the situation was, so you can refer back to your notes to set the record straight.

Unfortunately, these are stopgap measures. The best way to handle this, and to regain your sanity, is to get a new job, pronto. If you have an exit interview with HR, be sure to be as honest as you can. You never know who else has reported this person and it may help open management’s eyes.

This article was first published in Her World Online.

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