August 21, 2020

What to Do When You Have a Bad Boss

“We should always be asking ourselves: ‘Is this something that is, or is not, in my control?’”
— Epictetus, “Enchiridion”

To be clear, I’m not talking about moral, ethical, or legal issues. If your boss crosses one of those lines, then you need to take it up with your boss’s boss, HR/Legal, or the police. I’m only talking about “normal” bad boss issues, e.g. he’s a jerk, he’s a bad leader, he’s making my life hell, etc.

Ultimately, there are only two options: stay or quit? Your boss doesn’t really have any power over you, because you decide if you’re staying or leaving. You really work for yourself. Your boss is just a temporary client. Now, let’s figure out the right choice.

First, you need to know where you stand today. What benefits does this job provide? Or alternatively, why are you working at this job at all? Evaluate your current job situation and then do a hard evaluation of yourself.

Questions about my current job:

  • Is the pay good? Does my salary afford me a decent lifestyle?
  • Is the commute reasonable?
  • Do I have good benefits, like vacation and medical insurance?
  • Do I like my coworkers?
  • Do I love the work itself? Am I inspired by the job?
  • What am I learning in this job? Is it helping me become more valuable?
  • Is this a dead-end job or am I growing professionally?

Questions about myself:

  • What am I grateful for today, in my current circumstances?
  • What do I really want out of life?
  • How can I make myself more valuable to my employer, to the marketplace, and to my family?
  • What could I become elite at?
  • What excites me?
  • Am I willing to take risks?
  • What am I afraid of?

It’s not an exhaustive list, but these questions are a pretty good start. With any luck, the answers will help you make that important decision: stay or quit?

Now, what if you decide to quit? What if this is just a dead-end job that won’t help you grow and develop. What if you feel stuck doing things you hate? If you decide to quit, you need to get some stuff done so you can make that happen the right way.

How to quit your job:

  • Decide to quit.
  • Stop stressing out about your bad boss. You’ve already decided to quit, so none of that matters now.
  • Determine what you need to prepare before quitting. Can you quit today, or do you need time to get your finances in order? How’s your resume and LinkedIn profile? Will this be a career change, or are you staying in the same field? Will you go the self-employment route, or do you plan to find a new job?
  • Pick a date to quit and then work hard towards that event. This doesn’t have to be set in stone, but at least act like it’s real for now. Start saving money like you already quit and have no income. Talk to some recruiters or start searching for potential clients. Start networking. Use this time to your advantage.
  • Don’t burn bridges with your current employer. In fact, crush it for the remaining time you have left. Do it with a smile. Don’t let anyone get you down. After all, you’re leaving, so be happy and enjoy yourself.
  • Finally, quit. Don’t do it out of spite. Do it because you’re moving forward. Do it because you’re taking on the next challenge in your life.

So, what if you decide to stay? What if you decide to stay for now and see if things improve? What if it’s not prudent to quit anytime in the next few months? Well, if you decide to stay, then you need to deal with that bad boss situation.

How to deal with a bad boss:

  • Start building a good relationship with your boss. This is going to be hard. Do it anyway. Make it a game. Find a winning strategy. Figure out which tactics work and which don’t. Have fun with it. Prove that you’re good enough to work with everybody, not just the people you like.
  • Overcome your own ego. Don’t worry about getting the credit for everything. In fact, give your boss the credit.
  • Find ways to make your boss look good to the team and to his superiors. Work with him, not against him, even when it doesn’t seem like he’s working with you.
  • Ask your boss for advice about some area that you know you need to improve. And don’t just ask — listen, learn, and adjust based on that advice. Say something like, “Hey, boss. I know I’m a bit weak in this area. Do you have any quick tips to help me get on track?” See what happens.
  • Lead the team, humbly and quietly, whenever the team needs you. Don’t step on your boss’s toes, but always be ready to step up and lead.

No matter what approach you take, remember that you are in control of your own career. Don’t blame anybody else if things aren’t going well. There will always be people who don’t get along with you, who annoy you, or who are simply mean to you. You can’t control those people, but you can always become a better teammate, a better leader, and a better human being. If you constantly improve yourself and outperform the haters, you will win.