What to do if your boss is a bitch
in How To
bitchy boss, problem boss, working in pr
A bitchy boss can make your life hell. But don't worry, you're not alone - judging by the fact that this is one of our all-time most-read posts. Here's my advice on getting through the situation without exploding. By Heather Baker, @TopLineFounder
It happens in all industries but perhaps disproportionately in some. People are promoted to leadership positions because they are good at delivering the product or service (or because their employers can’t find anyone else to promote), not because they are good at leadership. Then they’re expected to manage people without any training or guidance, a situation exacerbated by the fact that they’re usually on an enormous power trip. Or, they're promoted because they've earned it, but they're just generally dickheads!
The result is a toxic working environment in which orders are barked, credit is stolen, red ink is abused and good people are publicly humiliated. In some workplaces this is just the tip of the iceberg, and I’ve heard horror stories involving outrageous bullying, manipulating and backstabbing (especially from within PR agencies).
So what can you do if you are the victim of a bitchy boss?
It’s a tricky one, and my first piece of advice is leave. I’ve mentioned before on the blog that there is a skills shortage in the industry (if you're in PR) and if your current job is making you miserable, you should be able to find a better one relatively easily, particularly if you’re a star performer. There’s only so much change you, as an employee, can effect on your organisation, and sometimes it’s just better to cut your losses and move on.
However, I realise this is not always possible, and there is always a trade off between leaving and having a patchy CV, so sometimes you just need to stick it out. If that’s you, you need to find a way of improving your situation. Here are my recommendations:
The first thing to do is actually something not to do. And that is, don’t respond in kind. Fight the temptation to stoop to their level. It might be satisfying in the short term, but if the situation ever escalates you don’t want to help your boss’s case with some nice, juicy anecdotes from that time you behaved like a squishmitten yourself.
Likewise resist the temptation to bitch about your boss. You don’t want to develop a reputation for yourself, and workplace sniping can quickly come back to bite you.
Keep an objective log in which you make a note of every compliment and complaint (yes, I said objective) you get from clients and co-workers. This will be really useful if it ever kicks off and you have to defend yourself.
Ask for clear performance targets and measurements. If your boss refuses to set them for you, do it yourself and send them to him/her asking for feedback. Measure your own performance against these and keep a record for yourself.
When you have to confront your boss, do so objectively and with the evidence you have collected. Don’t go over their head in the first instance. Instead take the very brave step of facing up to them. Set a meeting, and carefully prepare what you want to say. Try it out on a couple of friends first and have a ready-prepared follow-up email to document the meeting.
If that still doesn’t help, suggest to your boss that you escalate it and that you both go in together to meet with an HR rep, or another member of the management team. This probably won’t go down well, but it is likely to make your boss think twice about his/her behaviour.
Be prepared to accept that you could be partly to blame, and that you might need to make some changes yourself. That means taking on criticism and asking your boss to help you make changes, rather than just going on the defensive.
Avoid total dejection by treating every challenge you face at work as a learning experience and reminding yourself that this is all great experience.
If none of that works and you don’t want to leave, then my last suggestion is to change your boss’ name in your phone to something that means penis or vagina (my current favourite is fish wrinkle – you’re welcome to use it) and have a private giggle every time they call you!
Check out our post on the best resignation letters - "Beat your bitchy boss to it: a note on resigning with style"!
Find out how our readers have dealt with their own bitchy bosses in our post 'Bitchy Bosses - Readers Tell All'!
Browse our other posts on working in PR
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