Five ways to manage a bad boss

How do I struggle to work with thee, let me count the ways … difficult bosses are legion, as almost anyone who has ever been an employee can attest.

Latest research from Ohio State University suggests the chronic stress of working for one can even affect the way our immune systems function over the longer term.

Bad bosses are the anti-heroes of a host of movies and television shows, from David Brent of The Office fame, to The Devil Wears Prada's terrifying ice queen Miranda Priestly.

On the silver screen their uppance does generally come, but it's a different story in real life where the choices for underlings often appear limited to “put up and shut up”, or move on.

Executive coach and Liberate Leadership founder Suzanne Mercier says many employees choose the latter option rather than sticking it out under duress. “People join companies and leave managers,” she says.

So what are the options for those who don't fancy striking out somewhere new?

Here's our roll call of bad bosses, and some ways to wrangle them.

The control freak

Tell me what you want me to do and leave me to get on with it ... this will never happen if the control freak or micro-manager boss is running the show.


If you have one of these hovering incessantly, there are a couple of options, organisational psychologist Virginia Mansell says. One is to grit your teeth while you update them on your progress (again!); the other is to understand why they do what they do.

Usually they're feeling under the pump and worried; either because of tough times in the market or fears about their own ability to perform.

Allay their concerns by offering them what they need, as often as they need it, before they have the chance to ask, Mansell advises.

“Give them all the data and information they want,” she says.

“Check back after a while to see if it's frequent enough. Give them what they want until they feel comfortable.”

And if there are tasks they're loathe to relinquish, despite their elevation up the ranks, try asking them directly to pass on the baton, business coach Lisa Phillips adds. As in: “I would really like to learn this, it's important to me.”

The nitpicker

Is everything you do analysed and found wanting or torn to pieces by the person you report to? Commiserations, you've scored yourself a nitpicking boss; someone who seems congenitally incapable of recognising or praising the efforts of their team.

Two choices, says Mercier. Let yourself get caught up in the negativity, or practise stepping away and learning to acknowledge your own strengths and weaknesses, irrespective of the opinions of others.

“Get your foundation sold,” Mercier says. “Don't look to the boss for validation. It's not about being arrogant but of taking stock of our own skills and talents.”

The bully

Being bullied at work is no fun and when your boss is the culprit, it can be unbearable. Many in this position chose to resign but if that's not an option, consider compiling a detailed list of goings-on before seeking HR assistance, Phillips says. Better to object to specific behaviours than appear to be having a whinge about someone you just don't get on with.

And if you're feeling brave, try speaking up yourself once in a while, she says.

“You need to set boundaries. Say if something is unacceptable to you – the boss is not a mind reader. Pull them up on their behaviour if you feel confident, rather than let it go.”

The disorganised

It's Friday, 4pm and who's this bearing down, pile of papers in hand and determined expression on face? It's the disorganised boss, ready to ruin your weekend because something they didn't attend to earlier has morphed into a last-minute emergency.

Sometimes you'll have to suck it up – but don't do it too often, unless you want to spend every Sunday with your laptop, Phillips advises. It's reasonable to say you have plans which preclude you delivering a report by 9am Monday. Mr or Ms Muddle may even improve their planning skills a little if they realise it's not a given that someone else will step into the breach, she says.


The Missing in Action boss isn't malevolent – they're just never there. It's a problem when they're supposed to be your conduit to the rest of the firm.

“This person doesn't help get you the resources you need, or hook you into the rest of the organisation,” Mercier says.

Her workaround? Make it your mission to build a strong network of your own, Cosy up to people in other departments, especially those who hold the purse strings or have some sway.

“Don't go behind [your boss's] back but do go around them,” Mercier says. “Understand where the power comes from.”

And, given that a strong network may be the key to securing your next role higher up the ladder, be grateful circumstances have forced you to become more proactive, she adds.