Help: I Love My Job but Hate My Boss
Welcome to Working It Out, a new column where we answer all of your most confounding questions about office life.
Q: After working as a freelancer for years, I finally took a staff position at a new company last spring. I loved the job right away — the work I do is challenging and creative, my team is collaborative, and I like going to an office and having the stability of regular salary and benefits. But two months in, the company hired a new manager to oversee our department. This manager is a mess — she’s scattered, inconsistent, doesn’t respect people’s time, takes credit for our work, and doesn’t seem to understand the basics of what we do. When she gives feedback, it’s almost always negative and critical. The worst part is our top bosses love her and don’t see any of the problems. I hate working for her so much that I feel like I should just quit, but I love the company and the work I get to do (when she lets me). What should I do?
Here’s a truth you should know that is not talked about enough: Most people, even people who are otherwise smart and reasonable and lovely to be around, are terrible managers. This is partly because they haven’t been trained for the job and they spend a lot of time poking in the dark, feeling frustrated when it doesn’t work out, making ass-stupid decisions in haste, and blaming everyone around them for their mistakes. And it’s partly because being a good leader is messy and human beings are raw and unexpected. As a result, managing is chaos and never looks like it does on TV. This may be your first awful boss, but trust me, unless you decide to build a survivalist’s life in a semi-inhabitable cave, it will not be your last. We could dwell on why this current boss person is the worst/what makes her this way, but 1) I’m guessing you’ve already covered this topic 347 times over 1,590 drinks, and 2) This puts the emphasis on something you can’t control rather than on something you can. Here’s what I think should happen instead.
1. Do not quit your job — at least not yet. You’ve managed to accomplish the near-impossible in the year of our Lord 2018: You’ve found a secure job that pays enough in a field you like that surrounds you with people who are (mostly) non-creeps. This is no easy feat. So while your instinct may be to burn it all down and stave off the discomfort — f*ck off, I’m outta here! — that’s probably not what’s best for the big picture of your career. Before even considering an exit, assess what you want next and what you need to get out of this current position before you roll out. Make a big, fearless list of your next dream life and everything this job could do to get you there. This list could include a better title or more direct experience with clients, or maybe you want to run big meetings or manage someone or learn a new program. Whatever it is, be intentional and don’t let a short-term solution mess with your long-term game.
2. Learn to manage up. So much of working has little to do with work but is instead a game of fear ball, where everyone’s passing their trauma, triggers, and self-doubt back and forth to infinity in lieu of actually getting stuff done (“I’m afraid I’m bad!” “No, I’m afraid I’m bad!”). A person who knows her value does not behave the way your boss is behaving, which suggests she’s a lot more anxious and insecure than she’s letting on. And, while it is not your job to play amateur therapist when you should be receiving mentoring and guidance, life is rotten with imperfections, and sometimes self-protection means stepping up and being the adult when everyone else is acting like fetuses. Is it possible to get what you want out of your boss (fair treatment, reasonable deadlines, non-angry feedback) while giving her what she needs? Maybe she’s in over her head and is afraid to ask for support, maybe she feels isolated and just needs an office friend, maybe her cat died. Whenever possible, take all the big feelings down a notch and start looking at this person as a person, not a monster. Have a conversation with her where you calmly, without judgment or blame, ask how you can improve workflow. Offer to help. Anticipate tasks and be proactive with your work. Meet her anger with kindness. Stop gossiping about her with your work friends, because even if she doesn’t know directly, she knows. None of this will make your boss more competent at her job nor will it make anything fair, but it will make your life more pleasant, at least in the short term.
3. Call in the reinforcements. If you’ve done everything above and (after a few weeks) your boss remains a raging jerk, it’s time to contact the authorities, such as they are. Make an appointment with HR and, with as little emotion as possible, explain the situation. Describe specific incidents. Give dates. If you have documentation (you should have documentation) pass it along. Tell them about all the work you’ve already put in. Tell them you love your job and the company and you are concerned. Use words like “hostile workplace.” This should get their attention. The HR machine is flawed and political and the result of this meeting may not be satisfying — you cannot change your boss, the company, etc. — but knowing that you put the fear ball down, held your head high, were proactive, and took control of what you could will bring a well of self-assurance and grounding that will help buoy you into the next phase of your life, one where you may even get to be the boss yourself.
Share your best tips for dealing with a tough boss @BritandCo.
(Photo via Getty)