How to Survive a Horrible Boss

The follow-up to the 2011 hit movie, Horrible Bosses, is set to debut on November 26th, so I thought it may be a good idea to repost the Ask The Strategist entry, Surviving Horrible Bosses. Since the movie sequel, Horrible Bosses 2, will include new plot twists and characters, our post has been updated, as well.

Enjoy and feel free to share a horrible boss story of your own, including how you survived him/her, in the reply section below.

How to Survive a Horrible Boss

Horrible Bosses pulled in $28.3 million during its premier weekend in 2011. That should come as no surprise as the summer typically draws the masses to cooler environments for entertainment. Movie theaters are the perfect place to enjoy a little humor while keeping cool. The draw, however, was not solely the promise of frigid air for a few hours. Folks flocked to the big screen comedy to gain a glimpse into the characters’ world of horrible bosses – and how they dealt with these annoying rabble-rousers.

Don't let a Horrible Boss Get You Down
Don’t let a Horrible Boss Get You Down

In Horrible Bosses, art imitates life for some of us. We have, or have heard about, horror stories involving supervisors who demonstrate weird behavior in the workplace: sexual harassment, slacking off and doing no work, or basic ineptitude.

Characters played by Jason Sudeikis, Jason Bateman, and Charlie Day are believable on the big screen, even though their zany plans to eliminate their horrible bosses is absurd. For the rest of us real people, how can we bear the burden of horrible bosses, get our work done, and even thrive in a dysfunctional environment without resorting to the far-fetched hijinks of this crew?

In all fairness, there are probably multitudes of great, supportive supervisors out there. For those poor souls who brave the horrible bosses every day, here are some helpful strategies for dealing with them.

Know who you are dealing with and act accordingly

If your boss morphs into the Incredible Hulk when employees approach her early in the morning, take this cue to ask any questions or get feedback later in the day. You can easily gauge your supervisor’s personality by taking time to observe her in the workplace. This includes how she treats her inner circle, including the executive assistant, human resources manager, and any interns assigned to the department. Does she treat certain individuals differently? If your boss seems to become more pleasant with an individual than the rest of the team, figure out why.

Does that employee anticipate what your supervisor will ask for and have it in advance? Does the staff member exert extra initiative? Does the employee cower or stand up for his or her rights in the workplace? Take a moment to study an employee who seems to get some level of respect from horrible bosses (yes, there is usually one), figure out how the positive interaction can work for you, and implement the process for yourself. Take care to avoid artificiality. Bosses will notice it, and it may place you in a less desirable situation than you are already in at work.

Don’t give them an inch and they won’t be able to take a yard

Some bad bosses simply get away with bad behavior because employees, who want to make a good impression when they begin work, change the game in mid-play. Most people, at work and in life, get used to the way people behave and respond.

If you started the job with a can-do, bend over backwards to get it done spirit, your supervisor will always think of you as a go-to person who never says no. Even when it is 7:00 p.m. and you are trying to leave the office to pick up your son at daycare before it closes at 7:15 p.m., a bad boss will expect you to call your spouse, neighbor, or stranger to collect your kid from the babysitter. Having a little backbone in the beginning, while still displaying the ultimate professionalism, helps curtail excessive expectations from an insensitive supervisor.

Let them know when enough is enough

There are times when a bad boss’ behavior crosses the line – morally and legally. I do not recommend that you consider hit men to take care of these annoying individuals as the protagonists did in the movie Horrible Bosses. Instead, do three things: take your temperature; get feedback; and, put them in their places.

Taking your temperature – or surveying yourself to identify if you are responding appropriately, or are overreacting – is the first step in identifying what, if anything, you should say to a cantankerous supervisor. Consider the boss’ behavior. Is the perceived violation a personal affront? Offensive to everyone? Offensive to women, transgendered, or racially different (from the supervisor) employees? A bad mood leading to a one-off slight?

If the temperature is off the charts, the next step is to get feedback from someone else. It always helps to get another perspective. A coworker who reports to the same supervisor, or has witnessed bad behavior by the boss, can shed light on the situation and help you determine if you should advance to the final step: put them in their places.

There are many ways to check bad behavior in the workplace. If your supervisor’s activities warrant intervention, there is a way to address the behavior professionally, and without potential repercussions. If you have a good relationship with your horrible boss (it can happen – think about the weird, but workable, relationship between Michael Scott and Dwight Schrute on The Office), then you may be able to gently approach the subject. If your supervisor is not that congenial, you may want to take the situation to your human resources department and let the HR professional deal with your supervisor directly. Not only does it take the pressure off you, it lessens the likelihood of potential retaliation if human resources handles the issue appropriately.

Become indispensable at work

Chances are that if you are indispensable in the workplace, horrible bosses may check their rude behavior so that you do not quit your job. They may still be ill tempered and rude; however, these supervisors generally know not to press their luck with you.

Develop and display your exceptional skills – fiscal responsibility, the ability to troubleshoot and fix office technology, or exceptional speech writing capabilities – that your horrible boss relies upon to get through his or her day. When people have to ask you to do things, they are less likely to tick you off for fear that you may not help them or will be reluctant to assist when you are truly needed. Sadly, this is a reality in some workplace environments.

Get your backup plan ready

If you decide that you’ve had enough, and the “higher ups” refuse to deal with your boss’ behavior, then get your resume ready and network with others within your industry until you can make the transition into a different department, or work at a new company.

Detail your work functions and contributions on your CV and the impact they have had within your division. Be sure to include the results the company gained by your hard work – reduction in customer wait time, increased satisfaction rate or revenue, or the creation of new business opportunities. Once you have polished your resume, update and overhaul your social media presence, especially on the professional networking site LinkedIn.

Your objective is to shore up your experience without needing your supervisor’s recommendation or endorsement for your next gig. What professional alliances and relationships have your created since working at the company? These networks should serve as references for future employers, or provide you guidance on transitioning into another work environment. So often, employees feel stuck in a job with toxic supervisors because they have not devised their own career plans, and end up staying in unhealthy situations. Getting your plan ready before you need can help you survive, and sidestep, a horrible boss.

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Kesi Stribling, Editor, Ask The Strategist
Kesi Stribling, Editor, Ask The Strategist

DISCLAIMER: Since its original debut on MySpace in 2004 as Midweek Musings, ASK THE STRATEGIST is a blog that highlights information on business, entrepreneurship, careers and the workplace, health, community, and women. Any content or advice dispensed through Ask The Strategist is solely for informational and entertainment purposes. All content, unless otherwise noted, is the property of Ask the Strategist and its affiliates, and may not be re-published without express written permission from the Editor.