Don’t Let Your Bad Boss Get the Best of You

In the February 2017 issue of School Nutrition, “Mean Girls (and Guys)” offers suggestions on how you might deal with “whiners, grumblers and rabble rousers” who create a toxic workplace in your cafeteria. While this piece by Editor Patricia L. Fitzgerald focuses on helping supervisors address employees with bad attitudes and behavior, this bonus content will address those occasions when the demoralizing behavior comes right from the top.

A workplace riddled with negativity and conflict can have far-reaching effects: depression or nausea the night before work, obsessing about work during time off and even high blood pressure.

For most of us, work is already a physically and mentally demanding part of life. When a coworker or an employee continually brings you down, work can be thoroughly unpleasant. When a supervisor is the source of your misery, the consequences for you can be more serious. 

In December 2015, Monster Global Poll surveyed 2,555 employees and found that 32% rated their boss as “horrible,” while only 15% described their boss as “excellent.” 

Just like good bosses or employees who might use some fine tuning, there are all different types of “bad bosses.” Some “bad bosses” single out a single employee. Others behave in ways that affect the entire team. They might be sarcastic, indifferent, disengaged, unhelpful or unsupportive. They may play favorites in the department, take credit for someone’s work, be impatient, controlling, thoroughly dramatic, micromanage everyone’s work or, rather than accept responsibility, throw an employee under the bus.

So, if you are thinking about handing your boss two-weeks notice, you are not alone. But, many of these “horrible” bosses are really well-meaning people, who care about their work and are committed to their organization (Michael from The Office, anyone?). They are often under-staffed, working with limited budgets and under pressure themselves. If you have a human resources (HR) department at your place of employment, they are uniquely positioned to help address a manager’s behavior.

There are a number of things that you can do to deal with a difficult boss or a toxic work environment. Here is a step-by-step approach:

Is Your Supervisor Really a “Bad Boss”? The first thing to do is figure out the reasons for their behavior and if you are being too hard on your boss. Observe them for a few days and notice the things that they do and identify triggers, which cause potential meltdowns. For example, if your boss is triggered by tasks left undone, they tell you to set up the salad bar and you occasionally forget to put out the pineapple, make a checklist for yourself and double and triple check it so that your boss’ pet peeve goes untriggered.

Timing is Everything. Sometimes it makes more sense to wait before approaching your boss about certain issues. If they have a lot on their plate and their stress level is high, it might make more sense to find a better time to talk to them. Still, if you think things are deteriorating and your own efforts to address them have not changed or moderated the boss’s behavior, then it is time to take some direct action.

Keep Good Notes. Write down the dates, times and details of all incidences that occur between yourself and your boss.

Report Bad Behavior. Let HR know what is going on. When you speak to HR, take your documentation with you, and be clear and concise. So, stick to the facts. If you just focus on tales about the emotional impact of bad behavior, it will be more difficult for HR to act on the problem. Try making a list of things you want to say before meeting with HR.

Talk to Your Supervisor Directly. In many cases, HR will try to resolve the problem by suggesting that you talk directly to your supervisor. If they do, insist that someone from HR be there to mediate and document the conversation. Eliminate the, “he said, she said.”

Don’t Let Bad Behavior Affect Your Work. No matter how bad your boss’ behavior, don’t try to even the score by working slower or taking longer breaks or lunches. You want to stay on good terms with the with the school district director and school principal. Maintain your professionalism!

Transfer. It may be possible to transfer to another school in your district. Talk to HR about the options you may have, what positions may be available and how they can help.

Think Before You Abruptly Quit. While your natural impulse may be to tell your boss to “take this job and shove it,” that could leave you without any unemployment compensation. Rules on eligibility for unemployment vary from state to state. Check with a local lawyer who is an expert in this area for advice on whether you have any recourse, such as a physician’s statement that your supervisor is causing you mental anguish.

Remember That Actions Have Consequences. If you do resign, don’t just quit—give a two-week notice. Be a professional! Don’t let your emotions about an abrupt departure haunt you for years to come when it becomes part of your employment record.

Start Looking for Another Job. Ultimately, this is the best and final piece of advice if you do not think the situation with your boss can get any better. Don’t quit or let the situation fester; start looking for another job (but do so respectfully; do not announce the fact to your boss or spread the idea around the office). Do something positive, take some initiative and you never know, you might very well end up with a better job in the end.

It's a shame that some managers behave poorly in the workplace and don't use their positions of authority for leadership, coaching, growth and to foster teamwork. Hopefully, these tips will help you to resolve your situation and keep a cool head in the face of a negative workplace.

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