How to Cope With a Horrible Boss

August 17, 2022 | By | Reply More

horrible boss

Horrible bosses are a primary reason people quite their jobs.


Whether they’re bullies or just incompetent, horrible bosses are one of the top reasons people quit their jobs.


Such is life: birth, taxes, and, at least once in a person’s career, a horrible boss.


In fact, says contributor Dave Hutton, dealing with difficult bosses is so common that it has become “a rite of passage for most employees.” Horrible bosses emerge from front-line supervisors to CEOs. Whether they’re out-and-out bullies or just incompetent, “58 percent of those who left a job because of workplace culture cited their manager as the reason behind their decision.”


Indeed, there are many behaviors to suggest you have a lousy boss that don’t even reach the level of illegal practices, such as sexual harassment and discrimination. Managers’ conduct and bad attitudes—from whining to bullying — consistently are the reason nearly half the American workforce dreads showing up to work every Monday.


If your dream job has become a nightmare, perhaps it’s time to look at the relationship you have with your manager. Typically, most folks recognize when they have a horrible boss. But if you’re questioning if your misery is self-imposed, then check out these signs and consider that it may be a horrible boss, not you, that’s making your job a living hell.



Signs of a horrible boss


  • They blame you for their mistakes, no matter how small. Their egos are so weak that they feel safer letting the “small guy” take the rap for even simple errors.


  • They stretch the truth or even out-and-out lie. They exaggerate their accomplishments or even create works of pure fiction just to impress others.-


  • They micromanage your work. Like low flying wasps, micromanagers constantly hover over you, eyeballing everything you do. You must cross all your “T’s”  their way—or else!


  • They don’t respect your privacy. It’s flattering when a higher-up shows an interest in your kid’s birthday. But, if they inquire about your bank account or a personal medical issue, that’s just plain intrusive.


  • Man spying on woman at desk.

    Like low flying wasps, micromanagers constantly hover over you.

  • They have selective hearing. They hear your answer when they ask you to work late; but they go deaf if you ask for more time on a project.



  • They sabotage your work. Whether intentionally (because they’re evil), or unintentionally (because they’re incompetent), your boss makes it impossible for you to get ahead because they do things to undermine or harm you.


  • They’re passive-aggressive. Your boss likes to “kid-on-the square” to get away with making rude comments; or they pout rather than verbalize when something bothers them. Or, they get loud and slam things until someone asks them what’s wrong.


  • They’re temperamental.  It doesn’t take much to set off a moody and/or volatile manager. Because of this, whenever they’re around you and your team walk on eggshells.


  • They’re greedy. Some bosses want to have their cake– and your cake–and then eat it, too!  They use everyone around them to keep getting more rewards.


  • They show favoritism. Your boss has their “picks” on who receive bonuses, perks, or gets to work on the best projects. Sometimes favoritism is more subtle, such as letting select employees break the dress code or turn in work late.


  • They steal your work or ideas. Fact is, some managers aren’t always as bright or creative as their staff, but they want to appear so to the higher-ups. It’s easy for them to justify claiming your work as “their work” since you performed under their direction.


Two women in office gossiping

If your boss tells you about a coworker’s private situation, how can you trust them?

  • They’re drama queens/kings. Minor setbacks that wouldn’t phase you or your coworkers are the “end of the world” to your boss. Something as simple as the printer being out of ink can send them into tirades of “Oh my God! What are we going to do?” as they pace the floor holding their head in their hands.


  • They gossip with you or about you. If your manager tells you about a coworker’s daughter who got pregnant at fifteen, or thinks it’s okay to tell your coworkers about your recent divorce, how can you trust them?


  • They withhold vital information. Whether it’s through negligence or spite, some managers conceal crucial information that would help you succeed, or could prevent you from making a mistake.


  • They rarely respond to requests for help or feedback.  “In short,” writes Alan Henry in,  “a drive-by manager tends to spend their time giving you work rather than offering input and feedback so you can do that work.” Doug Hutton refers to this kind of manager as “a ghost boss”.


After reading this list you may conclude that your boss is…well…horrible. You then may wonder if there’s any hope of them changing or, if your only options are to deal with it or slide a resignation letter under their door. To help you decide, consider the following suggestions to cope with a horrible boss. Also, I urge you to follow the links included in this article as they will give you further guidance on this issue.



Do’s and Don’ts when dealing with a horrible boss


Stern looking woman

The position of manager is a tough and conflicting job; and it’s a job that rarely comes with much formal training.



Help your boss communicate with you.

First, learn their preferred method of communicating (email, phone, text, in person), and use that to connect with them. Second, for “whirlwind” bosses who never have a spare minute to give anyone, Tom Gimbel, CEO of LaSalle Network, suggests that you “send a short update on a weekly basis or a recap of the projects you’re working on. That way you can use the limited time together to ask specific questions as opposed to updating your manager on the status of different projects.”



Put yourself in their shoes.

The position of manager is a tough and conflicting job. It’s a job that rarely comes with much formal training. A manager has pressure from below (subordinates) and from above (executives).


“Middle managers have a complicated relationship with power because power is activated and experienced in the context of interpersonal relationships,” write Professors Eric M. Anicich and Jacob B. Hirsch . “[They] are expected to play very different roles when moving from one interaction to the next, alternating between relatively high and relatively low power interaction styles.”


So instead of seeing your boss’s irritating behavior as an effort to torment you, see it as the manifestation of confusion and frustration they’re experiencing from having to balance their roles.



Celebrate their good behavior.

Email them a note telling them you appreciate a particular positive behavior. When dealing with a “whirlwind” boss, for example, send them a note thanking them for the time they took to review a project with you.



Approach your boss honestly, but very tactfully.

Middle aged man pondering

Keep in mind that good and bad are relative.

If you’ve already reached the point where you’re ready to quit, take time to cool off before discussing a manager’s bad behavior. Further, keep in mind that good and bad are relative; meaning, “the definition of bad depends on the employee’s needs, the manager’s skills and the circumstances.”


Human Resources expert, Susan M. Heathfield explains two interesting points. First, what one employee views as bad managing could be seen as good managing to another employee. It depends on an individual’s needs.


Second, what an employee might view as bad managing could be seen as good managing to a manager. For example, says Heathfield, “A hands-off manager may not realize that his failure to provide any direction or feedback makes him a bad boss. He may think he’s empowering his staff. A manager who provides too much direction and micromanages may feel insecure and uncertain about his own job. He may not realize his direction is insulting to a competent, secure, self-directed staff member.”



Find out what causes them to behave the way they do.

I get it: you shouldn’t have to play therapist just to get along with a horrible boss. But for their more minor or less harmful behaviors it’s to your benefit to try to uncover what makes them tick.


Business psychology professor Tomas Chamorro-Premuzic says, “No matter how bad your boss is, they are probably consistent. Learn to predict their behavioral patterns, and they will become a much smaller problem.” [Emphasis added.]



Learn from your situation.

Forbes contributor Margie Warrell shares this outlook: “Having worked with numerous not-so-inspiring bosses in my corporate career, I’ve learned they provide invaluable opportunities for developing executive leadership skills and learning ‘what not to do’ when managing people who work for you.”’s Eilleen Hoenigman Meyer agrees: “You’re honing your crisis management skills and you’re learning to stay calm and strategically solve a difficult problem. Give yourself credit for this instead of feeling badly that things aren’t going better at work.”



DO outsmart them.

Woman smiling with arms crossed

“Out-micromanage her so you’re in control.”

Jen Dziura, writing for, gives this clever suggestion for that irritating micromanager:  “Out-micromanage her so you’re in control.” Meet with her and then “lay out every single thing you plan to do that day.” She may soon tire of your constant run-downs and tell you to just take care of things yourself. Oh yeah!


Another idea for putting a stop to micromanagement, says staff writer, Kate Douthwaite Wolf, “is to anticipate the tasks that your manager expects and get them done well ahead of time.”  With each job done in advance, it would be counter productive for a manager to make you do it over again just so she could hover over you.



Stay professional.

No matter what, as long as you continue working at your company, you are obliged to display professionalism even if your boss doesn’t. Keep your calm even as they rant and rave; continue to give your best in all your assigned work; and keep showing up on time every day.


When the day comes that you decide to find employment elsewhere, remember your horrible boss still could be a valuable reference for you. They will remember your good character and excellent work even if they fail to remember how miserable they made your life.




Don’t complain about them.

Complaining about your horrible boss is interpreted by others as bad-mouthing them. Don’t do it!  First, it will get back to them (usually in a much worse version than you said it.) Second, it makes you look like a negative person even though you’re simply trying to get some stress off your chest. Third, it could get you fired.


Do yourself a huge favor: when you’re pissed at your horrible boss keep your mouth shut until you’ve completely calmed down. And for heaven’s sake STAY OFF FACEBOOK AND TWITTER!!



Don’t try to make them look bad, particularly to their superiors.

Clinical psychologist and author of Got A Bad Boss? Noelle C. Nelson, PhD, reminds us that “the reason why your boss is a boss probably has something to do with the person above him.” Keep that in mind if you consider going over their heads, as you will be complaining about the very person the higher-ups put there.


In fact, in an in-depth article for, Bob Weinstein warns,  “Management-team members interpret any confrontation an employee might have with a boss as also being a confrontation with them, and without well-documented proof of a pattern of behavior, they will likely view the employee as the problem.”


“Instead,” suggests Dr. Nelson,  “get the higher-ups’ attention with outstanding performance and productivity. Volunteer to take on projects that involve other departments and explore your talents.”



Don’t tolerate bad behavior.

Although it’s never wise to go head-to-head with a manager, if you don’t stand up for yourself on important issues you are giving them permission to continue bad behavior. Staying quiet about abusive behavior seems to make them lose respect for and abuse you more.


In a post for about bullying in the workplace, Megan Elliott writes, “When it comes to getting ahead at work, the rule of thumb is to never say ‘no’…But when you have a bad boss, constantly saying ‘yes’ can quickly lead to a miserable work situation. Whether you’re dealing with bullying in the workplace, pressure to skirt the rules, or unrealistic performance expectations, there are times when you just have to stand up to your boss.”



Don’t try to change them.

Don’t exert yourself trying to change a horrible boss into a good one. While it’s possible to influence them, “there are limits to what you can change about another person without their cooperation,” writes psychologist Art Markman for the Huffington Post. “Unless someone is willing to really commit to a new goal and make plans that will help them achieve that goal and turn it into a habit, that individual is unlikely to make lasting changes in her life.”


Man holding head in hands

“There are times when you just have to stand up to your horrible boss.”


It’s healthier for you to just let go of your own need to control, says Ellen Hoenigman Meyer.  “Exercise good self-care and do your best to keep your stress level low. Find an inner circle that can give you support, preferably comprised of people outside of work.”



Don’t feed into passive-aggressive or toxic behavior.

Personal story: When I worked as a counselor at a psychiatric hospital there was a particular psychiatrist who would stop at the nurse’s station to document his patient visits. (Obviously, this was pre-electronic charting era!) If a pen wasn’t visible to him, he would open desk drawers one by one and then violently slam them shut. That was his way of communicating to staff that he needed a pen. This bad behavior was rewarded every time staff stopped their work to ask him what was wrong or, for those already familiar with him, automatically gave him a pen when he entered the station.


His method didn’t work with me because I’d pretend I didn’t notice him, or I would walk out of the nurse’s station.  After a couple failed attempts to manipulate me with his passive-aggressive behavior, he refrained from acting out if I was the only one around. He’d simply ask, “Hey Pam, do you have a pen?”


For passive-aggressive behavior, the simple fact is what you reward will continue; what you consistently ignore will eventually cease.



Where do these horrible bosses come from??


Mean looking woman pointing finger at someone

“There are rules and training programs for almost every conceivable job…but not how to be a boss.”


With so many horrible bosses out there, one can’t help but wonder:  How did these people get to be bosses in the first place?  After all, surely such behaviors were noticed before they were hired or promoted to these positions.


To help us understand how some managers become horrible bosses, CIO Bob Weinstein explains: “Mention the word ‘boss’ and we immediately think that the person has some special abilities or training. There are rules and training programs for almost every conceivable job, from sanitation engineer to nuclear physicist, but no set curriculum teaches you how to be a boss. An obvious way to compensate for a lack of skills is to be tough and unyielding. You stand a better chance of being left alone and unquestioned this way. “


While many studies emphasize horrible bosses, most managers do mean well but simply don’t know how to perform effectively in their roles. According to psychologist Robert Hogan, executives often promote individuals to management positions based on “how they appear, rather than on their capacity to manage or lead.” Being promoted to manager is often a reward for excellent performance as a staff member, rather than a sound business decision.


“To be fair,” writes Jennifer Dziura for,  “most bad bosses aren’t actually terrible people—they’re good people in the wrong role.”



Your turn: Can you tell us about an experience you’ve had with a horrible boss? (Please withhold names!) How did you cope with your situation?



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Category: Communication, Employee Engagement, Work Ethics

About the Author ()

Pamela La Gioia is a resume writer and LinkedIn profile expert. She is also a pioneer in remote work, and has been researching and writing about remote work since the early 1990's. You can follow her on LinkedIn, for resume tips, LinkedIn insight, and general career help.

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