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8 Tips for When You’re Struggling to Work With Your Boss

There’s a saying that people don’t leave jobs, they leave bosses. A good boss is the difference between striding in bright and early, ready to work — or hiding in the toilet during your shift. Not too long ago I experienced the difference firsthand, and let me just say I was not prepared. As a college graduate, especially if it’s your first job, it’s a difficult situation if for whatever reason you’re unable to work with your boss.

Your boss is the first person who can recommend you for the perfect position. They hold your future in their hands and they play a large part in your working life. But what happens when you just can’t get along with your boss?

Define what the issue is

Maybe you just cannot see eye to eye with your boss because of a personality clash, or maybe they allocate too much work. Are you having trouble understanding what exactly is required of you?

Without getting emotions involved, try to name exactly what the problem is and how it is affecting your work or performance. This is a good place to see objectively how you can fix this. If you don’t get along with your boss simply because of a personality clash, this can be resolved with a face to face meeting or just an office social where both of you can find a way to get along without work in the way.

Another reason for defining the issue is so that you are able to pinpoint why you feel the way you feel. My first “bad” boss yelled at staff and made people cry. Because I refused to acknowledge emotions at work, my method of dealing was simply to avoid her, which in turn came off as me looking like I couldn’t work with her.

Can you improve on something?

Try to see if there is anything that you can improve on. Maybe there is a recurring issue that keeps popping up between the two of you, such as coming in late or a problem with your work. Is there something that you should be doing that you aren’t?

Better yet check with a third party, such as a mentor or another boss, who can advise you objectively if you are doing the best you can do, and if there is nothing else to make the situation better. This person for me was my boss’s former manager. It is vital that you have someone at work to confide in who won’t take sides.

Note everything down

Make a note of every time a significant issue arises. There are a few reasons this is important. First, if you need to take this to someone higher, you have a record. This also works so you can see if it’s a repetitive problem that keeps popping up, or a problem that occurs during specific days/tasks/time.

Secondly, If your boss is the type to constantly go back on their word or constantly change their mind, make a note of the instructions that they have given you word for word. With my former boss, I used to keep a journal of exactly what she said, as well as constantly keep the office chat open. Looking back this practice was a bit excessive, though she had a habit of messaging instructions via office chat and then claiming that she hadn’t.

When it comes to keeping notes, make sure that you differentiate between note-keeping for your own personal records and record keeping for HR. You can keep anything for your own personal records, but if you are considering taking this higher up, make sure it is for something serious and not just you getting annoyed.

Leave work at work

Absolutely do not let the issues follow you out of the office. No matter how upset you are, leave work at work. The last thing you want is to ruin your time off by focusing on trouble at work. By the end of the business day, switch off your computer, switch off your work brain, and enjoy your free time.

Read a novel or watch some Netflix. Just do something to get your mind off work and recharge you for the next day. Bonus points for self-care and sheet masks

Vent when you need to, but within reason

If you need to vent to a trusted friend, do it. I am a 100% supporter of the “get it off your chest” club. However just make sure this trusted friend does not work with you. Remember you’re a professional, and badmouthing your boss is just not appropriate.

Be the bigger person

No matter how much you may have issues with your boss, don’t let it affect the quality of your work. Do not them a reason to come after you, especially if you know the two of you already have bad blood.

This is something I personally regret. With my former boss, I had eventually given up. I was unable to get support from her manager (my former manager) and I dragged my feet through every work task. It’s been two years, and while she was eventually reported for bad management, I am the only employee that she doesn’t speak to because of our past issues.

Call in help if necessary

If you are still struggling with all of the above, speak to someone higher up to assist. This could be the next manager, or even someone at the same level as your manager if you feel like they could assist.

This was the step I took, and while I hated doing it at the time because of confrontation, things improved hugely after this. Set up a meeting with a different person in leadership, or even the human resources department, to discuss your concerns. This is when your record from point three comes in handy. Another positive of this list is if you’re emotional, you can simply read off the list. Just make sure you state events that occured and keep it from being a personal attack on your boss. Focus on the problem and not the person.

When I eventually had issues with a new manager two years later after my bad boss, I was determined that things would end differently. After an objective discussion with my former manager about my current problem, I met with the head of my department to explain that I was struggling both with my workload and my manager’s expectations. He did advise that he would take things into consideration, and the next week our work environment improved drastically.

If all else fails, move out of the department or the company

If after all of the above, the situation does not improve, you can ask to be moved to a different department or you can try to find another company. 

While this may be a tough decision to make, no job is worth sacrificing your emotional and mental wellbeing.There will always be another job, and you owe it to yourself to make sure you don’t let a bad workplace doesn’t change who you are.

Having a poor relationship with your boss is an awful experience, but it’s something that can be worked on. As long as both of you are willing to communicate through the issues, you can emerge stronger after the experience.

Shanice Singh is an English graduate from the University of KwaZulu Natal. She enjoys reading, writing, spending more than she should and obsessing over fictional characters. Shanice has a weakness for books, shoes, handbags and anything else that catches her eye. You can find her on Twitter @Shanny_Singh.