How to Handle a Bad Boss

boss yelling at employe

The latest installment of the television series The Apprentice recently finished taping. This one features 16 celebrities ranging from football player Terrell Owens to pop star Kevin Jonas and reality TV’s “mom of 8” Kate Gosselin.

While the celebrity “apprentices” earn money for charity, winners of the original series were non-celebrities who competed for the chance to win a year working for Donald Trump.

After watching multiple episodes of Trump bullying contestants and saying “You’re Fired”, many viewers likely wonder why anyone would want to work for such a boss. Yet legions of people work for bad bosses.

If you have ever quit a job because you didn’t get along with your boss, you are not alone. A Gallup Poll of over a million employees found how long workers stay at a job and how productive they are is determined by their relationship with their immediate supervisor.

While “bad bosses” make for good Dilbert cartoons and entertaining TV shows, the reality is no laughing matter for most employees.

Problems with a supervisor can hinder an employee’s work and may even affect the employee’s personal life. The result may be lost sleep, emotional distress, damage to personal relationships, and physical symptoms of stress.

Why Bosses Go Bad

If you have a problem with a bad boss, the good news is that most supervisors and managers really want to do a good job. In most cases, if a boss isn’t doing a good job it’s because they don’t know how.

Many supervisors were promoted to a leadership position because of their technical skills rather than an ability to manage people. Being promoted to supervisor may be the reward for someone who has done well on the manufacturing floor, in administrative support, or in the field.

Senior management thinks: “Sam Supervisor did a great job on the front line. Sam should be able to show a team how it’s done.” However, being a good worker doesn’t necessarily mean someone will automatically know how to get good results from others.

For some people, being promoted can be a fearful experience. A new supervisor may fear losing control, losing face, and ultimately losing their job. The new supervisor deals with these fears by using tactics they think will work.

They may be overly controlling or try so hard to avoid being controlling they don’t clearly communicate what’s expected. They may be demanding and critical, thinking they need to act that way to get things done. Or, fearing conflict, they may avoid giving any feedback.

If any of these traits describe your boss, here are five ways to deal with him or her:

  1. Understand the problem.

  2. Recognize that, unless your boss is a bully, their behavior is probably due to ignorance. If you can see your supervisor as someone who is working with limited knowledge about how to manage, it may be easier to let his or her behavior roll off your back.

  3. Try to support your boss.

  4. For as long as you choose to stay with your employer and work with your boss, do what you can to support him or her. You will be seen as a team player and may be able to advance in the organization with or without your boss. As a bonus, many employees who start supporting a boss rather than rebelling find the boss’s behavior improves.

  5. Stand up for yourself.

  6. Supporting your boss isn’t the same as being a doormat. Don’t tolerate being yelled at or otherwise treated badly, like Trump’s apprentice hopefuls. If your boss does something unacceptable, say so as directly and unemotionally as possible. Being assertive can often put a stop to unacceptable behavior. Some bosses have no idea how they have been treating someone until that person speaks up.

  7. Document the problem.

  8. If your boss is a bully, keep a written record of incidents and when they occur. Where possible, have a witness. Many companies have a zero tolerance policy for harassment or bullying, so you may be able to get support from your human resources department or senior management by showing them evidence of the problem.

  9. Look for a new job.

  10. If the situation doesn’t improve, you may need to look for a workplace that does not tolerate bad bosses. You deserve to have a boss who treats you with respect.

Tag Goulet is co-founder of and Academic Director of the International Association of Professions Career College which offers professional certificates for dream careers at