Careers

5 signs you have a bad boss—and don’t even know it

Michael Urie Vanessa Williams on ABC's 'Ugly Betty.'
Vivian Zink | Getty Images
Michael Urie Vanessa Williams on ABC's 'Ugly Betty.'

It's pretty obvious when you have a horrible boss. From the verbal abuse to the micromanaging to the refusal to respect your time, it doesn't take a genius to recognize when your manager is the sole cause of your misery.

But sometimes, the signs aren't so obvious. Especially when the person you report to is likable, perfectly pleasant, and competent. But those traits don't mean jack if, actually, your boss isn't a good boss. In fact, I hate to be the bearer of bad news but it's entirely possible that what you have on your hands is a bad manager, and it's high time you face it, unless you don't give a fig about your career.

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These five signs might surprise you, but stop for a second and think about the damage they're causing (think: stunted career and lack of advancement). While it might be nice to work under someone you get along with, that's far from the only thing you should value in this relationship.

1. They never offer critical feedback

There's always plenty of praise. Your supervisor knows how to say thank you and lets you know you're doing good work, but they don't know how to give you constructive feedback, which can ultimately help you produce better work and grow you into a leader yourself.

What to do:

Ask for feedback. Say, "I appreciate hearing what I'm doing well, but I'm always looking to improve, and so it'd be useful to me if you were able to start incorporating critical feedback into our meetings so I know what to focus on."

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Thomas Barwick | Getty Images

2. They don't recognize your potential

You may be OK with the way things are going at work. You wouldn't exactly say you're coasting — you just know how to do your job really well. After all, you've been doing the same thing for the past two and a half years. You've been given more tasks, and you always handle them with aplomb.

Don't mistake this with growth or realized potential. If it's true that you've been handling the same items since you started (even if your to-do list has steadily increased), you may be stuck in a rut, your mental muscles atrophying.

What to do:

Articulate your desire to expand your skill set and take on more responsibility that goes beyond simply taking on more of what you already do. If your request goes unheard and nothing changes, it might be time to look for a new job, one where you can make the most of your abilities and rise through the ranks like you deserve.

3. They have no idea how hard you're working

Your manager sees you in the office and assumes your hours are more or less similar to theirs. The reality, however, is that you're doing a couple of hours of work each night and many more over the weekend. Your "vacations" are not unplugged.

Nope, you're answering to clients and putting in an hour of work during your morning commute. If you did the math, you'd estimate you're working about 65 hours a week. You like the work, so it's not the worst thing ever, but it's stressful and exhausting.

What to do:

Admitting you're feeling overworked and overwhelmed isn't fun, but it's necessary if, all things considered, you're happy doing what you're doing, but you just can't sustain the pace. Muse writer Jennifer Winter offers three options for broaching this tough topic.

4. They play favorites (and you're the favorite)

It's nice to be the teacher's pet, isn't it? Who doesn't want to be appreciated by the person in charge of their paycheck?

Step back though and try to put yourself in others' shoes and ask yourself how it would feel to have your manager favor your co-worker and regularly snub you. Being best buddies might feel good in the moment, but it's inappropriate and unprofessional, and it isn't teaching you a darn thing.

What to do:

Since you probably don't want to call him out for this behavior, you can try to work around it. Praise your co-workers' efforts and regularly point out the teamwork involved in completing projects. This might as well be called advanced managing up. Your goal is not to get him to start ignoring you, but to envelop the whole team

5. They prioritize the team over the company

Your manager's super territorial and cares about each and every person on their team like you're all their own children. The work your group is responsible for is the number one priority, and, as a result, they often reject cross-collaboration opportunities with other teams or refuse to modify their way of thinking and doing to better work as a whole company and not just a small part of it.

What to do:

The next time you get wind of a project that would allow you to work with another department, speak up before they have a chance to pass it onto someone else. Let them know you recognize your priorities within the team but that you're also quite interested in this new initiative and think it would ultimately benefit the company if you were able to spend time on things that speak to the organization's overall mission.

The good news is that most of these situations can be resolved with a frank conversation. Considering the nightmarish work situations out there, these aren't so awful. Still, you don't want to be deceived by seemingly harmless things that could negatively impact your career. And the sooner you take action, the sooner you can get ahead.

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This article originally appeared on The Muse.