Personal Finance

This simple relationship technique can tame a bad boss

Key Points
  • The top reason people are dissatisfied with their jobs isn’t money — it’s a poor supervisor.
  • Different bosses may require different coping strategies, but managing up is a useful technique to repair this key relationship with nearly anyone.
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If you dread Mondays and walk into work with a pit in your stomach, you probably have a problematic job.

People think salary is the top factor that causes employee unhappiness, but it's more likely the workplace culture, says Jodi Chavez, president of Randstad Professionals, an HR consulting and staffing agency.

In fact, Chavez says, pay continues to drop in importance. "Paid time off is more important," Chavez said, "and unfair pay causes worker dissatisfaction."

In fact, 60 percent of workers have left a job or would consider leaving because of a bad boss, Randstad found in a recent survey. Nearly as many – 58 percent – say they'd stay at a job with a lower salary if they had a great boss.

The firm surveyed 763 people over age 18 online in July.

Learn to manage up

Bad bosses are a dime a dozen. Try managing up to bring yours back into line, says Regina Duffey Moravek, a consultant in industrial and labor relations at Cornell University. To put it simply, it means finding ways to manage your manager.

"Every employee should know how to do this," Moravek said. Relationships are always a two-way street, and managing up helps an employee secure some autonomy.

Every solid relationship depends on the ability to see things from the other person's point of view, so Moravek recommends knowing what is on your boss's plate. It's wise to know their goals and be aware of any pressures they're under, whether it's tough deadlines, difficult targets or budget pressures.

Arm yourself with questions that demonstrate your desire to support them: How can I be helpful to you? How can I best support you? How can I ensure my work is helpful to your goals?

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When a company's culture is healthy, these conversations should happen easily, Moravek says.

But even in an unhealthy culture and with a difficult, poorly trained supervisor, it's worth trying to develop the relationship.

After a difficult moment at work, Moravek recommends taking these steps.

Take a deep breath and remind yourself this is not personal. "Try to understand their perspective, where they might be coming from," Moravek said. Remain positive and calm.

When you're ready to speak with your supervisor, stick to the facts and state your goals. Manage up by reminding your boss you'd like to work this out because you want to do what is best for the organization.

Remember, supervisors don't have magic powers. "They're not gods, and they may not know how to handle every situation," Moravek said.

"Even if your supervisor should know [better], they're also human beings," she said. Perhaps they haven't been properly trained in managing staff.

Know your boss

Once you determine which kind of supervisor you work with, Vicki Salemi, a career expert at, recommends specific strategies for improving your relationship.

If your boss is a micromanager, constantly asking for updates and status reports, be proactive. For instance, say, "I know you want status reports daily. Would you like them in the morning or the afternoon? Which works best for you?"

This situation is salvageable, but it's still challenging, as well as time-consuming. It can become a second job trying to manage this person's need for constant information.

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On the surface, the boss who is constantly MIA seems ideal. But there's a serious downside.

It's possible the absentee boss is satisfied with your performance and doesn't feel the need to check constantly. But a supervisor who is generally silent and absent very likely operates that way at all levels in the company, Salemi says. At department meetings, they are unlikely to support members of their group.

"Get on their calendar more," Salemi said. Let them know you'd like to keep them in the loop on projects, and find out how they want to communicate, whether it's by phone, in person or by video conference.

A supervisor who constantly screams, meanwhile, can leave scars, Salemi says. "If the company isn't doing anything, it can wear you down," she said. "Who wants to work in a hostile work environment?"

If leaving is your best option, Salemi recommends finding outlets for creativity and stress relief while you job hunt: yoga, a hobby or anything that gets your mind off a negative job situation. "Take a true lunch break away from your desk outside the building," she said. "Take a walk outside on a coffee break and reboot your mind.

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