How to deal with bad bosses

Picture this: your boss is terrible enough to make you quit your job, but you still need that paycheck. How are you?

According to a 2020 survey by resume advice site ResumeLab, three-quarters of US workers stay with that bad boss because they need the salary. In the same survey, about 62% of respondents said they stayed because they liked their jobs and colleagues despite a bad boss, 59% said they didn’t want to lose benefits, and 53% said they couldn’t find a better one elsewhere could find a job.

For those in this situation, Tom Gimbel, workplace culture expert and CEO of Chicago-based employment agency LaSalle Network, has a few tips for you. He says there are seven types of bosses out there — and while five of them can make your life at work a nightmare, you can still find ways to manage your relationships with them.

Here are those five types of bad bosses, from most common to least common — and how to deal with them, according to Gimbel.

grinder boss

A grinder boss works extremely hard and expects you to work at his level, even if that’s an unrealistic demand.

The key to working with them is being open about what they want to accomplish — whether it’s daily, weekly, or monthly — and creating a defined list of tasks to check off as you work, says Gimbel.

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Even if you can’t complete every task in the expected time, showing them you’re working through your list is usually enough “to reassure them,” Gimbel explains.

You never think anyone is doing enough anyway, so showing that you’re making progress is a useful practice, he adds.

ghost boss

A ghost boss takes an extreme “hands-off” approach, doesn’t keep track of their team’s work, and isn’t available when their team needs help, Gimbel says.

His recommendation: regularly inform your boss about your work and ask questions if you need help. If they don’t respond, contact another manager or a senior member of your team. Then keep a paper trail showing that you asked for their help and update it.

If your work is criticized later, you can use that as proof that you did everything you could.

Narcissistic boss

Narcissistic bosses make decisions based on their own wants and needs and don’t consider the people around them at work, says Gimbel. They also love flattery, he adds — which is key to working with them.

Try to complement one of her ideas to help you get on her good side. If you don’t think their idea is a good one, follow up your compliment with a request for clarity.

This conversation could go something like this: “That sounds like a good idea. Can you explain how that would work if this problem arises?” or “I like the idea. How can we get enough resources to run it?”

Want to be your BFF boss

A boss who “wants to be your best friend” is exactly what it sounds like: they want to make friends with everyone around them, even if it means leading a team badly. They’ll socialize more than actually do the work, and distract you in the process, says Gimbel.

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Your solution here might be uncomfortable, he concedes: you need to “draw the line” with them and set boundaries with someone higher in the corporate hierarchy.

If you find yourself in a conversation that’s longer than expected, find a way to respectfully convey that you have some work to do instead. It might go something like this: “It was great chatting. I have some work to do before the day ends, so I’ll see you later.”

volcano boss

A volcano boss starts out like a ghost boss and doesn’t give direction to his team because they just aren’t around to judge the work done. But then they erupt with their employees when a task doesn’t meet their standards — even if their lack of leadership is to blame.

Gimbel recommends a similar strategy to working for a ghost boss: let them know about your work, ask questions, and most importantly, document anything that shows you’ve made the effort to ask for help.

Here’s how to tell if you’re one of them

If you’re a boss, “look at yourself in the mirror” and see if you fall into those categories, says Gimbel. If you’re concerned, you can seek advice from your colleagues – perhaps even in the form of an anonymous survey.

Try asking questions related to each type of bad boss. For example, you can tell if you’re a ghost boss—or at least close to one—by asking, “How involved am I in your work? Do you feel like I’m too involved or not involved enough? and “How does my involvement affect your work?”

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If you fall into one of these categories, find out how you can improve. Ask your colleagues questions like: “What do you think my employees need from me that I don’t give?”

“The real problem with people who have these bad boss traits is that they either don’t realize it or don’t care, so they don’t try to fix it,” says Gimbel. “If you’re trying to fix it, you’re probably on the right track.”

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