4 Tips to Survive a Terrible Boss


When you have a bad boss, every day can be miserable. Not liking who you work for can ruin an otherwise good job. It can also take an otherwise happy person and make him or her miserable. Just because you’re in this situation, however, does not make you powerless. You can take control of your work life and either make it better or change it. Your bad boss does not have to dominate your life, and while some of these fixes aren’t easy, they are possible.

The one thing that won’t improve your situation is doing nothing. If you find yourself stuck working for someone who is mean, dismissive, or even just not good at finding time to answer your questions, you have to be proactive. That does not guarantee success — some bosses (and people) are just terrible — but in many cases, it should improve things.


A woman sitting behind a computer at a desk waving her finger at a person sitting on the other side of the table.

Sometimes talking works and sometimes it doesn’t. Image source: Getty Images.

1. Talk to your boss

If you work for someone who has serious faults but is otherwise reasonable, it makes sense to try to talk with him or her. Schedule a meeting and be positive. Lay out some positives about the person and then bring up your complaint.

Try saying something like, “I really enjoy working for you, but I’d appreciate if you’d just tell me when I make a mistake instead of yelling at me. I promise I’ll be just as attentive to your concerns.”


A reasonable person will hear that and make an effort to change. Sometimes people just need a little reminder and that can get them to behave differently.

2. Talk to your boss’s boss

If you work for someone who’s less reasonable you may want to go over his or her head. Try to schedule a meeting at a time when the person you work for won’t be in the office. Lay out your concerns and ask for specific actions to remedy your boss’s negative behaviors.

Bring specific examples and, if you have any ideas, specific remedies. For example, if you would like to be transitioned to another department or office, ask for that, but be reasonable about timetables. If you simply want your boss to change a certain behavior, say that and explain what you are looking for.


3. Bring in HR

If you don’t feel comfortable talking directly with your boss or going over his or her head, it might be best to bring in an impartial party. In larger companies, that would be human resources (HR). In smaller companies it can be harder to find an appropriate person but sometimes there’s a peer of your boss who might stand if for HR.

Just as you would in speaking with your boss, be direct but fair. Don’t lay out a list of negatives and offer nothing positive. Explain the specific behaviors you are bothered by and how you would like to see them remedied. Listen to your boss’s criticisms of you and be open to making some changes yourself.


4. Be willing to leave

Some situations can’t be fixed. If you try the methods above and things don’t improve, then you have to be willing to leave.

That may not be fair, but it’s a reality. Some situations are simply not fixable and some bosses simply won’t change their ways no matter how kindly and professionally they are asked.

Not all situations are worth saving

The first three tips above assume that you work for a boss who has some redeeming qualities. They also assume that your boss answers to someone, which is not always the case.


When your boss is the boss and HR has no influence, there’s very little you can do if he or she has no interest in changing. If you work for someone abusive, truly mean, or who is otherwise beyond redemption who has no boss, then your best move it to leave. That’s most certainly not fair, but sometimes a situation can’t be changed and your best move is removing yourself from it.

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