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Bad Bosses (And What You Can Learn From Them)

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Working for a bad boss can make every moment of your working life a living nightmare. Sound like a stretch? It really isn’t.

Your boss has a relentless impact on your ability to do your job. They have the ultimate say in the things you do, how you do them, and their own influence on the company. If they are infuriating, difficult to work with, or opaque, then it can mean you never really feel settled.

Most of us have a story or two about a boss from hell that we have worked under. Some of you reading this might even be living the nightmare right now. It’s a far-too-common situation, but there’s no obvious remedy.

You Can Rarely Fix A Bad Boss

That’s the biggest problem with the situation.

If you have a problem at work, what do you do about it? In the vast majority of cases, you would take it to your boss to ask for advice. But if your boss is the problem – well, you’ve got virtually no recourse at all.

According to psychologist Matias Brødsgaard Grynderup, one of the researchers behind the study, “We may have a tendency to associate depression and stress with work pressure and workload; however, our study shows that the workload actually has no effect on workplace depression.” –

There is always the option of going over their head, but for office politics reasons, that can be incredibly difficult. In many company structures, your boss’s boss will know your boss well. They might even be responsible for hiring them.

That means if you go to the next in command, they might not be willing to listen to your issues. Getting involved can complicate work for them or – worse still – it can feel like you’re making a direct criticism of them in terms of the person they have hired.

So when there is no easy way of getting out of the situation, you have to learn to make the most of it. It’s a sad reality that few of us are able to just up and leave a job purely because we find out boss difficult to live with, so you have two options:

  1. Be miserable every working hour of your working week. (And your working week is a lot of time, according to the Daily Mail).
  2. Try and make the most of it.

As we can generally agree that option one isn’t really an option at all, that leaves us with option two.

What you can learn from a bad boss can ultimately help you. Obviously not in the sense of the things they teach you and the wisdom they impart; you’d be unlikely to be thinking of them as a bad boss if that was happening.

No, what you can learn is for your own benefit. Think about it: you’re living a working life that you don’t want to lead. As you begin to climb the career ladder yourself and progress into managerial and boss positions of your own, you have a direct experience to link to. Think of your bad boss as your own personal How Not To Be A Boss guide.

Does A Boss Make Everyone A Monster?


Photo by Fab Lentz on Unsplash

When someone gets promoted to a position of power, they might struggle with it. They might worry that they are going to be too friendly or too strict, so they try and walk a middle line that they think is reasonable – but in reality is actually anything but.

Sometimes, someone you know – a perfectly nice, reasonable person – will be promoted and you will see their personality change. Does that happen to everyone?


To an extent, the answer is… perhaps. With more responsibility comes more stress, and this can lead to a good person still managing to be a bad boss. However, don’t let that put you off your own career progression in fear of morphing into your own Bosszilla.

In a lot of careers, progression is a natural step. If you’re a lawyer, then the ultimate goal is to become a partner in your firm. If you work in journalism (or, admittedly nowadays, politics!), then you may one day dream of becoming a newspaper editor. For nursing and healthcare staff, you should hope to progress to the point of scouring the likes of and looking for your own advancement. Even when you have your own business, there are ways you can rank up, such as with mergers with other companies.

So why hold your career back and deny yourself those experiences? Ranking up is an important part of career lives. And here’s the rub: if you’re worried about being a bad boss, then you probably won’t be a bad boss. Especially not if you can learn from the mistakes of these types of personalities, one of whom you will probably have direct experience of…

Bad Boss #1: The “Do As I Say, Not As I Do”

This Bad Boss emerges from their office every so often to tell everyone to work harder, faster, and more efficiently. Perhaps they even drag you into meetings to talk about productivity time or have moments of snapping at members of staff who dare to chitchat about things not directly related to the business.

They do this despite you knowing they spend large portions of their day playing with desk toys and texting their partner. If someone from another department pops by, you’ll watch your Bad Boss interact, chitchat, and discuss the latest football scores – all the things they directly tell you it’s terrible to do.

What You Learn: Always seek to set a good example for any staff members. And if you can’t put down your phone while at work as you’re playing the latest addictive app, at least try and do it where you can’t be seen!

Bad Boss #2: The Bad Communicator

The Bad Communicator Boss has a special line in vague expressions… which of course they then blame you for misunderstanding. For example:

Bad Communicator: “Hey, can you get those files to me by the end of the week? Say Thursday or Friday? Or at the latest on Monday… just sent them by email.”

Then on Monday…

“I should have had these on Thursday! I told you that! And now I have to print them out as well!”

The feeling when you are being blamed for something that you had no possible way of knowing is… well, it’s like being forced to swallow knives. You want to snap back at them. You can feel the words at the back of your throat, wanting to point out how you’ve yet to master mind reading and if they had a specific date and method in mind, then they should have mentioned that and that alone… but you can’t. Because you like having a job.

So instead, you have to apologize for a mistake that is not of your own making. It’s demoralizing in the extreme and can make you feel like you never know where you stand and are stuck in a rut you can’t ever escape.

The worst part about this kind of boss is that you will often find that they are backtracking on their initial statement – and accusing you of the wrongdoing – to cover a mistake of their own making. If they have made a decision on when something should be done at an incorrect time, then it’s better for them to be able to pass the blame onto another person than to deal with the fallout themselves. They will both communicate badly because they don’t know they are doing it, and then – even when they didn’t communicate incorrectly – will change the story to make you the one at fault.

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12/01/2023 09:01 am GMT

What You Learn:

Aside from a pretty simple “don’t do this”? It’s useful to agree to any timetable with a member of staff and then have it in writing. Even for the most basic things, a simple email chain between the people involved will override the possibility of any confusion.

Bad Boss #3: The Lacking-Empathy Boss

Photo by Raúl Nájera on Unsplash

If you find yourself at the mercy of an Empathy Lacking Boss, then your work experience can become unpleasant very quickly indeed.

A lack of empathy, in general, is seen as a sign of psychopathy, but there is a specific work empathy that bosses need to have: an understanding of what is feasible in a timescale. It might sound fine to them on paper for you to complete five specific tasks by a certain deadline, but in reality, it’s next to impossible. If you try and explain this, they will dismiss it and tell you it’s part of your job to do these things – so you just need to speed up a bit. Even if some aspects of that speeding up are out of your control, like you needing to wait for a file from the printers or have someone else sign off on it and they are delaying.

If this happens consistently, then it’s a real issue. You find yourself constantly trying to jump through hoops that, realistically, you’re never going to be able to manage.

What You Learn: As a manager or boss, you should take time to learn what you think is possible and what actually is possible. It’s better for a worker be exaggerating the time something takes than you to push someone too far to do things they can’t conceivably do in the timeframe. Why? If they are rushing, they’re not going to do the job well.

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12/01/2023 02:11 am GMT

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