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How to Get Ahead When You Have a Bad Boss

Oct 16, 2015

Today is National Boss's Day—but you may be hard pressed to find workers who want to celebrate it.

Nearly 90% of workers report having had a bad boss, according to a survey out today by LaSalle Network, a staffing firm in Chicago. There’s a corporate cost for that behavior: Half of workers surveyed say they have quit their job because of a bad supervisor.

So, what irks workers about their bosses? The No. 1 complaint: credit mongering. One-quarter of survey respondents said a bad boss is someone who never takes the blame but is the first to take the credit.

Other behaviors cited: A boss who notices only negatives, not positives; is uncaring; doesn't acknowledge hard work; and is not willing to help workers advance and learn.

Despite the near universal experience, 55% of workers have never complained to higher-ups about having a nasty manager, according to the LaSalle survey. "Employees don’t speak up because they’re scared," says Tom Gimbel, CEO of LaSalle Network. They worry that if they try going above their boss’s head, "they fear they’ll be judged or cut from their role," he says.

There’s no need to suffer in silence. Instead, use the situation as an opportunity to advance your career. “There are people like this in every company,” says Stacey Hawley, founder of Credo, a compensation and talent management firm. “If you complain about your boss to someone else, you just look like you can’t handle the situation. If you want to be in leadership position, you have to know how to deal with people like this.”

First, make it harder for your boss to lie. Copy key people involved in a project on emails or memos on important updates and accomplishments. Offer yourself up as a point person. Ask other team members to submit updates too. “If everyone is in the loop on what’s going on, it’ll be harder for your boss to take credit,” says Hawley.

If a problem crops up and your boss blames you or a team member, don't get defensive. Talk about what went wrong and how to solve it. “Taking responsibility is good. Coming up with solutions is even better,” says Hawley.

If your boss takes credit for your work in a meeting or in front of other people, chime in. “You need to make it clear you played a role, but be sure to give your boss credit,” says Hawley. “Your boss may be acting this way because he or she perceives you as a threat. Take the threat off the table.” Hawley suggests saying something like, ‘That was a great idea. I like how you did this and we came up with this solution.’ It’s also an opportunity for you to acknowledge other people who contributed to the project.

Finally, align yourself with other people in your organization. Your boss shouldn’t be the only one who knows about your work. “You need to develop relationships with other higher-ups who can advocate for you,” says Hawley. Build your professional relationships by asking senior people for feedback or advice on a project you are working on or inviting them to lunch or coffee to discuss ideas you have.

Advises Hawley: “Turn the situation around and make it a chance to grow your own career.”

Read Next:

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