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Dealing with a Difficult Boss

When people learn that I’m a lawyer working in the CSC, it’s almost always by impulse that they tell me all sorts of work-related problems. Just a week ago, I was talking to a woman in her mid-30’s, let’s call her Kay for anonymity, who amused me with her stories about her boss. Kay hated her boss so much that she often bookmarked websites about dealing with a difficult boss. When I asked her why, Kay was more than willing to elaborate. She cited some of these reasons:

1. When he gets mad, he shouts at, curses, and berates employees;

2. He reassigns employees at whim even if it causes extreme dislocation;

3. He requires employees to work on weekends and  holidays; and

4. He never appreciates employee effort.

Kay’s extraordinary energy at describing how “evil” her boss is was entertaining but draining at the same time. She asked me if there was any remedy against their boss. I just smiled and told her to “let it go.” But when I went home, I was still reflecting on Kay’s question.worlds_greatest_evil_boss_lady_cartoon_postcard-r86bdaed56a52457d90fa4c62f8d567a1_vgbaq_8byvr_512

There are many employees like Kay. Those who do well at work, innovate to contribute to the agency’s goals, render overtime  without pay,  or spend even personal money just to help clients, yet remain nothing more than emotionless robots to their bosses. People like Kay are unfortunate employees working with bosses who remain ungrateful and power-driven despite having an extremely competent team. This situation not only kills their morale, it can also give employees too much stress that may adversely affect their health.

Is there a remedy (other than legal) against a boss like Kay’s? What should be done when confronted by the ungrateful boss? Thinking about those questions made me come up with these tips:

1. Set your boundaries. 
Remember the famous line from Invictus? “I am the master of my fate. I am the captain of my soul.” Despite our duties as employees, fact is we are not our employers’ slaves. Slavery has long been considered a taboo. Do your job, do it well, and know when to stop for rest.

Happy 2. Maintain a happy personal life. Ungrateful people are unhappy people. Most of them are actually struggling with personal issues and need to see that others around them are living equally miserable lives. Don’t let them. Go on dates. Watch movies. Go to the beach with your kids. Enroll in a foreign language class. Grow your garden. Even try bungee jump. There’s so much more to life than just work. But, you can’t do this without following Tip No. 1.

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3. Document everything. Difficult bosses often make orders which turn out to be bad ideas, then deny making it. If you have once fallen victim to your boss’ unprofessional “leadership”, then be careful. Next time he makes that dangerous (or illegal) order, politely say so and  disagree. If he/she insists, protect yourself by documenting. Your boss will most likely refuse to issue a written order so  take minutes of your meetings, or officially (not secretly) record your conversation, or take a witness with you. After all, you also have a job and reputation to maintain.

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4. Act on your rights. People who do not know their rights get abused. People who know their rights but don’t act when it is violated get abused AND re-abused.

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5. Stay courteous. In several cases, employees who unprofessionally dealt with a difficult and ungrateful boss got disciplined for insubordination or discourtesy. So, keep your calm, stay level-headed and remain civilized.

I will end this post with a quote from Theodore Roosevelt with the hope that people like Kay will one day find themselves in the company of a leader:

People ask the difference between a leader and a boss. The leader leads. And the boss drives.

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