How to deal with a bad boss

How to deal with a bad boss

Feeling anxious? Constantly close to tears? Unable to meet deadlines or perform to your full potential? You may be suffering from stress caused by unacceptable behaviour from your boss.

The image of a tyrannical boss was perfectly captured by Meryl Streep in The Devil Wears Prada. But when Gordon Brown was accused of bullying his staff, things were a little less clear cut.

A former adviser to Gordon Brown told the Guardian: “His intense bouts of anger are unremarkable to anyone who has worked closely with him. You just have to put up with this stuff. It is part of the daily experience, almost part of the furniture. He would behave in that way constantly.”

Lord Mandelson, however, saw Brown’s behaviour as less toxic and simply “demanding”, “emotional” with “a degree of impatience”.

“The definition of bullying behaviour,” says Steve Williams, head of equality services at ACAS – an organisation dedicated to resolving employment disputes, “is not about the intentions of the perpetrator, rather the reasonable perceptions of the victim.”

“There’s a clear line between bullying and harassment,” Steve continues. “Then there’s bad and unpleasant behaviour. You also have controlling and demanding management styles such as setting very high standards from colleagues – fine, as long as the manager gives his/her people the opportunity to succeed. It’s where behaviour violates your dignity and creates a hostile, offensive, intimidating and degrading environment.”

Examples of bullying behaviour at work might include the spreading of malicious rumours, forwarding sensitive memos to those who shouldn’t need to see them, overbearing supervision or the blocking of training opportunities.
If any of these sound familiar, take heart: you’re not alone. According to a Chartered Institute of Personnel and Development (CIPD) survey, one fifth of all UK employees have suffered from bullying or harassment in the workplace. A Unison survey found one in three female respondents were being bullied while bullying support group, the Andrea Adams Trust say more than two million people are bullied at work.

Is bullying and harassment in the workplace on the increase? Or are we simply more aware of unacceptable behaviour from our bosses and thus that much more likely to take a stand?

“There’s a growing awareness from a more informed workforce,” considers Steve. “We’ve become more rights aware and that has made us more sensitive to behaviours.”

Steve agrees that different behaviours are acceptable in different environments (“On building or construction sites swearing is pretty standard practice, whereas that wouldn’t go down well at ACAS!”), but reiterates that the benchmark of what is acceptable has to come from the organisation.

“One of the key things organisations need to do is to have a policy around bullying and harassment and what it means in your organisation,” says Steve. “You can quote the law about what it [bullying] is but there comes a point where the organisation needs to ask, ‘What sort of behaviours are we going to proscribe’. They [the company] have got to involve their people in it so a consensus can form.”

What should people do if they feel their boss’ behaviour is unacceptable? “There’s a range of things you can do,” advises Steve. “From having a word with the individual concerned right through to putting in a grievance – and there’s a heck of a lot of steps in between.”

Here’s a few of those steps:

  • Talk to the individual concerned and express your frustration with the situation
  • Discuss your feelings with a trusted friend or colleague
  • Find out about your organisation’s policy is on bullying and harassment
  • Talk to your HR department
  • Contact a helpline such as ACAS or the Andrea Adams Trust for advice and support