Rare is the worker who has never had a bad boss. Almost everyone has encountered at least one in their career, and pop culture abounds with examples, from the affably incompetent (Dunder Mifflin’s Michael Scott) to the downright tyrannical (Miranda Priestly of The Devil Wears Prada).
Rare, too, is the boss who has never made a mistake — the boss who, for all intents and purposes, is not a bad person per se — not even necessarily a bad boss overall — but who, nevertheless, makes their employees’ lives difficult through some poor management practices. Maybe they micromanage a little too much. Maybe they don’t pay enough to attention to what employees are doing. There are tons of little ways for bosses to accidentally become the thorns in their employees’ sides.
Today, I want to talk about these bosses — the bosses who are goofing in some way. Specifically, I want to talk about what employees can do when their bosses are blowing it. Below, I have four tips for improving life under a bumbling manager.
(Note: I’m not talking about abusive, terrible bosses. At a certain point, a bad manager becomes irredeemable, and you just have to leave. Instead, we’re talking about bosses who can be redeemed through careful employee action.)
1. Make Sure Your Boss Knows Exactly What You Do
Many bosses – especially those with higher numbers of direct reports – don’t exactly know what their employees do on a daily basis. They may have hired you, they may be in charge of overseeing you, but they have a lot on their own plates, and they can’t always find time to keep up with what you’re working on. Unfortunately, this can lead to some bosses misunderstanding just how much work their employees do. They can see slackers where there are none.
Take, for example, a job like mine: I write an article every day for Recruiter.com. To some, this seems easy: crank out 1000 or so words a day? That shouldn’t take eight hours! You should do more!
And yet – the majority of my day is spent conducting research, reaching out to sources, holding and transcribing interviews, and otherwise generally keeping my writing well informed. To the untrained eye, it could seem like I am a slacker: eight hours in the office, and nothing to show for it but one article!
Some bosses, unaware of how much intangible work goes into producing certain tangible results, may come down hard on employees without realizing that these employees are meeting or exceeding reasonable expectations. My boss, for instance, could demand I write three or four articles a day. Sure, in terms of sheer word counts, I could pull that off, but if my boss wants the articles to be strong, well-written, insightful, and engaging, then he’ll want to give me the time it takes to write a really good article (which, thankfully, he does).
If you find yourself facing a boss who doesn’t quite seem to understand what you accomplish during your time in the office, then I suggest this tactic that I learned about from Reddit user Zelaphas. To quote the user: “Every Friday, send an email to your boss, BCC your personal email, with the following:
- What you accomplished this week
- What you’re struggling with or need advice on
- What you aim to accomplish next week
Send this Friday morning so if necessary your boss has time to discuss. Then Monday morning, stop your boss in the hall and ask if he has any comments or questions on your summary email. If so, be sure to send out a revised one right away for documentation and records.
Do this for any job you have. Your boss will grow to love you and think of you as hard working and organized. Even if he never reads the emails or you don’t always get everything on your to do list done, you’ll have documentation on your side and the sense of getting things done.
Any other ways of documenting your work, the better. Communication is key, so if your boss thinks you aren’t working, maybe it’s less about the amount of things done and more about the kind or order of things done.”
If you regularly keep your boss updated on your workflow and achievements, then your boss will have a better understanding of what goes into doing your job properly. They’ll see how much time and effort your projects require, and they’ll be able to adjust their expectations accordingly.
2. Make Sure Everyone Else Knows What You’re Doing, Too
Chances are, you don’t work in a vacuum. Even if you’re the only person in your “department,” you likely have colleagues around you during the workday. Share your work with these people. Don’t think of it as an act of vanity – and don’t pursue it as one, either. Rather, share your work with your colleagues because you want to make sure the office knows what the company is up to at all times.
You don’t have to be a flashy braggart: have simple conversations with your coworkers about what you’re up to, and invite them to share as well. Solicit one another for feedback. Build a whole network within the office, connecting each member of the organization to one another by sharing experiences, plans, achievements, results, and ideas.
Doing this can create an open network between the members of your organization, facilitating a freer, more productive flow of ideas, which can lead to better results. Ultimately, your boss will become a part of these network, too. Once your boss is tapped in, they’ll have a better handle on how the company runs, and they can adjust their behaviors and managing styles accordingly.
3. Remember: Your Boss is a Person
People are imperfect. We make mistakes all the time. Your boss is the same way: imperfect, complicated, messy, full of their own personal baggage.
But what does this have to do with you as an employee? To answer that question, I’ll point you to the work of Martha Austin, who has some interesting insights into how we can acknowledge our bosses’ humanity and use this knowledge to better the workplace. I won’t rehash what Austin says, because I think she says it better than I could. Instead, I’ll simply urge you to read the linked article.
4. Above All: Stay Professional
Yes, your boss is a person. Yes, there are ways you can help your boss be better. But remember this: in the office hierarchy, your boss is still your boss. They oversee you. You report to them. You two have a professional relationship, so be professional about it.
Don’t try to get too personal with the boss (unless you’re in a company with that kind of culture). Don’t try to get one over on your boss. Don’t try to destroy the office hierarchy. Do your job, do it well, and simply try to demonstrate this to your boss. This is exactly why something like Stepper’s “working out loud” is such a good idea: it creates networks between people without stepping on the toes of someone who could make or break your career.
There’s plenty you can do to help your boss be better, but that doesn’t change the fact that your boss oversees you. It isn’t the other way around.