What to Do about a Bad Boss

Maybe it's the economy, but lately I have been hearing about a lot of bad bosses. I have a friend in sales who works for a boss whose management style is fear: Once a week, every week, someone is fired for not doing their job right. Employee morale is of course low, people are constantly in fear of losing their jobs, turnover is a given, and people hate working there.

My first boss was a bad boss. I got a job at an ice cream shop. I was 16. The boss said I needed training, and so had me work for a week – for free. Then he informed me that I needed another week of training. I quit during the second free week of labor.

So I have been hearing a lot of bad boss stories lately. Here are some of the best (or should I say, worst?):

  • There was a guy whose wife unexpectedly went into labor three weeks early. He called his office and explained to his boss that he would not be able to make it in for a few days. He was fired for “a lack of commitment to the job.”
  • Or how about the woman who worked in food service who got the flu from her son but forced herself to go into work that day anyway because the boss liked “team players.” By midday she clearly needed to go home, on top of the fact that she was contagious. But the boss would not let her leave and made her finish her shift. And yes, most of the rest of the staff got sick that week.
  • Or the boss who befriended one woman and, over the next few months, got her to share some secrets about her past employment (private things, nothing illegal.) The boss later twisted the info and shared it with his boss in order to ingratiate himself, look like he was on top of things, and get ahead. She was fired and he got a promotion.

So what do you do if you have a bad boss and don’t want to quit, or cannot quit? Here are a few ideas:

1. Do your best: Nothing succeeds like success. Hopefully, the boss will come to realize your value and not want to lose you, or maybe other people in the business notice your commitment. Either way, you will keep your job and some of your sanity if you don’t sink to the boss’ level.

2. Say yes: The bad boss is often an insecure person. To the extent possible, you might want to just try agreeing with her, even if you know she is wrong. In addition, work to figure out what is important to your boss and do that. Even showing some empathy for your boss, as difficult as that may be, can work sometimes.

3. Speak up: Tell your boss what it is you need and how working together can help the business. Your boss may not listen, but then again, maybe he will. If you want to take it further, show him some objective data as to why what you are doing is OK. It is more difficult for the boss to challenge facts.

4. Document: Make sure you keep a log of inappropriate comments and actions; you never know when it might come in handy, in a lawsuit or wrongful termination case for instance. Similarly, document your work and what you do right.

5. Keep your eyes open: This is not your last job, just your current one. Work your network and keep your options open.

Steve Strauss, Mr. All Biz
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Steve Strauss

Steve Strauss is one of the world’s leading entrepreneurship and small business experts. He has been seen on CNN, CNBC, The O’Reilly Factor, and his column, Ask an Expert, appears weekly on

USA TODAY Senior Small Business Columnist and Best-Selling Author