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How to cope with a problem boss

Don't give up a good job because of a bad supervisor

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A recent Gallup Poll of 1 million workers found that the most common reason employees leave a company relates to a stressful or problematic relationship with their immediate supervisors.

Even the venerable Jack Welch quit his first job because he didn't like his boss' methods.

"I had a baby and no money," he confided in a CBS News article. "I borrowed $1,000 from my mother."

Things worked well for Welch, but others have regretted their decision to leave a job and company they love, just to escape a poor manager. Michael, a sales executive at a major food company, was being ill-treated by a boss who had inherited him through an acquisition.

"It was clear to everyone that my boss wanted to replace me with his protege, so he would limit my travel and constantly question my decisions," Michael said.

"I confronted him, and he flat-out told me he didn't want to work with me. So I accepted a three-month severance package, and I haven't yet been able to find a job I like as well.

"What's worse, my ex-boss was let go in a downsizing just four months after I left. I hear the new boss is a peach!"

While you should never stay in a situation that is harmful to your long-term career prospects or your physical or mental health, you never know when your supervisor will change jobs, so it may be unwise to give up a great job just because of a bad boss.

If you love your job, but hate your boss, here are eight ways to cope:

1. Take a look in the mirror: Sure your boss is a jerk, but maybe you're being a pain-in-the-neck, too. Examine your actions and behavior. Consider what you might be doing to contribute to the problem.

Then clean up your act, make nice, and do your best to ignore distractions and concentrate only on the work. Then see if things change.

2. Focus on your boss' needs: Employees who perform well make the boss look good and are easy to manage are usually in good graces.

Think about what your supervisor wants and needs and how you can provide it. Ask him or her each week: "What can I do to make your job easier?" Focusing on your boss' needs will dissolve any ill feelings he or she may have toward you.

3. Show your worth: Document your achievements and call them to your supervisor's attention. Keep him or her updated on the status of your important projects and initiatives and offer up new ideas and solutions.

4. Stop disagreeing: Karyn was constantly butting heads with her boss. She didn't realize it but she disputed every idea he had. When her co-worker pointed this out, Karyn developed a new strategy. During the next staff meeting, each time her boss made a suggestion, she said, "That's a great idea, Bill!" or "I agree, this new system will be a great tool." Surprisingly, Karyn felt better after the meeting and found that her boss responded positively. While she isn't always a "yes man," she has learned to be more agreeable now and then.

5. Get buddies: Find other sources of support at work. Develop other relationships in the company with people whom you can help and who can help you. Find a mentor whom you can go to for advice and support.

6. Report him (or her): Talking to your boss' boss or HR is a last resort -- something you should do only after trying to resolve the matter yourself. If you go this route, document your boss' actions and provide evidence such as e-mails, voice mail messages and witnesses.

It is often helpful to band with other employees who are having similar problems, so that you won't become branded as "difficult." Warning: This option is risky. Though it can be effective, you may find your days have become numbered. Many whistleblowers have found themselves ousted in the next wave of "restructuring."

7. Get a life: Don't let problems on the job consume or define you. People who have interests outside work are not only happier, they also make better employees because they're able to put things in perspective and are more productive.

8. Have an exit strategy: The goal here is to outlast your boss, but it's a good idea to have a contingency plan just in case it's decided that you need to leave first.

Your plan should include negotiation strategies for an optimal severance arrangement, as well as a current resume, names of recruiters and several references.

Even if you never have to use it, having an exit strategy will give you a sense of confidence and control, and help you realize that ultimately, you are in charge.

© Copyright 2005. All rights reserved. The information contained in this article may not be published, broadcast or otherwise distributed without the prior written authority
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