Making the best of a bad situation: Your Shitty Boss

Welcome to our career series! We’re both young professionals who are navigating grad school, first jobs, and basically trying our best to survive adulthood. It isn’t always glamorous or fun, but we can guarantee it’s real, honest, and well…us. So grab a glass of wine and read on about how to deal with a shitty boss.

A while back, Carrie and I outlined what we wish we had known in our first jobs (here’s mine and here’s Carrie’s). In mine, I talked a lot about how a lot of my first job experience was tainted by a horrible employee-boss relationship. Some days it felt as though my boss was trying to squash any attempt at a vertical career move and some says it felt as though she didn’t care enough about me to even give me the time of day. But she needed me and she knew it. And I know it hurt her immensely when I decided to leave.

I like to think having a bad boss is a right of passage. Maybe you’ll be one of the lucky ones and you’ll never have to deal with a bad boss. Or maybe you’ve got really bad luck and you’ve dealt with it more than once. After you check yo’self before you wreck yo’self (aka, make sure you’re not the problem), I’ve got some suggestions for you on how to make a bad situation better.

Reevaluate your position

I mean this in a few ways. They say that 90% of your job is your boss so if you’ve got a less than stellar supervisor, ask yourself if you want/need to stay. I knew fairly early on that I had a BB (read: bad boss), but it wasn’t until almost 11 months later that I was in a position to move. Simply put, I needed the income. But once I took the time to really ask myself “what would I rather be doing than working here?” and the answer was actually something productive, I started to move in that direction as fast as I could.

It seemed as though the universe was waiting for me to realize my next move because it only took me about a week of waiting after I applied to GW’s MPH program before I was paying my deposit to hold my seat in the fall 2016 class. Initially I was going to work full time and go to school online. I figured that if I had something mentally stimulating, I could handle my horrible work life. Once I decided that my BB was so destructive, I realized it wasn’t even worth my staying at all. If you’re going to spend 8+ hours a day with someone who does everything they can to make you feel fairly worthless, ask yourself: what’s the point?

I was willing to take on more loans, work part time jobs and cut all spending just so I could quit. And I did. It took me 10 months longer than I wanted it to, but I made it out. You will too.

Invest in some yoga classes (and in a coworker)

Sometimes BBs can really affect you psychologically even when you’re not at work. My relationship with my BB was so horrible that I would lose sleep, carry tension in all sorts of places and walk the line (and often times cross the line) into depression. Because I wasn’t at a point in my life where I could leave right away, I tried to find ways to beef up my mental health. That way I would be better equipped to handle the negative vibes she’d throw my way. I started doing yoga in my apartment and occasionally at a studio. I stopped watching so much Netflix after work and started reading instead. And it helped.

The other thing I did was confide in some coworkers. Nobody in your personal life will truly understand what your BB is like. But your coworkers will. If your team is anything like mine was (read: incredibly supportive of me), you will be able to pull out who you can trust. Do some detective work here and make sure to broach the conversation carefully. But frankly, if you’re working in an incredibly toxic environment, people are bound to notice something’s up. Every time I would grab coffee with a coworker, they would always bring it up with me. I might have been the friendly program assistant they knew and loved, but they could tell something wasn’t right.

While I was the only one who worked as close to my BB, my other coworkers often confirmed my feelings and let me know that it wasn’t my fault. Validation is a real thing and it really helped give me the strength I needed. The strength to stay for a year and the strength to leave.

Find another mentor

This was my first job. When I found out who my boss was going to be, my mom and I were both giddy with excitement. My boss is incredibly accomplished and I was going to get to learn from her. In my BB, I expected to find a great mentor. When it became evident that she wasn’t interested in supporting my professional growth, I had to look elsewhere. Fortunately, as I have alluded to, my team was full of amazingly talented professionals. They were far enough along in their careers that they could give me sound advice but they weren’t so much older that they felt too disconnected.

Chances are there is someone else within your department or organization that can nurture you professionally. To this day, I thank my first job for giving me some of the best coworker-turned-mentors ever. And yes..mentors. I came away with two amazing people who I continue to rely on, ask for advice and spend hours talking to about our past struggles and future goals.

Don’t give in and don’t give up

You will have so many jobs over the course of your life. And so will your BB. Even if you can’t leave your job, maybe your boss will. The most important thing you need to do when you’ve got a shit supervisor is to make sure you never give up on yourself. My BB tried to tell me that I was going to amount to nothing if I didn’t work for her for at least two years. Or that I wouldn’t get anywhere without her network. She tried to ruin my confidence and convince me that I wasn’t worth anything better than what I was given. Sometimes she’d try and convince me I wasn’t even worth the job I had. She was wrong. She was always wrong. And if you’re in a similar spot, know that your boss is wrong.

Sometimes people aren’t good leaders. Maybe your BB is one of those that just wasn’t gifted with good managerial skills. Keep fighting for what you believe you deserve and what will be best for you. The best revenge will be that next job, even if it’s not a vertical move. Because you got out and you moved on.

We’re all in this together– don’t worry. We got this.


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3 thoughts on “Making the best of a bad situation: Your Shitty Boss”

  • I really enjoyed your article. I’ve been retired for quite awhile but I actually still have bad boss bad dreams even now! The issues I faced were very different. There was rampant sexual harassment but my biggest fight was for equal pay. I had more experience, was in charge of more employees and had bigger budgets than all of my male counterparts. I was told that men had families to support despite the fact that I was supporting a husband at home with cancer. It was so hard but I couldn’t quit because of my health insurance. Other women on the job got me through. There was great loyalty. I am sad to see that many of the bad bosses you’ve had appear to be women. That must make it super hard to take. I love your suggestions. Good topic.

    • Hi Barbara, thanks for your comment! We can’t imagine having to deal with sexual harassment and equal pay. Our generation definitely benefits from your generations hard work there (although we could definitely do some more about equal pay!). It makes me sad that my supervisors, especially the one mentioned in this post is a woman as well. We are all about women helping women and I think that made it harder that this experience was so poor.

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