Welcome to Happier at Work’s brand-new solo series, where Aoife will be shaking things up a little as she focuses on the widespread issue of unhappiness at work. At some point throughout your professional career, you may have encountered challenges and hardships at work dealing with a tricky manager, which can drive a great sense of job dissatisfaction.
In this week’s episode, Aoife hone’s in on one of the root causes of feeling unhappy at work: having a bad boss. Aoife highlights poor managerial attributes, shares valuable tips on handling a bad boss and discusses her personal experiences and learnings of dealing with weak bosses and empowering leaders. To ensure you always feel happier at work, Aoife also advises how you can avoid terrible bosses in the future. The main points covered in this episode include:
– No one wants to be micro-managed.
– The impact of employee comparison.
– Dealing with broken promises at work.
– The key to understanding your boss.
– Knowing when to leave your job.
– A distant boss: Is this a sign of weak management?
– Developing a curious mindset.
– Employment issues: the benefits of creating a paper trail.
– Bring solutions to your boss, not problems.
– How to communicate with a difficult boss.
– Setting work boundaries and prioritising your workload.
– How to avoid terrible bosses in the future.
– An empowering boss with a coaching approach.
THE LISTENERS SAY:
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Good Boss Bad Boss: EP 8 with Aoife O’Brien
Why delivering effective and constructive feedback is so vital with Aoife O’Brien
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How to handle a bad boss with Aoife O’Brien
Aoife O’Brien 00:00
Are you looking to improve employee engagement and retention? Do you struggle with decisions on who to hire or who to promote? I have an amazing opportunity for a forward-thinking, purpose-led, people-first organisation to work with me on the first pilot Happier at Work program for corporates. The program is entirely science-backed, and you will have tangible outcomes in relation to employee engagement, retention, performance and productivity. The program is aimed at people leaders responsible for hiring and promotion decisions. If this sounds like you, please get in touch at Aoife @ happieratwork.ie. That’s A O I F E @ happieratwork.ie. You’re listening to the Happier Work podcast. I’m your host Aoife O’Brien. This is the podcast for leaders who put people first, the podcast covers four broad themes; engagement and belonging, performance and productivity, leadership equity, and the future of work. Everything to do with the happier at work podcast relates to employee retention, you can find out more at Happieratwork.ie. Hello, and welcome to this week’s solo episode of the Happier at Work podcast. I’m so delighted to have you join me today. I wanted to do a series on unhappiness at work and what are some of the key drivers of unhappiness at work? And how can we tackle these kinds of issues that people are genuinely having. So one of the biggest causes for unhappiness at work is having a bad boss. So that’s something I wanted to talk about in the first of this series of looking at unhappiness at work in general. So kind of flipping it rather than focusing on the positive we’re looking at, well, what are the times when things kind of go horribly wrong at work, so I have some bad boss stories myself. And, in fact, one of my friends and colleagues, Stephen Naughton, I was on his podcast, good boss, bad boss, well a couple of years ago at this stage, it was definitely pre pandemic, because we met up in person to record it. And so I shared a little bit more detail about the bosses, I have had both good and bad on his podcast, if you want to listen to that episode, as well, but some of the stories, I suppose are some of the themes from the bad bosses I’ve had. And the first thing that springs to my mind is micromanaging. So telling me what to do, looking at my diary and saying that I had plenty of time because there was nothing in my diary, when in fact, that’s not how I was managing my time at all, telling me what I could and what I couldn’t do, what was allowed to do, things like that. And another thing that one of my former bad bosses did was compare me to other people. So making a direct comparison between me and someone who actually had about five years more experience than I did, and saying, why couldn’t I perform at that level, which was very, very demotivating, disenchanting all the rest. Another thing that I have encountered is an imbalanced workload. So when the micromanaging boss was controlling everything that I was doing, he was assigning me more work than he was assigning to anyone else on the team, which meant I was staying late in the office doing all of the work that had been assigned to me, which again, was very disenchanting, demotivating, all of the rest. And another thing that kind of springs to my mind when I think of bad bosses I’ve had in the past are being made promises of promotion. So this has happened to me on a couple of different occasions. One was a very open and honest discussion around how I was planning to be in line for promotion. Within three months. We had ongoing discussion, every week, we sat down, we talked about it, and we said within three months, then I will be at that stage. So when three months came, I asked what you know, what’s the story? Can I be promoted? And my boss told me, he would have to check with the job description, but I definitely wasn’t ready yet. That didn’t really go down too well with me. And another time I was told I was going to be a director, I was asked what kind of director I would like to be. And I was told this on four separate occasions, and then they promoted one of my colleagues to be my direct manager and didn’t communicate anything to me. So yes, that left me kind of feeling very disheartened and very disillusioned with the workplace that I stayed. Now in the scenarios, there were instances where I left because of bad bosses. But there are other times when I stayed and I thought it’d be really useful in today’s episode to talk about that. And these are all things that I didn’t necessarily know at the time when I had a bad boss, but I hear lots of stories from people you know that they were getting on really great in work, and then suddenly there’s a change in structure or there’s a change in management, and they have a new boss and things just are not going according to plan anymore. And I thought it’d be really useful to talk about some of the learnings that I’ve had over the years, since I’ve had those bad bosses, and you know, what I didn’t know then and what I wish I would have known then. So the first thing I think, really to focus on the important thing is, well, what’s actually important to them, what’s important to your boss in their career, what is motivating them, and what is motivating their behavior. So really trying to get an understanding of this. Now, this, I suppose, is in the context of understanding whether or not you’re in such a situation where actually the best thing to do is leave. And sometimes the best thing to do is leave that situation. So if you have decided to leave, that’s one thing, and you’ve gotten to the stage where you think if this cannot be solved, this really is focusing on those people who’ve decided okay, so I’m going to try and work out this. Another thing worth mentioning, as well, as people often say to me, Oh, I have the best boss, my boss is brilliant, because they just leave me on my own, they leave me to my own devices. And for me, I’m so shocked to hear that because that, to me is not a good boss, a boss is someone who you should be working alongside who is helping you to develop and helping you to grow, not someone who just leaves you to get on with your work and who is not really in touch at all with what it is that you’re up to, or not supporting you in any way to develop your career. So that’s kind of another maybe side note worth mentioning. So the first area around dealing with bad bosses going back to that is what’s important to them and their career. What’s their motivation. The second one is to use a coaching approach. So that is to ask more questions, and to really listen to what they’re saying. So rather than complaining, rather than giving your opinion, thinking about things in a cure, taking a curious mindset, and asking questions, rather than having answers. The other thing that you can do is anticipate their needs or anticipate what it is that they’re going to say. So have a think in advance of if you say X Y Z, or if you ask this certain specific question, what are they going to say in response? And if they are micromanaging you, what do you think that they’re going to ask for next and have a think about that? I know the feeling of being micromanaged and a feeling of kind of almost being trapped. But take that time to reflect and have a think what is it that my manager might look for? What is it that they want to do? If you have a bad boss, it’s also really important. And this is number four, to document everything that’s going on so so that there’s a paper trail, it’s not just variable, it’s not just He Said, She Said, it’s about having documentation. So if you have a meeting, if it’s variable, that there’s a follow up email with that, here’s what we discussed, here are the points that were made. And so if it does escalate, if it does become an issue that you have that paper trail to be able to take to hate or that you have that paper trail to be able to refer back to so you know, that you can stand your ground essentially on what was agreed, or what was discussed during something, you know, and and I’ve seen this multiple times recently, where things have been verbalised, but they haven’t been been actually put down in writing. And I think it’s really important to get stuff in writing, it might seem overkill at some points, but actually, it will really save you in the long run to document everything that’s happening. The other thing that you could do is to be really focused on yourself and be solution oriented. So how can you bring solutions to your boss, rather than bringing problems to your boss? So how can you solve problems in advance of them becoming really major issues for your boss? So how can you do that and, and maybe bringing the focus back on to you and what you can do differently in this situation. Another thing if you are trying to communicate with a difficult boss, is to be really objective about it. So focus on only the facts rather than bringing emotions into it. Focus on the behavior and the impact of what that has had. If you want more information about how to deliver effective feedback. And that will work both giving feedback to peers giving feedback to people who work in your team, or people who are are giving feedback to your manager as well. There is a previous episode all about how to deliver effective feedback. So do go check that out. The other thing that you can do and this kind of applies not just if you have a bad boss, but it applies in lots of different contexts and that is to admit to your mistakes and really take responsibility for your own part and for what you play and for any contribution that you make to issues. Another thing in building on this is to fix problems be before they become too big, so fixing any issues, getting any niggly bits out of the way, having those difficult conversations earlier before it escalates into something really big. But it also means that you’re coming to your boss with solutions rather than coming to your boss with problems so that you’re not coming to your boss’s door, essentially, with a whole load of problems, instead you’ve solved those problems in advance, or at least made an attempt to solve those problems in advance. Another really important thing, and again, this is not just if you have a difficult boss, but that there are no surprises. And this includes things like if you’re working to deadlines, or if you’re late on a project, or if you’ve if you’ve to work long hours, and you end up missing a deadline, something like that, that it’s not a surprise to your boss, that your boss is kept in the loop of all of these things that are happening, of any potential things that they may need to explain to their superiors or to a client, that you keep them in the loop and that they know exactly what’s going on. And they can explain to whoever they need to explain to what has actually happened and everything that they’ve done to try and avoid it or to prevent it or to support you in being able to achieve what it is that you’re trying to achieve at work. And another thing, sometimes we can have a boss, a boss who maybe contacts out of ours, or sends late emails, or encroaches on, you know, they might be a little bit all over the place. And what you can do as an individual is set really clear boundaries. And that’s things like either not responding out of hours or saying to them you would prefer if you didn’t receive emails out of areas, or if they put a time delay on their email. Or you can also say, starting know, or prioritising your work or finding a way to if you feel like you’re being overloaded with work, then, okay, here’s everything that I’m working on. And you’re giving me something else, what what needs to come off that list in order for me to be able to achieve everything that I have here on my list. And so setting those clear boundaries and saying no in a positive way. And again, there’s a couple of really great episodes in the past that to cover that topic. Specifically, if you want to dive in in a little bit more detail. If you have gone down the route of deciding to leave an organisation and you want to make sure that you don’t go into that same situation. Again, in the future where you have a really terrible boss, then there are some things that you might want to consider at the interview stage. So I know for me, it really damaged my self confidence for a long time. So maybe have a think about what specifically were the areas that I had conflict with my boss around, and trying to make sure that you won’t have those same conflicts in any new role that you take on asking questions around conflict at work and how that’s handled by the new organisation that you’re interviewing in, asking the management style like what what kind of style does the manager have? How does the manager take feedback? Or is the manager receptive to having feedback? What’s the overall culture of the organisation? And will you fit in within that organisation? But really about understanding what has gone wrong for you in this scenario? And how do you make sure that that doesn’t happen again, and, you know, really take on board that you do have the opportunity at interview stage to meet your new manager, and to ask them questions so that you can you don’t have to say I had a terrible manager in the past, but you can ask questions about the type of behavior or how they approach different scenarios at work, which maybe your previous boss didn’t handle very well. Now, on that note, I do want to leave on more of a positive note and one of the best bosses that I ever ever had a really standout boss, for me was someone who actually coached me. And it really gave me this sense of empowerment. And essentially, I didn’t even know what she was doing at the time. I didn’t know what a coach was. And it was only going through my own coach training, that I figured out that I realised, actually, that’s the technique that she was doing. Essentially, I was having a problem with one of my colleagues who worked at a different agency. So we didn’t work for the same organisation. But I felt like she was kind of domineering, she was bossing me a little bit. And she asked some probing questions. So she didn’t tell me what it was they should do what she asked some genuine questions from a place of curiosity. What do you think is going on for this other lady at this agency, what might be going on for her? And it got me thinking and she really empowered me to solve my own issue. And I’ve never forgotten that. Like it’s been such a game changer for me the power of asking questions, instead of telling people what it is that they should do. So if you want to be a really good boss, I think use a coaching approach. I think that’s a really powerful method to empower people because you just feel like you’ve solved your own problem, but you also recognise that the other person has helped you to solve that problem. So if you’re looking for a good boss, I think a good boss is someone who coaches people. And if you’re looking to be a good boss, then try this coaching approach. I would highly, highly recommend it. I really hope you enjoyed today’s episode. Do get involved in the conversation. If you want to tell me your horrible boss stories. If you want to tell me some really great stories about bosses that you’ve had in the past who have been really great in terms of helping you develop and manage your career. Do get involved in the conversation happieratwork.ie is the website you’ll also find me on Instagram happieratwork.ie and do feel free to connect with me on LinkedIn. Aoife O’Brien that’s A O I F E O apostrophe B R I E N. I look forward to getting involved in the conversation with you. That was another episode of the Happier at Work podcast. I’m so glad you tuned in today. If you enjoyed today’s podcast, I would love to get your thoughts – head on over to social media to get involved in the conversation. If you enjoy the podcast, I would love if you could rate, review it or share it with a friend. If you want to know more about what I do or how I could help your business head on over to happieratwork.ie.