Carolyn Hax: Dealing with a bad boss

Carolyn Hax
Columnist March 23, 2013

Adapted from a recent online discussion.

Hi, Carolyn:

Carolyn Hax started her advice column in 1997, after five years as a copy editor and news editor in Style and none as a therapist. The column includes cartoons by "relationship cartoonist" Nick Galifianakis -- Carolyn's ex-husband -- and appears in over 200 newspapers. View Archive

My boss is a bad guy. There’s not much more to it. I’m looking, diligently, for another job — not an easy thing to find right now, especially in my field — but while I do that and cross my fingers, how do I maintain my sanity? We’re a tiny workplace that he runs, there’s no human resources department, and quitting is not an option because getting hired while you’re unemployed is SO much harder.

And yes, I attend to hobbies, friends, etc., but I work long-ish hours, and this has been going on long enough that it’s hard to control the bleed into my personal life, especially because he can be very personal. Thanks.

Bad Boss


(Nick Galifianakis)

How are you at distancing yourself, as if what you experience with your boss isn’t a relationship, but instead a thing you watch as if you’re safely behind glass? It has come up in my online chats as imagining yourself as a scientist or anthropologist — so, you’d be studying the specimen that is your boss.

You have to do your job, yes, but let’s say you regard interacting with him as nothing more emotional than going to the grocery store — and there’s traffic but you gotta get what you gotta get. It’s essentially a decision that none of this is any more personal than traffic, and just as far beyond your control, and just as necessary to get through.

Would that work? Or are you already there, and it’s the traffic that has worn you down, figuratively speaking?

As for its bleeding into your personal life, I can only suggest you treat it as your escape from work — and configure it accordingly.

Carolyn:

Partly, the traffic has worn me down. Partly, I slip sometimes because it is very hard to remove oneself when the criticism is so often personally framed (e.g., “You did a terrible job writing this” as opposed to “This is poorly written,” except multiply that by 100). Does that make sense?

Bad Boss again

It does. It sounds like forcing yourself to think in a clinically detached way might help, but you might also need a second strategy. Since you’re internalizing the criticism, consider allowing yourself some quickie unspoken reality checks, where you externalize the barbs. For example, when Boss says, “You did a terrible job writing this,” your inner voice follows up with, “And you have the leadership skills of a dung beetle.”

Re: Bad Boss:

Can you shift your schedule to be around him less? I had a bad boss (like, eventually-served-time-in-federal-prison-for-embezzlement bad) and I arranged a four-day work week with longer hours, under some other pretense, while I got through the year. The three-day weekends went a long way toward helping me deal.

If that’s not possible, maybe try a flexible schedule so you’re in the office together for only six hours a day rather than eight. It may be a long shot and not always manageable, but thought I’d put it out there.

Anonymous

Out there it has been put, thanks. It also might be time to upgrade the job hunt to a somewhat reshaped career.

Write to Carolyn Hax, Style, 1150 15th St. NW, Washington, D.C. 20071, or tellme@washpost.com. Sign up for Carolyn Hax’s column, delivered to your inbox early each morning, at http://bit.ly/haxpost.

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