How to Deal With a Bad Boss

Do you report to an unreasonable art director? If so, take cold comfort in knowing you’re not alone in dealing with a bad boss. In a survey by our company, nearly half (46%) of employees said they’ve worked for a bad boss.

photo from Shutterstock

The not-so-good news is that despite how widespread bad bosses are, there’s no one single approach for effectively dealing with them. But there are often steps you can take to improve your relationship—or at least cope better. Following are three of the most common types of bad managers along with strategies for how to deal with a bad boss.

The Micromanager

Rather than delegate design assignments, the Micromanager tells you exactly how, when and where to do them. Directives are provided in painstaking detail. When this overbearing bad boss isn’t peering over your shoulder to nitpick your every aesthetic choice, she’s hounding you for yet another project status update. Instead of empowering you to produce quality work in a timely fashion, the Micromanager’s maddening need to meddle slows you down and diminishes your job satisfaction.

Coping strategy: Micromanagers tend to be perfectionists with trust issues. Try to gain their confidence by paying close attention to even the smallest details and providing pre-emptive updates. You also might politely request more autonomy. Instead of venting about feeling creatively handcuffed, frame the discussion around your desire to take on more responsibility and expand your decision-making and critical-thinking skills.

The Unclear Communicator

Confusion reigns supreme when working for this frustrating boss. The Unclear Communicator provides little direction and often expects employees to be mind readers. As a result, projects often have to be completed in a mad dash or, worse, scrapped and redone because client objectives and deadlines weren’t adequately explained.

Coping strategy: Be proactive and tell your manager (tactfully) what you need in terms of instruction and feedback, asking for all the pertinent details at the outset of assignments. Gently point out that by receiving more information on the front end, it will spare everyone costly problems down the line. Arrange to check in periodically, and don’t hesitate to ask clarifying questions as they arise.

Here are some design management resources that you’ll find valuable as a new manager (or that you may want to slip onto your bad boss’s desk when he or she isn’t looking)!


The Glory Hog

There definitely is an I in team, according to this self-serving supervisor. He consistently takes credit for his employees’ bright ideas and hard work but accepts no responsibility when things go wrong. Shameless in his attempts to impress his superiors, this spotlight stealer never heard a good creative pitch he wouldn’t pass off as his own.

Coping tip: At times, it’s an employee’s job to make the boss look good. But if a pattern of flagrant credit-thievery emerges, begin documenting your achievements, presenting ideas in writing or unveiling them publicly in staff brainstorming sessions. You might also ask the Glory Hog what steps you can take to ensure your efforts are properly recognized. You’ll make your point without directly accusing your manager of unfair or unethical behavior.

Finally, leaving your job might not be the first choice, but the sad truth is some bad bosses are so toxic that no amount of effort on your part can remedy the situation. If you’ve done everything you can to adapt your work style to improve the situation yet continue to feel bullied, demeaned or ridiculed, it’s probably best to request a transfer or start seeking employment elsewhere. Stress can take a heavy toll and no job is worth jeopardizing your emotional well-being or physical health.

2 thoughts on “How to Deal With a Bad Boss

  1. evaras

    This is the exact reason why I started working as an independent designer. There is nothing like working at my own pace, without having a gargoyle looking over my shoulder. Sure I make mistakes and my client base is not huge but I sleep good at night and I still do what I like to do and I have nobody but my clients or myself to answer to.