How To Deal With A Bad Boss

Ever worked for a bad boss?  You know the kind who sucks all the joy out of your day.

A bad boss doesn’t have to be a full-blown bully to stress you out.   Little episodes like an insult here or a rude look there can gradually add up into big traumas as the constant stream of negative emotions – like fear, anger and sadness – builds up into an overload of stress.

I was amazed recently to learn that it takes most of us 22 months to free ourselves of a bad boss.  22 months is a long time to be unhappy at work!

Even worse, 22 months of stress can have some dire consequences on our brains and our bodies which left unchecked can undermine our performance, damage our health, destroy our relationships and leave us feeling depressed and anxious.  One study in Sweden even found employees with a bad boss were 30 per cent more likely to suffer from coronary heart disease!

Personally, I’ve found most advice about dealing with a bad boss pretty hard to implement.  Are you really ready to confront your bad boss, raise the issue with people higher up or quit your job?

I was so relieved to find a better way.  You may not like this dirty little secret but I promise you it works.

Dealing With A Bad Boss

bad bossThe secret is ….. kindness.  I know you don’t like the sound of that.  I didn’t either at first.

But as I looked into the research on kindness and how it impacts both giver and receiver I realized I was desperate enough to give anything a try when it came to my bad boss.


Here’s what you need to know.  Being generous and willing to share has been found to help you engage in seeing others more positively, feeling more connected and being more grateful. Best of all, it can jump-start a cascade of positive social consequences – even with a bad boss – influencing others to like you, to appreciate you and to reciprocate when you need kindness.

Not convinced?  Wait there’s more!

Doing someone else a kindness produces the single most reliable momentary increase in well-being of any positive psychology intervention that has been tested to date. People asked to complete five acts of kindness over the course of a day – bad boss or not – report feeling much happier even several days after the exercise is over. Picking one day a week and making a deliberate and conscious point of committing five acts of kindness – be it an unexpected compliment, helping someone without being asked or buying a coffee for your bad boss – promotes your feelings of confidence, optimism and usefulness.

So what are you waiting for?

In today’s new episode of ChelleMcQuaid TV, I’ll break down the secret to making kindness work with your bad boss so things can start improving at work.


Click here for the tweetable — Remember there is no such thing as a small act of kindness.  Every act creates a ripple with no logical end – Scott Adams @chellemcquaid.


How are you dealing with your bad boss?

I’d love to hear from you!

What have you done today at work to be kind?  Did you use your strengths to make it easier? How did it impact your relationship with your bad boss or other colleagues?

Leave a comment below and let me know. Remember to be as specific as possible in your comment as your insights and experience helps us all.

Thanks for tuning in!


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25 Responses to “How To Deal With A Bad Boss”

  1. Trudy says:

    Kindness – towards a tough boss hey? Lucky it’s one of my strengths so it should come naturally to be kind even to someone I find a challenge to deal with… hmmm, i’ll give it a go.

    • Michelle McQuaid says:

      Good luck! Great idea to use your strengths to make this work. Even if your strengths don’t include kindness see how some of the other ones can help you out. For example, creativity may help you think of unusual ways to be kind. Or curiosity might help you think about what the person values most. Perseverance may help you stick with being kind even if you don’t feel like it.

  2. Joanne says:

    Couldn’t face being kind to my boss yet so today I brought a coffee my secretary, helped clean up after a meeting (even though not my job), told a colleague how much I appreciated their help and offered to coach a new employee who’s struggling at work. Phew! I do feel good for it.

    • Michelle McQuaid says:

      That’s a great place to start. Research suggests doing 5 kind acts a day – even if it’s just one day a week – is the best way to get maximum joy for your kindness.

  3. Sarah Jones says:

    So I bit the bullet and tried to be kind to my boss today. I told her I thought her shoes were great :-) Small steps.

  4. Annette says:

    So for the last week I’ve really been trying this and although I was a little clumsy at first – awkward offer to get her a coffee where she looked like she thought I’d spat in it – I have to say as the week’s gone on my boss does seem to be thawing a little. Who’d have thought something as simple as kindness could work!

    • Michelle McQuaid says:

      Great persistence! I know kindness seems such an old fashioned idea. It’s one of those positive psychology findings my grandmother knew!

  5. Rod says:

    So I’ve been thinking about this for days because I’m not really sure I can be kind to my boss at all – he makes my life miserable! It did make me realize how much I focus on all the things I don’t like about him however, so I’ve started looking for things I can genuinely thank him for – they’re pretty small – but he look of shock on his face when I first said thanks makes me think there could be something to this!

  6. Jamie Hodge says:

    Love this idea! So went right to work to try it and just trying to find kind things to do during the day made it go much faster and I did feel much more relaxed as I could put a smile on people’s faces rather than walking around scowling all day. Thanks!

  7. [...] P.S. Tune in next week when I’ll teach the dirty little secret for dealing with a bad boss. [...]

  8. Pretty nice post. I just stumbled upon your weblog and wanted to mention that I’ve truly loved surfing around your weblog posts. After all I will be subscribing on your feed and I hope you write again very soon!

  9. Usually I do not learn article on blogs, but I wish to say that this write-up very compelled me to take a look at and do so! Your writing style has been amazed me. Thanks, quite great post.

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  11. Kindness says:

    I’ve been doing this for over 2yrs n yes it does help. Question: I’m now in a position where I have multiple bosses who don’t like to take responsibility for anything unless something goes right. When items fall through the cracks it then is always my fault because its “my job” to run the statewide campaign alone w no support or management input. It’s hard to stay nice when one boss says its your fault n his boss says its their fault… I find myself in a loosing situation in all directions n it’s very hard to remain kind n positive when being squeezed on all sides. Suggestions? Advise?

    • Michelle McQuaid says:

      Wow that sounds hard. I can imagine how that wears you down after a while. Unfortunately you can’t control what either boss is doing, only your responses to them. If this is an ongoing pattern it would be worth sitting down with the boss you find most approachable and having a conversation about what’s happening, how it’s impacting your work and a win-win way of resolving it. Don’t place blame and try to keep the conversation light so your tackling the problem not the person (check this article out for some more tips). If you don’t feel you could have this kind of conversation with either boss then it’s probably time to get about what you’re putting up with at work and think about what other options exist to move away from people who think it’s okay to treat you like this.

  12. Leona says:

    Kindness works with healthy adjusted people. It does not work with emotionally abusive bosses. If anything kindness is seen as weakness by those very toxic dominating types. I am concerned that one strategy is suggested for all types of bosses. Truly there are some you need to get away from and “nice” is not going to help you at all. Perhaps you could clarify for people when it really is time to leave as opposed to changing your own behaviour in the hopes of influencing the boss.

  13. [...] One of the most important ways to avoid a bad boss is to find a job (or switch to one) with the right fit for you. But, if you’re stuck with a boss from you know where, McQuaid recommends kindness. [...]

  14. [...] improve your well-being at work where’s the best place to start?  For example, should you be performing random acts of kindness, focusing on using your strengths or putting more more jolts of joy into your [...]

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