The Horrible Boss: What Not To Do

As an employment lawyer who has counseled people for more than twenty years, I’ve seen just about every wrong response to a horrible boss.

By “wrong,” I don’t mean wrong legally or wrong in terms of what is good or bad for an employment case. On the issue of dealing with a horrible boss, my advice to clients is usually based more on the principles of human relations than on principles of law.

Consequently, the horrible boss situation is a situation where Christians should have a tremendous advantage over non-Christians. Christians’ exposure to Bible principles, coupled with the indwelling power of the Holy Spirit, put them in a much better position to solve this workplace problem.

With that in mind, here are the five wrong responses to a horrible boss I see most often.

1. Quitting or seeking a severance package. Quitting or seeking a severance package is what people do who can’t solve the problem of the horrible boss. People who don’t solve problems don’t get promoted. Quitting may be an option for non-Christians, but it should not be an option for Christians who are called to exercise the delegated authority of King Jesus in positions of authority.

2. Losing your cool. Jesus took this option off the table 2,000 years ago. (Matt. 5:38-48). Enough said.

3. Reporting to human resources. Here is the deep dark secret about human resources: They can’t really help.  It is too much to attempt to explain here all the reasons why this is true, but the bottom line is human resources doesn’t have any power, and if it comes to believing you or your boss, the company will almost alway support the supervisor over the subordinate.

4. Stop trying. This is a middle ground response between response #1 and #3, but it is equally ineffective. The attitude that prompts it is a fatalism and sense of powerlessness that manifests in statements like, “It doesn’t matter what I do, it’s not good enough” or “I’m being set up to fail.” Fatalism and powerlessness should not be part of the Christian’s worldview. (Phil. 4:13).

5. Taking legal action.  I make my living suing big companies that discriminate against their employees, but I’m telling you it should be a last resort for you. Filing a charge of discrimination against or suing your current employer almost always guarantees the end of your career there.

If you are looking for a single principle that encompasses all of the foregoing it is this: Whatever your natural urge is to do, it is probably wrong.

Keep in mind, these are general principles. For example, if you are being sexually harassed, you should report the sexual harassment to human resources, and when you report you should report everything. This series is meant to address the problem of the garden variety horrible boss, not the pervert or sexual predator.

Next: how to properly respond to the horrible boss. GS

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