Bosszilla: How to deal with bad boss behaviour

By Colleen Clarke

Dealing with 'Bosszilla'As a newspaper and Internet columnist for the past nine years I have received many disturbing letters from readers about their workplace issues. Of course, people are less likely to write in with positive stories, but some of the on-the-job tales I hear are downright scary.

When you first join a company, your instinct is to give respect and honour to the person you report to, at least until they prove this trust is misguided. Sometimes people in authority take their titles just a little too seriously. When this happens, the subsequent behaviour that plays itself out is often in the form of bullying or harassment.

What constitutes “Bosszilla” behaviour?

  • Verbal put downs, either in front of others or rudely one on one
  • Nit picking, pettiness
  • Intrusiveness, micro-managing
  • Taking credit for employee work or ideas
  • Physical attacks
  • Complete lack of any positive feedback
  • Misses scheduled meetings; cancels meetings at the last minute
  • Miscommunication or lack of keeping staff in the loop
  • Lack of support for you to accomplish your job
  • Caves under pressure, won’t defend his/her team
  • Setting employees up for failure with unrealistic or impossible demands

    And the list goes on…..

Oddly enough, your ‘Godzilla’ boss may not even know that he or she is a ‘bad boss.’ Unaware bosses may not realize that their inability to provide direction or feedback makes them ‘bad.’ Alternatively managers who micromanage or provide too much direction may themselves feel insecure or uncertain about their own job.

One manager offered an open door policy to his staff if they ever had a question or problem and checked in with those on new projects periodically. One staff member interpreted this behaviour as meddling and untrusting of their ability. The manager was very well intentioned and wanted the employee to succeed and didn’t want them to feel stranded or unsupported, but his concern was misconstrued entirely.

Generation Yers often feel put upon by their superiors as there is such a vast difference between Gen Y workplace values and motivators and those of Baby Boomers and Gen Xers.

Then there are the rude, belligerent, disrespectful Bosszillas for whom there is no excuse.

Whichever category your manager fits into try following these approaches for turning Bosszilla into vanilla:

  • Many people are afraid to be honest and up front with their managers for fear of losing their job or being made to look like an outsider, which inevitably leads to stress, depression and a firing or you leaving. That being said, the first step is to talk to your boss. Tell her what you need from her in terms of direction, feedback and support. Focus on your needs and be courteous.
  • Ask your manager how you can help her meet her goals or make her job easier.
  • Find a mentor in another manager or a senior colleague who knows your manager and will offer constructive advice.
  • Once you have done wall that you can with your manager and change is not eminent, go to your boss’s manager or the HR department. Note that once you have taken it to this level your boss may try to retaliate by bringing up your weaknesses or making your life miserable. ‘Marion’ ended up in HR with a complaint of bullying and the company put her on probation with a list of conditions for her improvement. The bullying was swept under the carpet. Marion exceeded her conditions, but she was fired anyway. Of course it was the best thing that could have happen to her, and remember when things are really unfair, a good lawyer can help make the pain go away.
  • If nothing is done to rectify the behaviour you might ask colleagues who have experienced the same behaviour for their support in talking to the boss’s manager.
  • If you think change is just not possible, ask to be moved to another department, which shows you still like the company. If another posting is not possible it just might be time to move on and look for a new job in a new company.

We can’t change other people unless they want to be changed. Most people behave the way they do because they think their behaviour is acceptable.

Bill 168, the Workplace Harassment and Violence program, has been enacted in Ontario giving employees an upper hand legally towards any hint of abuse by superiors or peers.

One thing is for sure, ‘Bosszillas’ were not raised with the life lesson of “Do unto others as you would have them do unto you.”

Colleen Clarke
Career Specialist and Corporate Trainer
Author of: Networking How To Build Relationships That Count and How to Get a Job and Keep It

22 Responses to “Bosszilla: How to deal with bad boss behaviour”

  1. William says:

    I once had employee-zillas. I was hired as head writer for a small ad agency. The staff they gave me were all a little older than I was and had been there longer than I had. They resented my very existence. While I tried to bond with them, empower, support and win them over, they were having none of it. My own staff (of four) were constantly passive-agressively putting down my work and ideas and trying to undermine me. Because I was young and new at managing people, I left the company.

    Today, based on more years of experience I think maybe I could have done a better job of bringing them over to my team. If not, I would have fired them.

  2. Chantelle says:

    Unfortunately they are everywhere…all you can do is be the better person and sometimes, move on! Upon reflection of my Boss-zilla’s I can say I have learned from them – not all of them are incompetent – they just don’t know how to manage people. The best learning is to learn how NOT to be.

  3. Eroc says:

    Never, ever go to HR. They will inevitably side with your boss (the one you are having trouble with) and will often let her/him know that you are questioning their behaviour. My last boss/manager (2 years ago) gave me no direction and very little to do (beginning of last recession) so I read the paper all day.

  4. Jodi says:

    I went to HR twice about my bosses behaviour. She was a bully and a micro manager to a T. After 2 years of me trying very hard to work things out with her, I was fired for “You don’t have the skills for the job anymore” I was with that company for 4 years, now I don’t have the skills? Don’t go to HR, find another job, they will find a way to get rid of you. Female to female bullying is not recognized, yet it’s one of the biggest issues in the workplace now.

  5. Deborah says:

    I was recently let go from an organization after four months of having my every move challenged. I had two “routine performance reviews” within 60 days of each other. Each review was negative in the extreme. I was accused of not meeting deadline, no examples given; leaving work early on numerous occasions, no dates given; repeatedly coming in late, no dates given; receiving too many personal calls, no specific instances – the list of complaints goes on. When I asked for specifics, I was told it was not important. What I learned, after I pressed my supervisor for more info, was that on the one occassion I missed a client meeting because my 14 year old daughter was taken by ambulance from school to the hospital due to a heart condition, the owner of the company wanted my immediate vow neverf to miss an appointment again, for any reason. I was told that my daughter was receiving the best care available. There was nothing I could do by being there. If she recovered, I would see her after work. If she did not make it, my being there would not have changed that! I was absolutely stunned!

    My daughter did recover. I became persona non grata in my workplace, was shunned and ignored at the company strategic weekend and the Christmas party. I was “accidently” removed from the company intranet for four days, could not access my emails or client files and was told it was due to me downloading and installing games and unauthorized material. When I asked what material they were referring to, they could not tell me, because they had to wipe the hard drive to fix the problem. My third “performance review”, less than two weeks after this technical issue, culminated in my termination. I was decided I was not a good fit for this company. Incidentally, the owner of this company was a finalist for the Earnst & Young Entrepreneur of the Year.

  6. Actually, the first instinct with a bad boss is the right one. Leave.

    The rest of it is paralysis by analysis.

    You could wait to see if it is you or not. Chances are though, you will hear your co-workers going on about the same thing. And it’s not you. You are spotting the negative behavior.

    You could go to HR…but really, they don’t want to undermine any leader in the organization. And they have their own battles.

    And being loyal to the company is an option…but this could just be an indication of what the company is really like. And your job is to get paid for your work, not deal with shenanigans.

    And really, you want to start an argument with the one person signing your paycheck? Win the argument by getting a job where people treat you with respect.

    So the first instinct is the right one. Figure out your exit strategy. There are other jobs, that pay relatively the same, maybe more. And where your boss is sane.

  7. Kay says:

    Wow, Deborah’s experience sounds like a case for the human rights commission. That’s awful.

    I worked in a smaller company, an indirect arm of the government, involved in drafting Bill 168. My boss was a “bosszilla” who didn’t even know it. She was well intentioned, and a nice person, but a horrible manager. She was harsh, overly demanding, would take credit for others’ work, and would sometimes say something mean to you when she should have been supportive. Although I think she was trying to be constructive, it did not come across that way. Many people, not just me, thought her overbearing, micromanaging and unreasonable.

  8. Robert Reed says:

    The “Peter Principle” still holds very much true. Most of these bosses have reached there level of imcompetence and can no longer cope

  9. Shelley says:

    Sometimes Employer’s have been hurt, so they’re insecure, jaded or on the defensive. It can be like a massive conspiracy. Mabey it’s about testing the charactor of an employee.

    It could be a self help book! I’ve interacted with people on self help books and I myself have been weird on them. We have to read every line of the book and finish the book.

    I think we can get so excited about our new fresh selves that we’re eagar to go into our closet and use our new personality tools. It’s new cool stuff! Then it’s another book cause the novelty wears off, and we need healing again, so we want new tools again.

  10. Today was another day with BossZilla. I’ve been there almost 3 years, and it was hell from day one. All the symptoms from above posts. True about not going to HR. I did that at a place many years ago; things got even worse. I’ll never do that again.
    Better to find a new job and leave. At least I can take comfort in knowing that most others in this company cannot stand my boss either. I know that I’m not the problem. It was going on for years before I got there.

    Looking for a new job is stressful, and I resent being forced into leaving.

  11. Drew says:

    I must say I am very let down by your help in dealing with a “bully boss”
    I have worked for a company for 13 years and get up EVERY day and LOVE my job,the people I work with and my loyal customers ,my job is the BEST IN THE WORLD!,but I have a new boss who is petty,jealious etc.and has been spoken to by HR, still no change,only worse for the team!(we are 6 staff).

    Your reply again and again was to “look else were,change jobs ,move to other department etc.BUT WHY SOULD I MOVE WHEN I LOVE MY JOB etc., how can we make HER go for the sake
    of our team and job? I work VERY hard at my job,and because my boss does not like her job(or herself!)I should run? WHY?

  12. Geena says:

    Like many other people said: Don’t go to HR, specially if she is your boss’ wife (that is the case in my company). Nobody there can get any help about our terrible boss who takes advantage of immigrants as he knows we are afraid to loose our jobs.

  13. I agree with “Not Great Advice”.
    I took a senior position with a new company 15 months ago. I was eager to start as I had researched the project and felt my skill set would be challenged by it. The third week on the job, I observed by boss (CEO) being dismissive, insulting to my department/profession, and unwilling to let me make decisions directly related to my department (I couldn’t even hire my own assistant…he made sure his candidate was given the role). My gut instinct was to leave – I knew I made the wrong decision. I could have cited ‘cultural fit’ as my reason for departing. You see, while I had researched the opportunity, I did little research on my boss and the research I did do came back with he was very “bright”. But being ‘bright’ does not make you a stellar leader. And trust me, this is not a great leader. This is a manipulator who enjoys putting people down – all people.

    I should have listened. Now I am stuck in this role until I find a new opportunity so I can move on.

  14. Steve F says:

    Never go to HR unless you have positive support from other negatively impacted co-workers. The chain of command is designed to protect it’s own. Going solo to HR will almost always lead to dismissal. If a talk to resolve the issue with your boss fails to work and you’re unable to build support from your co-workers for a call to HR…Leave the company.

  15. Marty says:

    It’s been a long hard road since I started 3 1/2 years ago. I work for 4 caddie women who are often referred to as “The View”. Being pretty and intelligent did not help the cause and working hard to prove myself got me absolutely no where. I bring 15 million in sales a year for a straight salary, no commission, on call 24 hours , public insults and digs, departmental wide emails of wrong doing, always having to put a smile on your face and all in an establishment running 365 days a years 24/7 with NO weekends off. Welcome to my life. What really gets me is that people are still getting away with this and there’s really no way to just fix it!!! Bill 168, whatever!!! Most people are afraid and there have been countless stories at my place where complaints just disappear and life just gets harder. The best way to rid of this is to just quit but it just really burns me that people like this still maintain a job. I like to believe what goes around comes around, sadly, !
    this is not the case….. but I’m still waiting.

  16. I have the bosszilla from hell!!! This is a man who looks for scapegoat at every turn.
    He is bualigrent, rude,and has not one compashint bone in his body.How this man looks in the mirriour everyday is beond me. Eveyone one is right :BAD BOSS BAD JOB BAD LIFE: time to get out of there!!!

  17. Cassie says:

    I’ve had bad bosses, and I’ve been a bad boss, so I appreciate the pain of employees both ways. It’s a lot harder to manage people well than to perform a well-defined task so I would never look for a managerial position again. However I will say that I made a mistake by quitting on the last bosszilla I had. I was at a sizeable-enough company that I could have made a case for stress-leave with the HR department. When your stomach knots and you experience panic attacks in the parking lot of the company you work for, I think the bastards damn well owe you a buy-out.

  18. Matt M says:

    Your best strategy may be to casually leave this article in a place your bosszilla will find it. Don’t sign your name. Don’t discuss it. Be the first one to the office and just leave it on their desk…

    Any reasonable employer will be curious, start reading, and notice the ones that apply to them. And if they don’t, nothing lost.

    Nobody like to have flaws pointed out to their face. That doesn’t change them. It’s stupid to think you can change somebody just by telling them they are wrong. The only time this works is if the other person already knows they are wrong. This type of behaviour only puts people on the offensive. “No I’m not wrong! I’m right. You must be wrong…”

    And that is only natural human behaviour. You’d probably do it to if somebody went up to you and started pointing out your flaws.

    What you need to do is have them realize their own flaws. Follow up on the article. Ask your boss:

    If you think they have a problem,
    1) What can you do differently?

    If you think they aren’t communicating very well,
    2) How can you improve your communication with them?

    If they are micromanaging you,
    3) Do they feel you are doing a good job? Are there any specific areas of concern with the job you’re doing?

    If they harrass/verbally abuse you,
    4) Do they feel threatened by you, and is there any way you can be less threatening?

    You get it… You ask the opposite question to the one you want to know, a question about your own flaws in the area of question. The boss will see, you also have flaws, and think, what can you do differently? And accept what they say. And eventually, as you accept what they say, openly and honestly, as self improvement for you, this opens up the window to them to realize on their own, maybe there are areas they can improve themselves.

    Word of caution: You have to be honest for this to work. You have to genuinely believe that you are doing this for your own self improvement. Maybe there is something you can improve. Nobody is perfect. It might even turn out, there’s something you can do differently, that will curve the problems entirely. (And you can change yourself a lot easier than your boss.) So approach with that attitude, of improving yourself. Your boss will want to do the same, and improve themselves.

    Going to the superiors is the worst idea ever, because what does it say about you to them? At the very least, that you can’t solve problems yourself. (Maybe even, you are causing trouble, opening up new issues, etc…) What does it say to your boss? That you don’t trust him/her, not even enough to change. And neither is good. It shouldn’t be any surprise you get fired. If your boss is really that bad, that abusive, and that awful, and wont change on their own, find a new company. Because any company not able to figure that out for themselves, is plain and simple a failing company. Be more careful who you pick next time and always ask to meet the boss before you sign up, address any problems directly from day 1, and don’t stand for disrespect.

  19. Harold says:

    Wow…I can’t believe that each story has described what I dealt with for 7 months…..Bossilla huge…my experience landed me with huge depression, couldn’t sleep at night and when I did it was after I cried myself there. Everyone around me was telling me to get out but I thought I could overcome….wrong. My boss was a micro manager, never stood up for employees, treated others disrespectfully, asked me to do illegal things like carry forward hours over 44 to the next week so they did not have to pay overtime, the company employs immigrants and overworks them. I was to be available 24/7 with NO down time….I was given very little direction and was this persons assisstant, when I tried to talk to her about information that would help me do my job there was never any resources in place everything was in her head she said but never had the time to sit and give me this info so I could write proceedures down and would leave in the middle of the day without notice to get he!
    r hair or nails done and when I asked questions about things going on(things that she talked about with another manager) she would say to me “you don’t need to know everything just do what I tell you to do, you were hired to make me look good, I am the boss” or “it’s a secret”…whatever…..when I ended up at the doctors for other reasons my doctor told me I had to get out of this situation because it was affecting my health and she feared for me…….well bossilla took it upon herself to discuss this with everyone and anyone, I believe there is a privacy act that is suppose to protect employees from that behavior……the best is she doesn’t even have the education to know the legalities of an employer with employees and on many occasions when I would tell her that there was a law for certain issues she would either come back with No you are wrong or get on the phone to another manager to verify what I was saying or she would not accept it as true unless I looked it up on the internet and showed her the proof off the Gov’t site, and would
    she ever say oh I am sorry you were right….NO….she got her job because she has the gift to gab. She took my ideas as her own into meetings and I was asked to not speak while we were in the meetings, I was only there to observe……WHAT A HEADCASE…..I am so glad I am not with her any longer. I could not have gone to HR as she has them eating out of her hand with her gift to gab. This was my special hell……..

  20. Pamela says:

    I have been through this horrible and extremely stressful experience with my last two employers. DO NOT EVER go to HR, co-workers, or senior managers. These people are the problem and it is organizational culture. Certain industries breed and encourage this type of behaviour. The majority of these organizations are hiding many secrets; internal corruption, fraud, manipulation of information and data, etc.

    1. Document, document, document. Document dates, witnesses, incidents, and write it out verbatim. Store these records at home. Do not forward emails to your home; print them out.

    2. Do not discuss your situation with any one at work even when they try relentlessly to engage you in this conversation by initiating the derogatory remarks about your boss. This will happen very frequently and at every opportunity they get.

    3. Recognize “mobbing” and “bullying” and read every article available on the internet, books, etc. YOU ARE NOT ALONE AND YOU ARE NOT THE PROBLEM.

    4. Take care of yourself; exercise, eat right, find a support network with true friends and family, engage in stress relieving activities, join a club, class, or take up a hobby, and seek counselling outside of your employer. Do not engage in self destructive behaviour; drinking, drugs, etc.

    5. Self Discovery-complete many personality and skill assessments and begin your job search with an employer and industry that supports and values who and what you are. Many self help books are there for you. “Stand Up For Your Life” by Cheryl Richardson is amazing.

    6. DO NOT GIVE UP. YOU ARE NOT THE PROBLEM. Stay confident and self assured.

    7. Help and assist others and become the person you want to be. This is true leadership; leading by example.

    8. You will find a new employer and you will be stronger and wiser for the experience. If you decide to seek legal action; you have your documentation ready.

    Workplace bullying is a phenomenon that has not received enough attention from our governments; they actually participate in this behavior. This behaviour should be illegal in Canada with extremely stiff penalties to the companies and managers that engage in this type of management.

    FAIR is another wonderful organization that has a mission to protect whistleblowers and change legislation in this country. Please search this organization. They also provide insight, guidance, and advice in their newsletters.

    I wish you all the best on your journey.

  21. Colleen says:

    Deborah – if you read this my heart goes out to you. What your boss did was deplorable. Your daughter is the #1 priority and work can wait! (that’s my thought anyway)

    My brother once worked for a company that was totally non compassionate. I can’t recall all the details but he wanted some time off or something to that extent when our mom was sick (she subsequently died of Leukemia) and they were not too sympathetic to letting him have time off. He later left that job when he got a new one and now is much happier. Any company that is not sympathetic or compassionate to an employee’s family situation (when someone is sick/dying should be out of business.)

    As far as a comment about a bad boss – the woman I worked for at my previous job started out great, kind and our team was very cohesive. Gradually it went into the toilet and one day she just lost her temper with me and my colleague and SCREAMED at us in front of the rest of the team at the office. I am no longer employed there and I hope she was subsequently fired.

  22. It was very interesting for me to read that blog. Thank you for it. I like such themes and anything connected to this matter. I definitely want to read a bit more soon.


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