When good bosses turn bad

The number one reason people change positions in the US is because they hate their boss - and that includes IT professionals.

The number one reason people change positions in the US is because they hate their boss — and that includes IT professionals.

That’s according to California-based career counsellor Lina Fafard, quoted in our sister publication, Computerworld US. It’s hard to know if the same would be true in New Zealand, but even if a sizable percentage leave because of their pointy-haired bosses, it’s quite a shocking statistic.

At some stage in our working lives, most of us have had a bad boss. (This sounds like an introduction to one of those dreadful US programmes — When Good Bosses Turn Bad…)

Anyway, no matter how much you love your job, the stress of a bad boss can wear you down and reach the point where you’ll change jobs just to avoid them. Some people seem to be able to cope with the stress, but for many it can become a real problem.

Computerworld US did a survey last year and found that only 13 out of nearly 70 respondents had anything good to say about their bosses. The anecdotes seem amusing until you put yourself in that person’s shoes.

For example: “The boss looked at me and shouted, ‘I don’t care what your [expletive] job title is or what they [expletive] told you when you were hired. You’ll do what I [expletive] tell you to do, the [expletive] way I tell you to do it and if you don’t like it, there’s the [expletive] door’.”

So what can you do? Well, if it’s a serious problem that you can’t ignore, you could trying approaching your boss. This could be through a formal performance review process or on a more informal basis.

This might sound like a scary and/or pointless thing to do, but as Eden Brown New Zealand (a recruitment company that deals with IT companies) director Pete Carter says, bosses in any industry can have thick skins and be totally unaware there are problems.

You may only need to point out that you have an issue with his/her behaviour in order for things to change. The type of approach you take — informal or formal — should suit the situation, but one no-no is trying to sort it out over a few beers at the pub.

Carter again: “That should be avoided. They might agree with every-thing you say at the time and then forget everything you say by Monday.”

Of course, there are some bosses where you know right now that a word from you will make no difference.

You have few options here. You could go over their head to their superior — but it definitely should-n’t be the starting point. If you’re going to follow this track, make sure you have had some initial discussions with your boss first and only go higher up the ladder if all else fails.

And think about whether you have the backing of your colleagues. If it’s just you that has the problem, the difficulty may have nothing to do with your boss.

Another option is to leave. If you’re not happy and you’re certain things won’t change, what’s the point in hanging around to fight a losing battle? You spend so much time at work, that if you’re really unhappy then you have to ask if it’s worth it. Carter says that having anyone in the office who you don’t get on with is difficult, but when you report to that person it adds to the stress level. But he emphasises that if everything else in the job is okay, do try to fix things first.

After all, you could leave only to end up with an even worse boss.

So what are IT bosses like? Carter says there are bad ones out there, just like any industry. “If someone is a good developer and is good technically they may rise to the top of the pile and become the boss. They’re rising through technical ability, not necessarily management ability.”

So what do you think? Have you had a good or bad experience with a boss you’d like to share? Email me at the address below.

Kirstin Mills is Computerworld”s careers editor. Phone her at: 0-3-467 2869; fax: 0-3-467 2875.

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