How to deal with a manager who hates you

Sometimes it’s your boss, sometimes it’s you. It’s important to figure out why you and your manager don’t get along -- then decide if it’s something you can fix or if you simply need to get the hell out.

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Last week I discussed 15 ways to not get fired from your dream job and I actually got a decent amount of thank you email. One email, however, got me thinking. It was from a guy who was not getting along with his manager -- and man I’ve been there. I had this one manager who was a nightmare and I kind of went a little off the rails myself. Now when I spoke to others who had worked for him, something I should have done before I took the job, I found that not only wasn’t he a good manager, he was harsh to employees who aggressively wanted to advance, particularly if they were women.

We went sideways on two things. First, he ordered me to falsify quality records (which, as an ex-auditor I’d never do, no matter what). Then second, he gave me a bad review because I was new to the department. His argument was that new people didn’t know the job; therefore they should be reviewed down. Turned out I knew the rules better than he did and got this overturned, but he had it in for me after that.

[ Related: 10 Tips for Dealing with a Bully Boss ]

There was another manager who was excessively hard on me, but I actually learned a lot from him. I would never willingly work for someone who was so abusive again, but I don’t view the experience as wasted because he actually forced me to improve my work quality.

In that first case, looking back, it was a time at the firm when there was a lot of dead wood, folks who simply had decided to keep their heads down and work till pension (which didn’t work out that well given that the firm killed the pension program just before I left).  

Over the years I’ve gotten a lot better at working with managers. In general, I’ve had managers who were good and few who were spectacular.

[ Related: 11 Profiles in Bad Leadership Behavior ]

So here is my advice when you feel your manager has it in for you.

Figure out the ‘why’

This is important because it predicates what you do to fix the problem. To do this you have to at least consider that you may be the problem. I’ve been brought in several times where the employee thought their manager had it out for them, but the reality was that the employee just wasn’t doing the job they were hired for. They worked hard, often were helpful to other groups, but didn’t actually get the stuff they were hired to do done.

Little things like showing up late and leaving early can look like disrespect. Some of the nastiest problems result from folks who don’t realize they have a prejudice working for a someone they have been raised to feel superior too.   It might not be sex or race, it might be that they didn’t have what the employee thought was the appropriate university degree. However, this is the employee’s problem to fix.  

I’d begin by tracking down some of your manager’s ex-employees and ask how they did with your manager. If they had issues like yours -- particularly if they claim abuse, but have done well subsequent to leaving -- get out, don’t try to fix it. You can’t fix a bad manager. Working for a bad or abusive manager is just waste of your time. I would suggest, upon your exit interview, formally calling out the abuse because that may help your ex-coworkers and you aren’t going to get a good reference regardless of what you do.  

Now if they didn’t have an issue with your manager, set up a meeting with the manager and explain your frustration. If they are good they’ll work with you to fix the problem, if they aren’t or the relationship is unsalvageable, then, once again get out. You are wasting your time.

Getting your manager fired -- think again

There is an old rule about advancement in that if you become expert at making your manager look good you’ll be seen as an asset. Getting your manager fired, however, can have the opposite impact on your career and turn you into a pariah if you aren’t very, very careful.   Generally, it is your manager’s manager who is responsible for eliminating a bad manager. As an employee you just aren’t well-positioned enough to both get the job done and assure some massive stigma isn’t connected to your job history.

Be social

The people who typically seem to have problems with co-workers and managers are those who don’t develop social relationships with those co-workers and managers. There are firms that have rules against fraternizing with direct reports and never ever date a manager or a subordinate unless you want to experience true hell. However, upwardly mobile managers will often take a few employees with them as they move up and I’ve seen folks who had great relationships with their managers change places with them every few years as one gets promoted or finds a job at another company and then hires the other.  

This team approach to advancement can be incredibly powerful and the shared candor can put you in far more favorable position with the manager. In addition, it can do wonderful things for your stress levels because you know someone has your back and less things will be going on that you don’t know about.

By the way, this is one of the risks of working remote, others will be closer to management and co-workers and likely be better thought of (less likely to be laid off or passed over) and better informed. Folks who advance quickly rarely work from home, then again working from home has a different set of offsetting rewards. It just depends on your priorities. (Always keep in mind your priorities when making decisions like whether to go to work or work from home.)

Learn from bad manager experiences to avoid repeating them

Once a manager has formed an opinion, good or bad, it is really hard to get them to change it. If you take the time to figure out whether you and a manager will work together well before you take the job it will save you a ton of pain. It will also reduce the risk of having to leave the company to get away from a bad reputation (which can hound you your entire career).

In the end though, figuring out what created the problem while accepting you likely can’t change the manager will help you determine what you need to do to fix it. It likely will mean looking for a new job, but if you at least understand how you got there you can hopefully avoid making whatever mistake was made again.  

Best of luck!

This story, "How to deal with a manager who hates you" was originally published by CIO.

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