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How to deal with a difficult boss

Media release 24 July 2008

How to deal with a difficult boss

Poorly thought-out incentive schemes can create difficult bosses, according to the latest employment podcast by recruitment specialists Robert Half.

The podcast features psychologist and business consultant Dr Steven Saunders, who last year featured on a Robert Half podcast on how to deal with difficult employees.

Now he looks at what creates difficult bosses, and how to deal with them.

One of the 10 main reasons why employees find some bosses difficult to deal with involves poorly thought-out incentive schemes, says Dr Saunders.

“Bosses, for example, might be incentivised to cut costs and improve the bottom line and employees might want more in R&D or matters like that. The bonus structure sometimes drives the wrong behaviour – I see that quite commonly.”

Another common cause is that the boss lacks any real people management skills.

“One of the common problems in business today is getting technically competent people … and because they have a good work ethic and have served the business well, they get promoted, without a lot of thought, into a team leadership or management role, where the requirements are quite different.”

Insecurity, ego, non-work issues, lack of the necessary toughness to be an effective boss, an unwillingness to hear bad news, inability to move on from childhood issues, a quickness to blame others and an inability to deal with stress or pressure are other major factors behind bad bosses, says Saunders.

Saunders also gives employees advice on how to deal with bosses who are engaging in illegal or immoral activity.

“Get out as fast as you possibly can,” he says. “There will be no winners in that scene. If you hang about and see illegal or immoral behaviour going on, as a passive observer you are condoning that behaviour.

“They are going to be immoral or illegal in their dealings with you. You are not going to win against that.”

Other topics Saunders covers in the podcast include bosses who expect too much of their employees; male-dominated cultures that persecute female employees; when to file a formal complaint; when to go above your boss’s head; and how to turn around a relationship with a difficult boss.

The Robert Half podcast on difficult bosses is available for download at


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