We spend a third of our lives at work but interestingly, only 15% of people love what they do, the vast majority hate their jobs (Gallup poll). Many factors cause people to hate their jobs, but the most prevalent is a difficult boss.

Having a difficult boss presents a unique set of challenges because a poor relationship with one’s boss can negatively impact one’s career, yet most people at one point or another in their career end up having a difficult boss. It becomes crucial to learn strategies to manage difficult bosses. Just as no two people have the same fingerprint or persona, no two bosses are exactly alike. A boss’s disposition is a function of many factors, some of which are; temperament, background, habits, education, personal values, etc.

Here are 6 types of difficult bosses and how best to manage them.

  1. The Micromanager
  2. The Workaholic
  3. The Procrastinator
  4. The Screamer/Bully
  5. The Narcissist
  6. The Incompetent/ Unqualified 

The Micromanager; also known as the helicopter boss, this boss likes to hover over employees to ensure tasks are executed in a way he/she would have done it. This boss doesn’t want to relinquish control or give workers autonomy, but wants to get involved in everything; the processes, procedures, and tiny insignificant details of every task, making workers feel they are under a microscope. Micromanagers rub good employees the wrong way.

How to handle the Micromanager

Micromanaged workers cannot grow personally and professionally. Micromanagers’ inability to delegate is often motivated by fear; Fear that the task would fail and fall below expectation unless they are there to act as a guide. The best way to handle a micromanager is to be proactive; understand and document the boss’s expectations, and delivers results before being prompted or before the boss requires it. This way, the subordinate negates the fear and builds trust with the micromanager.

The Workaholic; this type of boss is often the first to arrive and last to leave the workplace every day. Workaholic bosses work seven days a week and some expect subordinates to be at their beck and call at odd hours. Extremely dedicated to their work, workaholics expect their subordinates to have the same work ethic. Focusing on results, workaholics drive themselves and others towards organisational productivity, but this leads to employee burnout in the long run.

How to handle the workaholic:

On rare occasions, an assistant may need to work long hours with a workaholic boss to meet a deadline, this is fine, as long as it doesn’t become the norm. Set boundaries early on. Communicate with your boss regarding your off-hours and when you are unavailable to attend to work, emphasize that having the time off for your personal affairs, will make you more productive during regular work hours. 


The Procrastinator: Procrastinators are indecisive and slow at decision making, either because they are unsure of the best option or they delay decisions as a coping mechanism for anxiety. Procrastinators affect subordinates waiting for their bosses’ feedback especially if there is a deadline or closed window/opportunity attached to that decision.


How to handle the procrastinator:  

If you are a subordinate to a procrastinator boss, it helps to be proactive by doing any of the following: 

  1. Gather relevant data and information required to speed up the decision-making process 
  2. Check-in with the boss, urging and diplomatically reminding him/her about the consequence (if any) of delay.
  3. Prepare several backup plans, alternatives, or courses of action, in case the delay is inevitable and would have negative ramifications.


The Screamer/Bully: This type of boss uses humiliation and intimidation to manage subordinates. Screamers have anger issues and resort to shouting, verbal abuse, and occasionally, physical abuse when dealing with employees. Screamers/ bully bosses have no regard for people; they lack emotional intelligence and don’t understand how to act professionally.

How to handle the screamer:

Bullied employees over time will develop fear and resentment. The first way to handle this type of boss is to find out what triggers his/her anger issues and do your best to avoid those triggers. The second way is to plan your exit strategy. An abusive boss would eventually morph into a health stressor, negatively impacting your mental health, outlook, and confidence.

The Narcissists: these bosses only care about themselves. They have a large ego and love the spotlight. From afar, they project charm; however people in their inner circle know they treat their subordinates shabbily. They don’t praise subordinates, they are quick to take credit for their work and quick to blame them and throw them under the bus when things go wrong. 

How to deal with a narcissist 

Find a mentor in the organisation, look for how to add value to other departments, or how you can be part of on-going projects in other departments, so other managers can recognise your worth. Where this is not possible, it is time to plan your exit strategy, as narcissistic bosses are very toxic 

The Unqualified/ Incompetent: The type of boss is perceived as incompetent and unqualified for the role. He/she may have been over-promoted into that role and lack the requisite leadership experience to be effective. An unqualified boss may feel threatened by subordinates with more experience and might be harsh with them.

How to handle the unqualified boss

Be proactive; look out for the unqualified boss’s weak areas, and how you assist him/her in those areas on any task. Appreciate your boss’s strong points intermittently and give credit to him/her whenever due. Sometimes an occasional ego massage to an incompetent boss from a subordinate helps to assuage any fear or threat the unqualified boss perceives.

Most time when people leave, they don’t just leave organisations, they leave bad bosses, and knowing how to handle bad bosses helps with reducing work-related stress.




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