I was recently asked to write an article for Gulf News on the subject of challenging bosses. There are many conflicts in the workplace but here are three of the most common and some strategies of how you might approach the situation:
The boss who sets unrealistic deadlines
I’m sure this scenario is familiar to many of us. A big task with a small timeframe equals a whole lot of stress. And as a one-off can be a thrilling, adrenaline-fuelled test of what we are capable of when really pushed. But when it happens over and over again this sort of pressure is detrimental to both mental and physical health and will quickly erode any form of job satisfaction or work/life balance.
The key to tackling this workplace problem is to try and get to the bottom of why it is happening. Is it that your boss genuinely doesn’t understand what needs to happen to deliver this work to the standard you would be happy with as they are too removed from it? In which case a direct conversation to explain this and see if there is any leeway around timings is a great start. Make sure it this is led from a position of experience, not insecurity. It is not that you don’t believe you can’t do it but that in order to do it well and not compromise on quality then your experience tells you it will need an extra 2 days. Perhaps they themselves are under huge pressure from elsewhere and need to deliver something not everything. Again, an honest conversation about what can be achieved or perhaps other resources needed to deliver it e.g. an extra member of the team to help or a staggered delivery schedule. It is also worth remembering that sometimes deadlines by their very nature can overwhelm us, especially when we don’t know exactly what the job will entail. Try breaking down a big project into smaller deliverables and see if it feels achievable then. Always start with the most difficult part of it, once you’ve cracked that the rest will follow. And it is always OK to challenge and question a deadline so long as you don’t go empty-handed. A proactive, solutions- based approach is the way to go.
I have always worked to a 75/25 rule – the majority of work should have reasonable deadlines and feel very manageable. But life and business will always throw curve balls so there will be times when all this flies out the window and stuff needs to get done now. If this ratio changes, if you find yourself under more stress than you can cope with or if you feel like you are being set up to fail then this is the time to flag your concerns officially, First with your boss and then if unresolved with HR or more senior manager. Adrenalin rushes are fine. Adrenal failure is not.
The boss who thinks holidays are for wimps
Time off is super important. We all need time to rest, recharge, rebalance and recalibrate as well as time to create precious memories with loved ones. And far from detracting from your career, these regular breaks will give you the energy, focus and perspective to fly even higher and achieve even more and prevent burnout. So when this need for time out is not supported in the workplace it can feel very stressful and even create feelings of guilt about booking holidays.
The first thing to remember is that each of us sees the world differently. We have our own ‘map’ which is shaped by our values, experiences and beliefs. No two maps of the world are the same and yet they are all valid and good, so long as we do not try to impose our map onto someone else’s. If your boss doesn’t see holidays as important to them then that is fine. Perhaps they were brought up to believe that in order to succeed you have to work flat out. Perhaps they struggle to relax. Whatever the reason they are entitled to hold this view about holidays but not to impose it onto you. What this means is that you need to stay true to your map. To book your holidays guilt-free knowing that they matter to you. So, if your boss merely makes comments about people taking holidays then stay strong, keep booking them and let the comments wash over you. You can even acknowledge that you are sorry they feel this way but that holidays are important to you and you’ll be more productive as a result of the break. If however they are making it difficult for you to book holiday then that is a different matter. To see it from their perspective it can be difficult managing workload and business pressures with a whole team taking holiday so why not sit down with your boss and your diary and agree the dates together. Put forward your plans and then be prepared for some wiggle-room if there are business reasons to work around. Also make sure you give plenty of notice so that they have less reason not to agree to it. Be confident, assertive but flexible and you’ll be on that holiday in no time.
At the end of the day you are entitled to time off. And yes, the company can stipulate when, to an extent, and how long you may be off for. The whys and wherefores of this will be stated in your employment contract so make sure you check what you have agreed to. If your boss’s actions are meaning they are reneging on this then it is time to escalate the conversation to HR.
The boss who never gives positive feedback
Recognition is an important psychological need. And yet many leaders underestimate the power and necessity of positive feedback which can result in employees feeling unappreciated, unmotivated and undervalued.
There may be several reasons why your boss does not give you any positive feedback. The first is that they are simply too busy to really take notice of what you are up to. They are confident that you are getting the job done so it doesn’t take up any more of their headspace. So it is up to you to put your achievements on their radar. Put a regular catch up in their diary so that you have more chances to share what you’ve been up to than your annual performance review. And asking for their feedback will also make them feel valued too so it’s a win win. It might be that your boss has not been used to being praised in their career. You can set the example by managing up and providing authentic appreciation where appropriate. Tell your boss when you think they’ve done something great. If the truth of the matter is it is just not your boss’s style then you may need to look elsewhere for the validation you need. Keeping a Kudos File is an excellent start. Keep a note of all the good stuff said by colleagues and clients throughout the year so you can draw on it when needed. And perhaps there is someone else who can act as a mentor to you, who can provide feedback on your work aside from your boss? Most people are thrilled to be asked.
There is always the risk that the lack of positive feedback is actually a result of the overall corporate culture. If this is the case and you find it hard to work without that positive reinforcement then I’m afraid it might be time to look elsewhere for a workplace that reflects your own personal values more.