On The Job with Hanah Cho

Sun business reporter muses on coping with a bad boss
By Hanah Cho
Sun Reporter
July 3, 2006

Almost every worker has a story to tell about a bad boss.

Here’s one from a colleague who recalled this scenario from a past survey: A secretary whose boss wanted her to pop his pimple. Now, that’s just gross!

Always a fodder for watercooler talk and happy-hour venting sessions, bad bosses are getting some extra attention lately.

The movie “The Devil Wears Prada,” released Friday, centers on a lowly assistant dealing with a high-powered fashion magazine editor, who is beyond demanding. This boss more or less terrorizes her assistants.

According to a recent Internet poll conducted by monster.com, 70 percent of more than 21,000 workers said they have a “toxic boss.”

Then there’s the My Bad Boss contest sponsored by Working America, an affiliate of the AFL-CIO. The summerlong competition is seeking the worst boss in America. (Don’t worry, your name will not be posted for all the world to see.)

“If you’ve had a job, somewhere along the way, you’ve had a bad boss,” says Karen Nussbaum, executive director of Working America.

Workers can submit their stories at www.workingamerica.org/badboss and readers will choose a weekly semi-finalist winner until Aug. 10. The grand prize winner will receive a seven-night vacation at selected North American cities.

The competition includes several local entries, including Klueless in Maryland, who says her boss told her to plan a relative’s funeral. So, go ahead and vent.

As long as it’s anonymous, it can be healthy, says Clay Parcells, a workplace consultant for outplacement firm Right Management’s market in Maryland, Virginia and Washington.

“It could be demoralizing working for a bad boss,” he says. “People need a way to vent their frustrations.”

Still, all this talk about tyrant bosses begs the question: Where are the good ones?

Sharon Seal, a career coach in Pasadena, says most bosses can learn to be better. Managers usually lack certain management skills in part because of little or no training. Poor communication tops the list of complaints followed by managers who can’t delegate well and those who are indecisive.

With that in mind, experts say the best thing to do is be direct and confront the boss. Have a professional conversation about what is expected from both sides. Also, see what you could learn from your boss, as challenging as that could be.

“You’re never going to have a perfect boss,” Seal says.