The dynamics of a workplace can make or break any job. A positive environment built on teamwork, leadership, communication, and enthusiasm can make a job seem like a tangible fantasy. The inverse is also true. An unpleasant workplace filled with dishonesty, blame, toxicity and drama will cause any job to feel back-breaking. When either of these scenarios originates from a boss or leader, the qualities are usually amplified. It is common for employees to stay at a job or quite simply because of who is in charge of them. Doug Contant, the former president and CEO of Campbell’s Soup, summarized the wide-reaching effects of a work environment, “To win in the marketplace you must first win in the workplace”.

However, some managers fail to see this reality and their subordinates suffer the consequences. When this happens, what are the best ways to bring up a bad manager to HR? We spoke with 10 different business executives for their thoughts on this. 

Give feedback first

Cody Candee is the founder and CEO of Bounce. They specialize in luggage storage with 6,000 locations across 1,000 cities. He suggests that employees should attempt to communicate with their HR representatives in a passive manner before doing anything else. 

“Working for someone who frustrates or drains you can cause an over-emotional reaction that may not go over well. When you email or sit down with your representative, ensure that you’re in a calm headspace. Then, try to communicate how the actions of your boss are making you feel and how they’re influencing your work. Passionate confrontation in these matters can escalate a situation quickly.”

Attempt to understand

Some managers are simply unaware of how their decision-making or behavior is affecting the workplace. In situations like this, it is important to recognize that a boss and employee may have differing viewpoints on the state of the workplace. Max Schwartzapfel, the CMO of Fighting for You, a personal injury law firm, believes as much.

“In the workplace, as in life, remember that everyone is different in a variety of ways. A manager may feel they’re encouraging an employee while the employee feels as if they are constantly being overwhelmed. When speaking with HR about your bad manager, try to consider the differing personalities and viewpoints. This can help ease the discomfort of raising concerns.”

Seek another role

Energy Fit is an exercise equipment retailer focusing on a high-quality experience. Their VP of sales and marketing, Jeff Meeks, advises those in a very strenuous situation to discuss a role change with their HR representative. 

“There are issues or relationships which are unresolvable – and that is totally OK. Some people just don’t mesh well professionally. If you’ve gone through the proper procedure of discussing solutions or submitting complaints with HR, it is reasonable to discuss a change of roles within the company in order to work for a different manager. A bad boss should not dictate your livelihood. Deciding to give up your paycheck is not a decision to be made lightly and could be avoidable.”

Ask HR to mediate

Justin Chan is the growth manager for JuneShine They are an adult beverage company featuring sustainable hard kombucha. He is of the belief that an employee can request to sit down with their manager and an HR representative. The purpose of this would be to resolve any concerns and gain insight.

“A meeting between a boss and an employee when mediated by a member of the HR team can prove incredibly fruitful for a variety of reasons. First, it allows the employee to communicate his or her needs or concerns directly to the boss. Second, the boss is given the space to discuss their reasoning for certain directions given or actions performed. Finally, the presence of HR allows the environment to be professional and guided in a manner which would ideally eliminate further harm to the working relationship.”

Do not air dirty laundry

One of the least effective and most harmful ways to deal with a bad manager is to voice your displeasure in a public or unprofessional manner. This includes talking poorly behind the backs of others. Engaging improperly can also result in creating a bad look for yourself. Karim Hachem, the VP of Ecommerce for La Blanca, a women’s swimwear brand, said as much.

“A disheartened employee is more likely to act out or behave inappropriately. A bad manager can quickly cause a job to feel consistently unprofessional. But that doesn’t mean the employee should repay the favor. It can feel incredibly easy, and at times necessary, to gossip about the behavior of a bad manager but that will only spread more negativity within a workplace. Employees should take care to go through the correct channels when dealing with their issues.”

Is it legal or ethical?

Hightouch is a service utilized by businesses to manage customer data. Their founder and CEO, Kashish Gupta, suggests that employees should be discerning and accepting of their situation. Some issues with a bad boss may be simple ethics while others involve the law and HR will respond accordingly. 

“When dealing with a workplace issue, it’s critical to know the ins and outs of what is taking place. For example, if it is a matter of harassment of any kind, HR should be notified immediately and one should expect them to intervene immediately. That being said, some bosses are just lousy people who yell at others or demand too much. In cases like this, HR may not be as involved as one would like simply because it’s not an overly pressing issue. Be realistic with the expectations of HR.”

Use evidence

Ryan Rockefeller is the co-founder and CEO of Cleared, an at-home allergy clinic. He advises those bringing up workplace issues to steer clear of unsubstantiated claims and to provide concrete examples of the issue at hand. 

“Regardless of what the problem may be, showing up to HR without evidence or some kind of backing will not get you very far. I’m not saying you should secretly record your boss’s every move but if a fellow employee witnessed some inappropriate or uncomfortable behavior, an eye witness can go a long way. Documented forms of communication work as well. Don’t show up to HR simply because you don’t like someone.”

Do not overlook

Turning a blind eye to a matter will not prove helpful to anyone. If one employee is truly experiencing the consequences of a bad manager, other employees are likely experiencing something similar. Marc Atiyeh, the CEO of Pawp, a telehealth veterinarian, believes finding resolution can create a superior workplace for all.

“First, let’s make sure this is clear: ignoring the poor behavior of a manager never solves anything. It’s important to take the matter to HR — before it gets any worse. Be sure to have the details in order, including when the situation(s) occurred, and who else may have been involved. And remember, you’re not being a ‘tattler.’ You’re doing what’s best for the entire team.”

Proposals are appropriate

Box Genie operates a service called Box Genie where companies can order customized shipping products for their customers. Their COO, Jim Beard, suggests making requests of a bad manager or HR representative if no change has taken place. 

“If you’ve already gone through the more lax approach of attempting constructive conversation, it’s perfectly acceptable to propose your own solution to the matter or request a change directly. Some managers are not receptive to understanding complaints and how to make a change. Others are simply stubborn. If this is the case, formulate exactly what it is you as the employee need in order to be more successful and not feel as if you’re working around negativity. It’s perfectly acceptable to propose these changes to HR as well.”

Don’t be afraid to quit (but have a plan)

Remon Aziz is the COO for Advantage Rent A Car, a company that specializes in vehicle rentals, purchases, and sales. He advises those in a difficult enough situation to consider leaving their job provided they have a plan in place or the means to do so. 

“Working with a bad boss creates stress in anyone’s life. But a life without income is also stress-inducing. Some work relationships will always be toxic and unresolvable to the point where leaving that position may be the healthiest option for someone. If this is the case, the person should be sure that they have enough in their savings to hold them over to their next job or, ideally, have a job lined up. Quitting a job requires some thought and job searching can be part of that equation.”

The relationship between a manager and an employee can be the deciding factor between a positive or negative work environment. It is a symbiotic exchange that will require some effort from the employee, possibly uncomfortably so. Employees do not need to settle for a bad manager as there are a variety of solutions to this problem. Liz Ryan, the founder, and CEO of Human Workplace put it best, “An employee’s job is to give his or her best work every day. A manager’s job is to give the employee a good reason to come back to work tomorrow.”

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