Happiness at Work

How to maximize your psychological capital for success.

Help - my boss makes me miserable at work!

What can you do when you hate your boss?


‘My boss makes me miserable' is a complaint I bet you hear more than once a day. Here's my reply. Oh yeah?


A few years ago I and a colleague Philippa set out to make a BBC TV series called ‘Making Slough Happy.' Slough is a small industrial town to the west of London, famous because the TV comedy ‘The Office' was filmed there. And because one of the largest supermarkets in Europe is sited bang in the middle of town. You get the picture.


But the question we were asked on-camera ten times a day by our editor was ‘so do you think you're making Slough happy?' ‘No' we'd reply. We can't ‘make' anyone happy. Just like we can't ‘make' anyone unhappy. Everyone in their unique situation chooses their attitude, emotion and their response. You and you alone are responsible for your reactions and feelings. Just as Victor Frankl, writer, philosopher and Nazi concentration camp survivor said, "Everything can be taken from a man but ...the last of the human freedoms - to choose one's attitude in any given set of circumstances, to choose one's own way."
In the same way your boss doesn't make you unhappy. He or she can't get inside your brain and manipulate it like some puppet-master. You choose how you react, so how do you manage that reaction.

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So here are a few ways that you can manage your reaction to your boss:


1. Think about what you'd like to be different. What's stopping you from having a fruitful conversation with your boss about how he or she could help you be more productive, happier and committed at work. Most people want that to happen, so don't assume that you'll get a negative response.

2. Work out how you gently encourage your boss in a direction that suits you. Carrots work better than sticks, so telling them when what they do works and how they can bring out the best in you is a much more effective way of managing them.

3. Ask yourself if you've been really clear about what works for you and what doesn't. You'd be amazed by how often team members think that they have told their boss what they want. But when I've gone back to the boss, they are unaware. Hints aren't enough for anyone. Straight-talk is.

4. Walk into a meeting and decide that you'll look your boss in the eye, engage with them and be as helpful as you can be. Then decide how you feel about it afterwards. I bet you'll feel a whole heap better than if you sat glowering silently in the corner.

5. Change doesn't come about without agency. In other words what are you doing to try and make things different. Waiting for someone to leave, showing them up or sabotage your boss isn't a particularly effective way of managing. What else could you do? And when you've answered that, what else? Push yourself to find other solutions. Divine intervention is simply not the answer.

6. Create options for handling the situation. How else can you respond? And what would happen if you chose an alternative path. Testing out ideas will give you a greater sense of control of the situation and a greater sense of control will make things just feel more manageable.

7. Mull over who else might be aware of what's going on. If things aren't working for you, who else might that apply to. It's much easier to bring about change if two or more of you tackle it together. How will you create an allegiance and try to effect changes together. If you're on your own, is the problem more to do with you?

8. Make sure you go to their bosses with solutions and suggestions, not with problems. It sounds obvious, yet people forget all the time. You're there to help make things happen not to make them work hard.

9. Apologize when you screw up. Hiding mistakes isn't a way to go. Fess up, deal with it and move on. Six months later you'll be able to laugh about it.

10. Make as many choices for yourself as you can. What might happen if you quit? If you stayed? If you became more helpful? If you withdrew effort and commitment? List out the possibilities. The advantage of doing this is that the more options you give yourself the more control you'll feel you have. And the more able you'll be to manage any situation. Including a tricky boss.

Jessica Pryce-Jones is the CEO of iOPener, a human asset management consultancy and author of Happiness at Work.

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