For many working persons, their reputation is the key to a successful work career. We try hard to achieve work success and please our superiors in order to establish a good reputation, and get a good letter of recommendation or reference. Yet, there are several ways that your boss can ruin your work career – some are obvious, some not so.
1. Tarnishing Your Reputation. This is what most workers fear – a boss who, for any number of reasons, has it out for you, and gives you a bad recommendation, or starts negative rumors about you. A true nightmare is the boss who goes to great lengths to trash your reputation behind your back, but says to your face that s/he is pleased with your performance. I knew of one supervisor who would praise employees, but write horrific letters of recommendation that would assure that the employees would never get hired (one excellent employee was shown the supervisor’s letter and was appalled because she believed that her boss had a high opinion of her work).
2. Your Boss is an Ethical Nightmare. Very recent research suggests that your boss’s unethical behavior can contaminate your reputation. In a soon-to-be-published study, potential employees were more negatively evaluated if they worked for a company where a top-level executive was convicted of fraud, even if they did not report to the person. Simply being associated with an unethical boss or colleague can do terrible damage to your career prospects.
3. Preventing You From Growing on the Job. Bosses that don’t allow employees to develop new skills, and take on additional responsibilities, can sabotage their career advancement. Sometimes, this occurs because supervisors don’t want to take the time, energy, or expense of developing employees. Sometimes, this can be done intentionally in an effort to keep the employee’s salary low. I know of one organization that makes every effort to underpay employees by ensuring that job descriptions do not contain higher-level duties and responsibilities that would require higher pay.
4. Highlighting Your Negatives. A great deal of research demonstrates that negative information is given far greater weight than positive information when it comes to evaluating an employee, or potential employee. It takes a lot of positives to outweigh one negative, but sometimes a black mark can kill an employee’s career progression. Knowing this, some bosses will keep an employee “in his or her place,” or prevent them from getting a job elsewhere, by hinting at a negative quality or characteristic. Describing someone as “hard-working, smart, and efficient” sounds great, but add in the word “untrustworthy,” and the negative negates all of the positives.
So, what can be done to combat a boss who is sabotaging your career? The best strategy is to stay informed and be proactive. Consider how your boss treats others, and whether he or she can be trusted. Make every effort to develop your career, and try not to allow supervisors or organizations to derail your career and personal development. If you are in a bad situation, try to get out of it.
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