Harvard Business Expert Reveals Exactly What To Do If You Hate Your Boss

Sometimes it’s you, but let’s be honest, it usually isn’t.

Worker looking frustrated in a room with her boss. Prathan Chorruangsak / CanvaPro

Have you ever left a job you loved because of a bad or toxic boss? If you have, you’re not the only one. Bad bosses are actually the number one reason people quit their jobs in the United States today. 

Management scholar and executive leader Manfred F.R. Kets de Vries acknowledges that not everyone’s situation with toxic bosses is the same. Taking control of your uncomfortable situation at work might have the power to transform your energy levels, overall happiness, and productivity in the office if you take the right steps.


Harvard Business Review article by Kets de Vries breaks down exactly what those steps are—from introspection to litigation to resignation. Consider your own situation; this could be the turning point of your career.

Here are the steps you should take if you hate your boss, according to a Harvard business expert:

1. Try to adopt empathy

Sometimes, the best way to fight workplace stress is by channeling your inner “human,” which is obviously easier said than done. Sometimes, we separate our personal selves and humanness from our work. While this might help us better structure our boundaries or give us a glimpse at work-life balance, it also often isolates us from peers.


boss and employee in meeting pixelshot / Canva Pro

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“Try to consider external pressures your manager is under,” Kets de Vries wrote. “It’s important to consider not just how they act, but why they’re acting that way.”


This will not only give you insights into your boss's struggles, stress, and anxiety but also give you a chance to engage in more honest, trustworthy, and open conversations. 

Research on “cognitive empathy” suggests practicing empathy at work is essential. It helps to build a more accurate and complete understanding of other people’s feelings, thoughts, and minds.

2. Look at your own behavior

“The second step is to look at yourself,”  Kets de Vries shared. “In my experience, people who struggle to work well with their bosses are nearly always part of the problem themselves: Their behavior is in some way preventing them from being recognized and valued.”

employee taking a moment to think prathan chorruangsak / Canva Pro


While acknowledging that this step is often uncomfortable and not what people “want to hear,” Kets de Vries wrote that people should consider the reasons why they dislike their boss. “Consider, as objectively as you can, any criticism your boss has offered. In what areas do you need to improve? What aspects of your behavior or output might irk him or her [or them]?”

If there’s truly nothing you can improve on, or if you have changed and still feel you’re clashing, it might be an issue of personality differences.

Active listening and honest discussions are the best ways to deal with personality clashes at work. However, get a good grasp on your feelings, actions, and the best way to engage with your boss before entering into a conversation—“Observe and seek advice from colleagues who work with your boss successfully…make sure to frame the questions carefully.”

Ultimately, people who are truly self-aware at work likely have this information at their disposal. This step is for those who might’ve been too keen on overlooking their own shortcomings. But who hasn’t been there before?


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3. Openly discuss your concerns

If you’ve examined yourself introspectively, sought advice from colleagues, and realized that the problem isn’t you, it’s probably time to go to your boss.

“There are a number of ways into this conversation,” Kets de Vries offered. “If you have the opportunity, you can tack it on as an extension of a frank discussion you’re already having. If a moment doesn’t present itself, you’ll have to initiate the conversation yourself.”

Worker looking overwhelming with peers standing around him. Suwannar Kawila / CanvaPro


Try to express a sense of urgency or expectation of difficulty when you propose a conversation, as it’s not as easily “side-stepped” by your boss when the time rolls around. When it comes to having the actual conversation, you might be surprised to realize your boss wasn’t “aware of the degree of your discontent,” leading to a quick fix in many cases.

3. Take your concerns to HR

While some of these conversations might be easy, quick fixes, the truth is that many toxic bosses get their bad rap for a reason. “If you can’t improve things by changing your behavior or opening lines of communication with your boss, and if your colleagues feel the same way you do, you should consider alerting HR and the boss’s bosses to the problem.”

Despite the allure of giving your problems to another team and having them affirmed by others, Kets de Vries said only consider formal HR reports as a “last resort.” Adding, “In the absence of compelling data indicating a pattern of bad behavior, HR representatives are unlikely to be allies; very often, they will take the boss’s side.”

Of course, if there's truly a pattern of behavior, you shouldn’t feel afraid to consult with HR. They’re there to help support you—alongside other reporting and regulatory bodies like the Department of Labor, which can field reports on toxic behavior in the workplace.


4. Set a time limit for change from your boss or make the decision to leave 

“There is always the possibility, or hope, that he or she will move on. But remember that in playing for time, you also need to set a time limit so that hanging in doesn’t become a way of life. If it does, you will feel disengaged, disenchanted, and even embittered.”

Not only can this “lingering” in a toxic workplace make your 9 to 5 incredibly miserable and anxiety-inducing, but it can spill over into your personal life, causing things like depression, psychosomatic reactions, and strained relationships.

Try utilizing your free time while you’re still employed to look for another job. This includes re-working your resume, lining up references, building connections, and interviewing. 


“Having a bad boss isn’t your fault, but staying with one is,” especially if you have the financial freedom or support to get out.

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Zayda Slabbekoorn is a News & Entertainment Writer at YourTango who focuses on health & wellness, social policy, and human interest stories.