Regarding situations like having a good job with a bad manager, I have read advice like "never complain at work", or "you can't get rid of your manager".

So my question is, what is a process to follow if your line manager is just plain bad? How can you constructively address these concerns in general? I understand that some aspects will be company specific, but what should an employee do when approaching these situations?

  • 8
    Being stuck with a bad manager happens to everyone at some point. I've been in this predicament before (more than once) and it's really a no-win situation. The only real options are to either a) transfer, if possible (so you get a new manager) or b) find a new job.
    – James Adam
    Commented Sep 23, 2015 at 13:32
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    This is entirely company-specific I'm afraid.
    – Lilienthal
    Commented Sep 23, 2015 at 13:33
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    I made a pretty significant edit to bring this more on topic. I think that the general question is on topic, but the way you had worded it was a specific "help me in my company figure this out" but none of us can know what your specific company policies are and so it's not really answerable.
    – enderland
    Commented Sep 23, 2015 at 13:53
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    It really depends on what kind of bad you're talking about. A manager who is bad because he is very ineffective at managing can be worked around, by you coming up with solutions and presenting them to him, and being very proactive. A manager who is being a bad person (like he's abusive, manipulative, or some other bad personality type), generally it's best to get away from him.
    – Kai
    Commented Sep 23, 2015 at 15:48
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    "Never complain at work" - do people really advocate this? There's another saying "people join companies but leave managers" - if my manager is doing something wrong, he wants to know, and he wants to know yesterday.
    – corsiKa
    Commented Sep 23, 2015 at 17:48

4 Answers 4


Should I stay or should I go?

To be completely honest it's entirely possible and even likely your best option is to leave.

In many cases, managers are more connected than you are and have more influence. Going head-to-head with someone like this in a political battle normally will end poorly.


Fighting the good fight right

Every single company will have different policies for how to approach situations like this. There's really not a specific answer that can be a "one size fits all" solution.

But in general, if you want to try to work things out, here is a good set of steps to follow:

  1. Document your concerns in a meaningful way. You probably want to do this before the next step, depending on your relationship with the manager. But in general, "Monoandale SUCKS!" is not a useful nor constructive complaint and will generally get you no where.
    • This will help you understand if your concerns are real or imagined, too, because if you cannot write down a list of reasons your manager is bad that seems compelling to you then... you probably don't have valid complaints.
    • What types of concerns do you have? Communication style? Actions they take? Figure out what type of problems you have with your manager. It can give insight into how to address them.
    • As HLGEM notes, disagreement about business decisions is not necessarily a great reason to find your manager terrible (no matter how passionate you are, your manager probably has information you don't).
  2. (optional) Figure out if your company has a trustworthy anonymous hotline/etc to discuss. Some larger organizations have these sorts of things. When I worked at a university, they had an Ombuds office - an entirely anonymous way to discuss workplace concerns. This was in my case contractually bound to be anonymous (other than imminent safety issues).
    • Do not blindly trust it will stay "anonymous." I can't stress this enough! Use your judgement as to how anonymous you feel these resources actually are.
    • If you haven't talked with your manager, approach the conversation like, "how can I work through these concerns with my manager?"
  3. Take actions to resolve your concerns with the manager, first. Nearly all escalation processes (except quitting) will end poorly if you jump over first trying to reconcile with the bad manager. For example, going over your bosses authority without talking to him first? This makes you look like an idiot.
    • A lot of "bad person" interpretation is miscommunication. Not always, but if it is, it's nice to figure out with the "easy button" of working it out first
    • In some cases this may feel like a waste of time, and it might be, but if you don't check this box most processes you want to follow will find it difficult to side with you.
  4. Talk to someone else about your concerns. If you still believe you are having problems after the above step(s), find someone who will tell you you are wrong if you are wrong and be willing to ask questions of you. Talk to them about your situation.
    • DO NOT find someone who will just go, "yeah that sucks" without asking questions of you. You want to find someone who will make sure your concerns are valid.
    • Sometimes working with bad managers/coworkers is just part of life, having someone else to talk with about this can be very helpful. They might ask the right questions, "is this temporary? or long term?" or "do you want to stay with that company and just dislike the manager?" etc.
    • Avoid finding a coworker who works on the same team. A few people can easily make a manager a horrible manager by amplifying frustrations and validating and making minor things into huge issues.
  5. Escalate in your company (while looking for another job). A this point, you've verified your concerns are valid, you've tried to work things out with your manager, and are now in a place where you need to:
    1. Begin working whatever internal processes you can (talking to your bosses boss, trying to transfer, etc). This is going to be specific to every company.
    2. Look for a different job. Do this at the same time, as escalating problems like this can end poorly depending on your company culture.
  • 1
    And above all else, remember that someone is not a bad manager just because they make some decisions you don't agree with. Even the best bosses have to make calls that you won't agree with. What you want is not always the best choice for the business and they are often aware of factors that you are not.
    – HLGEM
    Commented Sep 23, 2015 at 13:59
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    I really appreciate the "Document your concerns in a meaningful way" points. This gives the insight to figure out the real problem.
    – Jagz S
    Commented Sep 23, 2015 at 14:28
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    @JagzW Yeah. Even if that piece of electronic paper never is used again, it can still be a very good exercise in conflict resolution to do that. It's kind of an equivalent of rubber-duck-debugging as applied to conflict resolution.
    – enderland
    Commented Sep 23, 2015 at 14:31
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    1-3 seem to be in reverse order, since you recommend doing 3 before 2 and 2 before 1. Maybe it would be good to just go ahead and switch them around? Also, isn't 1 kind of a specific means of doing 5?
    – jpmc26
    Commented Sep 23, 2015 at 17:48
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    @jpmc26 I was going to disagree then I reread my answer and realized what you are saying is completely right ;)
    – enderland
    Commented Sep 23, 2015 at 17:51

It's really hard to give a solid advice without knowing the entire situation. In some cases, a bad manager may have been recently hired in, so it's entirely possible that if you wait it out you will eventually get a new manager.

It also depends on what sort of harassment is going on. If it is something like inappropriate touching, comments, or otherwise personal attack then it is actionable by HR. Otherwise it is more like your words against his/her's.

In all though, reality wise all you can do is look at your situation and then make a determination if you should leave or stay. After leaving, you might find that your situation wasn't so bad or you may find that you left for good reasons. Just don't make any quick decisions until you are sure of yourself.


There isn't really a "mainstream procedure". What options are available to you will depend on what is going on and the organization that employs you.

Your employer may have a procedure; you'll have to check your employee handbook or with your human resources department. Often the only formal option you would have would be providing feedback during a performance review.

If you are in the U.S. (and many other countries, probably) and there is some sort of harrassment taking place, there is probably a means of filing a complaint. As above, check your documentation and with H.R.

That said, if the issue doesn't involve inappropriate or illegal behavior, your best option might be to try discussing the issue directly with the manager. He is human also, and would probably prefer to avoid a formal complaint about their performance, just like you wouldn't like him to put something in writing about you, if you weren't performing well. Granted, this can be a difficult conversation, and I'd recommend that you be as diplomatic as you possibly can, but it's definitely worth trying. In fact, if you make a complaint you might be told to have a direct conversation if you haven't already had one before complaining. Also, keep in mind that if you start asking people in HR or upper management about something like this that your manager is likely to hear of your inquiries, which could make things awkward for you if he brings the matter up.


The best way to handle a problematic manager is to ignore them and just concentrate on getting work done. I have seen situations where this is impossible though.

If your manager is such a pain that you're contemplating leaving, then talk to them about it, tell them that certain things are unprofessional or unacceptable and you're thinking of leaving because of them.

If you don't get a decent response, take it to the next level and make a complaint about the manager. Make sure you have something solid to complain about.

If you still get no resolution, find another job. I've done it a couple of times and it's worked for me. The only thing that wouldn't work (for my temperament) is doing nothing. Communication is always a game changer and working in an unreasonably stressful environment is both unhealthy and bad for you in many other ways, because your stress can spill over into your personal and social life.

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