When you don't respect your manager

If you don't like or respect your boss, don't quit your job. At least not without trying these tactics first.

So you're being paid a decent salary to do your dream job for a great company, but there’s just one thing wrong with the picture: your manager.

If you've ever felt like quitting your job because you didn't like or respect your boss, take my advice: Don't quit. In companies worth working for, good people last longer than bad managers do.

Who’s in charge here?
I realize some of you work for people who are great managers and have excellent technical skills, but those folks are few and far between. In IT, you typically find three types of managers:
  • Technically proficient but with mediocre management skills. If you’re like most IT people, you can usually respect a manager who has at least the same technical expertise or experience you have—even if you don’t like that manager’s personal management style. Reporting to someone who's less than an ideal manager is easier to do when that person is helping upgrade your skill set.
  • Great with people but not technical. Some managers who aren't great technicians still can be well liked and respected by their technically skilled subordinates. Wise nontechnical managers know that the way to look smart is to stay out of the way and let their good technical people produce results.
  • No technical or people skills. You have to wonder how people with no technical skills and poor management technique ever land an IT job in the first place. But IT is like every other profession—some real bozos sneak in occasionally.

Take this job and change it
It’s the people who fall into that third category that cause companies to lose good technical talent. If you report to one of those managers, here are some tips for keeping your job without sacrificing your sanity and self-respect.

Talk it out
Ideally, if you don’t like the way your boss is managing you and your career, you should be able to sit down and discuss the issues as rational adults. If your boss is the type of person who appreciates feedback and strives to be a better manager, he or she will appreciate your direct approach.

The problem, of course, is that sharing constructive criticism is difficult in any setting, but especially when you’re talking to “the boss.” Honesty is supposed to be the best policy, but being too honest may backfire. If you say you’re unhappy with the way things are going, your manager may respond by reminding you where the door is.

Document your issues and go to HR
If there’s simply no way you can sit down and talk to your manager about what’s wrong—or if you’ve tried talking and nothing changed—take your case to the human resources department. Mediating conflicts between employees is one of the things the HR person is supposed to do, right?

Before you schedule the meeting with HR, put your thoughts together in writing. Document the issues from your point of view, and be sure to include your suggestions, if you have any, for how to resolve those issues.

Tell the HR person that you love your job, you love working for the company, but you need help resolving some issues with your manager. Mention at least one thing the manager does well before you start listing the problem areas.

The HR person’s job is to evaluate your concerns and pass along those concerns to the people who can address them. Of course, there’s no guarantee that the HR department will be able to change anything, but it’s one of your options.

Go over your manager’s head
I have a developer friend who told me this story. When he worked for a Fortune 100 company, he “reported to a clown.” “My manager didn’t understand the work I was doing, and yet he tried to micro-manage everything I did. I couldn’t stand working for him, but I liked the company.”

So my friend approached the head of the IT department and said, “Look, I can’t work for [the clown] any more. Unless you can give me an assignment on another team, I’m out of here.” Because he didn’t want to see my friend’s skill set walk out the door, the department head found my friend a new assignment, reporting to a different manager.

Even if you win—like my friend did—and you get a new manager, you still have to consider the possibility that your old manager will resent you for going over his or her head. However, as long as you’re confident in your abilities and in your value to the company, you should be safe from retribution by the scorned manager. The bottom line is you don’t have to suffer working under a bad manager—give your company a chance to make things right before you take the extreme step of quitting.

Tell your tale
Have you ever reported to someone who was the epitome of the great (or the not-so-great) manager? If so, send us a note and share your story. If we publish your story in a View from Ground Zero column, we'll send you a cool TechRepublic T-shirt.
Each Tuesday, Jeff Davis tells it like he sees it from the trenches of the IT battle. And you can get his report from the frontlines delivered straight to your e-mail front door. If you like what you read, tell a friend how to subscribe to Jeff's View from Ground Zero TechMail. Get a bonus of Jeff's picks for the best Web stuff—exclusively for our TechMail subscribers.

I work on a team of three people in corporate technology in the Bay Area. There is a peer, a manager who was recently a peer, and myself. Above my manager is the director. I get along with her just fine. She's respectable and I would follow her anywhere. The problem here, is the manager and the peer.

The trouble starts with the peer. He doesn't show up for work on a pretty consistent basis and claims to be out "sick." Well I find out he and my manager are going out and partying on weeknights; opening talking about getting drunk at strip clubs. The peer still has a job. The manager acts annoyed that he's absent, but no change in behaviour. The manager comes over and talks about this stuff with the peer and together, they browse club slut Facebook pages. Now look, I'm no prude. I would gladly be doing any of these things (not really a fan of strip clubs, but that's just because the people there creep me out). I just don't think it's an appropriate use of time, nor is it an appropriate activity between a manager and subordinate in the office.

The manager, in his new position has not stopped complaining about all of the work he has to do and how busy he is. He's constantly saying aloud from his desk, they he "can't do all this" or "doesn't have to do this anymore" because he's the manager and has more important things to do.

We have a reconnect this Saturday. I am hourly. I was asked to come in. This is nothing new to me. I've done this several times and generally, don't mind. The problem is that I have no respect for the people on my new team. We can't even get the one guy to come in when he's scheduled. I am here on time every day. I tell the manager that driving 60 miles to spend 30 minutes plugging in power and ethernet cables on a Saturday morning as an hourly employee doesn't make much sense. I told him I would come in anyway, but I want him to be aware of my concerns. He gives me the attempt at guilt, response "Don't worry about it. I'll take care of it and not get paid." and blows me off with the "I'm busy." He's salary and he's a manager. I don't really care about Saturday. Like I said, I've one it numerous times. It's the attitude, I can't stand. You took the manager job. Did you think there was less responsibility? I don't get it.

Anyway, I found this article. I can't talk to him. Sorry for the rant. I don't know what to do, here.

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