Caution: Warning signs of a bad boss

No one wants to work with a bad boss, and not being happy at work can have a huge impact on your morale, productivity and career fulfilment. Here are five questions you need to ask to work out if your potential boss is a good one.

Bad boss or bad fit?

Rather than labelling a prospective boss as “bad” or “good”, SEEK’s Resident Psychologist Sabina Read says it’s helpful to consider what you are seeking in a boss.

“Are you looking for a mentor, wise elder, inspiring go-getter, team player, independent operator, a person who challenges the status quo, someone who values learning and development, or someone whose values align with your own?” she asks. “When the employee-boss match isn’t a good fit, the costs are high to our professional and personal well-being.”

Know your values before deciding on the role

Pursuing a new job is the perfect time to evaluate your values, as working in a place that reflects those values increases your chances of being satisfied in the job.

“Our values provide a roadmap that ensures our work is aligned to who we are,” says Read. “While many of us may be able to park our values in the short-term to get a task done, in the long-term ignoring these values usually brings resentment, a loss of meaning, and a sense of being a square peg in a round hole.”

Your work values may include intrinsic principles such as undertaking work that makes a difference to people’s lives, enjoying productive working relationships and doing interesting projects. Extrinsic values may include recognition, being paid well, prestige and job security.

Warning signs

Before you apply for, interview for, or accept a new position, consider what has contributed to healthy and productive working relationships in the past. “Explore what it was about past bosses that worked for you and assess the way your needs have changed or remained the same,” says Read.

Look at factors under your control, as well as boss-related factors, and attempt to make sense of which resulted in feeling stressed and dissatisfied, or energised, supported and motivated.

Questions to ask to avoid a bad boss

“Job hunting is a little like dating,” says Read. “We can tick the boxes of experience, qualifications and technical skills but often it’s that gut-feeling based on likeability, compatibility and cultural fit that is as important.”

Five questions to ask potential bosses:

  1. What are some characteristics of current employees who shine in this organisation?
    This is a great way to test whether your values match those of ‘successful’ employees
  2. Help me understand what’s important in this role aside from skills and experience
    Listen to see if your potential boss highlights particular characteristics, beliefs or ideals. Do they fit yours?
  3. What methods of communication work best for you? How do you like to give feedback?
    Ask this to gauge whether your potential manager is thoughtful and careful in the way they communicate and deliver feedback.
  4. Can you give me some examples of times when you have supported the career growth of your employees?
    It’s important that career progression is supported and encouraged. Ask this question to see if learning and development among employees is fostered.
  5. How would your employees describe your leadership style?
    Ask this to gauge self-awareness. Does it sound realistic when they answer this question? Do they mention any shortcomings they are trying to address?

Having a bad boss, or a boss who is a bad fit for you can have a big impact on your happiness at work. Knowing your values and asking simple questions that target potential warning signs before you accept the job can ensure a healthy working relationship with your new boss.

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