It can’t be denied that the work-from-home (WFH) dynamic has amplified the issues of problematic bosses. For one, mistrusting bosses have become more paranoid about subordinates slacking off and are now micromanaging even more. Then, those with anger issues are increasingly prone to emotional outbursts because of the additional stresses that come with the new arrangement.
However, since WFH is likely to be a big part of the work model even in a post-pandemic landscape, it is crucial that – whether as employee or boss – we improve our synergy with each other, lest the relationship implodes. As it is, when bosses are unreasonable, unprofessional and/or incompetent, employees are left feeling demoralised, confused and disheartened.
Have an overbearing boss? There are things you can do to make things easier for yourself. Or are you a boss who is, well, problematic? We’ve got advice from other bosses on how to eliminate insufferable behaviour. The bottom line is, whichever side of the fence you’re on, there’s always something you can do about it.
WFH amplifies issues
Remote working brings out the worst in problematic bosses simply because there is greater potential for misunderstandings.
“Face-to-face conversations have been replaced with less information-rich media like phone calls, Zoom meetings and e-mails, which don’t provide as many contextual cues. This means people probably spend more time and effort communicating the same message. The lack of information-richness can also amplify miscommunication and other difficulties,” says Dr Ong Wei Jee, an assistant professor at NUS Business School’s Department of Management & Organisation.
That’s not all. Not having a physical presence is also something they’re trying to acclimatise to.
“When it comes to being present for team members, leading with a physical versus online presence is new and can be challenging,” says Rachel Lim, co-founder of clothing brand Love, Bonito.
Plus, bosses with familial commitments have their fair share of issues to navigate when working from home, which can affect their moods.
“It’s hard to work from home when you’re a parent. Most of us live in apartments and space is often limited for setting up a home office, and sometimes, it’s difficult to concentrate,” says Celine Tan, 39, partner and chief operating officer (COO) at communications agency Ate Group. The #HerWorldTribe member is also the co-founder and COO of caviar brand Caviar Colony.
Dealing with a problematic boss
Whatever the reason, it is important that the problematic behaviour is alleviated. Have a boss who won’t stop breathing down your neck? It might help to prove your mettle and earn more of their trust.
“Conflicts usually happen when the boss and subordinate don’t see eye to eye on how ‘managing’ should be achieved, so it is often a matter of convincing a ‘micromanage-y’ boss that it is OK to take a different approach,” says Dr Ong. “If you want them to micromanage less, you can take the effort to show that you value their input, and that you can be trusted to do things on your own after.”
If a passive approach doesn’t work with your boss, you can try having a tactful conversation with them.
“My boss became a micromanager from hell during the circuit breaker; she asked that our team jump on a video call from noon till evening every day so that we could ‘retain our closeness’. It made things really awkward – I felt like I was leaving too much to the imagination if I was taking too long in the toilet. I also didn’t like that there was no flexibility in our lunch hour,” says Sarah*, who works for a mid-sized enterprise.
“My colleagues and I decided to have a chat with her about it two weeks in. We told her that, unless we have demonstrated otherwise, we can be trusted to be as productive without the need to be ‘watched’. We made sure to keep the conversation light-hearted and cracked a few jokes. She relented, and we haven’t reverted to that arrangement since.”
Tips for good leadership
Suspect that you might actually be a problematic boss? Don’t fret. As long as there’s a longing for change, there’s plenty you can do to turn things around.
Firstly, learn to trust your employees. “Give them the space and autonomy they need to do their work,” offers Rachel. The 34-year-old heads a company with 250 staff.
Secondly, establish open communication. “It’s amazing what giving someone the space to be heard can do. And as leaders, we need to be vulnerable enough to let our employees know that we too struggle and fail at times, and that no one is perfect,” says Rachel. She adds that it is crucial to remain approachable, and to open up about how you cope with issues.
Lastly, practise empathy. “We should remember that we have the power and authority to make a difference, whether by setting an example or coming up with initiatives that will help our staff better weather this season,” says Rachel.