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  • Andrea Liss

Ask Andrea - Employee in Hell

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Looking for a little advice about your relationship? Perhaps you have questions about parenting in Europe? Ask Andrea! Our social worker, Andrea Liss will pick one question a month and answer it in our mid-month bulletin. You can submit your questions anonymously to her at

Dear Andrea,

I’m having problems with my boss. I’m walking around on eggshells all the time. What should I do?

- Employee in Hell

Dear Employee in Hell,

Here is some information that might help you to determine next steps. Here are five indicators that you might have a bad boss. If you have more than one Bad Boss Indicator, you may want to speak with a confidante who would be willing to mentor you through your situation. Choose a confidante who has been in a leadership role, who knows you well, and is available to guide you through your situation. Have a look at the Top 5 Bad Boss Indicators as you plan your next steps. I’ve also added some resources at the end of this article.

Top 5 Bad Boss Indicators

Bad Boss Indicator #1: Your boss doesn’t meet with you enough

Erica, an OUTCAN spouse, quit her job and fell apart emotionally. She had been working remotely while OUTCAN on a complicated project and felt good about the opportunity, knowing very well how hard it is for OUTCAN spouses to find work. She often didn’t know the next steps to take in the project because she didn’t have easy access to her boss. The time change between Europe and Calgary was always a challenge. I believe the boss needed to spend more time with his junior employee in order for her to feel she had the minimum amount of information to keep working on her project. Erica now feels to blame for not being able to be successful at her work and is unable to see that a contributing factor in her withdrawing from remote work was lack of guidance.

Good bosses meet with their staff frequently in both formal and informal ways. Bosses need to meet with their employees often enough to ensure things are being addressed. Bosses need to know what their employees are up to so that they feel confident that targets are being met and projects are in motion.

Good bosses take the time needed to communicate how they want things done and when. This takes time which should be set aside and rarely cancelled or interrupted. Bad bosses can gloss over things when they have too-high workloads or don’t understand what the employee is working on. This can cause the employee to languish. A boss’ lack of effort can backfire on them. This can leave an employee feeling that they don’t know what they are doing and this is what haunted Erica and caused her to quit her job. Good bosses help their employees problem-solve. In meetings, employees can expect to have a back and forth conversation with their boss and freely share information regardless of the hierarchy. Bosses do call the shots at the end of the day because they have “granted authority.” Granted authority means that a boss has oversight capacity and employees who are subordinate must implement what the boss requests. Instead of taking over their staff member’s project, good bosses articulate their point of view which the employees then incorporates into their work. An employee’s capacity to take influence from their boss is both a measure of the employee’s ego strength and what their boss has done to earn their employee’s respect.

Bad Boss Indicator #2: Your boss does not articulate their needs or expectations with clarity and cordiality.

Good bosses are explicit about expectations, deadlines and required output. You will always know what is expected of you with a good boss. If you are being asked to do something for the first time, good bosses will model how they want things done and the way to go about getting the outcome that is desired. Good bosses share all positive feedback about you and also let you know when you need to make adjustments. At evaluation time, you are never shocked. Good bosses share changes that are coming down the pipe in your organization and in what ways you will be asked to pivot. Notice I said good bosses communicate with clarity AND cordiality. Good bosses will mold and shape you. Sometimes they will have to chisel you, but even when they do, they do so with either some warmth or at the very least, some balance. It’s important to keep things cordial between boss and employee as an anxious employee, like one who is walking on eggshells, will actually under perform. Employees cannot expect to be praised at every good deed they do. This is not realistic. When you do get positive feedback from your boss, thank them for sharing it with you. Thanking your boss will reinforce for them that you respond well to positive feedback.

Bad Boss Indicator #3: Your boss doesn’t take responsibility

When good bosses get it wrong, they take ownership. It requires great ego strength to admit fault. Acknowledging where things went wrong is a boss’ secret weapon. It is important to see your boss is human like you. It’s important to remember that your boss may need more time to think a situation through and may still come back to you to right a wrong. If we want our bosses to be generous with us we also have to be generous with our bosses.

Bad Boss Indicator #4: Your boss doesn’t have some affinity towards you

Good bosses find what they like about their employees, even when the employee has made errors or when the employee is mediocre at their job. Yes, let’s be fair here. Not every employee is a winner. Even in these situations, good bosses have to find a way to approach their weaker employees with respect. When bosses start to take things too personally they can develop dislike for their employees. They are unable to see the forest for the trees and can no longer see the good. Regardless of how difficult it can be, good bosses find something in their employees that they can draw out of them or appreciate. Good bosses look for attributes and skills that their employees possess and hold these qualities in mind in an overall way. Bad bosses get fixated on what is ‘wrong’ with their employees. Good bosses will take into consideration where their employee is coming from because they know them well. Employees will give high ratings for bosses that they feel understand them.

Bad Boss Indicator #5: Your boss is too stressed-out

No matter how great your boss may be, if they are swamped in their work or personal lives and are unable to manage their stress, this can make a great person a bad boss. As employees, we need to realize that bosses can have pressures placed on them from above that we are unaware of. Their own boss’ stress can trickle down until it reaches their employees. Bad bosses let their stress leak out often and can sometimes over-share. Bad bosses are constantly challenged by their personal lives and workloads and do not see that to some degree, their stuff is of no interest to their employees. Good bosses have limits as to what they will share with their employees both personally and professionally. Do not mistake their boundaries as coldness. Good bosses practice the ‘vault - where confidences are maintained and gossip curtailed.

A few more points…

If you are on eggshells, you need to look within as well. This is a balanced way of looking at your situation. You may want to ask yourself whether this is the first time in your life you are experiencing this dynamic. If not, are you often like this with authority figures? If you are on eggshells with your boss, Employee in Hell, and no one else seems to be, you may not be seeing things clearly. Just because you are on eggshells does not necessarily mean that you have a bad boss. It’s important to have an honest conversation with yourself. You may need to work on your anxiety, defensiveness, problem with authority, or confidence. Your boss may be the very best person to give you that feedback! It’s important to consider that conflict can be seen as an opportunity for inner growth and relationship improvement for those willing to assume a growth mindset.

And finally, let’s keep in mind that we all get put in the position of being bosses - whether we are the kid on the playground organizing a game, leading our friends on a trip, being a parent, being a sports team captain, arranging for our parents to be placed in long-term care, or being any sort of a project lead - we are all going to be a boss at some point in our lives. The more generous a view you can take of yourself and your boss, the better. Here are some excellent resources you may want to check out. Some are specifically for employees of Canadian Forces Morale and Welfare Services (CFMWS) and the Canadian Armed Forces (CAF) and Department of National Defence (DND) employees:

And finally, check out the compilation from the Harvard Law School called Top Ten Posts about Conflict Resolution- it that has a wealth of excellent information:


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