SURVEY SAYS: Have You Had an Unreasonable Boss?

July 7, 2011 ( - Bosses come in all shapes, sizes, and temperments.

That said, the OfficeTeam survey noted yesterday (see Nearly Four in Ten Quit Jobs over Unreasonable Managers) set me to remembering some of my old bosses.   

This week I asked readers if they had ever worked for an unreasonable boss, what made him/her unreasonable – and what, if anything, they did about it. 

First off, most of this week’s respondents had worked for an unreasonable boss – 60.4%, and ANOTHER 25% said they had worked for more than one.  Said another way, just under 15% said they hadn’t worked for a boss that they were willing to consider “unreasonable.”

As for what people had done in response, nearly a third (32.2%) – and our most common response – said they quit that job….once they had another job lined up.  Roughly one-in-ten (9.2%) said they quit without making that arrangement.

Roughly another third put up with the situation; 13.8% just stuck it out, another 14.1% said they stayed put and tried to deal with the issue, and the remaining 6.9% said that they stayed put, but changed positions (and thus changed bosses).


The rest opted for “other”, a more-than-customarily polyglot of responses that ran the gamut from the reader who said “Just keep doing a good job, eventually they get rid of the boss” to the reader who noted, “That would be my current boss. And let's just say I'm currently "exploring my options". 

Here’s some other perspectives”

Tried to stay put and suffer through it but eventually couldn't take any more and found another job and left.

I have always worked for large corporations.  I have found that, if I can wait it out, unreasonable bosses tend to transfer out or leave to "pursue other opportunities" elsewhere.

Just keep doing a good job, eventually they get rid of the boss.

Gave name to a headhunter who called looking for someone with that profile - the other company hired the boss and I got a promotion.

I was forced to resign- fired in other words. He was a real piece of work.

Quit, but then he became ill, so board asked me to stay....upon his return it was even worse.  I quit without notice and didn't have another job.  Took about 6 months off work, because I was so emotionally and physically drained, I couldn't function!!  Called an acquaintance in another town and landed another job.  Best move, I ever made.

I spent about a year trying to prove that I could live up to her standards. When my health began to decline from the stress, I quit before lining up another job and took several months off to relax before going back to work.


Launching an all out campaign to get a new job in a new company in a new city

After several of us staffers complained to the boss's boss, she was transferred to another department. 

We never liked each other.  In fact during my interview with his predecessor I asked and was assured that I would never have to work with him.  So, I hung on (1 year) hoping they'd "reduce staff" and I'd get a severance package.  My wish came true and I used that money to move out of state. 

Tried to make it work, but the boss, by her own admission, wanted to get rid of me from the day she took over the department and eventually succeeded.  I'm now self-employed.

I was promoted so we ended up on the same level.

Two times I left without a  job, for another I stayed put...until the company was sold.

Talked to the CEO and had my bosses boss (the President) fired, my boss was then somewhat afraid of me so he began behaving. 

Realizing of course, that “unreasonable” may not only lie in the eye of the beholder, but may, in fact, cover a wide range of misbehaviors, I did ask readers what traits combined to create that result for them.  I provided a list to work from, and the results were, as you might expect, somewhat “balanced”.

Before we go there, there were a fair number of traits in the “other” category, including:

Extremely paranoid that she would be fired and replaced by someone holding the position just below her.

She was a nit-picker!!!!

cold demeanor when you approached them with a question.

horrible temper

Inconsistent supervisory style: When confronted with a problem, I wasn't sure if s/he would be calm and work with me to resolve the issue or go off the deep end.

Pretty much all of the above

Over committing their staff with work requests that can not be delivered in the time frame they give management.

Temper!!!  Very demanding and vocal about less than perfection both in front of others and in private - threw something.

Being a liar (he was so incompetent that his cover-up exposed the truth).


He is/was a lying b*stard

Just about all of the above!

Manipulative and backstabbing

Neglecting to give assignments until the last possible minute, then making it look like I couldn't get the work done on time.

Nit picking about details that are insignificant at the expense of really important issues. (Is a typographical error in a zip code on a letter really more important than the pension calculation in the letter?)

How she treats me and others whether in front of other staff or not

He expected me to cover for his whereabouts to the owners of the company. He come to work at 11:00 AM and leave by 4:00 PM. He also was a condescending jerk.

Dishonest, penalized employees for asking for guidance, disrespectful to employees.

Taking commissions from his salespeople.

Constantly blamed us for her mistakes and oversights in front of clients.

He had lost his contract (on retainer with a major brokerage house) and was VERY irate.  He'd slam the door to his office and once inside would have a tantrum in which he would curse at the top of his lungs and throw things, including furniture!  It was really scary. Luckily soon after he lost the contract I found another (better) job with a fabulous boss!

Almost all of the above, depending on which time.

Incomplete training and then unreasonable expectation of perfection in performing duties; then refused to speak to me or make eye contact.


Now, as for the options on the “official” list:

Many had a problem with direction (or the lack thereof):

46.8% - frequent direction shifts

45.5% - inability to provide direction

More than a few had issues with how they took (or didn’t take) credit/responsibility:

42.9% - refusal to accept responsibility for their actions

37.7% - taking credit for the actions/ideas of others


Roughly a quarter had had issues with expectations about when and how to work:

24.7% - expectations about work hours/days

23.4% - expectations about work above everything else

And a noticeable minority had not deal with issues of pay or hiring:

11.7% - refusal to pay reasonable wages

7.8% - refusal to hire needed staff


About a third of this week’s respondents opted for “other”, which included the following explanations:

Threatening to make something up about me in order to fire me like she had many people before me.


Pitting managers against each other and setting up confrontations

Getting 'the look' when you're 1 minute late; and you're an exempt employee...

I suffered through a double dose of inappropriate behavior. The company's lawyer had a crush on me and was slimy and forward. My boss noticed all of this and did nothing to help me, only added fuel to the fire (spreading rumors about us two, calling him my "boyfriend," making embarrassing Ooooing noises in my direction whenever his name came up.) The whole thing was so disgusting and uncomfortable. I was thrilled to leave.

Some days would say "Good morning" but most mornings wouldn't even speak

Exhibiting multiple personalities (a very sybil-like character)

Very easily annoyed and borderline confrontational.

No respecting other's experience

When a Boss doesn't understand the work or process - it makes for a bad boss.

At work but not "with" us.


This person was personally very unpleasant, a bit unclean to be kind.  We would hide our food because we didn't want him putting his hands in it.

Generally treating people like chattel

Had affair with his secretary and paid her unreasonably high salary

I was a manager and he micromanaged, so I didn't have any authority.  Previous manager could be a tyrant, but he allowed you to manage and would not tolerate anyone going above your head.

Choosing one "target" person each year to pick on.

She has no idea how all the units are connected, but has every solution for us to work together.

not allowed to take bathroom breaks, micromanager, obsessive, anything I disliked about a person he was

Hoarding information needed to accomplish job

At first meeting, I was told that I wouldn't have been hired if she was the decision maker.  Great way to start!

Terrible training and people skills.

He wanted me to be his flunky.

Lack of respect for others opinions/ideas and refusal to accept/listen to opinions that were different than hers


That said, the most commonly cited character trait of an unreasonable boss was:

How they treated people in front of others (61%). 

Not surprisingly, asked to choose the ONE attribute that made their unreasonable boss “unreasonable”, that also topped that list (25.6%).



One reader noted that “HA HA, I thought you did a pretty good job of listing the most common reasons.  Seems they all fall into two categories to me...incompetence and disrespect”.  However, my personal favorites were the unreasonable bosses that were:

Just plain mean and rude - oh and a pervert.

Expostulating, confrontational, bull-headed, back-stabbing, mealy-mouthed, blind...just not nice persons!

It's odd how someone can be a "boss" and have to manage people and relationships, yet have the personality of a porcupine.

Complete IDIOT (yes, the capital letters are necessary)

But this week’s Editor’s Choice goes to the reader who said about their unreasonable boss “Halloween was her favorite day. Come to think of it she did serve a lot of gingerbread too.”

Thanks to everyone who participated in our survey!  Oh, and don’t miss the verbatim on the pages that follow – some REAL nasty bosses out there! 


You should have added paranoid and crazy to the list of attributes of unreasonable bosses. Perhaps dishonest should have been there, too.

It's true - it is much easier to ask for forgiveness than permission!

I didn't see on this list anything about the once-rampant sexism in offices.  I have been working since the 1970's which I know makes me "old" and things have vastly improved since then.   I cannot even begin to relate all of the offensive things that were said to me or in my presence by men who I'm sure considered themselves fine family men.  But where was I going to go?  It wasn't any different anywhere else.  I developed a very thick skin and bad hearing.

"She didn't understand the scope of assigned projects, she ignored requests, got involved too late, hired the wrong assist-staff, could not identify what was an issue was and what wasn't.  She belittled everyone (except her favorites) through condescension, misdirection and inability to see that subordinates were human.  She didn't know the meaning of the words “Thank you”.

She nit-picked about the smallest things but missed the infernos blazing throughout her department.  I should have known things were going to be a nightmare when I was ""belittled"" for using the word ""they"" instead of ""we"" when speaking to some outside consultants.  Another person got yelled at for using a coffee filter to write a note.  Billion dollar balance sheet had to balance to the penny even if it cost $10,000 to accomplish that...18 people quit or were fired in as many months in a 14 person department not counting the temps that came and went.  She and her management didn't see that as an issue. 

After 10 weeks with just 1 day off, and a successful completion of a huge 18 month project during which my doctor put me on anti-anxiety meds, aspirin regime to prevent a stroke and anti-depressants (all of which this boss knew about), I raised my voice to her ""favorites"" for not completing their one and only assignment, and was sent home because of a bad attitude.  I chose not to come back.  I have never left without at least 30 days notice.  Within 60 days I was off all of the meds...that was 17 months ago.  In that time period they have had 3 different people in my role."


They can do what they want because they're the boss, and you're held to a different standard.  It's OK for them to come and go as the please, but you have to inform everyone where you are every second of the day...

Fortunately, I've only had one unreasonable boss in my career, and that was when I was a fresh-out-of-school kid.  In the 26 years since then, I've learned to choose my bosses more wisely!

The most unreasonable boss I had was angry all the time, never treated the staff with any respect and was out to make my life as miserable as she was.  She fired me over a mistake she made, which is just as well.  This was back in the 80s and I'm sure she's fired a lot of good people in her time.  Truth is, I pity her and her misery.

One day was riding to assignment with The Boss.  I was expecting my first child. The Boss was driving 85 - 90 miles per hour in a 55 mile per hour zone on a two-lane state highway with gravel shoulders.  The Boss was pulled over for speeding but talked the trooper out of a ticket and just got a warning. Twenty-five years later that Boss was killed in a motor vehicle accident. If I had been older and more mature, I would have insisted he let me out of the car.

"It is very difficult to perform your job with credibility and efficiency when you work for a boss who is unreasonable.  The effect of an unreasonable boss colors the entire work experience and frequently spills over to home too.   

I have worked for both men and is far easier to tolerate male bosses, who typically are not as emotive."


I had a boss so bad I was driven to read two books - Nasty People and Never Work For A Jerk.  My conclusion?  He wasn't going to change leaving me no choice but to leave the company as his conduct was completely intolerable.  And I did.  And I never looked back.  (I also left the books with fellow employees for them to draw their own conclusions.)

I'd add complete lack of regard for employees. I once had a boss whose pregnant secretary was home on doctor’s orders, and despite the fact that he had a temp and also a group of legal secretaries available, insisted that she come in to type a letter for him. He said that she was young and could always have another if this resulted in a miscarriage!

My former boss was too young and inexperienced (27), so she had no idea how to run a department and manage people, plus she didn't know what she was doing. And she wouldn't listen to others.

Generally choice is pretty straightforward, either suck it up or start looking.  With businesses so lean and horizontal now, it is career suicide to take the issue up the ladder and lateral transfers nearly impossible.

2nd most unreasonable boss liked to demand a project with no direction on what he wanted, completely rewrite what was given to him, tweak piece by piece after that over many reviews, eventually arriving back at the original submission almost word for word with maybe a comma thrown in.  Of course he then took credit for having to "do everything himself" and asking why we weren't doing a better job.

Thankfully I have had only one, and it was while I was in college so I could deal with it without damaging my career.

The Peter Principle is alive and well. 

He insisted on calling me (yelling) down the hallway to his office, similiar to calling a dog.  I thought he was joking around the first time...second time was a coincidence...and the third time....I informed him that I wasn't a dog and didn't appreciate being called like one, and that if he called me that way again I was reporting him to Corporate.  Needless to say this lovable Lab turned into a Pit Bull.

The words still ring in my ears - YOU DO WHAT I SAY, WHEN I SAY IT, OR I WILL FIND SOMEONE TO DO IT IN PLACE OF YOU - as his fists were banging on the desk

My boss has no people skills. She is rigid about EVERYTHING! She does not yet understand how our team interacts with three others: independent but intra-dependent. (We are the 'judges' who work with 'prosecutors' and an appeals team) She takes credit for things we do but blames us for errors she makes. She won't go to bat for us. She does ANYTHING the managing prosecutor wants her to do and directs us to do the same. She will not be 'corrected' until we can prove the existence of God for her. I was out on medical leave for two weeks. She came into my office at 11:30 to say hi and welcome back. Rude b.itch. Oh - thanks for letting me vent. I can't wait to get the hell out of here -

I hope that it is rare for one to have an unreasonable boss.  What bothered me most about mine was the condescending attitude he displayed as he looked down his nose at those he just knew were beneath him.  He also tried to impress others in public about his stronger knowledge about your job when he was totally clueless.  I couldn't take it so I found other employment.


Oh, this guy was a real gem.  I disliked him the moment I met him and the company gave me many assurances that I would never work for him.  Three months later...  He wanted the office kept at 57 degrees year round (I refused), whenever I took a bathroom break he'd start paging me frantically claiming I'd been gone for an hour even though I had just left my office (I'd stroll around the office and visit when he did that), he worked 20 hours a day and expected me to (I refused), wanted me to travel to other locations in the state late in the afternoon so that I wouldn't get home until late at night even though he knew I had to get home to take care of my dogs (I refused), would leave me voicemails at all hours of the night that were so long he'd get cut off and have to call in again and again and then he'd want me to transcribe them from the voicemail.  The litany could go on and on, but I'm getting so irritated just thinking about this guy I can't continue.  Time to find my happy place...

I had a boss who wanted to control every aspect of her reports working life.  Staff all had desks in a large office, she insisted on her desk being placed by the door so that she could control who talked to staff members.  She did not like staff to go to lunch together and made life miserable for those who did.  She would become angry and stop speaking to you for any perceived slight; most times you would have no idea why.  She didn't treat Management much better.  We always wondered what detrimental information she had on Management that allowed her to keep her job.

Until I looked in the mirror and realized I'd become one myself. Did that change my tune...I sure as hell hope so!

Although it's not in my nature to "stay put and suffer through the torment" for long, I did in this case.  I worked for a major oil company, and had learned that nothing lasts for long.  Fortunately for me, in this case, I only worked for this boss for a short time before he moved on.  He was very "old school", plus keep in mind this was in the late 1970's, so women definitely still had their place, and he was doing his best to keep them there.  I can now look back on this time as a growth opportunity for me, but at the time, it was REALLY hard for a very young, determined, woman to not want to smack him!  🙂

As long as they keep their jobs and keep making more than me they aren't going to change.


I’ve had bosses that don't give a crap (still do), so if that's unreasonable, then count me in!

The frustrating thing for me was that there was no chain of command to work around her.  Her supervisor knew that she had it in for me, and when I gave my notice, said he was very disappointed.  It would have been nice to have had some works of encouragement from him during the 6 month ordeal.

This particular boss had gone through 9 clerks in 5 years before she targeted me, and the company refused to do anything about her.  The corporate secretary was well aware and even admitted that it was just easier to continually replace the clerks than to correct this person's behavior.  That told me I needed to get another job, which I was able to do.

Justice was served - he was terminated for watching porn on his computer at work!