How to Survive When Your Boss is Eternally in a Bad Mood

how to deal with grumpy boss

Joanne Poh



If you have a boss who strikes fear into the hearts of everyone in the office and is as pleasant to be around as a conniving Sim Lim salesman, you have our sympathies. People leave their jobs for many reasons, but a bad boss is one of the most compelling.

I know what it’s like working with a psychotic boss—it can be completely debilitating. I used to pray during my commute to work that I would get into a minor accident so I wouldn’t have to show up at work that day.

Even if you’re unable to run screaming to another job, that doesn’t mean you’re doomed to be miserable for the rest of your career. Here’s how to cope.


1. Find out what pisses your boss off

Few people really take the time to understand grumpy bosses, preferring instead to do a disappearing act whenever they appear.

Guess what—your boss is human, too. Supposedly. And human beings tend to be rather predictable creatures. Unless your boss is certifiably mad, if you open your eyes and pay attention, you’ll probably be able to suss out what triggers his or her bad moods. Talk to your colleagues who’ve been at the company longer than you and most will be able to clue you in on what drives your boss nuts.

I had one boss who got pissed off whenever she overheard staff chatting with each other, expecting them to sit in silence throughout the day. Figuring this out made it easy enough to stay out of trouble, as the staff sitting near her room would simply communicate using their mobile phones or via email, or take their conversations out of earshot.

On the other hand, I had another boss who would get snappy whenever she was stressed out at work. One could always tell when she was stressed out because you could hear it in her voice when she was on the phone with clients. In moments like these, everyone at the office would be careful not to ask her to approve their leave applications or to submit work for review.


2. Keep yourself detached and distracted

Even if your boss isn’t flogging you with an actual whip, you might find yourself getting stressed out and irritable just by being in the same room as him or her.

One of my bosses used to scream at her secretaries constantly, and the sound of her voice reverberating throughout the office was about as good for morale as hanging a severed head on the wall as a warning to misbehaving employees.

If your boss’s bad moods are as contagious as the Ebola virus, try to do all you can to completely detach yourself from his or her bad moods.

You might want to listen to music using a set of headphones, wear ear plugs or even take your work to another part of the room if possible. If you have a flexible lunch break, nip out for a breather when your boss is in the office and then return when he or she is at lunch.

The important thing is not to feed off their bad moods. Talk to a humorous colleague, steal away to the pantry for a cup of tea or try to find something to distract you with at work, if you’re not already spending 80% of your day bitching with your colleagues on Whatsapp.


3. Take a stand if your boundaries are crossed or you’re abused

Working in Singapore, one learns very quickly that unless you work at some hip startup, you have to be very respectful of the office hierarchy in order to emerge alive at the end of the day.

Although this means you’ll need to suck up your boss’ bad moods in most cases, if he turns abusive or gets out of line, you have every right to politely enforce your personal boundaries.

One of my former bosses was infamous for pushing the blame to her subordinates whenever something went wrong, even when the mistake was hers.

Once she returned from a holiday and accused a colleague and I of not doing some administrative task she claimed she had asked us to do before she went on leave. However, I had written down every word of her instructions in a notebook and both my colleague and I were sure she had forgotten to delegate the task she was now accusing us of not having done.

Now, I don’t think it’s acceptable to lie in such a situation. So I told her very politely that in my understanding, she had not given us instructions she claimed she had.

She was flabbergasted for a moment, and I’m certain she hated my guts from that day onwards. But I did notice that she rarely tried to pull such stunts on me afterwards, while our more timid colleagues got walked all over.

Obviously, if you have a boss who is physically and verbally abusive, it’s only common sense to leave the job somewhere down the road. But in the meantime, try to remain civil even as you let your boss know what behaviour you will not tolerate from a fellow human being.

Do you have a boss who’s a total monster? Tell us how you deal in the comments!

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Joanne Poh

In my previous life, I was a property lawyer who spent most of my time struggling to get out of bed or stuck in peak hour traffic. These days, as a freelance commercial writer, I work in bed, on the beach, in parks and at cafes, all while being really frugal. I like helping other people save money so they can stop living lives they don't like.