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How To Free Yourself Of A Bad Boss

October 4th, 2012 by Michelle McQuaid

bad bossAre you dreading going to work today because of your bad boss?

Exhausted and fed up with making your boss richer?  Wondering why you continue to show up each day when your work feels completely pointless?

Most employees report they’d be more productive and more successful at work if they got along better with their boss.  Not only that, they’d be happier and healthier as well.

So why do you continue to put up with a bad boss and is there anything practical you can do to make the situation at work better?

How a bad boss strips the meaning from your job

One of the ways a bad boss strips so much joy from lives is they make our work seem absolutely pointless.  Most of us long to be more than the sum of the tasks we perform and yet, for many of us, finding meaningful work feels like something we just can’t afford. However, when a sense of meaning is found in our jobs, a growing body of evidence shows that we’re happier, more motivated, more committed, and more satisfied, which enables us to perform better and free ourselves of a bad boss!

Our need to have meaning in our work was brought home to me the first time I met Tal Ben-Shahar, Harvard’s first positive psychology lecturer. An avid sportsman who’s thoughtful, insightful and courageous, Tal consults and lectures around the world to executives in multi-national corporations on leadership, ethics, happiness, resilience, goal setting and mindfulness. He stood up in front of our financially driven leadership team – the odd bad boss among them – and convinced them that meaning was an essential requirement for productive and profitable work. It was quite something.

There is a universal need to feel we matter, that our hard work isn’t futile. We also want to believe that we have a sense of control over our fates. A bad boss tends to strip both of these from our workplaces.  The challenge is this makes it hard to justify our actions: why we should forgive, what we have to be grateful for, why we show kindness and so on. It also disconnects from others.  The result is left unchecked for weeks, months or even years on end, a bad boss ends up undermining our performance, damaging our health, destroying our relationships and leaving us feeling depressed and anxious.

How finding meaning can free you of a bad boss

people who use their strengths at work are happier and better at their jobA sense of meaning fuels your sense of self-worth and allows you to belong to something that is bigger than yourself. It puts a bad boss into perspective rather than letting them ruin your life.

Tal explained that different people find meaning in different things. In order to experience a sense of purpose, the goals you set for yourself need to be intrinsically meaningful. They must be personally significant and in accordance with your own values and passions rather than dictated by your family, friends, workplaces, society or even your bad boss.

I think this idea is best explained with the well-known story of three men who are found smashing boulders with iron hammers. When asked what they are doing, the first man said, “Breaking big rocks into little rocks.” The second man said, “Feeding my family.” The third man said, “Building a cathedral.” In fact, what the hundreds of interviews showed is that how you view and feel about your jobs has as much to do with your beliefs as any actual work that’s being done or your bad boss.

The good news is you can restore meaning to your work without changing your job – or even your bad boss.  Try these proven, practical approaches from positive psychology to free yourself from the pointlessness of a bad boss:

  • Find purpose in little tasks – Rewrite your job “job description” into a “calling description” by turning a piece of paper horizontally and on the left-hand side writing down a job task that feels devoid of meaning. Then ask: What is the purpose of this task? What will I accomplish? Draw an arrow to the right and write this answer down. If what’s written still seems unimportant, ask once more: what does this result lead to?  Draw another arrow and write it down and keep working through this process until there is a result that is meaningful to you so it’s possible to see the sum of the tasks regardless of your bad boss.
  • Re-craft the purpose of your job – Answer these three crucial questions on a piece of paper: What gives me meaning? What gives me pleasure? What are my strengths? Pay close attention to the trends that emerge.  Which of your answers overlap?  Now how can you start spending a little more time each day on what you do and who you do it with that better aligns with the passions you have?  Look for small tweaks at first so you don’t even need to say anything to your bad boss.
  • Pursuing goals with purpose – When it comes to boosting your sense of meaning at work, it pays to pick the right kind of goals.  To free yourself of the misery of a bad boss it helps to find your “want to” goals rather than “have to” goals.  Simply write down all all the things you can do. Out of those, select the ones you want to do. Then, reduce your choice further by zooming in on what you really want to do. Finally, select those things that you really, really want to do – and then start spending more time on these at work.

Finding meaning in your work satisfies your true values and innate needs, making you happier, healthier and willing to work harder. It frees you to live a life of purpose, regardless of a bad boss.

Does your work have purpose?  Have you found a way around a bad boss?

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