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How to Complain About a Bad Manager

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Working with a manager who doesn’t have good leadership skills, shows favoritism or is simply unpleasant can make your work life unbearable. Complaining about the behavior can help move things in a positive direction, but only if you follow the proper procedures and focus on solutions rather than just venting about what’s bothering you.

When You Should Complain

Although it can be satisfying to complain about your boss, employment attorney Donna Ballman, in an article for AOL Finance, recommends not to complain unless it’s absolutely necessary. Unless there is a legitimate legal reason for your complaint, your manager could retaliate against you. According to labor law, you are protected from retaliation if your complaint involves discrimination or harassment, wage or overtime violations, illegal activity on the part of the company or collective action by employees to improve working conditions. In other words, if your complaint is about your boss harassing you regarding your race or gender, you are protected if you complain. If your complaint is that your boss is incompetent or a jerk, he can retaliate against you — and that could include getting fired.

Follow Procedure

Before you complain, check your employee handbook or ask human resources if there is a process for filing formal complaints. Some companies require employees to schedule a meeting to discuss problems, while others want a written complaint with specific details about the manager’s actions. In either case, it’s typically a good idea to write down your complaints and bring copies of the documentation to the meeting. That way, if your boss retaliates illegally, or your complaint goes unaddressed, you have proof of what you said and the issues you brought up.

Talk With Your Manager

If you have issues with your boss that aren’t illegal, it’s usually best to address the supervisor directly, rather than going through HR. In fact, HR will rarely step in if the issue isn’t something illegal. If you and your manager don’t get along, you feel like you’re being treated unfairly, you suspect favoritism or any other possible complaint, it’s best to address the issue with your manager directly. Again, writing down your complaint, with specific reasons for your feelings, is a good idea because with documentation, your boss cannot claim ignorance if the issue continues.

To make your complaint, schedule a meeting with your manager. During the meeting, present your complaint calmly and without emotion, focusing on how the problem is affecting your work and your ideas for solving it. Avoid making personal attacks, or saying things like, “You always give Mary better assignments than me.” Instead, ask questions, and suggest solutions, for example: “I’ve noticed that Mary seems to get more assignments than I do. Is there a problem with my work? If there is something I need to work on, I’d like to know, so I can be a more valuable member of the team.” This approach doesn’t put your manager on the defensive, but rather identifies the problem and your willingness to solve it, while giving your manager an opportunity to provide her own feedback.

Keep It Off Social Media

If your manager is making your life difficult, you might be tempted to vent on social media. Technically, if you are complaining about your workplace or working conditions online, you can’t be fired for your posts, as federal labor laws protect employees from retaliation for discussing work conditions. However, posting a litany of complaints about your boss online still isn’t a good idea for several reasons. For starters, even if you aren’t connected with your manager on social media, your words can still get back to him via other connections. If you go on a tirade and call her every name in the book, or make false claims, you could find yourself in legal hot water for defamation. Finally, what you say about your manager on your page now could come up in searches by future employers, who may then be reluctant to hire you. No matter how frustrated you are, keep your complaints professional, and follow the proper channels.


An adjunct instructor at Central Maine Community College, Kristen Hamlin is also a freelance writer and editor, specializing in careers, business, education, and lifestyle topics. The author of Graduate! Everything You Need to Succeed After College (Capital Books), which covers everything from career and financial advice to furnishing your first apartment, her work has also appeared in Young Money, Lewiston Auburn Magazine, USA Today, and a variety of online outlets. She's also been quoted as a career expert in many newspapers and magazines, including Cosmopolitan and Parade. She has a B.A. in Communication from Stonehill College, and a Master of Liberal Studies in Creative Writing from the University of Denver.

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