Early in your career, your first boss might have felt like a god to you: overflowing with knowledge, directly impactful on your success and the number one person you aimed to impress. While that admiration may wane as you grow in your industry — and even become a manager yourself — there is still a certain clout your higher-up carries. The only issue with idolizing your higher-ups is that not all are created equal and have the best interest of their employees at heart.
In fact, personal development expert and author Christy Whitman says that oftentimes, employers struggle with insecurities and will attempt to control their employees in an effort to feel better. This form of manipulation, is, unfortunately, all too common — and a practice you should be aware of in the workplace, so it doesn’t hard-stop your career progress.
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Here, experts give the tell-tale signs your boss is taking advantage of you — and more importantly, what to do about it:
1. Your boss plays the victim card
In your friend circle, do you have a pal who is always suffering from something? Or seems to find a way to put you in the wrong, even when you know you walked the right line? While you might distance yourself from a person who makes you self-conscious about your character, it can be tougher to take space from a passive-aggressive manager who finds a way to mentally manipulate you by playing the victim card. “Their behavior is passive aggressive, or unpredictable — nice one minute and then rude or distant the next,” Whitman says.
Instead of questioning yourself and your talents, Whitman encourages professionals to take notes on the unreasonable demands and dismissals. In a future meeting or when you’re prepared to leave the company in search of a more effective manager, your examples could come in handy. “Center yourself during the day. Write these incidents down and speak a friend to vent about your boss,” she adds.
2. You always get the grunt work
Real talk: even the CEO of a company has certain parts of his or her job they’d rather skip. Also true though: if the vast majority of your job responsibilities is grunt work that’s below your level, you might be in a tricky situation where your boss is attempting to hold you back. Whether they are intimidated by your talents or have a negative opinion of your performance, they’re taking advantage of your willingness to buckle down and complete a task, according to workplace expert Amy Cooper Hakim, Ph.D.
How do you handle it? With open communication and a willingness to take on other opportunities as they arise: “Consider telling your boss that you would like to stay fresh with a particular skill or task, and would greatly appreciate the opportunity to tackle the next related project. Or, offer to split busy work with a colleague so that you both get the chance to work on the more interesting job-related tasks,” she says.
3. You always seem to get picked to stay late
Even great managers can be guilty of applying too much pressure to their hardest-working employees. As Hakim says, striving to please your boss means you’re readily available, up for anything and an innate problem-solver. These qualities translate to more responsibilities since he or she knows they can trust you to deliver quality work. But before this can wreak havoc on your personal life — and leave you running on fumes — it’s important to set clear boundaries.
“While it is great to be thought of by your boss as one who can successfully tackle a last-minute task, you must also maintain a work-life balance. If you are able to stay after work, then do so,” Hakim says. “However, if you have other plans or just want to go home, offer to complete the project first thing the following day. Even offer to come in 30 minutes early, to get a head start before the office gets busy.”
4. Your boss won’t take responsibility — unless it’s for positive outcomes
When you miss your sales number by a hair or the predicted spend is far higher what you actually shelled out for a new campaign, is your manager the first one to take the blame? If not, raise your eyebrow. While bosses aren’t expected to always take accountability for every misstep of their team, they also shouldn’t throw their employees under the bus. Hakim explains this not only leaves staff feeling taken for granted, but it usually translates into a manager who takes credit for the positive outcomes … even if it wasn’t their work. This makes it more important to work up the courage to stand up for yourself.
“If you complete the tasks for a project, but your boss takes full credit for it in front of your team or his boss, consider a way to ensure that others know that this is your work, too. Offer to present the project update to the team. Or, casually share that you’ve enjoyed working on this assignment when greeting important company leaders,” she suggests.
5. Your boss gossips
Remember when your mother warned you if a friend gossips about another pal to you, you better believe they share a few choice words behind your back, too? Whitman says the same goes in business: if your manager is consistently giving poor examples or reviews of your co-workers to you, they likely practice the same backstabbing strategy with others. Here’s where you should practice those pinky-promise rituals from childhood and bite your tongue. “This makes it very difficult to trust your boss. Be very mindful of what you confide in your boss. Discern what you will share with your boss so that it does not come back to bite you in the long run, because it will,” she says.
6. You feel defensive around them
It’s not only about the habits of your manager, but how they impact you, Whitman reminds. If you’re normally a person who is level-headed, down-to-earth and confident, but around your boss, you find yourself putting up your dukes, it’s a sign you’re feeling underappreciated. “If you are needing to defend yourself because they are aggressive and sometimes mean, critical, or even acting like a bully you need to take some moments for yourself during the day,” she says.
This may mean retreating to the bathroom to gather yourself with three deep breaths or grabbing a coffee outside so you can clear your fog of frustration. And while you’re away from the office, Whitman challenges professionals to dive deep into why they’re sticking around in a gig that brings them stress.
“Find the positive aspects about your job and list them. Ask yourself why you are in the situation and what is the payoff for sticking it out? Sometimes it is better to just walk away from a boss where the job is not an avenue for something better,” she advises.