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No. 75 – How do I deal with a toxic, micromanaging boss?

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7 September 2022

I work in healthcare in a private clinic. At the moment I am doing the majority of my supervisor’s work with no recognition. He micromanages me to the point of borderline harassment. I have received nasty emails before for not doing one of his tasks quickly enough. Unfortunately, this supervisor has ingratiated himself to management to the point that he gets all the credit. I worry that if I complain that management will take his side and I will be moved (which due to family circumstances would be a problem for me). What are my options? Could the union help?

Toxic, micromanaging bosses who suck up to their own bosses and then treat those they manage poorly, are the worst. I am sorry to hear you are having to deal with this. Trying to work with or around a boss like this is incredibly difficult. The behaviour you describe is beyond poor management though and sounds like it could be in breach of company policies you have in terms of appropriate behaviour. You should not have to put up with receiving nasty emails, feeling harassed and being fearful of speaking up.

It sounds like you belong to a union – you can definitely ask them for advice. You could also speak to someone else you trust at work (HR or another senior leader) to ask them what your options might be. You cannot lose your job or receive any adverse consequences (like being moved) through making a complaint so you do have rights in this regard. Make sure you keep notes of what is going on and then go and see someone for advice. Good luck.

I am the subject of a complaint from someone in the government department where I work and I am feeling quite distressed and anxious. It has affected me every waking hour of the day and I feel like I walk on eggshells at work. In brief, the complainant says I’ve made them feel psychologically unsafe after providing feedback, which was a valid part of my job. My manager rang me and told me off. For context, a colleague has been encouraging me to go to my director with concerns about my manager’s bullying behaviours towards me for many months. I think I am in a bit of a mess and would appreciate any advice you can give to navigate the situation.

It sounds like you are dealing with a lot so I do hope you have support around you – at home and at work. As you work for a government department, you should be able to access some kind of employee assistance program (EAP) for support so please make sure you take advantage and talk with someone confidentially about the distress you are experiencing.

In terms of what is happening at work, it sounds like you have had a challenging relationship with your manager for some time. I think you could benefit from speaking to someone else you trust at work – possibly someone in HR or another senior leader – and explain your concerns. It is best to speak up now so your employer can organise mediation or a different solution before things escalate. Hopefully, the complaint can be investigated so you can provide your version of events and at the same time the relationship with your manager can be facilitated with the assistance of a third party at work.

From an education perspective, I have gone about as far as I can go in my chosen field and would like to continue study in one of many different, but complementary, fields. However, it is difficult to choose from the many universities and post-grad courses available. Where can I discuss and obtain independent advice on courses that may be suitable based on factors such as my goals and interests, learning outcomes, employability, flexibility, course structure, course cost and university suitability?

There is a fabulous, free online tool that I think you will find helpful called CompareED. It is run by the Social Research Centre and funded by the Department of Education. You can explore different areas you might like to study and compare all Australian higher education institutions offering courses. If you are not sure what you want to study, you can simply browse every course available and see what tickles your fancy. What looks really helpful is the site uses student feedback, employment outcomes data and even graduate incomes from taxation records, to give you detailed information about how graduates rated their course and whether they felt positive about what they learnt.

Send your questions about work, careers and leadership to Your name and any identifying information will not be used. Letters may be edited.

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