Tips for Dealing With an Unreasonable Boss

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Published: 12th January 2011
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Copyright (c) 2010 Alison Withers

A recent recruitment agency's competition asking candidates for their stories of bosses from hell produced these anecdotes among many: regular midnight and weekend phone calls, the temper tantrums resulting in various missiles being thrown and being expected to work until near-midnight for no extra pay.

A top PA to a busy CEO or director in a corporate environment in a city like London is, of course, expected to go beyond the regular nine to five calls of duty and that is reflected in the salary. However, should a PA really be expected to have to put up with behaviour that is often childish, unreasonable and little short of bullying?

Sadly, especially in times of uncertainty and high unemployment or out of fear that being known to stand up for their rights could end up ruining their career many PAs do, even though there are amployment protection laws and the option of making formal complaints.

There are ways of dealing with situations like these, however, and the first is to try and avoid them by registering with a reputable agency that makes a point of getting to know both its clients and its candidates so that they can ensure the best fit for any placement.

Some also ask for regular feedback from both clients and candidates as well and if a particular client has regularly caused problems may even consider not doing business with them.

For a PA already in a position which, all things being equal, they would love there are some strategies for coping if their boss turns out to be ultra-demanding and ultra-unreasonable.

It is generally expected that PAs to senior executives have to be tactful, calm, quick-thinking and super-efficient under pressure. They can draw on all these strengths to help deal with abusive behavious.

At times a senior executive's job can be stressful and if they are showing an uncharacteristic short temper the PA's calm and self-control will help them deal with this.

If, however, such abusive behaviour is a regular occurrence it can start to affect the health and performance of the recipient.

One option is to confront the person but in a way that is above all calm, businesslike and presented as being a sincere effort to contribute to the company's improvement.

Repeating back an unreasonable request is a good technique - as if for clarification - which may make the person think again. Confirming requests in writing, which makes things more formal and efficient and helps the boss feel that they are still in control, is another technique for managing the situation.

If the abusive behaviour continues it may help to ask for an informal and confidential chat with the company's HR department to ask for guidance. It depends on the company and the situation whether an employee feels confident that their request for confidentiality will be respected. If they are sure, then just having the opportunity to unburden may be enough to help them cope and the HR team may also have advice on how to handle or minimise future incidents.

As long as the problem is presented as a sincere effort to find a solution that will have a positive impact on the company's performance and the language used is moderate and businesslike seeking help can be presented as being in the interests of the company.

Of course, most companies have a properly laid down grievance procedure, and if nothing else works it could be an option, but definitely as a last resort since no matter how neutrally it is handled it is an employee making a complaint against a superior and while the formal process might achieve a resolution could also have an effect on the relationship between the two, who are, after all human beings.

If the situation continues and nothing has worked it may be the only solution is to consider moving on for the sake of mental health and stress levels. If that is the conclusion it is sensible to make sure of another job before handing in notice.


Working in a stressful, busy corporate environment in a place like London can result in a senior executive subjecting their PA to extreme and abusive behaviour. But, says writer Ali Withers, there are some strategies for coping.

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