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How to Deal With Being Treated Unfairly by Your Boss
byBonnie Swain SchindlyMay 01, 2014
Employees expect equal treatment in the workplace, which makes an unfair boss a huge drain on his team’s energy and motivation. He could be someone who doles out unwarranted criticism, no matter how hard you work. Your difficult supervisor might be excluding you from important meetings or visible projects. Sometimes, an unjust boss targets specific demographic groups, such as demonstrating favoritism or discrimination toward women or working moms. Focus on strengthening your communications so you can better understand how to work with a hard-to-please manager.
Talk to your boss if she’s treating you unfairly. Give her specific examples in which her actions come across as unfair. “That conversation has to be your first step, that one-on-one adult discussion that gives them the opportunity to change a behavior,” says Vicky DePiore, human resources manager at United Technologies Aerospace Systems in Cleveland, Ohio. At the same time, be open to constructive feedback from your boss. The same behaviors that you perceive as being unjust may have been your boss's way of signaling that she sees some performance improvement opportunities for you. You may not have been invited to a meeting because she didn’t think you were ready to step up to the challenge. Or the oversight may have been accidental. These discussions need to be open exchanges for you and your manager for them to be productive.
Many companies sponsor groups that support the education and advancement of specific sectors of the workforce, such as advocacy teams for women or minorities. In addition, employers often host committees that focus on corporate cultural changes as a way of encouraging positive behaviors among all employees. These forums can be empowering to someone who’s experiencing unfair treatment with a superior, because they can come to realize they are not alone. “If it’s happening to you, it could be happening to other people,” says DePiore, who is Vice President of Diversity and Inclusion for the Cleveland chapter of the Society for Human Resources Management. Through these advocacy teams, you also can learn from others how they are managing their own imbalanced treatment at work, DePiore says.
Organizational leaders use employee satisfaction surveys to gather candid feedback on how well they’re doing. Those questionnaires can be your opportunity to identify instances in which your boss's behaviors were unfair. “Make sure you’re reporting that through that confidential survey,” says DePiore. The National Business Research Institute also endorses the use of employee surveys to gauge and correct unevenness within the workplace. Many of the questions that appear on these anonymous workplace surveys are designed to measure fair treatment among employees, especially pay practices, NBRI reports. When workers believe they are being treated equally, this can lead to higher productivity and retention that ultimately affect a company’s bottom line.
Handling an unfair boss often means learning to manage your emotions when that person gets under your skin, according to the American Psychological Association. This includes accepting that your manager’s behaviors are not personal. She may be dealing with her own high levels of pressure on the job without realizing that she’s coming across as unreasonable or even hostile. One of the worst tactics is to unleash your own emotional tirade or to avoid or ignore your boss. Instead, always be diplomatic and professional. Approach the difficult supervisor as a conflict-resolution opportunity, not with a victim mentality, the APA suggests. In addition, your tact and professionalism can set your boss at greater ease so that your ongoing conversations can feel less defensive and more constructive.