How to handle your bossy boss and when is the right time to knock on HR’s door?

Office culture is probably one of the 20th century “inventions” that has experienced such profound changes and reached such new heights in the last 30 years that we should really be proud of ourselves. At one moment (shall we say from the 50s all the way throughout the 80s) we often had this enclosed, iron-fist managed, submissive, hard-working, cigarette-smoke-filled, and often hostile (especially towards women) work environment. Fast forward to the first decade of 21st century and employees are considering rejecting a job offer if there’s no “game room” available on the work premises. What a time to be alive!

But if office culture has evolved, have human condition evolved equally? How different is your boss from some random boss from the 60s? The difference is staggering, many would say. Firstly, laws have changed significantly so the employees are well aware of their rights and ways to protect themselves from hellish bosses.


We are not going to cover here some obvious cases that we assume you already know should be immediately reported to your HR person, like any form of discrimination, harassment, bullying, illegal activity etc. but rather some situations where you are not really sure if the red lines have been crossed.

So when is the time to address a toxic office atmosphere, fuelled mostly by the very person responsible and paid to resolve it and make it better?

SITUATION 1: You’re a small-scale office of 15 people, one extremely nervous and bossy boss, one HR and office air so filled with tension you can cut it with a knife. If lately your boss tends to deal with problems and business obstacles by yelling them out or sending unpleasant emails to almost every person in the office, it’s probably time to head to the HR.

SITUATION 2: Any given workday you are bending backwards trying to fulfil your tasks in the best possible manner but somehow it never seems to be enough and you end up with a condescending if not harsh comment regarding your hard work. If the others in the line management approve of your work and commitment but only your immediate boss is making your life a living hell, it’s time to get HR involved.

SITUATION 3: Picking up coffee for your boss on your way to work is ok if you would stop by to take coffee for yourself anyway and you were the one who offered to bring one extra beverage for him/her. No problem. But if you are on a junior position, fresh out of college and get a casual order to pick up your bosses dry-cleaning or get him/her lunch and your position is not a personal assistant, then you should consider addressing this to your HR. No matter the level of your position, no one should scare you into overstepping your job description unless you agreed to it.


The bottom line is that if you’re already posing yourself a question: “Should I take it to the HR?” it probably means that you should.

Some companies cherish a very relaxed office climate and the line between the management and even junior employees is rarely visible at first glance but more so in situations when important decisions are about to be made or an issue requires a senior expert employee to be involved. This is mostly characteristic for start ups and young entrepreneurs managing a newly assembled team.

In other offices the hierarchy is not only obvious at first sight but is also pointed out on any given occasion and the line of responsibility is very precise and clear to all the employees.

Neither of the two models are per se good or bad. When you join the company, no matter its scale or industry, the behaviour of your manager, a person who is in charge of running the show, is the litmus test of the work environment you’ll find yourself in.

When the situation with your boss starts preventing you from doing your job and contributing to the company, when you dread thinking about the upcoming work week on a Sunday evening and you feel that you’re stressed out not because of the deadline but because of harsh words and snappy comments that were absolutely uncalled for, you should talk to your HR.

What’s the course of action?

  1. Address the issue clearly and concisely.
  2. Make sure to offer examples of your boss’ problematic behaviour.
  3. Point out where you see the problem and why it negatively affects your work.
  4. Propose a possible solution if you can think of any.
  5. Consider and practice the advice you receive from your HR even if you don’t agree with it in full and explore where it might take you.

It’s important to remember that HR in your company is there not only for the problems but also for a simple chat about any work-related topic that’s been slightly bothering you lately. Whether you’re just tired and feel that the workload is too heavy to handle all at once at this moment or you feel demotivated and think that switching to another assignment or project would make you flourish, you should absolutely present it to your HR.

Delaying and hesitating are proven to aggravate problems. The change has to start with you and your HR person. Maybe you’re not part of the problem, but make sure you become the part of the solution.