Lara Mulawka

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How to cope when the boss’s favorite is a disaster

We’ve all known a disastrous boss’s favorite. This is the person you’re least happy to see on Monday morning. You stride in to work, refreshed from your weekend, ready to tackle that project — then you see the disastrous boss’s favorite. Oh, yeah, you think. You work here too. Or rather, you draw a paycheck. You feel your energy leaving you like a balloon deflating.

Feelings aside, your workload can suffer if you are called upon to clean up a mess left by this person. The foul favorite may also cost your company revenue in the form of lost customers, real and potential.

Coping with the boss’s favorite is a sensitive, potentially volatile situation, both for the workplace and your well-being. Tread carefully, as charging ahead in anger may put your job at risk. Here are some possible coping strategies.

  1. Identify the type(s) of disastrous boss’s favorite you’re dealing with

    This will sharpen your focus as you observe and document (see below). The different types of disastrous boss’s favorites include, but are not limited to, the following:

    • the shirker –  can’t seem to get the work done and always has some excuse.
    • the victim – will not be held accountable for anything, ever.
    • the behind-the-back nasty – has the dirt on others, including those gossipers at the Keurig machine.
    • the dangerous incompetent – is likely to lose the med room keys, making it necessary to replace the locks.
    • the fake worker – looks busy and efficient, but a closer look reveals cut corners and skipped steps.
    • the critic – finds fault with all coworkers, including you.

    These categories are fluid and the types overlap frequently. A shirker, for instance, may also be a behind-the-back nasty. Many a dangerous incompetent is also a victim.

  2. Imagine you are the boss

    Looking at the favorite from the boss’s point of view may tell you what you’re up against. The boss’s favorite may have one skill the organization cannot do without, like reconciling conflicting state and municipal building codes. Such finagling may be necessary to keep the company from getting shut down, so the inconsiderate favorite gets to park across two spaces and leave dishes of crusted spaghetti in the breakroom.

    Or it may be simpler. Does the favorite ever miss a day? Bosses lie awake nights dreaming of workers who show up every single day no matter what. You may be a far superior worker, but every time you fail to show up you make it necessary for the boss to use up a chunk of time replacing you, probably time a busy boss cannot spare. That you may be doing the right thing by keeping your sick self away from your coworkers does not make your absence any less burdensome for the boss. Ask yourself who causes the boss fewer headaches: the warm body who shows up every day or the whiz kid who catches cold if somebody in America sneezes?

  3. Take credit for your work and offer to help your boss

    Be alert for ways to take credit for the work you do, such as asking the boss whether your contribution was satisfactory, and whether you can do more? This lets you specify the work you did, showing the boss who’s really carrying the load. If the boss complains that the favorite’s project has stalled, you might offer your services. Make these offers of help to the boss, not the favorite. Don’t give this time server an opportunity to take credit for your work. And on no account badmouth the favorite, even if the boss starts it. The boss is human and may be venting. Conduct yourself like the professional you are.

  4. Document your observations of and experiences with the boss’s favorite

    Include dates, times, context. Did any egregious incidents take place in front of a member of the public, such as a real or potential customer? Put those in a special category, including damage control you did that took you away from your own work. Do others have complaints about the favorite’s negative impact on the workplace? Ask, and state plainly that this is a professional discussion, not a chance to disparage the favorite or gossip. If coworkers were present for any of the affronts you are documenting, seek their permission to include them in your records. Agree to leave them out if they say no, but make it clear that you will not lie if the boss asks who else was there. Keep these records against the day you need to bring them forward (see next step).

  5. Submit a formal complaint

    You’ve done every ethical thing you can think of, yet the favorite continues to run roughshod over you and others. Your morale is suffering, as is your quality of work. You may have to take the distasteful step of submitting a formal complaint and facing the favorite in a formal setting. Your careful documenting will support your assertions. The favorite may wriggle out of one or two instances, but not pages of careful notes with dates and  times. Focus on the workplace actions of the favorite rather than personal qualities. Do not threaten to quit. On the contrary, make the point that it is your desire to work there that prompts you to come forward.

  6. Understand that you may lose

    Weeks may pass and the boss may not get back to you. You may still have that millstone around your neck. But you will have opened a discussion about someone who exerts a malign influence in your workplace. You may find that your courage has altered the dynamic, and that others will be braver thanks to you. This is another reason you must hold the moral high ground. Even if you are stuck with the favorite, this will let the pernicious pet know that they are on notice and cannot skate anymore. You may find, as the weeks go by, that your defeat, and the disastrous favorite’s victory, are temporary.

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