Career Path

Is Your Boss Sabotaging Your Career?

In 75% of the cases where people quit a job, it’s because of a situation that was within their manager’s control.

Two years ago, Kate was offered a dream opportunity: the chance to work for a legacy retailer as an associate buyer. She’d already spent several years climbing the ranks at a fast-growing online apparel brand and was looking forward to learning a new business, meeting new people, and applying her skills in a new market.

A year and a half into the job, Kate was certain that her efforts were in vain. Her boss, Margaret, seemed content to have her doing only one kind of job, despite Kate’s competence and willingness to solve more pressing problems. Margaret never once asked Kate about her aspirations, hardly gave her feedback, and would often leave her out of high-visibility meetings. The final straw was when Kate was overlooked for a promotion in a neighboring division—Margaret had never even mentioned the opportunity.

A large part of surviving a bad boss comes down to confidence.

Having a boss who holds you back or sabotages your career advancement is more common than you might think, and is often what drives people to leave their jobs. In 75% of the cases where people quit a job, according to an analysis by Gallup, it was because of a situation that was within their manager’s control, like failing to provide opportunities for career advancement and development. But there are some steps you can take to make your current situation a bit better. In the spirit of National Job Action Day, which is all about empowering workers, here’s how to look out for yourself when your boss is sabotaging your career.

Network within your firm.

If your boss isn’t singing your praises, it’s up to you to toot your own horn. The best way to do that is to network with people at all levels of your company. It’s wise to be strategic: Instead of going over your boss’s head and cozying up to their boss, make friends with people who have the same amount of influence as the big boss. Approach them by saying you’re looking for new opportunities to learn and grow, and put effort into learning more about them and what they do. It may ultimately translate into a new job within the organization.

Set the expectation about where you want to be.

In an ideal world, your boss would look out for you, teeing you up for career advancement and development opportunities without being asked. But when that doesn’t happen, it pays to be crystal clear about your expectations by saying something like, “I’m hoping to be in this kind of role in the next six months—how can I get there?” Sean Carney, a career coach at Korn Ferry Advance, recommends going in with the intent to demonstrate loyalty and a desire to make an impact on the business. Simply bringing up the conversation might push your boss to help, because they may not have been paying attention before.

At the very least, clear expectations give you a foundation to stand on when you don’t get what you aimed for, and can help you differentiate whether your boss is actually holding you back or whether something larger is going on at the company that they may be trying to shield you from.

Preserve your confidence.

It can be demoralizing to work for a boss who’s sabotaging your career either directly or indirectly. The effects can be self-perpetuating: You don’t get rewarded for your efforts, so you feel like any effort you put in is futile. But giving up isn’t going to get you out of your predicament. A large part of surviving a bad boss comes down to confidence. You can boost this through exercising (which is shown to have a mood-enhancing effect even after just five minutes), meditating, and focusing on your life outside of work—particularly the social aspects of it.

Ask for forgiveness, not permission.

When your boss is truly sabotaging your career advancement, and you’ve tried everything to change that and failed, you may have to be bolder in your pursuit of important career opportunities. That could mean worming your way into an invitation to an important conference or volunteering to help with a high-profile project in your department that you didn’t get assigned to. At the end of the day, it’s your career, and no one is going to care more about it than you do.

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