My Boss is a Fool

Dear Robin:

My family is still recovering from the terrible economy the past few years and we very much need the income I make at my job. My problem is that my boss is a moron and his decisions are making me look bad. I work for a small family-held business so don’t tell me he will probably get fired someday because he won’t.

I have been here for several years and loved my job until he was put in charge of my department. He is stupid, but what is worse is that he thinks he’s brilliant. Whenever something goes right it’s because of my work and he takes credit. Whenever something goes wrong it’s because he overruled me on something and then he blames me.

I’m honestly starting to lose my mind and HATE going to work. My husband says I need to adapt the best I can and look for another job, but I want to quit now. Help!

-Stuck

Dear Stuck:

I am sorry to hear you work for someone who exemplifies the Dunning-Kruger effect, which is the tendency of unskilled people to think they are far more skilled than they actually are.

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The problem is, and hold onto your hat here because this theory is so simple that it’s confounding, is that stupid people are too stupid to know they are stupid.

Their stupidity prevents them from making an accurate self-assessment regarding their abilities, and in fact results in their elevating themselves above others.

I have had some terrible bosses, including an alcoholic hoarder who monitored how much time I spent in the ladies’ room and often told me “you’re right for the wrong reasons,” and a CEO who threw breakfast foods in anger at his employees during meetings, but I can’t say I’ve ever worked for a deeply stupid person.

I have worked with a few, one in particular who was senior to me and held her position solely due to her willingness to spend “quality time” with the boss outside the office. She often took credit for my work and also screwed up my projects so I can empathize with your issue.  

I recently heard of a woman so thoroughly simpleminded she announced she was cheating on her boyfriend with a married man to a large group of drunk and gossipy women and later was confused and surprised when the word got out.

Don’t even get me started on the “deep musings” on Facebook wherein people proclaim themselves to be all-knowing and spouting such brilliant observations as, “hard work is important!” 

“One of the painful things about our time is that those who feel certainty are stupid, and those with any imagination and understanding are filled with doubt and indecision.”

-Bertrand Russell

From a practical perspective, I can understand why your husband does not want you to quit. From an emotional perspective, I get why you want to so very badly. Unfortunately for you, you little quitter, I am going to side with your husband here for a few reasons:

Reasons You Should Stay

1. If you quit you will not qualify for unemployment benefits. While in some circumstances you can collect benefits when you voluntarily leave a job, working for a dipshit isn’t one of them. I’m not your lawyer so google if you don’t believe me. Unemployment benefits don’t come close to matching your salary, but they can be a real life-saver when money is tight.

2. If you quit you begin a period of unemployment which will be hard to explain to future potential employers during your job search. “I quit because my boss had the brain power of an encephalitic baby” doesn’t come off quite right in an interview.

“I’m interviewing here because even though my current job is fine, I’d like to challenge myself in a new environment within a new company” sounds much better.

3. Speaking of job search, you may be in for a long one.

Things are far from great out there in the working world, or so I hear. If you think working for a someone who couldn’t pour water out of a boot with instructions on the heel is depressing, wait until you sit at home for months on end looking for a job. This is especially true now that summer is ending and the days are about to get darker and colder.

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4. The money problems that will ensue if you leave your job will cause more stress to you and your marriage than will continuing to go to work every day. No sense in jumping out of the le creuset onto the element, n’est pas?

You just need to figure out how to live with this situation until you find something else. Don’t worry, I’m here to help you! Take comfort in the fact that I have done exactly the wrong thing in your situation numerous times so my advice has been forged in the fires of my own disastrous decision-making.

Step-by-step playbook for how you survive your current dilemma:

1. Begin a full-fledged job search today.

When we messaged last week you said you hadn’t really started looking because you think it takes too much time and you are very busy at work and taking care of your family.  That may be true, but too bad – life isn’t fair and everyone is busy.

You need to dedicate yourself to this search and I recommend at least an hour a day. I found an excellent article on how to look for a job when you already have one and the various do’s and don’ts.  Check it out!  Job Hunting When You Have a Job

2. Think of ways to communicate with your boss in an effort to make the work situation more tolerable.

He may be stupid, but is he an asshole too? Because if he’s a basically decent guy who couldn’t find the line when they were handing out brains, you may be able to get through to him on how his behavior affects your working environment.

I was really surprised when you told me that in the 6 months since he took over your department and starting making your life difficult you haven’t once spoken with him about it. While I don’t want you to hold out too much hope that you can change him, you do owe him the opportunity to listen and possibly learn from honest communication from you.

Your delivery will be very important so don’t barge into his office and yell, “Your idiocy cost us three clients this week, moron. I hope you and your wife are practicing birth control because between you having more kids and the Duggars, the gene pool is suffering serious dilution.”

Instead, I’d opt for specific yet gentle coaching on decisions he has made that you feel weren’t in the best interests of the company and which also may have reflected poorly upon you.

Finally, perhaps there are other opportunities within the company working for his family members who didn’t ride the short bus to school.  Think about whether you can move to another position and frame it as looking for a new challenge within the company you love.

3. Start a comprehensive CYA (cover yer ass) program.

Stuck, you need to be able to defend yourself when your boss screws up and the blame falls on you.  A good CYA can help save your job if his incompetence continues to reflect poorly upon you, although since Bossman and his family own the company it may not matter that you can document his ineptitude.

If that is the case, a solid file of evidence showing that any allegations against you can be attributed to your boss can assist you in negotiating a good severance agreement, also known as “Please Don’t Sue Us” money.

That’s all I got, Stuck.  I hope this helps.  

Please let me know how things are going in a few weeks and we can do a follow-up.  Readers, if you have suggestions on how to deal with a boss like this, please leave a comment!

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This Post Has 2 Comments

  1. YouCanLeadAHorticulture

    I have so much sympathy for this question writer. The reason I own my own business is because my last boss was so stupid, and just like Robin succinctly put it, was so stupid he didn’t even know how stupid he is. He ran the business at a loss at all times because he screwed everything up and his mistakes were very very expensive to fix, and the only thing that kept it running was me. I quit, and the person he replaced me with screwed up the company big time, and it was really great to laugh at the trouble through my friends who were still at the company. I am very lucky that I don’t have any children, or debt and a very supportive partner who is successful. If I had to stay in my old position I know it would have further affected my health, and quality of life. Robin’s advice is really good life advice, because in many (too many) situations you have to carefully choose the least bad option, because there is no best option. Good luck! And my little bit of advice to the question writer is to get your boss to be as checked out as possible and just run the department yourself and let him take the credit. It is usually the path of least resistance in these scenarios.

  2. Lolo

    I have to admit that I didn’t read the “how to look while you’re still working” link, I’ll just add this and hope it reinforces something already in that article: http://www.indeed.com

    Fricking godsend, that site! It compiles every listing from every job site and company website (that’s worth its salt, at least), and then you can do certain keyword searches (and maybe with more advanced parameters – I can’t remember) and *SAVE* them, and then *they email YOU* anytime anything comes up for your search criteria. I recommend setting up a bunch of them and then turning off (or refining the criteria for) the ones that don’t return quite what you want.

    It’s like it takes the searching out of job searching… If I’ve missed something that’s even better, someone please let me know!

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