Forbes on firing your bad boss

For those toiling under bad or even abusive bosses, here’s the stuff of fantasies: How can I get my boss fired?

Susan Adams, writing for, took on the question, interviewing experts in employee relations (including Gary Namie of the Workplace Bullying Institute) on the likelihood of underlings being able to push out a terrible boss. Her verdict:

Countless workers fantasize about getting their boss fired, but few succeed. I talked to five career coaches, a corporate consultant, a lawyer, and a management professor about how disgruntled workers might oust their superiors, and although I gathered a handful of success stories, all of the sources agree: Think many times over before you try it, because you will likely fail.

Okay, so it’s not exactly a surprising conclusion. Nevertheless, the full article does include stories about workers who made it happen, albeit usually with a lot of time and effort.

The gloomy prospects of staging a palace coup against lousy leadership reflect a broader reality about the typical American employer. The average workplace is a command-and-control operation from the top, and little effort is made to solicit rank-and-file input on the performance of organizational leaders.

This is especially so in the vast majority of sites where no union is present to serve as a source of countervailing power. Most workers are at-will employees who may be terminated for any reason or no reason at all, so long as the firing is not grounded in some illegal motive such as discrimination. And even though retaliating against workers for labor activism may be illegal, in many instances these violations are not remedied.

No wonder, then, that Adams concludes her article with advice from career counselors suggesting that unhappy workers devote their efforts to securing new employment rather than going after the boss. It probably makes sense, even if it means that some workplaces will continue to inflict bad leaders on revolving doors of workers for the duration.


Related posts

“Master and servant”: The roots of American employment law (2013)

At-will employment and the legality of workplace bullying: A brutal combo punch (2011)

6 responses

  1. You are right, getting rid of the boss is just dream territory – it took 16 years and organizing my workforce to make the final push out the door for mine. Finally at a meeting where he was harassing the staff for failures to have good enough numbers saying we were at the bottom of the Region- one employee said ” Yay, at least we are #1 in something!” and everyone cheered. He retired early within a month. He finally found he couldn’t bully the group because they were standing together.

  2. The problem is that the ‘process’ of ‘getting rid of the bully boss’ can come awfully close to, if not be, work abuse in its own right.

    Is this about “a” person, i.e., the bully, or about systemic issues that do not allow a just process in addressing the abusive behaviors? Or about systemic issues that even promote the abusive behaviors in the first place?

    As long as we focus on the bully, the system doesn’t have to be accountable. And it’s the system that is THE problem. UNTIL the psychological and social dynamics involved in work abuse is recognized, called out, worked on, and changed, we have little to no hope that any meaningful change will occur within the cultures of most of our workplaces,

    You bet I’ve had wishes that a bully boss have done to him what he’s done to me and others. I’ve had the same thoughts about co-workers who also have been given a ‘pass’ by “they system” to abuse others.

    • Although attempts to overthrow a bad boss potentially can degenerate into mobbing scenes, in most instances the workers don’t have the power to engage in such activities. Rather, they can be picked off (fired) before their efforts elevate.

      In the unusual instances where I’ve learned of bullying bosses being shown the door due to workers expressing their concerns, it usually has taken a looooong time for management to get it. Often it means that one or two waves of departures must precede the light bulb from going off in top management’s head that something is wrong and that the “complainers” may be telling it like it is.

      • I agree that successful mobbing by workers (of their boss) is not likely to happen. But it can. False accusations, gossip, etc. can occur and upper management, depending upon their own motives or skill set, may just find it easier to let the middle manager go rather than deal with the situation.

        Also agree that it takes management so long to ‘get it’ when it comes to validating concerns expressed by workers. At the same time, it’s also possible those in management are aware of issues, but for a variety of reasons – i.e., feelings of superiority, fear their own hides may be next, duty to protect one’s own, etc. – they won’t do anything. They won’t act until not doing something puts them at more risk than addressing the situation.

  3. Eventually, after numerous waves of departures and ongoing difficulty recruiting, the employer I left (some four years ago) decided to enlist the assistance of a credible truth-teller…an outside consultant. This only made sense, since they had discredited all “complainers” and were at a loss in terms of understanding their human resources difficulties. Here’s what many of their departed employees tried to tell them:

    I wish them well in remediating the situation, and can’t help feeling vindicated and really glad I got out!

  4. I heard that Gallop did a poll on 1M workers a few years back and found that the top reason people leave jobs is because of a bad boss. It’s kind of sad that there are so many people out there who find themselves fantasizing about having their bad boss fired. I found an app at that helps you solve bad boss problems. It personalizes an eBook based on profiles for you and your boss and tells you how to use neuroscience to have a better boss relationship. Very cool

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