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My Boss Freaks People Out Mark Swartz, M.B.A. M.Ed.

About the Author

Mark Swartz, MBA, M.Ed., is Canada's Career Activist. His insights reach millions yearly as the Career Advisor, as author of the best seller "Get Wired, You're Hired," also as a professional speaker and coach on career/work issues. A former Toronto Star careers columnist, Mark's advice is forthright and practical. For Canada's biggest directory of free career articles, and for personalized coaching, please visit

Question: I have this weird thing going on at work. My boss is a Director who acts like she's losing it. She'll show up for work with her hair looking like it hasn't been brushed for days. Sometimes her clothes match so badly it seems she dressed in the dark. Then in meetings she'll scratch her head for minutes on end like she's a dog itching at fleas. She puts up with all sorts of silliness, like when one of her employees refused in a meeting to do something simple the boss asked her to. And she talks on and on about stuff that no one understands, but none of us wants to confront her because we think she'll go ballistic and fire us. Any advice?

Desvo Z, Nanaimo, British Columbia

Dear Desvo,

Ah, the ''weird boss'' dilemma. You work long enough and you're bound to encounter a couple along the way. Like the one I had once who encouraged me to go to lunch with a senior manager from another division in the company, a man at least four levels above me seniority-wise, to find out if he was gay or not because she had a huge crush on him. (Turns out he was, and much smarter than her too, but my boss was heartbroken). Or the guy I once reported to who would make perverted comments to customers we would visit on sales, really perverted. Let's face it; you meet all kinds out there.

So what you need to determine is whether their collection of odd behaviour, quirks and bad management practices add up to a situation that is truly impairing your career, or if it's more or less tolerable given the alternatives. If things are plainly uncomfortable for you but not worth looking for work elsewhere over, you have several alternatives.

For instance, you could ask to meet with your boss one-on-one in private at her convenience, letting her know that there are some matters you would like to discuss that you feel could make a positive difference to your department. This way you are minimizing the risk of embarrassing her in public, or of getting her guard up before you've even had a chance to talk with her. Thing is you're putting yourself on the line here by being the one to let her know she's acting like she's barking mad.

You could do this instead as a group, almost like having your own episode of the ''Intervention'' TV show at work. But she could perceive this as being ganged up upon by her supposedly loyal staff, and in the final analysis she is still the boss. Do you really want to work under someone who is not only erratic, but maybe now feeling paranoid (somewhat justifiably) and vengeful to boot?

Going over her head, reporting her to HR, making an anonymous complaint - all of these have their individual merits. However you have to really ask yourself if things will change based on these actions you are taking. If yes, and you believe you will not be retaliated against (or ratted out by one of your colleagues), then by all means give it a try. Otherwise you may simply elect to bite the bullet for now, put up with your boss' peculiarities, then hope that her boss takes note and ships her out of your life eventually. Your last resort is to search for work in another department, if possible, or else find employment somewhere else.

In the meantime keep your cool, don't get caught badmouthing your boss to your colleagues, and consider keeping a flea collar at hand in case she trots your way.

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