This Is The Secret To Happiness At Work

One of your most important working relationships is with your boss. And not just for the obvious reasons, like the fact that this person ultimately decides if you get that raise and promotion you’ve been gunning for, or that you see him or her more than anybody else on the planet. The relationship is also crucial because managers play a major role in the happiness of their employees. A recent Gallup study found that roughly half of adults have left a job to get away from a sucky boss, and a Harvard Business School survey of almost 20,000 employees showed that people who feel respected by their managers have better health and well-being, as well as greater satisfaction with their jobs.

It doesn't take many years of experience to learn that you often have to do some "managing up" in order to get the most out of the boss relationship and your job — even when you have a fantastic boss. But, it can be tricky to master that skill, and no two bosses are the same. We talked to Lindsey Pollak (a millennial career expert and author of the book Becoming the Boss) and Kathleen Harris (VP of content development for the professional network Levo) to get their best advice on working with eight of the most common manager types — from the boss who shares way too much personal info to the one who yells. Ahead, tips for managing up like a pro.
Advertisement
1 of 8
Illustrated by Sydney Haas.
Everyone likes to know where she stands professionally — especially millennials. A Hartford leadership survey found that Gen-Y workers feel that their employers are invested in them when they provide training, communicate a clear career path, and provide ongoing coaching. There’s just one little problem: Not all bosses see ongoing feedback as a part of their job description.

“There is an expectation mismatch,” says Pollak, speaking about the difference between millennial workers and their Gen-X bosses. “I think some millennials come in assuming their boss is going to be a mentor and a coach and an advisor, but not all bosses act that way.”

One way around this is to seek out feedback in other places, says Pollak. Keep an eye on other people’s work to see how yours compares, and set up a small group of your peers so you can assess each other, she suggests.

You can also seek feedback from your boss directly — but make sure to be prepared to be specific, says Harris. “Don’t just say, ‘How am I doing?’” she explains. “That’s putting her on the spot.” Instead, before an important meeting or presentation, ask your boss for any suggestions so you can deliver the best performance possible. You can also request a 15-minute check-in after you’ve handed in a big project, to ask if there’s anything you can improve on.

“If you frame it as your desire for professional development, any boss would be receptive to helping with that,” says Harris.
2 of 8
Illustrated by Sydney Haas.
When you’re clocking late hours in your cubicle, you want to be recognized for your contributions. But, one reality of work is that in some ways, it’s your job to make your boss look good; you’re part of his team. “Question your expectations about whether you should get credit for every single thing you do,” says Pollak.

If you’re never getting credit, talk to your boss, but be careful not to accuse him of hogging all the glory. “Say, ‘To build my career, I would love to get more projects that I could own,’” Pollack suggests. “Pose the question. Can you do more work that will be recognized? Can you work on projects where you co-brand things?”

You can also go rogue and document your own contributions in your LinkedIn profile or other social platforms. “You can take credit for your own work on social media," says Harris. "You have the power to control that.”
Advertisement
3 of 8
Illustrated by Sydney Haas.
No one likes to be yelled at. It can leave you feeling like a kid getting trouble at school. But, rule number-one for handling a screamer: Don’t escalate the situation by getting equally aggressive or emotional.

“Keep your cool,” says Harris. “She is obviously very impassioned about something, or maybe her boss freaked out on her and she is reacting to that.”

This doesn’t mean you should stare down at the floor or look blankly at the wall behind your boss’s head. “Continue to make eye contact, and say something like, ‘I hear you,’” says Harris. “You want to show that you are listening without emotionally reacting to it.”

When the outburst is a one-time thing, or there’s a very clear reason for it, you might want to let it go — everyone is entitled to a bad day. But, if it’s happening consistently or your boss said something really over-the-line, set up a meeting with her a few days later when the situation has cooled down.

“You can say something like, ‘The way you spoke to me really upset me, and I want to remain motivated and professional at work. I would appreciate it if you could deliver criticism in a more productive manner,’” says Harris.
4 of 8
Illustrated by Sydney Haas.
The hot-cold complex can be most pronounced when someone who was your colleague — an equal you grabbed coffee with, or bitched to via Gchat — is promoted over you.

“As people are learning to be managers, there is that line between wanting everyone to like you and still wanting to be that boss,” says Harris. “Don’t let that emotion seep into your self-value. You can’t take it personally.”

Even when your boss is the person who hired you, try not to hinge your work happiness on his mood. You can’t control what’s going on in his life — and even if you could, that’s not your job. Instead, “when your boss is being friendly one day, go with it,” says Harris.

But, if he's asking you to lunch and then micro-managing you by end-of-day, it's good to be up-front. “Ask if there’s something he expects you to be doing, or something you can do next time, so that he doesn’t feel like he has to check up with you,” says Harris.
5 of 8
Illustrated by Sydney Haas.
Be specific in your questioning, says Harris. If your boss puts you off the next time you mention your salary, ask when you should approach the subject again; you want to get a clear timeline.

“She may say six months, or she may say she doesn’t know at this time,” says Harris.

If she says six months, and that feels reasonable to you, then yes, you actually should wait half a year to follow up. “Put a reminder on your calendar a week before, and set up a meeting with her to say you want to have your follow-up,” says Harris.

Sometimes, there isn't room in the budget for a salary bump, even when your boss wants to keep you. In those instances, she might be able to offer other perks, like more vacation time or letting you work from home one day a week.

Unfortunately, her evasiveness can be a big warning signal. “If she’s vague, vague, vague, then guess what? You just learned something. You aren’t getting a raise,” says Pollak. Time to update your résumé and plan your exit.
6 of 8
Illustrated by Sydney Haas.
Avoid the urge to get defensive — even if you feel like his finger-pointing is uncalled for. If you feel yourself getting flustered, take a deep breath and sit up straight. Just looking composed will help you keep it together and stay professional.

“Tell him you appreciate his feedback, and suggest talking about it more later,” says Harris. “Transfer the conversation to a time where you would be alone.”

If he’s calling you out because you’re not prepared, own up to it. “It goes a long way if you just admit it and say, ‘I don’t have that information with me right now, but I’ll make sure I have an answer to you by the end of the day, and I’m happy to email everyone here,” says Harris. A little humility goes a long way, and all your boss really wants is for the problem to be solved.
7 of 8
Illustrated by Sydney Haas.
“You boss is not your friend,” says Pollak. “Your boss can be friendly, but your boss has the power in the situation, and you have to react to what she wants to reveal.” If she mentions a personal issue, you can nod and listen, but don’t ask her about it the next day — and definitely don’t mention the conversation to your coworkers.

“It’s tempting to become friends with your boss, but the rules still apply. Always have one less drink than your boss. Always order a meal less expensive than what your boss orders. Never forget those dynamics,” says Pollak.

If your boss starts asking you personal questions, Pollak suggests going by the Grandma Rule. “I try to treat personal conversations with my boss or a client as if that person is akin to my grandmother. I’m friendly and polite. I answer the questions. But, there’s no way I’m giving away something too personal.”

So go ahead, tell her you had a fun date last night, if she asks. Just leave out the part where you hooked up in your kitchen.
8 of 8
Illustrated by Sydney Haas.
Your boss’s office is only 30 feet away, but it might as well be on Mars. You hardly ever get face time, and when you do communicate, it’s through emails that never include an exclamation point. What’s the deal?

“If you have an inward, Gen-X boss, and you’re a millennial, you might very well live on different planets,” says Pollak. “You’ve got to get fluent in the language of your boss’s planet, because your boss has the power. Your job is to adapt to the style of your boss.”

You should speak up, though, when the lack of communication is preventing you from doing your job.

“Don’t go in there and say, ‘I feel like you’re ignoring me,’” says Pollak. “Make it about changing yourself. Say, ‘What can I do better?’”

A little initiative never hurt, either. “Without being a stalker, you can pop by his office and give him an update on something you’re working on, or ask if he needs help with anything today,” says Harris. He might be so swamped, he doesn’t realize he’s not communicating — or that you could take something off of his plate.
Advertisement