What’s the best way to address my “tough love” boss? Elaine Varelas advises

Coping with a difficult boss's bad management style can be a challenge for anyone. There are ways to address the hardship, and with the guidance of Human Resources, start a conversation with your boss in order to improve your day-to-day work environment. Elaine Varelas provides some advice on how to make that happen.

Ask the Job Doc.
Ask the Job Doc. –Boston.com

Q: My boss changes moods with the weather. Sometimes she’s feeling great and work is easy, but other times she gets petty and micromanages all of our work with passive aggressive comments and what she calls “tough love.” She hasn’t done anything bad enough that I think I can complain to HR, but it’s wearing us down. Should I bring it up with them anyway? What can I say?

A: A manager’s bad moods impacting employees and how he or she leads is really unfortunate. No employee needs passive aggressive comments, and just because she flowers up bad employee treatment by calling it “tough love” doesn’t make it a good management style or easier to deal with. Let’s try calling it bad management and see if the behavior changes.


Find the right time based on your boss’s emotional state to address the most positive attributes that she demonstrates as a manager. You may need to think about and consider what pieces of her management can actually encourage and motivate you, even if it may not be obvious at first. Once you identify these traits, meet with her and let her know you really appreciate that side of her management style at work – but on the days when she doesn’t demonstrate those skills (you may need to discuss with examples, so be prepared) work becomes a much more difficult environment.

This may be a high-risk conversation, so you may want to approach Human Resources first to have them help you script what the dialogue might look like. This will also make sure someone knows that you’re planning on having this conversation. Managers who have emotional swings may retaliate and you do want to protect yourself and the security of your job. If her micromanaging activities are based on something going on in the office, find the opportunity to discuss what’s causing her angst. If it’s something work related, then that can be addressed – but if it’s an external stressor, or something that’s entirely personal, she may need to work through that and separate her own issues from how she behaves toward you and your colleagues.


The most effective managers need to remain emotionally steady for employees who have their own moods to manage. They need to maintain a professional demeanor in the office. For more information on dealing with bad bosses, see my article “The Impact of Bad Bosses on Employees and Organizations” which addresses training and development. Even if your boss hasn’t done anything bad enough to bring to HR as a formal complaint, addressing what can be improved upon to make your days better at work is always worthwhile.