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Dear Guide: My boss has mental health issues, which lead her to treat me poorly. And now I’m struggling as a result

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Dear Guide: My boss has mental health issues and she has treated me poorly for a long time. I believe these two things are connected. I am compassionate to anyone struggling with their health, but now I’m struggling too. I have spoken to my boss, but she hasn’t changed. And I believe my boss’s boss is aware of her struggles. I think he excuses her behaviour due to her condition. But this is too much for me. What should I do?

– Wobbling Domino

Wobbling Domino: Anyone struggling with their mental health deserves our compassion.

But you also deserve a safe workplace free from poor treatment.

It is not your responsibility to accommodate your boss’s struggles at the expense of your own wellbeing.

It is your employer’s responsibility to provide compassionate support to your boss while she recovers. And to ensure a safe working environment for you.

If your boss’s behaviour is related to her health issues, it is her boss’s responsibility to provide reasonable alternative duties for a reasonable period of time while she recovers. These alternative duties should be tailored for her fitness for work. If she’s not fit for work, she should be provided sick leave. If she’s not fit for managing people (and it sounds like she’s not), she should not be asked to manage people for the time being.

If her behaviour is unrelated to her health issues, your boss needs to be held accountable for her behavioural performance by her boss. And – if required – performance managed.

Of course, the cause of her behaviour might not be so clear cut. In which case I’d encourage your boss’s boss to err on the side of compassion and alter your boss’s duties while she recovers.

If – with generous support and accommodation from your employer – she’s unable to recover sufficiently to return to full duties in a reasonable period of time, it may be that an alternative role (within the organisation or somewhere else) needs to be found for her.

So, what should you do?

It’s dangerous to assume that your boss’s boss understands your boss’s poor behaviour. Unless he goes out of his way to seek skip level feedback (has he ever asked you?) or to observe her, he’s unlikely to be aware of it. Because, sometimes, middle managers “kiss up and kick down”.

Given this, I’d encourage you to talk candidly with your boss’s boss about your difficulties. You can do this while being respectful and compassionate towards your boss, but also firm in asserting your own needs.

Worst case scenario? Nothing changes and you’ll quit anyway. But at least you’ll have given everyone a chance of a better outcome.

– The Guide

Thoughts? If you would like to share a response to today’s dilemma with the Guide and other readers, add a comment below.

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