Horrible Boss


Q. I got a new job six months ago having resigned from my previous one. I was forced to quit when a new manager was employed. He treated my colleagues and I horribly and made the work environment unbearable. Last week, he sent me a heartfelt email acknowledging how good I was at my job. His message went on to say that he was applying for a job that requires two references from subordinates. He wants to use me as one of his references. Since I don’t consider him a good boss, how can I politely turn him down?

I had a CEO who once told me that, ‘employees leave their manager, not the company’.

My advice has always been that employees try their best to understand the manager, especially if the only hurdle is his temperament unless it stresses them to a point that they are unable to perform and affects their general wellbeing. It is possible that your manager has no idea why you left your job, seeing that he has reached out to you.

That just puts emphasis on the fact that you should never walk out of a company without having an exit interview with your manager, even though it’s an informal one.

This can also shed light on areas that you need to improve on as an individual.

You have two options: the first one is to focus on his professional competencies and give genuine feedback. That he is not a people person does not necessarily mean that he is incompetent. You could point out that he has an opportunity to improve on his temperament.

The candid reference does not mean that you will jeorpadise his chance at getting the role, rather, it bares to the potential employer the manager’s shortcomings, which will enable them to develop a mitigating plan, such as coaching and mentoring.

The other alternative is to politely decline and inform him that you don’t feel comfortable giving a reference since you did not work with him long enough to be objective.

Whichever option you choose, bear in mind that you might also require a reference from your juniors in future, and may also have team members who may not agree with you on all matters. I am sure you would like them to give objective reference focusing on your strength and only highlight your area of challenge with a view to assisting you, not to eventually get their long-awaited revenge.

The company might also require your former boss to give a reference for your new role before you are confirmed, therefore take care not to burn bridges.


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