Bad BossFor many people, work has lost its luster. Employees who were once motivated to come in early or stay late now have a tendency to take off early, show up late, or even call in sick. Is this trend simply a sign of a career slump, or is there a reason employees seem to be getting the corporate life sucked out of them?

Popular opinion cites unacceptable hours, low pay, and bad work assignments as leading causes of career blues. Naturally, these grievances are enough to cause any employee to grumble. However, according to our research, these grievances are actually the least common concerns among employees. More than 50 percent of survey respondents listed a disagreeable boss as their number one reason to want to pack up and leave.

These disgruntled employees aren’t just daydreaming about leaving—two out of every three people who are bugged by their boss are actively seeking alternative career options. If you’re feeling stifled by your supervisor, leaving the office may feel like the cure. But what happens when you stumble into a new office with a new boss—only to discover that, once again, you work for a jerk?

Even though the grass seems greener on the other side, the problem may not be with the disagreeable boss—despite the fact that he or she could use a personality adjustment. The problem could in fact be an employee’s unwillingness or even inability to candidly share concerns about his or her working relationship with the boss. The survey revealed that only one in five people have even attempted to fully lay out their concerns with their boss.

It’s no wonder people aren’t enjoying their careers as much as they could be. When you can’t approach your supervisor, work suddenly feels less enjoyable and productive, and more like detention.

After thirty years of research in the field of organizational effectiveness and interpersonal communication, my colleagues and I have determined that most people don’t know how to candidly and respectfully express concerns to anyone, let alone a person of higher power or authority. It turns out that when it matters most, most of us do our worst at communicating our concerns. Disturbingly, almost two-thirds of survey respondents admitted they will quit before ever really speaking their mind.

However, a disagreeable boss does not have to be the ticket to a dead-end career. With the proper set of skills, any employee can turn a less-than-pleasant working relationship into one that will restore a desired level of respect and civility. In fact, survey respondents who stated that they do speak up and feel skilled at holding  crucial conversations with their bosses were more satisfied with their current jobs and less likely to look elsewhere. They were also less likely to badmouth the boss to others or to work around the boss’s weaknesses.

So, if you begin dragging your feet on the way to work because your boss is disagreeable—maybe even a jerk—use the following skills to successfully confront your manager and begin the path to career revival.

  • Work on you first, the boss second. Get your emotions in check by looking for how you may be adding to the problem. It isn’t that the boss doesn’t have faults; it’s that most people tend to exaggerate their boss’s problems and ignore how they may be contributing.
  • Hold the right conversation. Most people think they are giving their boss feedback, but fail to get to the real issue that concerns them. If your fundamental concern is that your boss doesn’t respect you or that you don’t trust your boss, find a way to discuss that issue without skirting around it.
  • Start with safety. People feel psychologically safe when they know you care about their interests and respect them. Start with, “I have a concern I’d like to discuss. It’s important to me, but it’s also something I think will help me work more effectively. May I discuss it with you?”
  • Facts first. Don’t start with harsh judgments or vague conclusions. Instead, start with the facts. Strip out any judgmental or provocative language and be specific. For example, “After you told me you brought me up for a promotion in the HR meeting, two people who were at that meeting emailed me and asked why you hadn’t recommended me for it.”

Our research showed that those who possess these skills and hold crucial conversations with their bosses are more satisfied with their jobs and less likely to seek alternative career options. Regularly engaging in healthy crucial conversations will strengthen relationships, improve teamwork, and restore much of the meaning and joy that attracted you to your job in the first place.