What to do when your boss doesn’t advocate for you at work

What to do when your boss doesn’t advocate for you at work

Fair or not, your boss can make or break your career. So ideally, you work with a wonderful leader who supports your growth and is your biggest cheerleader.

In a less ideal scenario, your manager is neutral but won’t block doors for you and will facilitate your access to opportunities.

In the worst-case situation, your boss simply does not advocate for you at work. What now?

Why being endorsed by your boss matters

The good news is that you can count on your professional reputation to move ahead.

The bad news is that even with years of experience and a stellar track record, your boss’ lack of advocacy can still endanger your career, says Dr. Nadya Zhexembayeva, business consultant, speaker, author and Founder and Chief Reinvention Officer at business coaching firm Reinvention Academy.

“We live in a world of continuous disruption and uncertainty, where your company and boss can disappear at any minute. That’s why your personal brand and reputation become especially important: if your company or your boss are no longer there, that’s all you have,” she said.

“So, you have to be incredibly vigilant when it comes to your reputation — and if your boss does not advocate for you, they are putting your career at risk.”

And, sadly, it matters even if you’re a hard worker.

“I wish all professionals knew that hard work is not enough if you want to progress. Unfair but a reality. You also need sponsorship, and the sponsorship of your direct boss is table stakes,” said Helen Holmes, management expert and author of Why you Dread Work – What’s Going Wrong in your Workplace and How to Fix It.

This unfortunate situation can also make you more likely to burn out if you’re a high-performer, according to Jessica Walther, CEO and Founder of Itivate, a company that aims to bring organisation and joy into companies’ daily operations to increase retention, margins, and problem-solving.

“I founded Itivate after healing from burnout and workplace-induced stress/PTSD, an issue that plagues 71 per cent of professionals,” said Walther.

“A key part of my business is helping our clients realise that star performers are at the highest risk for burnout and poor leadership is often the greatest culprit.”

Want an amazing relationship with your boss? Do these 5 things

What to do when your boss doesn’t advocate for you

So, what can you do if your boss doesn’t advocate for you?

“Figure out why your boss is unsupportive — asking for feedback is the first step. Your performance is the place to focus on first. Get your performance where it needs to be to earn your boss over,” said Zhexembayeva.

Holmes agrees: “If your boss doesn’t advocate for you, work out why. Is it personal, or are they like that with everyone? If it is personal, do they have a fair point? Are there areas where you need to improve?”

Take the time to honestly assess your performance and get self-aware. You can even ask trusted coworkers for feedback. If you are fully confident that you perform well but still don’t get support, Zhexembayeva suggests finding somebody else in the company to advocate for you such as a mentor, a senior team member, or executives who see you in action.

“Here, it’s important to show up at cross-functional projects or volunteer for special task forces to get noticed,” she said, adding that you’ll also want to invest in building your personal brand.

“Is there a way for you to share your successes and lessons with others via articles, blog posts, podcasts? Is there an internal network inside the company you can volunteer for to build a brand that is not dependent on your boss’s good graces? Make it happen.”

While it can be hard not to feel crushed or take the situation personally, remember that your boss’ behaviour is more of a reflection of their own fear-based thinking, not you, said Walther.

What if your boss doesn’t change at all?

If your boss’ attitude doesn’t change at all, it’s important to embrace a holistic approach: Protect yourself and your mental health while still working at the company and remember that you ultimately don’t need that one person to be successful, said Walther.

She also recommends documenting any details that can help you escalate things in a politically effective manner if you feel your relationship with your boss has veered into toxic territory.

At the end of the day, there are many reasons out of your control that could explain your manager’s disappointing behaviour — and no job is worth your mental health.

“If your boss’s failure to advocate for you is sudden and seems unjust, consider the political landscape. Are you being thrown under the bus; scapegoated in a broader political fight? It is never particularly comforting news, but this at least gives you context,” said Holme.

According to her, failure to advocate often also points to a general lack of support and poor work conditions.

“Can you go to your manager with problems, or is everything on your shoulders? Consider how well you are able to deal with this, psychologically. For me, the support of a manager is crucial. Without your boss’s support, working life can be very lonely. For your own peace of mind, you may ultimately choose to seek a different company or role.”

Another option is to move on.

“You can’t make anyone like you or support you against your will. So, work on your Plan B and, with a strong personal brand, making that transition is much easier, so invest in your own reputation like you mean it,” said Zhexembayeva.


This article was originally published on The Ladders.

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