Is it ever ok to go over your manager's head?

To put it bluntly, going over your manager’s head is career suicide almost every time. Once it occurs, one of you is likely on the fast track to finding a new job, so you’d better have a very good reason and a rock-solid case to back it up.

If you’re doing it to try to earn brownie points with your boss’s boss, don’t do it. You’ll not only terminally fracture your relationship with your direct boss, but also show his boss that you are someone not to be trusted. As we often hear talk-show hosts say to the new partners of cheating spouses: “If they’ll do it with you, they’ll do it to you.”

The exceptions

The only good reasons for going over your boss’s head are if you have become aware that:

  1. They are doing something illegal, such as embezzling
  2. You are being subjected to unlawful harassment or discrimination
  3. They are so grossly incompetent that they are placing your employer’s business at immediate catastrophic risk.

It has to be something that will get them fired, and you need to have absolute proof.

Prepare for the worst

If it comes down to your word against theirs, the likelihood is that the higher-ups will believe them and write you off as a whining employee, particularly if you have received a bad review or been turned down for a promotion. Managers often protect each other and value other managers ahead of their subordinates.

The second consideration is that, right or wrong, whistleblowers rarely do well after they’ve blown the whistle. You’d better have very good evidence to keep your job in the first place and a plan to move to another one in the future. It really doesn’t matter how justified you are, whistleblowers make managers nervous.

There are lots of reason why people do blow the whistle. Some have managers who take credit for other people’s ideas and achievements or favour less-competent employees. Others have bosses who are so bad at their jobs that they sour everyone’s chance for success. Other managers create a toxic work environment.

If you have one of these managers, your best bet is to seek out a new job. At least that way you leave with your reputation intact and get to keep your sanity. If you must stay where you are – at least for the time being – read up on our advice for how to survive the curse of the bad boss and more constructive ways of challenging your boss.

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