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Screwed over at work

How to Not Screw Up Your Brand Even When You’ve Been Screwed Over

by | Mar 6, 2023 | By Karin Hurt |

How you respond during times of distress can make or break your leadership brand

If you’ve Googled, “what to do when you’ve been screwed over at work” and landed here, I’m sorry. Not that you found this article, of course. I want to help. But because it’s terrible to feel betrayed or disappointed, when you’re working so hard.

Most high-performing leaders feel this way at some point in their careers.

Perhaps it’s an unexpected layoff. Or, getting passed over for the promotion you were promised if only you did THE THINGS. And, you’ve done ALL THE THINGS and more.

Or, you’ve invested a huge amount of work in a project you know will make a huge strategic impact, and funding disappears. Or maybe you got hired for a new role based on your exciting vision.  Everyone SEEMED aligned. But now you’re in the role you feel like a puppet, being asked to take the role in a completely different direction.

It’s tricky to know the full picture of what’s going on. Circumstances change. Strategies evolve. Organizational restructuring, change in direction, and company politics can easily derail a well-meaning leader’s intentions. If you feel strongly that what happened wasn’t fair, it’s quite possible that this situation is even more complicated than you might realize.

How you show up next matters. A lot. You have choices about what you do and say next. People are watching. Stressful times like this can enhance or destroy your leadership brand.

Important Note– This article is not about blatant discrimination or other illegal situations. Call HR.

This is not an article about blatant discrimination or toxic workplace behavior. If you’re dealing with a situation that’s illegal or unethical, I highly encourage you to involve HR, compliance, and or a trusted leader in your chain of command.  These tips, are more about grounding your response to those aggravating situations that are not necessarily “Wrong” with a capital W, even though you’re feeling wronged.

With that said..

I have seen this go both ways.

The screwed-over leader vents behind closed doors and then shows up with confident humility focused on their team and the work ahead. Others marvel at their grace and poise, “If I were you I’d be soBe More Daring mad!” But they take the high road and keep being the leader they would want their boss to be. They use their response to showcase their executive presence, while carefully thinking through their next steps.

I’ve also seen it go the other way. The screwed-over victim vents to anyone who will listen– distracting themselves and others from the work at hand. Or, they allow the circumstance to draw out negative behaviors, that only reinforce that they actually deserved that thing that just happened– even if they didn’t. Or they quit in a rage, burning bridges and sabotaging important relationships that could have served them well in a transition to something new.

5 Ways to Respond When You’ve Been Screwed Over

So today I offer a few tips to empower you as you move through this challenging experience of feeling screwed over.

1. Be honest with yourself

As you can imagine in my line of work, I hear a lot of stories from leaders at every level who feel they’ve been screwed over. There are always several sides to the stories.

Sometimes people miss out on a promised promotion because another candidate emerged who was simply more qualified. Sometimes the strategic project they were working on does need to take a back seat to more pressing business challenges. And, often, somewhere along the line, communication broke down and expectations got out of synch long before the “screwed over” incident happened.

And of course, sometimes there really is something squirrelly going on.

Try to be as objective as possible as to what’s actually happening. Imagine witnessing the situation as an outside observer looking at the scene from multiple perspectives.

2. Limit Your Venting to a Small, Trusted Circle of Advisors

Your angry words will travel faster and farther than you ever thought possible. If you need to vent, do it behind closed doors with a trusted advisor or two who will listen and help you think through the situation. Is challenging to exude leadership presence, when you’re spitting teeth.

One good rule of thumb, is don’t say anything ABOUT someone, that you wouldn’t say TO them. Best to speak up, and share your concerns with the people involved directly, or with HR and/or your manager.

3. Don’t Give Up

When you feel you’ve been screwed over, it can be tempting to just wring your hands and stop trying. I encourage you to take the long view.

When I look back on really disappointing times in my career, I wish I hadn’t wasted so much emotional energy being ticked off.  And, in some cases, those disappointments turned out to be a blessing because of the new doors that opened. Consider what you can learn from the scene and figure out what you can do best to continue investing in yourself, your mission and what matters most.

4.  Channel Your Energy to Create Something Extraordinary

If you’re fired up, one option is to use that powerful emotional energy to fuel your creativity and your next stand-out move. I began to write my Let’s Grow Leaders blog the Sunday after I watched a senior leader I worked closely with exhibit some very non-human-centered “leadership behaviors,” what I now call toxic courage crushers. 

An important part of my mission to help you be the leader you want your boss to be was fueled by my frustration watching her destructive wake.

5. Let Your Anger Inform Your LeadershipWorld Workplace Conflict and Collaboration

When the time is right, step back and assess what really happened here. Make a vow to yourself to never screw over anyone in the way you’ve been screwed.

This is more than lemons and lemonade. Your team is watching. Your brand is at stake. Respond as the leader you are and want your boss to be.

Your turn. What would you add? What’s your best advice for someone who feels they’ve been screwed over?

Want more human-centered leaders in the workplace? Share this today!

Want more human-centered leaders in the workplace? Share this today?


  1. Wil Louis

    Thank you for this very powerful reminder.

  2. Wil Louis

    Thank you for this very powerful reminder.

    • Karin Hurt

      You are so welcome! I’m glad it was helpful.


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Karin Hurt

Karin Hurt helps human-centered leaders find clarity in uncertainty, drive innovation, and achieve breakthrough results.  She’s the founder and CEO of Let’s Grow Leaders, an international leadership development and training firm known for practical tools and leadership development programs that stick. She’s the award-winning author of four books including Courageous Cultures: How to Build Teams of Micro-Innovators, Problem Solvers, and Customer Advocates and Powerful Phrases for Dealing with Workplace Conflict, and hosts the popular Asking For a Friend Vlog on LinkedIn. A former Verizon Wireless executive, Karin was named to Inc. Magazine’s list of great leadership speakers. Karin and her husband and business partner, David Dye, are committed to their philanthropic initiative, Winning Wells – building clean water wells for the people of Cambodia.

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