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8 Signs Your Boss Is a Bully

How to know if your boss is bullying you


Updated June 12, 2014

Mature businessman yelling at coworker in office
Noel Hendrickson/Digital Vision/Getty Images

If you are like most people, you don’t expect to have to deal with bullying beyond high school. But most people are finding that bullying is not limited to adolescence. In fact, more and more people are encountering bullies at work.

Recent studies indicate that an estimated 54 million Americans have been bullied at some point in their career. Bullying can occur between a boss and a subordinate or between co-workers. But perhaps the most difficult situation to deal with is bullying by a boss – the very person responsible for your advancement within the company.

Many times people don’t even realize that their boss is bullying them. Instead, they falsely believe that their boss is just tough or pushes his workers to get results. But workplace bullying can have significant consequences and can impact your health and overall wellbeing. Therefore, it’s important to distinguish between a tough boss and a bullying boss. Here are some signs that your boss is a bully. Your boss is a bully if he:

Verbally abuses you. For instance, a bullying boss humiliates you in front of others. He also might shout, swear or yell at you on a consistent basis or make offensive jokes at your expense. Verbally abusive bosses also make snide remarks or offer unfair criticism about you or your work.

Intimidates you on a regular basis. Intimidating behavior might include threatening to fire you as a way to maintain power and control. It also can include threatening gestures or threats to harm you physically.

Questions your adequacy and your commitment. Bullies question your adequacy by belittling your opinions and ideas. This may be done in private or in front of others. They also may blame you for problems at work while boasting that their skills are responsible for good outcomes. And they may question your commitment to the job unless you work long hours and sacrifice personal time.

Intrudes on your privacy. Sometimes bosses will spy on you or even stalk you. They also may listen in on your private conversations, open your mail and go so far as to tamper with your personal belongings or your work equipment.

Undermines your work. Bosses who bully set unrealistic deadlines that are bound to cause failure. They also change project guidelines on a regular basis causing extra work and increasing the chance for failure. They also withhold necessary information in order to cause failure and sabotage your success by making your work late or incomplete. Refusing to sign off on projects or refusing to provide needed feedback are other tactics used to undermine work.

Impedes your success. Bullies don’t want to see you succeed because they will lose control over you. As a result, they may punish you for mistakes that are not yours or bring up past mistakes in order to shift blame during a discussion. They also may make it impossible for you to apply for a promotion, a transfer or additional training. They may even over-control or micromanage your work or projects.

Spreads rumors about you. Bullies often go to great lengths to make others look bad. As a result, they may gossip with others about your work, your appearance, your health or your personal life.

Isolates you at work. Bullying bosses might exclude you socially. They leave you off party lists and don't include you in company outings, sporting events or after-hours meetings. They also may schedule meetings when they know you have a conflict in your schedule. And they may go so far as refusing to allow you to attend work meetings or work lunches.

If you are experiencing any of these abuses, it’s important to recognize that this is workplace bullying and it’s not a normal part of any workplace environment. Repetitive verbal abuse, exploitation, micromanagement and other activities that repeatedly demean you or are discourteous will eventually take a toll on you.

Learning to recognize workplace bullying will help you learn not to blame yourself for someone else’s behavior. Additionally, you will be less likely to take responsibility for something that isn’t your fault. Remember, bullying doesn’t mean there is something wrong with you. Instead, workplace bullying is a choice that is made by the bully.

Additionally, remember that workplace bullying is a widespread issue that affects millions of Americans. As a result, keep the situation in perspective and don’t let it affect your self-esteem or health. Find outside support for what you are experiencing and look for options for your situation whether it is reporting your boss, filing a complaint or getting outside counseling.

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