8 Signs Your Boss Is a Bully

Learn How to Confront Your Bullying Boss

Bullying is not limited to the teen years. In fact, more and more people are reporting bullies in the workplace. Some studies indicate that as many as 30 million American workers have been, or are now being, bullied at work. Another 30 million have witnessed it. Workplace bullying can occur between anyone in the workplace. 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 do not realize that their boss is bullying them. Instead, they believe that they have a tough boss or one that simply pushes his employees to get results. But it is important to be able to identify workplace bullying because it can have significant consequences.

signs that your boss is a bully
Verywell / Brianna Gilmartin

Signs Your Boss Is a Bully

Your boss is a bully if he does any of the following things:

  • Impedes your success: Remember, bullies do 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. Meanwhile, more manipulative bullies will promise you promotions or raises to get you to work extra, but then never deliver on those promises.
  • Intimidates you: Intimidating behavior might include threatening to fire you as a way to maintain power and control. They also might make threatening gestures or threaten to physically harm you. Other examples of intimidating behavior include towering over you, invading your space, and giving intimidating looks.
  • 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. It is not uncommon to find a bullying boss snooping through your office when you are out. Ultimately, a bullying boss is looking for ammunition to use against you.
  • Isolates you at work: Bullying bosses might exclude you socially. They leave you off party lists and do not include you in company outings, sporting events, or after-hours meetings. They also may schedule meetings when they know you are on vacation or have a conflict in your schedule. Additionally, they may make important decisions while you are out of the office. And they may go so far as refusing to allow you to attend work meetings or work lunches.
  • Questions your adequacy and your commitment: Bosses that bully questions your adequacy by belittling your opinions and ideas. This behavior may take place 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. Consequently, when you do not put in long hours, you may feel fearful that you will be fired.
  • 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. Sometimes, they even lie about you in order to damage your reputation. Their goal is to make others believe you deserve the unfair treatment you are receiving. 
  • Undermines your work: Bullies 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 and sabotage your success by causing your projects and papers to be late or incomplete. Refusing to sign off on projects or not providing needed feedback are other tactics used to undermine work.
  • Verbally abuses you: Bullying bosses are notorious for humiliating employees in front of others. For instance, they might shout, swear or yell at you on a consistent basis. They also may make offensive jokes at your expense. Verbally abusive bosses also make snide remarks or offer unfair criticism. And they have been known to ridicule and berate their employees on a regular basis.

Why Workplace Bullying Is Harmful

Many times, employees will endure bullying and poor treatment from their bosses simply because they are afraid of losing their job or creating a tense situation. But letting bullying bosses get away with humiliating and demeaning you can be a bad idea, too.

Not only is the bullying bad for your health, but the bullying likely will continue if you never address it. If you are at the point where you feel like you are walking on eggshells around your boss or you are feeling anxious, sad, or frightened around your boss, then it may be time to stand up to the bullying.

And it may actually be good for you. Research out of Ohio State University, published in Personnel Psychology, illustrates that confronting a hostile boss helps you hold onto your sanity. The study’s lead author, Bennett Tepper, says that employees feel better about themselves because they didn’t sit back and take the bullying.

Employees that stood up to the bullying also earned the respect of their coworkers and gained back power in the relationship with their bosses. They also were more committed to their jobs and they believed their careers were not impacted negatively by addressing the boss’ bad behaviors.

How to Confront Your Boss

Standing up to your boss is not easy. However, if you feel like he is taking advantage of you, it might be worth considering. But first, think about the possible repercussions. You have to be comfortable with the fact that you could be disciplined or lose your job for standing your ground.

For some people, confronting bullying is the priority over maintaining their position in the company. Others would prefer to learn coping mechanisms while they hunt for a new job. Whatever your decision, be sure you are prepared for the possible outcome. If confronting your boss is something you want to do, here are six steps for handling the situation in the most effective way possible:

  • Be confident: Bullying bosses are able to quickly discern whom they can control and manipulate. Avoid looking nervous, insecure, or defeated. No matter what happens during your discussion stay strong and remain professional. Keep your chin up and do not give in to the pressure.
  • Be specific: When addressing your boss’ behavior, have specific examples ready of how he has offended you because chances are high that he will want proof. If you don’t have examples prepared and ready to go, it will look like you are overreacting. Keep in mind though, that most bullying bosses will not take responsibility for their mean behavior. In fact, he will likely shift the blame for his actions back to you or simply brush it off saying that he doesn’t even remember it happening. Recognize this for what it is and do not falsely believe that you are to blame for his choices.
  • Continue to work hard: Do not allow your boss’ bullying to derail you at work. For instance, don’t spend time talking with other co-workers about what is happening. Instead, focus on continuing to produce high-quality work. Also, do not allow the turmoil your boss creates to cause you to fall behind on projects. And be sure to keep good documentation of all your successes.
  • Know when to get outside help: If your boss continues to bully you despite your efforts to address it, contact human resources or your boss’ supervisor. Keep a record of all the bullying incidents including dates, times, and witnesses. You should also keep all electronic correspondence. And if you feel emotionally drained, depressed or anxious, contact a counselor. It is never a good idea to ignore the effects of workplace bullying.
  • Recognize what you can control and what you cannot: Remember, you have no control over what other people say or do. But, you do have control over your response. Keep your confrontation free of emotion and anger. If you can’t address your boss in a calm manner, then you need to postpone confronting him. You also need to be prepared for your boss to retaliate. Be sure you have a plan in place in case your boss fires you for addressing his mean behavior.
  • Stand up for yourself: Remember, bullies count on you being passive about their behavior. Show your boss that he made a mistake in targeting you. Address the issue with your boss in a calm and assertive manner. The goal is that you can defend yourself without being aggressive or mean in return.

A Word From Verywell

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 does not mean there is something wrong with you. Instead, workplace bullying is a choice that is made by the bully.

Keep the situation in perspective and do not 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, looking for a new job, or getting outside counseling. With some effort, you can escape the clutches of a bullying boss.

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  1. Workplace Bullying Institute. 2017 Workplace Bullying Institute U.S. Workplace Bullying Survey. Published 2017.

  2. Tepper BJ, Mitchell MS, Haggard D, Kwan HK, Park H. 2015. On the exchange of hostility with supervisors: an examination of self-enhancing and self-defeating perspectives. Pers. Psychol. 68:723–58. doi:10.1111/peps.12094