When you have a Bullying Boss

  | 5 min read

Working under a bullying boss is every employee’s nightmare. Most of us think that the mean bullies we encountered at some point in our growing up are now a thing of the past. Sad reality is that the bullies grew up and probably didn’t shed their mean streaks, or their innate desires to pick on others. Such bullies can be found even in our workplaces, and worse still, they might be our bosses.

Having a bully for a boss can be the most disconcerting experience. This is because the same person who calls you demeaning names and always embarrasses you in meetings, is responsible for your performance feedback and ultimately your career progression.

So how do you deal with a bullying boss? You first need to know what a bully looks like for you to know how to handle them. Bullying tendencies can range from mild annoying behaviors like trying to dictate your fashion style to downright mean like name calling and public shaming.

Bullying in the workplace is anything that digresses from the professional code of conduct and attacks the personal and private space of staff. The way people interact with each other in the workplace should be guided by ethics and should be tied to the organization’s objectives. This means that name-calling, harassment, blatant apportion of undeserved credit, use of threats, arm twisting, blackmailing, and other forms of targeted repressive behavior is bullying. See below how to handle a boss who is a bully.

Not me

Understand that it is not about you
How your boss reacts to inconveniences, both minor and great within your role has nothing to do with you as a person. How a person behaves in the face of a crisis is a reflection of their maturity and resilience. Hold your own. Even when your bullying boss is throwing a tantrum about something, take a step back and remain as calm as possible. Own up if the mistake was yours and promise to correct it as soon as you can, then get to it. Do not be passive-aggressive or sarcastic in any way, it could actually fuel the fire.


Understand your boss
If you get the feeling that your boss is a bully, you need to fully understand the whole situation before taking any course of action. Do his/her bully tendencies turn on upon certain triggers or does he/she take every opportunity to assert his or her authority in a demeaning way? Are you the only recipient of your boss’s bullying or does he treat everyone his junior that way? Has the extent of the bullying crossed over to physical assault or sexual harassing? With such an analysis of the situation, you will have the clarity on your next course of action; whether to take a trip down to HR, whether to develop a thicker skin or whether to throw in the towel. This is entirely a personal decision.


Network in the workplace
Creating connections within and outside your department is key for your career growth. It also comes in handy when you have a boss that is too much to handle. Your connections probably know him/her better and can offer some survival tips. Networking also helps people around you understand you as an individual, your work ethic, your skills and even performance. Networking across hierarchical scales puts you on the radar of the right people, especially if your direct boss also has another boss. This way, people will be able to stand up for you when your boss makes undeserved comments on your performance and conduct. In a way, your network becomes your biggest ally.
When to stay and soldier on
After analysis, you might realize that bullying is just part of your boss’s nature. It might be part of their personality to shout when irked. You can then decide within yourself to stick around and learn how to handle them.
You should only stay if you are sure their behavior doesn’t affect you. If you are soft-skinned in nature and do not take the shouting kindly, and if you feel like their behavior will strongly impact on your ultimate confidence and self-esteem levels, leave.


When to leave
If the bullying borders on name-calling, assault, sexism, and chauvinism, or sexual harassment, it is time to leave. Constant exposure to this kind of treatment could have severe side effects on your confidence, self-esteem, performance and even your general outlook of the world and how things should be. People who stay under such kind of bosses eventually develop an ‘abused’ mentality that ends up stunting their personal and career growth.
It is always wise to keep evidence that you can use to show harassment and bullying, especially if you feel it might culminate in unfair termination. This way, you have something to present to the HR department as evidence or even the labor offices, if it gets to that level.

When all is said and done, you know your limits best. You know what you can handle and what is a little too much for you. When it comes to bullies, know your rights, hold your own and stand your ground in a professional manner. Let your work and performance speak for you so that very little can be used against you.

Nicholas Odhiambo
Nicholas is a versatile human resource professional with experience in organization reviews, recruitment, coaching, manpower planning and management. He has exposure in various sectors including Banking, Insurance, NGO and Retail. Proven leader with experience in building and empowerment of teams, maintenance of strong sense of objectives and problem solving. He is currently serving as a HR & Administration Manager for a retail business.