Did you have a bully in your school? Every school has at least one. Maybe you were the kid that wore a “Kick Me” sign on your back and wondered why other kids seemed to always gang up on you. I was that kid (the “Kick Me” sign kid, not the bully). I didn’t wear pocket protectors or tape on my glasses. But I was desperate to be liked, and I often felt like I failed. I had a hard time standing up for myself and I was targeted by bullies a lot as a result.
In my last post, How to Support Coworkers When Tragedy Strikes, I saw an unexpected but somewhat common thread in readers’ comments. People had experienced tragedies and returned to work environments that were –- for lack of a better word –- hostile.
Workplace bullies aren’t typically the focus of this blog, but they are a common issue that thousands of workers across this world deal with.
A workplace bully is someone who mistreats another employee or a group of employees for the sake of appearing superior or for a higher salary. According to studies like this one, there is an 80% likelihood that this bully is a manager or supervisor.
Why is this? It could be a number of reasons, and sometimes it happens to people with the best of intentions. For example, a person with too much pressure can crack and then begins to lose it on his or her employees. Most often, though, this isn’t the case.
Remember my story of being bullied at school? Some of it transferred into my working adult life, too. Some of my people-pleasing habits (and my failure to say “no”) resulted in a few bosses using unfair tactics to control me and other employees –- withholding promised raises, insulting us in front of other coworkers, and screaming at us for mistakes they had made.
8 Signs That You May Be a Bully’s Target
- You leave your house each Monday with knots in your stomach. You are visibly stressed.
- When your boss calls you into their office, you rack your brain searching for what you may have done wrong.
- Your boss openly screams at you with other coworkers around.
- Your boss rejects your ideas and then later re-adopts them, stealing credit for them in the process.
- Your boss withholds raises, bonuses, or other payment unless you fulfill a certain task.
- You continually keep your resume updated because you expect that any moment will be your last at the company.
- Your coworkers are often in full agreement when anyone comments on your boss’ behavior, but no one will publicly own it when your boss bullies you.
- You find yourself physically becoming sick or struggling with headaches at your job.
Toxic Work Culture = Health Hazard
My friend Kevin runs a company dedicated to exposing workplace bullies and eliminating toxic work environments. Kevin worked for a company that was dictated by a workplace bully. The culture around him became shaky and unstable, and most of it was because of unethical practices by the executive management. When Kevin tried to shine a light on what was happening in his work culture, he was fired. Months later, the massive corporation fell to the ground.
Kevin went on to start his own team with the sole purpose of exposing toxic leaders and creating “jerk-free” workplace cultures where honesty and respect build a thriving place to work.
In his studies, he found that in many cases that toxic workplaces have some frightening effects on the health of employees. Many workers experience nervous breakdowns. Several studies show that more heart attacks occur on Mondays than any other day of the week.
How to Overcome a Workplace Bully
Have you been targeted by a toxic boss? Do you find yourself dealing with one of the 8 signs above?
Here are some things you might consider doing:
- Talk to your boss. If he or she has any humanity at all in them, tell them what you are perceiving from them. Never accuse them of being a jerk. Use specific examples of when you felt mistreated and ask him or her to consider how they are coming across — and to stop.
- If your boss reports to higher management and he/she is not stopping the behavior after you have asked, you should report to higher management.
- If higher management does nothing or sides with your boss, you should look for another job. There’s no point in staying in a job that makes you miserable.
- If you have been bullied or harassed at work, you should talk to a counselor. Know that it’s not your fault.
Have you encountered a bully at work? What were some things that helped you?
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Bryan this is a everyday thing..I say get out if you can..because its just a waste of time and efforts..
“Black Seo Guy “Signing Off”
Antonio! Thanks, my friend for the feedback! I have experienced this, too. Far better, I think, to be on the up and up!
How is my favorite Workawesome contributor? 🙂 As typical, you’ve done an excellent job in increasing awareness of a situation that plagues many workplaces. Bravo to you for your sensitivity, courage and insight! Sounds like you and I might have worked in some of the same places. 🙂
Jennifer, Ha ha! Doing well, fellow WorkAwesome contributor. Yes, I have definitely dealt with a few toxic workplaces! I would hope to God you didn’t work for some of them. 🙂 Thanks for your feedback, my friend!
My partner is screaming and yelling me in front of our other employees when something that he doesn’t want is happens by me like disagreeing on an idea with him etc. He’s also, using my ideas and tell them as his own to our other grand partners in the companies group that our company belongs.
I once warned him but he’s continuously acting the same. I don’t know what to do because I’ve been in the business for many years and done many things. I don’t want leave ‘yet’.
What do you recommend?
Billy, man, that is a tough call. I know I put a big chunk of the workplace bullying thing on the boss, and while that’s often the case, many times it’s other employees. At the risk of sounding like a “tattle tale,” have you considered confronting your supervisor (if you have one) about this?
One thing you might consider is this – it’s going to sound a little silly, but I used to do this as a songwriter – when you have an idea for something business-related, write it down. Put it on paper and mail it to yourself. Never open the letter. This is called a poor-man’s copyright. It’s not Library of Congress, but the time-stamp on your envelope will hold up in court for the day you created your idea.
I hope this will help to some degree. I appreciate your comment. If I can be of more service to you, feel free to contact me at my website, elevationlife (dot) com. Thanks Billy.
Just left a comment on your blog, Bryan. Really great article.
It’s truly unfortunate that someone, like you described, would become a “boss” in the first place. A “boss”, as I know it, should be a leader and a manager–acting in ways that help to positively influence people, and build up an organization, rather than tear it down. I’m not sure I’d want to be apart of an organization like that, in the first place.
Howie, that would be the ideal way you’d think a leader would run a business, but all too often it doesn’t happen that way. And truthfully, it’s not leadership. It’s simply management, and ANYONE can manage. It takes a real leader to lead and create positive change. Thank you for your comment here and your comment on my site! I appreciate it!
Funny how so many of the topics you write about are ones that I completely relate to.
Nigel, it’s unfortunate that so many people can relate to it. Thanks for your comment, my friend!
I think it’s because we have a lot in common. You might be surprised how much.
I have had the pleasure of working with a boss bully. Those were not easy days. Over time I built up a tolerance for non-sense until I finally got fed up. The steps I used were not as calculated as the ones you put in the post but overtime they made a difference.
I initially started by keeping track of specific incidents by writing down accurate dates and details. Then I purposely made sure that during all of our interactions that there was the third party present. After I gathered all of this information I took some of the steps you listed above. First I confronted the bully with facts and witnesses. Then I informed him if the behavior continued I would escalate the matter to his manager and even as far as the district manager who I intentionally established a relationship with.
This worked to stop my incident but one of the greatest weapons in your arsenal in this situation is to make sure that the quality of your work and your personal reputation outside of this individual is in good standing. You can’t be the guy late for work everyday and complain that your boss is harassing you about attendance. Make sure you have a reputation worth being defended.
Great Post Bryan.
Frank, thanks for your feedback, my friend! You were a lot better prepared than I was in some of my circumstances. I like the idea of writing things down and documenting them according to time and place and having a third party present. It’s something when you’re able to not feel alone. And that is what you need. A bully will work to break down your confidence. Often, I have found it’s because they’re intimidated by your reputation (if it’s good) or by your ideas. This is usually if they have a low self-esteem. And most bullies, in my experience, do. Thanks again Frank!
Unfortunately my coworker took all the steps you did — the writing down of incidents, reporting, etc. But she got fired anyway — HR sided with our bully boss. Sometimes the reporting works against you. Better to just find a better work environment elsewhere. It’s too bad that jobs are limited right now — no wonder people are holding on to their crappy situations.
Avanna, you bring up an interesting couple of points. First off, it’s not that uncommon for the HR directors or other executives to side with the boss. After all, your boss didn’t get there overnight (usually). Often, slimy managers know how to charm the right people to move up places.
As for the “limited jobs” comment, I wonder if there is a connection between toxic workplaces and a dipping economy. Studies have shown that when morale is low, productivity goes down – this must have an effect on products and services that companies provide. I wonder what would happen to the economy if companies began adopting great people practices! Thank you for your comment!
That sounds like an extremely tough circumstance and I am sorry to hear that happened to your friend. In my case I was prepared to go as far as file a lawsuit and the documented evidence that I had was enough to prove any case in my favor. So they could have sided with the boss if they wanted to but I was going to be respected or I was going to be compensated until I found additional employment. I was feed up.
Each situation is different so what worked for me as you cleary stated may not work for someone else. That’s why this post is so useful. It gives you various ways to handle this horrible situation.
Was she fired for complaining?
Good stuff, it all sounds a bit too familiar. Thank God for finding a better place.
Yes and yes.
Brad, I am glad you’re in a new place and hope you will find it to be a wonderful experience. You have undoubtedly learned some great lessons and will be able to utilize them in the future. Thanks for your comment, buddy!
For any readers wondering who Kristin is that keeps agreeing with me and using the word “we” a lot, she is my lovely wife. And she also works awesome. 🙂
Having a great support system is key…and your partner in life is often the best one you can ask for.
Translation: My wife works and lives awesome, too.
Glad to see this piece resonated so well with a lot of people. Thanks to all for commenting…and keep working awesome!
In former employment I was bullied by two co-workers – because I got along with the new boss.
It was the most soul-destroying time of my life. Everyday was a nightmare. I eventually left the company, but not before recording all of the instances of bullying and approaching HR.
I recommend documenting all scenarios as they happen – no matter how small – i.e. “she rolled her eyes at me in a meeting” and sending it via email to your email account (it is time and date stamped).
Most importantly, seek help. Do not do this on your own. Bullying can destroy lives.
Thank you for the post Bryan – this is a very important issue (and timely considering the anniversary of Phoebe Prince).
Juanita, thanks so much for your feedback! I LOVE your methods of documenting – emailing yourself, keeping track of details. It’s an excellent way to build a case. Most importantly, I like your admonition to talk to someone. Do NOT try to do it all yourself. Thank you for chiming in!
Hi Bryan – This was a great article and really made me think. I was never bullied in school – I was challenged, but never really bullied. Fast forward to today and I must share that I massage an opening which others step into and develop bully tendencies towards me.
I think because of my appearance people leave me alone for the most part. They form an immediate expectation that I’m a certain way (a stereotype) and figure that I’m much different than I really am. When the get to know me, they learn that I’m laid back and very willing to help. Over time, people take my kindness as a form of weakness.. I used to just take the easy route, and shy it off, as if it didn’t happen. But I found that not addressing the situation led to a worse one!
My method of addressing it is heads on – with kindness. I know this doesn’t work for everyone…but I’ve found that kindly making mention of the situation makes people realize their affects. Upon kind confrontation, the conclusion typically ends with a understanding and increase of respect for all parties.
Up until i was about I was 19-20 years old I addressed these situations with my hands. That’s how I was taught. But – I’m happy to share that my kids get a very different teaching. Very different.
I do find at times that I get hit with some of the 8 signs you shared. One of the most common is having ideas rejected, then re-adopted without my credit! That’s SOOO annoying!
Great job on this gust post.
Sometimes people will have to stay in their toxic work situations because there aren’t that many other jobs available, and there are bills to pay.
Jan, thanks for your comment. I mentioned to Avanna above that I wonder if there’s a correlation between the dipping economy and the toxic workplaces that are so rampant in our society. As morale falls, so does productivity, and so does product quality and service quality.
So if quitting isn’t an option (and it shouldn’t be the only option!), I wonder what true leaders can do to rise up and create some positive impacts on their workplaces.. What do you think?
Jk, I think some people mistake kindness for a doormat. I think this may unfortunately be because there seems to be so little of people taking kind action towards others. It can be a dog-eat-dog world out there, so most people don’t go the extra mile. I get the feeling you do. I think herein lies the trick – to learn to be kind, but firm. I’m learning this. The people-pleaser in me has a hard time with it, but I’m learning. 🙂 Thanks for your kind words and for reading!
Bryan, great article. This is some really good insight on a tough situation that affects many working environments. While I haven’t worked in a toxic environment, I know many people who have. It is a very disheartening thing when you have a coworker (let alone a manager) who belittles the things you do. I can imagine that it causes the employee to be inwardly frustrated, feeling hopeless, and just helpless to do anything to improve the situation. Thanks for shedding light on this very important issue!
Dustin, I’m glad you haven’t had to deal with these types of environments, but you can be a good source of encouragement to those who are experiencing them. It’s more frustrating than hopeless in my opinion (though, someone who may endure it longer than I did may not feel that way). Thanks for the good heart, man.
You see Bryan. These are the reasons why I am self employed…lol..Boss are nothing but trouble. Great post. Your 8 tips are so true. I remember when my boss used to yell at me. It was so embarrassing. I didn’t care too much but that was the situation. Now, I’m self employees and no one yells at me. Except my girlfriend when i neglect her..lol
Jonathan, I admire your guts to step out on your own. These days in an insecure job market (and make no mistake, every single one is insecure these days – at least on the western front), if you can get your own gig and survive and pay your bills and be happy doing what you love, GO for it! Thanks for your feedback, my friend.
My boss is a woman and sometimes I feel like she is more harsh because she feels that if she’s soft, she will lose respect. Normally I can take it but sometimes it gets just plain rude.
I’ve had to talk to her and express that I don’t work well when I feel like someone is constantly pointing out what I did wrong or what I need to do better. I told her that I respect her and that she doesn’t need to employ threats to get it.
It definitely helped and she said she will be more conscious of that with me. Sometimes being brave and facing things head on makes a big difference.
Tony, wow, what a great story of facing a boss head on. I want to be careful how I say this. Not all bosses are bullies, and even if some are, they may not set out to be. Like you said, it usually rises out of some insecurity that they have somewhere.
You did the right thing by confronting her. I really hope she keeps her word and is conscious of how she treats her employees. My guess is that she probably dished it out on others as well, right?
Bryan, Have you ever heard of crab mentality? I was never hated by my boss but instead the other way around ( employees.)
I always wonder how employees turn out hating me, especially this current company that I’m in right now. I’ve been in hell for almost 2 years but I’m just trying to be strong because I need the 2 years experience in my resume. A friend told me that the whole group thinks that I’m an ass kisser because my boss goes to my table and I get to laugh with them… Eventually I got tired because people makes me the spotlight and so on… what I did was to annoy and aggrevate them more like be more extra nice to my boss and not care about what other employees thinks. I used to restrict myself away from my boss to avoid politics and i still got issue i was the ‘fav’ and that my ‘pay’ was way higher than most of people when we have the same ‘Job Position.’
I don’t know where to position myself Bryan. I have read so much psychology books and listen to audio books now I’m really happy this site exist to help the people like me who suffer with this. I tried to be nice and I really don’t know how to fight back and I don’t want to because I don’t want it to be done to me. I’m resigning on my 2 years and hopefully find a better job. I don’t really ask for a good pay… I just want to be happy like any other commenter here. I wanna grow professional like any other designer ( I need to write fluently in english first.)
Atira, wow, your story is challenging. I’m sorry to hear you’re so unfulfilled in your life and in your job. It sounds like it’s not your employer, so to speak. May I ask you why you are so determined to stay in a place that clearly makes you so miserable?
I respect having a commitment and honoring that, especially if you told the company this when you started, but I don’t know many companies that require a solid __-year commitment at the time of hire.
If you are keeping your job because you have family (wife, kids, etc.) depending on your paycheck or benefits, that is completely understandable, though remember there are many different jobs out there that may be more suited to your heart.
My guess is that your real passion lies in something else, and I might even guess that it’s in an entirely different field. Don’t feel bad, I’ve definitely been there. Sometimes you have to do what you don’t really want to for a short time, but I hope you will consider other possibilities for your career.
I hope this helps. And I truly hope you’re able to find a career you love. Trust me, it exists! You may have to create it, but it definitely exists!
I was just “let go” from my job that I obtained through a temporary service for the past two weeks. I showed up everyday ready to work and I guess that was not enough for the company or at least my supervisor. I worked in a warehouse and they are currently undergoing rearranging the warehouse. From what I heard from many other employees there, the warehouse had been a big mess for some time and the company that the temporary services were contracted to gave them two weeks to get their act together or else they would lose their contract and bring in another company.
Although this was not the “ideal” situation that I would have referred to start working under, I was willing to go in and do my part each day. Some of the real problems occurring was that they had all of us temp workers standing around not knowing what to do. They would have us to stand around for a good length of time during the day and not take the time to show us what needed to be done. While others liked the idea of just standing around and getting paid to do nothing, this irritated me because for one thing, they made us work 7 days a week for 12 plus hours a day for the past week in attempts to get the warehouse organized (which they still have not accompllished today). l would approach management to ask what I needed to do (since I was just standing around with about 6-7 others) and it seemed that this one particular supervisor would get irritated because I would inquire about work to do but at the same time, he would stand around and watch me standing in a group of others with nothing to do and get irritated about that as well. I guess that it was some type of cardinal sin to want to actually have work to do (since we had to be there for seven days in a row and was spending most of the time just looking and talking with each other instead of accomplishing what they were making us come in to work for massive hours each week to do).
Like I stated, some did not have an issue with it but I viewed it as wasting my time and also riding the clock. I felt that the supervisor probably felt inadequate in his position and was seeking someone to take it out on. Most of the people in the place would laugh, grin and kiss up to him while I kept my distance with minimal interaction (except when asking what I was supposed to do). He would do things like stand around and watch me and whenever I would go on break, well guess who would also go on break. I think that his tactic was to intimidate me with his presence which I found quite irritating and silly. Another thing that happened last week was I was standing at one of the shift leader’s desk getting some paperwork and eating a sucker (which everyone in the warehouse does) and this supervisor approached me and stated “you’re not supposed to have food in the warehouse Ma’am”. I stated “oh, ok” and walked to the breakroom to dispose of it. Just yesterday, the assistant supervisor was sitting at a desk printing out some paperwork for me and he was standing to the left of her and guess what. She was eating a sucker with the stick hanging out of her mouth and also with the sucker in clear sight of the both of us and he did not say a word to her but it was against the rules for me. I did not say a word, I just got my paperwork from her and walked to finish what I was doing.
Well today when I got in and stood around with everyone else for about one hour into the shift (waiting for them to give us work to do), and he sent the black, female assistant supervisor to confront me and tell me that the temporary service (that sent me there) wanted to “see me” and she did not know why. I thanked her and walked to the time clock to clock out and he (the supervisor) was standing across from the time clock glaring towards me with a slight smirk on his face. I looked at him after clocking out and said “hello, Mike, have a good day” and walked out. When I got to the temporary service’s office, I was told that there was a “conflict in attitude” is the reason that they were told that I was let go.
Now here I am without a job or paycheck with a family to support because someone decided that they did not like me and justified it by giving a bogus reason for letting me go.
I have a bit of an interesting one for you.
I am quiet and keep to myself for most of the day, i try and keep my head down and work hard all day.
My manager is also the companies HR manager (Its a small place).
Every day she is giving me conflicting instructions with phone calls, not listening to me when I am attempting to explain things, blaming me for wrong account numbers (even though she checked it twice before it was sent) and raising her voice to be every time something goes wrong, even though we are one desk apart, or with others standing there.
I am not in the position to change jobs at the moment, and I would like to have some general advice about what I should do. I also suffer strongly from depression, so these things are starting to really get to me.
Can you help?
I think you Blog is wonderful and a much needed site for being going through these “Bullying” situations. I am 50 years old, have never been bullyied in my life, nor did I ever allow or ignore if it was ever occurring in a workplace. I have been a dispatcher for 20 years with jobs at Furniture delivery companies, Vending companies, 911/Police Dispatcher, and then became the Transportation Manager of an Auto Auction, and ran the entire department for 4 years. I left the auction due to excessive hours with not enough help, or increased salary which was affecting my health and my relationships. I started a job 6 months later (after taking a break and getting myself better), with a huge corporation as a “Workload Planner”. (dispatching with customer service and administrative duties). The company offered excellent pay and excellent benefits, and was only 20 mins from my home. I knew the first week that there was some serious jealousy with a few of my coworkers in the department, which nly consisted of 9 of us. I had more experience than any of them, and was very well liked by the Manager of the Department who hired me, and also “raved” about having me join “his team”, giving me more attention than I believe some of the others liked. Of course the main perpetrator was my female supervisor. Needless to say, I have been put through a living nightmare, and quit last week. I made more money at this job than I have ever in my life, and had made so many friends in all departments, and all the technicians and managers liked me. I did not have any problems with anyone in the entire company except this Supervisor and her 2 recruits. It was the “3 Bad Musketeers” against me. The other dispatchers saw what was happening but were afraid to say anything. Other employees in the company told me that these three individuals were “jerks”, and not liked by many in the company. I went to my manager several times, many of them crying. He had a few brief surprise meetings with the 3 of us, but she (the supervisor) always had a way to turn things around making me look like the incompetant drama queen, etc. My last resort was begging my manager to talk to the other coworkers in private and see if they would confirm my complaints. Two weeks later, I found out that he had, and they all told him the truth, and although the bullying lessened for about 1 week, it started right back up afterwards, even worse, as was the case everytime my supervisor was made aware that I had made a complaint about her. It would get 10x worse! I started with a horrible rash on my ankle that lasted 3 months after seeing several doctors, and tests, and a biopsy, and not one could give me a diagnosis except they believed it to be some type of dermatitis, most likely caused by stress. My blood pressure spiked, and I was sick to my stomach all the time. I have become a recluse, not being in contact with friends and family. I feel like a failure and I am so depressed. I filed for unemployment, but have an interview next week to justify my “voluntary quit” to see if I can get benefits. I don’t know where to go from here. I strongly relate to Natasha, above. Her story sounds so familiar it makes me sick to my stomach just reading it. I have lost my confidence and feel like a loser. Your blog has given me some relief knowing that I am not the only one going through this and that I will eventually make it, I guess. God Bless.