What To Do About A Bully Boss

I was recently asked by Forbes magazine what advice I would give an employee who is being bullied by a boss. Some of my response and great tips from other professionals can be found in the published articles.


Part I – http://blogs.forbes.com/work-in-progress/2010/12/06/never-mind-co-worker-sabotage-what-if-im-dealing-with-a-bully-boss-part-one/
Part II – http://blogs.forbes.com/work-in-progress/2010/12/06/never-mind-co-worker-sabotage-what-if-im-dealing-with-a-bully-boss-part-two/

I want to share with our readers some additional information that I think is helpful to know when you are dealing with this first hand or advising others. Unfortunately, employees perceive supervisor “bullying” more often than management may realize which inadvertently can get the organization into legal hot water and leaves both parties feeling unfulfilled and resentful. Here is a quick synopsis of what I often encounter:

  • Boss isn’t getting what he/she needs from their direct report in order to meet the department/organizational objectives.
  • The direct reporter isn’t getting the feedback he/she requires to understand what’s expected or how they can improve performance. He/she rationalizes this result by convincing her/himself that their career growth is stymied by the supervisor and/or that they are not receiving the same opportunities as their peers and are being treated unfairly or “bullied”.
  • Neither is getting what they need to be successful.

In my experience, the frequent reality is that neither is willing to have an honest conversation about the employee’s performance so both parties suffer in silence. The employee may feel that there could be some truth to what the supervisor may say and their ego isn’t open to hearing it. The supervisor isn’t excited about having the uncomfortable “failure to perform” conversation with the employee and also isn’t willing to see how they might be contributing to the issue or make the investment of time in that individual to get them up to speed. So both parties keep quiet, animosities build up and both parties feel the other “just doesn’t understand/can’t cut it”. The longer things go, the more the employee feels bullied. While I wouldn’t call this situation “bullying” in its true sense, it’s all about perception.

As I mentioned in the article, if this were a client of ours I would encourage the employee to have the hard conversation with their boss in a non-confrontational manner by stating some of their observations and perceptions. It is critical that the employee’s tone come across as non-threatening and offered in the spirit of creating a productive working relationship between the two parties. It’s in the employee’s best interest to 1) ensure h/she isn’t misreading the situation and 2) to demonstrate recognition that a string of events are occurring and offer a sincere attempt to create a more amiable situation for themselves and the work environment. There may be two sides to the story that can be worked out through discussion.

If it’s truly a situation of bullying or trying to force someone out, the employee will generally know after trying to discuss the situation with the perceived offender. At that point, the employee should document the events/attempts at conversation and escalate the need for action by talking with the HR department and/or the offender’s boss to ask for help on how to create a more productive environment. HR can often help the employee brainstorm the situation and monitor/investigate if needed to ensure the company, including all of its employees, are protected to the extent possible. The employee may be perceived as a troublemaker or someone who is disruptive, and in that case I would say get out of the situation as soon as you can. Life is short and there are better companies out there. On the flip side, the employee could score points with management and other employees by demonstrating their willingness to put themselves out there in the company’s best interest. It’s all about confidence and how you approach the situation.

Management respects individuals who take a non-confrontational, constructive approach and are willing to take risks. It’s these types of individuals that drive businesses forward.

5 responses to “What To Do About A Bully Boss”

  1. You make a comment to go to HR, but I have found this to be counter-productive. HR really is not there to protect the employee, but rather to protect the company from acting in such a way as to bring on litigation from breaking labor laws. I think that writing an article putting some of the examples of bullying as bullet points would give the reader a clearer understanding of what constitutes bullying in the workplace. Sometimes it is not as clear-cut, and what might be seen as being a “tough” manager is actually bullying, especially when they threaten to replace you without giving you the necessary tools and training with which to do the job.

    • Mattie,
      I am so sorry that this has been your experience with HR and it sounds like you have had experiences with a bully boss. I’ll talk with our team and see if we can put together a blog soon that provides some clear cut examples of bullying in the workplace as well as our experience with perceived bullying. Look for this in the next few weeks. Thanks so much for your suggestion! If you have examples you’d like to share, please feel free to share on the blog or email me directly at jolsen@resourcefulhr.com
      Thank you for visiting our blog!

  2. […] Mattie B. was correct in stating that HR is there “to protect the company from acting in such a way as to bring on litigation from breaking labor laws.” Much of the human resources function is about risk mitigation and that does involve protecting employees and the employers. Each employer has the ability to determine the level of risk they are willing to take. Unfortunately workplace bullying is not illegal. Therefore the risk is not as obvious to an employer as one might think. There are some great organizations that will listen and respond to workplace bullying issues, but there are also those that will turn a blind eye. We don’t live in a utopian society and we could all find ourselves in an organization that has a deaf ear at some point. […]

  3. I’m experiencing right now workplace bullying from my immediate supervisor and it is a mental torture for me. The ironic thing is that I work for a union and they advocate for their members and even fight for their members about workplace bullying, but I and several others in my department are going thru the same thing. This supervisor is manipulative, deceptive and a liar. I’ve caught this person in other lies, and just recently she outright lied in front of me and my union rep. She twisted my words. I could not believe it and I was so disgusted by her behavior that I told her in front of my union rep. that she twisted my words and that she is a liar and what she was doing is wrong. I notified the person above my union rep. from my union right away and told them what happened in email and they suggested I put a grievance about her bullying. I am still waiting for them to answer me back and what is the next step after. They told me to write what happened in detail and to let HR know which I did and sent to them for review before I send to HR. Also, the supervisor gave me a discipline written warning for being insubordinate a month after the same incident. Why she waited a month to give me a discipline? I was not being insubordinate. Because I called her a liar and because I walked out of her office where the incident happened. She would not let me explain or defend myself in front of my own union rep. when it happened. So I walked out so matters won’t escalate. All this is stemming from my complaint of her harassment about a year and half ago. She is doing this out of retaliation. And she has been relentless. I have never in my life been given a discipline or reprimanded in previous jobs until this job. With this person it’s damn if you don’t, damn if you do. I can’t take this anymore. I am a nervous wreck, getting panic attacks, my blood pressure is so high that I am taking now three different blood pressure medications and taking medication for depression. I am scared to go to my job and I get these headaches and nauseated. I was just recently diagnosed with diabetes. And now I am taking diabetes medication. I am too young to be taking all these medications. I feel that my health has been deteriorating with this stressful situation. I also can’t sleep at night just thinking what the next day will bring with this supervisor. Is this job worth it? I love this job and it has great medical benefits. But if I quit this job, how am I going to pay for all these expensive medications that I am taking now. And who knows when I can find another job. The way the job market is right now. It is not fair and not right that I have to be going thru this. After almost two years without work before getting this permanent job. I worked really hard to get this job. I got this job just in time when I ran out of my unemployment benefits. And I was so happy and grateful. I am a very hard worker. I don’t slack off at work. I take my job very seriously. I am very dedicated to my job. I don’t come in late. My attendance is very good unless I have doctor’s appointments which I happen to have more in recent months because of my health. I get along well with my other co-workers. But, how can you work with someone who lies, intimidates, and bullies you? I don’t have any trust or respect for this person. I feel that I have no recourse because this has been going on for too long. And my union is no help. I feel like I am all alone with this. How long am I going to take this? Until I am being taken out in a stretcher or body bag from that job? Please help.

    • Rosy, I am so sorry that you are feeling bullied by your boss. It sounds like you are going through the appropriate channels to file a grievance for review with your union representative and HR. If you feel your union rep isn’t doing enough, you might contact a regional office of the National Labor Relations Board for additional guidance (http://www.nlrb.gov/who-we-are/regional-offices). You might also request an in person meeting with your union representative to determine how they can speed up a resolution to the situation of bullying as well as what opportunities might exist for medical leave, transfer to another manager or modified work schedule to help with your medical situation and perhaps less time spent directly with this individual. These are a few thoughts that come to mind. I hope they are helpful.

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