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Dealing with the Bully Boss: What to Do if Your Boss Bullies You

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Adults spend at least half of their waking lives at work, and it’s nearly impossible to avoid taking what happens at work home with you. Workplace bullying can cause depression, anxiety, lowered job performance, and even problems in your marriage.

So what can you do if your work life is a nightmare? There are ways to deal with a bullying boss that will decrease your chances of continuing to be a target.

Avoid Being a Target

Some bosses will bully you no matter who you are, but there are a few things you can do to decrease your chances of being bullied. Like the unpopular kid in elementary school, the lone worker is a prime target.

Focus on befriending coworkers and establishing a support group. It will be much more difficult for your boss to bully you if you’re in a group of people rather than walking around the office alone.

You should also remember that bullies bully people who “reward” them for their behavior. A bully’s greatest reward is feeling like he has dominated or is better than someone else.

Most bullies are insecure and fairly inept in their own lives, so they seek to feel better about themselves by harming others. If you react to the bullying with tears, by stammering, or by showing signs of weakness, it’s likely to increase.

A better strategy is to ignore the bullying, to assert yourself when necessary, and to refocus your boss’s attention on the job. If you can make your boss sound a little stupid — without being overtly hostile — you may also deter bullying.

For example, you can say, “It’s great that you spend so much time thinking about how I do my make-up. I don’t know about you, but I have a job to do here, so let’s refocus on those reports.”

Document Everything

If the bullying continues, document every instance of bullying. If you are fired, request a transfer, or file a lawsuit, you will need documentation. Note the date, time, and nature of the altercation and file any supporting evidence — such as e-mails or memos — along with the notes.

Report It

Some forms of bullying, particularly sexual harassment or bullying that is race-based, can land your company in hot water. Human resources (HR) departments are increasingly aware of workplace bullying, and your HR director may be sensitive to the problem. Talk to HR, and take any documentation you have.

Develop Coping Skills

The economy is bad, looking for a new job is stressful, and sometimes you just have to grit your teeth with a less-than-ideal working environment. Work on developing coping skills such as deep breathing and meditation at work.

Take brisk walks around the office a few times a day; exercise decreases cortisol and can help you cope with stress. And, if things become truly unbearable, consider seeking help from a qualified mental health professional, who may be able to give you tips on how to deal with the office bully.

What Not to Do

You will almost always lose if you confront the office bully directly. When he feels that his authority is questioned, a bullying boss may wage full scale warfare and may even fire you.

You should also avoid slacking off at work because of the bullying, as this provides fuel to the bully’s fire and could even act as a justification for firing you. Perhaps most importantly, avoid showing any signs that you are affected by the bully.

If you need to cry, vent, or express feelings about the bullying, save it for the bathroom or when you get home. Bullies prey on people they consider weak, and emotion is all too often considered a sign of weakness.


Namie, G., Namie, R. (2009). The bully at work: What you can do to stop the hurt and reclaim your dignity on the job. Naperville, IL: Sourcebooks.

Kohut, M. R. (2008). The complete guide to understanding, controlling, and stopping bullies & bullying at work: A guide for managers, supervisors, and employees. Ocala, FL: Atlantic Pub. Group.

Edited by Jody Smith

Add a Comment3 Comments

EmpowHER Guest

As a Tucson Therapist, I work with many women who are dealing with these very dynamics. Understanding the bully, as the author here has helped readers do is extremely important in this process.

December 18, 2012 - 9:51pm
EmpowHER Guest

Adult bullies are an underestimated problem. In my Dallas Counseling practice, I work with my clients on ways to deal with difficult people. The first step is always identifying what it is that you want. That sounds easy, but can be difficult when dealing with a paycheck and someone who is in power. Being assertive at the right time can also be a challenge. I especially agree that documentation is important. If you have a boss who is not following through, or who is creating a hostile work environment, documentation may be key at either saving your job, or helping you if questioned.

December 18, 2012 - 9:45pm
EmpowHER Guest

In schoolyard bullying, the bullies are children, whose behaviour is controlled by the leaders, i.e. the school administration. In workplace bullying, however, the bullies are often the leaders themselves, i.e., the managers and supervisors. Therefore, reporting a bully to the HR dept, for example, may expose the target/victim to the risk of even more bullying, slower career advancement, or even termination, on the grounds of being a “troublemaker!”.

Workplace bullying has severe consequences, including reduced effectiveness and high employee turnover. An employee who suffers any physical or psychiatric injury as a result of workplace bullying can confront the bully, report the bully to the HR department or to the trade union, if any, or bring a claim of negligence and/or a personal injury claim against both the employer and the abusive employee as joint respondents in the claim. If the law does not persuade employers to deal with workplace bullying, the economic reality will persuade them. Training sessions can help when combined with a confidential reporting structure, but it is difficult to alter the basic nature of some individuals, who may need counselling.

Maxwell Pinto, Business Author

April 12, 2012 - 2:22pm
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We value and respect our HERWriters' experiences, but everyone is different. Many of our writers are speaking from personal experience, and what's worked for them may not work for you. Their articles are not a substitute for medical advice, although we hope you can gain knowledge from their insight.


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