What To Do When You Work For A Bully

working for bully boss

By Nancy Collamer

More than 25 years have passed since my one, and thankfully only, experience working for a bully. But I can still remember how the sound of his voice would send my stress levels through the roof. I tolerated his behavior for nearly a year before deciding to resign -- and I haven't worked for another employer since.

So I was surprised by a new study by Australian psychologist Michelle McQuaid, due to be released Tuesday in conjunction with National Bosses Day, showing that only 30 percent of people 50 and older think a bully boss can impact their health; a whopping 73 percent of their younger counterparts think so.

Having lived through the experience myself, I agree with the younger generation on this one.

Workplace Bullies And Your Health

A bully's effect on your emotional and physical health can be so severe that it's been likened to post-traumatic stress disorder, according to the Workplace Bullying Institute, a group sponsoring Freedom From Workplace Bullies Week this week.

The economic costs of bullying are real. A recent Forbes magazine article by David K. Williams, noted that bullying results in increased absenteeism, poor employee morale and lost productivity, costing American businesses an estimated $360 million a year.

Bullies vs. Bad Bosses

Of course, not all bad bosses are bullies and it's important to understand the distinction.

According to the Workplace Bullying Institute, bullying is defined as repeated health-harming behaviors that can include verbal abuse, offensive conduct and intentional sabotage. Employees targeted by bully bosses stand a 64 percent chance of losing their jobs, the institute says, because they get fired or the bullying makes them too ill to work. In other words, a bad boss can make your life unpleasant, but a bully can be downright dangerous.

More: Why Your Workplace May Be Bad For Your Health

So what do you do if you're in your 50s or 60s and stuck working for a bully? Firing back at your boss or quitting your job can be treacherous in this economy.

To help answer the question, I turned to three experts: Maud Purcell, a psychotherapist and executive director of the Life Center of Darien, Conn.; psychologist Gary Namie, co-founder of the Workplace Bullying Institute; and McQuaid, who is the author of the new, colorfully named book, 5 Reasons to Tell Your Boss to Go F**k Themselves: How Positive Psychology Can Help You Get What You Want. Here are their recommendations:

3 Tips For Handling Bullies At Work

1. Understand what sets your boss off.

McQuaid points out that we all have irrational, fear-based beliefs that can trigger our worst behaviors when given news we don't expect. The same is true for your boss. Once you understand your bully boss's trigger points, you might find better ways to work around them.

For example, if your boss is a numbers person, try to give him or her more data-intensive reports. If the bully tends to be cranky in the morning, try to plan your meetings with him or her later in the day. Little changes like these can (sometimes) make a big difference.

2. Focus on controlling your stress.

High stress levels due to the bullying can undermine your performance at work and harm your health. To counteract the mental health effects of bullying, Purcell advises you to get plenty of sleep, exercise and keep as much distance as possible from the bully.

3. If you choose to confront your employer, do it carefully.

At some point, you'll need to decide whether to confront your boss about the bullying behavior. If you do want to have a conversation, Purcell says, be assertive but not aggressive in your approach.

If nothing changes after speaking with your boss, or the situation worsens, you may want to plead your case to upper management.

That step can be risky, though. Yes, it might get your boss to change his or her ways or even get the bully fired. But if the brass sides with your bully, you could be out of a job.

To help protect yourself, Namie recommends that you keep the conversation with the bully's boss focused on the impact that the behavior has on the employer's bottom line. Most important, Namie says, is to stay calm. "Emotional pleas almost always backfire," he says.

No matter what steps you take to deal with the workplace bully, don't blame yourself for a situation that likely isn't your fault. As the Workplace Bullying Institute site says, "The fact that bullies feel threatened speaks volumes about them, not about you."

Nancy Collamer, M.S. is a career coach, speaker and author of Second-Act Careers: 50+ Ways to Profit From Your Passions During Semi-Retirement. Her website is MyLifestyleCareer.com; on Twitter she is @NancyCollamer.

Don't Miss: Companies Hiring Now

More From NextAvenue

Looking for a job? Click here to get started.

Add a Comment

*0 / 3000 Character Maximum


Filter by:

Maybe a chat in the parking lot after work...

October 22 2012 at 12:41 PM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply

I have always found that women bosses can be more 'bullyish' than the male ones. I do not like to work for women. Many have an iingrained jealousy of other women who show too much intelligence.

October 22 2012 at 11:54 AM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply

I had a new boss once that tried to order me around and told me I was doing my job wrong. I simply said how about you order the materials I need for doing the job. He had no clue at all. I was a Construction supervisor of building Apartment buildings in small neighborhoods. Had two sites closed down over two weeks because he ordered the wrong materials and we lost two sub contractors over the situation. Needless to say I took over his position and kept my own. Worked out well for me and cost him a good job.

October 22 2012 at 11:36 AM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply

Working late one night I noticed that the bosses wife was in his office sitting in a chair on the side of the room that was behind the door. I opened the door slightly and asked him if we were still on for tonight? Poked my head in further and said "opps" and shut the door. I told him when he shorted my pay check that he would pay for it and gave him the opportunity to make it right. His wife did me a favor and made sure I had a new suppervisor the next day.

October 22 2012 at 11:02 AM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply

how to handle a boss thats a b ully out smart them and get enough evidence on them to discredit them as bullys and take them to court or pray some one else does it before you

October 22 2012 at 10:27 AM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply


October 22 2012 at 9:15 AM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply

I don't work with a boss bully but a co-worker bully. We both started at the same time. I have more education than she does but she did the job I entered for a long time. They asked her to train me. She yelled at me, badgered me, emailed me insults even though we were close enough for her to tell me in person. At least with the emails I could delete. I lost 5 pounds and I am small as it is. When I get nervous you can tell by my fingers because I bite my nails and the skin surrounding them. My fingers were raw. Being in my 50's and the job market as it is my mantra is stay for a year and then leave because I will have the experience I need. I was just afraid she would get me fired and I needed the job. She was out of work for a long time so I wondered why she was like that. I am single and the bread winner of my family with a daughter in college. As I learned the job and gained confidence and gained the confidence of my bosses I just don't listen to her anymore. She said to me the other day you are not listening to me and I just smiled and continued on with my work. I worked hard so that I didn't need to ask her questions or I just go to my bosses and ask them instead which infuriates her. I feel much better and my fingers are back to order.

October 22 2012 at 8:34 AM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply

what really works , is come upside their head with a 2X4 .

October 22 2012 at 5:42 AM Report abuse +1 rate up rate down Reply

whats wrong with a punch in the nose

October 21 2012 at 8:30 PM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply

Carry a concealed pocket tape recorder......see a good lawyer.......that will end that!!!!

October 21 2012 at 5:32 PM Report abuse +1 rate up rate down Reply

Search Articles

Picks From the Web