Is your boss a bully?

Bullying and harassment at work is any kind of behaviour that makes someone feel intimidated or offended. Here's how to spot it in your boss…


Is your boss a bully?

How to spot them

‘Bullying is a pattern of negative behaviour that creates distress in another person, whether intended or not,’ explains occupational psychologist Dr Marilyn Aitkenhead. ‘It includes shouting at colleagues, using sarcastic put-downs, repeated criticism of a person’s work, physical abuse, unfair sanctions and impossible deadlines, spreading rumours, removing responsibilities from a person and replacing them with trivial tasks, withholding necessary information and excluding people from relevant meetings.’

What motivates a bully?

‘Bullying is usually motivated by threat; the desire to maintain and enhance control. People may be charming to those “higher up” the chain than them, and nasty to those lower down. It may also be a need for perfection; people like this are often very critical and put others under pressure. Perfectionists who bully may be very focused on work, and any real or imagined gaps between assumed expectations and reality. Some bully for attention. And sometimes the motivation is their own anxiety about not being good enough.’

What to do?

  • Be assertive and clear in all your communications; work out what triggers the bullying and devise an action plan for each occasion.
  • Keep clear, written, dated records of what’s happening. If other people are present, can you ask them to sign and date your account?
  • Build relationships outside your immediate work environment.
  • Visit HR or your union, if available.
  • If all else fails, think about moving on to a new working environment.

Are you being bullied at work? Visit for practical advice and support

More inspiration:

Read Why you get triggered at work and how to stay calm by Obi James on LifeLabs

Photograph: Jason Stang/PlainPicture

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