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What to do if you are bullied by your boss


The term ‘bullying’ may carry connotations of playground spats but bullying in the workplace has an increasing understanding and media coverage.

Bullying can be defined as subjecting a person to psychologically aggressive behaviour including that which is intimidating, insulting or malicious, and misusing a position of power by undermining or humiliating someone. Although harassment is against the law, bullying isn’t. However, responsible companies have anti-bullying guidelines in their employer policies, vowing that everyone should feel respected and be treated fairly and with dignity.

Your boss may have authority over you but they don’t have a right to speak to you or treat you as though you are inferior as a person. Where do the lines of bossy and bully blur?

Ways bosses can bully their staff

Adult bullies are drawn to having jobs in a position of power that can offer a legitimisation of their behaviour. Examples of bullying include singling someone out and treating them differently; setting them unrealistic targets and suddenly moving the goal posts; refusing to give leave for holiday or illness or subjecting them to disciplinary action for trivial or fabricated reasons with no proper investigation.

Bullying can be carried out through letter, email and over the phone as well as happening face-to-face. The bullying can be subtle so that witnesses are unaware it is going on, and the promotion of the bully’s allies to roles of influence can also conceal it. Bullying isn’t a staff management strategy; it’s an intimidation tactic and a projection of one person’s insecurities or inadequacies onto another.

The implications and effects of being bullied in the workplace

As well as picking on people who they perceive as weak, bosses can also bully staff who they perceive to be very good at their job and see as a threat to their own status. For the bully, their behaviour isn’t about getting someone fired, it’s the feeling of power and control that they get from doing the bullying.

Regularly undermining a competent worker can shatter that employee’s self-confidence and self-worth when they’ve been working really hard and are in fact a valuable and skilled asset to the company. [How to realise your own self worth] These circumstances are likely to create a high turnover of staff and mean that they become demoralised and alienated, suffering from high levels of stress and regularly requiring time off or long-term leave.

There are many ways that the experience of being bullied at work can affect somebody’s mental and physical health. These include excessive sweating, shaking, reactive depression, tearfulness, flash backs, migraines and sleepless nights as well as stress-related skin problems such as eczema and psoriasis.

Speak Up – How to Report Bullying and Get Help

Someone experiencing bullying at work, who hasn’t been successful in solving the issue in an informal manner, can speak to the company’s HR department or a trade union representative. If this is ineffective, they can make a formal complaint in accordance with the employer’s grievance procedure. If this doesn’t work and they a still being bullied or harassed, they can take legal action at an employment tribunal.

Even if you think you are thick-skinned and able to cope with how you are being treated, nobody is immune to mental health problems, don’t allow the situation to get out of hand. Document any form of bullying you are subjected to whether it be emails or memo notes and write down conversations that have happened, This can be in the form of a log or diary and is known as a ‘contemporaneous record’ which can be useful at a later date to evidence the behaviour.

It’s important to speak up and not let a boss get away with ill-treatment of their staff. With any cases or harassment or emotional abuse, letting the wrongdoer go unchecked about their behaviour makes them more likely to do the same to other people as well.

Building up Your Confidence After Being Bullied at Work

There is more to you than your job. Move and get a new one if you no longer want to work there, whatever the outcome of investigations into the bullying, you may feel your relationship with the company has been tarnished and that it’s time to move on. Don’t let a job undermine your confidence and you as a person. This can be a gradual and subconscious process that you don’t realise is happening, when suddenly you’re completely shattered as a person and blaming yourself.

When you have been bullied at work it is important to recognise that nobody deserves to be treated that way and that it wasn’t your fault. Recognise your strengths and the fact that your tormentor is likely to have bullied you because they are insecure, not because you are incompetent. It may take time to get over the mistreatment and it may help to talk to a councillor or perhaps use our ebooks and videos regarding interview techniques to build your confidence for getting a new job if that’s what you would like to do. There is also guidance on this site regarding assertiveness and communication skills if you want to take this further.

Employers have a responsibility to prevent their employees being bullied and are liable for any harassment that they have suffered. Don’t let the attitude or approach of one or two individuals push you out of a job you love. Get help to stand up for yourself and don’t allow yourself to be beaten down and intimidated, you deserve respect.


This article was contributed by Pink Moods.