Is Your Boss a Bully? Here are the Signs and What You Can Do About It

Nope, sometimes it’s not just pressure from the higher ups or PMS. The yelling. The long tirade. The unreasonable demands. The unrealistic goals. Nope. That’s not how bosses are. Stop making excuses and take note of these telltale signs that your boss is a big bully. 

Dealing with the office bully is difficult enough without him (or even her!) being your boss! Bosses, after all, should—you know, support, guide, and mentor you. But what is even more difficult is that it can be so hard to identify. You just never know if you really messed up and deserved the brutal negative feedback, or if your boss is taking his anger out on you. There are tough yet fair bosses, and there are your garden-variety meanies. Hopefully, these five signs can help you tell these two apart and teach you how to deal.

Sign #1: Always Uses Your Work as a Bad Example

If you feel like Cersei Lannister doing the walk of atonement every time you commit a mistake at work, with your boss hounding you like that nun with her bell shouting “Shame! Shame! Shame!” your boss is a bully. You don’t really have to be a Game of Thrones fan to get the reference. Your boss is a grade-A tormenter when he relishes making fun of your poor performance in front of your co-workers.

What You Can Do About It:  Ask for one-on-one feedback sessions with your boss where you can both be candid AND constructive. Hopefully, this will make him realize that you do value your work and his feedback, but only when it’s delivered right.

Sign #2: Constantly Makes Fun Of You And The Way You Look

It’s always the little things—your tie is too tacky, you’re wearing the wrong shoes, your hair color doesn’t really suit you. You’d think his lack of tack is harmless, funny even. But there’s opinionated, and then there are deliberate jabs at the way you look, and your overall confidence. Bullies love insecure people because they are so much easier to toy with. Soon, you’ll be questioning your every decision. Am I wearing too much perfume? Is my skirt too short? Am I really qualified for that promotion? That’s when you know your boss has succeeded in bullying you.

What You Can Do About It: Be confident. Own your look. Own your work output. At the end of the day, no amount of bullying can put down a good performance. That speaks for itself.  

Sign #3: Yells At You

A unique trait of a Filipino workplace is that people treat each other as family. Sometimes we call our bosses Mama or Daddy (insert your boss’ name here). That’s just how we are. But really, our bosses are not our parents, so your boss yelling at you to work on that Q3 budget spreadsheet “NOW!!!” is not the same as your mom yelling at you to wash the dishes. The intended effect may be the same—that they both provoke urgency, but no, there is just absolutely no excuse, or reason, for anyone to yell at someone in the workplace.

What You Can Do About It: Show your boss you’re an adult and a professional by committing to your timelines and deliverables. If the yelling doesn’t stop, you can always consult with HR.  Your boss had been trained to effectively communicate urgency and other productivity concerns to his subordinates. He should know better.

Sign #4: Isolates You

Do you ever get that sinking feeling when you browse through your Facebook timeline and you see that the whole team has gone on a team lunch, and they didn’t bother to invite you? Your boss didn’t bother to hide it from you either and tagged you. Or when they all take 15-minute breaks at the same time? Or when they laugh at jokes that only you don’t get? It’s not because you don’t smoke, and they all do. It’s not because you’re too square—it’s them, not you. You’re being bullied, probably at your boss’ behest, too. This kind of behavior doesn’t promote a harmonious working environment in a team.

What You Can Do About It: It may be time to sit down and talk to your boss about why this is happening. Show him that you are just as committed as any of your colleagues in reaching team goals, and you’re not so bad in social events either. Sometimes, it just takes longer for bosses to “get” you.      

Sign #5: Overwhelms You with Unrealistic Targets and Goals

This could be tricky, since most workplaces thrive in overcoming expectations and delivering beyond what was called for. But the devil is in the detail. Is the goal the same for everyone, or at least based on some clear pay/rank grade system? Or do targets constantly move, especially if it just involves you? Is your boss doing it for the benefit of the company, or are you being set up for failure? If your boss works with you through a particularly tough deadline, then you know it truly is crunch time. But when it’s past 11 pm and you’re still in the office working on four project briefs due the next morning, while your boss and your colleagues are out “de-stressing” at a nearby watering hole, take a hint. You’re being bullied.

What You Can Do About It: Like in most situations here, communication is key. Talk to your boss about streamlining goals and targets, and sticking with them. If it doesn’t work, you can always escalate the matter to his boss, or to HR.