“35% of adult Americans experience workplace bullying (WBI 2010 U.S. National Survey)”
41 percent of American workers having been psychologically harassed at work — Money Magazine
We all have had to bear through difficult times and pressures at work, and many have even had to work for bad bosses, but there is a difference between a bad boss and a bully boss.
You can easily learn more about bully bosses, the warning signs and more at the Workplace Bullying Institute, but that does little more than validate what you are feeling (which IS important!)
A quick check is to watch the movie Office Space. If you cry (and not from laughing) chances are you have a bully boss.
What is a Bully Boss?
Bully bosses are unique. They are sometimes the workaholic boss or the “always busy” boss, but the bully boss takes it one step further. They’re mean. Intentionally.
The Workplace bully was noted by the Harvard Business Review to be
“… individuals or groups who use aggressive or unreasonable tactics against co-workers or subordinates persistently. “
Bully bosses single out people for torment, much like a schoolyard bully. Unlike a schoolyard bully, however, they typically don’t have a posse. Sure, they have a group of yes-men who follow them around, but that’s only because they report to them. The bully boss posse are typically those who cannot see sunshine unless the bully bosses mouth is open.
A bully boss screams, torments, bothers and annoys individual employees for issues, real and imagined or created, that when done by other employees those behaviors are either praised or ignored.
What to KNOW about a Bully Boss?
There are four things you need to know about bully bosses.
- You’re not at fault. Bully bosses are their own issues. Sure, you might make mistakes, you might even suck at your job, but chances are, you don’t. The boss us just a bully and is taking advantage of you.
- Bully bosses bully because you threaten them. Of course you don’t threaten violence or even legal action, but you threaten them in a way that makes them nervous. You can expose their weaknesses (which are undoubtedly many) and their shortcomings. You are probably smarter than them, and unwittingly demonstrate that just by doing your job.
- Bully bosses are insecure. They do not like themselves and feel they are not good enough. Your expertise, capabilities, and intelligence brings that to the surface in them and they react to that. They are insecure, and more than likely for good reason. They have probably lied and manipulated their way into their current positions, and are always looking over their shoulders out of fear of being exposed. (That’s not paranoia, either. If they cannot perform they will likely end up exposing themselves eventually.)
- There’s pretty much nothing you can do about it. HR cannot help as they are the boss too, and despite laws in place, retaliation can and does take place.
What to DO about a Bully Boss
You have a couple options when faced with a bully boss:
- Prove them to be the cowardly shadows they really are (not worth it)
- Find another job (recommended.)
It’s not right. It’s not fair. It’s not just. But it’s reality. You have to do it for you, because as a recent article in Money Magazine pointed out, bully bosses may be slowly killing you.
“HR [human resources] has no power or clout to make senior management stop,” Namie said. “Without the laws, they’re not mandated to make policies, and without the mandate, they don’t know what to do.”
Check to see if your state has workplace legislation in the works and get involved, but taking it on yourself will only result in the same outcome — the bully boss is in a power position and you will lose your job.
The Power of a Bully Boss is Limited
Bully bosses only have the power of employment over you. In today’s market, that’s a lot of power.
But by understanding that you represent a risk to them, by showing them up and outing their inadequacies, should demonstrate that these situations are not fixable, and will likely only make the situation worse. (Unless you are willing to do less than your best for the long haul, which will damage your reputation and abilities in the long run, not to mention what it will do to your psychological, emotional and physical health.)
Eventually bully bosses fizzle out. Their fist pumps gets weaker, their voices get quieter, their authority becomes a joke as their own reputation for outbursts and their incompetence become known.
That behavior, that incompetence, at the leadership level, filters down. It only leads to diminishing success as employees leave and incompetence reigns, which eventually leads to failures.
Bully bosses are little people. They have titles and only titles that give them power. Outside of the title they have nothing but fear and insecurities.