Is Your Boss a Bully?

If you've never had a micromanaging, pushy, aggressive boss, you'll likely encounter a supervisor like this at some point in your career. No matter what your professional role, dealing with toxic people who just make your work life harder is inevitable.

But there's a fine line between obnoxious or rude behavior and flat-out bullying. You may not like receiving negative feedback (or how your boss delivered it to you) when you made a major mistake, but that's not bullying. Other issues, like name-calling or reprimanding you for an error that didn't even happen, however, may indicate a larger problem.

Here's how to tell if your boss' actions cross the line -- and they're actually bullying you and your coworkers.

They call you out in public

There's a time and a place for addressing issues, mistakes, and problems in the workplace. During lunch in the breakroom in front of all your coworkers is not one of them. Bosses who call out individuals publically, and deliberately try to shame and humiliate people in front of others, are engaging in bullying behavior. The same is true if your boss spreads rumors about you and attempts to undermine your reputation with others in the office.

They tell others to avoid you (or encourage them to humiliate you, too)

Has your superior ever told your fellow employees not to talk to you or socialize with you? This is another form of public shaming, and it's not acceptable. Making fun of you for things you can't change or are irrelevant to your job performance, like your appearance or your personal life, is bullying too. Your superiors should work to eliminate this behavior in the workplace, but if they indulge in it or encourage others to do so, they're no better than grade-school bullies.

They set impossible-to-complete tasks -- and then berate you for failing

A boss' role is to act as a leader for their team. That means supporting you and providing you with what you need to succeed -- not deliberately trying to sabotage you. This bullying behavior can take a number of forms, including:

  • Setting deadlines that are impossible to meet (for you or anyone else)
  • Creating goals that are unrealistic for the business and punishing you for not reaching them
  • Consistently giving you more work than you can realistically complete in your normal workweek, and blaming your incompetence for not checking off all your tasks

They threaten you

Poor job performance is something that should be addressed, and yes, there are such things as firable offenses. But if you're taking care of your responsibilities, completing tasks, and meeting your metrics for success and your boss constantly threatens to fire you? They're bullying you.

Your boss is a bully if they use threats against you, like threatening to fire you, reduce your pay, withhold bonuses, or deny you opportunities for promotions and advancements in the company.

They regularly scream or curse at you

Everyone loses their cool sometimes. While that's still not appropriate, we're all only human and we make mistakes that we later regret. That includes your boss. But regularly screaming at you, calling you names, or cursing and using offensive language are all signs your boss is a bully.

Each of these 5 signs indicate your boss is a bully and you should not tolerate such behavior. Any of them together indicate a serious problem. You deserve better -- and you're also legally entitled to appropriate treatment in the workplace.

If you feel you're being bullied, talk to HR first. If they don't work with you to resolve the issue, it may be time to look for a new position with a company that doesn't tolerate bullies of any sort.