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How to Handle a Bully at Work

Updated on June 14, 2017

Bullying at Work: Soul-Crushing Jackasses Who Put You Down to Build Themselves Up

Most of us have at least one low-status job on our resumes: asking “do you want fries with that?” while working at a McDonald's drive-through, picking up golf balls at a country club driving range, or cleaning the bigwigs' offices on the 19th floor during the middle of the night. If we were lucky, the jobs themselves weren't that bad – sometimes tolerable and sometimes even fun. But, without a doubt, the worst part of having a low-status job is dealing with a bully at work, a Soul-Crushing Jackass who finds fault with you to feel better about herself. I grappled with a Soul-Crushing Jackass last year, resigning my job because I couldn't live one more day with this hideous woman hell-bent on making me feel “less than.” Eleanor Roosevelt once said: “No one can make you feel inferior without your consent.” Well, excuse Mrs. Roosevelt, but you've obviously never worked with a Soul-Crushing Jackass or dealt with bullying at work!

My First Experience With a Soul-Crushing Jackass -- Oh, the Memories!

We're most likely to work with a Soul-Crushing Jackass when we're young, naïve, and just starting out – sitting ducks for someone stalking a vulnerable victim. While employed as a server at a Baker's Square restaurant in my late teens, I had the misfortune of working with a young assistant manager, who was a Soul-Crushing Jackass in training (undoubtedly, she continued her reign of terror for decades to come, rising to the top as many of them do).

Like most Soul-Crushing Jackasses, insecurity fueled her nasty behavior. She was in charge of many employees who were older and more experienced than she was. She demanded their respect but did nothing to earn it. She'd criticize us for reasons unrelated to our job performance: Katie's eye shadow was too blue, Jessica's voice too squeaky, Cecily's walk too lumbering, and my hair in a ponytail, too juvenile. Nitpicking was her way to exert control and assert dominance. Her self-image swelled when she shrunk ours.

It never crosses the minds of Soul-Crushing Jackasses like her to mentor young women instead of picking on them. They only think about themselves and their own goals, lacking the generous spirit necessary to guide others toward success.

No One Can Make You Feel Inferior Without Your Consent -- A Soul-Crushing Jackass Can!

Eleanor Roosevelt was fortunate. She had limited interactions with Soul-Crushing Jackasses.
Eleanor Roosevelt was fortunate. She had limited interactions with Soul-Crushing Jackasses. | Source

Jennifer the Joyless: The Matriarch of Soul-Crushing Jackasses

After graduating from college and earning a master's degree, I launched a fulfilling teaching career. As I approached 50, I thought my days dealing with Soul-Crushing Jackasses were behind me but unfortunately they weren't. It took half a century to meet the matriarch of all Soul-Crushing Jackasses – Jennifer the Joyless.

Just like guano falling from the sky, Jennifer the Joyless landed in my life and made a disgusting mess. A student who had Down's Syndrome was in my class so I got saddled with Jennifer. She was the district's “inclusion specialist,” responsible for making sure the boy was succeeding in a mainstream classroom (which he was, thanks to my hard work).

From day one, Jennifer showed zero interest in helping the youngster, making it clear that interacting with him was beneath her. Instead, she puffed out her chest and fanned her feathers like a peacock making a boastful display. With her condescending tone and patronizing attitude, she made me feel like a plain brown bird. She had invaded my nest, ruffled my feathers, and made me fly away to freedom after six LONG months putting up with her disrespect.

Believe me, as a middle-aged white woman, I never thought much about “dissing” when young hip black rappers spoke about it as though it was the worst possible offense. It wasn't until my dealings with Jennifer the Joyless that I knew exactly what they meant!

Jennifer the Joyless Was Always Fanning Her Feathers

Jennifer had an obsessive need to appear superior, showing off like a boastful peacock. Her actions, however, were hideous.
Jennifer had an obsessive need to appear superior, showing off like a boastful peacock. Her actions, however, were hideous. | Source

5 Things to Know About Soul-Crushing Jackasses Before Deciding to Stay or Go

1) She needs her candle to shine brighter than yours.

Jennifer the Joyless would never stop until her candle burned brighter than mine, even if it meant extinguishing my flame. During the six tortuous months working with her, I gained a lot of weight, suffered from anxiety and sleepless nights, experienced a plunge in self-esteem, and lost all joy for my job. Walking on my treadmill and listening to music was my salvation and helped me cope until I resigned.

2) She will not change.

I thought Jennifer the Joyless would change as we worked together and got to know one another. Most people working in education have a collaborative spirit, pulling together for the sake of children. However, Soul-Crushing Jackasses in any profession are NOT team players. Their identity rests on being superior and there's no way in hell they're renouncing that.

3) It has NOTHING to do with you.

When young and naïve, we think we have the power to change a situation or person. We ask ourselves: “How should I approach her differently so she'll like me? What can I say or do so she won't criticize me? Why do I set her off and how can I stop doing it?”

When we're older, we cut ourselves some slack. We realize the problem has nothing to do with us. We realize the Soul-Crushing Jackass is who she is, and she'll never give up her modus operandi. She was a Soul-Crushing Jackass long before she met us and she'll continue to be one long after we're out of her life.

4) Soul-Crushing Jackasses are bullies.

Document the bullying in a notebook -- including the date, time, and specific behavior. If you need to bring the problem to Human Resources, you'll need to present this detailed information.

Reporting the problem, however, does not automatically guarantee a resolution. I reported Jennifer the Joyless to her boss, who told me that she had received many similar complaints. But, as far as I know, Jennifer was never disciplined.

5) You're not a quitter if you quit.

In the words of Kenny Rogers: “You've got to know when to hold 'em/Know when to fold 'em/Know when to walk away/And know when to run.”

Who wants to give up and quit? Who wants the bad guys to win? It's safe to say, none of us do. But as we grew older and have proven ourselves in many tough situations, we're more willing to see the futility in battling Soul-Crushing Jackasses. For the sake of our health and happiness, it might be best to resign.

This Plain Brown Bird Is Learning to Soar Again

Jennifer needed me to be a plain brown bird. This plain brown bird needed to fly away from that Soul-Crushing Jackass!
Jennifer needed me to be a plain brown bird. This plain brown bird needed to fly away from that Soul-Crushing Jackass! | Source

Final Thoughts: Bullying at Work: It Does Long-Term Damage

Whether you stay or go, dealing with bullying at work can be a traumatic event. It took a year for me to feel normal again and build up my self-esteem. I'm still mistrustful of people and prefer being by myself or with my dog. However, I'm thrilled to have no Soul-Crushing Jackasses in my life.

How to Deal With Soul-Crushing Jackasses

What is the best way to cope with a Soul-Crushing Jackass at Work?

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If You're Getting Bullied at Work, You Must Read This Book!

I know from firsthand experience that getting bullied at work can be an isolating experience. You wonder why it's happening to you. You start to doubt yourself, thinking: Did I do something to deserve this treatment? This wonderful book lets you know you're not alone (workplace bullying is a growing epidemic) and teaches you how to fight back.


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