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When the Childhood Bully Turns into Your Supervisor

Updated on April 18, 2019

Difficulty following rules, lack of empathy or sympathy, easily frustrated or annoyed, controlling rather than inspiring, impulsive, angry. Do these characteristics sound like your common teenage bully or worse, your current supervisor? Unfortunately, the bully boss exists and can destroy morale, create a toxic work environment and cause real psychological distress. According to some estimates, as many of 54 million Americans have been bullied at one time in their career.

Bullying in the workplace goes beyond sharp criticism and a boss with a no-nonsense attitude. Emotionally damaging supervisors will criticize you in front of your peers, sabotage your success, undermine your work, verbally abuse you in an effort to get the upper hand, and use intimidation tactics to maintain power. Bullies need control and lash out when they feel like their power is being undermined or threatened – often by a superstar employee. Bully bosses do not want to see their staff succeed and will use their position to impede professional development, as opposed to encourage it.

How to address bullying.

First, speak with your supervisor privately. Be specific and bring up examples of when their behavior has been abusive, subversive, and inappropriate. Save emails and keep notes on conversations, assignment due dates, and phone conversations. If that does not work – utilize your company’s chain of command or complaint system. Report your supervisor’s behavior to the Human Resources department or an outside agency such as the Department of Labor or the Human Rights Commission if your boss’s behavior exhibits signs of harassment or discrimination.

When you have exhausted all your resources and your supervisor’s behavior still has not changed, and it may not, consider looking for another job. When you get questioned as to why you left your last employer, simply state that the culture was not conducive to your development and explain what your ideal culture would look like. There is no need to disparage your former supervisor, but simply describe the characteristics of a supervisor you are looking for: supportive, honest, inspiring, innovative, and empowering.

Still debating whether your supervisor is a bully boss? Ask yourself: are you constantly anxious? Do you feel like your Sunday night blues start on Saturday? Do you dread any interaction with your supervisor? Are you constantly walking on eggshells at work? If so, maybe it is time to stop suffering and make a change.

© 2019 Diane Abramson


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