Curious About Dealing With Bullying Bosses At Work

BOSTON (CBS) – There are laws to protect kids from bullying, but what about the rest of us?

Karen on the North Shore Declared her Curiosity:

“What can be done about bosses who are bullies? My boss bullies everyone!”

Right now, quitting is one of your only options. But, lawmakers are working to change that.

A bullying boss can take more than your lunch money. They can take your mortgage money…

A Zogby poll found that 37 percent of workers have been bullied by their bosses, while 64 percent of them were forced to get a new job.

“He’s never nice about what he’s asking you. He’s just constantly ‘I need this now!’” said a woman, who we’re calling Barbara.

WBZ-TV‘s David Wade reports.

Barbara said her current boss is a real jerk and that her pain isn’t just 9-to-5.

“Oh, I’ve spend many days depressed and just hating to go to work,” said Barbara.

“(Boss bullying) is a big problem. It’s a given in organizational behavior that no one quits a job. You quit your boss,” said Robin Abrahams, a local expert.

Abrahams is researcher at Harvard Business School. She has written books on conduct and has an advice column in the Boston Globe.

“Bullies always kiss up and kick down,” said Abrahams. “If you notice that pattern, you are not working for a good guy.”

Abrahams offers this advice:

  • Take control by controlling your emotions and stay calm.
  • Figure out if your boss is a bad apple or part a bad bushel.

“If your boss is the only bad apple in an otherwise good company, stay, because sooner or later he will be managed out or they will get rid of her,” said Abrahams.

Talk to someone in human resources and, if nothing works, leave, but make sure you have something better lined up.

“Sometimes you have to stay, in this economy, it’s facile advice ‘life’s too short to work for a bad boss!’ Yeah, well life is too short to starve to death too,” said Abrahams.

Lawmakers have already taken on bullies at school, but how about bullies at work?

Well, the healthy workplace bill would allow a worker to sue an abusive and malicious bullying boss for damages. That bill stalled last year, but was just filed again.

Would a law work?

“You cannot outlaw people being jerks,” said Abrahams.

More from Declare Your Curiosity
  • Anne

    Your timing couldn’t be more perfect. I’ve endured so much bullying at my work from perhaps, the worst bully I’ve ever met. Unfortunately, the union is so slow to act that she feels empowered and continues her bullying with impunity. I will certainly welcome a law that empowers people like me. Perhaps, the possibility of a bully being sued successfully, will serve as a deterrent for people like her.

    • John

      Unions and laws are often ineffective at preventing workplace bullying. The best way to deal with bad bosses is to avoid them in the first place. People should definitely research potential employers on sites like eBossWatch before they start a new job.

    • GG

      Currently, I am on disability from my work due to a nervous breakdown from bullying at work. I have been bullied by a bad bushel of bosses.. I have made several complaints and nothing has been done. This has ruined my career with this company. I am a manager myself and loved what I did. When I went to my Human Resourse Manager she told me and I quote” There just jealous becasue you’re pretty and they are not”. How insulting. Usually that would be a nice compliment but not when it comes between me and my job. Just because I go to the gym , wear some make up and do my hair I am allowed to be judged, humiliated, talked bad about and feel less than human … I had a break down. Now, they want me to come back and are telling me they are sorry and feel bad for what they did. I just don’t trust that anything will change. I am now on medication for anxiety/panic disorder and depression. seeing a therapist and thankfully they recomment that I continue at the gym to hlep the anxiety. What do I do? Where do I go to solve this problem. I am 45 years old and hopeless… I need advise please. Thank you for reading my story. I would love any comments that are positive to help in this horrible situation.

      • Smootherthenthem

        I don’t usuallyu respond online but I was compelled when I read your story. I can relate. Unless you’ve been through something as ungodly as this, not a doctor, family members or friends. I begin to feel all alone which is part of their plan. I too was on medication but not anymore…there is not enough medication in the world to fix what happened. Only walking through it with someone that understands helps heal the pain.

        The really sad thing is even if they pass the “bullying law” to stop bullies, they will get some (scared weak) co-worker to do it and pull out all the stops.
        As long as that person doesn’t have a title they didn’t violate the law.
        I had to see the situation from this prespective, image you are a container of neutrual energy, perfectly balanced and you are placed in a microwave (heated up with negative emotions again and again and again……and again) the obvious will happen right. So at some point you have to remove yourself from the heating plate and recover. Email me if you have any questions.

  • Carol Ann

    It is about time this subject is brought to light. At my long term place of employment, two years ago, my co-workers and I met with Human Resources and Administration [at a local community hospital], to discuss our concerns, regarding the newly hired President for the physican practice group.

    This man belittled staff and also displayed violent tendencies. We decided to file a complaint, as he threatened one of my co-workers. Long story short, the people you hoped would help to improve the situation, simply dusted all concerns under the rug. So, seeking help through your HR Department is not always in your best interest.

    Ultimately, layoffs happened in 2009, and he was given full reign to dismiss two long standing employees [myself included], due to reduction in force.

    We tried to bring this problematic personality to the attention of our authorities…they chose not to do anything…a year passed and this President’s superiors had to fire him.

    I must say, I was relieved for my former co-workers that he was out of their lives.

    Hopefully, the healthy workplace bill will, at the least, prompt individuals to be more aware of their “bad” behaviour.

  • Anita

    I wish the healthy workplace bill had already been in place. A dear friend of mine had been enduring bullying and harassment from his boss and another co-worker for the last year. This man was incredibly hard working and took pride in his work, and had always received glowing reports from his previous employers. In the last year he was complaining about the awful conditions at work. With heavy heart, we attended his funeral yesterday. He shot himself in the parking lot of his work. I hope his boss feels dispair for this tragedy, but I do not think she does. May God bless our friend’s soul.

    • Sonic Zippy

      My deepest sympathy for your loss…..

  • Kathy

    It’s so hard to deal with a “bully” boss, even when you have called HR, but they say “it’s whats good for the company”. They have a script.
    He calles himself the cleaner, so far it’s true, there’s only 2 of us left since he started working here. It’s gotten so bad he’s controlling our vacation time, telling us when we could take it. Is you call out sick you need a doctor’s note regardless if it’s only one day, or he’ll place you on a warning.

  • Lesley

    Some of these people don’t even consider themselves bullies. They are doing what is “good for the company” and “the bottom line.” It doesn’t matter how they they treat staff or how hard they work their people,. It is everywhere. And I work in Human Resources. They really think they are doing the right thing.

  • Scooby

    I am a boss and treat employees as family. Do I get great work ethics from this?? Hell yes..!! Corporate mentality is to hire “cleaners” is a lame excuse for the bottom line dollar. If our country let small business owners like myself run these huge corporations The USA would be the pride of the world again.

  • Cynic

    Why do we go from one mindless hysteria to the next. We found a 200 hundred year old term.. The schoolyard bully… Then all of a sudden it is a major Cause… We Need LAWS. We must eliminate BULLYING… Henny Penny,The sky Is falling…People are being killed..Yada,Yada,Yada.
    So now we have discovered that supervisors are bullies….”He Acutally Suggested That The Smell Of Alcohol On My Breath Might Be A Problem At Work”..So what if I was an hour late three times last week He doesn’t have to BULLY me about it….!

    • Broken Spirit

      Sure, there are always going to be people who think this law applies to them but doesn’t, as per your example. But there are legitimate cases of people being bullied by their superiors…myself included. Every day I drive in with a huge knot in my stomach and drive home with tears in my eyes because of the way I am treated at work. I was told early on in my time at my current job that if there was ever a time where I felt I was overwhelmed with work, they would let me go and find someone that could do it. That taught me quickly that I needed to shut up and do the best I can. Ever since then, I’ve been getting spoken to about not living up to my expectations…which are apparently those of a super computer because they are genuinely unrealistic expectations. I am currently actively looking for a new job, and just doing my best to try and keep my head above water until then. Just because it doesn’t happen to you, or you’ve never seen it happen, doesn’t mean it’s not happening. It’s one thing to be a strong leader and be stern with your employees, it’s another to constantly beat them down instead of trying to find a bigger problem of what can be done to help down the road.

  • Cynic

    WBZ preferes the word “Boss” over supervisor because it is more evil sounding.
    Who is the “BULLY”? It seems that someone is looking for a weapon (Law) that they can use to BULLY their Supervisor.
    Often ,as a Supervisor,you think it is easier to do what has to be done yourself than to listen to the person that was supposed to do the job tell you why it wasn’t done.
    If you have the ability ,( Most Don’t),become a Supervisor….Guaranteed you’ll look at things differently.

    • smack

      Sorry, NEVER and excuse to mistreat people. Treat people well and they will do the work that is needed. Of course, some people are just bad workers and sometimes they need to be replaced when they don’t respond.

      • Cynic

        smack.. sometimes asking a person to do the job they are getting paid to do is consdered ‘Mistreating ” them.

  • marycb

    I also went through the same thing. Finally, I quit. Unfortunately, it was spring of 2007 and by the time I found another job it was the recession, and I was only employed for 8 months before being laid off. As I was an older worker – 68 – I never did find another job and am still unemployed. However, going to HR is a waste of time. The person in my firm didn’t want to hear about MY problems – just the junior attorney who had given me a bad rap. IBy the way, I had worked there for 8 years before this occurred.

    • pgbarnes

      There is overwhelming discrimination against older workers – realistically, older workers have to put up with bullying because they no there is nothing else out there for them. Sorry to hear of your situation, marycb.

  • Greg

    You can fashion a law that deters bullying behaviors, provides incentives for employers to correct their managers/supervisors actions, and preserves the good work that employees were hired to do in the first place! That law has been filed both in the House and in the Senate. House Bill 2310 provides protections for workers, incentives for employers and sanctions for Bullies. No reasonable person takes a job knowingly expecting to be treated in a hurtful, health endangering way. We’re starting to protect kids. Adults are supposed to be grown up!

  • Laurie Maguire-Murphy

    My boss/supervisor is a bully. I have never worked for anyone so mean. She just calls people into her office and yells at them. She has made numerous people cry. Very bad working environment. She is like a hurricane when she comes in in the morning. She has her favorites that she is nice to but everyone else runs from her. I so wish I could transfer out!

  • Gary Namie

    The guy at Harvard is no expert. Better to find David Yamada at Suffolk Law who did write a law (it’s HB 2310 in the MA House right now) or Greg Sorozan, the most knowledgeable person about bullying in Quincy who just happens to be a union president. Biz schools would not tolerate their faculty bad-mouthing HR, but HR is not the bullied targets friend. The national experts are at the Workplace Bullying Institute.

  • smack

    How do these people get these higher up jobs? They must have bullied the people who promoted them. It is no secret that many in charge are bullies. All companies should have seminars for their management staff on how to manage and treat people. What is not understood by these borish egomaniacs is that if you treat your staff well (like the human beings that they are) your staff will work hard for you and, oh, yes….they may even like coming to work! Wake up corporate America!

    • Petetm

      As I’ve seen far too many times, nepotism is what puts these people in these positions and typically faciliates this type of behavior. They have either friends or relatives even higher on the ladder so being reprimanded for bad behavior just isn’t going to happen. As far as HR is concerned, I have one word; USLESS.

  • alicia

    The real problem is that with the lack of opportunity in so many areas, a person is afraid to just quit and walk out. I always thought that when women became management material that things would change and they did. It got worse! Most women I know say they would rather work for a man, as do most men.

  • Cynic

    I hired two retired Cops that were nothing but trouble from day one. No one was going to tell them what to do. I had no choice.I had to let them go.
    One came to me and said ” Because of you I lost the best job I ever had”.
    I replied, ” No Joe. Because Of YOU you lost the best job you ever had.”
    The BOSS is always the Bad Guy.

  • optimistic

    I questioned myself and my abilities when bullied for over 8 mos. I don’t understand the logic behind it and I certainly don’t believe you can achieve your goals by bullying people. I am disgusted and do not trust anyone in the organization, because it is about the organization as a business and not as a team of people working together. Still waiting on the verdict about HR, really hoping that they will see the truth and stop protecting someone who is ruthless and not professionally trained to do their job. Truth is, if you bullied once you most likely bullied before– there should be a paper trail. No one should be treated so hurtfully to try to compensate for the inadequacies of the bully. No One.

  • patty

    omg, i workd a job recently where not only was my boss a bully, but he threatened me and told rumors about me, i was horrified to go to work and having to deal with him,

  • al

    I think that any-one that does’nt stand up to who-ever bullies them are whimps. Snap back at them when they talk to you. show them them that you too can treat them like dirt. Like if they come and ask you a question, all you have to do is every time they bully you bully them back by yelling this at them.WHAT DO YOU WANT!!!!!! treat them with a grouchy attitude like they do to you until they stop. Believe me they will stop. You can also treat them like a dog. When you ask him/her to do something for you and they do it? Say to them in a nice manner, GOOD BOY/GIRL, I knew you could do that thank you, and leave it at that. they’ll get the message. it’s called belittlement, and no -one like that.

  • a worker

    Do any of you work for the United States Postal Service? I have for the last 25 years. Never had a problem until last year we had a new female boss for about 6 months. She would follow the women in the ladies room and stand outside the stall while they went! She had her own private bathroom in her office. She would walk around and give you this big cheery hello and then get in you face and tell you how much you suck and that you weren’t working fast enough. She would not pay sick leave even if you brought in a doctors note. A 42 year old man died in his sleep because he knew he wouldn’t get paid if he went to the doctor and he had a family to support. I never knew the depth of how much I could hate a human being, and I use the word human very loosely. She has been gone a year and I could give you a huge list of people that would celebrate her death, myself included!

    • Cynic

      a worker… The Post Office was a unique situation….The workers were not BULLIED……The were TERRORIZED.The events that led to the term ‘Going Postal” were CAUSED by the TERRORISTS that Were running the Post Office,and no one ever put the blame where it belongs. Today if you go to the Post Office and you say to a worker ‘Hi how are you today”. Before they answer they will always look aroung to seeing if they are being watched before they answer.

  • Pat

    Wow and I thought I was the only one that was getting bullied at work. I have just spent the last 8 months being bullied by my boss’ partner and my boss. My boss was basically a nice person but when his partner got him going it was f this and f that and name calling preceded by the f word. I had a father that was very verbally and emotionally abusive but this guy made my dad look like fater of the year. It was so hard to deal with it on a daily basis and was dreading going to work. My attitude got worse as days went on. I have been a bookkeeper for 25 years and never had a problem. As his company dwindled to almost nothering he came in one day and started yelling at me. He said things like I was the worse f”inb bookkeeper and I was incompetent. I know i am not but there was his out. I was shocked to hear that stuff but felt a big boulder lifted off my shoulders at the same time. Afte 25 years of building up my career I have no self esteem nor pride. He stripped me of those things I had. He is an eqal opportunity bully as well as his partner and the department of labor told me it’s not illegal if he is like that with everyone.

    I cannot believe that in this country there are laws protecting spouses from verbal and emotional abuse and even grant divorces for it but there are no laws protecting people in the work place. If you quit your job because of it, unemployment will tell you you are wrong. If you stay you are an emotional wreck. Where is the justice here? If bullying in the schools is prohibited with kids and marriages can get disolved over it why can’t working people get protected. Now my ex boss can do anything he wants. I am still at his mercy. This is so wrong.

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