How to Tell If Your Boss Is a Bully

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Workplace bullying is a growing problem that countless people face every day. But sometimes people confuse bullying with toughness. If you work for a boss that sets high goals and expects a lot from you and the rest of the team, this does not mean that your boss is bullying you.

In fact, employees often automatically assume that tough bosses are bullies. But there are some important differences between bosses who bully and bosses who are tough on their employees. Here are six ways to tell the difference between a tough boss and a bullying boss.

Tough Bosses Set High Goals but Bullies Demand Unattainable Results 

A tough boss holds their employees accountable with strict guidelines and high demands, but they also give employees all the tools they need to succeed.

Meanwhile, a bullying boss might set unrealistic deadlines that are sure to cause failure. They also might change the guidelines causing extra work or withhold necessary information. They do these things to exert their power and control of the situation.

Tough Bosses Hold Everyone to High Standards but Bullies Single out One Person 

A tough boss is tough on everyone. They do not single out one person but instead are consistent in their treatment of others. But bullies often question the adequacy of one employee by belittling their opinions and ideas.

These bosses also may question one employee’s commitment to the job and dole out unfair criticism and blame. Several hallmarks of bullying behavior are the patterns of unfair behavior and the targeting of one or two people over and over again.

Tough Bosses Are Fair but Bullies Are Unfair and Irrational 

A tough boss does not coddle people or tolerate excuses, but they are also willing to roll up their sleeves and help get the job done.

A tough boss protects their team from adversity within the company and supports them when needed. Meanwhile, a bullying boss is unfair and will sell their employees out to protect themselves.

They also might blame others for failures while assuming complete responsibility for all successes. They also show favoritism among employees and are very clear about who they have disdain for. They may yell, swear and even engage in name-calling.

Tough Bosses Work for the Good of the Company but Bullies Thrive on Power

A tough boss cultivates teamwork and works toward bettering the company. They are willing to work just as hard, and sometimes even harder than their employees to get the job done. But a bullying boss is more interested in being in control and having power over other people.

They are a power-hungry leader that thrives on having control over others. They also take credit for things that they did not do and rarely acknowledges the successes of their employees.

Tough Bosses Are Inclusive but Bullies Isolate and Exclude People 

A tough boss holds all their employees to the same high standard but is inclusive in the process. As a result, no one feels less valued than another and everyone knows they have to work hard to succeed. Meanwhile, a bullying boss often singles out one or two workers and humiliates and berates them in front of others.

They also might ostracize them by excluding them from meetings and social gatherings. This type of behavior undermines the entire atmosphere of the office and makes teamwork nearly impossible. Instead, employees focus on staying in the good graces of the bullying boss rather than focusing on the job at hand.

Tough Bosses Are Honest and Trustworthy but Bullies Spread Rumors and Gossip 

A tough boss tells employees like it is. They do not mince words, but they are respectful in the process. Additionally, employees know that they can count on them, to be honest in all situations, even when the truth hurts. Meanwhile, a bullying boss is manipulative. They will control situations by spreading rumors or gossiping about others.

They often pit one employee against another and encourage unhealthy competition. If you find yourself in a situation where your boss is trying to bait you into an unhealthy conversation about another employee, do not take the bait. Maintain your beliefs and values while trying to determine how best to deal with your situation.

A Word From Verywell

If you believe your boss is bullying you, this is not an environment that you should try to live in. Remember, dealing with a bullying boss can be exhausting. Consequently, if you are feeling emotionally drained, depressed, or anxious, contact your healthcare provider right away.

Additionally, you should come up with a plan on how to deal with your situation. Your options include reporting your boss's bullying behavior to human resources or trying to find another job. But it is never a good idea to try to live with workplace bullying.

5 Sources
Verywell Mind uses only high-quality sources, including peer-reviewed studies, to support the facts within our articles. Read our editorial process to learn more about how we fact-check and keep our content accurate, reliable, and trustworthy.
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By Sherri Gordon
Sherri Gordon is a published author and a bullying prevention expert.