6 Ways to Tell If You Have a Tough Boss or a Bullying Boss

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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 his employees accountable with strict guidelines and high demands; but he also gives his employees all the tools they need to succeed. Meanwhile, a bullying boss might set unrealistic deadlines that are sure to cause failure. He also might change the guidelines causing extra work or withhold necessary information. He does these things to exert his power and his control in the situation.

Tough Bosses Hold Everyone to High Standards But Bullies Single Out One Person 

A tough boss is tough on everyone. He does not single out one person, but instead is consistent in his treatment of others. But bullies often question the adequacy of one employee by belittling his 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 he also is willing to roll up his sleeves and help get the job done.

Additionally, a tough boss protects his team from adversity within the company and supports them when needed. Meanwhile, a bullying boss is unfair and will sell his employees out to protect his own skin. He also might blame others for failures while assuming complete responsibility for all successes. He also shows favoritism among employees and is very clear about who he has disdain for. He 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. He is willing to work just as hard, and sometimes even harder, than his employees to get the job done. But a bullying boss is more interested in being in control and having power over other people. He is a power-hungry leader that thrives on having control over others. He also takes credit for things that he did not do and rarely acknowledges the successes of his employees.

Tough Bosses Are Inclusive But Bullies Isolate and Exclude People 

A tough boss holds all his 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. He 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 his employees like it is. He does not mince words, but he is respectful in the process.

Additionally, employees know that they can count on him to be honest in all situations, even when the truth hurts. Meanwhile, a bullying boss is manipulative. He will control situations by spreading rumors or gossiping about others. He often pits one employee against another and encourages 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 Family

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