The Workplace Bully - By Adebisi Blaq

“One’s dignity may be assaulted, vandalized and cruelly mocked, but it can never be taken away unless it is surrendered” Michael J Fox.

H ave you ever worked with a bully?

If you haven’t, then Bibi’s story paints a good picture.

Bibi’s boss was usually uptight about things, she usually finds it difficult to get refunds for approved expenses because her boss would refuse to authorize the refund. On one occasion Bibi had accompanied her boss to lunch with prospective partners of their organization.

When lunch was over to Bibi’s amazement, her boss left with the guests without any arrangement as to how to settle the bill nor how Bibi would get back to the office. Bibi didn’t have enough. Should she really be paying for lunch for four at such an expensive restaurant from her personal funds? Bibi was left with no other choice than to ask her husband to bail her out of the situation she found herself in. You would expect Bibi will get a refund for this official outing.

Certainly not!

She didn’t get a dime because her boss deliberately refused to sign for refund to her. She tried her best to escalate the issue along with other issues revolving round the treatment meted out by her boss but all to no avail.

Meriam-Webster’s definition of a bully is someone that intimidates, habitually cruel, insulting, intimates or threatening to others who are weaker, smaller or somehow vulnerable.

Wikipedia defines workplace bullying as the persistent pattern of mistreatment from others in the workplace that can cause physical or emotional harm. The tactics employed by bullies can be verbal, non-verbal, psychological or even physical abuse.

Well bullying is a rather nice word that describes an awful act. If you have ever been bullied in the workplace then you can reconcile with this topic, if not, you need to be aware because bullying in the workplace happens. It is very easy for persistent undercurrent or abusive behaviour in the workplace to go unnoticed. It may seem random at first and you may think something you did or didn’t do led to the act of bullying.

It isn’t right for you to blame yourself because bullying is an abuse. It will eventually become persistent if unchecked and thinking about work will often cause the victim anxiety and dread.
Doing your work well and getting ahead depends greatly on a team as David Kerpen puts it “The difference between success and failure is a great team”.

Relationships with bosses and fellow workers are very important. The workplace is expected to be a professional place and the main objective of being there is to work so the boss and staff are employed to work just as you are. In situations where the boss is also the owner, the workplace is still expected to be a professional place and it cuts across all professions, white collar or otherwise.

However, you can do everything right and still not get along with people at work especially your boss. Why? Workplace relationships aren’t always great. That’s the reality but no one should be bullied.

Bibi’s boss became my boss later and I worked with a bully as a boss for close to two years. It was a very horrid experience that almost left me damaged. Part of my coping mechanism did me some good like documenting and keeping records of discussions with the boss but it also put me in a bad light with my colleagues in other departments, it was perceived as lack of trust and deliberating trying to set people up when I quoted who said what.

I began to eat a lot more to drown my sorrows, faff around in the daytime because I knew my boss would resume late in the afternoon, at times a few minutes before closing time and keep me till late at night. At first, I thought my boss was just meticulous.

When I learnt that those who worked previously in the department were asked to keep their bags in my boss’s office and could only leave when my boss decided it was closing time. I thought it was absurd, but I made excuses for the bad behaviour of my boss because things hadn’t degenerated to that extent with me.

I believed things would improve with trust. We closed late not because we worked at anything important, it was just a deliberate waste of time by my boss, we never really achieved anything positive because this boss will eventually send you on a wild goose chase to get information from other departments that may have closed for the day or print out a document and then take off from the office before you return. It was a ploy to keep things unresolved.

Our meetings were mostly about our sins especially mine. My boss yelled at my colleagues and I daily. I am still wandering how people like this boss of mine can be healthy.

My colleagues and I would join hands to pray in the mornings for God to spare us from being the victim of the boss’s tongue lashing. The prayers were always answered for those who said genuine Amen, but better prayer points could have been put before God if you ask me. Conversation with this boss was a great mortification. It was often a monologue that usually ended in the boss reeling out more complex orders that were designed to showcase one as stupid and incompetent.

I lost count of the number of times this boss walked me out of her office or hung up on me during telephone conversations. My boss would ignore emails sent and would bring up issues later to make trouble. My boss wouldn’t miss an opportunity to humiliate you. In no time this boss engaged in digital spying, installing software on our laptops, monitoring my movements and bullying became related to work performance.

I tried to please this boss. It was as if I lived for my boss. I would question my memory and sanity at times because of the constant denials of earlier statements by this boss. I felt terrible with a bully as a boss and even worse because sympathy came from a few co-workers while others kept mute.
Watch out for these signs in the workplace because you may just be a victim of bullying or workplace abuse, worse off, you may even be the one inflicting abuse on another.

Early Warning Signs

1. Co-workers might become quiet or leave the room when you walk in or they might simply ignore you.

2. You might be left out of office culture such as chitchat, parties or lunch with co-workers.

3. Your supervisor or line manager might often ask you to meet multiple times without clear reasons.

4. You may be asked to do new tasks or tasks outside your typical duties without training or assistance even when you request for help.

5. It may seem like your work is frequently monitored to the point where you begin to doubt yourself and have difficulty with regular tasks.

6. You might even be asked to do difficult or seemingly pointless tasks and be ridiculed or criticized when you can’t get them done.

7. You may notice a pattern of documents, files or other work-related resources you require for your work missing.

According to, bullying in the workplace can be intimidating, institutional, related to work performance, retaliatory or verbal.

It is intimidating when it takes the form of threats, social exclusion in the workplace, spying and other forms of invasions of privacy. Installation of software that allow digital spying on laptops without disclosure to the user. When the workplace accepts, allows and even encourages bullying to take place, then it’s institutional. It can take the form of unrealistic goal setting, forced overtime or identifying some as not measuring up to unrealistic standards.

Bullying is related to work performance when it takes the form of wrongful blame, interference or taking credit for ideas that did not emanate from you. It is retaliatory when it takes the form of exclusion, refused promotion or other retardation in the career advancement of the victim when bullying is reported, or abuser confronted. Bullying is verbal when it is in the form of derogatory jokes or gossip about a person.

Practical Examples of Bullying and Abuse in the Workplace

Humiliating, Negating and Criticizing: These are tactics meant to undermine your self-esteem. Usually, the bully is unrelenting using these tactics. Examples are:

• Name-calling such as zombie, loser, stupid etc.

• Derogatory nicknames that are not terms of endearment such as iya-arugbo (meaning old woman)

• Character assassination such as remarks like “you are always messing things up”, “I can’t see you doing well anywhere…” blah blah. You are basically not a good person in the eye of your abuser.

• Yelling or screaming to intimidate or show who is Boss. This can even be accompanied by physical actions such as throwing objects and pounding of fists.

•Dismissiveness. What is important to you is never discussed because it is about you. The body language of the bully always conveys contempt for your ideas, sighing when you are speaking and not responding to you.

• Joking. They try to make you look stupid or foolish.

• Sarcasm without justification. A dig in disguise and when you object, they say they are joking.

• Negative comments about your appearance just before you go out for an important meeting. Your outfit is either not good enough or your hair style doesn’t suit the image of the organization. Like it’s not the same hairstyle you’ve been wearing since the beginning of the week! Usually, the abuser puts himself or herself across as the role model even when they don’t dress as well as you or do things as perfectly as they expect from you.

• Belittling your achievements. The bully will tell you your achievements mean nothing, or they even claim credits for it. Once a boss I had told me I only came to milk what others had worked for. According to her success at getting funds depended on the strength of one’s presentation. I had to resist the urge of asking this boss of mine what happened when previous and subsequent presentations by her did not result in what she considered success.

• Pushing the button. They know what annoys you and will bring it up whenever the opportunity arises.

Neglect and Isolation. They try to come between you and those that work with you or can assist you. They employ the following tactics:

• Demanding Respect. You must defer to them.

• Shutting down communication. They ignore your attempt at conversation in person, by text or phone.

•Dehumanizing you. They look away when you speak to them and stare at something else when they speak with you.

• Turning you out. Ignore you or wave you off and actively work to turn others against you.

• Interrupt your conversation. You must stop everything you are doing because they require your attention.

• Indifference. You are ill or dead is not their concern. They even dispute your feelings.

Control and Shame. The bully tries to make you feel inadequate and they use the following tactics as Threats. Loss of job, appraisal, queries etc.:

• Monitoring your movements. They want to know where you are.

•Micromanaging. They are most guilty of what they complain about. It’s not unusual to hear a bully say he or she does not have time to micromanage but in fact that is what he or she does.

• Unilateral Decision making. They can cut off activities that are beneficial to you such as non-inclusion in trainings etc or refuse to approve request for leave.

• Financial control. They never give approval for expenses other than the ones pertaining to their activities.

• Direct orders such as get this or get that, leave the room or excuse us. Even when the word please is added, the effect is lost because it is just to fulfill all righteousness.

• Outbursts. You must put up with their constant anger. It’s always …you were told to do this or that.

• Unpredictable. Their emotions are spontaneous, they explode without provocation and they shower you with affection when it’s unexpected.

• They walk out on you. A ploy to keep the problem or issue unresolved.

• Using others. Bullies are users. They tell others you are this or that

Accusing, Blaming and Denial: This emanates from their insecurities. Bullies in the workplace love to create hierarchy in which they are at the top and you are at the bottom. They use the tactics of:

• Accusing you. Tell you that you are such a pain or the cause of their rage. When you ask them how, they can’t come up with a tangible argument but history of your wrongdoing. They are always the victim.

• Gaslighting. This is denying what they know is true and often cause you to question your memory or sanity.

• Denying their abuse. Yes, they claim to fair and seem bewildered at the thought of what you complain about.

It is unlikely a bully will break his or her pattern of behavior without professional help so in Part 2 of The workplace Bully, we will talk about how to deal with the situation.

Adebisi Blaq is a career oriented professional. She is also an entrepreneur. She enjoys lonesomeness. Usually minds her business but can be  rebellious in  situation of injustice. She writes from Lagos

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16 thoughts on “The Workplace Bully”

  1. Wow! Interesting read and very well captured and written….. and trust me, I know this first hand
    Kudos Blaqqy

  2. The writer has touched on rather critical but often overlooked nexus between the boss and his direct report. Many underperforming , ill-motivated workers in organizations are results of lack of protection from bully bosses. As pointed out in the write-up, cross appraisals must be taken seriously to prevent nervous breakdowns. Excellent piece!

  3. A well written piece. Thanks for highlighting the salient telltale signs. Bullying destroys self confidence. Employees should be encouraged to speak up against such acts and seek help, where possible.

  4. Very interesting piece on a critial area.
    We need to heighten awareness and encourage people to resist bullying at work-places, no matter how subtle and wherever it presents itself.
    Bullying is largely Psychological Abuse and the effects are much more harmful than Physial Abuse. No one has any right to harm another in that manner and no one should be desperate enough to condone because they want to keep their jobs.

  5. Nice writeup… and I was about asking how can someone deal with that kind of situation…but thank God there is part 2 for it….thanks..

  6. Nice. It’s anticipated that HR teams setup control measures around this and more issues of this area. Could result in Poor performance, amidst other challenges.

  7. This is an opportunity to stand ones ground and damn all consequences and be forever set free,trust me God is on your side.

  8. What a bully and that’s why it’s advisable to set oneself free through been self employed but then, some bosses are just not a source of motivator to there subordinates. Nice one broo. Keep the good work going.

  9. Had been through this and almost led me to being depressed. It was a terrible thing to experience but thought me a big lesson not to extend this to my surbodinates. I lost so much confidence and coming to work that, each day, became a nightmare.

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