Surviving a bullying boss


I have been taken out of work for stress due to a bullying boss. She has actually pulled on my arm screamed in my face and constantly setting me up to fail.

I have been in my profession for 26 years and am highly qualified. It would not matter how well I did, it was always wrong. I did turn to a higher power in the company only to find that it was swept under the rug. I am set to return to work soon and my boss has already sent me a letter stating they are going to replace me and I will have to remain out until I find work in the company.

The funny thing is our Medical department had not been told anything and they made a few calls. Now my job is waiting for me along with my hostile boss.

I had to endure constant phone calls to my home from my boss to do my performance for the year while I was out ill on stress leave. I was also told if I did not do it on the phone they will do it without me and I would have no choice. I appealed to a higher power and they stopped this process and the calls.

I know she is waiting for me when I get back and I am not sure what she will do next. She has tried to replace me but this did not work. She has also sent me a termination letter for 10 months down the road if I don't find another job.

HR is now playing a nice tune with me that the job is still mine and to call her to find out how the job has changed. I feel professional stripped and am still reeling at how horrible this has gotten. Any advice?

Linda, Austin

Laura Crawshaw's Answer:

Linda, you describe a situation fraught with distress and confusion. Let's address the confusion first. It's not clear from your letter on what basis you were removed from your job after you went on stress leave, why the company has reversed its position, or your company's current stance on your future employment.

Instead of communicating separately with your boss, HR, or Medical, I recommend that you ask to meet with all parties at the same time to get definitive answers to these questions. Doing so serves two purposes: you'll find out exactly what you're up against and thus be better equipped to develop a viable response strategy.

Stay calm and civil in this meeting – you want to be perceived as a reasonable individual committed to doing a good job, and not get written off as a "difficult employee" – the undeserved fate of so many victims of bullying.

If the powers that be express concerns related to your work performance, ask them to provide you with a list of their specific expectations for acceptable performance. Asking for these will give you a clear sense of how you are being measured, and in meeting these expectations, it will make it more difficult for your supervisor to declare you incompetent.

At the conclusion of the meeting, you might consider stating that you are open to any feedback regarding your work performance, but ask that these concerns be conveyed in a civil manner. "If you have an issue, please calmly inform me and I will do my best to correct it".

Alluding to your boss's past aggression is admittedly risky, but it makes it clear that you are not willing to tolerate your supervisor's unacceptable behaviors.

This brings us to the distress of working for a bullying boss. From my years of coaching and researching what I term abrasive bosses (bosses who rub coworkers the wrong way, leaving deep wounds), I've learned that most bullied employees see only three options: tolerate, transfer, or terminate. I've also encountered employees who successfully tamed their managers by calmly and respectfully informing their boss that they would no longer tolerate the bullying behavior: "I need to let you know that shouting at me doesn't work for me – if there's a problem, just tell me and I'll address it immediately."

This strategy also entails risk, but is worth trying if you're already contemplating leaving. I've found that more often than not, abrasive bosses are blind to their own behavior – they have no idea of how they're coming across.

Another option is to convince your company to set limits on the bullying boss. Complaints of bullying behavior are frequently discounted as a personality conflict with a single disgruntled employee. But there's safety and strength in numbers - it's harder for companies to dismiss reports of bullying when multiple employees voice their concerns, and it's less risky to present the distress en masse.

Participants should calmly communicate their concern for fellow employees and the company as a whole, while presenting specific descriptions of the bullying behaviors. Companies who become aware of an abrasive manager also have options beyond tolerating, transferring, or terminating the offender.

Demanding respectful behavior from supervisors and offering executive coaching to help them gain insight into their dysfunctional management styles can often resolve the problem.


About our Expert

Laura Crawshaw
Laura Crawshaw

Laura Crawshaw researches and coaches abrasive leaders, otherwise known as "bully bosses". She is known as "The Boss Whisperer" for her ability to help these individuals develop less destructive management styles.

Older Comments

You need to both properly prepared for such a meeting and have your own witness and advocate at the meeting. Are you a member of a union? If so, they should be able to help. If not, find yourself a lawyer that specialises in employment issues. Any money spent on this will be well worth it in the long-term. The behaviour you have described is illegal in many countries and something no employee should have to tolerate.

If the boss is as bad as you have described, you may be better off seeing if you can organise an amicable separation (complete with payout and reference) from the company and look at rebuilding your career in another organisation. In the end this might be the only way to have a win-win situation for all.

Good luck

Embi Australia

My experience is that my boss puts everyone in her pocket with special favors and then no one wants to stand against her. She only ridicules or threatens removal from the job in private. I am well liked and respected in the organization but she is a director and I am below her in the corporate line. It's things like delaying performance reviews or changing her mind on how she wants a task completed, after I have completed the initial task. She is always saying how hurt she is which is just another way of bullying--passive agressive is her name

Katie S

Maybe you would also be interested in viewing the situation from another angle. Read 'When Good People Become Bad Bosses' on

Thejendra BS (Author) India

I work for a paramilitary organization that just happens to be also unionized. My experience with bullying managers is they tend to get promoted for their aggressive behavior while blaming others for their failure. The union is powerless to intervene because the grievance process requires the employee to deal with that same management on several levels. By the time the grievance has been escalated to the highest, national level because it's been denied at the lower level (management sides with the bullying manager) then years have passed. Nobody can wait that long, the employee typically quits if he/she can't find an alternate position or job. Bullying in the corporate world is quite common. If you have a strong union (most are very weak, especially in Canada like the Public Service Commission (PSAC), you'll struggle big time. You just hope karma kicks in, but it usually doesn't.


Hi I have been through hell and back over the last 18 months it all came to head December last year. Here is an outline of what happened. I am currently on a stage 2 written warning that is on appeal, also I have talked to my union rep regarding bullying/harrassment by my team leader over an 18 month period almost daily digs about me not my work but how my fellow team colleagues were telling her that they did not see me as a team player and that I said things that upset them when I asked who I had upset so that I could ask them what I had done she just said that she could not tell me as it was confidential. I know for a fact that none of the team either like or respect this person she is rude to the point where it can make you feel very uncomfortable. I cracked in December 2008 I had an email exchange with my team leader who was working from home again. I rang her after her reply and she said some terrible things to me which were lies, I told her that I was taking a days leave and left my place of work. I did something stupid I took an overdose and ended up in hospital. I came home and took 3 days leave so that I would not have more sick leave. The sick leave that I have had when 1st looked at looks bad but it all has been well recorded. Feb 2007 11 weeks off due to hip operation, Oct 2007 11 weeks off gall bladder operation (came back to work 2 weeks after this) Jan 2008 I week chest infection and then October 2007 1 week I collapesed in work and was taken by ambulance where I had a serious abdo infection. My new manager called me in to the office after the overdose and said that my appeal had been put on hold and that I had been referred to occupational health, I attended this and the doctor thier was very nice. She advised that I did not return back to work but I was worried sick that I would lose my job so she phoned my team leader and said that I would be taking my last days leave. I received a copy of her report which she said that work was causal in the way that I was feeling. I contacted my union rep who then emailed my manager as the occupational health doctor asked if I had brought up the bullying,harrassement and I said that I had mentioned it to 1 team leader and 4 managers but nothing had been done. The union asked my manager to look into this. The occupational health report asked my manager to give me time off work if it was not going to impact on my sick record and carry out the HSE stress assessment and also to support me as I was still symptomatic. My manager moved me to another office 50 miles away while 'things were sorted'. My manager was in the new office and came to see me after a week I asked how things were going and she seemed suprised that I was asking. I said that I did not like the new office or job and wanted to return. Since then 10 days ago my GP and the phyciatric health team have insisted that I have time off work they have diagnosed nervous disability. I had a meeting on the 15th April 2009 where I had to give a statement about the grievance this took almost 4 hours and I was so upset that my union rep had to read my statement I took my evidence (what I had) and had to give witness names and was told a decision would be made within 10 working days. I had my meeting to get the decision Monday 22nd June where the investigating mangager said that my case was NOT PROVEN. She said that when she looked through my statement and the 13 witness statments there was one theme and it was that this person was abrasive so it was a behavour problem not bullying. She also said that this person needed support and further training and they would endeavour to do this. WHAT ABOUT ME!!! well I am appealing this when I receive my letter confirming the outcome. HOW they can ignore 14 staff members who all gave strong statments is beyond me. All that I can say it FIGHT CARRY ON if we let BULLYING carry on WHAT HAVE WE LEFT. I struggle daily with thoughts of self harm and suicide but KEEP FIGHTING. WE have done NOTHING WRONG it is THE BULLY. I hope that you get back to work and that SOMEONE STANDS UP for YOUR RIGHTS not the bully. IT will be HARD I KNOW but DONT LET THEM WIN. I will keep you updated of my appeal it may be useful to you


My issue is that I do have an abrasive team leader. I am contracting in my current place of employment, however the salary is excellent and don't wish to cut out on that, however I guess I'm going to have to weigh up what's important to me.

I think in some ways, we contribute to the existence of a bully by not pulling that person in to line when they've way overstepped it.

She is appalling. She is prone to temper tantrums (someone didn't get her lunch quite right the other day and she chucked a wobbly over it), she refers openly to other colleagues of hers as f-wits and dropkicks if they don't do exactly as she wants.

(The company's charter and core values hang on the wall across from her - 'tis mentioned how we are expected to treat each other with respect).

She is always always angry. I have to get her to sign my timesheets and every monday morning instead of thanking me for my efforts or asking me how my weekend has been - she snatches my timesheet off me, rolls her eyes, sighs and flings it back at me.

Its not as if I'm interrupting her work, she spends most of the day on the phone to her partner - so every person who needs her attention or guidance is interrupting her social life.

She never puts her partner on hold either, which I think is weird, as they really shouldn't be privy to the inner workings of our workplace.

She caused one woman to have a nervous breakdown, and another woman that I am close to at work to have a bit of an emotional collapse. Nothing to my knowledge has been said and it's obvious to me that my teamleader needs some intervention.

I got yelled at two weeks after I started, I made a cake and bought it in to work, after offering it round and finding people not that interested, I put it in the kitchen so that everyone else working on our floor could have some. I got screamed at by the teamleader for putting food that was meant for 'us' in the kitchen. I see it like this, I gave up my time and resources to make a cake (which I enjoy, I find baking very soothing) so I get to say what happens with it - right? I got told very plainly to NEVER DO THAT AGAIN.

Not a word of thanks, or mention of a nice gesture or appreciation... My aunt passed away two weeks ago, I took a day off but didn't dare ask for time off to go to the funeral. My family background is complicated, but that's as far as I'll go. I came back to work and she didn't even say hello to me let alone offer condolences or check that I was okay.

Two days ago she sat at her desk and yelled at me to have a look at something I'd done six weeks ago and tell her why I'd done it that way. She followed that up with (in the same loud and angry tone) she wasn't going to give me any information but she wanted an explanation or my backside was going to be kicked... hard... I ignored her.

She repeated herself. I ignored her again. Eventually she realised I would need some information and emailed it to me. I had a look at what was wrong and I'd transposed letters in a word, mis-spelling the word.

Her manager is more of a manager in title only. He cannot remember events of five minutes ago, he wanders around like a lost little kid. He worships the ground my teamleader walks on, and a couple of the others have made the mistake of going to him when they've had enough of my team leader, but they've soon found out where his loyalties lie - as he pretty much tells her everything.

I understand that it is possible to over-focus on work issues, therefore making them seem bigger than what they are - however, my stomach is in knots every day before going to work, and I feel queasy if I have to approach her over anything.

I know that life is too short to feel this way at work (where we spend such a big chunk of time) but I really feel if I do nothing, take no action - it's just letting her carry on in her awful way, I sort of feel I do have a responsibility around taking action.

Can I approach HR as a contractor and tell them what I have seen and been on the recieving end of? I am afraid to ask her about my performance (if that indeed is the issue) as I am terrified of being humiliated some more in front of my coworkers.

I think she needs to see a psychiatrist, counselling would be a good place to start but her sense of entitlement I think would mean counselling is too soft - and she'd probably can it if she didn't get her way.

In some ways I feel sad for her as I know she is going to realise how much of her life she has wasted being angry when she is on her deathbed, but she will also realise that is now too late to do anything about it. I'm sitting in my living room as I write this, listening to the birds waking up in the trees in the street out the front, and I realise that my teamleader would find this intensely annoying and possibly even want to rush out with an airgun to scare them all away.

I realise of course that not everyone has manners or education or wisdom that propels their conduct, and as her lack of these skills and continued negative behaviour is so obvious - why on earth was she made responsible for other people?