4 Bullying Bosses to Avoid

Does your boss sneer, scream, or intimidate? If so, you could be working for a career-damaging bully.

“When the bullying comes from the boss, the aggression has its strongest negative effects,” says Sandy Hershcovis, a researcher at the University of Manitoba who reviewed 110 studies on workplace aggression.

A bullying boss damages job satisfaction and advancement, turns up job stress, and increases turnover, she says. Her study found that workplace bullying is more pervasive and more damaging to one’s career than sexual harassment.

What to Watch For

Are you being bullied? To know for sure, consider these factors:

Frequency: Researchers have found 22 signs of bullying, including intimidation, screaming, isolating, and gossip. If you experience two of them a week for six months, you’re being bullied.

Type: There are four varieties of bullies, according to Robert Sutton, author of “The No-A**hole Rule.” They range from obvious to subtle:
The Rage-aholic: “It’s the yelling, the insulting, the classic person who loses his temper,” he says. “One woman described her boss as screaming and flicking cigarettes at her.”
The Glarer: “You have the boss who glares and stares at you, with barely disguised contempt,” says Sutton.
The Jokester: “This boss is more subtle and hides his bullying behind constant, mean-spirited teasing. It’s a way that he can insult you while being able to say it’s just a joke.”
The Sabotager: “This boss pretends to help to your face and then undermines you as soon as you leave the room,” he says. This boss might gossip about you, treat you like you’re invisible, or isolate you by dropping you from important emails or meetings.

How to Protect Yourself

You can keep yourself from getting a job with a bullying boss by asking the right questions.

“Pay attention to how [your potential boss] is behaving” during your job interview, Sutton advises. “Look for hostile teasing between the boss and employees. Look for a culture of personal criticism. And finally, look for an organization that is constantly rating and stacking employees in terms of who wins and who loses.”

If employees seem constantly stressed, the boss avoids making eye contact with you or employees who come to the interview, you’re probably dealing with a bully, he said.

Already facing a bullying boss? Consider these solutions:
Record your boss’s behavior to establish a pattern.
If it’s occasional or mild, confront your boss about how her behavior affects your work.
If that doesn’t work, take it to his superiors and human resources, preferably with the backup of similarly bullied coworkers. Focus on how the bullying is hurting the company’s bottom line, and don’t talk to anyone who hired the bully or admires his style.
If that doesn’t work, learn to detach from your boss’s opinion and start looking for another job.

“Take a look at the long-term effects of working in such a negative place,” Sutton says. “My argument is that sometimes the best thing you can do is escape.”

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