How to Get Work Done When You Are Being Bullied by Your Supervisor

Childhood bullies, unless redirected and taught, often become bullying adults.
i BananaStock/BananaStock/Getty Images

When a boss bullies you, it can be hard to concentrate on work. Bullying, while unprofessional and inappropriate in any setting, sometimes comes from insecurity on the part of the bully. Competitive environments breed bullies, because deep down, supervisors sometimes fear being replaced or outdone, and they react by belittling, degrading, threatening or antagonizing. If your boss feels the need to put you down or give you a hard time in front of others, you may feel pressured to accept the behavior to keep your job. However, you should make steps to resolve the issue, maintain good focus on your work, and handle the situation in a calm, non-confrontational way.

Remember the Source

    You may not be able to address the issue immediately. For example, you might endure bullying via email, over the phone or in a setting where it's inappropriate to confront your supervisor. When that's the case, stay calm and remember that you will have a chance to address the issue later. For the moment, work on the tasks at hand and try to take yourself and your boss out of the picture. That means seeing the work as something that needs to be done, regardless of your boss's behavior or your emotions. The work you do is for your company as a whole, not just for the bully, so don't sacrifice your work because your boss is treating you badly.

Address the Issue

    As soon as you can, address the issue face to face in a private setting. Don't call out your boss in front of others, but do ask her to meet with you as soon as possible, and explain that her behavior is making it difficult for you to work. The best method is to supply specific examples. For instance, "When you degraded me in front of the team yesterday by describing my work as 'idiotic,' it made me feel like you don't want me to succeed. I wonder if there's a better way we can communicate with each other." Describe the problem, but don't use the word "you." This helps the supervisor see that there is a problem, but reduces the risk of her reacting defensively and making the situation worse.

Avoid Gossiping

    Once you've addressed the problem face to face with the supervisor, avoid talking about the issue with others in the workplace. This can breed gossip and counteract the good work you did in the meeting. If you need to vent or discuss the issue, do so with family, loved ones or friends outside of work. Put on a professional, friendly face at the office and show no contempt or spite for the supervisor. Hopefully, she will respond by matching your professionalism and treating you with mutual respect.

Go to Human Resources

    If you feel the issue can't be resolved and the bullying is only getting worse, go to an HR counselor and discuss the problem. Most companies have a structure in place that protects employees from the mistreatment of supervisors, and creating a paper trail and a formal record of the occurrences is crucial if you plan to take action. The best examples you can use in explaining the incident are verifiable situations where co-workers were present. This way, it's not your word against the supervisor's.

Strengthen Yourself

    According to, easy targets of bullies are often anxious, have low self-esteem and possess traits of narcissism. Gary Namie, a social psychologist and director of the Workplace Bullying Institute, says bullying can cause extreme distress and anxiety that can lead to bigger problems such as higher body weight, heart disease and even suicide. If you feel you're being bullied at work, work on building the kind of personality that isn't easily bullied, while you also deal one on one with the abusive supervisor. Observe the way the supervisor treats other employees, and note if she respects employees who exude confidence and speak their mind openly. Abuse is never your fault, but it's hard to omit bullies from the world completely. One positive move is to change what you're willing to tolerate, which can deter bullies from messing with you.

the nest