What is an Office Bully?

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  • Written By: Malcolm Tatum
  • Edited By: Bronwyn Harris
  • Last Modified Date: 08 October 2019
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Office bullies are individuals who utilize direct and indirect methods of coercion to order to intimidate others and get their way in the workplace. An office bully may be a supervisor or manager, but more often the bullying is conducted by a coworker who is either attempting to advance in the ranks by any means possible, or someone who tries to force others to do his or her work. As workplace harassment has become more commonly recognized as unacceptable, many companies have implemented strict policies against this sort of behavior.

As with all forms of bullying, intimidation in the workplace can be very subtle or extremely overt. The office bully may assume a seemingly friendly demeanor while at the same time hinting of terrible consequences if his or her wishes are not honored. At other times, the approach may be very direct, with the workplace bully using such tools as a raised voice, standing too closely, and choosing words that are deliberately meant to cause fear and anxiety.

There are situations where office bullying leads to an eruption of workplace violence. In some instances, the office bully becomes so secure in his or her ability to intimidate others that the bullying strategies move beyond verbal threats. At this juncture, the bullying may begin to include well-timed nudges or even shoves. People who have reached their limit with the bullying may begin to respond in kind, which may in fact play right into the bully’s hands.


Often, an office bully is someone who is insecure in his or her ability to perform efficiently in the workplace. By intimidating others, the bully thinks it is possible to draw attention away from his or her lack of performance by causing others to look even more incompetent. Often, the bully will intimidate others into doing his or her work, creating the illusion of competence.

Because workplace bullying destroys morale and can lead highly competent employees to seek work opportunities elsewhere, the employer stands to lose a great deal by not recognizing that an office bully is among the staff members. Productivity will suffer and the turnover in employees will rise as long as the bully continues to intimidate others. Unfortunately, an office bully usually times his or her assaults so that employers do not see the bullying, only the aftermath.

While there are instances where several employees banding together to stand up to a bully will lead to an end of the intimidation, the action can also cause the bully to double the efforts in an attempt to bring everyone back into line. Rather than getting into an ongoing struggle with an office bully, the most effective solution is to begin documenting every encounter that can be classified as intimidating and present the findings en masse to an employer. When several employees provide testimony and specific instances of the bullying, it is very difficult for employers to not take some action.

Should an employer be presented with proof of the activity of the office bully and still do nothing, employees should seek the services of an attorney. Legal action against both the employer and the bully can lead to serious financial consequences for both parties. Once the reality of the situation settles in, the employer will often become cooperative and take steps to avoid the legal action, including the termination of the bully’s employment.


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Post 6

I seem to attract bullying. I was laid off because in 2008 because of bullying. I am now again being confronted with bullying. I am doing something wrong. If I confront these people, it seems to get worse.

Post 5

The most interesting bully supervisor is the one who plays the role of abusive parent or abusive domestic partner. My bully happens to be a woman and, thankfully, I do not report to her. We'll call her Mama.

Mama rules by a very distorted parental type of rule over her minions. Those Mama “takes a shine to” feel lucky that Mama favors them. They (like I did at one time) adore the fun and loving side of Mama. Mama can dole out the love and kindness in heaping doses and when she does, she makes her children feel safe being “in the fold”. They will overlook Mama’s bad behavior, temper tantrums, personal attacks, needling, being “called out” for some “error”

in front of other employees, being belittled and watching such behavior heaped upon others – all in order to remain in Mama’s good graces. The alternative is to be shunned by Mama and the rest of her group. The alternative is also to be even more verbally abused by Mama. This is very much like an abusive cycle in a domestic violence situation.
Post 4

I have been the subject of two bullies in the same organization. Having taken control back some weeks ago when the bully had a three week break, I have found a new career path out of the organization which is almost certainly aware of the problem but the leadership is totally unwilling to take it on, merely referring to workload stress.

I can smile to myself as I know the bully is finding it hard to cope with the new confident, happy, smiling, laughing and chatty me, all the time thinking that they have no idea about the new career path that I have decided to take outside of this organization starting with a course in the next few months

that I will need leave for when somebody else I would normally cover is also on leave (just the way things have worked out).

Given the bullying, should it come to it, and despite the not so great job market, I am more than happy to come up with my trump card, the notice letter, to ensure that I can go on my course should the request for the leave be met with a no.

Tough toenails to bullies and the organizations that allow this to perpetuate by complete inaction or masking it with fancy words such as workload stress. Bullying is bullying, there is no other word for it. Come on, New Zealand employers who have the worst bullying problems by far because of the Tall Poppy Syndrome so prevalent here. Take your responsibilities seriously. You need to enforce those harassment and bullying policies there is no point in putting the paperwork together otherwise. Face it!

Post 3

I am in a situation where I am being bullied at work. I had written down the dates and documented different things that had happened. Finally, after I was screamed and sworn at in front of my coworkers I made a Human Rights Complaint and there is only a six month time limit to submit complaints.

So what I am saying is, some major points were thrown out by HRT as being untimely. Just wanted to advise people to not make the same mistake as I had.

Post 2

Café41- I agree that documentation is required, because in the event a human resource compliant needs to be made, you already have all you need in your notes.

But I also like what you said about trying to relate to the boss first. That way you are giving him a chance to change. If that does not work then at least you know that you tried and it is probably time to start looking for another job somewhere else.

Post 1

Great article- I want to add that if the office bully is your boss, then the situation is even more stressful because this person has power over you and can threaten your livelihood.

The best approach in this situation is to specifically document all the incidences of harassment from the supervisor. At the same time try to stay focused on your job and try to find some common ground with your supervisor.

Sometimes bullies try to control others because they have low self esteem and the outward anger that they display is another form of depression. By trying to relate to the bully, especially if it is your boss, might diffuse some of the anger directed towards you.

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