Bullying or Belittling Bosses

October 15, 2023

Far too many people have experienced working under the supervision of someone who has engaged in bullying or belittling behavior. McClean S. et al., (2021). Bullying or belittling others can take many forms, from insulting
subordinates or sometimes a peer in public to an invasion of privacy or gossiping about them or
others behind their backs. Toxic behavior such as these contribute to employee
dissatisfaction, stress, anxiety, depression, defeatism, and moral injury. It is common for people
experiencing bullying to experience a general decline in quality of life resulting in drug abuse, family
conflict, alcoholism, and increased health complaints.

Nevertheless, offensive bosses stay on and continue to wreak havoc and leave a path of devastation and destruction in their wake. What is baffling is why organizations seem to keep these destructive, toxic bosses in their employ and why employees put up with routine mistreatment.

Too often, the approach  to the problem is almost philosophical.  You simply overlook the behavior and just stick it out. After all, everybody has a bad day once in a while.  It could be the toxic boss is experiencing a difficult
personal problem, or wrestling with challenges and demons in the workplace that have somehow escaped your attention, and you should not take his or her badgering  personally. However, McClean S. et al. (2021) warn
that giving bosses a pass for abusing employees is as contagious as it is self-defeating. Organizational leaders and employees end up reinforcing the cycle of mistreatment.

Toxic bosses do not change without a seismic shift in workplace culture and structure. In the absence of such a shift, the bad boss behavior prevails and sometimes gets worse. Abusive bosses may appear genuinely apologetic after an outburst, but it is not unusual for them to have an ulterior motive or hidden  self-interest. It may be time for people with this type of boss to consider moving on to another department or even
considering taking a new job elsewhere.


Ueno T, Kim Y, Oura H & Seaborn K. *2023). Trust and reliance in consensus-based
explanations from an anti-misinformation agent. Extended Abstracts of the 2023 CHI
Conference on Human Factors in Computing Systems. (1-7).

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