My Bosses are Bullies

Reader’s Question

How do you cope with bullying bosses (I have 4 bosses) when they own the company and you are the only employee?

I need some coping skills in the meantime before I find a new job. I feel anxious every morning, and it’s like I am fearing that they will physically attack me (even if that has never happened).

I have only worked for this company for 1.5 months, but I have worked in other offices for 25 years and have never experienced anything like this.

Very thankful for tips on how to deal with this.

Kind regards,
Miss J.

Psychologist’s Reply

If you have four bullying bosses and they own the company — you have four bosses who have a history of relating to each other in that manner. It’s their normal interaction style. It’s like working for four Marine Drill Instructors. Their “bullying” is probably their interpersonal style — loud mouth, threatening each other, cursing, and protesting. If we were to post a video recorder in the office, we’d see that’s they way they relate to each other — and they don’t think anything about it. As your experience tells you, these four interpersonal bullies wouldn’t last long working in a modern corporation — but they do OK when they own the business. As a new employee, you’re shocked and even intimidated by their style.

They may actually have little understanding of how they come across to you. After all, their spouses, children, and relatives have tolerated their behavior over the years. While they are loud-mouthed everyday, they probably don’t realize you feel intimidated or even physically threatened. Some ideas:

  • If one of them seem approachable, try to discuss their office style with them. Let them know that you don’t know how to handle that style or have no experience with it. They may be able to reduce your concerns or let the others know there is a problem. Don’t be surprised if they are surprised that you’re having trouble with their style. I once worked with a night grocery stocking crew as the only “college boy” on the crew. They spent most of the night threatening each other, cussing, and exchanging stories about beating people up.
  • Don’t take their behavior personally. It’s a style of relating to others. I’ve seen this same bullying style in corrections, construction work, and even medicine. In corrections, we call it “fronting” — projecting an aggressive image for some social purpose. Maybe they need it in their type of business?
  • As a bottom line, this may not be a good work environment for you. I often recommend that folks put a job like this on probation — give it a chance for a number of months. If you can’t adjust to the environment for whatever reason, prepare to move on.

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