'My boss is a bully'

Question

‘My boss is a bully and I don’t know how to handle it anymore. She’s aggressive and yells at me and it’s really affecting my morale and productivity. What can I do?’

Caroline, PA, 29

Answer

I feel for you – this is not an easy situation. The most important thing is for you to know your rights and the steps you can take to ensure that your workplace is a positive and safe environment.

Start by talking with someone who you trust (either at work or outside of work) to help you determine if what you are experiencing is actually bullying. Getting another perspective will help you be more objective. A definition of bullying behaviours (and what you can do if you’re being bullied) can be found at WorkSafe Victoria.  

How to manage a difficult boss

  • If you feel strong enough, you could have an upfront conversation with your manager. Prepare what you want to say first – this is not something you want to do off the cuff. Explain to your manager how she is making you feel and explain that her behaviour is unwanted and not acceptable.
  • Stay professional, but keep conversations with your manager to a minimum. Don’t share anything personal and keep all talk centred on work-related matters.
  • If possible, avoid being alone with your manager – the last thing you want is to be stuck having lunch together. If you have a performance review ask for someone independent to be present.
  • Stay focused on your work – do your job and do it well! Do not give your manager a reason to question the quality of your performance at work.
  • Avoid gossiping about your manager to other people in the office. The last thing you want is to be seen as a whinger or for your negative words to get back to the boss.
  • Seek out a support person at work, someone who you totally trust and can talk to when you need a sounding board or a shoulder to lean on.
  • Chances are you are not alone in how you are feeling. Carefully suss out if other people are also having similar problems.

What to do if you’re being bullied

  • Keep a diary and document everything that happens. Record the date and time of any incidents and note exactly what you and your manager both said. Make sure you focus on the facts and not your personal opinion or interpretation.
  • Your employer should have a policy for bullying and harassment. Contact your human resources department to find out what processes are in place. Have a confidential conversation with an HR representative about what has been happening. There are both informal and formal procedures for managing workplace bullying and they should be able to explain the avenues available to you.
  • Find out if your employer has an Employee Assistance Program. This is a free and confidential service that can offer you much needed support.
  • If you have made a formal complaint to your employer and nothing has been done to stop the bullying, there are a number of options available to you:
    • You could make a formal complaint to your state/territory Workplace Safety Authority
    • The Fair Work Ombudsman can provide you with information about your workplace rights and what protection you have against harassment and discrimination.
    • The Australian Human Rights Commission can provide you with advice on how you can lodge a formal complaint.
    • If you are a member of a union, then they will also be able to provide you with advice and support.
    • If you are worried that the bullying is becoming violent or threatening then you should contact the police immediately.

Bullying is serious, and it’s not something that should be allowed to continue. Remember – it’s not you that’s the problem, it’s the bully!

From 1 January 2014, the Fair Work Act will be amended to give employees the opportunity to take their workplace-bullying claims directly to the Fair Work Commission (FWC) instead of using only their employers' internal processes. Under the new amendment, the FWC must deal with the claim within 14 days. You can read more about the government inquiry into workplace bullying.

Jo Messer is a Career Development Specialist who has many years of experience in supporting and guiding students and graduates of some of Australia’s most respected universities, as well as mature-aged clients, across all facets of their career. She is a Professional Member of CDAA and an active member of NAGCAS. Whether you have a specific question about how to achieve your career goal or something more general, Jo is available to provide you with up-to-date advice.

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