3 Steps to Stop a Bullying Boss

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Jackie became the target of a bullying boss after just 3 months on her new job, working in the Emergency Room at a Level I Trauma Hospital. Jackie wasn’t a new nurse but this was her first time working in a city hospital and therefore, she knew the people would be intense.

At first, she didn’t recognize she was experiencing various forms of bullying (public criticism and name calling, threatening disciplinary action to the point of termination, and being overly critical). Jackie thought it was normal behavior considering that she worked in the Emergency Department where stress levels are always high. She attributed her boss’s outrageous behaviors as an “alpha” personality type of someone who really needed to take control.

Jackie wasn’t sure but it seemed as though her boss never treated anyone else this way – just her.

How Many Don’t Recognize a Bullying boss?

But then Jackie’s boss went too far by sharing personal information about Jackie with her co-workers. You see, one day, her boss yelled, “What’s wrong with you today? Snap out of it!” so she confided in her that the reason for her perceived distraction was because she was worried her husband was having an affair. She had found suspicious text messages on her husband’s phone and was really stressed about it. Now the entire department knew.

Jackie realized that her boss didn’t just have an alpha personality type; Jackie’s boss was bullying her.

According to the 2014 Workplace Bullying Survey, 56% of the bullies had a higher ranking than their targets. Basically, more than half of all bullies are bosses, which can make addressing bad behavior more challenging. However, there are some actions you can take to stop or at least, minimize them.

3 Steps to Stop a Bullying Boss

1. Observe
What is she doing that you believe is bullying? Is she constantly criticizing you in front of others but doesn’t do that to anyone else? Is she always looking to find fault and reasons to discipline you and not your coworkers? Be very clear on her behavior and as specific as possible.

2. Document
Start a documentation trail. Documentation puts the power back into the hands of the target. Documenting shows patterns of certain behaviors over time and provides a more objective account of behaviors that might be considered bullying. When you document, be very objective: date, time, location, incident; include any verbatim comments AND if you can link the behavior to a patient safety concern, it will strengthen your position.

3. Confront
Schedule a meeting with her. Share your observations of bullying (this is why you need to be clear on the behaviors) and that you are no longer willing to tolerate her behavior. Let’s say she only criticizes you in the middle of the nurses’ station. Tell her, “The next time you criticize me in front of others, I will remind you to speak to me in a respectful manner.”

In the end, your boss may not change her behavior and may even retaliate against you. If so, be prepared to take one of the following actions: 1) File a formal complaint with the human resources department, or 2) find another job. Seriously, working for a bullying boss is not worth sacrificing your health.

What happened to Jackie?

Jackie had had enough! Instead of taking a passive approach and hoping her boss would stop torturing her, she decided to take action. Jackie observed her behavior, especially compared to how she treated her co-workers. She then started documenting every interaction with her boss that she believed to be unprofessional. After just 6 weeks, she had enough evidence (18 pages) to clearly demonstrate a pattern of bullying behavior.

The next time her boss threatened to punish Jackie (in front of others), Jackie stood tall, looked her in the eye and said, “You just threatened me in front of everyone. I have 6 weeks of documentation of behaviors that I believe are bullying and undermining a culture of patient safety. Do not ever threaten me again.”

Jackie’s boss didn’t say a word. She just walked away. However, she never threatened or openly criticized Jackie again.

As you’re reading these steps, you might be thinking that confronting will NEVER work with YOUR bullying boss. And, you may be right. However, NOT confronting NEVER works. The point is to take action – any action to address bullying behavior. Even if the bully is your boss!

Together, we can stop the hemorrhaging of really great nurses due to bullying behavior. Nurses deserve to work in a supportive and nurturing environment!!!

ReneeThompson_013_HRThanks for reading. Take care and stay connected.

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If you are a student or new nurse and want help to bully-proof yourself at work, make sure you check out my new Nurse Bully-Proofing Online Program.

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9 thoughts on “3 Steps to Stop a Bullying Boss”

  1. A truly powerful story about taking action against a bully. I really appreciate Dr. Thompson’s writing style in this article because you truly feel for Jackie and the issues she faces due to her bullying boss. I find it sad, but true that sometimes your best option is to find a new job with a better work environment. However, always be aware of your options if you properly document the bullying. As Dr. Thompson states, you can and should contact your HR department to see if the situation can be corrected. Government agencies also exist at a local, state and federal level to help you. The EEOC is suitable in cases where discrimination is a part of the bullying actions.

    Thank you Dr. Thompson for another great article.

    1. Thanks so much for your kind words. So many nurses are suffering at the hands of a bullying boss and/or bullying coworkers. How are nurses able to effectively care for patients when they don’t care for each other? I helping individuals and organizations by providing them with the tools they need to address and eliminate workplace bullying. Thank you!!!

  2. This is so eye opening and helpful! I have a bully of a boss and I plan on documenting everything that happens from now on. My situation gets worse because my bosses boss is an even bigger bully and the two team up together sometimes.

    1. I am so glad that you found something that will help. Documenting everything is a great way to make sure you are recording anything you may need. If I can be of any further help, please do reach out.

  3. The whole work culture needs to change. Bullying bosses need to be removed. They are often protected and HR is going to side with management. You may need to go outside of facility to address harassment issues. I know. I was bullied by supervisor at the Health Dept. I filed suit. They settled out of court but I lost state career as a nurse surveyor.

    1. You’re so right! I’ve seen this time and time again. However, I’ve seen staff nurses AND supervisors allowed to remain in their positions because so many organizations are risk averse and are too afraid to terminate anyone. We are losing really great people because of bullying.

  4. My name is Wendy, I am a registered nurse, and I have been a nurse for close to 13 years now. Bullying is very common in the nursing profession. It is not right but it does happen. I applaud Jackie for her courage in speaking up and taking a stand for herself. We need to stop tolerating bullying behaviors from our managers. One of My ADON sometimes does not know how to talk to people. Sometimes she will yell at me in front of other people as if I am her child that is reprimanding. Even if you report it to HR, they won’t do anything. They will side with management. Me personally I think it would be best to take it all the way up even taking legal action if need be. I remember one time she yelled at me in front of other nurses and cnas and they were all shocked, she can be aggressive at times. We all need to take a stand and put a stop to bullying once and for all.

    1. Renee Thompson

      Hi Wendy. Thanks so much for taking the time to comment! I so appreciate that you shared your experience with us. You’re so right! Bullying should never happen – especially from a leader. Next time she does that, look at her and respectfully say, “It’s not okay the way you’re talking to me right now.” or, “You are yelling/criticizing me in front of other people.” Sometimes just by naming the behavior, it forces them to stop!! Sending you big air hugs. Nurses should be kind – not cruel!

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