Bullying in the workplace by your boss: Examples and what to do about it

Gina Schumacher

Bullying in the workplace by a boss, also known as bossing, is a form of bullying that can affect both the physical and mental health of workers. But what exactly is bossing, how do you recognize it and how can you get help? We answer all these questions in this article.

What is boss abuse in the workplace?

Boss abuse in the workplace is a serious problem that affects many people but often goes undetected. It refers to the systematic harassment, humiliation, or intimidation of employees.

Although bossing and bullying have similar negative effects, there is an important difference between the two. Bossing specifically refers to the behavior of supervisors or authority figures towards subordinates, while bullying generally takes place between colleagues at a similar hierarchical level. Bossing is therefore the use of positions of power and authority to demoralise lower-ranking team members and reduce their work performance.

What are the consequences of bossing in the workplace?

Of course, every type of bullying in the workplace should be nipped in the bud, as is the case in companies such as Flexopus is the case. In the case of bossing, however, many employees do not know how to address the problem — after all, this is bullying from a supervisor.

When the power imbalance between boss and employee is exploited, the effects can be devastating and affect both personal well-being and professional performance. The potential consequences of bossing in the workplace include:

  • Mental health issues: Bossing can lead to anxiety, depression, sleep disorders, and other mental health conditions.
  • Low self-esteem: Constant criticism and humiliation can severely affect self-esteem and self-confidence.
  • Change of job: Those affected by boss bullying in the workplace often feel compelled to change jobs in order to escape the stressful situation.
  • Decreasing work performance: The constant stress and unjustified pressure can lead to a decline in work performance, which can have a negative impact on career opportunities.

Examples: How do you recognize boss abuse in the workplace?

A mad boss is yelling at his laptop.

The most common types of abuse by a boss include verbal attacks such as insulting remarks or harassment, social isolation, excessive control, work sabotage, and discrimination.

These behaviors can occur individually or in combination. If you see these trends in your workplace—both among others and in yourself—you should be alert. If you answer yes to the following questions, it may be bullying from your boss:

  1. Are you regularly and inappropriately criticised or belittled, even for things that are beyond your control?
  2. Are you being excluded or isolated by your supervisors? Don't you feel part of the team anymore?
  3. Are you constantly receiving unrealistic work tasks or unachievable goals that aim to overwhelm or demoralise you?
  4. Are you personally attacked or insulted by your superiors? Are derogatory remarks made about your appearance, origin, or personality?
  5. Do you lack management support when you need it?
  6. Are rumors being spread about you or are lies being told about you to damage your reputation?

Constructive criticism or bossing in the workplace?

For many people, bossing behavior is difficult to identify, because the question often arises: Is that still constructive criticism or already bullying from the management level?

For this reason, it is important to be able to realistically assess the current situation, because bossing differs from constructive criticism in several important aspects. While constructive criticism is necessary in the work environment and aims to respectfully identify opportunities for improvement, provide support and promote performance, bossing is negative and aims to exert power or humiliate the person concerned. In contrast to constructive criticism, bossing is usually insulting, derogatory, humiliating, inappropriate, or disproportionate.

Help with bullying in the workplace by your boss: What can you do?

An employee is being bullied in the workplace by his boss.

In order to prevent negative consequences, it is important to identify bossing as quickly as possible and to respond to it in an appropriate and timely manner. Since, in contrast to other types of bullying, bossing behavior does not originate from colleagues but from managers, it is particularly difficult to seek a clarifying conversation.

However, that doesn't mean that the hope for help is in vain. Because there are various points of contact that you can contact if you notice that you or other members of your team have been the victim of bossing. First, you should document the incidents and record in writing when and where the bossing took place, what exactly was said or done, and who was involved.

You should then seek support, for example from the works council. Since the council represents the interests of employees, it can help solve bossing problems. As a member of a trade union, you can also contact your union representatives for advice. Should all these efforts be unsuccessful, it is worthwhile to contact external advice centers such as law firms, local bullying contact points or psychological support services.


Bullying in the workplace by your boss has serious effects on those affected and influences not only your performance, but the entire working environment. It is therefore all the more important that employers and employees are aware of the signs of bossing and take active measures to combat this type of bullying. This is the only way to promote a positive work environment in which all team members are respected and valued.

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