7 Tips for Handling a Bully at Work

Don’t let your workplace bully win; here’s how to handle bullying at work.

Whether you’re aware or not, bullying is a common occurrence in the work arena. To explore and dig deeper into this topic, TopResume recently surveyedmore than 1,000 working professionals. The results were very telling.

Of the 1,229 respondents, only four percent said they have never felt bullied in the workplace; that means a whopping 96 percent of respondents have felt bullied at work. And, if you think bullying only comes from those in a position of power, like a manager or a boss, think again. In that same survey, 25 percent of respondents said they have felt bullied by a peer or co-worker.

Bullying can lead to health concerns, undue stress, and low productivity at work — and that’s just the tip of the iceberg. With that said, it’s important to take appropriate steps to handle bullying at work to support your well-being. Below are some suggestions to consider if you find yourself at the mercy of workplace bullying.

How to handle bullying at work

1. Check yourself

If you feel you are being bullied at work, the first thing to do is to take inventory of any ways you might be contributing to the challenging situation. It could be that you are doing nothing to provoke the bullying (which is often the case), but the point here is to truly size up the situation and take responsibility if you might be invoking the behavior in any way. From that perspective, you can determine the best way to deal with the situation.

Tip: Keep in mind that people make mistakes. Take a moment to size up the situation and determine if the “bullying” was simply a one-time incident due to someone having a bad day. If yes, then consider letting it go and moving on.

2. Take action before it has a negative impact on you

Understandably, many individuals are afraid to speak up when they are being bullied. They might be concerned about what others will think. And, if the bully is their boss or someone in a position of power, then one’s livelihood could be at stake. With that said, ongoing, long-term bullying can have a negative impact on your overall well-being, which in turn can have a negative impact on your performance and ability to do your work. Take care of yourself and develop an action plan to address the concern.

3. Tell your higher-ups or HR

If you are not comfortable speaking to the individual who is bullying you directly, then you might need to discuss it with your manager or human resources. Choose the course of action that feels best for you for your situation.

Tip: When addressing your concern with others, don’t play the blame game. Come up with a plan of how you are going to address the bullying concern and be sure to include its impact on productivity, well-being, and morale coupled with some possible solutions.

4. Don’t take it personally

This can be difficult for many, but it’s important that you don’t take bullying personally. Remember, when someone is bullying you, it’s more about them than it is about you. Often, a bully is acting from a place of insecurity and/or from a need to control. Practice having healthy emotional boundaries that keep you from reacting or feeling bad about yourself when workplace bullying occurs.

5. Address the issue head on

This won’t always be possible or comfortable, but if it is, speak up and stand your ground when communicating with a bully. In a recent Time article, Fran Hauser, author of “The Myth of the Nice Girl,” suggests using the following phrases when dealing with a work bully or someone who is not treating you appropriately:

  • “Please don’t talk to me that way.”
  • “Let’s try to get this conversation to a place where it can be productive.”
  • “Let’s take a break and come back to this later.”

6. Leave if it’s not worth it

Your well-being is most important, and without it, you’re no good to anyone. If you have done all you can to eliminate the bullying but it’s still occurring, then it might be time to explore other options. Consider opportunities in other departments or with a new company altogether.

7. Document all of it

This last bit of advice on how to handle bullying in the workplace is extremely important to remember: Always document everything as it relates to your interactions with the bully. This not only provides a timeline of events, but it also helps you recall information more easily when needed.

Tip: If a bully is attempting to make you look bad or imply you’re not doing your job, you can ask for written confirmation and details that he or she will have to own up to when questioned. In other words, attempt to communicate via email when dealing with a bully so you have a written record of the communication.

The TopResume survey results show that there is a resounding need to deal with workplace bullying. Take action to support yourself if you find yourself being impacted by a workplace bully. Also, when you speak up and take a stand for yourself, it empowers others to do the same.





Feeling overwhelmed at work? Fed up with your difficult co-workers? The good news is that there’s an easy solution for these workplace issues.

Every workplace offers a unique experience. For example, your office has a hiring freeze and your workload triples. You show up to work one day and your boss has been let go, or your co-worker has taken credit for all of your hard work again.

There are a lot of bizarre office stories — from the boss who kept stealing people’s lunches to the receptionist who wouldn’t stop hugging people. These are outliers; chances are good you’re going to go your whole career without encountering them. What you almost certainly will encounter, though, are more typical challenges like receiving a bad performance review or being overworked to the point of burnout.

The good news? These common issues don’t have to lead to more misery. Often these obstacles can be minimized if you know how to address them. Here’s a look at seven of the most common problems people face at work and what you can do about them.


If your workload has increased dramatically, and even bathroom breaks stress you out, you probably need to talk with your manager about your workload.

What to do: Pick a time when your manager isn’t rushed and ask to meet. Explain that your workload has become chronically unmanageable and why — for instance, that a particular account has doubled in size in the last year or that you’ve taken on the responsibilities of someone who left without anything being removed from your plate.

Explaining what’s behind the workload increase is helpful because your manager may not be as attuned to the context as you. Then suggest some options. For instance, you might say, “I can do A and B, but not C. Or if C is really crucial, I’d want to move A off my plate to make room for it. Alternately, I can act as an adviser to Jenna on C, but I can’t do C myself if I’m also doing A and B.” And if your manager won’t help you prioritize, then come up with your own proposal for what you will and won’t prioritize and ask her to tweak it or approve it.


The boss who always sung your praises to higher-ups and made sure your projects were successful is leaving, and you’re worried that her replacement won’t share her (or your) vision — or that she just won’t be as pleasant to work with.

What to do: Stay calm. The new boss could be just as good as your old boss, or even better. Or, yes, it might turn out that you don’t enjoy working with her — but you can’t know until you get to know her. So, while there’s nothing wrong with polishing up your resume and putting out feelers to your network, wait and see how things shake out before making any drastic moves.

In the interim, the best thing you can do is pitch in and help keep your department running smoothly, which can position you well in your organization and act as a reputation-enhancer. Try acting as a helpful resource to the new manager when she starts and try to reserve judgment on her style and competence until she’s had a chance to settle in. After all, few of us would like to be permanently judged based on our first few weeks in a job.


You were hired to manage sales, but you end up managing spreadsheets. Or your “marketing director” job turns out to be little more than making cold calls to prospects. It might not have been a deliberate bait-and-switch, but the work sure isn’t what you were told in the interview.

What to do: Start by talking to your boss. Say something like, “When I was hired for this job, we talked about it being mostly client work, with some admin duties. But in my first three months, the job has been about 90 percent of admin work without much client interaction. Can we talk about what changed and whether there’s a way to reshape my work to look more like what we initially talked about?”

Make sure your tone is calm and collaborative, not frustrated or angry. You’ll get better results if you make it clear that you’re in problem-solving mode, not complaint mode. You might hear that the job has simply changed and there’s nothing that can be done, but you might also nudge your manager into realizing she needs to adjust your work. Either way, you’ll leave this conversation with a better idea of what to expect from this job in the future and can make decisions accordingly.


You’ve tried to be nice, but every conversation with him devolves into disagreement and strife, which makes it hard to get shared projects done … and considering that we spend one-third of our waking time with co-workers, you’d like more harmonious relations.

What to do: First, remove your ego from the equation. You don’t have to like your co-worker, and you certainly don’t have to “win” every interaction; you just need to be able to work together.

Being nice even when you don’t feel like it can thaw relations, so ask yourself: Is there anything your co-worker does that you genuinely admire and can compliment him on? Something you can seek his advice on (painful as it might be to do)? A month or so of concerted effort in this direction can sometimes make a difference.

But if not … well, sometimes simply realizing that difficult people’s behavior is about them, not you, can make them easier to deal with. And since you’re never going to be able to eliminate difficult people from your work life entirely, figuring out how to remain unflappable in the face of crazy-making personalities can be surprisingly satisfying.


You’re churning out reams of work, winning over clients and generally being an all-around rock star, but none of it has registered on your manager’s radar.

What to do: It’s natural to want your boss to recognize your achievements on her own, but the reality is that few managers will be as attuned to your work as you are, and most will count on you to keep them up-to-date. So don’t sit around waiting for your work to be noticed — become your own advocate. You might feel awkward tooting your own horn, but your boss wants to know about what you’re doing well.

Start highlighting key victories when you talk, and don’t be shy about passing along praise. It’s not unseemly bragging to mention things like, “The client was really happy with the work we sent over last week and said the designs I showed them clinched their contract renewal for next year.” That’s just keeping your boss in the loop about what’s getting done and how it’s being received.

Do this in moderation, of course; it’s going to seem weird if you’re relaying every tiny compliment or trumpeting that you filed a report a half-day early. And related to that, keep in mind that you don’t need recognition for every single thing you do. The pattern is what you want to pay attention to here: Does your boss generally think you’re doing a great job and understand what your biggest contributions have been? If so, don’t get alarmed if she doesn’t take note of every individual triumph you have.


You’re human and you’ll make mistakes now and then, but when it’s high-profile (like a damaging quote in a news article) or costly (like losing a major account), it can be hard to know how to face your boss.

What to do: The worst thing you can do here is to duck responsibility. Your boss will be far more alarmed that you’re not owning your actions than if you face up to them directly. So, tell your manager what happened, quickly. And make it clear that you understand what a big deal the mistake was. If you proactively show that you get that, there’s no need for your manager to underscore it for you. Try words like, “I realize how serious this is” and “I understand the impact this has.”

Then, explain how you’re planning to mitigate the damage and — crucially — how you’ll ensure it doesn’t happen again. And if there are larger lessons here, address those, too. (For instance, “This has made me realize that I need to do site visits more frequently so I can spot problems before they take root.”) That will help your boss evaluate how well you learned from experience and how much trust she should put in you in the future.


You thought things were going OK, but now you’re staring at an evaluation that says “doesn’t meet expectations.” There were no signs indicating that your performance wasn’t up to snuff, and, in fact, your boss just sent an email last week praising you on a job well done on that last project. What gives?

What to do: First, don’t panic and don’t get defensive. Too often in this situation, people become so focused on how to defend themselves that they forget to really listen to what they’re being told about what they need to do differently. Understanding your manager’s concerns will be crucial to a good outcome, so listen and ask enough questions that you truly know what you’re being asked to change.

From there, show that you take the feedback seriously by using language like, “I’m glad you’re telling me this. I hadn’t realized this was a concern and I’m glad to have the chance to work on it.” And tell your manager what you plan to do to address her feedback, even if it’s as simple as, “I’m going to take some time to think about this and figure out how to resolve these issues.”

It’s worth noting, too, that a good manager will work to ensure a bad performance review is never a surprise by giving regular feedback throughout the year. So if this is the first you’re hearing of these issues, your manager dropped the ball earlier and it’s reasonable for you to ask to hear about problems in real-time in the future.

That said, no manager will ever be perfect, so while it would be nice if you could assume you’ll always hear about issues before they blow up, you should pay attention to signs that trouble might be brewing. For instance, if your boss suddenly starts to micromanage your work or begins sending you critical feedback in writing, she might have serious concerns about your performance. It’s worth asking to check in about how things are going so that you’re less likely to be blindsided by a critical review down the road.