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YOU’RE FIRED! But Wait, My Life Isn’t A Reality TV Show…

Richard had been a rising star in his company since his initial point of hire four years previous.

He had landed major clients, bonuses, and was recognized regionally and nationally for his work.  Despite the recession, Richard’s life was laden with hard work and well deserved play.  He had made the necessary sacrifices in delaying marriage, moving three times, and was reaping the financial rewards.

He was at the height of his earning power. No wonder he didn’t flinch when his boss retired.   His performance record was solid. So of course, the new boss, Jackie would value him a longstanding member of her team, even though he was passed over for her position.  Or so he thought.

It started with the snide remarks about Richard’s clothes and office.

She would break into yelling fits, calling him stupid and inept.  One day she threw his paper weight in a meeting, shocking the staff. Though she was nice once in a while, she also failed to tell him about an upcoming visit from the vice president.  When he protested, Jackie created some unreasonable report for him to complete to 24 hours.

He was stressed out; the company had hired a true tyrant.  He found it devastating to be in the middle of a great career and have to deal with a bully boss.  He thought of going to HR, but was concerned; let’s face it bullying in the United States is still legal.  He was treating half the office like this.  He was relieved when there was a joint meeting in HR; finally, they could get to the bottom of this.  The disrespect and name calling had to stop. With the Director of Human Resources present, he was ready to ask for clear communication and methods for better productivity.  He has always been a team player.  The meeting was short… not sweet…

“You’re fired….” Jackie blurted out.  “We are going in another direction. Budget cuts.”

Richard was stunned.  Clearly this was a joke. He had earned letters of commendation the last three quarters straight. She was the bully… SHE was the one causing rampant turnover. His slack jawed pause allowed Jackie to continue…

“You can have the next two hours to clean out your desk. We already cut off your internet service.  It’s 3 pm now. You should be out by 5 pm…”

Richard had nothing to say…what was this some reality show?  When will the commentator come out? Candid Camera, You’ve been punked,  something?!?

The HR Director did and said nothing.  Jackie got up and went to the window. “You have two hours. No matter, I could train a five year old to do your job…”

Richard’s mind was spinning.  He just built an addition on his house with a second mortgage.  Sure he could call head hunters, but he couldn’t move.  Budget cuts?  But they just hired two staff member last week… Budget cuts?


Richard was the target of a workplace bully.  He was strong, competent and a threat to his boss, Jackie.  She was careful not to invoke racial or gender slurs, but her yelling, insults and lacking communication kept Richard off balance.  He wasn’t sure if he had anything to report, but knew there was a problem.

Unfortunately, many targets of workplace bullying end up like Richard.  Bullying is legal in the United States. While harassment and discrimination of protected classes (as defined by TITLE VII) is illegal, being on the receiving end of a bully is not prohibited.  A boss is allowed to be a jerk, as long as he or she is not racist, sexist or discriminatory in another manner.  However, the anguish and stress on the target is no less. In fact the targets of workplace bullying often report more stress than those facing sexual harassment.  Those facing sexual harassment know the root of the motivation; those facing bullying often can’t reason why the bullying is occurring.

What should employees do while dealing with a workplace bully? Leah Hollis, President of Patricia Berkly LLC and author of BULLY IN THE IVORY TOWER, How aggression and incivility erode American higher education offers several insights strategies for those enduring a bully on the job.

There are some strategies Richard can use to endure the environment:

  • Bullies flourish in an environment that allows bullying behavior.  If the behavior is escalating, the bully’s boss condones such.
  • Don’t provoke the bully. Try to anticipate what they want and stay clear.  Give yourself time and a clear mind to think about next steps.
  • Is this job worth it?  As bullying is still legal in the United Stated, and many states are “at will” states, consider the risk to emotional and psychological health to endure the bully.
  • If the target is looking for a job, be careful.  Searching for a job is actionable and separable.  Don’t trust people at the office to support your job search.
  • Want to report to HR? Remember only 14% of the time does HR move on a bullying case.  If you go to HR, have facts, dates, and how the bullying has affected costs to the company.  Did bullying lead to lost clients? Did bullying lead to damage or high turn over?  Have your facts straight.

 Self care is particularly important:

  • There is no shame in seeking out EAP (employee assistant programs) or other counseling options.  Targets often feel isolated.  Professional assistance can help one maintain balance.
  • Avoid self destructive behaviors.  The stress at work is enough; excessive drinking, smoking and over eating can put your system under more pressure.
  • Many respondents to the Patricia Berkly LLC study commented that renewed faith in a higher being and/or meditation practice helped them find balance until the bully was removed.
  • Ask friends and family for support. Many targets even isolate themselves at home.  Inform those around you that you need assistance until you are no longer working for the bully.

For more detailed information how to deal with a bully boss, consider the Patricia Berkly LLC Udemy.com or check out Bully in the Ivory Tower: How aggression and incivility erode American Higher Education. on amazon.com. Remember you are not alone dealing with a bully.

Leah Hollis, Ed.D. is a contributing blogger for JenningsWire, a blogging community created by Annie Jennings.

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