Ask Kim: I’m Being Bullied At Work. What Do I Do?

SHESAID resident psychologist Kim Chartres answers your most awkward and confronting questions.

Workplace Bullying: How To Stand-Up To Your Boss

Recently, my housemate filed an official complaint against one of her managers for bullying in the workplace. After making a simple mistake on a financial document, her 50-something year old boss took it upon himself to condemn and humiliate her for doing so in front of an office full of fellow employees.

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Interestingly and rightly so, she didn’t take it on the chin. However, not all of us have the courage to stand-up to authority, particularly in the workplace. HR consultant and people management specialist Karen Gately says that it’s important to know that if your boss repeatedly behaves in a way that causes you to feel humiliated, intimidated, threatened or belittled, then you are being bullied.

If you are dealing with this kind of situation, Karen insists that you have two choices; stand up for yourself, or leave. If you do choose to confront the situation but aren’t sure how to go about it, here are her top tips on how to take action.

Be prepared

Don’t go in guns blazing. Take the time to think about what you need to say and how you will go about it, says Gately. “Ask for the advice and support you need from other leaders, HR people on the team, your colleagues, or people outside of your organisation,” she adds. What’s more, be prepared for how your boss may respond. Preparation is key here, ladies.

Hold the bully accountable

There is no justification for workplace bullying, so act with conviction, says Karen. Just because an employer is in a position of power doesn’t mean that they’re permitted to undermine or disrespect you. The HR expert recommends: “Take a firm stance and speak with confidence when you ask your boss to take responsibly for the unnecessary and damaging impact their behaviour has on other people.”

Raise awareness

An important factor to take into consideration is that the person may not be aware of the impact that their actions are having. Karen insists that you help your boss to understand why their behaviour matters and discuss alternative approaches that they could take.

Be constructive

Being bullied does not give you the right to reciprocate. In fact, this is neither appropriate nor effective. Instead, maintain your behaviour as a standard that you can be proud of, says Karen. “Your aim should be to influence your boss’s thoughts, feelings and ultimately actions by delivering honest feedback with respect and sensitivity.  A support person in the meeting may help keep things on track.”

Be honest

Talk openly and honestly about why you’ve raised the issue. Maybe it’s upsetting you; maybe it’s causing you anxiety and/or impacting your health and wellbeing. Whatever the reason, it’s important to explain why you or other people have felt bullied and arrive at an outcome that you want to see, recommends Karen.

Avoid personal attacks

As with anything, it’s all in the delivery. Therefore, “avoid criticising your bosses character; rather focus on the impacts of their behaviour,” insists Karen. “Remain objective and communicate your desire for a positive work environment that will enable the whole team to thrive.”

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How To Cope With a Bad Boss

It’s been said that you should never walk away from a bad boss without learning something valuable. However, that’s not much help if you’re stressed to the eyeballs and dealing with a workplace psycho who makes Kevin Spacey’s heinous character in Horrible Bosses look like Mother Teresa. Hell, I often like to joke that some of the tyrants I’ve previously worked for at a media giant helped prepare me for the rigours of motherhood, and thereby coping with two demanding littlies under three.

But workplace bullying is a huge, ongoing problem in Australia; a bad boss can crush your productivity, self-esteem and soul, if you let them. In fact, three out of four people report that their boss is the most stressful part of their job, says leading positive psychologist Michelle McQuaid. In addition, she believes a bad boss is the no.1 reason women quit their jobs.

McQuaid, who penned the aptly titled 5 Reasons To Tell Your Boss To Go F*** Themselves, based on her own real-life experience, is a foremost expert on the topic, providing personal, workplace and schools coaching and mentoring via In her book, McQuaid counsels readers on how to deal with problem bosses of various types and how to assess when it’s time to act.

Using case studies, the psychologist/author provides practical tips on how to fight back, rebuild your confidence and disarm even the most difficult boss, be they the bullying, passive-aggressive, narcissistic, or authoritarian type. “Studies find left unchecked, a bad boss can undermine our performance, damage our health, destroy our relationships and leave us feeling depressed and anxious,” Ms McQuaid says.

“In my experience, a badly behaving boss is the gift you never ask for. You wouldn’t volunteer to work for this person, but it can offer an incredible lesson in how to manage our own fears and boost our resiliency in the face of challenging relationships. I’ve also discovered that when we don’t accept the gift and deal with it, there’s a tendency for it to follow us to the next job!”

What’s more, she says, your boss might not even be aware of their bad behaviour. It goes without saying though, that if your boss is being physically or emotionally abusive then you should immediately abort! Seek help and get out fast, sister.

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Bully bosses bad for your health

Bully bosses could be sending the blood pressure of staff members soaring,

increasing their risk of heart attack or stroke, according to new British

research.The release of the UK study coincides with new local research carried out by

Health Works that shows workplace bullying in Australia is resulting in sick days, severe stress and even panic attacks. Go to the end of this story for a link to a guide to standing up to the bully boss.

The UK research was carried out by doctors from the Buckinghamshire Chilterns University College and involved a group of 28 female nursing assistants.

The test group, who all worked in British hospitals, volunteered to have their blood pressure monitored every 30 minutes to see what happened when they were in the presence of a supervisor they deemed “unfair or unreasonable”.

Thirteen nurses worked with two supervisors – one they liked, the other they disliked.

The other 15 nurses formed a comparison group where they worked with either a supervisor or supervisors they liked or disliked – not a mixture of the two. The comparision group registered only a tiny difference of three millimetres of mercury (Hg) in their systolic pressure, and no difference in diastolic pressure when working with a boss.

In contrast, the other group showed huge differences. While working with “Ms Nasty” nurses experienced a 15mm Hg difference in their systolic blood pressure and a 7mm Hg difference in diastolic pressure from normal. Previous research shows that a rise of 10mm Hg in systolic and 5mm Hg in diastolic blood pressure can lead to a 16 per cent increased risk of coronary heart disease and a 38 per cent increased risk of stroke.

In contrast, when the same group worked with “Ms Nice” their blood pressure dropped slightly.

Bully bosses bad for your health (contd)

The Australian Health Works research involved interviews with more than 325 occupational health and safety (OH&S) experts working in companies around the country. A massive 85% reported incidents of bullying in their place of work.Health Works CEO Ken Buckley said people who were bullied in the workplace could suffer a range of associated health problems such as severe stress, anxiety, panic attacks, sleep disturbance, depression, concentration difficulties and raised blood pressure.Indeed, 56% of OH&S experts taking part in the Health Works study reported staff taking sick leave as a direct result of being bullied. Mr Buckley estimates that up to half of all Australian workers will experience some type of bullying in their working lives. However, only 47% of the companies employing the OH&S experts surveyed had a written anti-bullying policy.

The most common methods employed by bullies according to those surveyed include:

Intimidation (60%), Humiliation (48%), Ridicule (42%), Insults (39%),Offensive language (24%), Degrading someone (24%).

Other forms of bullying reported included stand over tactics, gossiping, being left out of events or excluded from luncheons and having leave requests refused.

Mr Buckley said combating bullying requires clear communication and decisive

steps. He recommends:

    • Approaching the bully and asking them to stop.
    • Keep a diary of events. Record the incidents in as much detail as possible and include the names and addresses of people willing to support your claim as bullying can often be difficult to prove.
    • If approaching the bully fails, report the behaviour to management or human resources. Hopefully your employer has a written policy on bullying.
    • You might also consider reporting the incident/s to a union representative to check your legal entitlements. If you don’t have a union rep, contact the Department of Industrial Relations or Law Society in your state or territory.


Health Works publish a booklet, Communication at Work, that covers effective communicate with colleagues, how to resolve conflict in the workplace and how to handle a bully. You can access the booklet by visiting the Health Works web site using the link above.Having trouble with an overbearing boss? Read How up to stand up to the

bully boss.

Story by Kate Southam, editor of CareerOne. Go to for more career related articles. Job hunting and workplace questions can be directed to CareerOne by emailing:

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