The Six Types of Bullies in the Workplace


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Prison. Is that what your job feels like every day? If so, you are not alone. Many people go to work every day feeling like they are turning themselves into the authorities. They have to ask themselves if the pain and anguish of facing another week, day or even hour is worth the money. Do they have a choice?

When people work together, each with their own style, personality, temperament, ideas and creativity, there will always be differences of opinion. The good thing about this is that these differences start dialog where hopefully everyone concerned can come to an agreement and move forward. The problems arise when the dialog turns into a monolog and is controlled by one person in a way that is de-energizing, belittling, harassing, embarrassing, and unproductive to the organization.

Enter the bully. They may be hard to recognize in the beginning because they are usually nice and helpful up front. During the time of their politeness, they are sizing up who their next target will be.

The Bully Alligator: This is the meanest of all the bullies and he/she doesn’t care who knows it. As a matter of fact, he prefers others to know. This person purposely uses intimidation and silent threats to control his staff. He/she intentionally inflicts pain on others in order to control them, degrade them or to undermine their confidence.

Sam was a senior manager of a department in a large corporation. When he hired his staff he would bring each one into his office where he kept two fish tanks. He had the employee pick out the fish they thought closely fit their personality and it was put into a smaller fish bowl for the person to take to their desk. Sam even provided the food for the fish. However, when that employee did something that Sam disapproved of, he would call them into his office and tell them to bring their fish bowl with them He would then have the employee take his fish from the smaller bowl and feed it to a piranha in the second fish tank. This tactic held much more emotional effect than writing up the employee for their mistake. It also served Sam’s ultimate need for control over others.

The Deceptive Bully: The little children’s rhyme that goes “liar, liar, pants on fire” comes to mind here. Promises of raises, promotions, vacations, time off with family are all made in order for you to have something to look forward to and to keep you focused on doing more and more for your boss. The time comes for your vacation and all the arrangements have been made months in advance, including permission to have the time off, and you’re told that now is not a good time for you to leave because there is too much work to be done. Or your review is coming up and you’ve been promised a promotion with a raise. The review takes place, but the raise and promotion don’t. This behavior is repeated and repeated. Slowly all the air is deflated from your body and your energy is drained as each promise is broken. This type of behavior devalues ones worth and abilities in the long run.

Tom worked for a small trucking firm in Northern California. One night while he was working over time and was loading heavy equipment, his boss called him on his cell phone. They talked for 45 minutes and during that conversation his boss told him he was going to increase his pay by $2/hour. Tom trusted this would take place. There was no place on his pay stub that indicated how much per hour he was making, but as I said, Tom trusted his boss. Four years later, when something else in his paycheck caught his eye, he went to the payroll clerk to ask a question. That’s when he discovered that the boss had only raised his pay by $1/hour. Now, over a four year period, that amounted to a substantial amount of money. But more importantly, the trust Tom had in his bosses’ word was destroyed and soon after he left the company after 12 years.

The Prime Time Bully: This is the person who, for either his goals or the company’s goals, draws his employees into an intense workload that is unhealthy and unbalanced both at work and at home. They get seduced into the leader’s agenda and hooked on an unsustainable workload. When this person is either transferred, fails or quits, the employees are left with either regrets, burnout, or this learned work addiction that keeps them permanently off balance.

The Swamp Master: This one may not seem important or even as a type of bully that is commonly seen in the workplace, but nonetheless, this one does have an effect on employees and if not curtailed early on, can cause a toxic environment for all. This is the long-time employee who has been with the company either from inception or shortly thereafter. He/she feels it’s their duty to take over the staff and the running of the company while the boss is out of the office. The boss has not asked this person to be in charge…. . they just feel it’s their job. Once the boss has walked out of the door, this person takes over, giving everyone instructions and hovering over them. The reason they do this is to make themselves feel more important and not necessarily to be a bully. But it can be misconstrued as being a bully and when not caught in the beginning can cause toxic situations in the workplace.

Mobbing: This is commonly done by a group of people with a specific leader with the main purpose of getting rid of a particular person. They intentionally bully this person in whatever way they can in order to force that person to quit or move to another department. Companies can also have their reasons for getting rid of people and they do it in this manner when they have no other options. Some of the reasons for them to do this is to get rid of someone who has a health problem and the company does not want to put the money out for health care costs. Case in point:

Eileen worked for a large health care facility in the admissions department. She was suddenly stricken with a heart problem and required open heart surgery to correct the problem. When she returned to work 8 weeks later the ‘mobbing’ began. Her boss called her into the office on a daily basis and would point out alleged mistakes she was making. Eileen believed her and would work extra hard not to repeat these mistakes. This scenario went on every day for three months until Eileen started seeing a psychologist believing she was crazy. The emotional trauma that was inflicted by several people was more than she could bear. The final straw came the day she went into work and was walked down to the comptrollers office where she was given the choice of going back on a 90 day probation (she had been employed there for 2 years) or she could quit. In tears, she chose to leave. What she learned a year later from another employee was that this behavior was purposely inflicted on her so she would leave. The hospital had an unwritten policy that any employee that presented a health risk/cost should be gotten rid of.

Bully’s exist in all workplaces. They come in different sizes, shapes and from different backgrounds. Some are worse than others, but in the long run they produce the same result.

Judith Munson is the CEO of Inside the Workplace. She's a Certified Coach with many years experience in conflict resolution, mediation and change management. Judith is considered an expert in her field of identifying and dealing with toxic emotions in the workplace. She's the author of “The Seven Deadly IN's, Recognizing and Managing Problem Behaviors in the Workplace Before They Bite You on the Butt", download this free e-book at , and Toxic Emotions and Your Bottom Line along with many articles.

Judith's unique way of training CEO's, managers, supervisors and employees, providing them the secrets of working well together has proven successful with clients such as Hagen/Sinclair Research Marketing, Coporon Law Offices, to name a few.

To learn more about Judith and her work, go to , phone 1-800-346-4290, 530-873-6159 or email:


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