Bonnie Low-Kramen details five ways to tell if you are a workplace bully – and five reasons to stop right now

In a recent Be the Ultimate Assistant workshop, we had “The Conversation.” The topic was the global epidemic problem known as Workplace Bullying. In our class of thirty students, I asked, “How many of you have either witnessed or personally experienced workplace bullying?” As has happened in dozens of workshops and presentations all over the world, at least 50% of the students raised their hands. The fact is that they didn’t even have to raise their hands for me to know the truth. Their eyes and body language said it all.

And then the stories began. Stories of assistants who quit their jobs because they couldn’t take it anymore. Stories of abusive managers who were eventually fired but who caused great trauma during the time they were at their companies. Stories of assistants who finally stand up to the bully after far too long a time and the relationship changes for the better. This painful but necessary segment in our BTUA workshop gives us the opportunity to shine a bright light on this toxic problem and the time to offer a great resource book for solutions: “Taming the Abrasive Manager” by  Laura Crawshaw.

But the discussion didn’t end there as it normally does. This time one of my students came up to me at a break with tears in her eyes and said, “I realize that I’m a bully to other assistants. Help me stop.”

This is an aspect of workplace bullying that we hear less about and I applaud this student’s willingness to look the problem squarely in the face – right in the mirror. The fact is that unless the pattern of bullying is broken through awareness, it has no reason to stop. Chances are that she is modeling behaviors that were inflicted on her. The abused often turn into abusers unless stopped.

Whether the bully is a peer or a manager, the problem is taking a very big toll. Workplace bullying is traumatizing humans and poisoning our companies from the inside out. Here is a very important point. The trauma from workplace bullying does not just last for the day it happens. The negative effects can last months and even years.

Very few people are trained on how to take on bullies, never mind successfully taking them on. No one wants to have these difficult conversations but have them we must. I can tell you that it can be done and when it happens, far fewer talented assistants feel forced to quit.

Answer these 5 questions to determine if you are a bully:

  1. Have you yelled at someone today and on most days?
  2. Do you intentionally withhold information and/or give others the “silent treatment”?
  3. Have you publicly humiliated and demoralized your colleagues by calling them morons, idiots, and other disparaging epithets?
  4. Do you throw things, stamp your feet, and pound your fist on the table to make your point?
  5. Do you make fun of your peers with mean-spirited insults?

Recent Stats:

35% of the American workforce has been bullied

7 out 10 employees leave their jobs because of a bully

Stat Source:

If 3 out of 5 answers were “Yes,” here are the 5 reasons to alter your behavior right now.

  1. Because you behave with intimidation and fear, almost everyone is afraid of speaking with you at all, never mind telling you important truths that you need to know. There is a lot that you are not being told about what is going on. No one seeks to be the dead messenger. Instead, your peers are doing everything they can to avoid you.
  2. Staff who are respected and valued produce better work, are loyal, and go above and beyond when problems arise. The converse is true for staff who are disrespected, demeaned, and not acknowledged for the experience and talents that they were hired for in the first place. Your distracted and resentful peers may be physically there, but not really The term is “presenteeism.”
  3. Your colleagues may be at their desks but many of them are busy looking for the exit – and they are doing it on company time.
  4. Be honest. How many people are you bullying? Usually, it is more than one. It is true that bullying takes the biggest toll on the victim but the witnesses of bullying also pay a high price, and they too will also look to quit. Have you heard of survivor’s guilt?
  5. Costs for employee sick time, litigation, and replacing staff are skyrocketing. The word has gone around about how you treat people, so new staffers receive “combat pay” just to take the job.  Bullying is very expensive. Bullies get fired eventually because of this. The only question is when.

Convinced to turn things around? Here are 5 things to do about it:

  1. Hire a counsellor or coach who specializes in bullying behaviors.
  2. Have one-on-ones with your most trusted colleagues and friends and give them permission to tell you the truth. Really. Take notes.
  3. Apologize to those you have hurt. Sincerity counts.
  4. Speak with your HR Department to help them set realistic and actionable policies regarding bullying. Involve your colleagues in the creation of these policies and then ask to have them posted on the company website.
  5. Encourage your peers to openly communicate with you as often as needed. Emphasize that they will not receive retribution.

Workplace bullying can be stopped but it will take raising awareness by speaking up. We need to do it for ourselves and for those coming up behind us. There is much at stake.


The bad news is that you have been a bully. The good news is that you made it to the end of this article in the hopes of finding the reasons to make a change. If you are still in doubt about whether you are a bully, just ask your colleagues. Their eyes will say it all.

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Bonnie Low-Kramen is the founder of Ultimate Assistant Training and is one of the most respected thought leaders on workplace issues. She is a TEDx speaker, bestselling author of Be the Ultimate Assistant and Staff Matters, and her work has been featured ... (Read More)

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