Coping with workplace intimidation

Dear Dr. Rachel,

I feel abused, dismissed and deceived. In short, it feels like bullying and unfortunately it is coming from the owners of the company I work for. They manipulate the workers into feeling like we are never doing anything good enough. They use resources and funding to sustain their personal lives and then claim the employees are not bringing in enough sales every week to keep the office running. While they openly claim they are both bad communicators and managers, they do nothing to try to correct it. I know plenty about their misuse of funds and inappropriate behavior to be a whistle blower but I don’t want to bring that type of energy into the picture. I am looking for a new job but in the meantime, how do I survive?


We hear about bullying among kids at school, but it’s rampant in the workplace as well. Some bosses are ego maniacs but not necessarily bullies. How do you know if you’re being bullied rather than dealing with an employer who’s plain old mean? Researchers define it as the following: “Bullying involves deliberate, aggressive acts targeting a particular individual repeatedly, over time, and it involves a power difference between the bully and the target. The bully is bigger, stronger, tougher, or more socially powerful than the person being bullied, which makes it difficult or impossible for targets of bullying to defend or protect themselves.”

The key points here are that bullying is chronic and operates from a power differential. As compared to dealing with a boss who is simply a jerk, bullies may use intimidation, humiliation and harassment in a manner that can have lasting effects.

For adults and children alike, bullying is pernicious because it convinces them they’re worthless and strips them of their strength. Whether you are encountering actual bullying or just consistent unsavory behavior, your subjective experience has left you scared and stuck.

Not only are they treating you rotten but you’re burdened with the knowledge of their shady — perhaps illegal — behavior. You state you don’t want to be the tattletale and introduce “that type of energy” into the picture, but given the energy is tyrannical, what do you have to lose? By reporting this, you can prevent future harm. Create a new dynamic — match their power with your own power: the fact that you know about (and ideally can prove) their wrongdoings. This could be your Erin Brockovich moment!

One way your situation departs from bullying is that you’re not being singled out, rather, the whole office is being denigrated. This means you have power in numbers. Your bosses indicate they are poor communicators and managers. Yet they are too entitled to do anything to change it. This is no different from the individual who states matter-of-factly, “I’m just a flake” and thinks that just because they announced it, they have permission to keep acting that way. Together you and your co-workers can be the ones to hold your bosses accountable for their communication style and their misuse of funds. Organize and start a coup.

There comes a time when we need to ask ourselves an important question: is the discomfort of staying in a bad situation greater than the fear of leaving it? Contrary to how you feel, you do actually have choices in your life for which you can take action. You are in the freeze mode of your nervous system and you need to get to the fight or flight mode so you can move on, physically and emotionally. Distance your sense of self from this drama. Your job title is not who you are. How much money you make is not who you are. You need to reclaim your power and your voice. The only way you can do so is to quit and dedicate yourself to your recovery and networking for a new opportunity. Financial stability will be a natural outgrowth of your strength and renewed confidence upon leaving this environment.

Many a disgruntled worker has fantasized about quitting their job and telling-off their boss. Don’t deny your visions of triumphantly throwing a cream pie in their face, but don’t act on them either. Exit this job with your head held high. Until that day arrives, survive by bonding with your co-workers and focusing on aspects of your work that intrigued you enough to accept the job initially. Whether you leave in two days or two months, whether they fire you for ratting on them or you slither out on your own accord, survive by knowing you are going to extricate yourself. For you this will soon be a distant memory of a lousy job; for your bosses this is a lifelong sentence of being clueless.

Dr. Rachel Allyn is a licensed psychologist in private practice. Learn more about her unique style of therapy at Send questions to