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How to Spot a Bully Boss Before You Accept the Job

by Caitlin Clark, studioD

Working for a bully boss is a demoralizing experience, which can leave you miserable and exhausted, even outside of the office. Unfortunately, workplace bullies often hide their abusive behavior behind a veneer of flattery in early encounters. With a little foresight and intuition, you can learn to see through this disguise and identify a bully boss at the time it matters most -- before you accept the job.

Retention Rates

One of the best ways to spot a bully boss preemptively is to look at staff turnover rates, says the UK National Workplace Bullying Advice Line. If you're taking the place of a previous employee, find out how long she worked for the company and the reason for leaving. A boss with nothing to hide will usually be happy to introduce you to current employees, who can tell you how long they've been at the job. High-turnover warning signs include short employee durations, sudden dismissals, unexplained departures or any badmouthing of previous employees.

Office Culture

Watch out for a boss who seems overly focused on office competition, according to the Workplace Bullying Institute. While it's normal for bosses to encourage employees to compete against each other in sales jobs, this is a red flag in most other environments. Get a feel for how a potential employer expects you to perceive coworkers and interact within group environments. If a boss emphasizes competition and hierarchy over collaboration and civility, you may want to look for a job elsewhere.


Pay attention when a potential boss outlines employee expectations. If their demands seem unrealistic and unfair, they probably are. The Workplace Bullying Advice Line defines corporate bullying as what happens when a boss uses a poor economy or high unemployment rate as an excuse to coerce employees into meeting unreasonable expectations. Find out how many hours you will be expected to work per week, whether the employer uses any form of surveillance to monitor employees and how issues like sick leave, vacation and overtime are handled.

Gut Instinct

Above all, trust your intuition. If a potential employer makes you nervous or uncomfortable, stop to ask yourself why. The University of Louisville identifies the emotional effects of bullying as guilt, insecurity, self-doubt and sleep or digestive disturbances. Experiencing any of these after an early encounter with a boss should make you pause. Imagine working under this person every day of the week. If the prospect makes you queasy, do not accept the job from a bully boss.

About the Author

Caitlin Clark writes about education, travel and culture. She received her Master of Fine Arts in creative writing from the University of Virginia, where she taught courses as a Poe-Faulkner fellow.

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