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Working for a Bully is Bad for Your Health

By Edited Jun 12, 2016 7 10
When work ruins your health
Credit: Morguefile photo by DTL

Stress Can Make You Sick

People who work in a hostile environment are at great risk for health problems. That's because our bodies react to stress, whether it's a brief, intense crisis or it exists at a low level for a sustained period of time.

What happens is, eventually, is that our immune system become depressed.

In response to what we perceive as a threat, our brain and our adrenal glands begin to work overtime. Our brain pumps out a hormone known as CRH. This would be a good thing if your life was in danger, because it makes you more alert and ready to respond.

But sustained higher levels of CRH will also wear you down. That's because this hormone stimulates your adrenal glands to produce another hormone called cortisol, which performs many critical functions in the body.

However, too much cortisol has a side effect of lowering our immunity, leaving us more prone to serious conditions, including cancer. It can also result in high blood pressure and unhealthy cholesterol levels.

Stress Affects You Even When You're Sleeping

Stress is insidious. It affects us even when we're sleeping, provided we are able to sleep, as working for a tyrant may also cause insomnia. Doctors have found that cortisol levels remain high even at night, when we're dealing with a crisis.

Everyone is affected differently by stressful events. Some people ride the ups and downs of life with much greater resistance than others. But working for a tyrant will eventually cause even the most unflappable person to crack.

Unfortunately, in America, millions of people are working under extremely trying circumstances. According to the Workplace Bullying Institute, about one in three workers has been mistreated on the job.

Complaining Gets You Nowhere

Once the atmosphere in a workplace turns toxic, it usually doesn't get better. The WBI has found that only about 3 percent of the time, does the situation improve. A bully boss may suddenly find a more attractive job offer elsewhere. Or a colleague who is causing trouble is abruptly transferred. Or the bully may forget about you, because he's found a new target. But these events are rare.

Instead, the usual outcome is that the abused worker is either fired, or she quits. (In at least 70 percent of workplace bullying cases, the target is a woman.)

Many embattled workers assume they'll receive support if they contact their human resources department. However, doing so is about as effective as doing nothing. Only about 3 percent of the time does this end in a resolution, according to the WBI.

Leaving your job might be your best option
Credit: Morguefile photo by yarekcl

If you decide to lodge a formal complaint, don't be too surprised if it falls upon deaf ears. It may also exacerbate the problem.

There are several reasons for this lack of response. Bullies are extremely crafty, and know how to navigate the system. So, one plausible scenario is that the bully has done some damage control. She might have befriended the HR director, and, at the same time, dropped some hints that you are "unstable." Once this impression is formed, it's going to hard to shake, especially if you appear emotional as you recount your story.

Anyone attempting to involve HR in a bullying matter must be very guarded and stick to the facts. In a very professional manner, emphasize how this is affecting your ability to do your job. Don't mention that it's also ruining your life, as this makes your complaint seem too personal.


Leaving is Often the Best Solution

Your physical and mental health are your most precious commodities. At some point, you'll have to decide if working for a bully boss is worth it.

Once a situation becomes toxic, it's often your best recourse. Unfortunately, the poor economy makes this more difficult. But it's better to start seeking new employment while still employed. The fact that you are being bullied puts you at much higher risk for involuntary termination.

If the situation deteriorates into workplace mobbing, where you have multiple aggressors, it's not going to get better. Start making your exit plans, preferably after obtaining a good letter of recommendation.

The freedom of leaving
Credit: Morguefile photo by bigal101

Are You Being Bullied at Work?

As strange as this may sound, it's not always easy to figure out if you're being bullied or not. Female bullies often use an underhanded technique known as "relational aggression." Rather than fighting fairly, they work undercover to destroy a target. This is accomplished through carefully managed attempts to ruin the target's reputation. So, once they start their full-throttle attack, you'll have little support.

Here are some signs that someone has launched a sneak attack:

  • Coworkers start avoiding you. If you've done nothing to offend anyone, but you suddenly find yourself being shunned, you can start to suspect that a bully is involved.
  • An important meeting has just been called. Normally, you are invited to these events, especially if they directly relate to your position. This time, however, your name is off the invitation list.
  • You are also excluded from after-hours events, such as wedding and bridal showers.
  • Important materials you need to do your job are now difficult to obtain.
  • You are vaguely uncomfortable at work and this is something new.

Although none of these in isolation can be taken as signs of bullying, it is a series of such events unfolding over time that might mean you've become a target.



Jun 25, 2014 1:11pm
I think that people underestimate how much stress it is working for a bully. You do a great job of explaining how this affects your body. Oftentimes people tolerate this because they cannot afford to lose their jobs. This is not a supportive environment and it makes it difficult to be highly productive. Well done!
Nov 17, 2014 8:24am
Hi curiosity44, thanks so much for reading. Working for a bully is positively dreadful. No one should have to do this, but, for millions of people, it's an unfortunate reality.
Jun 25, 2014 1:49pm
Hi curiosity, thanks so much for reading. It does do a number on the body.
Jun 25, 2014 8:52pm
Man, you're so right. These environments can be truly toxic, and spread to every other facet of your life. Money is money but you gotta stay at least a bit happy right?
Jun 26, 2014 11:43am
I'm of the firm opinion that when something turns toxic, you need to formulate an exit plan ASAP.
Nov 17, 2014 7:11am
Agreed! Good article ologsinquito. Working in this type of environment can truly make you sick.
Jul 7, 2014 7:41am
Don't I know it. A few years ago I had a client who insisted on contacting freelancers personally, instead of through the agency, and I didn't think much of it at the time, but he eventually became so overbearing and difficult to deal with that I stopped enjoying the work - I helped produce English translations of articles on sports events - and because my heart clearly wasn't in it, he took me off the project. The fact he was so difficult didn't even factor in his own eyes. I was so glad to have that drama out of my life. But what annoyed me was that the agency didn't step in to back me up, and they should have. I don't work for them anymore either.
Nov 17, 2014 4:21am
I agree with you completely, O. It's best to avoid the working in such a stressful environment. I have had some issues in my first internship, and I decided to change my posting. Fortunately, the people in the new branch were so friendly and are still my close friends. What a wonderful article!
Jan 20, 2015 8:48pm
Excellent article. I agree that leaving is often the only option, especially if you want to protect your health.
Jan 24, 2015 6:30am
Hi Leigh, Orla, Winter Wolf and Deborah, thank you so much for reading. I am so sorry to hear people have to put up with this type of behavior.
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