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Tough Boss or Workplace Bully?

What are the differences between a workplace bully and a tough boss? Safe at Hopkins recognizes Teresa Daniel’s workplace bullying research which focuses on the presence or absence of malice in management styles as a useful resource. Her objective criteria can help you determine the difference between a workplace bully and a tough boss.

Workplace bullies tend to:

  • Frequently misuse power and authority.
  • Focus on personal self-interest, as opposed to the good of the organization.
  • Have emotional outbursts.
  • Treat their employees inconsistently and unfairly.

The manager who engages in these negative behaviors appears to operate with intent to cause his or her target some kind of pain or personal distress.

Tough bosses tend to be:

  • Objective, fair, and professional.
  • Self-controlled and unemotional.
  • Performance-focused—insistent upon meeting high standards and holding employees accountable for meeting those expectations.
  • Organizationally oriented—consistently operating to achieve the best interests of the organization.

The actions of a tough boss are overwhelmingly perceived to be positive. These managers use frequent two-way communication and really listen to their employees, as well as mentor subordinates through coaching, counseling, and frequent performance feedback.

Conflict certainly occurs in workgroups led by tough bosses, however these managers work to resolve problems by engaging in honest and respectful discussions. While intense focus on results by tough bosses may contribute to tension and stress, employees do not take the situation personally, nor do they experience decreased feelings of self-worth or adverse personal or health effects. Instead, they view such managers as “tough but fair” and focused on the good of the organization.

Safe at Hopkins Can Help

If you still have questions or believe the person in question is a workplace bully, Safe at Hopkins can discuss next steps. Use the appropriate button to discuss a concern or report disruptive behavior.

behaviors chart depicting acts with and without malice

Reprinted with permission of the Society for Human Resources Management (