Office Bullies

By Ikenga Chronicles January 14, 2018

Office Bullies

–Moses Obroku

If you haven’t experienced working under a cantankerous, highly irritable, generally obnoxious boss, believe me, fate has been extremely kind to you as you have been spared one of life’s greatest trauma. To the people whose lot in life it is right now to be working with such bosses, I can only hope that something happens about that situation real soon before permanent damage is done to whatever is left of your dignity.

And as you know too well by now, this special breed that your boss is, do not need any external stimulus for him/her to get real nasty with you. On their own, they can generate a negative energy minefield to ensure your every work day of the week is unbearable for you.
Often times, they create unnecessary tension around them at the work place. They seem to hold this twisted view that the boss has to be stern looking with this ‘don’t –joke-with me’, ‘I -am- tough’ kind of disposition; like that is when they can command respect quickly. These bosses do not realize that when subordinates work with the apprehension of being given verbal jabs indiscriminately, they end up making more mistakes as the fear of what is anticipated soon materializes.

The most amazing thing is that, these kinds of bosses almost never give a word of commendation to their subordinates, even when such subordinates have performed extremely well on the job or saved the department some embarrassment. Such achievements sadly, usually go unacknowledged. But when these same champions make little mistakes, a barrage of verbal missiles are hauled at them.

You just never know with these kinds of bosses. Whatever you do, you will end up being wrong. If you get proactive, it will be deemed you are taking decisions without authorization. If you get reactive, you will be judged for being slow or negligent. It is generally a lose -lose situation for the subordinate. If you do, you will be blamed. If you don’t, you will be blamed. These bosses are plainly double edge swords; either way they swing you will be cut to pieces. And the way they talk down on subordinates is unimaginable. Often times, they will leave the real issue on hand and start attacking your personality. They may even take it to your home or upbringing, leaving you defenseless as you swallow it whole, humiliation and all.

By the time they are done with verbally bullying you, whatever self-esteem you may have gone to work with is usually left in shreds, leaving you feeling inadequate and sorry for yourself. I have seen full grown men reduced to fervent sobs when they are being lampooned, over misunderstanding a directive.

But I ask myself, is all that necessary? Why should a subordinate get walked all over just so a point can be made, when there is a more humane way of addressing the issue whilst letting that junior colleague keep his/her dignity? But why am I not surprised at the way these superiors act? That is what bullies do. They pick on you because you are regarded as the weak one. As it concerns the office, you cannot talk back because they are your superiors. If you do, it will be deemed ‘rudeness to superiors’, if not ‘insubordination’. So, latching on their corporate advantageous positions, they scream at you, rain invectives, if they think you deserve it. There is no sparing what they can say to you. They simply revel in the fact that you cannot talk back, or shouldn’t.

The bosses who treat their subordinates badly, ironically almost never apologize or own up to ever making mistakes. They think they are as close to perfection as mankind can get. In their delusion, even when they make shameful mistakes, they will insist they are right and their gigantic egos would prevent them from acknowledging it, let alone apologizing. They are in sync with the saying that ‘the queen can do no wrong’ and they strongly remind me of the tyrant ‘comrade Napoleon’ in George Orwell’s ‘Animal Farm’ ‘who is always right’. Otherwise, how does one explain the infallible position they always assume?

When shown very obviously embarrassing mistakes they have made by subordinates who would have used high degree of politeness in doing so, these ‘high and mighty’ managers would sometimes go on the offensive, blaming that junior colleague as the cause of that mistake or contributing to it. You need to experience this behavior to fully understand what I mean here. And when this happens, such subordinate is left with his confidence eroded and regret in doing what he thought was right.

When bosses vacillate in approbating and reprobating, demonstrating high erratic behavior in the office in dealing with people they manage, frankly, from an objective point of view, the only message they succeed in passing across is that they are borderline cases of extreme megalomania and ridiculousness.
Unfortunately, top management hardly ever knows about these behaviors, as most establishments don’t have a system of ‘feedback’ in place, where employees can make these abuses known.

While I am not a psychology major, I suspect that most bully bosses have deep seated personal health or family issues that are plaguing them. Their unsuspecting subordinates are just ready subjects to vent on, so they can feel the power once again that whatever is plaguing them is robbing them off.
Another explanation I can offer about their behavior is obsessive fear. They fear failure in carrying out their responsibilities as unit, divisional or group they drive themselves hard and subordinates twice as hard. Nobody wants to lose a position already attained for lack of performance; but I think it should not be at unbearable cost to the people that serve under them.

A boss will say, ‘we need this job done on this deadline’. After the people involved have stayed extra hours and almost killed themselves to meet up with such deadlines, to their dismay, such task that was announced as ‘so urgent’ would still be lying around the boss’ table many days afterwards. What is that? Why make me close so late and endanger me on Nigerian roads with all their attendant risks at unreasonable hours only for the so-called ‘deadline’ not to be urgent anymore?

Sometimes I feel sorry for the bosses. It must really be hard for them, balancing their top positions with family and the other myriads of issues confronting them. But I am also certain they can make their points clearly and firmly without all the drama of shouting, name calling people, and generally creating tension at work places; or even going about threatening subordinates with scoring them low during appraisals!

One thing that is not common in this part of the world now is anger management classes. Quite frankly, people managers who have a proclivity for losing their cool over small stuffs should enroll. To be sure, most bosses ought to keep having refresher courses on anger management and advanced certification on civilized conduct, before they start collapsing from stroke resulting from unnecessary tension and excess brain activity during shouting sessions with junior colleagues.

But what can be done about these hard to please bosses, or is one condemned to stomach all these insults for as long as you remain under them? I think not.

You can start by getting your act together. Step up your competence level; be at your optimum in the level of work you churn out. Do quality work. Will this keep your fault finding boss off your back? Of course not! But it will prepare you for the next step to reclaiming your dignity at your work place – which is ‘going on a diplomatic offensive’. It is taking the talk to your boss, and you must be ready to lead the charge! Martin Luther King said freedom is never given voluntarily by the oppressor. It must be demanded by the oppressed. To reclaim your right to be treated like a human being, you will have to demand it.

A warning though: there is absolutely no guarantee that your boss will appreciate that kind of talk. It may not change anything. As a matter of fact, his/her behavior towards you may take a turn for the worse. You may come off this adventure vigorously battered. But you would have made the point. Your boss will discover something new about you that, you are the one who will not take the blows lying down anymore. And because you have stepped up your work, the boss will not have a reason to nail you. You will eventually get your dignity restored.

But after you have done all and the situation does not improve, do not despair. You will have to endure until you or your boss leaves that unit or establishment. Afterall, it is properly called a ‘work place’. Not a ‘social gathering’ of friends.

At the moment, I am very fortunate to have a very excellent boss. He is exceptional in how he treats people who work with him, from the drivers to the colleagues in management staff. He doesn’t bring anyone down. A very striking observation I made is the fact that, even though he jokes with everyone and tries to make the work place as lively as possible, we know not to mess with him or try to take him for granted; because, like a true scorpion, my boss can also sting with deadly consequence. I like to think office bullies can learn how to manage men and materials from him. A word is enough for the wise… let it be.


  • Mr. Obroku, a legal practitioner. You can email him at