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How to Handle a Bully at Work: What to Do When the Bully Is Married to Your Boss

Not all bullies are bosses. Some are spouses–wives, husbands or partners–of bosses. They deserve a special name: “Bully Spouses.” The problem is they may have a special influence on your boss.

The Bully Spouse is most often found at a small family-owned business or smaller business where the spouse has authority. There she can wreak havoc in ways she couldn’t in a large company. Bully Spouses often share some of the following characteristics. They…

• Are “untouchable,” or so employees think, because they are connected to the boss
• Drop in occasionally or, to the discomfort of everyone in the office, more frequently
• Disrupt the work day by complaining about how things are being done, often without any real authority
• May single one person out as an object of their disapproval, criticizing, shouting at or otherwise demeaning that person.

What is the targeted employee to do? The answer is: Respond as you would in any other situation with a bully.

Here’s how to handle a bully at work:

First, plan your strategy: Ask yourself, “What is the upside for the boss in listening to me?”

Some advantages: Team members will be more productive. The boss will deal with fewer complaints from demoralized employees.

Also note the boss’s fears or challenges:

• Is your boss unclear about the specific behaviors that are causing problems and what you would like instead? Try this: Document the Bully Spouse’s actions. Detail the when and why of each incident in a log. Note the effect caused by the bullying, for example, lowered office morale, unnecessary “do-overs” of work and unscheduled “feedback” that disrupts the flow.
• Is the boss in denial and wants to ignore the situation? Try this: Show the facts through your documentation. Use our bullying facts from our previous newsletters and weekly tips to help you. For example, studies show that 85% of bullied employees leave their jobs. Therefore, it’s in the boss’s best interest to listen to you. He will benefit from his employees’ increased longevity.
• How does the boss tell his spouse? Try this: Meet with your boss. Present the facts clearly and in a well-organized manner. Stick to the facts; don’t let yourself get trapped in the emotion. The boss must see the problems the Bully Spouse is causing in terms of lost productivity and lowered morale. This will give the boss some concrete data to use in approaching his spouse. Suggest one idea at a time, and be clear about what you want instead.

This is critical to learning how to handle a bully at work! What do you want instead? If you don’t know, chances are your boss won’t necessarily come up with any ideas. Be prepared and share what you want.

Above all, be aware that the Bully Spouse is just as much of a problem as an office bully. You’re not expected to take abuse from an office bully. Similarly you shouldn’t have to take abuse from the boss’s spouse.

Valerie Cade, Founder
Bully Free at Work