Is a bully lurking among your staff?

by 08 Jan 2014
Talk of bullying brings to mind schoolyard cruelty, but it’s remarkably common in the workplace as well.

The impact also goes beyond just the individual affected. A 2012 study from the University of British Columbia found workers who witness bullying, but are not directly affected, are more likely to look for a new job than those who don’t see bullying at work.

Bullying can have a big impact on productivity, absenteeism, employee turnover and morale. But do you always recognise bullies?

According to Anton Hout, founder of, there are eight main bullying personality types:

1. The Screaming Mimi. This is the most easily recognisable type of workplace bully. Screaming Mimis are loud and obnoxious, and their abusive behaviour is meant to berate and humiliate people. They thrive on the notion that others fear them.

2. The Two-Headed Snake. To a co-worker’s face, this employee acts like a trusted friend or colleague. However, when the co-worker is out of earshot, this person will destroy his colleague’s reputation, stab him in the back and even take credit for his work.

3. The Constant Critic. This bully’s goal is to dismantle other people’s confidence through constant – and often unwarranted – criticism. A critic will look for any possible flaw in someone’s work and labours tirelessly to kill that person’s credibility. Impeccable work? No problem – this type of bully isn’t above falsifying documents or creating evidence to make others look bad.

4. The Gatekeeper. Every office has at least one employee who gets off on wielding his or her power over others – regardless of whether that power is real or perceived. Gatekeepers deny people the tools they need – whether it’s resources, time or information – to do their jobs efficiently.

5. The Attention Seeker. This type of bully wants to be the centre of the attention at all times. They’ll try to get on their superior’s good side through consistent flattery and even come on as kind and helpful to their peers – especially the newer employees. However, if co-workers don’t provide the right amount of attention, these bullies can quickly turn on them.

6. The Wannabe. This is an employee who sees himself or herself as absolutely indispensable and expects recognition for everything. But Wannabes aren’t usually very good at their jobs. To compensate, these bullies spend a majority of their time watching more competent workers and looking for areas of skilled workers’ performance to complain about.

7. The Guru. Generally, there’s nothing wrong with this bully’s work performance. In fact, it’s not unusual for a Guru to be considered an expert in his or her own niche area. What these bullies offer in technical skill, however, they severely lack in emotional maturity.

Gurus see themselves as being superior to their co-workers. As a result, they don’t consider how their actions will affect others, aren’t able to fathom the possibility that they can be wrong and don’t accept responsibility for their own actions. In addition, because these bullies feel as though they’re “above it all,” they don’t always feel compelled to follow the same rules as everybody else.

8. The Sociopath. Intelligent, well-spoken, charming and charismatic, sociopaths are the most destructive bullies of all. Reason: They have absolutely no empathy for others, yet they are experts at manipulating the emotions of others in order to get what they want.

Related articles:
Are you aware of upwards bullying in your workplace?
The fine line of bullying: What HR needs to know
Workplace bullying update: How to protect your employees and yourself


  • by Peter 9/01/2014 12:18:42 PM

    There is so much material about and focus on bullies these days it is so hard to know where to begin. A bully is so hard to spot these days unless they are the 'screaming mimi' type described above. The others could represent a snapshot of almost any office. Rather than trying to identify real or potential bullies (that aren't obvious) should we not develop training strategies for potential victims or teach how to report a (perveived) bully without drawing attention to yourself. While not trying to denigrate the issue I believe it is getting out of hand. I have no doubt there are real bullies and real victims but I am feeling all the renewed attention is creating issues of its own. I recall one situation where a newbie complained that an oldie (7 year veteran) was a bully. The oldie was not a bully, just not a very good trainer, whose career could have been ruined by a false report and having responsibilities they were not capable of. It is also becoming a crutch for ineffective people to attack more competent people who may very well not be 'bullies'.

  • by Bernie Althofer 14/01/2014 2:33:34 PM

    It can be an issue for some workplaces that put fairly high standards in place and then jump on people for not meeting those standards. In addition there appears a need to rush in an investigate every time there is a disagreement in the workplace when in some cases, the situation is made worse by the environment in which the parties are working e.g. heavy workloads, short time frames, poor communication styles, lack of awareness etc, in addition to the hazards such as change, negative leadership styles etc.

    I think the point being made by Peter is valid. Sometimes those with the real cause for complaint get lost in the system because everyone is running around trying to solve a problem they think is bullying, without first trying to find out exactly what the problem is.

    In addition, some people will take a list of descriptors and then try and match their work colleagues with the list. This can be very good way of interrupting the promising career of someone.

    It is important to focus on workplace hazards that contribute to situations where individuals feel the need to bully others, or where they feel as they though are being targeted. Unfortunately it seems that addressing these type of workplace hazards fall in the 'too hard basket', and it is probably not helped when risk assessments have not been conducted.

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