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Bossing: What it is and what you can do about it

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What is bossing?

Bossing is a form of bullying that takes place between staff and their superiors. Employees face the arbitrary attacks of their superior regardless of their work performance. These attacks are often personal and hurtful without aiming to reach a peaceful agreement. Therefore, bossing presents a conflict-laden form of communication by which an employee is systematically attacked over a longer period of time.

The goal is usually to belittle and ostracize the person in question or even get rid of them. The decisive difference between bossing and bullying is that the victim is subordinate to the perpetrator in the hierarchy. This condition intensifies the problem for the victim of bossing enormously. Often, there is a lack of leadership behind it, and the superior fears that he’ll be outdone by his staff. Or bossing is used actively to move the employee to quit voluntarily or ask to be freed from his contract. Bossing is also called “downward bullying,” meaning harassment from the top down. In addition, there is also “upward bullying,” meaning harassment from the bottom up, so the superior is bullied by his staff. Read more about this under our tip on Staffing.

The results of bossing

According to one study, one quarter of all employees have been the victim of bossing at their work. In these instances, it was not a matter of one-time events but of frequently repeating psychological harm over a longer period of time. The consequences are fatal: At the beginning, the person concerned just feels harassed. In the long term, however, bossing is an attack on the self-esteem, and there are problems with the motivation to work and the quality of the work. The distress and the feeling of helplessness can be noticed physically as well, in headaches, backaches and neck pain, nervous ticks like eye twitching, stomach cramps and sleep disorders through to depression and anxiety. In bad cases, bossing can lead to post-traumatic stress disorder.

What can you do about bossing?

First of all, it’s important for bossing victims to register downward bullying and notice that they’re being treated disparagingly on purpose. The earlier this insight occurs, the sooner the people affected can get help and advice from the outside. This happens best at a counselling center outside the company. Many health insurance companies offer a hotline for victims of bullying, or you turn to a coach, a doctor, a psychotherapist or a self-help group to escape the passive victim role. Bossing victims should also get moral support from friends and family. It is advisable to show the superior doing the bossing as little emotion as possible and, if possible, to get some distance, for example with vacation, sick leave or a transfer. Legally, the topic of bossing is hard to fight because it’s difficult to prove that the psychological and physical damage is a result of bossing. That’s why the best solution is sometimes to change jobs.

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