Solved Case Study : Bullying Bosses





“It got to where I was twitching, literally, on the way into work,” states Carrie Clark, a 52-year-old retired teacher and administrator. After enduring 10 months of repeated insults and mistreatment from her supervisor, she finally quit her job. “I had to take care of my health.”

Though many individuals recall bullies from their elementary school days, some are realizing that bullies can exist in the workplace as well. And these bullies do not just pick on the weakest in the group; rather, any subordinate in their path may fall prey to their torment, according to Dr. Gary Namie, director of the Workplace Bullying and Trauma Institute. Dr. Namie further says workplace bullies are not limited to men—women are at least as likely to be bullies. However, gender discrepancies are found in victims of bullying, as women are more likely to be targets.

What motivates a boss to be a bully? Dr. Harvey Hornstein, a retired professor from Teachers College at Columbia University, suggests that supervisors may use bullying as a means to subdue a subordinate that poses a threat to the supervisor’s status. Additionally, supervisors may bully individuals to vent frustrations. Many times, however, the sheer desire to wield power may be the primary reason for bullying.

What is the impact of bullying on employee motivation and behavior? Surprisingly, even though victims of workplace bullies may feel less motivated to go to work every day, it does not appear that they discontinue performing their required job duties. However, it does appear that victims of bullies are less motivated to perform extra-role or citizenship behaviors. Helping others, speaking positively about the organization, and going beyond the call of duty are behaviors that are reduced as a result of bullying. According to Dr. Bennett Tepper of the University of North Carolina, fear may be the reason that many workers continue to perform their job duties. And not all individuals reduce their citizenship behaviors. Some continue to engage in extra-role behaviors to make themselves look better than their colleagues.

What should you do if your boss is bullying you? Don’t necessarily expect help from coworkers. As Emelise Aleandri, an actress and producer from New York who left her job after being bullied, stated, “Some people were afraid to do anything. But others didn’t mind what was happening at all, because they wanted my job.” Moreover, according to Dr. Michelle Duffy of the University of Kentucky, coworkers often blame victims of bullying in order to resolve their guilt. “They do this by wondering whether maybe the person deserved the treatment, that he or she has been annoying, or lazy, they did something to earn it,” states Dr. Duffy. One example of an employee who observed this phenomenon firsthand is Sherry Hamby, who was frequently verbally abused by her boss and then eventually fired. She stated, “This was a man who insulted me, who insulted my family, who would lay into me while everyone else in the office just sat there and let it happen. The people in my office eventually started blaming me.”

What can a bullied employee do? Dr. Hornstein suggests that employees try to ignore the insults and respond only to the substance of the bully’s gripe. “Stick with the substance, not the process, and often it won’t escalate,” he states. Of course that is easier said than done.




  1. Of the three types of organizational justice, which one does workplace bullying most closely resemble?


Answer: An argument can be made that distributive justice is at work here in that the workplace bully is attempting to influence the distribution of rewards, etc. in the workplace.  Arguments may be made for retributive justice if one is dealing with the disposition of the one engaged in the bullying behavior.


  1. What aspects of motivation might workplace bullying reduce? For example, are there likely to be effects on an employee’s self-efficacy? If so, what might those effects be?


Answer: It appears that workplace bullying reduces the level of motivation exerted by individuals to go beyond a level of performance than what is minimally acceptable. It could be argued that individuals self-efficacy is diminished in that those who are victims of bullying tend to downgrade the organization that they work for, cease to engage in citizenship behavior, etc. These reactions may affect an individual’s self worth over the long run.


  1. If you were a victim of workplace bullying, what steps would you take to try to reduce its occurrence? What strategies would be most effective? What strategies might be ineffective? What would you do if one of your colleagues was a victim of an abusive supervisor?


Answer: Students need to provide a strategy for dealing with this type of behavior.  It is clearly an opinion based question that has significant latitude to accommodate a wide range of responses.


  1. What factors do you believe contribute to workplace bullying? Are bullies a product of the situation, or are they flawed personalities? What situations and what personality factors might contribute to the presence of bullies?


Answer: Some factors could be work history (that is emulating one’s former supervisor), a lack of appropriate management training and development, low self-esteem, insecurity, lack of adequate job knowledge.


Source:  Based on C. Benedict, “The Bullying Boss,” New York Times, June 22, 2004, p. F.1.

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