Last updated: Sep 22, 2010
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Having a boss or coworker whos a bully not only makes your life miserable, but it can also make you sick. Luckily, I've found a new book that might help you cope.


In a new study, published in the September issue of Sleep, researchers found that 10% of 7,694 office workers surveyed in southeast France had been victimized by an office bully, and that the more frequent the bullying episodes, the more likely workers were to experience sleep disturbances. Even just watching someone else being bullied was enough to cause sleep problems.

Another study, in this month's Journal of Professional Nursing, surveyed 303 nurses at Boston College. More than two-thirds of this group—212 in all—reported that theyd experienced on-the-job public humiliation, isolation, exclusion, or excessive criticism. As a result, the bullied nurses reported their stress levels as “moderate to severe.”

Chronic stress can sicken you. It can lower levels of epinephrine and norepinephrine in the brain, for example, leaving you vulnerable to depression. Chronic stress, such as youd experience when youre the victim of a workplace bully every day, is also linked to higher rates of chronic illness.

In one study, people who had a chronic work-related stressor (defined as stress lasting one month or longer) were at increased risk of developing colds—and the longer the stress lasted, the more likely a person was to become ill—not to mention that sleep disturbances, such as those reported in the French study, are linked to heart disease and obesity.

What to do when you cant just walk away
Back before the American economy tanked and jobs became extra-precious, you had two possible choices for coping: You could confront the bully and attempt to “fix” him or her, perhaps by an open and honest discussion of your distress. (Yeah. That always works.) Or you could just quit and find a happier workplace.

But in todays challenging business climate, its even less likely that your attempts at “bully-fixing” will pay off, because uncertain times are likely to make insecure bullies act out even more inappropriately.

And unless you work in a profession that hasnt been hit by hard times, staying in a bad job beats unemployment. (Not to mention that if you quit a job, its unlikely that youll collect unemployment benefits).

Heres one solution—a helpful new book I just came across. Tame Your Terrible Office Tyrant: How to Manage Childish Boss Behavior and Thrive in Your Job is written by Lynn Taylor, a California-based workplace consultant who helps companies humanize their workplaces.


3 ways to treat a boss like your toddler
Taylor, who raised two boys, had an “aha moment” that led to the creation of what she calls her “Terrible Office Tyrant (TOT)” program. “I realized there were striking similarities between troublesome bosses and toddlers,” she tells me. “And, not surprisingly, the solutions to ending the bad behavior were often very similar.” Here are Taylor's suggestions for managing a difficult employer.
  • Reinforce good behavior. When your 3-year-old does something wonderful, you praise her. Do the same thing when your boss does something praiseworthy. Example: “Thanks for clearly explaining that assignment. Now I understand why we had to push so hard.”
  • Learn his or her triggers. Toddlers have triggers—they act out when theyre tired, hungry, or scared. So do boss bullies. Figure out when he or she is most likely to be difficult—just before lunch? When his or her energy wanes midafternoon? Manage your boss accordingly.
  • Make it fun. You know that the best way to get your little one to pick up his toys is by calling it a game. Your boss bully may respond the same way. When asking him or her to do something you need, try to give back something in return. Schedule the meeting that your boss asked you to arrange at his favorite restaurant, or bring in her favorite breakfast items for a morning conference session.

For more ideas about managing an awful boss, visit the books website at TameYourTOT.com.