3 Warning Signs That Your Boss Is Abusive

Abusive Boss

Chances are good that you have an abusive boss, if they make you feel like this.
Chances are good that you have an abusive boss, if they make you feel like this. | Source

In life, one thing is guaranteed. You will never have the perfect boss.

Even if your boss has many admirable qualities, and you think the world of them; they're never going to be 100% flawless.

Similar to picking a mate, you have to decide what you will not put up with at work - you spend almost as much time with your boss, as your mate.

If your boss has any of the characteristics listed below, there's a good chance your boss is abusive.If this is the case you need to get away as soon as you can. You'll probably end up leaving anyway, but the longer you stay, the more damage it will do to your soul and health.

Warning Signs of an Abusive Boss

I'm not talking about annoying personality or work traits. Such as being indecisive, unfocused or arrogant.

Although these traits are annoying and unpleasant, you can deal with them. It's abusive characteristics that make you feel stress constantly along with feelings of worthlessness. These are the bosses to watch out for.

3 Traits of an Abusive Boss

This is not a complete list, but the following are three main indicators that your boss is abusive.

  1. Demeaning
  2. Controlling
  3. Untrusting, and Suspicious

Signs Your Boss is Abusive

What you need to watch for are certain behavioral traits that are signs of an abusive boss.

While abuse is generally considered a behavior that only takes place within domestic relationships, or with children and adolescents; it also rears it's ugly head in the workplace.

Abuse crosses genders and can be exhibited by, and directed at both males and females. It's not only men who are the abusers, women can be just as abusive. As well, male bosses aren't only abusive to female employees, and vise versa.

However, there is a specific situation involving an abusive female boss, and a female subordinate, and it's called the Queen Bee Syndrome.

The Queen Bee Syndrome

The Queen Bee Syndrome is when a female in a supervisory or management position who treats female subordinates more critically.
The Queen Bee Syndrome is when a female in a supervisory or management position who treats female subordinates more critically. | Source

Queen Bee: The Devil Wears Prada

There is a type of abuse in the workplace when a female boss targets other women and it's called the Queen Bee Syndrome.

A perfect example of this type of abuser is Meryl Streep's character, Miranda Priestly, in The Devil Wears Prada.

What is the Queen Bee Syndrome?

The Queen Bee Syndrome describes a woman in a position of authority who views or treats subordinates more critically if they are female.

According to psychologist Professor Cary Cooper, of the Lancaster University Management School, a Queen Bee is a woman who has worked her way to to the top in a male-dominated environment, and probably got there by acting like a man. Appearing tough rather than soft and caring.

She is characterized as being successful in her career, but refuses to help other women do the same. And is overly critical to her female subordinates and tries to sabotage them professionally.

You're No Alone - Woman Suicidal Over Workplace Abuse

Demeaning you is a sign of an abusive boss.
Demeaning you is a sign of an abusive boss.

1. Demeaning

It is impossible in any way, shape, or form to excuse the belittling or humiliating of another human being.

Your boss has absolutely no right whatsoever to yell at you in front of others, or behind closed doors. Yelling should never take be tolerated.

Talking to you disrespectfully and verbally trying to undermine your confidence, should also be strictly prohibited. Whether your boss is in a bad mood or not it doesn't matter. As well, it doesn't matter what they think you might have done, there is no excuse.

Those who take pleasure out of making others feel degraded, do so to achieve a sense of empowerment or superiority. This often stems from deep-rooted insecurities.

Once this behavior starts, it will only get worse.

2. Controlling and Isolating

Setting policies and procedures in place, and making sure they're followed through exactly is one thing. Trying to control you personally in the workplace is more intimidating. Controlling behaviors to watch out for are:

  • Wanting to know what you do every second of the day
  • Monitoring who you speak to
  • Antagonism when you speak to others

It's especially alarming when they don't want you to talk to family or friends at anytime when you're at work, even at lunch time or when you're on a break.

Isolation is the most dangerous tactic an abusive boss can use because it cuts you off from any support. Additionally, and possibly more importantly, a feeling of isolation is the most painful experience a person can go through.

"Isolation is the sum Total of Wretchedness to a Man" Thomas Carlyle

This sign of an abusive boss has nothing to do with your boss getting upset because you're constantly spending company time on personal matters, playing Facebook scrabble, or texting your friends.

The Motto of a Great Boss

“A good boss makes his men realize they have more ability than they think they have so that they consistently do better work than they thought they could.” Charles Erwin Wilson

Controlling - Micromanaging

A controlling boss appears to lack confidence in everything you do. They demand to know every move you make while you're at work.

  • What decisions you make
  • Every email you send
  • Every memo you send out
  • When and why you left your desk

Lack of trust with no basis is a sign of an abusive boss.
Lack of trust with no basis is a sign of an abusive boss. | Source

3. Untrusting

If your boss always acts as though you can't be trusted this is often a sign they're the untrustworthy one unless:

  • They have a reason not to trust you
  • They were burned by a previous employee who was untrustworthy.
  • They have a manager or supervisor above them that's untrusting of them, so this mistrust filters down to you.

If they're deceitful, they will think that you are too.

It is impossible to go to work everyday and feel safe when you always have to watch your back.

Bad Mouthing Staff

Another tell-tale sign your boss might be abusive is if they're constantly badmouthing your co-workers, or prior employees to you; particularly if they have endless stories about how old employees were constantly making stupid mistakes, spent too much personal time at work, and/or were dishonest.

Sometimes this happens in the workplace. Not all employees are focused and honest. However, it's a really bad sign when your boss claims they had all these bad work habits, and no good qualities.

Look for signs that your boss is abusive, so they don't appear and overtake you.
Look for signs that your boss is abusive, so they don't appear and overtake you. | Source

Look For Signs

As with abusive spouses, the negative behavior probably won't rear its ugly head in the beginning. The traits of your abusive boss will gradually sneak up on you.

You may not even recognize it's happening until it's a full-blown problem.

Hopefully you're now aware of what signs to watch for so when you see these types of behaviors, you'll leave immediately.

If you're not in a financial situation where you can quit right away, start looking for other employment as soon as you can.

Do you feel confident now that you know what signs to look for?

  • Yes
  • No
  • I'm still a little confused and could use more help in figuring warning signs out
See results without voting

More by this Author

What Abusive Bosses Have You Had? 56 comments

Dr Bill Tollefson profile image

Dr Bill Tollefson 5 years ago from Southwest Florida

Good HUB! I like how you have describe all the different types. I am sure this would be very informative for people who think they are being misused or abused by their boss.

KoraleeP profile image

KoraleeP 5 years ago from Vernon British Columbia Canada Author

Thanks for your comment. I really appreciate your feedback.

Trsmd profile image

Trsmd 4 years ago from India

My view of such bosses, is that either satisfy their ego or leave the company in search of better boss, but who knows that the latter boss may be still worse...Thanks for SHARING:)

KoraleeP profile image

KoraleeP 4 years ago from Vernon British Columbia Canada Author

Hi Trsmd Thanks a lot of your input.

kim 4 years ago

I come from an environment where my superior was like this. I cried reading this! She tried to ruin me and I resigned now I am looking for a job and busy running my own small businesses

KoraleeP profile image

KoraleeP 4 years ago from Vernon British Columbia Canada Author

I'm glad you were able to resign and get away from that environment.

Lovelovemeloveme profile image

Lovelovemeloveme 4 years ago from Cindee's Land

GOOD hub! When i was 14 years old and applying to work at retail, i met the store manager for an interview. There was another employee with her at the time conducting the interview together . and during the interview, one of the employees knocked on the door to come in and asked something. she was soo pleasant and nice to the girl . But as soon as the doors were closed, she turned around and started talking negatively about that girl. It just turned me off so much about this manager. two faced ! I got the job, but I just couldn't shed off the bad first experience so decided to go elsewhere.

KoraleeP profile image

KoraleeP 4 years ago from Vernon British Columbia Canada Author

Hi Lovelovemeloveme :). Good choice. It's also a shows a lot about your character. There are people that would have taken her comments as a way to think they had an up on the employee being talked about. Not realizing that the manager, is more than likely like that with everybody.

Lovelovemeloveme profile image

Lovelovemeloveme 4 years ago from Cindee's Land

Koralee, thsnk kora. yeah. It's just unprofessional and bad management skills. I can't imagine working with someone that belittles others behind their back.

cfin profile image

cfin 4 years ago from The World we live in

I agree with every part of this hub. I have been there and experienced it. Especially when working part time during university. I have worked as a foreigner too and experienced the worst ridicule possible.

Unfortunately, sometimes you have to grin and bare it, until something better comes along.

Your writing shows a lot of promise and I will check out some more of your hubs.

Thanks :)

KoraleeP profile image

KoraleeP 4 years ago from Vernon British Columbia Canada Author

Thank you cfin. When jobs are scarce it can be even harder to get out of an intolerable work environment.

Proverbs 4 years ago

Hi Koralee,

I am the owner of a company in the UK. I'm wondering if you have ever managed staff before or had to deal with the pressures of problematic staff? It's just that your analysis is what I would consider a problem employee (those that struggle to integrate into a team) to say about their boss.

I think if a boss does not want staff calling up their family and friends during work time this is perfectly valid as it shows a lack of team playing on the part of the employee (i.e. they won't get their work done and someone else will have to do it causing resentment in the team).

In terms of trust, if an employee feels like a boss does not trust them, this does not mean that the boss is untrustworthy at all. It means what it means. That somewhere down the line the employee IS untrustworthy and that the boss hasn't yet decided what action to take. Things get back to bosses as work environments are interconnected teams of other employees (who get fed up of problem employees as much as bosses do). And if a boss talks about previous employees, they are sometimes indirectly and rather politely trying to point something out to the current employee to help them.

All the best and good luck

KoraleeP profile image

KoraleeP 4 years ago from Vernon British Columbia Canada Author

Hi Proverbs: Thank you very much for your comments. I am a little confused with my description of a problem employee, because I didn't describe the employee or anything about them. It is strictly based on an abusive boss (not one with annoying personality or work traits, such as being indecisive, unfocused or arrogant).

Demeaning: Yelling, demeaning, humiliating (it doesn't matter what type of employee they are or what they did this behavior is never acceptable). Controlling: Don't want employees speaking to family during breaks or at lunch (again it makes no difference what the employee is like, in the workplace non-working time is off limits to the boss) Untrusting: I understand what you're saying if they actually don't trust the employee because the employee is dishonest. " consistently speaking poorly of the numerous staff that came before you." This is a red flag that they have not got along with all or many of the staff that came before you. When that is the case, the boss obviously has some problems. A boss should speak directly to the employee and politely tell them directly what they are doing wrong, not beat around the bush talking about other staff. The abusive boss I am describing in this hub is never polite anyways.

Perhaps our difference of opinion is because the work place is different in the UK than it is in North America.

Justin 4 years ago

wow I always thought I was tough and could put up with things well but I had an overwhelmingly abusive, controlling, demeaning, and untrusting boss finally I reached my breaking point and quit my job, I had reached my breaking point and felt like he was slowly putting me six feet under.

About 2 go Postal 3 years ago

You would not believe the constant belittling that goes on a t Clear Pro in Ca. The owner is constantly threatening his 2 employees

jpcmc profile image

jpcmc 3 years ago from Quezon CIty, Phlippines

This hub is very important Koralee. Many employees fail to see the signs of an abusive boss. As such they simply endure the wrath of a bully boss. A healthy employee-boss relationship is the key to a productive work day. Moreover, it will help create better business. I voted up my friend.

KoraleeP profile image

KoraleeP 3 years ago from Vernon British Columbia Canada Author

Thanks jpcmc For the vote up! I really feel for people stuck dealing with an abusive work environment. It would be great if more laws were put in place to stop it.

wabash annie profile image

wabash annie 3 years ago from Colorado Front Range

Great topic! Bullied people feel so very isolated. Thanks for writing about the situation.

KoraleeP profile image

KoraleeP 3 years ago from Vernon British Columbia Canada Author

Thank you wabash annie!

iguidenetwork profile image

iguidenetwork 3 years ago from Austin, TX

I have seen and encountered few obnoxious bosses. Being a sort of a boss myself in my own little firm, I try not to become one. Voted up. :)

KoraleeP profile image

KoraleeP 3 years ago from Vernon British Columbia Canada Author

Great idea iguidenetwork. I guess that could be one thing obnoxious bosses are good for is to be example of someone not to emulate. Thanks for the vote!

Sueswan 3 years ago

Hi KoraleeP

"Talking to you disrespectfully and verbally trying to undermine your confidence, should also be strictly prohibited." I have experienced this from an ex boss. I went on to get a job in another department. The ex boss got fired not just because how she treated me because she was bullying others and was incompetent. I remember my new boss asking how I felt about her being fired. I told him that I wish her no harm but I have no sympathy for either.

Voted up and awesome and sharing.

Have a good day.

LoisRyan13903 profile image

LoisRyan13903 3 years ago from Upstate NY originally from Long Island

I have been lucky about bosses. Usually if a boss in our place was verbally abusive they did not last long. I have had bosses when they were new were untrusting. Then when they were there a while they understood the employees jobs better.

lovedoctor926 3 years ago

Awesome hub! Useful information. I used to work for a boss who always had something negative to say about her previous employers. I remember this one young lady who she hired to work as her assistant. She was very impressed with her work ethics, but she was dying for her to leave because this person was very aloof. Then, she complained about another guy who used to take very long coffee breaks and who was too laid back. Thanks for sharing this gem.

Express10 profile image

Express10 3 years ago from East Coast

This is an absolutely useful and honest hub. There are many people that truly suffer at the hands of their bosses and bystanders at work. As for the suicidal woman, these situations are not uncommon. Most people will suffer if they don't have a job and standing up for themselves typically means they will no longer be able to work for that employer. Going even further, spiteful bosses and their minions will attempt to make it impossible for that employee to go elsewhere if given the chance. Darned if you stand up, darned if you don't.

billybuc profile image

billybuc 3 years ago from Olympia, WA

I left an abusive boss back in 2010 and became a freelance writer. Best decision I have made. :) Abuse of any form is unacceptable.

creativelycc profile image

creativelycc 3 years ago from Maine

Excellent hub and I agree with you 100% If your boss has any of these traits, it will eat your soul and seriously compromise your self-confidence. No job is worth that. Voted up.

Dr Bill Tollefson profile image

Dr Bill Tollefson 3 years ago from Southwest Florida

I agree strongly with billybuc and creativelycc on their comments. Abuse in any form is unacceptable. Do not allow your soul to be eaten and then fill empty.

Rupesh Malik 3 years ago

Well written Kora... Reading all the above comments reminded me of my bad experiences of working under a bad boss. Over the time period, I mustered the courage to vent out all my feelings in the form of a Facebook page called "TheBadBosses"

FullOfLoveSites profile image

FullOfLoveSites 3 years ago from United States

I really really couldn't take it the most if my boss is prying over my personal life. That's going tooooo far! So far haven't encountered such extreme boss. Demeaning, yes I have come across some -- even if you're wrong they still have no right to belittle anyone.

As if they weren't once on the lower ranks before, huh?

Thanks for your very informative hub. Learning a lot from it. :)

torrilynn profile image

torrilynn 3 years ago

Thanks for helping others to recognize the signs of an abusive boss. My last boss was verbally abusive and negative. Thanks for the insight. Voted up and shared!

KoraleeP profile image

KoraleeP 3 years ago from Vernon British Columbia Canada Author

Hi torrilynn. Thank you for vote up, and your welcome.

JeffMark59 3 years ago

My boss exhibits the first symptom - demeaning others, including me, in front of us - at times when he is not in a good mood. But he does not exhibit the other two. I've been with him for 18 years, and with 6 years to go before full retirement, I tolerate him. Mainly because except for that, he's been OK. At this point, he has to live another 6 years, becuse I could get a jerk replacing him. I have flexable schedule and good pay, etc. When I retire, I'll send him a copy of this, and mention it on my exit interview!

DDE profile image

DDE 3 years ago from Dubrovnik, Croatia

An easy to understand hub on this topic I had an abusive boss but quit before she tried her acts on me, she verbally abusive with her employees and sometimes physically abusive.

KoraleeP profile image

KoraleeP 3 years ago from Vernon British Columbia Canada Author

I'm glad to hear DDE that you were able to quit before she tried her acts on you, especially since she was also physically abusive.

Wms 2 years ago

I have this same problem at Cracker Barrel with 3 managers , so Monday we had a Mandatory meeting at the Holiday inn , and i brought it up to my General Manger .. Now i will sit back and wait to see what happens next.. the Topic of this meeting was the Guiding Principles , about dignity and respect , well like i spoke up and told the GM , How do you give respect to your managers if they dnt respect you , plus these 3 managers they dog me . im permanently disabled , i was ran over in 2007 . and these people know this . and they will hire a person with any kind of disability cause its in the policy. but they pound me super hard with a list then if it all dsnt get done , then they tell you that you suck . just like i got told last sunday . 2 managers are demeaning and controlling , the other is a woman that acts like a man and is a huge bully to us all.. and she hates men , i know ive heard her degrade them right in front of me . with out them knowing what she said ... she says men / boys are no good for nothing and shouldn't have been brought in to this world or put on this earth . i was only there for 3 weeks when she said that .. well like i said now i will sit back and wait for the storm to get worse ..

KoraleeP profile image

KoraleeP 2 years ago from Vernon British Columbia Canada Author

I hope you're wrong Wms, and everything works out for you. Good Luck!!!

dhimanreena profile image

dhimanreena 2 years ago

Thank god my boss is not like that. But hey thanks a ton for sharing such a nice article.

Lee 9 months ago

Wow, great article - thanks. My boss does have some of these qualities, but it is extremely difficult - she thinks she is supportive, believes herself a great ppl person, but undermines you and condescends in such a subtle way that you often don't even notice, except for the fact that you feel upset and are not sure why. She is not like that everyday and outwardly she is very nice. I don't even think she knows she is doing it and I don't think anyone has ever told her - because it is so hard to pinpoint. She is extremely soft spoken and never raises her voice. Sometimes I wish I had someone who was so obviously dreadful that I could identify it immediately. Worst still she is completely incompetent :-/

Yolanda G 7 months ago

Totally my ex boss to a T. He was so abusive critical and controlling with me especially. It's like he felt I was beneath him.. And try eating at your desk. He would shove filthy patient charts in my face..hello trying to eat lunch...worse treatment I ever experienced from a boss. And when I complained one too many times I got canned. Total narcicism on his part. I'm glad to be away from him finally..get out before it's too late and they blame you in the end. Bosses are not supposed to act like that!

CATHY 5 months ago


prechie 5 months ago

yooooo, you just described my boss

dede 4 months ago

Thanks for sharing the article. Don't even get me started on my boss. He is EVERYTHING you described in this article! He is one of the biggest Narcissist's that I have ever met!! I have great empathy for anyone who works for a man (or woman) like this.

I could go on for pages about his unacceptable behavior, inconsiderate manners and language (bordering on abuse) but space is limited.

Just want to suggest to anyone with a boss like this, get out as soon as possible!! It truly is detrimental to your mind, body and soul.

Liv 4 months ago

You described a fellow employee who was trying to make our boss look like the abuser to everyone... we couldn't go to lunch without this employee or she'd throw a fit and lie to upper management about us - we couldn't leave work at a different time, she texted and called us at home after hours and if we didn't answer her questions she'd find a way to make us pay for it. Then she would really do everything she could to set up our boss to upper management to make it look like she was the abusive one.

It's not always the boss who is the abuser in the office!

KoraleeP profile image

KoraleeP 4 months ago from Vernon British Columbia Canada Author

That's great advice, thanks.

KoraleeP profile image

KoraleeP 4 months ago from Vernon British Columbia Canada Author

Hi. That's a great point, and an entirely different article, Thanks.

Mel Carriere profile image

Mel Carriere 3 months ago from San Diego California

I have known Queen Bees. If you're a dude they're great - especially when they make a spectacle about demeaning a female boss that has been abusing you, which they make a point of doing to increase their popularity with the guys. But never having been inside a female's skin I wouldn't know anything about how a woman deals with it, except that it must be horrible.

I have had my share of abusive bosses, of every garden variety. Abusive bosses are why I went back to carrying mail, where I am my own boss, for the most part. Great article!

KoraleeP profile image

KoraleeP 3 months ago from Vernon British Columbia Canada Author

Thanks Mel. You would have a very different view being a dude and all.

That's great you have the opportunity to work alone without a boss hovering.

Lynn 2 months ago


I actually have a question..What should someone do that has an abusive supervisor but can't quit their job right away? I work in a very toxic environment and my supervisor displays the abusive behavior in your article. Myself and colleagues have complained to HR but nothing is really done. It is very stressful and at times feels hopeless. I basically spend all my spare time looking for another job but in the meantime how can I handle this situation?


KoraleeP profile image

KoraleeP 2 months ago from Vernon British Columbia Canada Author

Hi Lynn. It sickens me that you're so stressed and feel hopeless - there's always hope :) The best way to get through bad situations is to change your mindset. I don't have enough room, or information to list all the ways in this comment.

I'm a firm believer in what I call HAD - Hope, Amazing, Dynamic

There's always hope.Hope never leaves we just forget it's there sometimes - cling to hope that your life will change, for the better.

Remember that you're amazing. You have the strength to get through your job until you find another one. Try to look for things at work you can be grateful for; and cherish the blessings in your personal life. Focus on the future and what life will be like when you don't work there anymore.

Life is dynamic and constantly changing so a new job could come to you tomorrow.

Other Survival Strategies

You can't change your environment, but you can change your attitude and how you look at things.

Never blame yourself. Try to be positive and don't let yourself feel helpless.

Only worry about things within your control. See what things you can do, to survive or make your work environment easier to deal with, then do them.

Focus on your strengths

Look for something good, at least one thing. For example, the receptionist is great; the scenery outside the window is spectacular; your seat is extremely comfortable. Positive thinking always makes our view of the world better.

Be gracious and kind to others, don't let the hostile work environment change how you to treat people.

Guard your emotions. If you're easily upset or show your emotions, try to hide them. Bullies pick on people they can intimidate.

When you feel stress smile - it's weird, but it works - you feel better. Think of something funny, or if you can go online and find something you find funny, put a funny picture on your phone.

Get support from someone else at work. Even if you can't stop the toxicity, it's always good to have support; and someone to vent to.

When you're at home focus all you attention on the people, pets and things you love. Don't let the BS at work come home with you. A complete break will help you cope better with work.

I hope this helps, and good luck Lynn

Lynn 2 months ago


Thank you very much for your encouaging and kind words. I have been in a bad situation for too long and sometimes forget to try and appreciate the good that still exists there. I also do have some great co-workers which does help with the day to day. It is also refreshing to read the post from others on this thread because sometimes unless you have experienced it, it can be hard to understand. This experience has really opened my eyes to how the work environment can really affect our lives especially if a culture of bullying and mistreatment is allowed. I did learn something interesting...there is a bill called Healthy Work Place Bill...which is trying to make bullying in the work place illegal. I have to do more research on this bill but I found it encouraging.

I will continue to apply to other jobs and look forward to working in a healthier environment.

Thanks again for your reply and for this great article.

KoraleeP profile image

KoraleeP 2 months ago from Vernon British Columbia Canada Author

Thanks Lynn and good luck with your research and finding a new job.

JS 4 weeks ago

Respect, trust, and autonomy are three key elements in a work environment for employees to grow and share. Great article on the subject. These 3 types of bully boss behavior are often masked in form of silent sabotage.

KoraleeP profile image

KoraleeP 3 weeks ago from Vernon British Columbia Canada Author

Thanks JS, and you're right about how to create and thrive in a work environment.

CJ 3 weeks ago

I'm currently working for a boss that will not speak to me unless he has to, and it's mainly to tell/yell at me what I did wrong. Yet he refuses to train me! I dread going to work! Oh and we share an office! Praying my job interview went well today...fingers crossed!!!

KoraleeP profile image

KoraleeP 2 weeks ago from Vernon British Columbia Canada Author

Hi CJ, and thanks for your comment.

Your boss sounds like he's got some issues, and it must suck sharing space with him :( ... I hope you don't take his behavior personally, it's him - NOT YOU. Good luck on finding a new job :D

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    Koralee Phillips (KoraleeP)286 Followers
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    Koralee Phillips is an Author, and people builder. She shows others how to get through bad situations on her blog with the same name.

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