Your browser is no longer supported

For the best possible experience using our website we recommend you upgrade to a newer version or another browser.

Your browser appears to have cookies disabled. For the best experience of this website, please enable cookies in your browser

We'll assume we have your consent to use cookies, for example so you won't need to log in each time you visit our site.
Learn more


Upwards bullying - when managers are the victims

  • 1 Comment

Managers can find themselves being bullied by members of their own team

Upwards bullying in the workplace occurs when a team member pursues a campaign of bullying against their manager or supervisor. The bully is likely to be oppositional towards authority, which means they oppose the views, aims or wishes of authority figures on principle. Their opposition to authority is automatic, emotionally derived and persistent.

Bullying team members who target their bosses often try to take advantage of opportunities to:

  • Block progress on tasks or processes for which they are responsible in the hope their failure to complete their work on time and to standard will somehow result in trouble for their manager or supervisor;
  • Prevent actions from being taken by simply not attending to them so they can put obstacles in the way of their boss’s aims;
  • Refuse to co-operate with their boss’s wishes or instructions to thwart them;
  • Saying “it won’t work” in response to a plan or proposal put forward, and refuse to budge without explaining why;
  • Generating other plausible-sounding “reasons’ why certain actions cannot be taken to oppose their boss;
  • Disagreeing with their boss’s verbal or written input to wear them down.

How upward bullies target bosses

Upward bullies often:

● Block progress on tasks
● Prevent actions from being taken
● Refuse to co-operate
● Are obstructive
● Disagree with all or most of their boss’s input
● This article contains extracts from Free Yourself from Workplace Bullying (Mint Hall Publishing, 2015)

Hard-working nursing managers and supervisors who are on the receiving end of these dynamics are often thrown by the degree of disrespect the bully displays. Quite often, nursing managers and supervisors who are targeted in this way have a quite complicated relationship with their own authority. When a member of their team is willing to take direction from them, they are able managers: they are comfortable setting direction, seeking influence and giving feedback. But in the unusual situation that a member of their team does not respect their authority, they have a hard time doing any of these things effectively and are especially reluctant to assert their right to manage at the time of an attack.

Choosing not to assert their authority is a well-intentioned but misguided attempt to prevent escalating conflict, but it invariably leaves the way clear for the team member to continue to bully.

When faced with dynamics like these, it is vital that the nursing supervisor or manager asserts their right to lead each and every time the bully tests their resolve.

While a bullying team member may WANT to oppose their authority and remove power from them, what they NEED is for their boss to hold the boundary as their authority figure.

It is important that the nursing manager or supervisor continues to assert their right to manage the bully, especially in the moment of an attack, and doesn’t fall into the trap of surrendering their authority to them during these encounters.

● This is the fifth in a series of six articles on bullying behaviour in the workplace. The next and final article will explore how to handle bullying behaviour effectively at the time of an attack.

Aryanne Oade has worked as a chartered psychologist for more than 20 years


  • 1 Comment

Readers' comments (1)

  • Readers who would like to explore issues around workplace bullying further can download a range of free audio and written resources on detoxifying and recovering from bullying, learning to become bully-proof and handling adversarial behaviour at work:

    Unsuitable or offensive? Report this comment

Have your say

You must sign in to make a comment

Please remember that the submission of any material is governed by our Terms and Conditions and by submitting material you confirm your agreement to these Terms and Conditions. Links may be included in your comments but HTML is not permitted.

Related Jobs