Human Resources News & Insights

Watch out for these 8 workplace bully personality types

Workplace bullies have always been on the scene. But they’re now being recognized as productivity killers and potential legal threats to employers.

Some researchers claim one in every three employees will experience bullying at work. And the experts say bullying costs businesses more than $200 billion a year due to decreased productivity, increased absenteeism and high turnover.

A partial rundown of the corrosive effects of workplace bullying:

  • reduced productivity, efficiency and profitability
  • higher absenteeism, sick time and employee turnover
  • decreased morale and loyalty
  • increased costs due to recruitment and retraining
  • increased workers’ comp claims
  • indirect costs though time spent dealing with bullying situations
  • negative effects on the company’s image
  • potential fines for not abiding by occupational health and safety laws
  • legal costs from employees who bring lawsuits, and
  • potential increases to insurance and workers’ comp premiums.

Bullying isn’t automatically illegal. However, behaviors commonly associated with bullying often overlap with other behaviors that are illegal, such as harassment or bias.

The 8 most common bully personalities

Anton Hout, founder of OvercomeBullying.org, identifies these eight bully types:

1. The Screaming Mimi. This is the most easily recognizable type of workplace bully. Screaming Mimis are loud and obnoxious, and their abusive behavior is meant to berate and humiliate people. They thrive on the notion that others fear them.

2. The Two-Headed Snake. To a co-worker’s face, this employee acts like a trusted friend or colleague. However, when the co-worker is out of earshot, this person will destroy his colleague’s reputation, stab him in the back and even take credit for his work.

3. The Constant Critic. This bully’s goal is to dismantle other people’s confidence through constant – and often unwarranted – criticism. A critic will look for any possible flaw in someone’s work and labors tirelessly to kill that person’s credibility. Impeccable work? No problem: This type of bully isn’t above falsifying documents or creating evidence to make others look bad.

4. The Gatekeeper. Every office has at least one employee who gets off on wielding his or her power over others – regardless of whether that power is real or perceived. Gatekeepers deny people the tools they need – whether it’s resources, time or information – to do their jobs efficiently.

5. The Attention Seeker. This type of bully wants to be the center of the action at all times. They’ll try to get on their superior’s good side through consistent flattery and even come on as kind and helpful to their peers – especially the newer employees. However, if co-workers don’t provide the right amount of attention, these bullies can quickly turn on them.

Attention seekers are often overly dramatic and relate everything to something that’s going wrong in their own lives to garner sympathy and control. These bullies also have a tendency to coax personal info out of new employees – only to use it against them later.

6. The Wannabe. This is an employee who sees himself or herself as absolutely indispensable and expects recognition for everything. But Wannabes aren’t usually very good at their jobs. To compensate, these bullies spend a majority of their time watching more competent workers and looking for areas of skilled workers’ performance to complain about.

Wannabes will demand that everything is done their way – even when there are better ways of doing things. Because they’re automatically opposed to others’ ideas, they’ll do everything in their power to prevent changes to their work processes.

7. The Guru. Generally, there’s nothing wrong with this bully’s work performance. In fact, it’s not unusual for a Guru to be considered an expert in his or her own niche area. What these bullies offer in technical skill, however, they severely lack in emotional maturity.

Gurus see themselves as being superior to their co-workers. As a result, they don’t consider how their actions will affect others, aren’t able to fathom the possibility that they can be wrong and don’t accept responsibility for their own actions. In addition, because these bullies feel as though they’re “above it all,” they don’t always feel compelled to follow the same rules as everybody else.

8. The Sociopath. Intelligent, well-spoken, charming and charismatic, sociopaths are the most destructive bullies of all. Reason: They have absolutely no empathy for others, yet they are experts at manipulating the emotions of others in order to get what they want.

These bullies often rise to positions of power within the company, which makes them extremely dangerous. Sociopaths tend to surround themselves with a circle of lackeys who are willing to do their dirty work in exchange for moving up the ranks with them.

5 policy keys

The best defense a company can have against workplace bullying is a clearly worded policy that prohibits any type of bullying behavior.

Here are some components every good anti-bullying policy should include:

  • a clear definition of what is considered bullying – along with a list of some of the actual behaviors that meet the definition
  • an outline of how employees can report bullying, including guidance on what to do when the bully is the manager
  • a detailed explanation of the complaint and investigation process that will take place
  • a “no retaliation” clause to help employees feel safe about reporting problem behavior, and
  • a list of consequences of violating the anti-bullying rules.
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  • Frankie Fernstein

    if the CEO is a bully then look for a new job. Turnover is a reflection on management. Good staff leave a manager, not a job

    • Scott Pierson

      Not always true. I’ve had massive turn over but it’s because of low pay, they Leave for more pay or better opportunity. Not my managing style. I’ve got guys that have been with me over 6 years but it’s the newbie that doesn’t want to pay there dues. Or are unreliable so I won’t attempt to get them a raise. But they work and are reliable I’m all in for getting them a raise.

    • Yeah, but when employees like the work, and they can transfer, they are constantly moving away from bad managers.

      I know somebody who fell into a location with a bad manager. The greater workplace community knows about the manager, but nobody warned my friend.

      Too few people speak out, or take action. There’s just some word of mouth complaining between employees (even managers). Those that can transfer do, others quit, and yet others end up getting fired (but they don’t care)… and it’s all because of the manager.

      I just helped my friend write up a huge list of the behaviors they’ve themselves have experienced, in four months (not all of it, but a spread of various kinds of instances). We’re sending it off to the corporate anon reporting hotline for such things. — they aren’t worried about keeping their job, and don’t care about being anon, but the point is to ensure the focus is on the bad actor, not appeasing my friends sensibilities as a victim.

      Speak out folks. If not you, who?

    • Scott Pierson

      What does it mean when the ones that Left for what they thought were better paying jobs or a Disneyland job lol what they thought it was going to be, out of the 11 that left 9 came back wanting there job back, and what about the 4 that have been with me for the last 7 years? It’s just a bit strange. And I have one that Was deserving of a raise I faught for him to get because he is a great worker reliable punctual, and able to follow directions well and able to be left on his own and gets the job done, if I don’t pay him he will leave for greener pastures. Thanks for your critique. Much appreciated always looking for others opinions.

  • Employees don’t speak up because the powerful are often one or more of the following which creates the impression, real or imagined, that speaking up will be seen as a disloyal act which is to be punished: ??
    • Arrogant ??
    • Emotional, overly and inappropriately ??
    • Ignorant ??
    • Ill prepared for their job ??
    • Insecure ??
    • Insincere ??
    • Miss-educated ??
    • Narcissistic ??
    • Non-listener ??
    • Poor job suitability ??
    • Poor listener ??
    • Poor memory ??
    • Poor self-esteem ??
    • Unaware of their bad behaviors ??
    • Under educated?
    • Uneducated ??
    • Woefully unprepared for their job

    Also, some employees are not moved to speak up. A fellow Associate told me when I asked him why he doesn’t offer his ideas at the Director-Associates meetings he replied, “When they care about what I think, they will ask me.” He was correct; they didn’t really care what we thought. I had thought that my fellow Associate was afraid to speak up but he wasn’t, he just needed to be asked and since he had a Master’s in engineering management he should have been asked. The Directors on the other hand thought that when we did not speak up we had nothing to offer. I know that because I asked a director what they thought of those of us who did not speak up.