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Why do people at work bully other people?

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Question - (17 January 2019) 11 Answers - (Newest, 21 January 2019)
A female India age 30-35, anonymous writes:

Why do people at work bully other people? I have a close relation with someone at work. I am at a managerial position and she is at Junior level. This girl is good at her job but still her manager has an issue with my friendship with her. She creates lots of issues related to breaks and stuff.

Now my friend has stopped talking to me at work. Since she is a junior, she is getting pressurised as she is not in a position to fight back.

I feel like because of all this, i am losing my friend. What do i do?

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A female reader, anonymous, writes (21 January 2019):

To other aunts,

I think the OP is using words that we commonly and loosely use in India. Bullying and taunting are words that can be used just like that sometimes to show your displeasure.

The OP is very displeased and is most likely using those words to show her exasperation on this other manager's behaviour. Much like how some people say "I'm so depressed" when they're sad for 5 whole minutes.- My own interpretation of the post. What she truly implies is there is politics going on. Another way of asking "Why is she being such a pain in the ass or why is she being a bitch?"

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A female reader, anonymous, writes (21 January 2019):


I'm Indian and have a few years' work exp. I do think her boss is being unreasonable. She's not exactly 'bullying'. I believe this manager is trying to establish her position and power on the junior. Sometimes managers feel it is part of their job to keep their subordinates in their control and establish the fact that "look, I'm the boss and you are to follow my orders."

She may also be insecure that the junior is going to be more of your subordinate than hers.

It just seems to be the other manager's personality unlike what you believe, possibly. Anyways, I think it is upto the junior to decide what to do, if she wants to stay in the job and adjust or complain to a higher authority. Be warned that this is her profession so you shouldn't really be getting involved in this IMO. She will decide whom she wants to please or maintain relationship with.

I think you should let it be. This girl isn't so helpless that you have to stand for her. It sounds like she has made a decision to listen to her boss and that's ticked you off. You're now whining about the other manager and trying to turn the whole thing around. There's no bullying as such, bullying is a much stronger situation with harassment and abuse. So I'd say don't try to control the whole situation, you might be getting into someone else's space and boundary by doing that simply because this is a different team/department altogether. Your relationship with her is personal and her relationship with her manager is professional. Better let these two relationships stay independent, don't mix them up!

Sooner or later when your friend figures out a way to deal with her manager without affecting her job, you may see more of her.

If you are so close, why not find time outside work to hangout? After work or at weekends?

Sometimes it is good for a team member to spend time and be connected to their own team members and bond with them. Probably the other manager feels that her team should develop a bond. Nothing wrong in that. People have their own management styles.

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A male reader, Code Warrior United States + , writes (19 January 2019):

Code Warrior agony auntPerhaps I won't understand because I'm not an expert on Indian culture, but you made a serious accusation against your friend's boss when you implied she was bullying your friend. These days, way too many people trvialize such serious accusations and, in the process, disrespect and diminish people who have truly suffered under real forms of whatever behavior is being trivialized by making improper claims.

For example, it's common these days for extreme feminists to claim that words spoken in anger are a form of rape, which trivializes rape and disrespects actual rape survivors. Another example is when social justice warrior types say that someone they disagree with is a bigot, racist, a whateverphobe, or "literally Hitler". Thus trivializing and watering down the meanings of bigotry and racism to the point that they disrespect and diminish the experiences of people who truly suffered under such behaviors, not to mention how Hitler comparisons really trivialize and diminish the deaths of 6 million Jewish people. I can cite other examples where the term bullying is similarly trivialized. For example, it wouldn't surprise me if someone accused me of bullying you in my responses.

So, when you make a serious accusation that someone is a bully, in my view, you have an obligation to demonstrate that with facts and examples and you can't assume that the reader is familiar with the particular culture in your workplace. Had you cited specific examples of incidents where your friend was clearly being bullied by her boss, then my responses would've been based on those. Instead, you cited very vauge generalizations with multiple possible interpretations and then took my response to a nonsensical extreme to argue against a straw man that I never implied. And, now, reading your response to WiseOwlE, it seems reasonable for me to conclude that you may have also assumed the reader was familiar with relationship dynamics in Indian culture.

When you make such a serious claim you need to treat your obligation to prove your claim equally seriously - especially these days when so many serious matters have been trivialized to the point of absurdity.

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A female reader, CindyCares Italy + , writes (19 January 2019):

CindyCares agony aunt "I am at a managerial position and she is at Junior level ". There you have it. Most corporate environments frown upon or actively discourage closeness ( not being pleasant or being civil ) such as the one you were developing with this girl, precisely because of your different roles and the tons of negative workplace dynamics this kind of bond may create in the workplace , such as those mentioned by Code Warrior, and more.

You can be best buddies with a colleague- after work . On your our time , and out of the company's premises. It's just more appropriate , and it makes for a better work environment.

I'd hesitate in calling " bullying " what this other manager is doing. It's probable that she was just using her experience and common sense to ADVISE a younger colleague in order to avoid her a faux-pas which could cost her in terms of career and professional reputation. We can call it " pressure ", or we can call it an eye-opener. Maybe the Junior employee' had not realized yet what's appropriate ( or advisable, if she does not want to stay a Junior employee forever... )and what's less appropriate in your workplace.

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A reader, anonymous, writes (19 January 2019):

This is verified as being by the original poster of the question

@Wise OwlE- Totally agree. Her boss doesnt like Me and sincs i am a manager, they cant do anything to me so they are troubling her. Now i did raise concern to my VP and since she is from US she will need time to understand Indian culture. This is one bad thing about indian culture.Female bosses tend to be more interested in Politics than actual Work.

My friend right is not in position to fight back. So she is backing away from me. I understood and keeping my distance but she doesnt want to keep it outside too. She is going through some personal stuffs and she has completely cut me out. I get no replies to my texts or calls outside office.

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A reader, anonymous, writes (19 January 2019):

This is verified as being by the original poster of the question

@code Warrior - Agreed. And yes i know of my friend's breaks. We both are thorough professionals and we dont compromise on work. No exggaration here but i know that she is getting her work done. And her manager has problem only with Me. There are lot of examples. But anyways You probably wont understand.

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A male reader, WiseOwlE United States + , writes (19 January 2019):

It is very difficult to advise people in the Indian culture; because so much is not legally protected regarding basic civil and human-rights. Many things occur and people will simply look the other way; and matters of abuse or mistreatment will go totally ignored depending on gender, wealth, your skin-color, or social status.

We in the US have a problem with that too! We can do more about it.

Unless there is a major shift in politics regarding worker's rights, and basic civil-rights; by and large, the people or your society polices themselves. You depend on human-decency and the compassion of conscientious people to compensate for where the law is indecisive or unenforced; depending on who happens to be the victim.

No matter what part of the world you're in; you cannot conduct your work-life like your personal-life. There are a different set of rules regarding workplace behavior; and your social-life. Working is the only reason we're at work. Not to socialize. We can have a team-spirit, be cordial, and enjoy being co-workers. Being mindful you're on the clock!

We have these well-paid hi-technology companies that offer these ridiculous work-environments that look like adult kindergartens and playrooms. Now there's a major class-action suit pending for sexual-harassment, and job-discrimination at a major internationally-known corporation. It was too casual and too loose. You can't trust people to behave without rules of conduct, and somebody has to enforce them.

The jackasses ruin it for everybody! The bosses forget they're not dictators without limitations to their powers.

The clowns don't know when they've gone too far! People drag their politics to work.

Even here in the United States, people think being crass, obnoxious, and cruel is okay. They use the freedom of speech as a way to injure those who can't defend themselves. We do have laws that protect people from discrimination, sexual-harassment, bullying, and hostile work-environment. Sometimes people will standup for each other. Generally, people are good, and won't abide with injustice.

These rules, codes, and laws I speak of were only established; because of labor unions and living in a very litigious society. People won't stand for it; and will lawyer-up! We will elect officials to pass legislation to protect us. We protest! Only now, it seems, anybody can get elected; no matter how detestable they are. We still have the law, for now. We still lookout for those who can't defend themselves. We also take personal-responsibility.

I'd say, professionalism is limited in your workplace; and and rudeness is tolerated according to the pecking-order and your place on the food-chain. You're hesitant to say anything or defend her; although you see the injustice. Why? Because you're protecting yourself. You know what you know, and do nothing about it.

I suggest you keep your distance and stay more polite-professional. Courteous but aloft. It is apparent your work-place has its own "cast system" and doesn't recognize friendly-contact between people of different levels of management. You want her to be okay; then maybe you should speak-up, or step aside. Save your socializing for after-work; and far from its location. They don't like fraternizing, or they don't like her. It's between her and her boss, and what she'll put-up with.

She must decide if it's the right place to work; or find a work-environment that is more structured, modern, ethical, and considerate of their workers.

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A male reader, Code Warrior United States + , writes (19 January 2019):

Code Warrior agony aunt"@Code Warrior - we used to take hardly 30 mins break in the entire shift of 9 hours. So you are telling that she is not even allowed for a 30 mins break?"

Ah yes, the ever popular argumentum ad absurdum, rolled up into a straw man argument. Yawn. Apparently, you lack the common sense to realize that such a conclusion reading my post wasn't warranted and, in fact, reveals a tendency on your part to exaggerate the things other people say and then use those exaggerations to reach nonsensical conclusions. I'm embarrassed for you. Seriously.

"And her manager has time and again taunted her saying you should not get close to other managers or why are you hanging out with that person etc."

Case in point. You claim taunting is involved. You're a manager. If taunting was really involved here, then why aren't you advising your friend to file a complaint with HR? Seems like an obvious case of harrassment. Unless, of course, you're exaggerating.

In general, it's not a good policy for managers and employees to be close, personal friends. It's generically referred to as a fraternization policy and most companies won't put close, personal friends into direct reporting relationships because it can lead to liability problems due to the appearance of impropriety such as favoritism, or using the friendship as leverage against or for the interests of the company.

However, given your demonstrated tendency to exaggerate and reach incorrect conclusions, I should explain that just because I think it's bad policy for employees and managers to be close, personal friends, that doesn't mean that they can't ever be close personal friends. If an employee and a manager are going to be close, personal friends, then, when at work, they cannot leverage their friendship. The employee must respect the manager's authority and the manager must not treat the employee differently than any other employee.

As far as your friend's boss questioning why your friend is talking to this person or that person, is it possible that your friend spends too much time talking with all kinds of people and isn't getting her work done in a timely manner? Before you exaggerate that into a belief that I think your friend does zero work and spends all her time talking to people, I think no such thing, and I'm simply pointing out other possible explanations for her boss' behavior.

"This is nothing but controlling others personal life. "

Well, it could also be your friend's boss controlling your friend's work life, which is what her boss is supposed to be doing.

"i agree that we are there to work but everone is entitled to have atleast 30 mins of break time... "

Is your friend using more than 30 minutes through the course of the day? Are you monitoring your friend's breaks? Does she check in with you before she starts a conversation with someone and then checks back in with you when she's done? Do you totalize her daily break time and have you data that demonstrates that your friend isn't getting her 30 minites of break time? Or, did you just add the bit about your support for a minimum of 30 minutes of break time in order to try to further leverage your failed straw man argument at the start? If the latter, again, yawn.

"...and sorry to say Manager or not, no one can dictate your personal break time."

Sure they can. They can dictate that employees remain on site during their breaks, which would prevent employees from running errands. They can dictate what employees are allowed to access on the internet using company computers, which would prevent employees from using their break time to surf that restricted internet content. If conversations between employees on break involve office gossip, they can discipline them for that. I'm sure I can find more examples if I think about it, but, if I do, you might just try to utilize argumentum ad absurdum again to claim that I'm really saying employees have no right to do anything personal during their personal break time.

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A reader, anonymous, writes (19 January 2019):

This is verified as being by the original poster of the question

@Code Warrior - we used to take hardly 30 mins break in the entire shift of 9 hours. So you are telling that she is not even allowed for a 30 mins break? And her manager has time and again taunted her saying you should not get close to other managers or why are you hanging out with that person etc. This is nothing but controlling others personal life. i agree that we are there to work but everone is entitled to have atleast 30 mins of break time and sorry to say Manager or not, no one can dictate your personal break time.

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A female reader, Honeypie United States + , writes (18 January 2019):

Honeypie agony auntI agree with Code Warrior,

You are NOT at work to socialize, you are employed and PAID to work.

Making friends is great, but hang out AFTER work. HER manager has every right to decide when this junior employee gets her breaks, and give her a telling off if she is more focused on hanging out with you. SHE is there to work too.

You being a manager should know this and know better.

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A male reader, Code Warrior United States + , writes (18 January 2019):

Code Warrior agony auntDo your job when you're at work and socialize with your friend after work. You're a manager, you shouldn't need to be told that.

Also, you provided zero evidence that your friend's boss is a bully. How do you know that your friend's boss has an issue with your friendship? Maybe your friend wasn't getting her job done because she was talking to you and other people all the time and her boss had enough of it and gave her an on-the-spot-performance review. You'll have to present more evidence than your friend not talking to you at work if you want to make a credible claim that her boss is a bully.

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