How do you spot the abrasive leader or workplace bully prior to them doing harm that costs your business time and money, and causes your employees serious harm? How do you intervene early?

Let me tell you, it is something akin to Where’s Wally in that you have to be on the lookout for them. But like Wally in his red and white stripes, once you notice the abrasive or bullying employee, you can’t help but keep on seeing them.

However, unlike Wally, you can’t afford to turn the page and move onto the next puzzle. You need to stop and act because the abrasive leader or the workplace bully can be dangerous if unfound and left unchecked. Safework Australia list the negative impacts of bullying on the individual from distress and anxiety through to thoughts of suicide. The costs for businesses range from high employee turnover to costly workers compensation claims or legal action to business reputation damage. Isn’t there a better way to spend your hard fought for business dollars?

While perceptions exist that bullies can’t change, it’s important that we don’t buy into the rhetoric. People who use bullying and abrasive behaviours are a diverse group working in a variety of roles and positions. They have varying behaviours. Often, employees who use bullying behaviours can be technically brilliant, but sadly lacking in their conduct. You might be surprised if you approach them with empathy and offer the right support, that the abrasive leader or bully can change.

But how do you recognise an abrasive leader or bully?

They don’t all wear red and white stripes to make it so easy.

Your first warning sign will not be a deafening siren. It’s likely you will hear informal reports of behaviour that have rubbed fellow employees up the wrong way. Those overheard water cooler or kitchen comments while making a cuppa “It feels like she always cuts me off in meetings” or when an employee drops into your office and states “He always seems to be upset when talking to me. Does this sound angry to you?

In recognising abrasive or bullying type behaviours, we aren’t talking about once off instances. Everyone has a bad day. We are talking about a pattern of behaviour that is repeated. In these scenarios you hear about employee irritations with them on an increasingly regular basis. At this stage, your employee may not use the word bullying, but are starting to feel frustrated by or questioning their experienced behaviour. Unaddress, the risk of it becoming a bullying claim increases.

What type of behaviours are common abrasive behaviours that you should be looking for to prevent escalation?

These are some of the behaviours that we find are common in working with abrasive leaders and types of comments you may hear.

Lack of emotional control

“He lacks emotional control and has a hard time controlling himself. He often gets angry, loses his temper and swears a lot when this happens”.

Public humiliation

“What I don’t like the most is that she will embarrass people in front of others. She dresses them down with other employees present.”


“He is overbearing and will stand over you while sitting at your desk. He raises his voice and gestures with his hands trying to intimidate you.”

Leaps to judgement or is reactive

“She is too quick to make decisions, to leap to conclusions without looking into the situation.”

Negative body language

“I get an angry vibe from him and I’m not sure where that comes from. It might be a facial expression and very non-verbal.”


“It’s like she wants to be in charge of everything and I feel she is angry when she isn’t.”

Doesn’t recognise achievement

“He always goes to the negative, never the positive.”

These are just some of the behaviours you might get informal feedback on that can rub employees up the wrong way. They are the red and white jumper and beanie that become hard to miss.

When you start hearing of these behaviours and comments from workplace employees, don’t ignore them. It’s time to intervene and offer them necessary support to change. It will save you a belly full of problems as well!