Verbal Abuse in Work Relationships

January 14, 2021 Cheryl Wozny

Verbal abuse in work relationships happens regularly. After all, haven't you heard the cliche that employees leave bosses, not jobs? In many situations, this is quite true, especially when the person you report to is verbally abusive in the workplace. Unfortunately, I was the victim of verbal abuse at work on more than one occasion. Thankfully, I was able to pick up the pieces of my shattered ego and leave for a better career path. 

When there is verbal abuse in work relationships, things can become quite difficult to navigate. If you are the subject of insults or humiliation at your job, it can be hard to concentrate on completing your tasks with efficiency and accuracy. The fear of a boss reprimanding you in front of coworkers or others can cause anxiety. In my experience, I was always second-guessing myself in my tasks, hoping to avoid a blowout. This only resulted in slowing down my efficiency and invited further criticism. 

Not all bosses or managers are horrible, and not all negative feedback is verbal abuse. There is a way to distinguish between constructive criticism and abuse with an employee's performance. 

How to Tell if It's Verbal Abuse at Work

Much like personal relationships, your work relationships should have boundaries. If those are not respected or being entirely ignored, issues between the two parties can occur. Some questions to consider when determining if it is abuse are: 

  • Does your boss call you names? 
  • Does your boss insult your intelligence when you make mistakes? 
  • Does your boss make fun of you in any way? 

Your boss should be able to give negative feedback on your performance or mistakes without being verbally abusive. There is a glaring difference between the two, though. A good boss will provide strategies and tools to get your performance up to an acceptable standard and avoid repetitive mistakes. A verbally abusive boss will only point out the negative aspects of you or your work continuously, without a plan of action to rectify the issue. 

What to Do with Verbal Abuse in Work Relationships

You are not alone if you are facing verbal abuse at work. It is more common than you think. If you have found yourself having to deal with a boss like this, you do have choices. 

  • Ask the abuser to stop calling you names, making fun of you, etc.
  • Talk to your Human Resources department and voice your concerns.
  • File a formal complaint with your organization or employment standards counsel.
  • You can leave the job and seek employment elsewhere.

Sometimes an individual who makes verbally abusive comments is doing it unintentionally. This does not happen often, but on occasion, a person believes that what they say is not harmful. If you can address the situation with them clearly and explain your position, they may change their behavior. 

If you have tried addressing the abuser directly without any results, you must plan your next steps. No one wants to work in an environment where they are not treated well. You spend a great deal of time at work, and it should not be time spent with ridicule or insults. 

Remember that only you can change the situation around you. It is up to you to surround yourself with good people in a stable environment where you can thrive and enjoy going to work every day. Leaving an abusive work environment can be a difficult transition, but one you won't regret. I am so thankful that I was able to find the courage and make the leap to leave my jobs where I faced verbal abuse. 

APA Reference
Wozny, C. (2021, January 14). Verbal Abuse in Work Relationships, HealthyPlace. Retrieved on 2024, June 14 from

Author: Cheryl Wozny

Cheryl Wozny is a freelance writer and published author of several books, including mental health resources for children titled, Why Is My Mommy So Sad? and Why is My Daddy So Sick? Writing has become her way of healing and helping others. Find Cheryl on TwitterInstagramFacebook, and her blog

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