Male bullying at work has become increasingly common in the workplace. With the focus on labels in society and the law. we decode the various categories of how harm is inflicted upon employees and teams, be it harassment, etc.

Bullying doesn’t stop at school – bullies are waiting for you by the gates in every walk of life, from college right through your career. They’re weak, pathetic pits of emptiness who have to fill themselves up by demeaning others. But their actions can still stick with you and chip away at your self-esteem

male bully at work

“No one himself by wounding another.”

St. Ambrose

All hope is not lost. You can still counter male bullying at work using skillful methods that play their own perceived strengths against them. 

“I expected weak work from a woman like you, but this was sh*t. Wait ‘til I tell the rest of management about this. You’ll be on the bottom rung for the rest of your life.” 

You feel a sickness in the pit of your stomach when you think about him. That smirk. The dead eyes.

Allow Team Vippi, for just a moment, to become your fight coach.

What is workplace harassment? 

Check out the EEOC’s video on workplace harassment.

The U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) defines workplace harassment as “unwelcome conduct based on race, color, religion, sex, national origin, older age, disability, or genetic information (including family medical history).”

If your boss regularly annoys you, that’s not workplace harassment – they’re probably just being your boss. The EEOC lists the following actions as part of harassment:

  • Deliberate interference with work performance
  • Intimidation
  • Insults or put-downs
  • Name-calling
  • Offensive jokes
  • Physical assaults or threats
  • Presenting the victim with offensive objects or pictures
  • Ridicule or mockery
  • Slurs

Unless they’re serious, isolated incidents don’t qualify as harassment. Instead, harassment involves offensive, intimidating, hostile behavior that repeatedly continues over a long period. Likewise, it can be hard to prove your boss’s actions legally qualify as harassment if these protected characteristics don’t play a role in their bullying.

(So, if they’re bullying you because they’re a d*ckhead, it doesn’t count. But if they’re doing so because you’re of the Hindu faith, you’d have a case.)

A harasser doesn’t have to be your boss – they could be your co-worker, a manager from another department, or a non-worker who visits the business.

An example of workplace harassment

Harassment can take several forms. But an example, through the lens of sex-based harassment, would go as follows:

Janet comes to work every day, on time, and works her hardest. As a result, she’s one of the top performers in her ad sales department.

Her boss, however, only claims he gives her the most lucrative accounts “because she’s pretty.” In meetings, he’ll regularly defer to the opinions of everyone else in the room but her. 

At work parties, he’s been overheard talking about which women in the office he would “bang” given the opportunity – regularly naming Janet. He’s also made inappropriate, unwanted sexual advances on her at work socials.

During her last review, he told Janet that “she’s great to look at, but needs to put in a little extra effort to justify getting that raise.” Janet feels uncomfortable, targeted, and demeaned every time she sets foot in the office.

Harassment vs. bullying vs. discrimination: What’s the difference?

The distinction between harassment and bullying is a legal one. Harassment has to involve the targeting of someone due to a protected characteristic, like sex, disability status, or race.

Workplace bullying is intimidation, aggression, or abuse of power against a person on individual terms. There is an official definition of harassment, but none that covers workplace bullying independent of discrimination.


Harassment = Bullying x Discrimination

The behaviors are the same; the intent is slightly different. But that also means the line between the two is thin – if the victim is of a different race to the bully, for example, it might be hard to separate the bully’s actions from targeted harassment.

That may cut a little deeper for the victim. But it also gives them a powerful weapon to transform bullying claims into harassment lawsuits, giving victims the leverage to professionally unravel bullies for the rest of their career.

So you might want to think twice about being a d*ck to someone at work. It could backfire on you in ways you never imagined.

Why might emasculation tactics need to come into play?

emasculate verb

to deprive of strength, vigor, or spirit: WEAKEN

If a guy is bullying you, it’s best to counter his masculinity in subtle but effective ways. Meet aggressive, overbearing, and bullish behaviors with responses that seem professional and accommodating but undercut the bully using clever, productive methods.

So why are we focusing on male bullies? Team Vippi’s research indicated that bullies are more likely to be male than female. Studies found that males were more likely to be bullies at school age.

The office breakout room is not the schoolyard. However, according to a 2018 review of studies, the male-heavy trend among perpetrators of bullying continues through adult employment, too.

But sex is also a risk factor in being bullied. Other research found that males are more likely to experience bullying based on their work performance, and females experience bullying based on their values.

If you take the emasculation approach, it means that you aren’t meeting aggression with aggression. That’s essential when dealing with workplace bullying, where the aggressor could use your behavior against you – perhaps even costing you your job.

Why you shouldn’t overtly target the bully’s gender – but don’t ignore it either

Remember, the EEOC considers sex to be a protected characteristic – male or female. 

So if you want a one-way ticket to your very own harassment lawsuit, you can consider screaming, “You have a tiny penis, and you’re stupid because you’re a man.” Don’t stoop to their level at all. Retaliating in a similar manner can land you in deep trouble.

Attacking a male bully based on his sex is a terrible idea, as it puts you in the same category as them. Especially if they’re your boss, you’ll get put straight into a disciplinary procedure.

However, if they’re flaunting their toxic masculinity as part of their campaign of bullying – being aggressive, abusive, cocky, and self-important – you can factor those traits into the way you respond.

Take a judo approach – use your opponent’s own force against them.

Tips to empower yourself against bullying and harassment

Gently does it: Ask questions and demand accountability with a smile

Showing resilience is the first port of call if you note bullying behaviors.

Once you show the bully that they’re getting to you, they’ll start to crank up their behaviors in ways that make you feel increasingly uncomfortable. 

So, if your boss or a colleague starts sniping at you in meetings or you hear they’ve been talking about you in gossipy, passive-aggressive ways, don’t descend to their level. Instead, with a broad smile on your face, simply say something along the lines of the following:

“I’ve noticed a little friction between us in meetings/heard that you’d voiced some concerns about me to others. Shall we have a coffee in the breakroom so we can clear up any issues?”

This puts the bully in an interesting position – someone they’ve targeted has reached out to connect. Most bullies are pretty weak when they’re not in front of others, and they generally suck at interpersonal connection. 

So they’re forced to either:

  1. Accept the invitation and explain themselves (which they can’t do because bullies have no guiding principle aside from “feeling stronger than this other person”)
  2. Turn down the invitation and demonstrate that they refused to explain their hostilities (or simply weren’t able to)

Putting a bully in the position of explaining their actions will have them slithering away.

Other methods might include:

  • Simply ignore them. If your bully is only just starting their campaign of terror, they won’t yet be an unswervable presence in your day. So do exactly that. Block them out where possible.
  • If they’re a manager, seek out another authoritative point of contact. You might want to get friendly with other team leaders, or even your boss’s boss, to get higher-ups on your side.
  • Start to take notes on their behavior. Having detailed evidence of their actions will strengthen your case with HR if you decide to take that route. 

Threat level amber: Levelling up yourself to level up your defense

One member of Team Vippi was bullied by her boss and found that the most effective way to get around his ego was to progress without his help.

Her boss didn’t want her to grow or learn because he was nervous that she would progress quicker than him. Her boss would even tell her not to disagree with him in front of other people and become verbally aggressive if she ever did, even though these were often internal meetings within her team. 

Eventually, our friend realized the best thing she could do was become amazing at her job without his help. This proved to him that:

  1. His opinion doesn’t matter more than anyone else’s.
  2. Having a strong team is more important than feeling like the smartest person in the room. 
  3. He’s a sh*tty manager.

So she did! Our friend spent the next 6 months getting highly proficient at the tools of her trade and learning from sources outside of her role. At the same time, she was developing unshakeable relationships with her clients and other managers on her team.

Doing this made it easier to share opposing viewpoints in meetings because she now had the confidence and clout. Even if her manager wanted to put her down to build himself up, she was equipped to defuse that.

If she had continued letting him be the primary source of her growth at work (e.g., waiting for him to hand out opportunities and teach her skills), he would still have all the power. 

But by taking it into her own hands, she was able to very peacefully move him the f*ck out of her way – and protect herself against future instances of bullying, too.

As with any bully, self-empowerment is the most powerful shield you can have. Nothing cuts a domineering b*stard down to size more than getting better than them at their own job.

You can also:

  • Redirect questions to other people in meetings. You can relocate the focus of power around the team. If the bully leads or dominates the discussion, address any questions you have to other people on the team. Remove agency – as in authority – from the bully.
  • If the bully is starting to get particularly direct, tell them you can go above their head for support. You’re in a workplace, and specific behavioral standards are expected. Having a support network that includes people in higher places and those on the HR team will put you in a powerful position to counter a bully.
  • If the bully is on your team, throw a work social without inviting them. They need to see that bullying will make them lonely. Hypermasculine bullies thrive on being the leader of a pack, so throw a work get-together (nothing too fancy) and make sure they’re not invited. Deprive them of a pack to lead.

Hardball: When to go on the offensive without being offensive

Sometimes, you meet the bully on their turf. Don’t get us wrong – when we say “all-out attack,” you still need to show some decorum. But when their bullying reaches its peak, you need to address that directly rather than finding ways to skirt around the issue.

One member of Team Vippi used to work in the automotive industry. She’d make a point of not wearing tight cocktail dresses to the evening socials at a particular trade show, and her male boss would repeatedly try to humiliate her based on her decision to wear a jumpsuit.

“Um, what are you wearing?”

“What are you supposed to be dressed as?” 

“A little underdressed for the occasion, aren’t you, babe?”

She’d always respond with a quip like, “Oh, this is a jumpsuit. They’re designed to confuse men.” Then, she’d walk away. Bear in mind that her boss had engineered the situation to humiliate our friend on the grounds of sex – so, textbook harassment.

This approach works on several levels:

  1. Her comments could be taken as a light-hearted joke if the boss ever decided to levy punishment.
  2. She called out sexist behavior directly without being aggressive.
  3. She showed resilience and gave the impression that their behavior didn’t wound her. The joke showed she wasn’t going down without a fight.

Other practical steps you can take include: 

  • Request a transfer to another team due to bullying. If you work for a department with multiple teams, see if there’s any room for maneuver. Speak to other team leaders and check if there’s space in their group. Explain that you’re being bullied. This approach is an escape route, as well as a way to let others know about your colleague’s bullying behavior.
  • Work only to specification and pass up on extra work. Your boss may misuse their power, giving you way more work than you’re paid to do in the hope that you crumble and quit. Re-read your job description, know your role, and draw your line in the sand.  
  • Go to HR. If the bullying can be classed as harassment, speak to HR. They can launch a disciplinary investigation. It’s not always a good time to seek action through HR, though – we explain more below.
  • Call them out. If the bully has a habit of making sexist or racist jokes, call them out to their face. There’s simply no space for that in the workplace. Then, repeat the step above and let HR know – this may protect you in light of retaliation.

When to speak to HR about a bully

If the more direct methods aren’t slowing down the bully’s efforts, you might need to escalate your approach and report them to HR. Work isn’t always easy, but you don’t deserve to have every day derailed by bullying and harassment.

There are, however, good and bad times to speak to HR about this:

  • Not until you’ve documented interactions with the bully. You need detailed evidence of what the bully has been doing. Don’t complain about them prematurely – you only really have one shot at having a real impact.
  • After you’ve spoken to the bully. If you can show you’ve tried to resolve the issues directly, it makes you look less whiny than if you’ve just gone to cause disruption without trying to seek solutions with the bully. It risks retaliation, but it can also strengthen your case.
  • Not when you’re in an emotional place. Wait until you’re in a calmer, more logical place, and you can present a more convincing business case for taking action against the bully. Logic and emotion don’t sit well together.

Facing retaliation

Team Vippi discovered a shocking fact when researching harassment: A study suggested that 25 to 85 percent of women who endure sexual harassment face retaliation. 

That’s a wide percentage range, sure. Bear in mind, though, that even 1 in 4 women facing punishment for speaking out is 1 in 4 too many.

This is, not to mince words, f*cking disgusting. It’s an entirely transparent tactic to isolate victims and dodge accountability.

Retaliation against harassment claims might involve stalled career progress, verbal threats, or even being fired. It’s not only immoral – but it’s also utterly illegal in line with anti-discrimination laws, according to the EEOC. However, this law only protects you if you’re being harassed, not bullied.

So if the bully’s malicious actions don’t revolve around a protected characteristic like disability or sex, the law doesn’t cover you. And especially if your bully is in a position of power over you, they can make your life very difficult by retaliating.

However, if you do have any of these protected characteristics, then you’re able to dress pretty much any form of bullying up as harassment to help you stand your ground. This brings us to our next point…

If you’re a bully, and you’re reading this: Buckle up.

If you conduct leadership in this negative way, you could be framed as a bully.

Given how legally protected employees are in cases of harassment, if you’re bullying anyone who’s differently-abled, of a different sex, a different race, or a different age than you, they can f*cking hammer you through the disciplinary system. 

Are you an unconscious workplace bully?

How do you know if you’re a bully?

This seems like a pretty stupid question to ask, but you might not realize you’re demonstrating harassing or bullying behaviors. Do these sound like you?

  • You repeatedly make someone around you upset and dismiss it as “overemotional.”
  • You don’t have empathy for others. It’s challenging for you to put yourself in someone else’s shoes. If someone else has concerns that don’t suit you, you struggle to see the validity of their situation by default.
  • You might actively show aggression, shout people down, threaten them with violence, or humiliate them in front of other people. Passive aggression is also a form of bullying, usually falling under the “humiliation” umbrella.
  • You talk about a person behind their back, on occasion costing them big-time in their professional and social life. For example, if you lie to your manager about a colleague so that they get passed over for a promotion, that’s a bullying behavior. Not a big deal to you, but a massive dent in the self-esteem and career progression of your victim. 
  • You abuse your position of power. Perhaps you repeatedly block a rightfully deserved promotion, have your victim uninvited from important social gatherings, or strip them of duties without any reason.

One of these problems can feed into another. For example, you might not notice that you’re upsetting someone if you have very little empathy. Before you know it, you’re fulfilling all of the traits of a bully without realizing it. 

And the consequences can be severe.

The impact of being a bully

If a person can frame your bullying as harassment, HR will be on your case – and they’ll be armed with the law. So you have to wrap up your situation and make amends right now, or you’re in for a world of hurt. 

That person is going to bring up their attributes against you. And they will win. You have a battle on multiple fronts, and you have to be so, so careful.

If you’ve been bullying a person of color, for example, and they’re also a woman, you’re screwed on several levels. And it’s not just being fired that presents a clear and present danger – your company might well publicize the fact they’ve fired you to protect their reputation and distance themselves from someone who is now, legally, a harasser.

You’re done in that industry or even that city for life. So it’s either you face some cold, hard internal reflection now, or you do it later through the lens of karma. 

The roundup

The calling out and punishment culture around harassment is refreshing to see. And harassment often blends with bullying. So wielding your power, aggression, or sex over one of your colleagues can see an HR issue quickly become a legal one and possibly a publicity one too. With you as the villain.

If a male colleague at work is bullying you, you have a bunch of softer options at your disposal, as well as more direct ways to approach them about their actions.

Conquering a male bully or harasser is about showing that your social skills, professional talent, and network-building will win out, no matter how much they try to flaunt their power.

Team Vippi is always behind you if you’re a victim of bullying. You don’t have to f*cking put up with it.

Article resources

Cantone, E., et al. (2015). Interventions on bullying and cyberbullying in schools: A systematic review. 

Feldblum, C. R. (2016). Select task force on the study of harassment in the workplace.

Gautier, C. (n.d.). Are you a bully without even knowing it? Here’s how to tell. 

Golshan, T. (2017). Study finds 75 percent of workplace harassment victims experienced retaliation when they spoke up.

Harassment. (n.d.).

McMillan, L. (2021). The 411 on toxic masculinity: What it is and how to talk about it.

Sansone, R. A., et al. (2015). Workplace bullying: A tale of adverse consequences.

Silva, MAI., et al. (2013). The involvement of girls and boys with bullying: An analysis of gender differences. 

Smith, P. K., et al. (2018). Consistency of gender differences in

bullying in cross-cultural surveys. 

Zundel, C. M. (2018). Being bullied at work? Five ways to prepare for a talk with HR.