Say “No” to Workplace PUA Tactics

What is Workplace PUA?
In the ever-changing workplace, self-doubt is frequent, especially when each day brings new criticisms. Constantly wondering, “Am I inadequate? Why does the supervisor continuously point out my weaknesses?” raises questions about job performance and whether it’s a genuine struggle or workplace PUA.

What is a Workplace PUA?

What is a Workplace PUA? Workplace Pickup Artist (PUA) tactics involve manipulating coworkers to gain a psychological advantage, which may include:
  • Undermining the other person’s confidence
  • Discrediting their abilities
  • Resorting to personal attacks
They use these tactics to induce anxiety or negative emotions, subtly leading the other party to question their self-worth, feel incapable, and be persuaded that leaving their current position won’t result in finding a better job. Through psychological manipulation, they seek to establish dominance over their subordinates.  

The Difference Between Workplace PUA vs. Constructive Criticism

The primary difference between Workplace PUA and constructive criticism lies in their intent and impact. Workplace PUA is self-serving and pursues personal goals, causing discomfort and team disintegration. Constructive criticism improves teamwork and productivity by fostering personal and professional growth.

Examples of Workplace PUA:

  • Involves personal insults
  • Uses vulgar language to criticise others

Examples of Constructive Criticism:

  • Focuses on the issue at hand, not the individual
  • Points out areas for improvement and tasks that need enhancement
  • Willing to explore opportunities for progress or improvement
  • Provides constructive feedback and suggestions

8 common Workplace PUA Phenomena

Workplace PUA Phenomena

1. Continuous Criticism of Work

Even though you do a good job and do thorough reviews, your work is constantly looked over closely, and the attention is often on minor details. Recognition is sparingly given, even in the presence of tangible accomplishments.

2. Frequent Comparison with Colleagues

Ongoing comparisons with other colleagues create a psychological toll, inducing a sense of inadequacy. Statements like, “Look at how well XXX, who just graduated, is performing compared to you,” contribute to this detrimental practice.

3. Unreasonable Work Assignment

Unfair task allocations, such as being assigned responsibilities beyond your job scope or involving personal matters, are justified as providing an “opportunity for showcasing your abilities and gaining experience.”

4. Exploitation with an Expectation of Gratitude

You are consistently overburdened with work, often requiring overtime, with a continuous “reminder” to be grateful for the job. The excessive workload is framed as an opportunity for growth, and any reluctance is met with reminders to express gratitude for the employment.

5. Credit Appropriation

They are taking credit for your achievements, attributing team success solely to their leadership while dismissing the efforts of subordinates.

6. False Promises and Unrealistic Expectations

Constantly painting rosy pictures and offering false hope, saying things like “Keep up the good work” without public acknowledgement, and only privately discussing positive outcomes with others.

7. Manufacturing Anxiety

Creating a constant sense of anxiety by emphasising the challenging conditions in the industry, highlighting the supposed superiority of the current workplace, and fostering a state of crisis to encourage continued dedication.

8. Mixed Feedback: Punishment and Reward

Employing a strategy of alternating between criticism and sudden encouragement. When sensing that you might leave due to excessive pressure, suddenly show concern and provide positive reinforcement, only to resume suppressing efforts once stability is regained.  

5 Strategies to Counter Workplace PUA

Strategies to Counter Workplace PUA

1. Self-Affirmation Over Doubt From Others

Others may cast doubt, but you must not! Don’t let a single comment from a superior plunge you into self-doubt or make you question your abilities. Trust your judgement; you know your strengths best! Seek opinions from different perspectives, listen to constructive suggestions, and not let ambiguous remarks affect you deeply. Avoid over analysing!

2. Continuous Self-Enrichment

Embrace continuous learning and elevate your core skills. Cultivate resilience and confidence. When you clearly understand your value and capabilities, you’ll view unwarranted criticism as mere chatter. Who would engage in workplace PUA with a self-assured individual? Constant self-enrichment serves as your trump card, allowing you to ascend to higher and better places whenever you choose!

3. Establishing Workplace Boundaries

Clearly understand your values and limits, and learn to say no to unreasonable and inappropriate demands. Refuse to accept anything beyond your personal boundaries. Whether it’s about compensation or tasks, decision-making is always in your hands when faced with requests beyond your job scope.

4. Prioritise Self-Interest

Focus solely on what benefits you. Excel in your job, strive for personal growth and progress toward your goals. The rest is none of your concern! If you feel there needs to be more room for your growth in your current environment, if your aspirations no longer align, or even if promises of a salary raise turn out to be empty, explore opportunities elsewhere. Be prepared to move towards a better direction!

5. It’s Okay Not to Ignore, It’s Okay to Leave

The mentality of “We’ve all been through this, just endure it” doesn’t have to be your narrative. If you find the situation unbearable and realise that you’re physically and mentally exhausted, exploring new job opportunities is okay. Don’t force yourself; the company won’t collapse without you, but losing yourself means losing the essence of your life!  


Facing such Workplace PUA tactics can have a detrimental impact on one’s mental and emotional well-being. The worst part is the toll it takes on your spirit. Going to work every day with the anticipation of facing negativity can be mentally exhausting, adding an extra layer of mental stress to an already demanding job. Therefore, it’s crucial to maintain unwavering self-belief and continuously invest in personal growth. Work is a fact of life; our true purpose lies in living a fulfilling and meaningful life.

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Experience the future of talent matching with our cutting-edge Talent Relevancy Artificial Intelligence eNgine (TRAIN)

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