Bullying at Work: 7 Surprising Reasons Why You May Be a Target
Could You Be the Target of a Bully at Work?
Do you believe bullying at work happens to the weakest and most vulnerable?
Do you think it happens to those who are unpopular and socially isolated from co-workers?
Do you think it won't happen to you because you're strong, independent-minded, and well-respected?
If nodding in agreement, you've bought into the same false notions that many of us have about bullying at work and those who get targeted. Research shows that our image of the weak and mousy bullying victim is highly inaccurate. In fact, most are strong, independent, highly ethical, and well-liked by their co-workers. For the one in four of us who says we've been bullied at work, this evidence lets us off the hook. We can now stop blaming ourselves, wondering what we did wrong, and start putting the responsibility squarely on the perpetrators.
A First-Time Bullying Victim at Age 49!
I'm ashamed to say that I was once one of those callous folks who scoff at the anti-bullying campaigns in our nation's schools. I thought: Getting picked on is a rite of passage. Toughen up and get over it. Stop wasting time and money on these anti-bullying programs and get back to teaching and learning.
But I didn't know what I was talking about and how truly devastating bullying is. While occasionally teased and called names as a child, I never experienced anything that rose to that level. That is until I was 49-years-old and working as a teacher at a preschool of all places!
From that painful experience, I learned just how awful bullying is and that I never wanted to become a victim of it again. It also made me curious about why certain folks get targeted. What I discovered made me feel a lot better about myself.
Victims of Bullying Are Often the Go-To People at Work
Research shows workplace victims are not weak, timid, and spineless as we're led to believe. They're often highly skilled, ethical, honest, and well-liked. Here are 7 common characteristics of a bullying victim at work:
1. They're Independent
The Workplace Bullying Institute (yes, there really is such a place) interviewed thousands of people who got bullied on the job and their findings were not what you'd expect. Our stereotypical vision of a victim is someone who's a weakling, a loner, and an outcast—someone who doesn't stand up for herself. Their research, however, shows the opposite. The bully actually picks on someone who acts independently and refuses to kowtow—someone who's typically a veteran worker, highly skilled, and well-liked.
So why would a bully choose such a capable victim? Consciously or unconsciously, the bully perceives this person as a threat. This was certainly true in my situation. My bully was the newcomer who nobody liked while I was the “go-to” person who others came to for advice. My bully prided herself on having a master's degree, but I, too, had one and this infuriated her. Her ego got bruised. She thought if she got me under her thumb others would fall in line and respect her.
2. They Have Integrity
Victims of bullying at work are typically honest, ethical, and pro-social. They see their jobs as more than a means to earn a paycheck. They're often in positions that involve helping others such as teachers, nurses, and social workers. Whistle-blowers who report abuses in the workplace get targeted because they're seen as traitors.
This was my situation. I had to report my bully to her supervisor because she wasn't providing the required services for a student in my class with Down syndrome. Once she suspected that I had reported her, she made my life a living hell. Her energies got directed on revenge and not on helping this boy.
3. They're Nice
According to Psychology Today, victims of bullying at work are typically nice. They're the ones who try to get along with everyone—seeking cooperation and consensus, not competition. Their bullies see their niceness as a sign of weakness and go in for the kill. These victims, sweet and unsuspecting, are totally caught off guard by the attacks and are left wondering: Why me?
This sounds all too familiar to me as I often got described by others at work as “nice” and sometimes even “too nice.” My bullying experience showed me that this adjective is not always used as a compliment and is often a euphemism for “chump,” “sap,” and “sucker.” While most of us enjoy the company of nice people, a bully sees them as easy prey.
4. They're Introverts
Many victims of workplace bullying are introverts. These folks are typically excellent listeners and deep thinkers who focus on their assignments and don't get caught up in office politics. Because of their thoughtfulness, they don't react to bullying swiftly and often let it go on too long. Their slow response gives the bully a green light to continue and even escalate. Introverts are not only more likely to get bullied than extroverts, they're less likely to report it or ask for help.
This was true in my circumstance. My response to the bullying was very measured. I never lost my cool, which seemed to spur my bully to do more. I waited too long to report her misconduct and downplayed how abusive it truly was.
5. They're Younger or Older
According to research by CareerBuilder.com, younger and older employees are more likely to get targeted. 29% of those 24 years and younger reported getting bullied. The same percentage got reported by those 55 and older. Experts suggest both age groups are vulnerable, the younger people because of their inexperience and the older people because of society's obsession with youth. Both younger and older workers worry more about losing their jobs, not getting promoted, not getting raises, and not getting decent performance reports.
I was almost 50 when my bullying began, and age was certainly a factor. My bully started demanding that I do physical tasks that were never required of me in the past. One of these involved carrying a 5-year-old child with Down syndrome from place to place.
6. They're Physically Different
Those who look different in some marked way often become targets. Their physical differences might include skin color, hair color (redheads are frequent victims), a limp, a harelip and, of course, being under or overweight. Because they want to feel superior and in control, bullies pick on those they perceive as "less than" the standard ideal of beauty.
No doubt my bully chose me because I was fat. The stress of dealing with her made me eat, and I put on more weight. I was feeling less confidant and less capable. Then my mind started playing tricks on me and I wondered: Perhaps, I deserve this treatment. Perhaps, I'm not a good teacher. Once I got to this point it took a long time before I was back to believing I was indeed a terrific teacher and a worthy person.
7. They're Good People
Victims of bullying should find comfort in knowing that they're good people who became targets because of their goodness. They didn't do anything wrong. In fact, they did many things right and that's why the bullies got jealous of them.
When you're a victim, people give a lot of advice: keep a log of all the bullying behavior, talk to Human Resources, contact a lawyer. But often the best solution is simply to walk away from the situation. That's what I did and I have no regrets. As soon as I quit my job, the stress faded away, the pounds came off, and my whole outlook on life got better. I wanted to wake up in the mornings, start the day, and have happy times. It wasn't until I left that I fully realized what a toll the bullying experience had taken on me—both physically and emotionally.
In this compelling video, Dr. Gary Namie describes the four main types of bullies at work.
What do you think?
What's the best way to deal with a bully at work?
After becoming a victim of bullying at age 49, I vowed to never let it happen again. First, though, I needed to educate myself about the issue and this book helped me do just that. Before reading it, I couldn't spot the warning signs of bullying at work. When the bullying progressed, I didn't know how to stop it in its tracks. After reading it, I felt empowered and ready to handle anything that came my way. The information in its pages made me feel comfortable and confident at my job once again and happy to be there.
This article is accurate and true to the best of the author’s knowledge. Content is for informational or entertainment purposes only and does not substitute for personal counsel or professional advice in business, financial, legal, or technical matters.
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© 2017 McKenna Meyers