If we were to create a workplace bullying target persona, she would be a 42-year old, college-educated, full-time, non-supervisory, non-union worker in healthcare, education, or the government, according to a 2013 Workplace Bullying Institute (WBI) poll.
Workplace bullying targets are most often motivated to help others. “They are prosocial, the do gooders. People entering those fields want to heal, help, teach, develop impressionable minds, and see the good in others. While focused on the work, with their backs figuratively turned to the politics and abusers in the workplace, they bring a vulnerability to attack. And like all targets, they only seek to be left alone to do the work they are paid to accomplish,” says WBI. And this mindset generally falls along gender and industry lines.
A WBI poll one year later verifies these claims. Bullied targets and witnesses said that those targeted with abusive mistreatment were often kind, giving, altruistic, agreeable, and cooperative. Though they also considered targets not likely to defend themselves and vulnerable (a strength often seen as a weakness in our patriarchal culture), it’s important to note targets are cooperators, not competitors. And collaborative work environments are proven to be not just healthier for employees but also for organizations’ bottom lines.
Nursing and teaching: rampant with bullying
What’s more dangerous is that in the nursing and teaching professions, bullying has become “so routine that it’s normalized and no longer shocks the profession,” says WBI, despite the attention given to student bullying. “Adults are physically modeling the same acts they are verbally deploring. Actions speak louder than words. A teacher humiliated in front of students is robbed of her or his moral authority to manage the classroom effectively. And parents learn which teachers they can safely attack and demoralize by following the lead of administrators.”
Government: the third-ranked industry
Poorly trained supervisors are the major problem in this sector. “Managers lacking the interpersonal skills of listening, coaching, effectively training, and caring for workers tend to supervise aggressively to mask their incompetence. Governments, with their starved budgets, first cut training to save. Unfortunately, the consequence is to inflict health-harming mistreatment on the public sector workforce,” says WBI.
Workplace bullying targets don’t always fit this mold
Workplace bullying targets aren’t only educated, non-political, altruistic women in their 40s. Respondents came from various walks of life: men, white collar workers, blue collar workers, non-educated, supervisors, and managers. The only common trait among targets is that their competence poses a threat to insecure perpetrators.