When the Going Gets Tough, the Weak Get Bullied

Tension in the office? Talk of layoffs? Merger? Hostile takeover? Well, it’s rough for everyone, but when things at work heat up, supervisors tend to take it out on submissive employees without many friends.

This comes via a study published in the Journal of Occupational and Organizational Psychology. Researchers gathered data from twelve large and medium-sized corporations, four of which had gone through downsizing in the past two years. Using surveys, researchers found that employees with low core self-evaluation (people who attribute life events to forces outside their control, are highly neurotic, not self-efficient, or lack self esteem—read more here) tend to get picked on. People without many friends in the office—or allies—also became targets.

The study’s author, Pedro Neves, considers this behaviour an example of “kicking the dog”—that is, venting one’s frustrations at something other than the source. Neves argues that managers are kicking the dog by picking on submissive underlings. That said, the data also shows that such people tend to do perform their jobs more poorly, which Neves also considers an example of kicking the dog—in this case, bullied staff retaliate by doing a poor job.

Obviously, things might be better all around if managers didn’t terrorize employees—but, it might be more practical to take things in one’s own hands. If this is you, speak to a mental health professional and start picking up some coping skills. After all, if they won’t quit picking on the weak—and they won’t—the solution is to stop being weak.

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