How Victims Are Targeted

Monika was just out of school when she began working as a clerical trainee in the legal profession. Monika looked forward to a smooth transition into working life.

Horst was a medical doctor in his mid-30’s. He had a wife and children, and all indications were that he would attain recognition and a high income.

Both Monika and Horst became victims of harassment.

THE cases of Monika and Horst teach us a valuable lesson: Victims of mobbing do not fit a predictable profile. Indeed, anyone in any occupation is a potential target for harassment. How, then, can you protect yourself? Part of the answer lies in learning how to pursue peace in the workplace, even with difficult coworkers.

 Fitting In at Work

For many, having a job requires fitting in with a team of coworkers and helping that team to function smoothly as a unit. If colleagues get along well with one another, the work benefits. If they do not, the work suffers and the risk of harassment increases.

What can interfere with the smooth running of a team of workers? For one thing, there may be frequent changes in personnel. In such a situation, bonds are difficult to form. In addition, new colleagues are unfamiliar with the routine, which slows down the performance of all. If the work load is growing, the group is likely to be under constant stress.

Moreover, if a team lacks clear goals, there will be little sense of unity. This may be the case, for instance, when an insecure boss spends more time in defending his position than in leading. He might even try to keep the upper hand by pitting colleagues against one another. To make matters worse, the structure of the group may be so loosely defined that certain colleagues do not understand where their responsibility begins and where it ends. For example, conflicts may arise when two employees both think that they have the responsibility of countersigning invoices.

In such a situation, communication becomes strained and hurt feelings are often left unattended. Envy poisons the working atmosphere, and colleagues compete with one another to be in good standing with the boss. Minor misunderstandings are viewed as major insults. In effect, molehills become mountains. The groundwork has been laid for harassment.

The Making of a Scapegoat

Over a period of time, one employee might be singled out as a scapegoat. What sort of person is likely to be treated that way? Probably someone who stands out as different. For example, it could be the only male in a female environment or a female working in a male domain. A confident person might be seen as the pushy sort, while a reserved individual might be perceived as shifty. The potential victim may also be different in the sense that he or she is older or younger than the rest or even better qualified for the job.

Whoever the scapegoat might be, the colleagues “become nasty and brazen toward their chosen victim and thereby sense a feeling of relief from their own personal stress,” reports the German medical journal mta. Attempts by the scapegoat to remedy the situation achieve little success and might even make matters worse. As the intimidation becomes more frequent and systematic, the scapegoat becomes more isolated. At this point, the victim of harassment is likely unable to cope with the situation alone.

Of course, the workplace has always held a potential for mistreatment. But many can remember a time when there seemed to be more goodwill among colleagues. Organized harassment rarely developed. But over the years there has been what one doctor described as “a generally diminishing spirit of solidarity and a broad erosion in the sense of personal shame.” People now have fewer scruples about engaging in open combat at work.

Thus, all who are employed are rightly concerned with the answers to the questions: Can harassment be prevented? How can peace be pursued in the workplace?

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The goal of harassment is to make its victim an outcast