6 Reasons Why People Are Bullied at Work

Understanding how workplace bullies pick their targets

Businessman leaning on desk talking to coworker
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If you have experienced workplace bullying, you may be asking yourself “why me?” And you are not alone. An estimated 54 million Americans have been bullied at some point in their career. Below are some of the common reasons why people are targeted by workplace bullies.

Targets are skilled workers. Many times, people are bullied at work because they receive a lot of positive attention for their work.

Maybe you are intelligent, determined, creative and regularly contribute new and innovative ideas. Or maybe you go the extra mile and gain recognition for your hard work. Maybe you even move through projects more quickly than others and meet deadlines while others are struggling. All these things attract the attention of workplace bullies. As a result, they target you because they either feel inferior or they worry that their own work is being overshadowed by your work and abilities. Bully bosses, in particular, will target skilled workers and either steal the credit or undermine the target's work.

Targets are well liked or popular. It is a myth that all victims of bullying are loners and outcasts with no friends or social connections. Often, it is the popular and well-liked workers that are most vulnerable to workplace bullying. If this describes you, bullies believe you pose a threat to their own popularity and social status at work.

Office mean girls in particular are likely to target another woman who threatens their status or social standing.

Targets are good people. Often, victims of workplace bullying are the most caring, social and collaborative on the team. To a workplace bully, these characteristics drain the power they have at work.

Teambuilding is the antithesis of what a bully wants. Bullies want to be in control and to call all the shots. Targets of workplace bullying also may be extremely ethical and honest. For instance, whistleblowers that expose fraudulent practices are frequently bullied by others at work to keep quiet.

Targets are non-confrontational or vulnerable. Employees who are introverted, anxious or submissive are more likely to be bullied at work than those who are extroverted and assertive. In fact, research has shown that if adults work to build their self-esteem and assertiveness skills, they might diminish the likelihood that they will be targeted by workplace bullies. There’s also some evidence that depression and other stress-related conditions might attract the attention of bullies. If you are suffering from any of these conditions, it is important to be treated. Talk to your health care provider about your symptoms. Depression, anxiety and stress-related conditions should never be left untreated.

Targets are viewed stereotypically or prejudicially. In other words, you may be targeted because of your gender, your age, your race, your sexual preference or your religion. You also may be bullied because if you have a disability or a disease. Whatever the reason, workplace bullies single out and target people who are different from them in some way. They also tend to discriminate in some way.

Targets have physical features that attract attention. Unfortunately, adults often bully others for the same reasons kids target others in elementary school. Whether you are short or tall, fat or thin, have a large chest or no chest at all, workplace bullies will find a way to exploit your appearance. In fact, almost any type of physical characteristic that is different or unique can attract the attention of bullies. This includes wearing glasses, having a large nose, having ears that protrude and even having adult acne.

If you are experiencing bullying at work, be sure you take steps to report the bullying. You also should do what you can to confront the bully. It is never a good idea to let workplace bullying continue without addressing it in some way. Even if you do nothing at all to report the bullying, at least take steps to take care of yourself.   

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