Rx for Workplace Victims

Recently, I read an online Bloomberg/Businessweek article entitled, “Three Types of People to Fire Immediately” by G. Michael Maddock and Raphael Louis Vitón.   The tagline was, “Want a more innovative company? Get rid of these folks. Today.”  It also quoted an unnamed but successful CEO: I wanted a happy culture. So I fired all the unhappy people.”

The three types of employees discussed were the victims, the nonbelievers, and the know-it-alls.

The article was a bit of a fantasy, as anyone in HR or employment law knows, since it’s not that easy to fire people. However, it got me thinking about one category: the victims (which the article did say to handle with care because they tend to sue). They are legion and they can thoroughly poison a workplace. As the article defined them: “Victims are people who see problems as occasions for persecution rather than challenges to overcome.”

So what’s an employer (or coworker) to do about the victims among us? First, it helps to identify them as such. Two caveats, however: (1) you want to make sure that they are not in fact a victim of discrimination, harassment or other illegal workplace behavior; and (2) you don’t want to get into any psychological issues the person may have: this is inappropriate and opens employers up to disability discrimination claims.

Once the employee is identified as being a “victim,” the next step is to try to refocus their thinking. Victims’ lives revolve around problems: identifying them, being upset and anxious about them, and attempting to resolve them. This is a deadly and unhappy cycle because even if one problem is solved, another one won’t be far behind.

Your job as supervisor or coworker is to try to get the victim to develop a larger work-related intention, goal, or desired outcome that energizes them. Maybe it’s learning a new skill or reorganizing a process; maybe it’s something larger and more personal; maybe it’s multiple goals.  The idea is it’s something proactive, not reactive.

The next step is to get the employee to figure out how to approach that goal and to focus on reaching it, through baby steps if necessary. Problems will still arise, of course, but if the employee can focus on being a creator who is moving, however slowly, in a positive direction, that is a far different mindset than that of the victim.

A more detailed version of this shift from victim to creator, as well as a discussion of the Dreaded Drama Triangle (Victim, Persecutor, Rescuer) can be found in David Emerald’s book, “The Power of TED*.”  TED stands for “The Empowerment Dynamic,” and while the book was not my cup of tea as a read, it has many valuable insights and practical applications. David is a local guy so if you’re interested, you can attend his workshops or hear him speak.

What other approaches have you taken to employees stuck in the victim mode? ~Amy Stephson

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