The rise of the workplace victim and how to deal with them

At times we all carry the victim persona. When our emotional and or psychological needs are not met, victimhood takes a seat. It’s healthy to play the victim role occasionally. However, the perpetual victim should be our concern.

It’s the other virulent workplace behaviour. It doesn’t follow suit with the more well-versed toxic practices, so we dance around it with delicate anxiety. Yet, the behaviour is equally pernicious. Like its colleagues, the ‘bully’ and ‘narcissist’, the actions of the perpetual victim can destroy a company’s culture.

The victim at play

Not to be confused with those genuinely victimised. The workplace victim is a player, adopting an identity of ‘harm’. They might construe a similar approach to the traits of the bully and narcissist, just not as overt. The Jungian theory says the collective unconscious is the realm of archetypes, serving as a frame of reference to view the world. Under the archetype of survivor, sits the victim.

The behaviours

They play the helpless role and are generous with excuses. Everything negative is due to external conditions. In life, they might call it fate; at work, it manifests as blame. Responsibility is not their strong suit. Instead, preferring to be rescued, others inevitably step in and up.

They have learnt to ‘survive’ or get by through distractions. These will appear as ongoing issues and serious enough to draw attention away from what is being asked of them.

You may have noticed the work environment adjusting, taking on the dropped tasks and responsibilities. Versatile at enlisting help and garnishing support, it is a magical morph. Handing over their power with passivity and six months later, you question whose job it was in the first place.

That’s their skill. Often referred to as secondary gain, i.e., the feeling of liberation by not accepting responsibility or receiving attention due to ‘misfortune’ or creating a sense of guilt.

Who pulls the strings?

In a bizarre twist, unburdening themselves of their own power, they hijack ours. Their inability to deliver on responsibilities, drama, confusion, and constant need for attention renders even the best performers helpless. The lack of progress and increased workloads on others eventually will take its toll. Expect morale to dip and productivity to fall.

It is hard to hold someone accountable when they are laden with issues. The fear of being perceived as ‘not understanding’, or worse, the bully, is the heir apparent. The continuous redirection of communication and deflection, back to the main issue, is exhausting. That is the intention and a learnt survival behaviour.

Dealing with your perpetual victim

  • A culture of personal growth encourages development, alongside transparency and feedback.
  • A psychologically safe environment to discuss performance and expectations.
  • Work to strengths, set reachable goals and acknowledge achievements.
  • Set boundaries. Be clear about performance, deliverables, and behaviours.
  • Keep goal focused. This may require closer management to keep on track.
  • Document what is agreed for tasks and timelines.
  • The desire to help is inherent in most of us. However, it often serves as an enabler without confronting the larger issue.

How did we get here?

The myth about ‘the self’. We can only hold ourselves and society accountable. As we encourage individuality more in our current times, we shouldn’t be surprised. The world has shifted far away from the cocooned safety of the family and group unit. Despite increased modes to connect, we have become more isolated and focused on ourselves. Self-centredness is at the heart of the perpetual victim and, dare I say, is leaving its legacy with all of us.

We are quick to label toxic workplace behaviours. As victimhood enters the foray, let’s be careful not to tarr and tag too soon. After all, that is the worldview from our own archetype. What might be our unconscious contribution to limiting workplace behaviours?