There has been a surge of interest in research on employee victimization in the last few years, both because the phenomenon is on the rise and because of the negative effects it has on both a personal and organizational level. Employee victimization has many causes and takes many forms, including aggressive incivility, bullying, and general mistreatment. Although previous studies investigated the situational and personal factors that precipitate victimization, little research has been focused on the behaviors that may lead to someone getting targeted.
THE VICTIMIZATION OF HIGH AND LOW PERFORMERS
The current research looked at the extent to which high and low performers may experience victimization because of their performance. Attention was paid to the factors that influence different performance levels, which in turn leads co-workers to punish the victims in different ways. The researchers also examined whether this victimization would affected later performance, and in what way. Their findings showed that those people that were on either end of the performance spectrum outside norms for their group were more likely to be victimized. When employees perform well, they may be perceived as a threat and make others look bad, and so they’re mistreated. But when employees under-performs and fail to contribute to overall group performance, they too will likely be victimized.
DIFFERENCES IN EMPLOYEE VICTIMIZATION TACTICS
The research also highlighted the different forms that employee victimization may take. With low performers, the treatment they get will be more overt “in-your-face” aggression, such as being yelled at or sworn at. This may be because of co-workers feeling resentment against freeloaders, and their frustration at the effect their colleague’s lack of contribution has on overall team performance.
High achievers are more likely to experience covert and subversive forms of victimization, such as being ignored, resources being withheld, and co-worker sabotage. This may be because of feelings of envy or inferiority, as well as the fact that high performers may highlight other member’s shortcomings. Another important factor was the victim’s feelings of entitlement or benevolence. With low performers this had little effect, but when high performers had a sense of entitlement – such as disregarding others and being self-serving in goal attainment – more overt forms of aggression were more prevalent. Those high performers who were more team-oriented and benevolent in their actions didn’t experience these blatant forms of aggression.
THE BIG TAKEAWAY
These initial results aren’t necessarily a reason to accept average performance in the workplace. But they are particularly useful in being able to better predict victimization, which may help improve risk assessments and targeted prevention strategies. Despite their limitations, these findings also highlight the need to look at how performance appraisals and incentives are given as well as how high and low performers may be dealt with to reduce victimization. Employee victimization has the potential to seriously affect teamwork cooperation and productivity, and is therefore a critical issue to address at the organizational level.