The Tale of Kitty Clark: And Some Brand Spankin’ New Research

workplace victimization

$3 billion to $35.4 billion. Keep that number in the back of your mind. We’ll get there in a minute. For now, I want you to use your mind’s eye to imagine the following:

Long straggly, dirty blond hair, gum chewing, ripped bell bottom jeans, flannel shirts, usually bare footed, trash-talking 8th grader. Even the teachers feared her. She never went to her classes. She was always roaming the halls looking for trouble. A smoker at the age of 11 or 12.

Getting a picture?

That’s how my mom described her.

Her name was Kitty Clark. And she was bad news with a bad attitude.

On at least one occasion, Kitty threatened to “roll her down the hall.” Yikes.  I’m forced to assume rolling someone down the hall is the 1973 equivalent of opening a can of whoop@$$ on someone. You don’t want to be rolled down that hall.

I can just imagine a string-bean 12-year-old version of my mother desperately attempting to diffuse the situation: “This is all just a big misunderstanding, Kitty! Really!” Poor thing.

Kitty was a bully. No doubt about it. So why am I recounting the tale of Kitty Clark on a talent/HR blog? Because bullying happens at work (it’s called workplace victimization), and there’s some new research on the topic that’s worth you at least reading the rest of this post. I’ll prove it—before you assume you’ve got 99 problems and a workplace bully ain’t 1…

Think back to that hefty dollar amount:

$3 billion to $35.4 billion.

That’s International Labour Organisation’s (ILO)  estimate for the annual cost for workplace victimization worldwide. $3 billion to $35.4 billion every single year. It’s not like we had other great uses for that cash anyways… WRONG.

Here are the key take-aways from the research:

1. High performers are more likely to experience workplace victimization. Which means if you don’t have your ear to the ground and/or you don’t do anything about workplace victimization, retaining that top talent could be more challenging/costly.

2. No one (except the boss) likes a rate buster. This pattern of victimizing of top performers seems to be related to social comparison. When there is a high degree of social comparison in the team/company, high performers are more likely to be targeted.

3. All is not lost. There are suggestions for what the victimized employee and that employee’s manager can do to minimize the risk/snuff it out:

a. Employee: Avoid the spotlight. Downplay accomplishments. Be humble around your coworkers.

b. Managers: Focus on the importance of the team as a whole. If you have an employee that’s being targeted, scale back competition within your team and ramp up your social gatherings and focus on team building.

Enough nerd stuff. I want to know more about this Kitty character. What ever happened to her? I hope the fear mongering was just a phase.  Maybe she was just having a rough go of it. Maybe things turned around for her.

Who am I kidding… she’s probably a ruthless HR pro and avid FOT reader!

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Chelsea Rowe
Chelsea Rowe is the Leadership Development Specialist at Kinetix, where she is charged with creating a disruptive leadership development program that turns heads. She combines the science with practical hard-knocks lessons to turn managers from cat herders to kick-ass people leaders. Connect with her on LinkedIn to start a conversation or check out her blog at www.chelsea-rowe.com.

2 Comments

  1. kd says:

    I’d be interested to know more about the conditions (company size, country, etc.) that this type of bullying occurs in. In my experience in the US, someone who is clearly a top performer will no doubt experience some back biting from the crowd, but it usually stops well short of bullying due to the fact that most folks understand the percpetion of the pecking order.

    Would also be interested to know the profile of the type of manager who let’s it happen.

    KD

    Reply

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