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6 Reasons Why Workplace Bullies Target People

Understanding why people are bullied at work


Updated June 04, 2014

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 characteristics of people who 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. Perhaps you are intelligent, determined and creative and regularly contribute new and innovative ideas. Or maybe you regularly go the extra mile and gain recognition for your hard work. Or maybe you move through projects more quickly than other workers and always meet deadlines while others are struggling. All these things attract the attention of workplace bullies. As a result, they will target skilled workers because they either feel inferior or they worry that their own work is being overshadowed by the target’s 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 frequently targeted by workplace bullies. Bullies believe these workers 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 the ones in control and the ones calling 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. These conditions should never be left untreated.

Targets are viewed stereotypically or prejudicially. In other words, workers can be targeted for their gender, their age, their race, their sexual preference and their religion. They also may be bullied because they 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 be discriminatory 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.   

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