Performance Pointer

From the Penumbra Group - Your Complete Resource for Training and Development Solutions

June 2007
In This Issue - The Corrosive and Contagious Effect of The Victim Mentality in The Workplace
The "Victim"
The Virus
Spotting The Victim Virus
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Winston Churchill once said, "Responsibility is the price of greatness".  As much as we preach about leadership accountability in setting employees up to achieve greatness, the other side of that two way street is making sure you have employees who are willing to take ownership and get what they need to succeed, regardless of whether it may be difficult, time intensive, or unpopular. 
Last month we discussed the importance of leaders sharing the responsibility for their employee's performance.  This month, we're going to shift our focus to the individual and examine a crippling condition affecting organizations of all shapes and sizes - The Victim Virus. 
The "Victim"
You know the type - the "no-one-ever-explained-it-to me", "nothing-will-ever-change", "I-prefer-a-pity-party-to-problem-solving", "the-environment-made-me-do-it" kind of person.  
They are masters at the blame game - dodge, deflect, defend, repeat.  From an Emotional Intelligence standpoint, a victim attitude is often a symptom of low self-awareness, optimism, influence, and self-control. This mentality is most commonly Officeassociated with the habit of blaming everyone or everything else for what happens in their life.  This is the self-fulfilling prophecy that says "I am the victim of this situation and am powerless to change it". This is the quarterback hiding on the bleachers.

The truth is, there are very few situations where we are actually victims, where we are stripped of the power of choice.  More often we choose to perceive ourselves as powerless because it's easy to feel that people around us control our destiny. Instead of communicating about issues and standing up for our needs with supervisors, coworkers, or clients we back down, say nothing and surrender to the sense that we really can't make a difference.  The "it is what it is", "I am what I am", "they are what they are" cop-out. 


Victim-hood is the opposite of identity theft.  It is identity abdication - a life subtly given away, passed off as someone else's responsibility to decide who we are, what we stand for, and the choices we make. 

The Virus

So how is the workplace affected by this attitude?  We have chosen the term "Virus" for a reason; victims spread their attitudes like germs and they attract Officeeach other and multiply in much the same way.


Teams where this virus is present often remain stagnant, lack creativity, have difficulty working together, and waste time rehashing the problem. 


Consider how corrosive the Victim Virus is in teams and organizations from the perspective of authors Connors, Smith, and Hickman who examined the effect of victim attitudes in hundreds of organizations over two decades.


Documented in their book, The Oz Principle, they describe this destructive force by concluding that "if left uncorrected in an organization, victim attitudes can erode productivity, competitiveness, morale, and trust to the point that correction becomes so difficult and expensive that the organization can never fully heal itself or its people". 

Spotting The Victim Virus 

All of us possess a victim tendency to some degree or another.  The way to recognize it happening is through increased self-awareness. It is often subtle and others' behavior seem to justify our desire to blame them. Or perhaps we have had a hand in creating these "victims" by silently condoning the signs and symptoms.  Before looking for it in others, first ask yourself:


  • What was my role in this?
  • Did I set clear expectations for others and clearly communicate my desired outcome?
  • Could I have used my influence skills more instead of feeling caught in a power struggle?
  • How much time have I spent stewing over the issue instead of on ways to solve it?
  • Do I complain more than confront?
  • Do I rehearse and rationalize my reasons to myself to prove to others that it wasn't my fault?
  • Was there anything more I could have done to ensure the successful outcome of this situation?
  • Is addressing this mentality overlooked in our performance review/management process?
  • Have I created an environment where this type of attitude is tolerated?


How do you spot an active carrier of The Victim Virus on your team?  Answer these questions:


  • Do they demonstrate a habit of ignoring or pretending not to know about their accountability?
  • Do they deny their responsibility and blame others for their predicament?
  • Do they cite confusion as a reason for inaction?
  • Do they wait for others to tell them what to do?
  • Do they claim they can't do what is necessary to solve the problem?
  • Do they wait to see if the situation will miraculously resolve itself?

The Victim Virus is an employee engagement killer. Employees who take ownership and accountability will not tolerate an environment where victim-hood is tolerated.  The ones who are actually willing to step up will step out instead.


Consequently, one of the most urgent and profitable leadership imperatives today is to find and eradicate The Victim Virus in every corner of the organization.  Make it start with you.  Start today.

In our next Performance Pointer, we'll look at once you identify these "victims", how you can help them rise and walk on their own two feet again - or at least cover the distance to the door. 

All the best,

Jennifer Shirkani & Faith Csikesz
Penumbra Group Inc.