A Guide to Dysfunctional Management and the Evil Workplace
May 23rd, 2014 by William

The Working Dead

In this blog and in my book, Puttin’ Cologne on the Rickshaw, I’ve talked many times about workplace bullying. That’s because bullying is an epidemic no matter how you cut it. According to a 2014 Workplace Bullying Institute survey, 68% of employers deny, discount, rationalize, defend or encourage bullying. I personally find the stat deplorable, yet it’s not a surprise as it’s confirmed by my own experience. The above statistic covers all forms of bullying and many of the common forms of bullying tactics you’ve undoubtedly heard of before like: shouting, intimidation, insulting−and there are many others. Those types of bullying behaviors are easy to witness and document, but there are other forms of bullying that are much more subtle. One of those subtle methods is simply ostracism. Ostracism is an insidious, silent and pervasive form of workplace bullying that can cause immediate and long-term psychological injury to the recipient.

Ostracism is a simple form of punishment however, it’s more a case of social control that bullies use to undermine the victim’s core need for a sense of belonging as well as self-esteem. When people are ostracized, it affects their perceptions, physiological condition, attitudes and their behavior. The morale of the excluded employee plummets as they perceive a lack of respect for their position, their knowledge or their contributions. They become members of a small group of people called the “working dead.”

Ostracism is a gradual “wearing down” process in which the targeted employee begins to see their place on the organizational team as valueless and only a matter of time before they see themselves on the chopping block. To make matters worse, the ostracized employee will typically disengage as a functioning team member, isolate themselves and become distrustful toward their supervisor and coworkers.

In simple terms, this type of bullying occurs when an individual is purposefully ignored by coworkers or supervisors. These individuals may be excluded from conversations or social activities, denied information necessary for their job performance, left off email distribution lists, shunned by colleagues during meetings or not even notified of meetings in which they can clearly make a contribution. In some instances, an individual may be physically removed from an active or comfortable work location and relocated to an area that is hostile, indifferent or of low visibility, e.g., moved from an office to a cubicle. Remember, if you’re not invited to the table then you’re probably on the menu.

Unlike verbal or written insults or threatening physical gestures, ostracism is mostly invisible because the victim has little to no hard evidence to document unfairness or harassment. Complaints to human resources about their treatment often lead to the employee being typecast as a “drama queen,” which further serves to brand the victim as “the problem,” instead of a victim. If the victim actually takes the bull by the horns and confronts the bully, the bully, who is usually adept at making it appear as if the victim is the cause of their treatment, will only tighten the screws more as they now have confirmation that their strategy to get rid of this employee is working.

The victim of ostracism is really in a no win situation. Legitimate complaints are viewed with suspicion and do nothing but make matters worse. It’s really a Catch-22 situation.

If being ostracized by one’s colleagues isn’t bad enough, if the ostracism involves the employee’s supervisor, then the situation is worsened. The entire situation takes on a domino effect, where the ostracized employee disengages and the perpetrators turn up the heat because they know they are making an impact.

If the ostracism continues, it becomes a self-fulfilling prophecy, in which the isolated individual becomes a low functioning, low valued employee, who may then legitimately be dismissed. What’s alarming is that many times this is exactly the strategy used by management teams to set an unwanted employee up so that they can be given a “bad” performance review thus setting the stage for their dismissal.

If you’ve ever been the target of ostracism what I describe above will be all too familiar. Ostracized individuals can be found in most, if not all, sociopathic organizations and usually in an alarming number. Like all people who are the target of bullying they seek support from others in the organization who are the target of bullying and ostracism. It’s the old saying: “Misery loves company.”

These victims actually form an informal clique allowing them to commiserate with one another. This is the group of people in the organization who are considered to be inferior or lower in social status, or have fallen out of grace with the sociopaths or sycophants. These are the people who populate the next lay-off list. They go through the daily motions of doing their jobs but other than that are virtually of no use to the organization−they are the working dead−the organizational losers.

The members of this clique of working dead can come from all layers of the organization from senior management to the factory floor. These are the poor souls who feel contempt or disapproval for the sociopathic regime in power most often because they have been the target of the sociopath’s bullying wrath. As such they are targeted for exclusion by the sociopaths and sycophants. Therefore, as you can imagine, they must meet secretively. Their meetings are in secret because the members have to constantly protect themselves from exposure, because if the sociopaths got wind of the group’s existence there would be hell to pay. Sociopaths do not tolerate anyone conspiring behind their backs.

As I noted the group’s sole reason for existence is to form a support group for those suffering the effects of ostracism and bullying in general. One might call their meetings bitch sessions; however, they do serve a purpose in helping the members survive their captivity. Think of their meetings more as group therapy sessions for the down-trodden in which they get to commiserate their situations at the hands of the sociopaths and bullies.

If you don’t believe they exist in your organization, look around you. You’ll see this clique meeting at company social events or in clandestine groups in the workplace. That group of people you catch standing in the corner and whispering to each other is a dead giveaway. The closed door sessions of just two or three people in which only muffled mumbling can be overheard is another sign that there’s a clique of the ostracized. If you’re living in an organization steeped in sociopathy and sycophancy, you’ll probably know who the people are because they have targets on their backs. These are the poor souls you can see being openly ridiculed by the sociopaths even in public venues.

Ostracism is often the strategy chosen by management for two reasons. First, it is powerful, and second, you can get away with it. It’s pretty hard to make a case for bullying because someone ignores you. Also, even if you were to confront that person about their behavior, they will deny it.

According the Workplace Bullying Institute, targets are chosen for ostracism by bullies, more often than not, because they are conscientious workers, ethical and stand their ground. In other words the more competent you are, and the better you do your job, the more likely it is that you’ll eventually fall prey to this type treatment. Why? Because when compared to hard working employees bullies worry that their own level of incompetency will be exposed. You become a threat. Thus it is usually the most talented, able and hard-working employees that become the target of workplace bullying.

So when you fall from grace in the eyes of the sociopathic elite, as you surely will, look up the local loser-clique in your organization and join. They may even recruit you once word gets around that you’re not the apple of the sociopath’s eye any longer. If nothing else, you can all connect on LinkedIn and serve as references for each other.

So if you find yourself in a situation like this my advice is to find another job quickly−it’s virtually impossible to redeem yourself once cast into the clique of the working dead. All roads lead in that direction, so you might as well take the shortest route.


2 Responses to “The Working Dead”
  1. Jorge Z says


    Your article is dead on! I have personally witnessed these bullying tactics at several of the companies that I have worked for. I have seen it happen to senior staff members, middle management and individual contributors! The sad part is watching the poor victims of the abuse reach a point of saturation only to make a decision to remain with the company hoping that things will get better! Of course that will only lead them to become part of “The Working Dead” and most likely the next lay off list!

    When it has happened to me personally, my permanent corrective action has been to simply find a better job!

    Great writing! Dead on!


  2. Tuneven says

    Bad employees drive good employees out. 1) A bad employee will veto a good employee getting hired. 2) Bad employees will bad-mouth good emlypoees getting them fired. 3) Bad employees will sabotage a project that would otherwise work. 4) Bad employees depress good employees as bad employees get paid more for less work. As such the good employees resign in disgust. In one company I worked for I worked 10 to 15 hours more a week than all the other people in the office. Because I was a recent graduate and the job I had just before paid a low salary (for which my current salary was based upon), I got paid far less. It was not a sustainable situation. Plus whenever I asked for a vacation, I got turned down. No money and no time off makes Jack itchy.

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