Stand Up Against Bullying: A blog to help stop workplace bullying
Mental Health Professionals Targets Leadership

The Making of Wounded Workers

a person in a hard hat covering their face with their hand
Original Post Published on October 4, 2016; Edited and Republished on September 7, 2020

There are enormous consequences for organizations when they fail to intervene and stop workplace bullying. This lack of intervention has the greatest impact on targets of bullying. Targets are at continued risk for physical and/or emotional trauma, both personally and professionally, as long as they work in an abusive culture where persistent workplace aggression continues. Some of these workers become a wounded worker.

Wounded workers are targets of workplace bullying who have been victims for long periods of time. They are workers who may be suffering from post-traumatic stress disorder and yet are still working in the place that harmed them and where their complaints of workplace bullying have been repeatedly disregarded. They most likely sought out reconciliation on more than one occasion, hoping the organization would take serious action. However, their attempts at intervention have been unsuccessful and actually increased their victimization. The aggression and retaliation intensified, and the quality of their work environment decreased. Thus, increasing their trauma from persistent workplace aggression. The wounded worker is disempowered, feels hopeless, and is often at a loss of what to do to improve their workplace.

Over time, the wounded worker begins to blur the line between victim and aggressor. As a way to survive at work, the wounded worker starts to strike back by participating in bullying and aggressive behavior. They begin to seek their own form of justice even while they continue to experience workplace abuse. The wounded worker partakes in their aggression aimed bystanders or other victims at their job. They justify this behavior under the auspice of trying to stop the bullying and to improve the environment.

The wounded worker uses other professionals as pawns to promote their own agenda. They begin to use bullying more frequently because they see it is empowering and they see the fear that it is creating in others. This is a critical point for the target because they are at extreme risk from transforming into a workplace aggressor. Their disempowerment has left them no other option than to find empowerment through the mistreatment of others.

As the wounded worker uses workplace bullying more frequently, the organization begins to reward them, just like they rewarded other bullies. Finally, the wounded worker is no longer disenfranchised and abused. But rather, they have finally found their means of liberation and power.  Having gone from being the target to the bully, they have come full circle and the cycle of bullying continues. The lack of intervention by the organization has created another bully and another victim has emerged. The culture of bullying is preserved.

It is so important for organizations to intervene immediately and effectively to preserve and protect all of their workers. If they do not, there will only be more bullies.  There will be wounded workers and workplace bullying will be sustained.