Life can be a little unfair to us at times. It happens to everyone. However, for people who play the victim card almost all the time, life seems perpetually unfair.
You must have seen people indulge in small workplace banters once in a while – you’d have done it yourself too. But, if you can spot a co-worker who speaks about ‘being wronged all the time’ or ‘being underpaid’ or ‘assigned the most difficult task’, while at the same time being critical of the achievements of others – watch out, you may be dealing with a victim player.
Allow me to explain the situation better. Have you noticed a co-worker blaming others for a missed deadline or glitches in a project? Have you seen someone cutting corners when it comes to delivering, but always crying foul at the time of recognition? Well, these are clear hints suggesting that someone out there is playing the victim card repeatedly.
A corporate world closely reflects a real world – the society we live in.
Like there are ‘sympathy gainers’ we find in families, in the neighborhood; there are people who play victims at the workplace too, and turn the environment toxic. They use this as a powerful weapon to get things going in their favor. And, this can at times be harmful to others.
For clarity on this issue, let us take an example.
Alia is an independent woman, working as a digital marketer in a multinational company. She cuts corners often when it comes to work and puts the blame on others in her team for anything that goes wrong. Though she is capable of doing better, she hardly makes an effort to walk that ‘extra’ mile. At the time of appraisals, a male co-worker gets a better hike than her, which irks Alia to no bound. She goes and complains about this to her senior. When she realizes that no action is taken, she approaches the management straight away and cites her gender as the reason behind her meager pay hike.
In this case, Alia is pulling the victim card. Neither the management nor the HR function in her company had an issue with her being a female. The pay hike was decided after reviewing the performance for the entire year.
In another case, Alan is a 24-year-old guy working as sales manager in a reputed firm. He is smart and witty, and popular in his group. One day at the supermarket, he meets two senior co-workers, one of whom lived close to the vicinity. They offer to take him home for a drink. Not doubting their intentions, Alan agrees to come over.
At the co-worker’s apartment, Alan is assaulted.
The next day, he approaches the management in his office to take action against the two senior co-workers. To his dismay, no one believes him as it is a common notion that only females are (can be) assaulted and not males. Eve teasing and harassment are malice associated mostly with women. Though Alan is a victim, he finds it hard to convince people into believing him.
So, there’s indeed a thin line between people who play the victim card and people who are a victim themselves. So, as you can see, this isn’t based on gender or social/financial background. Rather, people who resort to this tactic can be anybody with a manipulative mindset who seeks attention by creating a mountain out of a molehill. It’s seen that victim players are arrogant and narcissists who don’t value relationships and seldom have friends. Victim playing becomes a technique for them to manage life by remaining safe and by staying away from shouldering responsibilities.
There are many reasons for this including psychological. At times, a person who may have experienced wrong-doing or mistreatment at the workplace tends to relive the experiences, mostly out of his own will, times and again. And, in doing so, he may start to look at himself as the victim and the rest as the perpetrators. To put across the point, he may manipulate things and blame others for all the ‘lost opportunities’ that he feels he is entitled to.
Every coin has two sides; likewise there can be a real victim and someone who’s just playing the card. The management should properly investigate any matter that is raised to them and ensure that help is offered to the real victim, and also that no innocent is punished on the basis of a scheming person’s testimony. Before passing the verdict, analyze their relationships with their co-workers both present and past.
Once the real victim is identified, extend all possible support to address the issue. However, if you have identified that the person’s been faking all along, remember, he needs help too. This behavior could stem from past experiences where the person may have been wronged or mistreated. Help him to see that such tactics don’t always work, and in fact add toxicity to the overall environment. You could try to get him out of this mentality and discourage him from repeating it in the future. Engaging such people in work and assimilating them in the group can work wonders.
It’s important to watch out for the warning signs. People who resort to playing the victim card often display these signs consistently.
As an HR professional or a key member of the management, you are responsible also for maintaining a positive environment at your workplace. Create employee engagement points where the employees feel empowered and very much a part of the team. When it comes to curbing negativity, precaution is better than cure. So, watch out before the menace gets out of hands.