The Workplace Runt

Have you taken an assessment of your workplace culture, and noticed there is someone on the team who seems to be, for lack of a better word, the “runt of the litter”? You know what a runt is, right? In a litter of animals the runt is the one with a disadvantage because of its rank and stature among the litter; it’s weaker than others, and perhaps less likely to defend itself and survive. The workplace has “runts” as well. What I mean is the one employee everyone seems to single out, demean or gossip about during lunch or the break room. “Runts” are not bad people, they are just misunderstood. How serious is this problem in the workplace? Well, the Online article How Serious a Problem is Workplace Bullying?, notes:

Research indicates workplace bullying often involves an abuse or misuse of power that can include behavior that intimidates, degrades, offends or humiliates a worker, often in front of others. More often than not, bullying behavior at work creates feelings of defenselessness and undermines an individual’s right to dignity at work. It has been found that many bullying situations involve employees bullying their peers, rather than a supervisor bullying an employee.”

The Department of Labor and Industries provides examples of workplace bullying:

  • Unwarranted or invalid criticism.

  • Blame without factual justification.

  • Being treated differently than the rest of your work group.

  • Being sworn at.

  • Exclusion or social isolation.

  • Being shouted at or being humiliated.

  • Being the target of practical jokes.

  • Excessive monitoring.

So why do some employees do this to others? I have three thoughts about this matter:

1. Having a “runt” employee makes us feel better about ourselves

We feel better about ourselves when there is someone else we can demean or pick on at work. Personal insecurity breeds a level of disrespect in the workplace. Have you ever worked with someone where the problem lies with everyone else instead of one’s own performance? Of course you have. It’s easier to point the finger than see our own reflection in the mirror.

2. Having a “runt” employee deflects our personal flaws onto someone else

We all have flaws of some kind; the list varies from person to person. However, having a runt employee deflects all of our own personal flaws onto someone else, and of course, we are blind to our own. It’s easier to deflect than to own up to the obvious.

3. Having a “runt” employee makes us feel more secure about our jobs

When there is someone else to blame about the team’s performance and production, a person or group can feel more secure about their job(s). Why not? It’s always someone else who is not producing to organizational standards, right? Pointing the finger or shifting blame is easy and common in the workplace.

So what do you do when someone attempts to pull you into their game of demeaning others. The best way is to stop the person and take the lead in the conversation by saying sometime like, “Let’s go talk to ‘Bob’ together and see if we can work this out.” Most of the time the person doing the gossiping will stop. Don’t buy into their game. Rather build a culture of respect and dignity.

Have you been the object of someone else’s wrath in the workplace? How did you feel? Have you seen this scenario play out in the workplace?

1. How serious a problem is workplace bullying? by Terry Parker. Times and Transcript, Wednesday October 6th, 2010.
2. Workplace Bullying: What Everyone needs to Know. Department of Labor and Industries. April 2008.


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