Compliments of Janine via Flickr

A defining trait of OCD is an exaggerated sense of accountability, or what’s known as “hyper-responsibility.” People suffering with this compulsion feel they are somehow “on the hook” for the actions and/or feelings of those around them. They have difficulty differentiating what is an issue for them, and what is more legitimately a topic for someone else. Their willingness to usurp others’ burdens makes them easy prey for office bullies.

OCD sufferers may feel guilty when they are the victims of verbal assault. These individuals are then (for overbearing persons) the perfect victims. The process comes full circle when persecutors (who may have caused the OCD in the first place) select a target. Not only does the accuser remain unchallenged, but the accused may subsequently engage in self-blame.

The “save the world” mentality results in an inordinate level of kindness to the undeserving. It’s no wonder that workplace bullies gravitate toward these workers – finding them more pliable than surrounding employees. OCD sufferers exhibit a homeostasis that makes them more susceptible to subsequent attacks. They feel anxious and afraid, resulting in onlookers seeing a potential “magnet for abuse.”

It’s important to realize who is responsible for bad behavior. Trying to carry a bully’s load simply lets them off the hook – which in the case of sociopaths occurs more easily because they assume zero culpability, laying the blame of any conflict at the feet of the “offending” party. Those with OCD are fodder for such shenanigans. They are the people who end up doing more than their share of “team” work, doing the work of other team members, and “working for free” when it is clearly not warranted.

In The Birth Order Book, Leman cautions managers not to overload onlies and first borns (who will likely not complain) when others are non-compliant. For managers, giving work to non-complainers this is of course easier than getting loafers to share the load. The overly compliant OCD sufferer might behave similarly. Those bullied are then punished twice – first with the onslaught of workplace savagery, and next in the aftermath of taking on too much – both behaviorally, and with respect to their job.

Prevention results when companies hold bullies’ feet to the fire: punishing the wrong doer, instead of looking the other way. Non-interference and laissez-faire management only send the message that attacks are permissible (and leave another person holding the bag). Targets are not responsible for others’ behavior, nor or they are responsible for a lack of company policy. Non-action sends the opposite message.

Supervisors must have the courage to stand in the gale of bullies’ outbursts, and to put a stop to their egregious behavior. Only then will the workplace become a “safe space” for all concerned.

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All viewpoints expressed by Jackie Gilbert are her own, and not of her employer.

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