Scapegoating, when it comes to workplace bullies and toxic people is when an individual or group is targeted for “unmerited negative treatment or blame”. A person designated as a scapegoat could also be called, “a whipping boy”, or “fall guy“.
You might be the scapegoat at your job, if you spend a lot of time fixing other co-workers issues, without complaint, as well as working on your own task list. But, the day you, politely, request for one of those co-workers to help you, you get written up by management, as being a slacker.
You might be the scapegoat at your job, if you hear about co-workers taking credit for work you have done, but you get a lecture, from management, about how you aren’t pulling your weight.
You might be the scapegoat at your job, if there are individuals who often do nice things for you, but expect you to pick up their slack, as payment for that “nice thing”.
The above list of examples are actual events that I encountered, during my last two years, at my last job.
It wasn’t obvious, at first, so there was no way for me to nip it in the bud. Even taking this issue to management, once I did figure out what was going on, did not help. I was then painted as someone who wasn’t a “team player” and thus, targeted more for having complained. So, I kept my mouth shut and bided my time.
Trying to decline “gifts” from certain co-workers or leaving them their own work to do, in defiance, also painted me as a “problem child” and made me a bigger target. So, I, essentially, bowed to the culture and did my best to make sure that, whenever it was possible, I got my own work finished before the next shift took over and, if that were impossible, for some reason (overtime issues, timing issues, amount of work required), then I knew to expect that I would have to “make up” for it the next day. If I was gifted something (food, some cheap trinket, other niceties), even if I did not leave any work behind me, I knew that I would have to “make up” for accepting the giver’s “generosity”.
Because scapegoating usually involves subjective rather than objective measures (you don’t always see the knife coming for your back and even if you could, it’s hard to prove that someone being “nice” to you is actually code for “they are about to stab you in the back”), it is impossible to prove or do anything tangible about.
I only have two recommendations for protecting yourself against getting scapegoated or, at least, to minimize it, if possible:
Document, document, document. It may not help you in the short-term, but if you have to make a case for harassment, in the future, you’ll have some evidence of a pattern of behaviors and corresponding complaints, when the time comes.
CYA: Cover Your Ass. Make sure that YOUR job is done and done well. You can prove your work ethic and the more of your own work you can complete without leaving any of it for someone else to complain about, even if it’s just emptying your own trash bin, by your desk, then get it done and document that, too.
Of course, another recommendation is to make a plan to exit that job, as soon as possible. Depending on how toxic your workplace is, the scapegoating may escalate to the point that even your good work is questioned. If you don’t have a responsive management or HR team to help and support you, it’s probably best to quit and find a company that is more responsive to all employees, not just the bullies and toxic individuals.
On this site, I will continue sharing my experiences with a toxic workplace and offer advice, based on my own practices, on how to stick it out, if you can’t leave, right away. So watch this space, as I hope to make it a permanent feature.
Feel free to send email to Contact@dizzydezzi.com with questions, comments, concerns or to share your own story or to get advice.