Anita was happy. Explaining her fairly poor performance had been quite easy. An embellished tale about how her mother-in-law’s illness had taken up so much time and emotional bandwidth (we were crazy with worry and all those doctor visits!). It was irrefutable. And it worked! Her boss had a mother-in-law too! So while he oozed sympathy for Anita, he was particularly harsh with the other poor performers who weren’t as creative as Anita.
The victim card had been played very effectively. Health, personal problems, domestic challenges, mother’s-in-law (with due respect, they’re actually quite nice!) and the like, immediately bring out the ‘mother-hen’ in most leaders. Even the toughest of them suddenly soften. When they hear a sob-story, pushy clients and customers back off too.
It is natural to feel sorry for a victim of circumstance – right to the point of gullibility! Remember how sorry we felt for the distraught maid when she bunked work because her father-in-law passed away? So what if it was the third time she was cremating the fellow in two years!
But seriously, the victim mode is truly awesome – for the ‘victim’, that is. With benefits ranging from a temporary reprieve to a veritable honeymoon! And a variety of under-the-radar benefits, and a few not-so under-the-radar ones too. Extra leave, stretched deadlines, temporary forgiveness for undelivered results… and all that attention! It can get quite heady.
Except, while the victim enjoys life, everything else suffers. Engagement and satisfaction amongst the rest of the team takes a beating. The team rallies around, grudgingly, to keep things moving. And watching the ‘poor thing’ leaving office at 4:30 every evening (ostensibly to attend to the ‘exigent circumstance’) while everyone else stays till 9:00 pm, only adds to the anguish!
And no, it isn’t about the boss being understanding, or human, or whatever. It’s about the repercussions of the alternative. Remember the time when someone posted a message on Social Media about her boss (and, by implication, her organization) being insensitive? A huge, expensive PR exercise followed. Just because the boss had (rightly) refused to grant the person leave. It could be infinitely worse!
Y’see, those choosing the victim mode are awesome actors! Using well-rehearsed dialogues, body language and facial expressions that can melt steel! Leaders are, after all, human. They want to be seen as kind and understanding in the eyes of their team! So it’s easy to fall prey.
However, allowing people to get away with things just because they slip into the victim mode indicates weak leadership. It:
- Promotes mediocrity: Because the rest of the team needs to take short-cuts to make up for lost time and numbers, thereby compromising quality. And because something’s better than nothing, mediocrity gets a promotion
- Adds to internal discontent: Rumblings and rumours get fueled and people begin to feel unhappy about their jobs, their work and their leader
- Creates a poor performance culture: Letting people get away with low performance, whatever the reason, encourages others to emulate such behaviour. Why work when slackers go unpunished? Very soon this poor attitude infiltrates the workplace culture.
- Encourages favouritism: It gives people the impression that some are more equal than others. People in victim mode may, or may not, be the leader’s favourite person, but they certainly enjoy some of the privileges of that status! Ergo, favouritism!
Everyone faces emergencies and personal travesty at times. As leaders we must take cognizance of this. So, according some leeway, depending on the nature of the emergency, is okay. However it is important to know the difference between a situation and a sham. There are ways!
- Incident or issue: Frequency is a bold indicator. Leave records tell interesting stories!
- Impact on performance: Shammers give excuses for poor performance. True professionals somehow ensure that performance doesn’t suffer, even though they themselves do! The difference should be obvious.
- One-time sucker: Trust, but verify. Ask, listen, check. A single untruth – or half-truth – that gets found out should become the clincher. Remember: Fool me once shame on you. Fool me twice, shame on me!
- Empathy not sympathy: Express regret, offer help, but decide basis the interest of the business, not the employee. So sorry to hear, but we’ve got a business to run…
In the workplace it is important for a leader to be more fair than popular. Popularity will come. And fairness starts with focusing on business demands. Due consideration for the seriousness of the emergency comes thereafter. By knowingly weakening before people in the victim mode, businesses and leaders, both, end up as the ultimate victims. While Anita just enjoys life!