Leah M. Stiegler

Leah M. Stiegler
Associate

Why do I always get assigned the night shift?

The new evaluations are not scaled properly! I didn’t get my bonus this year.

My boss dislikes me because I am a woman.

If you’ve managed staff or worked in HR long enough, you’ve heard these complaints and more. Employers often ask for advice on disciplining employees with “victim mentalities.”

“We have an employee with performance problems but she just doesn’t take management’s guidance.”

We’ve all heard this before! She isn’t completely insubordinate but still is not receptive to specific corrective directions. This employee may have a “victim mentality”—meaning, nothing (in her mind) is ever her fault!

What effects can a “victim mentality” have on a workplace?

You need to understand the reasons why you need to manage employees with victim mentalities (“Victim Mentality Employees” or “VMEs”):

  • VMEs may be underperforming, and ignoring them can harm your operations and productivity.
  • VMEs are a drag on morale. Other employees resent the VME and you for not managing the problem.
  • Riskiest of all, VMEs are likely to feel targeted and sue their employer for retaliation when experiencing an adverse action.

How do you keep and manage an employee with a victim mentality?

There may not be a one-size-fits-all solution but you do have options:

  1. Test the claims.
    You can’t shoot down the VME’s claim unless you know it’s not true so, test the theory. For example, an employee claims that her performance failures are because her boss dislikes women. You could work with her manager to assign the employee to a different manager, perhaps higher up the chain or laterally, to complete a special project. Keep the performance metrics similar to her normal metrics so you can compare her performance accurately. Always keep in mind that she may be right: perhaps you do have a discrimination or harassment problem and the VME’s concerns are valid.
  2. Give her a solo project.
    When VMEs work in teams they always have someone else to blame. Instead, try to give her a solo project that only she is responsible to complete. This will allow you to hold the VME personally accountable for the success of the project. If you think it might be appropriate, tell her you are doing this before beginning to ensure she is accountable.
  3. Initiate a PIP.
    Outline a formal Performance Improvement Plan (“PIP”) and have the employee provide input into the plan. For each objective, have the VME address why she needs to meet the objective and how she will meet it. This process allows the employee to discuss the issue with her manager, why it’s important, and her specific role in achieving her personal goals. Remember, PIP goals should always be measurable.
  4. Document examples.
    Document in detail each time the employee vocalized a victim mentality. If it comes time to issue formal discipline, going through the list one-by-one with the employee may resonate with her. Ask if there has ever been a time at work where she felt she failed the team or was personally responsible for a performance problem.
  5. Encourage gratuity.
    It’s not unusual for VMEs to not have many friends at work. It may help to have a conversation with the VME about how her attitude lowers her coworkers’ morale and makes them feel like she is not a team player. Encourage her to assist her coworkers, and praise them when appropriate. You could also suggest she surprise them with donuts. Research shows the act of giving makes coworkers happier—perhaps this angle will work for your VME.

Each situation is different. You may need to employ one, two, or all of the techniques. As always, if you have good ideas that have worked, don’t hesitate to email us and share them!

Managing a VME may take time you don’t have. If you are ready for formal discipline or termination, make sure you have every angle covered. It is important to have contemporaneous documentation from multiple instances and should have had multiple conversations with the VME to alleviate any shock that could lead her to look for an attorney.

Ultimately, promptly and thoroughly addressing issues with VMEs will help ensure your company’s success as a team-centered workplace. This will not only improve the overall morale and environment of your company but help to avoid situations escalating to the point of legal action.

If you have questions on the best way to deal with an employee with a victim mentality, contact the Labor & Employment team to discuss your situation.


For more information on managing employees and HR best practices:
View Leah Stiegler’s profile.
Contact Leah at lstiegler@woodsrogers.com.