Suppose an employee openly disagrees with a position taken by her boss. Does her status as an insider or outsider impact the likelihood of being bullied by the boss?
In other words, is a boss more likely to bully a “disloyal” subordinate who is part of his inner circle or favored group versus one who is not?
This question came up during sessions and informal discussions at the May “Work, Stress, and Health” conference in Orlando, and it has intrigued me since then.
It may seem counterintuitive to suggest that outsiders can be treated better than insiders. However, I believe that in this context, insider status can be a risk factor, especially if a boss has a “you’re either with me or against me” mentality.
For the insider, anything smacking of a more public challenge to the boss’s positions (e.g., openly disagreeing at a team meeting) can be downright dangerous. A dissenting opinion from a “trusted” member of the inner circle may been regarded as an act of disloyalty, even betrayal.
The outsider, by contrast, may be expected to be more of a critic, or at least less of a team player. His opinions may be treated dismissively due to that very status, and the fact that he is taken less seriously may be the reason he is not actively targeted.
Nevertheless, as countless stories of bullying attest, it would be a huge mistake to assume that a dissenting outsider is free from retaliatory wrath. If, for example, that dissent poses a genuine threat to the boss, then all bets are off. After all, in a work setting beset by controlling and insecure leadership, no one is immune from abusive treatment.