Workplace bullying, blackballing, and the eliminationist instinct

(Image courtesy of all-free-download.com)

(Image courtesy of all-free-download.com)

For some workplace aggressors, bullying someone out of a job isn’t enough. In addition, they must find ways to continue the torment even after a target has left the aggressor’s place of employment. Especially if the aggressor is the target’s former supervisor, these behaviors may include ongoing efforts to sabotage the target’s attempts to obtain new employment. Common examples are innuendo-filled whisper campaigns spread through a professional or vocational network and maliciously negative references presented as “opinion” rather than “fact” in order to preempt defamation claims.

The aggressor’s goal? To blackball (others might say blacklist) the target out of a career and to undermine his or her ability to earn a livelihood.

Last spring I wrote about how the “eliminationist instinct” may manifest itself in our workplaces:

We typically hear the term “eliminationist” in association with massacres and genocides. The eliminationist instinct captures a facile ability to regard other human beings as objects to be tormented or brutally excised. When this form of dehumanization surfaces on a mass scale, it fuels some the worst outrages in human history.

In addition, manifestations of the eliminationist instinct are hardly limited to large-scale horrors. They may appear in the workplace as well. True, the perpetrators are not mass killers, but their actions embody an easy ability to dehumanize others. Lacking empathy for their targets, they ply their trade with words and bureaucratic actions, rather than with weapons or instruments of physical torture.

Blackballing is a prime form of eliminationist behavior. It also is awfully hard to detect and trace, because it typically occurs under the cloak of confidentiality and private communications. Bullying targets often put the pieces together when they encounter odd but consistent difficulties in their job searches, such as hiring processes that went very well until — they surmise — the prospective employer started to contact people not on their reference list. Blackballing also may be at play when applications for jobs where the target is very qualified are repeatedly met with radio silence.

If the bullying supervisor is well known in the particular profession or trade, it makes things ever more difficult. The same superficial charm and facile ability to lie that allows the aggressor to thrive inside the workplace may have managed to fool those in the aggressor’s external network, too.

There are no easy tactics for dealing with this. Negotiating a positive reference as part of one’s exit strategy may be an option, but even if successful, it doesn’t guarantee that the aggressor won’t find a way around such an agreement. Oftentimes, overcoming malicious blackballing is a product of perseverance and certain pieces falling together in the right way.

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11 responses

  1. David – Your post about blackballling and the eliminationist instinct is very timely for me, since it’s something I’m experiencing right now. It is very insidious. I’ve left the primary toxic environment, but the challenges continue. Still, it all has made me stronger, and I’m learning more about perseverence and resilience as time goes by. Thanks for your very informative blog. It continues to bring me new and helpful insights into my own situation.

  2. Nursing is especially a prevalent area for black balling. There are hospital associations that share information on past employees. In Arizona if a member hospital of the AZHHA lists you as a non re hire you practically have to leave the state to find employment. I think there should be a database of reference forms that shows the offending hospital with the name of the employee blacked out. This would make management own their actions and embarrass the hospitals into This making their managers accountable for their toxic behavior.

  3. Thank you, David. So glad I found your blog site after experiencing some of the very problems in the workplace that you address. At times I have actually felt as if I was losing my mind, i.e. this can’t be happening. But narcissists and bullies are found everywhere in positions of power and what is sad they can really destroy one’s confidence and spirit. I am currently job seeking in a very difficult market and sense that I will only be able to land a low level service job as age discrimination is also a reality in today’s world.

    • Liam, I’m sorry to hear about your experiences, but thank you for letting me know that this blog has helped you to understand what you’ve been going through. Best of luck to you as you strive to move forward. David

  4. “Blacklisting” of healthcare professionals is particularly insidious in Canada, where public healthcare means there is no alternate employer for many. Public sector unions have not yet mounted a defence of their bullied members, and our laws preclude a unionized employee from taking legal action against an employer. We already know that health care environments are high risk for bullying, and the institutions that suffer are not yet motivated to address it…even in provinces where legislation exists. I don’t expect we’ll really see much improvement until the public truly understands the scope of the problem, its cost to taxpayers, and risks to he public needing care.

    Government is too busy trying to secure the public’s trust in our institutions to admit there are significant problems.

  5. The term “sadist”- a person who gets pleasure by causing others to suffer- has been very present in my mind as an appropriate descriptor for the bully boss. The term/phrase you use would be the end game for the sadist; an economic assasination as “the cherry on top” of the mental, emotional and physical injuries. Yes?

  6. …dehumanize…. When I was removed from my position, as you know without any reason ever given, the administration told colleagues, ” I wanted her fired on the spot, but I was told she should be treated humanely.”

  7. Pingback: Workplace bullying, blackballing, and the eliminationist instinct | survivorheal

  8. I do not know about the legality or effectiveness of this, but I have read that people can pay some firms to contact previous employers for written and oral references about themselves. (Apparently, the firms imply to the former employers that the person has applied for a job with these firms.) Supposedly, the person might have a legal case against a previous employer who makes illegal comments. I have also read that, therefore, some employers have decided to give out only dates of employment and job titles of former employees. Because I have no professional or legal knowledge about all this, I don’t know if this strategy would help — or even if it still exists as a possibility today. Also, this practice probably would not be very helpful for combating an informal rumor mill.

  9. A very interesting concept you put forth. When workplace bullying is discussed, the after effects and ‘blackballing’ is something that is often left out. It’s a serious issue when not only workplace bullying takes place, but it manages to follow a victim even when they have left. People should not always trust what they hear and should make decisions for themselves. It’s a really difficult process though as there is no way to clearly detect it- unfortunately, it is a constant battle between determination and meeting the right people.

    https://workisstressfulenough.wordpress.com/

    RB

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