Why Anxious People Are More Vulnerable To Bullying At Work

It's hard to constantly exude confidence at work. We all know that I have no idea what I'm doing feeling. With our minds running a mile a minute, it's impossible to focus. Well, unfortunately, a new study in the journal Anxiety, Stress & Coping suggests that this all too familiar mindset may leave people vulnerable to workplace bullying.

Researchers, led by Alfredo Rodriguez-Munoz of the University of East Anglia, claim that there's a reciprocal relationship between overactive nerves and victimization in the workplace. It's, really, a vicious cycle: Anxiety seems to make people more vulnerable to bullying, and bullying seems to lead to anxiety.

They tested their theory on 348 Spanish employees. Participants were interviewed about the times they had felt victimized (defined as harassed, insulted, or socially excluded) by a colleague and assessed for anxiety and engagement at work.

Six months later, the researchers asked the participants the same series of questions. They found that those who reported feeling anxious in the first interview reported an increase in how bullied they felt at work in their second interviews. Similarly, those who said they felt victimized at work in the first session were more likely to report a rise in anxiety in the second.

In other words, displaying anxious behavior may put the employee in a weak position, making him or her an easy target for bullies.

But that's not the only theory. They think that the "gloomy perception mechanism," in which anxious employees may evaluate their environment more negatively, could also have something to do with it. So anxious people might be more likely to think they're being bullied even if that's not what's happening.

"We are by no means victim-blaming here," said co-author Ana Sanz Vergel in a press release. "Clearly employers need to have strong policies against workplace bullying. But training programs to help victims learn coping mechanisms could help to break the vicious cycle."

But in the absence of training programs, there are still ways to lend yourself a hand. The researchers also found that the participants who reported feeling more engaged at work — interested by what they were doing, in other words — were also less likely to report either anxiety or bullying. So if you can find a way to make your work more exciting or, if that's impossible, find another, more exciting job, the "Kick Me" on your back will likely fall off.

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