The contemporary culture of harm avoidance sanctifies the role of the victim, which creates a suite of challenges for managers and researchers attempting to address impartially allegations of harmdoing. We contend that victimhood sanctification compromises our understanding of mistreatment largely due to three forces: 1) a shift toward hypersensitivity, which expands the definition of mistreatment, 2) cognitive shortcuts that cast actors as either victims or perpetrators, and 3) victims’ role in experiencing or perceiving mistreatment. Of interest are allegations of nonphysical harms that may manifest as individual-level mistreatment or as systemic-level mistreatment based on identity group membership (e.g., women). We argue that victimhood sanctification and prioritizing employees’ subjective experiences are incompatible with the impartial study of mistreatment and with fostering organizational harmony. We suggest solutions, including accepting a level of human imperfection and mutual culpability, addressing fears of accusations, de-escalating competitive victimhood, and promoting workplace harmony as a shared responsibility of all parties. We maintain that empirical investigations, open discourse, and data-driven understanding of these challenges, even if unpalatable, are necessary to inform the best practices that generate long-term peace, not just short-term safety.
Graso, M., Reynolds, T., & Grover, S. L. (2020). Allegations of mistreatment in an era of harm avoidance: taboos, challenges, and implications for management. Academy of Management Perspectives, 34(1), 1-27. https://doi.org/10.5465/amp.2018.0144