If you think you left the bullies behind you, on the playground back in middle school, you’re wrong. Several years ago I researched a workplace phenomenon called ‘mobbing’. According to authors Davenport, Schwartz, and Elliot in Mobbing: Emotional Abuse in the American Workplace, mobbing is defined as an emotional assault. It begins when an individual becomes the target of disrespectful and harmful behavior. Through innuendo, rumors, and public discrediting, a hostile environment is created in which one individual gathers others willingly, or unwillingly, to participate in continuous malevolent actions to force a person out of the workplace. The word mob means a disorderly crowd engaged in lawless violence. It is derived from the Latin mobile vulgas meaning vacillating crowd. The verb to mob means to crowd about, attack, or annoy.
When I first learned about mobbing I was intrigued but I wondered how it differs from ordinary harassment. The actual difference is slight but significant enough to merit explanation. When we think of harassment we think of a one-to-one relationship where one person is the perpetrator and one other person is the target. Although the authors define it one way, the true definition of mobbing opens up the possibility for a group of perpetrators as well as a group of targets. Why does mobbing occur? There are several reasons: position or authority is threatened, power plays, control obsessions, office culture permits hostile behavior, ineffective job descriptions, inappropriate communication, low moral or ethical standards, poor supervisors, need for a scapegoat, and restructuring, mergers, or retrenchments.
There are primary and also secondary effects related to mobbing. The primary effects are somewhat obvious but the secondary effects are more subtle yet equally as devastating to an organization. Research shows that, in a mobbing situation, people experience great anxiety that can develop into post-traumatic stress disorder. This type of trauma has a devastating effect on productivity and the victims’ emotional and physical health. Also, the victims waste between 10 and 52 percent of their time at work defending themselves and networking for support, thinking about the situation, being de-motivated and stressed. The trauma of the experience leaves the victim feeling powerless, disoriented, confused, helpless, and paralyzed.
The secondary effects of mobbing are felt by co-workers of the targeted individual and witnesses of the mobbing event. The research of Dr. Charlotte Raynor indicated that 20 percent of co-workers witnessing workplace bullying decide to look for another job. All researchers on the topic say that targeted victims must remember they have options on this situation. Here are seven actions they say you should consider if you think you are being mobbed; (1) analyze what is actually going on, (2) attempt to work it out, (3) bear with it, protect yourself, and use survival strategies, (4) plan an escape or resign – with or without a new job, (5) fight with legal means while still on the job or shortly after leaving, (6) disclose and blow the whistle, (7) engage in positive action that uses your experience to help eliminate future mobbing situations.
Other survival strategies might include building your self-esteem, learning a new skill, making plans and having faith. If all else fails, keep a sense of perspective. If you choose to seek therapy select your doctor carefully and engage someone who has familiarity with post-traumatic stress disorder. Friends and family can also help. The experts say if you would like to support a friend who has experienced mobbing, offer to work on a resume or help look for another job opportunity. Invite your friend to join you in networking activities. Call, send a card, or flowers. Recommend or bring helpful books. Suggest activities the two of you can do together such as going for a walk or seeing a movie. Practice the helping art of presence and the most important technique, supportive listening. Finally, if you or someone you love is the target of mobbing remember the situation is temporary and there will be a way to regain respect and dignity in the workplace.
Yolanda Smith is part of the GovLoop Featured Blogger program, where we feature blog posts by government voices from all across the country (and world!). To see more Featured Blogger posts, click here.