- Article 1: Emotional Abuse in the Workplace: A Silent Epidemic?
- Article 2: James Hillard, MD: Are they really out to get your patient? Published in Current Psychiatry, April 2009, pages 45-51.
- Workplace-bullying lawsuits in Turkey expected to skyrocket
- Why Nurses Commit Suicide: Mobbing in Health Care Institutions – Leymann, Heinz , & Gustafsson, Annelie
- Five Books on Academic Mobbing
- "Confronting Violence, Answering Questions About the Epidemic Destroying America's Homes and Communities" published by the American Public Health Association (APHA)
Emotional Abuse in the Workplace: A Silent Epidemic?
Noa Zanolli Davenport, Ph.D.
Note: This article was written in 1999 and since published in various newsletters.
Millions of men and women of all ages, ethnic, and racial backgrounds hate going to work, gradually fall into despair and often become gravely ill. Some flee from jobs they used to love, others endure the situation unable to figure a way out. "Every day was like going into battle. I never knew when the next bomb would be dropped. I was afraid to trust anyone for fear they were the enemy. My physical and mental reserves were depleted. I knew I had to have relief soon.
But there was no letup," said Diana when we asked how she felt each day. What is going on? Why is this happening? How prevalent is this? What can be done?The word "mobbing" denotes a behavior by coworkers, superiors or subordinates, who attack a colleague's dignity, integrity, and competence, repeatedly, over a number of weeks, months, or even years. A person is being subjected to emotional abuse, subtly or bluntly, often falsely accused of wrongdoing, and is persistently humiliated. Dr. Heinz Leymann, a psychologist and medical scientist, pioneered the research about this workplace issue in Sweden in the early 80s. He identified the behavior as mobbing and described it as "psychological terror" involving "hostile and unethical communication directed in a systematic way by one or a few individuals mainly towards one individual."
Leymann identified some 45 typical mobbing behaviors such as withholding information, isolation, badmouthing, constant criticism, circulation of unfounded rumors, ridicule, yelling, etc. The affected person is in physical or mental distress, has developed an illness, and experiences social misery.
Impact of Mobbing or Bullying
In the U.S., the term bullying is often used to denote what we prefer to call mobbing. Both terms overlap, are emotional abuse and a form of violence. However, bullying denotes the one-person acts and not what is more often than not a group behavior, particularly when management becomes involved. In the book Violence at Work, published by the International Labor Office (ILO) in 1998, mobbing and bullying are mentioned in the same list as homicide, rape, or robbery. Even though bullying and mobbing behaviors may seem "harmless," in contrast to rape or other manifestations of physical violence, the effect on the targets have been psychologically so devastating for individuals that some have contemplated suicide.
Mobbing and bullying affect primarily a person's emotional well-being and physical health. Depending on the severity, frequency, and duration of the occurrences and how resilient an individual may be, persons may suffer from a whole range of psychological and physical symptoms. And it is not only a person's health and sense of well-being that is seriously affected. Their families and their organizations are gravely impacted as well. Relationships suffer, and company productivity is impacted as energies revolve around the mobbing and divert attention from important and significant tasks at hand. Ironically, the victims are portrayed as the ones at fault, as the ones who brought about their own downfalls.
How It Starts and Why It Happens
It often starts with a conflict, any type of conflict. Often, that conflict may be triggered by change of any kind. However, no matter how hard an individual may try to resolve an issue, it does not get resolved. The individual does not seem to get recourse. The issue does not go away and escalates to a point of no return. What could have been resolved with a bit of good will and the appropriate mechanisms in place, now becomes a contest between who is right and who is wrong. Some of the accusations and demeaning attacks may be guided by a scapegoat mentality, the need for personal power over others, and by personal animosities, by fears, or jealousy. Group-psychology, i.e., "group-think" and a complex array of social-organizational dynamics begin to play their part.
How, you might ask, when there seem to be more structures and laws designed to protect employees than ever before, is this particular workplace behavior mobbing allowed to exist? We believe there are three reasons. One is that mobbing behaviors are ignored, tolerated, or misinterpreted by management. The second reason is that this behavior has not yet been identified as a workplace behavior clearly different from sexual harassment or discrimination. And thirdly, more often than not, the victims are worn down. They feel exhausted and incapable of defending themselves, let alone initiating legal action.
The Costs of Mobbing or Bullying
The actual costs in terms of lost productivity, health care and legal costs, not to speak of the psycho-social implications, are yet to be measured. However, estimates are in the billions. Nevertheless, awareness is slowly growing. For example, the Department of Environmental Quality of the State of Oregon has adopted the first anti-mobbing policy in 2001. And, bullying and mobbing at work is increasingly being discussed in the media and in professional organizations.
What Can Be Done?
Persons who have been mobbed or become targets of bullies have several options. Most importantly, they need to understand that there is a name for what they are experiencing, that the phenomenon is well known and is increasingly being researched in this country. They need to understand that they have become victimized and that there is very little that they could have done differently. Secondly, they need to assess all their options in the short, medium, and long run: Is there any way to gain recourse that they haven't tried yet? Is finding another job within the company a possibility? Are they prepared to look for another job? What do they need to do to prepare for the transition? We advise people to weigh all their options carefully, to be assertive and most importantly, to take control of their situation. EAP professionals are often the first to whom an employee turns or is referred to.
Management too, needs to be vigilant and spot any early signals of mobbing. A company policy that enforces respectful treatment of employees and rewards civility at the workplace, along with ongoing training, can go along way in preventing mobbing from occurring.
Mobbing is emotional abuse committed directly or indirectly by one or a group of co-workers directed at anybody. People who have been affected by mobbing are suffering immensely. The social and economic impact of the mobbing syndrome has yet to be measured in quantitative terms. Mobbing can only persist as long as it is allowed to persist. Organizational leadership plays the most important part in its prevention. By enforcing decency, civility, and high ethical standards in the workplace and by creating a nourishing environment, bullying and mobbing will not surface. There are millions of enlightened managers and leaders and thousands of companies that do just that. They serve as good examples and places of refuge.
Mellen Press is offering softcover editions of five books on academic mobbing by Kenneth Westhues as a package for USD 49.95. The titles are:
Eliminating Professors; The Envy of Excellence; Workplace Mobbing in Academe; Winning, Losing, Moving On; and The Remedy and Prevention of Mobbing in Higher Education . Descriptions and reviews of these books are available by searching by author on the press's website (http://www.mellenpress.com), also on Kenneth Westhues' website about academic mobbing (http://arts.uwaterloo.ca/~kwesthue/mobbing.htm). The low-cost package of the five softcovers is not available through bookstores but only by direct order from the press. US and UK telephone and fax numbers are shown on the press's website: http://www.mellenpress.com (select the "contact us" link).There is also a toll-free number to the US office: 866.635.5367.