As some of you know, my company, Encompass Work & Family, was born out of my continued experience with clients that are significantly impacted by their work. Think military, physicians, high-tech start-ups, etc. However, there's another person that is even more affected by their work--the person who gets bullied.
There's another word for describing abuse and harassment in the workplace that is widely understood and addressed in Europe and is just beginning to gain recognition in the United States. It is called Mobbing and is “aggression used against ‘anyone’…using harassing, abusive and often terrorizing behaviors” (from Davenport et. al.'s "Mobbing: Emotional Abuse in the American Workplace"). It is intentional and used to force a person out of the workplace. It happens over time and often gains momentum to the point of no return. It is dangerous for the employee and has been referred to as a “cancer” in an organization.
The five phases of Mobbing include:
2 Aggressive Acts
3 Management Involvement
4 Branding as Difficult or Mentally Ill
Some specific behaviors in the five phases described by Dr. Heinz Leymann may include:
1 Impacting Self Expression and Communication (your supervisor or colleagues restrict your expression; you are constantly interrupted; you are yelled at or scolded; your work is constantly criticized; your private life is constantly criticized; you are terrorized on the phone; verbal or written threats are made)
2 Attack on One’s Social Relations (people do not speak to you anymore; you cannot speak to anyone and/or access is denied; your work space is isolated; colleagues are forbidden to talk to you; you are treated as invisible)
3 Attack on Your Reputation (people talk badly behind your back; unfounded rumors circulate; you are ridiculed; you are treated as if you’re mentally ill; you’re forced to undergo psychiatric evaluation; people imitate your walk, voice, gestures or ridicule you; your nationality is ridiculed; your decisions are always questioned; you are called demeaning names; sexual innuendo)
4 Attacks on the Quality of One’s Professional and Life Situation (there are no special tasks for you; supervisors take away assignments; you are given meaningless jobs to carry out; you are given tasks below your qualifications; you are continuously given new tasks; you are given tasks that affect your self-esteem; you are given tasks far beyond your qualifications as a way to discredit you; causing general damages that create financial costs to you; damaging your home or workplace)
5 Direct Attack on Person’s Health (you are forced to do a physically strenuous job; threats of physical violence are made; light violence is used to threaten you; physical abuse; outright sexual harassment)
Mobbing is more injurious than a physical wound because the effects are deep and can be traumatic. It also strikes all levels within an organization (top to bottom, side to side). Like a burn it has been described as having three degrees of impact:
Mobbing of the 1st degree—The person escapes with minimal impact. They are rehabilitated in the same workplace or gain employment somewhere else.
Mobbing of the 2nd degree—Person cannot leave immediately and suffers from temporary or long-term mental and physical difficulty, most often experiencing difficulties re-entering the workforce.
Mobbing of the 3rd degree—The person is impacted to the point of not being able to return to the workplace. Physical and mental injuries are beyond rehabilitation unless specialized treatment protocol is applied.
Solutions to Mobbing are multi-pronged. Laws protect people the in fifth phase of Leymann’s description, but could still improve (some states are adopting more thorough protection). The media can help promote awareness. Further research can also help with building awareness and testing treatment and prevention measures. Management, human resources and organizational consultants should have training in this area for prevention and abatement. While Employee Assistance Program (EAP) professionals are sought out during Mobbing situations, not all employers promote the same level of confidentiality, so the EAP professional may not always serve the employee’s best interest. In addition, they may perpetuate the blame on the employee by not conducting a systemic assessment or understanding the damage from Mobbing.
In closing, Davenport describes a healthy workplace where “Leaders empower, affirm and appreciate their co-workers… (and where) Employees…participate in decision-making, feel appreciated, and have a sense of belonging.”
To learn more about Mobbing, Mobbing Syndrome, Identification and Prevention, please feel free to contact me at Kimberly@EncompassWF.com. To learn a little more about depression (a common effect of Mobbing), see my blog entry from August 20, 2007.