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Managing the Mob

July 15, 2001
Related Topics: Corporate Culture, Featured Article
While office gossip might inflict a great deal of pain, there’s an even nastier practice that runs rampant at some companies: mobbing. Workers gang up on another employee, including a boss, in an attempt to intimidate, bully, or humiliate and force the person out -- usually through scathing verbal abuse.

Whether it’s a project manager who is berated by a senior executive, or a secretary belittled for not doing her job right, mobbing can devastate lives and cause mayhem. “Coworkers, colleagues, superiors, and subordinates attack their dignity, integrity, and competence, repeatedly, over a number of weeks, months, or years. At the end, they resign -- voluntarily or involuntarily -- are terminated, or are forced into early retirement,” write Noa Davenport, Ruth Distler Schwartz, and Gail Pursell Elliott, co-authors of Mobbing: Emotional Abuse in the American Workplace (Civil Society Publishing, 1999).

A number of factors contribute to the problem. Frequently, “mobbing behaviors are ignored, tolerated, misinterpreted, or actually instigated by the company or the organization’s management as a deliberate strategy,” the authors say. Then there’s the fact that mobbing has not yet been identified as a workplace behavior that’s subject to action. Finally, more often than not, “the victims are worn down, feel destroyed, and exhausted. They feel incapable of defending themselves, let alone initiating legal action.”

Although there’s no single approach to coping with the problem, experts say that several strategies can help. For individuals who become the target of mobbing, written documentation can spur action on the part of the company or substantiate a legal claim. In many cases, confronting a bully in an assertive, non-combative way can help defuse the problem. If that doesn’t work, going straight to the bully’s boss and requesting a specific action -- such as a transfer or a grievance hearing -- can help.

At the enterprise level, human resources should take a strong stand against mobbing. A well-crafted policy can define certain types of behavior that are unacceptable -- such as “belittling, humiliating, or verbally abusing another employee.” In addition, a system for logging and reviewing complaints is essential, and those responsible for carrying on such behavior should be warned, reprimanded, or terminated.

Workforce, July 2001, p. 28 -- Subscribe Now!

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