Whether its 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 organizations management as a deliberate strategy, the authors say. Then theres the fact that mobbing has not yet been identified as a workplace behavior thats 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 theres 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 doesnt work, going straight to the bullys 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!