Tuesday, July 20, 2010

Workplace Mobbing

Although the terms “bullying” and “mobbing” are often used interchangeably, “bullying” more often refers to the covert attacks, physical and psychological, made by a bullying individual. “Mobbing”, which University of Waterloo Sociology Professor Kenneth Westhues describes as the "stressor to beat all stressors", is a viral phenomenon: "normally carried out politely, without any violence, and with ample written documentation. Yet even without the blood, the bloodlust is essentially the same: contagion and mimicking of unfriendly, hostile acts toward the target; relentless undermining of the target’s self-confidence; group solidarity against one whom all agree does not belong; and the euphoria of collective attack." Drs. Gary and Ruth Namie describe bullying as: "repeated, malicious, health-endangering mistreatment...psychological violence, a mix of verbal and strategic assaults to prevent the target from performing work well." According to Elizabeth Reichert, a Professor of Social Work at Southern Illinois University, targets are drawn from: "nice people, vulnerable people and the best and the brightest." Further, current evidence suggests that while the larger number of targets are women, bullies are equally divided between men and women. Namie and Namie have described bullies as: "inadequate, defective and poorly developed people".

The late Dr. Tim Field noted in his website, Bully Offline, that in human services, the bully wants herself to be seen as: "a wonderful, kind, caring and compassionate person". Westhues has noted that mobbing thrives in non-profit environments where: "work is complex, goals ambiguous, best practices debatable, and market discipline far away. Scapegoating is an effective if temporary means of achieving group solidarity, when it cannot be achieved in a more constructive way." He notes in the discourse on his assessment instrument, the Waterloo Anti-Mobbing Index (WAMI), that mobbing only ends when the target: "quits, retires, is fired, becomes disabled, dies of stress-induced illness, or commits suicide." The end goal of both bullying and mobbing is the elimination of the target. Donald Trump can yell "You're Fired!" on impulse, an option that public sector managers do not share. If an ethical, competent and popular employee incites the jealousy of an influential individual in an organization, their excellent work record will preclude a legitimate managerial response. The bully then resorts to demeaning and covert actions.

Bullying often takes the form of undermining and small acts of malice. Taken individually, these acts seem innocuous or pathetic; however, as an ongoing pattern of behaviour, they overwhelm the targets’ defences. Like other forms of abuse, bullying is often minimized and normalized, hidden in plain sight. As the physical and emotional health of the target deteriorates, their issues are attributed to mental health problems or personality conflicts. Over time, although the target shows signs of severe stress, they may not even be aware that bullying is taking place. When they finally attempt to address their concern, they commonly run into a wall of opposition and denial. Human resources departments and even unions can be guilty of turning a blind eye towards bullying and worse, aligning with the bully. Even previously supportive co-workers will align with the bully for self- preservation and a need to conform by the easiest truth.

Bullying and mobbing remain understudied in North America, and most social workers are woefully uninformed about the dynamics and consequences. However, the research being done cuts across disciplinary lines including Psychology, Business, Sociology and Social Work. Kenneth Westhues notes the critical need for research as a means of imparting legitimacy to the nightmarish experience of targets. However, as attention turns towards psychological violence in the workplace, more empirical evidence is emerging. Notably, in 2008, University of Manitoba Professor, Sandy Hershcovis and Queen’s Professor, Julian Barling, in their meta-study of workplace bullying found that, as a stressor, it surpassed sexual harassment. And this conclusion did not minimize the latter. "Another reason workplace aggression takes a special toll on victims is its concealed and insidious nature", notes Dr. Barling, speculating on the outcome, and “workplace aggression, in addition to acts such as name calling and yelling, often involves hidden acts, such as withholding resources, failing to correct false information, or ostracizing a target. While the victim of such behaviours can perceive these acts, confirmation or validation by others may be more difficult."


No comments: