Mobbing is ‘bullying on steroids’, a horrifying new trend where a bully enlists co-workers to collude in a relentless campaign of psychological terror against a hapless target. (This is different to flash mobbing in a workplace which can be a form of a strike where employees do something collectively to draw attention to an issue)
Targets are usually anyone who is ‘different’ from the organisational norm.
Usually, victims are competent, educated, resilient, outspoken, challenge the status quo, are more empathic or attractive and tend to be women, aged 32 to 55. Targets also can be racially different or part of a minority group.
The target receives ridicule, humiliation, and eventually, removal from the workplace. This leaves the victim reeling with no idea what happened or why. It removes the person’s safety in the world, dignity, identity and belonging and damages his or her mental and physical health.
The effects also radiate outward toward the target’s partner, family, friends and community. Because an employee is being targeted and criticized, they may be seen as a ‘troublemaker’ by others and be ignored and isolated by otherwise ‘OK people’. Former allies may then turn against them and they are left socially isolated. In addition, if the victim is being criticized by management, their former allies will then believe that there must be something wrong with the victim and they won’t want to be tarred with the same brush!
How and why?
Frequently the person instigating this is emotionally immature and threatened in some way by the target.
Often, gossip and innuendo are spread behind closed doors before the target is aware of what’s happening, as previously loyal co-workers are enlisted to provide personal information that substantiates the damaging rumours.
Mobbing is more likely to occur when workplace factors are conducive to a ‘bullying’ environment. Understanding what they are can help to protect an individual from staying in or taking a job in a toxic organisation. Organisations that are under financial pressure and highly bureaucratic are more mobbing-prone.
Employers need to assist in addressing this type of conduct. A two-pronged approach is likely to be best. First to ensure adequate and varied methods for reporting and communicating such conduct are available to employees. Engendering a sense of safety (for ‘victims’), as well as a watchdog mentality (over ‘mobbers’). Secondly, to provide employees with self- empowerment mechanisms such as ways to take care of themselves, instilling acceptable organisational values as well as providing opportunities to release stress in organisationally acceptable ways.
The best way for employees to deal with mobbing to ensure a successful outcome is to follow the following steps:
- Document everything in detail – From the earliest signs of something ‘not quite right’, even if it’s just a gut feeling, keep a journal of all the incidents experienced.
- Give yourself space and time to figure things out – Seek someone in authority you can trust at work to disclose to. Seeking redress from the organisation might not be a safe first step to take. See a doctor for stress leave and for a worker’s compensation claim.
- Get a good recovery team to stop the isolation – A good clinical psychologist will help you develop recovery strategies, liaise with your doctor and lawyer, write a psychological injury report and advocate for you.
- Make self-care a priority – Focus on what you love. Engage in a daily spiritual practice, follow good diet and exercise plans.
- Engage in meaningful life activities – Set new goals. Undertake creative pursuits. Focus on fun and laughter.