Friday, December 18, 2009

Akin Gump: Poor Management and the Exceptional Individual

What's the Difference Between Workplace Mobbing and Bullying?

The word "bullying" is often used in the context of children abusing other children in a manner that often has a physical aspect. Due to laws, social constraints and company policies, etc. adult bullies in the workplace are forced to use more subtle tactics.

Mobbing usually does not involve actual physical violence, although threats of violence are used to intimidate and create mental distress in the target and is usually more of a psychological or emotional terrorization occurring in the workplace.

As such mobbing is also referred to as adult bullying, workplace bullying, psychological harassment or status-blind harassment. These various phrases allude to these characteristics: usually mental rather than physical abuse, the "bullying" is perpetrated by an adult against another adult, that this occurs in the workplace, and that there is group involvement. The word "mobbing" says all of this concisely.

When someone is being harassed at work by a bully they are indeed being bullied. If a bully harasses you for the first, the second or the hundredth time you are certainly being bullied, but you are not, necessarily, the target of a mobbing.

Mobbing occurs in environments conducive to its development. Like viruses they need the right conditions to thrive. This usually involves workplaces with poor management lacking in conflict resolution skills and lacking in awareness about mobbing and its consequences. See In re Morrell, 684 A.2d 361, 362-65 (D.C. 1996). Worse still are workplaces where management knowingly utilizes mobbing tactics as a means to eliminate staff in spite of the, sometimes fatal, devastation it causes.

The bullies will systematically discredit their target to erode any support the target may seek out later. Bullies slander their target's reputation to anyone who will listen: co-workers, management, union representatives, human resources, etc.

A mobbing is this larger involvement of the group in the bullying. Management withdraws support and eventually participates in attacking the target with as much enthusiasm as the (original) bully. Co-workers are afraid for themselves and either look the other way or actively participate. The group is set against the individual.

It is a dysfunctional group response to the abuse of one of its members. Rather than address the abuse, the group instead seeks to silence and destroy the messenger. It is like a disease that causes the body's immune system to destroy healthy parts of itself.

Responsible managers will want to protect their employees, their company and their bottom line from the ravages of bullies, but how can you tell if your workplace has become infected with the mobbing virus?

Research into the phenomenon of workplace mobbing was pioneered in the 1980s by German-born Swedish scientist Heinz Leymann, who borrowed the term from animal behavior due to it describing perfectly how a group can attack an individual based only on the negative covert communications from the group.

In the book MOBBING: Emotional Abuse in the American Workplace, the authors Noa Zanolli Davenport Ph.D., Ruth Distler Schwartz, and Gail Pursell Elliott say that mobbing is typically found in work environments that have poorly organized production and/or working methods and incapable or inattentive management and that mobbing victims are usually "exceptional individuals who demonstrated intelligence, competence, creativity, integrity, accomplishment and dedication." Noa Zanolli Davenport has been retained as an expert witness in legal cases.

A common misconception is that victims of bullying are invariably weak, timid, submissive and often possessing negative attitudes about themselves. This profile, particularly of adult victims of workplace bullying, is very much at variance with the majority view of those writing on the subject. The image of the victim as insipid and inadequate belies the reality of the many positive attributes typically possessed by the bullied victim. Integrity, empathy, and confidence are frequently cited among these attributes. People who are good at their jobs, are popular with colleagues, speak out against unethical behaviour and are intolerant of hypocrisy are often targets of bullying. Those with the integrity to withstand the efforts of the bully to create a group of "yes men or women" risk being victimized. It is often the person who tries to change the system, who introduces new systems with enthusiasm and is potentially an organisation’s best asset, who becomes the victim of bullying.

It's interesting that mobbing involves weak management and an employee-victim who is an exceptional individual. I wonder to what degree my early childhood experience of being a creative, sensitive child in a home with parents who possessed poor parenting skills prepared me for my adult workplace problems.


Gary Freedman said...

"Mobbing is a term referring to a type of animal behaviour. A newer use refers to a group behavioural phenomenon in workplaces. In a different sense, it is a criminal offence in Scotland."

I suppose Arlen Specter knows all about that. He's an expert on Scottish law, after all!

Gary Freedman said...

In 1998 and 1999, Specter criticized the Republican Party for the impeachment of President Bill Clinton. Believing that Clinton had not received a fair trial, Specter cited Scots law to render a verdict of "not proven" on Clinton's impeachment. However, his verdict was recorded as "not guilty" in the Senate records.