Safe Work Environment Act Report: “Mobbing” Spells Emotional Abuse

There will be no Community Party Hartford News column this week, due to a Hartford Arts and Heritage special edition of the paper. Next week’s column will feature a Policy Watch analysis of Gov. Dannel Malloy’s proposed budget.

Workers need REAL protection against workplace bullying. The Community Party’s Safe Work Environment Act provides more protection than the Healthy Workplace Bill (also introduced during the 2015 legislative session), while eliminating legal barriers workers face when they file a lawsuit against their employer. Sen. Gary Winfield’s workplace bullying bill includes CP’s Safe Work Environment Act advisory board amendment.

In the coming months we’ll continue to provide information on the psychological and legal aspects of workplace bullying. Employees must educate themselves about the law in order to empower themselves. A study found that 15% of total adult suicides in the U.S. are related to abusive workplace conduct, which the Department of Health and Human Services says is the equivalent of domestic violence.

This week we’ll share information on workplace mobbing which appears on Gail Pursell-Elliott’s Innovations website. Pursell-Elliott is a national expert on mobbing/bullying in schools and workplaces.

“Mobbing” spells emotional abuse

by Mary O. Bradley, Sunday Patriot-News, August 22,1999, Harrisburg, PA

One of the most vicious subcultures of collective humanity is a mob.

Whether pursuing the hapless Frankenstein creature, lynching a gunslinger in the Old West or rioting at the gates of a sold-out rock concert, the human mob takes on horrifying dimensions. Single-focused, whipped to a frenzy by a puffed-up martinet and unfettered by normal restraints of morality, the mob is merciless in its assault.

When mob mentality sinks its claws into a colleague or supervisor in the workplace, the results can be terrifying, especially when the demoralized victim internalizes that a fault of his justified the attack.

The collective assault in the office, on the assembly line or on the board room is known as mobbing, according to Gail Pursell Elliott, co-author of a new book titled “Mobbing: Emotional Abuse in the American Workplace.”

“People are aware of it, but they never had a name for it,” said Elliott, a human-resources and training consultant in Roland, Iowa. “When we speak to people, they know immediately what we are talking about. One person called it ‘barnyard mentality’, similar to chicken pecking.

Mobbing is defined as a concerted effort by co-workers, subordinates or superiors to force someone out of the workplace through rumor, innuendo, intimidation, discrediting, isolation or humiliation. It is a form of nonsexual, nonracial harassment.

It is a psychological form of bullying without the in-your-face confrontation or physical assault of the macho combatant. The assailant attacks with an iron fist encased in a velvet glove.

Managers and supervisors often are targeted by subordinates or peers. Most disconcerting of all is that “some companies condone this to get rid of someone”, said Elliott, a former Cumberland County resident and graduate of Cumberland Valley High School.

German industrial psychologist Dr. Heinz Leymann, who died in January, identified and studied the syndrome in Europe, Japan and Australia for two decades, but the behavior is only now being quantified in the United States, according to Elliott.

The book by Elliott, Dr. Noa Davenport of Colins, Iowa, and Ruth Distler Schwartz of Des Moines, Iowa, is considered the first published book examining the incidence of mobbing in the United States.

Davenport, of Swiss origin, is a cultural anthropologist who has worked internationally in research and administration, in government and nonprofit organizations and in higher education and business. She is an adjunct assistant professor at Iowa State University and principal of DNZ Consulting & Associates, a company that focuses on conflict management education.

Schwartz is president of R.A. Schwartz & Associates, a national consulting and marketing firm. She has held management positions in nonprofit organizations, higher education and the health-care industry.

A nationally certified trainer in communications and behavior management, Elliott has more than 20 years of experience in administration, training and motivation. The name of her business is “Innovations: Training with a Can-Do Attitude”

The 214-page book is filled with examples of mobbing victims who have been systematically professionally and emotionally starved out of their jobs. The victims were interviewed by the authors.

They were victims of a new manager who wanted his own people on the management team. They were employees who were taken out if the loop on projects and left with nothing to do. They were the victims of lies and innuendoes spread by colleagues standing at the water cooler.

Some of the victims tried to tough it out. Others took a different job in the organization. Others resigned.

One interviewee was no longer working in any job. The person was “permanently disabled and unable to re-enter the work force” after a traumatizing incident 15 years previously, Elliott said.

In a worst-case scenario, the victim may be so emotionally scarred that he is driven to suicide. Heinz Leymann, who lived and worked in Sweden,. estimated that 15 percent of the suicides in Sweden were attributed to workplace mobbing.

“Mobbing is very inhuman behavior,” Elliott said in a telephone interview. “It has a devastating effect on people, organizations and families”.

Sadly, the mob conspirators either wear blinders or justify their actions, believing that the victim wasn’t fit for the job. In some Swedish studies, Elliott said, people who mobbed the person had “no idea their actions had such an effect.”

The authors include chapters on how mobbing affects the victim and what victims can do to cope, as well as the effects of mobbing on corporate America.

Despite the weighty subject, the book is approachable and readable. “Anybody can pick it up,” Elliott said. It is a wake-up notice to employees and managers and a self-help book for victims and families.”

“I believe everyone has the right to be treated with dignity and respect, ” Elliott said. Too often today employees are treated as “objects and opportunities, rather than people with wants, needs and desires.”

Have You Ever Heard of Mobbing?
©2000 Gail Pursell Elliott

The topic of workplace bullies has become more of an issue over the past several years. Workplace violence, people going ‘postal’, etc., has become more prevalent. When one or more people create a group to engage in bullying behavior towards another person, the term used is ‘mobbing’.

Mobbing is a ‘ganging up’ on someone to force the person out through the use of rumor, innuendo, discrediting, humiliation, isolation, and intimidation. It is a group bullying process that occurs repeatedly over a period of weeks, months, or even years. The mobber(s) portray the victim as the person at fault. This is one of the nastier forms of emotional abuse and the impact on the individual can be devastating. As a result of the experience, many victims of mobbing suffer from post traumatic stress disorder, disabling physical illnesses, mental and emotional problems, experience the dissolution of their closest personal relationships, and some even have committed suicide. In fact, the Swedish research revealed that about 15% of all suicides in that country were a direct result of mobbing in the workplace.

Mobbing has been researched in Scandinavian countries and in Europe since the early 1980’s. Books have been written on the subject. Legislation and occupational safety statutes have been passed in Sweden and are proposed in other countries. Mobbing is a household word in German speaking countries. A major movement against mobbing behavior began in the United Kingdom in 1994.

This term may be new to you, but the behavior is one that you will recognize quickly. It is possible that this has happened to you, to someone you care about, or within your own company. It’s a recurring theme in literature.

Risk Management Issue

Mobbing is a serious behavioral risk management issue for organizations. It results in high turnover, low morale, increased absenteeism, decreased productivity, loss of key individuals. It undermines teamwork, trust, and a sense of shared vision.

In 1994, an article in the EAP’s national publication talked about corporate behavioral risk management as a growing concern. The author described an incident in which the CEO of an east coast company asked for an internal behavioral risk management assessment. The company was experiencing low morale, high turnover, and there had been two suicides on the Vice Presidency level.

Scott H. Peters, Esq. of The Peters Law Firm. P.C., Iowa, has described mobbing as a “widespread, vicious, workplace tort.” Mr. Peters also recommends that “plaintiff counsel should familiarize themselves with this issue as clients will surely become aware of their rights as the decade progresses. Corporate and defense counsel will need to be prepared to advise management and HR leadership as they seek to incorporate mobbing policies into corporate documents.”

Once mobbing begins in an organization, it can occur repeatedly and can spring up in more than one area. It’s tough to stop unless it’s recognized and intercepted in the early stages. The fact that mobbing may be instigated from higher management levels, thus ignored or even condoned, is another crucial issue. Some human resources people have been ‘ordered’ or directed to support a mobbing process when the mobber is on a higher level of the organization.

Many ethical human resources professionals don’t become aware of a mobbing situation until it is well underway. It can be both frustrating and confusing. Most have seen this happen at least once in their careers but never had a name to put to it, nor did they see that it was a syndrome with a specific pattern. When these are presented, most have said that the ‘players’ in the roles become obvious.

Content copyright 2012 – 2014. INNOVATIONS-TRAINING.COM All rights reserved.


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