October 12th, 2012
Mobbing or Bullying in the Workplace: Preventable Misery by Any Name
The founder of the international movement was Heinz Leymann. He dubbed the phenomenon “mobbing.” We imported the British term, “workplace bullying,” which followed Leymann’s work by a few years. The authoritative account of Leymann’s contributions can be found in Ken Westhues’ incomparable mobbing portal website. See his tribute to Leymann.
In the workplace, a mob consists of ordinary workers who, after deeming an individual worker a threat, collectively attack the perceived enemy. Like birds, the individual workers harm the target by collective and relentless small jabs. The mob of workers can be understood as an entity in and of itself. Once it is formed, it takes on a life of its own, even when members may question the benefit of continuing to punish the target. As an aggressive force, a mob is very different from the”toxic worker” described in bullying literature. The toxic worker is understood as an aggressive individual who willfully attacks innocent others. By contrast, the mob is a collection of ordinary workers who collectively demonize an individual and destroy him or her.
At WBI we have long defined bullying situations in which there are multiple perpetrators. For instance, the instigator (and there always is one who most keenly feels threatened by the more skilled target) quickly gets coworkers on her or his side. Either the command to support them is explicit “do as I say.” Or the coercion is subtle, mixing rewards for siding with the aggressor and threatening punishment — social exclusion primarily — for not siding with the bully voluntarily. From our perspective, all mobbing begins with a single instigator, and all bullying quickly becomes mobbing.
Worse still, bullying quickly escalates beyond the dyad, the paired bully and target, when the institution is asked to provide relief. Managers side with manager bullies. HR supports management. Executives have been trained, by the bully (through ingratiation, butt kissing), to consider the bully indispensable if and when he or she is reported to be acting abusively. So, once a complaint is made known, the target faces the entire institution against them. It is a ganging-up.
We respectfully disagree with Westhues in that bullying, like mobbing, is done by ordinary (non-psychotic) workers. Very few are psychopaths (technically people with antisocial personality disorder). Most are good people in other life, non-work settings, who, when the work environment provides the opportunity to aggress against others for personal career advancement and which is rewarded by promotions or treating complaints with indifference, they will exploit and harm others. Mobbers and bullies are one and the same.
Bullies, as individuals, also lose track of their original reason for targeting others. Once it is reinforced over time, learning principles can explain its continuity. Bullying becomes a way of managing subordinates or interacting with peers. Once they have gotten away with it, bullies need not look back and change. Only the institution can constrain their behavior, which is much different than changing them as people with semi-permanent adult personalities.
Mobbing aficionados prefer to see bullying and mobbing as distinctly different phenomena. Targets don’t much care about semantics. They both generate health-harming, career-ending misery. We agree with targets.
This entry was posted on Friday, October 12th, 2012 at 10:38 pm and is filed under Tutorials About Bullying, WBI Education. You can follow any responses to this entry through the RSS 2.0 feed. You can leave a response, or trackback from your own site.