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Mobbing is an Extreme Form of Workplace
Bullying that Devastates the Lives of Targets
In the early 1980s, a Swedish
psychologist, Prof. Heinz Leymann, identified a grave
threat to health and safety in what appear
to be the healthiest, safest workplaces in the world.
German was Leymann’s first language, Swedish
his second, but he labeled the distinct menace he
had found with an English word: mobbing.
- Professor Kenneth Westhues,
University of Waterloo
Mercy of the Mob: A Summary of Research on Workplace
The word "mobbing" was used by Professor
Heinz Leymann, PhD, MD sci, to describe a phenomenon
he encountered while researching the social dynamics
of the workplace.
"Psychological terror or mobbing in working
life involves hostile and unethical communication
which is directed in a systematic manner by one or
more individuals, mainly toward one individual, who,
due to mobbing, is pushed into a helpless and defenseless
position and held there by means of continuing mobbing
These actions occur on a very frequent basis (statistical
definition: at least once a week) and over a long
period of time (statistical definition: at least six
months´ duration). Because of the high frequency
and long duration of hostile behavior, this maltreatment
results in considerable mental, psychosomatic and
social misery. Thus, the definition does not focus
too much on the activities themselves, but rather
on the heavy mental strain.
In other words, the distinction between "conflict"
and "mobbing", to emphasize the concept
again, does not focus on what is done or how it is
done, but rather on the frequency and duration of
whatever is done.
The scientific definition of the term mobbing thus
refers to a social interaction, through which one
individual (seldom more than one) is attacked by one
or more (seldom more than four) individuals on almost
a daily basis and for periods of many months, forcing
the person into an almost helpless position with a
potentially high risk of expulsion."
mobbing spelled the end
of the target’s career,
Some of the worst cases of mobbing go on for much
longer periods of time and can actually continue for
many years causing severe, sometimes irreparable psychological,
emotional and physical health damage. In the worst
cases this abuse has lead to suicide (see
bullycide) and even incidents of workplace violence.
"Not infrequently, mobbing spelled the end of
the target’s career, marriage, health, and livelihood.
From a study of circumstances surrounding suicides
in Sweden, Leymann estimated that about twelve percent
of people who take their own lives have recently been
mobbed at work."
Kenneth Westhues, Professor of Sociology at the University
of Waterloo in Canada, has spent many years researching
the mobbing phenomenon and has written several books
and articles on the subject.
In his article At
the Mercy of the Mob: A Summary of Research on Workplace
Mobbing Prof. Westhues says, "Mobbing
can be understood as the stressor to beat all stressors.
It is an impassioned, collective campaign by co-workers
to exclude, punish, and humiliate a targeted worker.
Initiated most often by a person in a position of
power or influence, mobbing is a desperate urge to
crush and eliminate the target. The urge travels through
the workplace like a virus, infecting one person after
another. The target comes to be viewed as absolutely
abhorrent, with no redeeming qualities, outside the
circle of acceptance and respectability, deserving
only of contempt.
As the campaign proceeds, a steadily larger range
of hostile ploys and communications comes to be seen
Bullies are very good at convincing others, including
coworkers and managers, that the victim deserves the
abuse that they are subjected to. As the attacks continue
day in and day out the target begins to be worn down
and eventually will make a mistake. Perhaps they will
have an emotional outburst and lash back at the bully.
This is stereotypical in mobbing cases and this incident
will be used to turn the tables on the target as the
bully will loudly proclaim that this proves that the
target is the real troublemaker. This often
gives management, who have done nothing about the
bullying, the opportunity to bring formal disciplinary
measures against the target and the victim winds up
being the one who is punished.
This adds insult to injury as the mobbing continues
to escalate out of control, especially once managers
have gotten onboard with the abuse and have sided
with the bully.
* Professor Kenneth Westhues, University
(Exerpts from 'At the Mercy of the Mob: A Summary
of Research on Workplace Mobbing')
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