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Workplace Mobbing

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
At the Mercy of the Mob: A Summary of Research on Workplace Mobbing

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 activities.

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."

Not infrequently, mobbing spelled the end
of the target’s career, marriage, health,
and livelihood.

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 as legitimate."

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 of Waterloo
(Exerpts from 'At the Mercy of the Mob: A Summary of Research on Workplace Mobbing')


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