MOBBING AT THE WORKPLACE: A MENTAL HEALTH SITUATION

In the sixties, the eminent Austrian ethologist Konrad Lorenz used the English term ‘mobbing’ to describe the behaviour that animals use to scare away a stronger, preying enemy. The word mob means a disorderly crowd engaged in lawless violence. It is derived from the Latin mobile vulgus meaning “vacillating crowd.” The verb to mob means “to crowd about, attack or annoy.”

Today, mobbing is a particular type of bullying that is defined as "an emotional assault”. It begins when an individual becomes the target of disrespectful and harmful behavior. “Mobbing” is a type of systematic psychological harassment in the workplace that happens every time an employee is being harassed and stigmatized by his colleagues or superiors through gossip, intimidation, humiliation, discrediting and isolation, endangering his emotional wellbeing as well as his professional competence.

There are different schools of thought when it comes to mobbing. One view is that mobbing is often found in work environments that have poorly organised working methods or incapable or inattentive management. The mobbing victims are usually "exceptional individuals who have demonstrated intelligence, competence, creativity, integrity, accomplishment and dedication". Another view is when mobbing is found in organisations where there is limited opportunity for employees to exit, whether through tenure systems or contracts that make it difficult to terminate an employee (such as universities or unionised organisations), and/or where finding comparable work in the same community makes it difficult for the employee to voluntarily leave (such as academic positions, religious institutions, or military). 

In both situations, efforts to eliminate the employee will intensify to push the person out against his or her will through shunning, sabotage, false accusations and a series of investigations and poor reviews. Organizations that have limited opportunities for advancement can be prone to mobbing because those who do advance are more likely to view challenges to their leadership as threats to their precarious positions. While it is known that there are cruel and damaging consequences to mobbing, the behaviour itself, termed as workplace aggression, is grounded in group psychology, rather than individual psychosis—even when the mobbing is initiated due to a leader's personal psychosis.

This mobbing phenomenon has been studied intensively in the 1990s in countries like Norway, Sweden and Denmark, Great Britain, France, Italy and Spain. Mobbing today is basically referred to as actions of intense psychological abuse carried out against an employee with the purpose of making him/her resign from his/her job, where firing or relocating the employee would lead to legal troubles for the employer. 

The psychological pressure from mobbing can affect one’s health. Mobbing, as it is known now always starts with a conflict. If the conflict is not resolved, it can evolve into mobbing. One should not confuse mobbing with bullying. Bullying starts with a conflict, however, it is not necessary that every conflict ends with bullying. If a conflict is not resolved and the bullying increases in magnitude, the first conflict becomes meaningless. In contrast to conflicts, mobbing is always negative. “Psychological terror” or “mobbing in work life.” means hostile and unethical communication which is directed in a systematic way by one person or a number of people mainly towards one individual adds that mobbing can take place occasionally or every day for a long period of time. 

Mobbing at the workplace relates to issues related to institutional recognition, or valuing of differences across individuals and social groups. These issues are categorised as a phenomenon of diversity, which can be further differentiated, based on race, sex, disability, age and other civil rights-based group definitions. Some proponents broaden the diversity to include differences in life experiences, personalities and professional disciplines. Inherent in these diversity approaches is that these differences are seen to be positive and will strengthen a culture, at the workplace or in society. However, at times these differences do create tension that leads to conflict. 

 

Individual Personality Traits

Mobbing could stem from the simple view of how the individual differs in view in terms of what respect means thereby expressing a differing attitude to their victim.

Incivility is a phenomenon used interchangeably with mobbing. People behaving in an uncivil manner are often rude, boorish and non-normative. They violate norms of respect and regard for others. The common view is that they do not do things the “way we do things here.” Such personalities make attempts to bring uncivil workers into group discussions and try to ensure individuals accept operational norms of conduct.

 When it comes to mobbing at the workplace the individual will demonstratedisrespect that can bemore negative than incivility. Such a behavior is a personalized contempt for other persons. People disrespecting others believe they are superior, suggesting narcissistic tendencies. They disregard the opinions, qualifications, status, reputation and experience of others. They believe that respect granted by them to others must be earned. To them, respect and dignity are not inherent rights of persons. 

 

Four Stages of the Mobbing Process

The act of mobbing at the workplace does not happen instantly. It is a gradual process which is categorized into 4 stages, (i) preparation, (ii) slow or precipitated evolution, (iii) maturisation and (iv) persistent action. 


The first stage manifests itself through diverging views, differences in opinion or competitiveness, which is a normal phenomenon and sometimes even beneficial for the progress of an organization. 

The second stage is when elements from the first stage happen so often or repeatedly that they can or might trigger the occurrence of mobbing. The psychological balance of a person is somehow threatened, self-confidence is jeopardized, and stress and anxiety become a problem. 


The third stage is when management should get involved but most of the time management does not intervene resulting in it becoming too late and the victim has already been decided to be removed or has been removed. Such instances do lead to legal repercussions. 

The final stage leads to the incident being a precedent where the victim can be stigmatised or the victim is socially isolated leading to his/her removal or departure from the organisation.

 

Policy

Employers wishing to reduce or eliminate mobbing have to create a set of behavioral standards. Those standards will act as a “line in the sand” across which employees must not cross. After the standards are communicated as expectations for employees, no one has the right to feign ignorance of the new rules. 

One of the first decisions is whether to write a stand-alone, mobbing-specific policy or to meld it with existing policies that can provide avenue for potential mobbing to occur. Two policies that could incorporate mobbing at the workplace are the nondiscrimination and anti-violence at the workplace. 

Employers must view mobbing differently than they do discrimination or harassment. They must state that they view mobbing as seriously as an illegal misconduct. Mobbing complaints must be handled with impartiality indifference, non-prejudicial and non-biasness. To devise such a culture management must be allowed to innovate ways that can protect the individuals from retaliation by the mobber for merely seeking help. 

 

CONCLUSION

 It is time for management to seriously understand and look deeply into their own organisations work culture, whether it does promote or enable an environment of mobbing.  The best way to do this is to look at the trends and behavior patterns of how group dynamics at their workplace. Having groups off individuals hound oneself at the workplace can be very stressful and in many cases a torcher.

Attitudes and behavior of managers at workplace are highly important to ensure a peaceful and safe work environment. Managers should be aware of the mobbing behavior exhibited at the workplace and should display the attitudes and behaviors which will prevent mobbing.

 

THE ARTICLE

This article was written by compiling information from several notable authors cited in the bibliography. The trigger to write this article stemmed from a recent Mental Health Conference @the Workplace held in Kuala Lumpur recently where Dr. Sudeep was moderator to one of the sessions. 

 

PURPOSE OF THIS ARTICLE

It is intended that the reader receives some benefit from understanding the issues associated with Mobbing and is now able to form an argument for or against the notion if Mobbing is a matter to be addressed at the workplace. 

 

ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Dr. Sudeep Mohandas is the Co-Founder/Managing Director of I First International (www.ifirstinternational.com)

  

BIBLIOGRAPHY

1.             Mobbing in a Non-Profit Organisation, May 2017. Andrej Kovacic, Nevenka Podgornik, Zorica Pristov, Andrej Raspo. Organizacija. Vol 50. No. 2. Pp178-186.

 

2.             Understanding inappropriate behaviour: harassment, bullying and mobbing at work in Malaysia. 2014. Yuzana Mohd.Yusop, Martin Dempster, Clifford Stevenson. Social and Behaviorial Sciences 127, pp179-183.

 

3.             MOBBING: Emotional Abuse in the American Workplace. 1999. Noa Zanolli Davenport, Ruth Distler Schwartz Gail Pursell Elliott.  Published by Civil Society Publishing.

 

4.             The Role of the Consultant in Assessing and Preventing Workplace Bullying and Mobbing. 2018.  Gary Namie, and Ruth Namie. Workplace Bullying Institute. [https://www.researchgate.net/publication/324758733
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