A practical, realistic guide for surviving mobbing or workplace abuse by someone who has been through it. 11 tips that you can start using today to survive.
Mobbing is a generalized form of workplace abuse. It is not sexual or racial or any other form of harassment that is covered by laws. It typically manifests as emotional abuse with superiors, co-workers and even subordinates “ganging up” on one person in an effort to force them out of the workplace. Various forms and signs of abuse include intimidation, discrediting, innuendo, humiliation, isolation and rumor.
There are no set laws that protect workers from this type of harassment and abuse. Of course, getting a new job is the ideal solution most of the time, but that is usually impractical or even impossible. However, it is possible to survive mobbing and even rise above it.
I was a victim of mobbing at my place of employment for more several months. At its worst, I was not allowed to attend team or staff meetings and my co-workers were not allowed to talk to me. If they did, their jobs were threatened. I was completely isolated, verbally abused, yelled at in front of co-workers (for things I did not do) and continually called into my PM’s office and withstood a litany of false accusations. I was and still am a good employee with a strong work ethic. I am a hard worker and am very productive. I never received any explanation for why I was treated the way I was. One day the PM was fired and a new PM came on board who was much different and the abuse ended.
The damage, though, had been done and I had already put out feelers to find a new job. I did find a different employer and was much happier – I am even better now that I work for myself as a freelancer. But the dark times sometimes haunt me still, mainly because I have no idea why they treated me the way that they did – and I never even received an apology. That is water under the bridge though. What is important now is that I survived – this is how I did it.
Do Talk to Someone Objective
It never hurts to bounce things off of someone who is objective to make sure that you aren’t overreacting. Talk to someone you trust who can give you an objective opinion on whether the behavior appears to be abusive or not. If your company has an alternative dispute resolution office or a mediator you may want to speak with them if it is safe to do so.
Don’t Decrease your Production
As the stress of abuse drains you, you may find it difficult to be as productive as normal. Do whatever you can to combat this. Whatever you do, don’t allow your production to fall. If your workload is decreased or your responsibilities reduced, continue to do the best job possible, but never allow yourself to appear idle. Take a course if your employer offers professional development courses or do some professional reading. It is important to always look busy.
Do Document Everything
Document every conversation, confrontation and instance of abuse. Record the date, time, key persons involved and as much detail about the event as possible. Keep it in a safe place (not on your work computer). Try to write your reports as soon after the event occurred as possible, while it is still fresh in your mind. Also, keep all performance evaluations, records of work you have done, schedules and any other proof that you are doing your job and are a “good employee.” If you can, take photos, record conversations and save emails. Some companies do not allow cameras and recorders, so this may not be an option for you, but do whatever you can to document as much as you can.
Don’t Lose your Cool
When someone is bullying you and being abusive to you, it can be very tempting to blow up or have a complete meltdown. It is vital that you keep your emotions in check. Remain as neutral as possible. Appearing depressed or beaten down can spur your attacker or attackers to continue or even heighten the abuse. Bullies feed off of the feeling they get when they can beat someone down. Blowing up will likely only agitate them and could get you booted right out the door.
Do Get Counseling
It is a good idea to get counseling to help you cope with the stress and pain of abuse. If you don’t have insurance, many counties have mental health services for uninsured citizens that are either free or on a sliding scale fee. Some places even provide counseling over the phone. A good counselor can give you some good coping tools and help you keep the workplace stress from affecting your home life.
Don’t Feed the Drama
Remain as neutral as possible. If others are gossiping about you or about your attacker, don’t join in. Engaging in gossip about your attacker will only feed the drama and could cause the situation to escalate. It may be tempting to gather your allies and enjoy their outraged support of you, but don’t go there. It will make the entire workplace more uncomfortable than it already is and could even get some of your co-workers in the hot seat.
Do Create a Support System
You do need a support system to help you get through the abuse. If you have some co-workers that you trust, you can turn to them. Meet with them outside of work, at lunch or after work, to talk. Don’t engage in discussions about the abuse or the bully while you are in your office or in the building. You just don’t know who is listening. You can also join support groups for people who are victims of workplace abuse. There are several on Facebook if you’d rather go the social media route. Be careful, though, social media can be great but it can also be full of the very bullies that you are seeking to escape.
Don’t be Combative
When you are attacked, your first instinct may be to fight back. If someone is yelling at you, you may feel like jarring back at them. Don’t do it. They could be doing it as a way to provoke you and when you fight back you can be dinged with disciplinary action for being “insubordinate” or worse. Like I said earlier, keep your cool. Don’t stoop to their level and argue with them. Calmly state your side and if they continue to be abusive, sit quietly. Answer questions as concisely. Don’t say any more than you have to and don’t be afraid of periods of silence. The more you say, the more ammunition you give them. But if you are silent and just look at them, they are more likely to say things that will trip them up.
Do take Care of Yourself
Enduring abuse is extremely stressful and taxing on the mind, body and spirit. Take care of yourself. Eat right, get enough sleep and relax when you can. Do little things for yourself like take a long, hot bath, read a book or go for a walk. Exercise is a great stress reliever and it can go a long way in helping you cope. Your work day may be horrible, but when you walk out that door leave it all behind you.
Don’t give them a Reason
Abuse can lead to stress and depression which can cause a variety of problems, both physical and mental. While it may be difficult to put one foot in front of the other or even to get out of bed, you simply have to do it. Do not give them a reason to discipline you or even notice you. This means don’t come in late, don’t leave early, don’t take an extended lunch, don’t have too many absences and don’t take too many breaks. While your co-workers may be enjoying a more lax working environment, it is important the you absolutely tow the line.
Do know that it isn’t your Fault
Most mobbing and bullying is not any fault of the victim. It is usually due to the bully’s own insecurities, intimidations and personality issues. It isn’t your fault. People make the choice to abuse. They thrive on hurting people and making them feel bad, beating them down. There is probably nothing that you could have done to stop it.
I survived some long, difficult, painful, dark months while I was being bullied. I posted various scriptures from the Bible in my cubicle, verses that gave me strength and hope. I took the words from the song “Trading my Sorrows” and posted them on my wall along with inspirational poems (like “Don’t Quit!”) and inspiring quotes. When the days would get dark, I turned to these words and they gave me the strength to go on. Oh, and I did a lot of praying.
Part of being a full time freelance writer is looking for new clients. I have some room in my “garage” right now and I was checking out some job postings for companies that are looking for part time writers. They all basically looked alike – as writing job posts are wont to do – but then one jumped out at me. I have been at this for a while, but I admit I have never seen this in a job post.
After their lengthy description of the position, writer requirements, and other specifics of the job, there was a three sentence paragraph that gave me a good chuckle. It started with the typical “send your resume and cover letter to blah, blah, blah,” but it was the last sentence that was classic. It read, “Because of the Dunning-Kruger Effect, it is important to provide concrete examples illustrating why you are the ideal candidate.”
Now, you may not be familiar with the Dunning-Kruger Effect by name, but if you have spent any time around humans you have very likely seen it in action. The short definition is the malady of the inflated ego, but I like a little more detail.
Basically, it is a term used to describe the phenomenon of how ignorance or incompetence evokes more confidence than knowledge or competence. There are actual studies that have been done on this showing that the people who are the most incompetent are the very ones who are the most convinced of their competence.
It is the epitome of ignorance is bliss.
To illustrate the Dunning-Kruger Effect let’s look at this scenario. You ask two people to answer a series of 10 math problems and one person gets 3 correct while the other gets 9 correct, the person who got 3 right will tend to think of terms of “I got 3 right.” The person who got 9 correct, though, will typically think in terms of “I missed one.” The psychology behind this is that the most competent people are usually the ones to underestimate or downplay their competence the most while the incompetent folks are convinced that they are the most competent people in the room. They are essentially incapable of recognizing their own incompetence.
The Dunning-Kruger Effect in action:
- Incompetent people do not recognize that they lack skills
- Incompetent people do not recognize that someone else possesses genuine skill
- Incompetent people do not recognize how far their inadequacy extends
- Incompetent people do not recognize and acknowledge that they lack skill, after they experience training for that specific skill
You’ve had the boss who thought he or she could do it all? Often that compulsion stems from this.
You can’t do it all; no one can.
A Pacific News article, We are all Confident Idiots, explains the Dunning-Kruger Effect quite well. Plus it’s an enjoyable read. I highly suggest it if you want to know more. Another excellent piece is Unskilled and Unaware. It is the original paper written by Dunning and Kruger.
My focus here is not to provide information on this condition, or whatever it is; my focus here is to tell you how it is wrecking your marketing strategy.
All too often business owners will decide to forego hiring an expert, believing that they can do the marketing themselves. They google a few websites and think, “How hard can it be?”
Well, if you don’t know what you are doing it can be hard, very hard – and very bad. This is especially true if you are pouring money into advertising, yet you have minimal or no experience in advertising. Sure, some people are naturals, but those guys are few and far between. The rest of us have to study and work hard to get the knowledge, experience and skills that make us good marketers.
Marketing is a science and an art. There are intricacies that only experience can teach you. It seems like every day there is yet another new Google algorithm or social media platform, or SEO technique. You have to stay on top of it all in order to effectively compete. And if you are busy handling all of your business affairs, how can you devote the time and energy to your company’s marketing strategy as well? When do you sleep?
Marketing is not simple and it certainly isn’t easy. It takes time to learn, to get a feel for it. Call it intuition if you want, but it is learned through working in the industry and working for multiple clients across multiple industries. It is not an easy job and 9 out of 10 small businesses are cheating themselves out of higher conversions, increased traffic, and improved customer loyalty because they overestimate their own ability to market their company instead of delegating the task to a professional.
However, if you still aren’t convinced, let’s look at why you would do better to hire someone to do your marketing.
It will free up more of your time so you can do what you do best – grow your business. Marketing any company takes time and focus. If you are trying to do it all yourself, it is a much more cost effective and efficient move to hire someone to do your marketing.
You don’t want to get wrapped up in the details – but you still need the details. Even most marketing companies don’t do their own promotional writing, they hire writers to do it. Even they, the marketing experts, recognize where their strengths, and weaknesses, lie and they know that it will be done faster and better when the right person is doing the right job. Everyone is in his or her own lane, attending to the relevant details in that lane – and everything gets done.
Your marketing schedule will not be interrupted. If you have absolutely nothing else to do it is probably pretty easy to keep your marketing on schedule, but you are running a business. If you are trying to do it all, something is going to suffer and it will probably be your marketing.
Someone on the outside can give you a perspective that is fresh and objective. When you are writing your own stuff and marketing your own company it is easy to get wrapped up in the emotional attachments, If your own needs, agendas, motivations. An outsider is more apt to think like your customer, your target and create material that speaks to them.
If you are a marketing pro and you think I am out of my mind crazy (and maybe dealing with a little Dunning-Kruger Effect myself) well, go ahead and do your own marketing. Who knows, you might be an absolute genius at it. More power to you!
But if you are sitting there, staring at your screen, mouth agape, thinking “Wow. She’s talking about ME!” Well, acknowledging the problem is the first step in solving it.
The bottom line here is, the Dunning-Kruger Effect could very well be wrecking your marketing strategy – and your business. Take a long, hard look at your business, your marketing, and ask yourself this one, simple question: “Is this working?”
The other day my husband walked into the house with a look on his face that I can only describe as stricken.
I sat up straight, suddenly on alert. My husband isn’t one to be visibly upset very often – not unless it is really bad.
“What’s wrong?” I asked, mentally going through the things that could be going wrong: elderly parents, kids, our business, our home.
“I got a squirrel killed.” He replied, clearly upset over this, um, tragedy.
I was completely thrown off by his answer. “You what?”
“I got a squirrel killed.” He watched me, watching him as I waited for further explanation – and understanding of how this was such a traumatic event. Even he, as a pest control professional and business owner, had referred to them on more than one occasion as tree rats.
He continued. “I distracted it and a cat came out of nowhere, pounced on it, and dragged it off into the bushes.” Ah.
He didn’t appreciate my (admittedly) flippant remark that went something like, “That’s just how the food chain works. Life is a part of death.” He was still upset. So I asked him how in the world he thought he distracted a squirrel so thoroughly that it would let down its guard long enough for a predator to pounce. I’ll spare you the mental picture, but it involved a large, white man throwing his hands up in the air, waving them, and yelling, “Hey squirrel!”
Yeah, I don’t ask anymore. My husband is a wonderful, brilliant, compassionate man with the most amazing sense of humor I have even encountered. His quirkiness matches my quirkiness and it is one of the main things that made me fall in love with him in the first place.
He had been outside cleaning the grill; I’m not sure how he went from that to squirrel killer – or accomplice.
And that is how we wound up on the squirrel mafia’s hit list.
It did get me thinking though. How many times have we started a marketing strategy or embarked on a business building project only to get distracted by things? Distracted marketing can be death to a business.
Sure, there is no large, white man standing in your front yard, waving his arms shouting “Hey squirrel,” but there are other things that can draw our focus. Business issues as well as personal issues can cause us to take our eyes off the goal – and off of the predators (also known as competitors) that are lurking, lying in wait, ready to pounce when you get distracted.
We tell our kids to keep their mind on their studies. The media is always warning us of the dangers of distracted driving. Experts scare us to death with horror stories about distracted parenting.
What about distracted marketing? You don’t hear so much about keeping your marketing focus sharp. It is important though. Small businesses are particularly vulnerable to competitor attacks. You can’t afford to stop assessing your surroundings in order to give your attention to a large white man waving his arms and calling to you, lest the cat slip from its hiding place and destroy you.
So how can you keep your focus in this increasingly distracting world?
Yeah, everyone says set goals – and it’s really good advice. Set marketing goals, not just for what you will do at each stage of your marketing campaign, but what you expect to accomplish. Sure, this is Marketing 101, but sometimes it is necessary to return to the basics.
Put it in Writing
Put everything in writing, your strategy, your goals, your benchmarks, everything. When you have ideas or make observations, write them down. Keep it all in a file and actually use the information. Find a way to organize your notes so you can access them easily. While some of your observations or comments may not work on this campaign, they may make all the difference for the next one.
Create a Schedule
Create alerts on your phone, Google calendar, all of your time management tools. Small business owners tend to wear a lot of hats and when they get caught up with wearing one attention demanding hat the others can suffer. Marketing is often relegated to the end of the line, an afterthought, but it should be a priority. If you don’t market you won’t have any customers to serve so carve out some time each day to work on it whether it’s your content management, social media scheduling, or updating your website. Set an alarm and just do it.
Put on Blinders
There is a difference between being vigilant and being distractible – and you need to find it. This is the beauty of carving out specific time to devote to marketing your company. For that time, those two or three hours – or whatever – you don’t have to pay attention to anything else. Unless there is a true emergency, anything can wait for a couple of hours. Put on those blinders and keep your focus on your marketing.
Do it Every Day
Back to Marketing 101, but you need to hear this. Too many small business owners painstakingly create their marketing strategies and set them in motion only to pull an ostrich mama move and abandon them. Your marketing campaign needs your hands on it every single day. Yes, every day you need to do something related to marketing your business. Work on your blog, update your website (the majority of business owners do not update their websites nearly as often as they should), or engage your customers on your social media channels, but always, always monitor and measure to see how your efforts are working.
Don’t fall victim to distracted marketing; it is something that is completely avoidable. You took the time to plan your business, put that plan into action, and make it work, do the same with your marketing. And keep your focus.
Have you ever fallen victim to distracted marketing? What strategies do you have in place to prevent it from happening?
Emotional abuse, whether at home or at work can be tricky to identify. Typically, the victims of abuse are made to feel that their feelings of being abused are unfounded. This checklist will help identify instances of abuse.
Psychological violence, mobbing, harassment and other forms of workplace abuse have remained out of the lime light for a variety of reasons. Since it is not usually driven by the known forms of harassment: sex, race, disability, etc., most people have a difficult time wrapping their minds around the concept. However, this form of abuse is very real and very damaging. Think about it. You spend a good deal of your time at work. To put it into perspective, a week consists of 168 hours, so if you are working 40 hours a week and are enduring any of these forms of workplace abuse, then almost a quarter of your life each week is spent in an abusive environment. That is not healthy.
While we pay close attention to domestic violence, little heed is given to abuse in the workplace. This blind eye has allowed it to flourish and grow into a serious problem that is crippling our workforce. As with any abuser, their intent is to beat down their victim, gain control and destroy their self esteem. Many victims of abuse, in the workplace or otherwise, feel worn down, exhausted, destroyed and hopeless. They feel that they have no recourse, are not able to defend themselves and have not choice but to continue in the dysfunctional, destructive relationship with their abuser. Few feel capable of defending themselves and fewer still feel that they have the power to initiate legal action. They feel trapped and alone, which is exactly what their abuser wants. It is how he or she maintains power over the victim.
This checklist will help you determine if you are being abused, particularly at work.
Does your employer/co-worker….
____Reprimand you in front of your co-workers?
____ Make fun of or embarrass you in front of your co-workers?
____Belittle or criticize your accomplishments?
____ Try to undermine or halt your pursuit of personal or professional goals?
____ Make you feel powerless or not in control?
____Cause you to feel as if you are unable to make decisions?
____Use threats (implicit or explicit) or intimidation to gain your compliance?
____Tell you that you will not find another job that will put up with you the way they do?
____Get physical with you, rough or not (any unwanted physical contact is harassment)?
____Use physical forms of intimidation such as checking up on you, lurking near your work area, standing very close to you when talking to you or standing over you?
____Use their position of authority as an excuse for saying hurtful things or for abusing you?
____Use physical forms of intimidation when meeting with you or reprimanding you (standing in the doorway, making threatening gestures, raising their voice, standing over you, etc)?
____Blame you for their actions towards you?
____Use verbal bullying as a way of manipulating you (interrupting, yelling, not listening, changing the topic, twisting your words)?
____Blame you for things that you did not do and for which they have no proof?
____Fabricate things that you have done wrong, then reprimand you for them?
____Mocks you, ridicules you, puts you down, calls you names, trivializes your words or accuses you of lying (implicitly or explicitly)?
____Make demands or give directives that are contradictory?
____Intimidates you by using angry expressions or gestures and/or by raising their voice?
____Harass you about things you have done in the past, issues that have been resolved, etc.?
____Use economic coercion as a way of manipulating you or intimidating you to “play the game” (threatening your job – implicitly or explicitly)?
____Sabotage your efforts at work (make up things about you, psychologically batter you so that your production suffers)?
____Uses pressure tactics such as guilt, accusations, threats or the “silent treatment” to manipulate you?
____Call you out for every little thing that they can, fabricating malicious intent on your part where there was none?
____Lie to you, withhold information from you, leave you off of important work related correspondence or leave you out of company communication?
____Refuse to listen to your side of the story when you are reprimanded, but instead berate you and accuse you of things that are not true?
____Make you feel like there “is no way out” and that you have no recourse?
____Isolate you from your co-workers either by forbidding contact or by abusing them when you associate with them (make them victims of abuse because of their association to you)?
____Threatens you verbally or nonverbally in either a direct or indirect manner?
____Try to control your relationships and activities that exist outside of work, such as socializing with co-workers, attending company events, etc.?
____Denies or minimizes being abusive?
____Feel scared of how your supervisor or co-worker will act?
____Feel fearful of losing your job despite your good performance on the job?
____Feel isolated from your co-workers or work team?
____Feel guilty because your association with a co-worker will result in their being abused?
____Believe that you can turn things around and make your employer stop abusing you if only you changed something about yourself (be even more productive, be quieter or “invisible,” etc.)?
____Try not to do anything that would cause conflict or make your employer angry (walk on egg shells)?
____Feel that your employer disrespects you?
____Feel that no matter what you do, you will never do anything right in your employer’s eyes?
____Feel like you are beaten down, broken or depressed because of how your employer is treating you?
____Feel that you do not deserve better treatment or are not worth being treated with respect?
____Feel like no matter what you do, your employer is never happy with you?
____Feel uneasy about talking to your co-workers about anything, even work related topics?
____Feel nervous or afraid of what your employer will do if you call in sick at work, arrive a few minutes late one day, have a problem with your work tools (computer, software) or have to leave for an emergency?
____Feel that you can not trust your co-workers because it has been implied or told to you by your employer that they will tell on you?
____Feel that you have no one to go to for help because any attempts to seek support or help from upper management will be undermined or intercepted by your abuser?
____Worry that your production is compromised because of frequent “meetings” or “counseling” by your supervisor?
____Feel exhausted and stressed out because of the way that your supervisor or co-workers treat you?
____Feel that you are held to rigid and impossible timelines, structures in workflow and deadlines?
____Experience feelings of dread when thinking about your job or when you are at work?
____Feel that you are being set you up for failure?
____Distrust your feelings and perceptions about yourself, your co-workers or your employer?
____Feel inadequate when doing work that you once felt confident in doing?
____Experience minor or major illnesses frequently?
____Feel that you are always being watched for any slip or infraction?
____Worry that you have done something wrong on your job although you can think of nothing?
____Dread going into work where once you looked forward to it?
____Feel that you are being set up to be fired, disciplined or demoted?
____Feel that the stresses you experience at work are affecting your home life?
____Experience frequent headaches, gastrointestinal upset, increase or decrease in appetite or insomnia?
____Always do what your employer wants you to do even if it goes against what you believe in or you feel that it crosses ethical lines?
____Feel that you are walking on egg shells at work?
____Remain with your employer because you feel that you have no recourse?
One instance can qualify as “abusive,” but it does not necessarily fall into the category of mobbing or bullying. These terms are used to describe a pattern of behavior that includes some or all of the characteristics listed here. The problem with this type of abuse, as with other forms of psychological abuse, is that it often can not be verified. This exacerbates the effects of the abusive cycle because the victim often can not get validation for the abuse. Abusive behaviors are usually done subversively, behind closed doors, implicitly and the abuser may even accuse the victim of causing the abuse or of fabricating it.
This is why documentation is so vital in these situations. When many small, seemingly insignificant things are documented, they can create a much more telling, bigger picture.
If any of these are happening in your workplace, get help. It is important to take care of yourself even if you are in a position where action can not be taken legally. Talk to someone. Talk to a counselor, your doctor, a friend, an attorney. Without some help, the abuse will continue. Abusive personalities prey on who they perceive to be weak. They tear down the self esteem of their victims and make them feel as if they have no options, no where else to go. Establish a strong support system for yourself. Without some support, you will continue to take the abuse and believe that you have no recourse. You can be free from abuse in the workplace.