Mobbing and Workplace Abuse: Survival Guide

ABSTRACT:

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.

David Castillo Dominici - depressed man

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.

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