Most attention has been directed to spousal abuse, but workplace abuse is rising in prevalence. As incidences of workplace abuse increase, it is important to learn to recognize the signs. Education is the first step to getting free.
As the nation’s economy continues to decline, more people are losing their jobs and jobs are becoming more and more scarce. Some organizations are capitalizing on the situation by lowering their standards for the treatment of their employees. After all, they are the “only game in town” and it isn’t as if you can just walk out of one job and into another right now. These opportunists are leaving in their wake employees who are overworked, stressed out, psychologically battered and bullied on a regular basis.
The Workplace Abuse Trap
The tragedy of the situation is that these employees basically have to grin and bear it or find themselves in the unemployment line. To struggling families, single parents and other individuals who were not born with a silver spoon in their mouths, it is a matter of choosing the lesser of the evils: suck it up and remain in the abusive situation, or lose their job, go deeper into debt, be unable to feed their families, lose their homes, the list goes on and on. Most choose to remain in the abusive situations for many of the same reasons that so many women choose to remain in abusive relationships:
1. They feel that they are not worth more or do not deserve more
2. They feel that they have no choice
3. They feel that the abuse is somehow their fault
4. They feel a certain sense of security with the job (a workplace form of Stockholm Syndrome)
5. They feel that they do not have the energy, the drive, the strength to get out of the abusive situation
Mobbing is a term that has been coined to describe emotional abuse in the workplace. Also known as psychological terror, bullying, hostile work environment, workplace trauma, incivility, psychological aggression and emotional violence, mobbing can wreak havoc on a person’s productivity at work as well as their personal psychological state. Over time, an employee who has been the victim of mobbing can develop post traumatic stress disorder. In the short term, mobbing can cause employees to seek therapy, anti depression medication and other treatments.
The psychological pressure that comes from this type of abuse can lead to other health issues such as a compromised immune system (more incidences of colds, flu, etc.), migraines, high blood pressure and in extreme cases, even heart attack and stroke. Unfortunately, mobbing creates a destructive circle that will ultimately lead to the employee either taking leave, filing a worker’s compensation claim, quitting or getting fired.
While companies that employ this practice attempt to justify it by saying they are “tightening the reins” or “cracking the whip” to increase productivity or “straighten out” employee behavior, they are ultimately undermining their own efforts. As employees are battered more and more psychologically, their production suffers. This may not be immediately apparent, but over time there will be a decrease in production whether in quantity or quality.
Mobbing is a real problem in the workplace because many employees will try to “buddy up” to their supervisors or those they view as superior in rank in an effort to try to deflect some of the psychological blows and reduce the abuse and trauma. They will tell those in authority whatever they think they want to hear out of fear of losing their jobs, getting demoted or sustaining further, more vicious abuse.
The abusers thrive on this fear and use it to “divide and conquer” workplace teams. In an effort to separate the stronger, more confident employees (the ones who could potentially “cause problems” because they will not roll over and accept the abuse) from the fearful employees who are afraid of losing their jobs supervisors will try a variety of tactics to infuse the entire team with mistrust and suspicion. Imagine what would happen if the stronger employees were not separated from the employees who cow tow to the supervisors? The fearful employees would find support and become empowered!
This is one of the first things that an abuser does to his or her victim. They strive to separate the victim from their support system. They cause rifts in relationships, relocate them (in the workplace that would mean moving them to another location, firing outspoken employees, etc) or forbid them to communicate. Abusive spouses do it to their victims every day. By separating the victim from their support system, the victim is forced to rely solely on the abuser.
Mobbing is also used to describe a situation where co-workers, subordinates or superiors “gang up” on someone in an effort to force them to quit, to force them out of the workplace. This is done through behaviors that can be very blatant or quite subtle. They may do this through rumor, intimidation, humiliation, innuendo, isolation or discrediting. In short, they simply harass the person until they finally quit.
However, at the heart of it all, mobbing is malicious, general harassment that is neither racial nor sexual. It slips under the legal radar and walks some fuzzy ethical lines because it does not fall under the neat label that the law provides for workplace harassment. It is sneaky and underhanded and its perpetrators are cruel, narcissistic control freaks who thrive on their perceived feeling of power. They revel in the spoils that come from the abuse they inflict. As they see their victims cower and become more and more beaten down, they feel more and more powerful and in control.
Mobbing is a serious workplace health and safety issue that should be addressed. It is just coming onto the radar and support organizations are springing up in response. The adverse effects of mobbing and other workplace trauma impact the employee on a personal level. Their physical wellness, emotional wellness, health and safety are all affected as a result. When a person is distracted by the trauma that they are experiencing on a daily basis, they can not pay full attention to the tasks require it. This impacts the organization, but unfortunately, the narcissistic employer can not see that they are the cause of the problem so they simply release the employee and find another victim to terrorize.
A relative to mobbing, corporate aggression is on a larger scale, but just as detrimental. Taken from the website www.worktrauma.org, it is described in this manner:
Corporate Aggression refers to all situations where the majority of employees or any minority group feel subjected to unilateral conscious, calculated or planned negative actions, attitudes, rules and/or policies imposed by the employer to serve the employer’s interests, in a situation where these employees feel that they are collectively unable to defend themselves and/or approach and/or reason with the source of aggression and/or effect any changes. (Steinman, 2002)
When employees are made to feel humiliated, disrespected, undermined through malicious, cruel, vindictive means, they are not in a healthy work environment. What’s more, they will usually feel that due to psychological pressure, intimidation, harassment, threats, manipulation, extortion, coercion, hostile behavior and conspiracies, that they have not recourse and must “play the game.” They may even feel that they have no where to turn so they never voice their discontent or unhappiness. Often, they do just the opposite by telling their employer and supervisor that they are happy and have no problems. This is the intimidation and psychological pressure doing its magic. The employees are so intimidated that they feel they have no voice so they just tell their employer what they want to hear in hopes that the abuse will lessen.
Characteristics of Workplace Trauma
Some characteristics of workplace trauma include (definitions taken from Work Trauma Foundation www.worktrauma.org.):
Behavior that humiliates, degrades or otherwise indicates a lack of respect for the dignity and worth of an individual.
Bullying or Mobbing
Repeated and overtime offensive behavior through vindictive, cruel or malicious attempts to humiliate, disrespect or undermine an individual or groups of employees and includes, but is not limited to psychological pressure, harassment, intimidation, threats, conspiracies, manipulation, extortion, coercion and hostile behavior which could impact on the worth, dignity and well-being of the individual or groups.
Any conduct based on age, disability, HIV status, domestic circumstances, sex, sexual orientation, gender reassignment, race, color, language, religion, political, trade union or other opinion or belief, national or social origin, association with a minority, property, birth or other status that is unreciprocated or unwanted and which affects the dignity of men and women at work.
Any unwanted, unreciprocated and unwelcome behavior of a sexual nature that is offensive to the person involved, and causes that person to be threatened, humiliated, degraded or embarrassed.
Any implicit or explicit threatening conduct that is based on race, colour, language, national origin, religion, association with a minority, birth or other status that is unreciprocated or unwanted and which affects the dignity of women and men at work.
Any implicit or explicit promised use of physical force or power (i.e. psychological force, blackmail or stalking), resulting in fear of physical, sexual, psychological harm or other negative consequences to the targeted individuals or groups.
The intentional use of power and/or organisational systems and structures or laws against an individual or entity (employer, management, shareholders, employee, group of employees, client, government, unions) to carry out a covert or unethical agenda, enforce change or indulge in unfair practices to the disadvantage of the affected individual or entity.
Includes but not limited to the disrespectful handling of changes in the organization, unrealistic redistribution of workload, intimidation, policies, procedures, regulations, manipulation, coercion to act in a certain way and so on, exercised by an individual or entity.
Intentional use of power, including threat of physical force, against another person or group, that can result in harm to family life, livelihood, physical, mental, spiritual, moral or social development. Includes verbal abuse, bullying/mobbing, harassment, intimidation and threats.
Intentional behaviour that harms another person or group physically, including sexual assault (i.e. rape).
The use of physical force against another person or group that results in physical, sexual or psychological harm.
Includes beating, kicking, slapping, stabbing, shooting, pushing, biting, pinching, strangling, among others.
For clarification purposes, definitions were included that extend beyond those that describe mobbing and workplace trauma. However, all forms of workplace abuse, whether clearly defined by law or simply unethical and waking shady legal lines, are still abuse and still leave destruction and chaos in their wake.
Torture, the Core of Mobbing
Interestingly, Amnesty International has listed several criteria that are inherent of the word torture. It is strongly recommended that these criteria be incorporated in any definition that comprehensively describes torture. The process of torture ensures the torturer that their victim will have limited or no choices and will remain trapped in a certain situation that causes stress which is manipulated to induce thwarted attempts by the victim to sustain consistent, learned personal behaviour patterns by which their own self image is valued. In short, their self worth, self identity and valuation as a person are all withheld and destroyed. The criteria defining torture include:
1. At least two people are involved
2. There is acute pain and suffering inflicted
3. It breaks the victim’s will or is an attempt to break the victim’s will
4. It follows a process that is systematic
5. To the torturer, its purpose is rational and reasonable
Mobbing, psychological violence and other types of abuse and harassment in the workplace are, unfortunately, a reality. What’s more, the incidence of this type of abuse is growing. While there are virtually no laws designed to handle this type of debilitating workplace abuse, there are organizations that are cropping up and are attempting to address the problem. If you feel that you are a victim of workplace abuse or mobbing, visit the links listed here. These sites have great information and a wealth of resources. Educating yourself, learning to identify abuse, and building your support system are the first steps to getting free from abuse.