The following article courtesy No
Bully For Me.
Mobbing: Bullying's Ugly Cousin
By Ann Kerr,
Globe and Mail, Dec. 8,
For Karen Learmonth, a manager
at a company in Western Canada, it started slowly.
"Some people stopped saying
'Hello.' They whispered behind my back. It was hard
to get my orders filled in the warehouse," she
Then the sense of being shunned
by her colleagues got worse.
"I wasn't invited to . . .
meetings. Internal changes were made to my department
without my knowledge," Ms. Learmonth maintains.
She hurt her back on the job and
went on disability leave. But when her back improved
and it came time to return to work, she found she
"I wasn't sleeping or eating
and I had the shakes. Whenever I went near the place,
I threw up. My doctor said that I'd been traumatized
and was suffering from post-traumatic stress disorder,"
says Ms. Learmonth, who remains on long-term disability
What Ms. Learmonth experienced
fits the description of what the experts call mobbing.
It occurs when people in a workplace
gang up to unfairly ridicule, ostracize and eventually
force out a fellow employee. The target can be a colleague,
subordinate or even a boss.
can start with one or two perpetrators,
then spread like a virus through
an entire organization.
It's a lesser-known form of workplace
harassment than bullying but it is just as destructive,
says Noa Davenport, a cultural anthropologist and
co-author of Mobbing: Emotional Abuse in the American
In fact, some argue that mobbing
can be even worse. Unlike bullying, which is carried
out by one person and stops if that person is moved,
fired or otherwise removed, mobbing can start with
one or two perpetrators, then spread like a virus
through an entire organization.
Like many Canadians, Ms. Learmonth
hadn't even heard of mobbing until her experience.
Though barely recognized in North
America, mobbing is considered a serious workplace
threat by several European countries, which have instituted
legal protections against it, Ms. Davenport says.
"This is a serious health
and safety issue that's costing billions of dollars
in lost productivity and stress-related illness,"
she adds. "But most organizations don't see the
problem. They think it's something people can just
work out themselves."
Estimates of how often mobbing
occurs vary widely. At the very least, 2 to 5 per
cent of people will be mobbed some time during their
work life, according to German psychologist Heinz
Leymann, the first to study and name the phenomenon
20 years ago.
But mobbing and other forms of
workplace harassment seem to be on the rise, says
Gerry Smith, vice-president of organizational health
at WarrenShepell in Toronto, judging from recent cases
dealt with by his firm, which provides employee assistance
programs and other health services to business.
"I know from the work at WarrenShepell
that there's been a fairly substantial increase in
cases in the past five years," says Mr. Smith,
who is conducting free seminars to help businesses
identify and address mobbing and other forms of workplace
mobbing sends targeted employees
into a downward spiral... They quit, get fired,
or get sick and go on extended leave.
Being treated in an uncivil manner
by colleagues a couple of times doesn't count as mobbing.
To fit the definition devised by Mr. Leymann, you
have to be mistreated several times a week by two
or more people, for at least six months.
In many cases, Ms. Davenport says,
the mobbing can go on for years.
Eventually, mobbing sends targeted employees into
a downward spiral, she says. They quit, get fired,
or get sick and go on extended leave.
In some cases, senior management
even tacitly encourages the behaviour, says Linda
Shallcross, a public sector management researcher
at Griffith University in Queensland, Australia.
"It's a way of getting rid
of a person who's been doing their job but, for some
reason, they don't like. If it was a constructive
dismissal, they'd have to pay. They're hoping the
person will just quit," says Ms. Shallcross,
who is conducting a study of Australian women in different
occupations who have been mobbed.
People working in large bureaucracies
where there's little accountability and few ways to
measure achievement can turn to mobbing to vent their
frustrations, says Kenneth Westhues, a sociology professor
at the University of Waterloo and an author of two
books about mobbing in academia.
Like many who research and write
about mobbing, Prof. Westhues says he was a victim
himself at one point in his career.
"Generally, it's a group ganging
up on someone because they don't fit in -- they may
look or act different, or have a stronger work ethic.
The person can become a scapegoat for whatever's wrong
in the office," adds Frema Engel, an organizational
consultant who is head of Engel and Associates in
Montreal, and the author of Taming the Beast: Getting
Violence Out of the Workplace.
Sometimes it starts as a conflict
with one person, who then convinces or coerces others
to ostracize the victim, Ms. Engel says.
makes mobbing so dangerous...
is that "it's so subtle, so hard to prove.
But the effects are devastating."
and the stress that goes with it can be an incubator
for irrational mob behaviour, Mr. Smith says.
Job insecurity leads to fear and
frustration, while managers have less time to actually
manage their staff and notice inappropriate behaviour,
What makes mobbing so dangerous, Ms. Davenport says,
is that "it's so subtle, so hard to prove. But
the effects are devastating."
Victims may suffer stress-induced
ailments, including headaches, stomach aches, high
blood pressure and psychological problems, Ms. Davenport
In extreme cases, mobbing can even
be life-threatening. Ms. Learmonth, who helps to run
a Vancouver Web-based support group called No
Bully For Me, says some mobbing victims she hears
from contemplate suicide.
Group harassment can have tragic
consequences for all involved as in the 1999 case
of former OC Transpo employee Pierre Lebrun, who shot
and killed four people at the company in Ottawa and
then himself. The coroner's inquest indicated that
Mr. Lebrun had been ridiculed and ostracized, and
recommended new laws and company policies to prevent
hostile behaviour from getting out of control.
So far, Quebec is the only jurisdiction
in North America to deal directly with mobbing, bullying
and other kinds of workplace harassment, with an amendment
this June to its labour code, but it's still too early
to tell how effective it will actually be, says Pierre
Jauvin, an employment lawyer with Langlois Kronstrom
Desjardins in Montreal.
Elsewhere, it's still difficult
to fight a legal battle against mobbing, says Norman
Grosman, a senior partner at Toronto employment law
firm Grosman Grosman and Gale.
"You can launch a human rights
complaint . . . but people are usually picked on in
subtle ways -- not being included in the conversation,
not being invited to parties -- that aren't covered
in the legislation." Mr. Grosman says.
public and private employers
do recognize that mobbing is
a definite workplace hazard.
the mobbing is too unbearable to stay at your job,
you could try to sue for constructive dismissal, he
says. Everyone is legally entitled to a workplace
that is civil, decent and fair, he adds, but the onus
is on you to prove it wasn't.
To do that, typically you need
corroborating evidence, provided by witnesses, and
that can be very hard to get, Mr. Grosman says.
Some public and private employers
do recognize that mobbing is a definite workplace
New Brunswick Power Corp. in Fredericton,
for instance, has a 'respectful workplace' policy,
says Rita Hurley, the full-time diversity manager
who holds workshops to teach managers and other employees
how to prevent mobbing and diffuse it when it occurs.
Ms. Engel and Mr. Smith have worked
with a number of firms, and Prof. Westhues has been
consulted by unions and professional associations
While people might have legitimate
complaints against others in their workplaces, it's
"never justifiable to torment another person,"
Ms. Davenport says.
Instead, concerns about a colleague's
performance or personal conduct should be dealt with
officially through proper channels, she says.
More public education and better
company policies are what's needed most to prevent
negative group think from taking hold, mobbing experts
and victims say. No Bully for Me is seeking funding
to start a national telephone hotline.
Beyond its harrowing impact on
personal lives and workplace productivity, there's
another sobering reason for organizations to take
mobbing more seriously, Ms. Engel says.
"It's usually just one symptom
of a lot of other conflicts in an unhealthy work environment,"
she says. "The only way to cure it is to bring
it out into the open and deal with it."
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