Workplace mobbing is an organizational pathology that is a silent killer. It leads to the loss of high performing employees.
Workplace abuse includes many aggressive behaviors such as bullying or mobbing. The phenomenon of workplace mobbing was identified in 1984 by the German scholar Heinz Leymann. Workplace mobbing occurs when a group strategically and ritualistically seeks to undermine, humiliate, and tarnish the reputation of a target. Workplace mobbing represents the severest and most complex form of bullying because it involves several people who consecutively attack the target. Typically, the bullies’ tactics are non-violent and may appear innocuous. In most cases, workplace mobbing remains a covert operation; the dark side of some institutions. Mobbing occurs in education, business, medicine, religion, government, and other workforces. Workplace mobbing has existed for centuries. In ancient Israel, King David in Psalm 3:6 cried out, “I will not be afraid of ten thousands of people that have set themselves against me round about.” Mobbing represents a dangerous pathology that is often ignored or permitted in American workplaces.
Psychology of the Bully
Workplace mobs are controlled by abuse leaders. Workplace bullies are often charming, sociable, and fiercely loyal to those who support them. But they can also be calculating, duplicitous, and relentless in their maltreatment of a target. Bullies within a workforce can sometimes be classified as one of the following: narcissists, sociopaths, or psychopaths. The Bible gives many notable examples of bullying such as Goliath’s aggressive ridicule of David or Jezebel’s threats hurled at the Prophet Elijah. Bullying is a personality flaw that seeks the control and destruction of another. It is rooted in anger and often envy. Bullying not only harms the target emotionally or physically but it damages the perpetrators spiritually. The heart of the bully may become hardened like the Egyptian Pharaoh in Exodus 7:2, 8:15, in which compassion was muted. The continual refusal to submit to the love of God can decimate a bully’s moral compass. Isaiah 5:20 identifies this spiritual condition, “Woe unto them that call evil good, and good evil; that put darkness for light and light for darkness; that put bitter for sweet, and sweet for bitter!” If a bully does not seek counseling or divine healing, aggressive behaviors will lead to spiritual ruin.
What causes an individual to bully? These individuals were often bullied by someone inside or outside their family of origin. Some were targets; however, not all targets become bullies. Bullying is a learned aggressive behavior. Workplace bullies feel a deep sense of inadequacy both personally and professionally. Workplace targets often elevate the performance expectations, thereby becoming a threat to the bullies; consequently, tension ensues. When an employee is targeted, the mob establishes a code of silence amongst their members to confront any external interventions. If the target exposes their actions or refuses to submit to their machinations, the bullying intensifies.
Psychology of the Bully
Targets represent the most intelligent, talented, and innovative employees. These individuals exhibit high integrity and morale. Usually, they have healthy self-esteem and can be positive agents of change in their workplace. A few can be lone wolves, but most are collaborative. But they are usually more introverted than the aggressors and consequently, the bullies may disparagingly brand them anti-social. But in truth, introverted targets often develop a cadre of friends in which they are fiercely loyal. A target is a very courageous person unwilling to compromise their values. Targets may also trust too easily and confide in some employees with weakened consciences. Because the target is usually a very talented employee they may be unaware when others are surreptitiously competing against them.
What are the intentions of the target? The Christian target should determine whether their spirit of excellence is couched in a God-centered ambition or a self-centered ambition. Is their high-performance compensating for some deficiency – low self-esteem, false pride, loneliness, or are they seeking to glorify their Father in Heaven? Christian targets must remain humble and thankful to God for imbuing them with talents and gifts to perform their job well.
Phases of Workplace Mobbing
Dr. Kenneth Westhues, at the University of Waterloo, was the first to identify five stages in workplace mobbing. Other scholars have discussed this process in similar ways. Generally, when bullying evolves into mobbing there are four phases that often overlap. The first phase is Discrediting the target. A mob is opportunistic; they wait for the right time to sow seeds of doubt about the target’s character and to harass. The aggressors skillfully paint an incongruous reality of the target's character and intentions. The mob starts to label them as a nonconformist or an outlier and ostracize them. Some employees no longer want to publicly associate with the target for fear of retribution by the mob. The target is sometimes socially isolated at company meetings, conferences, and eventually not invited to informal co-worker gatherings. The second phase is Harassment. The mob conspires to ensure the target’s life is miserable. Some bullies might begin to engage in what may appear to be innocuous harassment such as mild criticism, sarcastic humor, or stonewalling. Others may engage in physical aggression or intimidation. Gaslighting is another behavior that is used by mobs to put in question the target's mental stability. This type of psychological torment may cause the recipient to doubt themselves and sometimes their reality. The goal is to gradually wear the target down, break their confidence, and disable them to effectively perform their duties. The harassment and peaceful periods are cyclical to avoid detection by those who might oppose the abuse. However, when the target refuses to concede or leave the harassment intensifies, and the peaceful periods become fewer. Sometimes, more members of the mob are recruited and engaged. The pattern of harassment may be slightly detected but most of the time it is done in a haphazard fashion to conceal the abuse. The third phase is the Precipitating Event. This culminating situation is a major turning point like the denouement in a plot. The Precipitating Event triggers a response from those who have the power to change the situation. The event might be the target reporting workplace abuse to a supervisor, seeking a remedy from the court, or the target becoming very ill. Either someone in authority will sanction the bullies and try to rectify the bully culture, (climate surveys, anonymous question box, workplace bullying workshops), or they will ignore the situation and risk losing the more talented employee. Dysfunctional workplaces sometimes benefit from workplace bullying. Some companies encourage unhealthy competitiveness and a spirit of distrust which can be advantageous to some leaders. In those types of institutions, employees fail to trust anyone and there is low morale. Employees are willing to undermine their colleagues in order to gain some advantage. The fourth phase is the Resolution. The company that values its best employees may try to stop the abuse, or they may transfer the target. But bully cultures will either disavow, ignore, or even reward the bullies. If the target is given no remedy from the abuse, they may resign or retire, become ill or disabled, die prematurely, or commit suicide.
Surviving Workplace Mobbing
Targets survive workplace mobbing in diverse ways. The first form of recourse is to ask God to lead you in the right direction. Next, make certain to document all the abuse on a personal, not office computer. Unless that person is a part of the mob, you may want to seek advice from a supervisor. However, most employees have a veiled interest in maintaining their employment. The Human Resource office is sometimes consulted about workplace bullying but they are created to protect the interests of the company. Furthermore, most Human Resource offices have not been trained to address the issue of mobbing. They incorrectly equate workplace mobbing with workplace conflict. The target does not have a conflict with the bullies; they just want the abuse to stop. Therefore, mediation is not what is needed. Instead, stringent anti-bullying policies must be created and legislation must be passed to protect the target and eliminate bullying. Other targets seek to remedy the situation through the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission, (EEOC), but often the process is arduous, and the recoil is severe. When the company is notified of the complaint by the EEOC, the mob usually becomes more retaliatory, and the harassment increases. The mob maintains a well-established web of connections throughout the company. The corruption runs very deep within a culture of bullying. Some employees seek retribution through legal means. However, workplace mobbing sometimes appears benign because it is an accumulation of subtle assaults on the target. These are often very difficult to prove when there are many people involved and few attorneys will accept such a case. Seeking a mental health professional that specializes in workplace abuse, (including mobbing), and focusing on spiritual development is enormously beneficial. Most of the time the target of mobbing ends up leaving their workplace so prepare for post-employment.
Embracing a Biblical perspective on workplace mobbing can be very rewarding. The Christian target should remember that no matter what happens, God is always in control. King David reminds us in Psalm 37:40 “The LORD helps and delivers them; He rescues and saves them from the wicked, because they take refuge in Him.” Also, Christian targets need to pray for a positive attitude about their circumstance and nurture unconditional forgiveness because both are healing. Matthew 5: 11, 12 states, “Blessed are you when people insult you and persecute you and falsely say all kinds of evil against you because of Me. Rejoice and be glad for your reward in heaven is great, for in the same way they persecuted the prophets who were before you.”
Effects of Mobbing on the Target
The effects on the target can be psychological, physical, economic, and spiritual. Mobbing involves targeted assaults unleashed at an unprecedented level. The psychological effects experienced by some targets are anxiety, depression, social anxiety, low self-esteem, acting oddly, sleep disorders, chronic fatigue syndrome, hypervigilance, obsessive worry or nightmares, and post-traumatic stress disorder. Some physical symptoms the target may endure are skin disorders, neurological issues, elevated blood pressure, lower immunity to illnesses, loss of voice, gastrointestinal issues, weight gain or loss, forgetfulness, loss of hair, lack of motivation, inability to concentrate or be productive. Workplace abuse is a silent health hazard. The economic impact, (due to unemployment of the target), can be catastrophic losses such as a family, career, physical possessions, financial security, and socioeconomic status. Christian targets may question their relationship with God and His control of the situation. But a Bible promise states, "God is our refuge and our strength, a very present help in trouble" (Psalm 46:1-3). Remember, Christ had to confront a mob. "... he was wounded for our transgressions, he was bruised for our iniquities: the chastisement of our peace was upon him: and with his stripes we are healed" (Isaiah 53:5). He understands adversity.
Effects of Mobbing in the Workplace
Workplace mobs hyper-focus on the elimination or impairment of a target. Companies and institutions, that tolerate a bully-culture, usually have a low retention rate for good employees. Companies that support toxic cultures are often more concerned with profit than the welfare of the employees. The bully culture is often responsible for a higher absentee rate, lower morale, hiring biases, and dysfunctional competitiveness rather than collegiality. Additionally, in toxic workplaces, the worth of a really good employee is often undervalued and the costs over time for replacing them can be enormous.
Workplace mobs are responsible for some systemic racism against people of color in our society. Cliques are formed to ensure the continuance of racial inequities and privileges within a workforce. If anti-bullying policies are not instituted and enforced, the bullies usually succeed.
Posttraumatic Growth of the Target
Targets of workplace mobbing are often traumatized by the onslaughts. Mobbing is never fair fighting. An employee can recover from this horrific experience with self-help, a pastor, or a mental health professional. Recovery depends on the target’s perspective, the depth of the emotional scars, and the length of the abuse. Targets who view the abuse from a healthy spiritual perspective recover more completely. Romans 8:28, "And we know that all things work together for good to them that love God to them who are the called according to his purpose." Some Christians may see bullying as a form of persecution intricately entwined with spiritual development. God's spiritual development is growth in love and it always involves forgiveness. Forgiveness is the gift survivors of abuse must give themselves so that they will no longer be enchained to their abusers. Therefore, unconditional forgiveness must be a part of the healing process and it must be aimed at yourself, individuals who intentionally harmed, and those who were silently complicit. Additionally, the target is a survivor, not a victim; a winner, not a loser. They did not compromise their values for acceptance by the mob and that takes courage. Also, they must not blame themselves for not speaking up at times; self-control is one of the fruits of the spirit. Solomon stated in Ecclesiastes 3:7 "... there is a time to speak and a time to be silent." Another consideration for the target is to avoid the reflection trap – rethinking the negative situations. They should allow themselves short periods of the day to reflect (5-10 min.) until the obsessive thoughts fade overtime. Give yourself time to grieve your losses then develop new goals and aspirations. Be gentle with yourself and focus on the healing of your mind, body, and soul. After you gain a clearer perspective and the pain dissipates, consider some way to help others that have experienced workplace abuse.
In conclusion, mobbing is a dangerous pathology in some American workplaces. Domestic terrorism is not just school shootings or an assailant slaying praying congregants; it is also mobbing which lurks in the shadows of some of our workplaces. When will America make bullying a crime on the playground and in the boardroom? When will America make workplace mobbing illegal?