©2021 Gail Pursell Elliott
Your first day of work, you sit in the HR Director’s office chatting. She lowers her voice and starts a litany of who to watch out for, and finishes with “watch your back, document every meeting and phone call.” Then you find out that your assistant had applied for your job. The meeting ends with listening to a recording by the administrator who hired you, explaining that every department head should expect to work sixty hours per week and disquieting information about the politics of the organization. The administrator had made the recording while recovering from a heart attack earlier in the year. All of the directors and managers had listened to the same message. You have just entered a world of innuendo, half-truths, set-ups, paranoia, and rumor. You have entered the Mobbing Zone.
This may sound like a Rod Serling style work of fiction, but unfortunately it is a true story. The person in question spent the next several years buying rolls of antacids by the ten-pack, sporadically looking for another position, and suffering from anxiety. The workplace was rife with intrigue, people jockeying for position, and character assassination of peers. Not everyone was involved in this, but many were. They appeared to be friendly, even jovial, when interacting with others, but made side-long remarks planting questioning seeds behind their backs.
There were decisions made without input and inflammatory memos from colleagues who suddenly became unavailable for phone calls. There were occasional requests for assistance from colleagues, that seemed legitimate, then were revealed to be past deadline projects which later would be said were delegated to the target. The manager was able to intercept these and deflect the blame back where it belonged. Continually having to determine what was a real, collaborative effort and what was a set-up was distracting and exhausting. This target was not alone. Mobbing is an organizational dynamic perpetrated by one or more individuals in an organization. This company was an equal opportunity hornets’ nest of targets and abusers. It was just the way this group of people did business.
Employees had heart attacks, collapsed on the job from bleeding ulcers, and the corporate staff seemed to be oblivious to what was going on in the company’s locations. The target felt that leadership were forward thinking professionals, who provided good management training and seminars on the latest in management skills and development. They were supportive in certain situations when the local human resources department or administration could be bypassed, presenting a very different picture from what was happening on site.
The targeted person had not experienced this kind of behavior before. Having been used to an open, collaborative, honest, friendly, and ethical association with colleagues, the persistent head games were annoying and counterproductive. Eventually the person left, but the experience left its mark with a loss of innocence and a new cynicism. In this type of environment there was not one specific target, but many, as others worked at coordinating their own survival. People watched their backs, making it difficult to work together as a team without suspicion and questioning motives. Ethical, highly motivated, creative people generally flourish in an organization which they are proud to represent. This person did not feel positive about the company.
Could this have been avoided? In retrospect, the person could have checked out the company in advance and asked more questions, investigated the organization’s reputation with people in the field. When an associate described the place as a “toilet bowl” the target thought the friend was kidding. Was the target naïve? Absolutely. But many professionals are. Having never been subjected to such behaviors, people can be unsuspecting, astonished, and easy fodder for those who engage in mobbing as a way of doing business. Not everyone in the organization was like that and these provided some stability and a refuge when situations became ridiculous. Any organization can have a Mobbing Zone. It is an undercurrent that undetected, unacknowledged, or unaddressed can be destructive to individuals, teamwork, trust, and impede the forward movement of the company as a whole. When this situation occurred, the word Mobbing was not widely known but the syndrome was. Now we do know about it, what it is, how it happens, what can be done. With insight, awareness, education, and paying attention, a Mobbing Zone can be diminished and even possibly disappear.
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Gail Pursell Elliott is known as The Dignity and Respect Lady. She consults with organizations, presents at conferences, and offers programs on Mobbing and soft skills topics with a focus on people treating each other with Dignity and Respect. Gail is founder and proprietor of Innovations “Training With a Can-Do Attitude” located in Eastern Iowa. Contact Gail through her website innovations-training.com
Gail has been recognized as an authority on Mobbing, Bullying and Harassment since 1998 and has been a guest expert on both television and radio programs. Gail is the author of several books, including School Mobbing and Emotional Abuse: See It, Stop It, Prevent It with Dignity and Respect and is co-author of the 1999 book Mobbing: Emotional Abuse in the American Workplace, the definitive book on this subject based on the original research of Dr. Heinz Leymann. Her Food for Thought essays are read by people around the world.