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The Popeye Example

©2021 Gail Pursell Elliott

The cartoon character Popeye would tolerate a great deal until suddenly he would shout, “That’s all I can stands, I can’t stands no more!” Then he pulled out his can of spinach, gulped it down, and with superhuman strength battered the daylights out of his adversaries regardless of the form in which they were.  Several other phrases associated with someone reaching the end of their tolerance are “That’s it!”, “I’m done!”, “That’s all!”, “I have had enough!” 

Some, like Popeye, lash out in a way that would be inappropriate in the workplace. Unlike Popeye, this would not be considered heroic, regardless of the provocation.  Herein lies an underpinning of mobbing and bullying behavior. Pushing the target past the limit of endurance, it sets them up for disciplinary action, dismissal, or walking off the job.  One way this happens is through scheduling staff for an unwelcome shift in a difficult work assignment or giving someone else their long-held spot and putting them in a different one.  In a telephone boiler room, it can be as simple as moving the seating assignment to a different part of the room, e.g., “someone is sitting in my spot!” with no warning or explanation. This can be demoralizing and can affect work performance.  

Like Popeye, most of such outbursts are short lived and defuse or can be deescalated. There are others that are more insidious and simmer below the surface, waiting for another trigger. Some come into an environment and literally pull the trigger on persecutors or at random, whether in their own workplace or someone else’s. Lately, we have seen more shootings that seem senseless, but must make sense to the perpetrators if only we could crawl into their minds and emotions and understand. Unfortunately, this is not possible, but simply fuel speculation and supposition.  

What we can do is to become more sensitive to the fragility of employees who have been through a great deal, especially in the past year. Depression and other mental health issues have been reported to have increased during the isolation times caused by covid.  Many have lost people to the pandemic. There are few who have not been touched by it in some way. They have been confronted by verbally abusive, or otherwise combative customers or coworkers. Short staffing situations have people stretched to the limit as well as pay scales that may be inadequate as costs of day-to-day necessities rise.  Managers and supervisors have been similarly affected, in addition to having to watch what employees are doing not only with their tasks but also with their interactions.

All of these stressors, changes, and more can create bullying and mobbing situations in not only the workplace but elsewhere. People are basically self-centered and take everything personally. That’s just the way we’re made. Those who have been cheerful and mostly positive, begin to make sarcastic remarks or comments instead of giving others the benefit of the doubt. If you see this happening, know that these employees are vulnerable to getting sucked into a mobbing or at the very least, begin hurting each other’s feelings, creating unspoken conflicts that impact teamwork or may mushroom into something else. This is when communication and understanding are imperative. Giving staff the time and privacy to vent and clear their feelings, an unscheduled short break to calm themselves, explanations of unexpected changes and the reasons behind them go a long way in shoring up your trust base.

Trust is fragile but essential in keeping staff, building teamwork, and continuing in a positive direction. Even without a can of spinach, we can be “strong to the finish” when we perceive that our adversaries are not people but situations and circumstances impacting those people. We can be instruments of healing, support, and faith when we remember to look past the appearance, the behavior, the situation, and first acknowledge and honor the human being that is there.

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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. 

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Issues – Phase Four

©2021 Gail Pursell Elliott

This has been a stressful year for everyone. Stress and its effects, whether positive or negative, have been studied for years. Positive stressors might be a new job, moving, getting married, and other events. We all are familiar with negative stressors without creating a laundry list. But when the obvious ones encroach too much, although we may think we have ourselves under control, little things begin to be triggers for explosion.  In all cases, escalating stress can cause physical as well as emotional crisis.

What can create ongoing issues is the de-escalation of stress without being able to restabilize before the next trigger starting the escalation to crisis.  When it comes to the workplace, it is why we have so many days of work and so many days off. We refocus our attention during time off which allows us to restabilize ourselves and relieve the pressure created in the workplace. It would be wonderful if we could be refreshed by the time off, but for some that is not the case. Work issues can encroach on personal time and vice versa, creating a stress blend that puts some people on edge.

When a person is being mobbed at work it is a continual state of being in escalation, with anxiety being one result. Rather like being on a rollercoaster that is continually on the climb to its highest point but not reaching the top, a state of continual anticipation with no break. Personal issues and concerns may become exacerbated by workplace mobbing, which is why family members might begin to notice personality changes in the target, who may appear to be obsessed, depressed, anxious, eat too much or too little, and other symptoms. They may recommend going to the doctor or for counseling.

At work, this manifests as Phase Four of the Mobbing Process, as the target becomes labelled as having personal problems, health problems, or even being mentally ill.  One would think at this phase, the target would try to escape the workplace, and many do, actively seeking other employment or going on disability or medical leave. This is right in line with the goal of the mobber(s), which is to force the person out. Some refuse to vacate the workplace. Some may feel trapped, not yet vested in benefits worked years for, or not willing to let the mobbers get away with their actions.

Phase Four is when the target may exhibit some of the signals that are outlined in current Active Shooter Awareness information currently being distributed in many organizations. The increase in shootings, both at workplaces and at schools, has triggered a resurgence in paying closer attention to people who may choose violence as a release from what they believe are untenable situations. A couple of years after the shootings at Columbine High School, I partnered with a colleague who presented active shooter and school lockdown training. My role was to teach Dignity and Respect and Mobbing Awareness to employees and students. The proactive as well as reactive tools complemented each other. It was good that both management, staff, and students were all on board with the value of both attitude awareness and action if needed to circumvent a tragedy.

Indeed, there are warning signals, some more readily apparent than others. Some involve coworkers’ or clients’ behavior. Others concern the environment.  How employees treat each other on a daily basis, supervisor interactions, and the dynamics of the organization are worth watching as the environment in which such actions may occur. Staff may walk around for years feeling overworked, underpaid, underappreciated, and not treated fairly until they have had enough. How “enough” manifests itself may not be violent but there should be some recourse with results rather than retaliation. Employees might feel that when they report issues, nothing is done about them. This breeds apathy. If your employees trust you, they will communicate. You will have information upon which to act positively, which should be a stress reliever for everyone.

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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. 

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The Mobbing Zone

©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. 

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Mobbers, Narcissism and Psychopaths

©2021 Gail Pursell Elliott

Some twenty years ago, an international group of experts were discussing whether a mobber could be rehabilitated. There was discussion about whether these people are psychopaths. The consensus was that a mobber has a sociopathic personality style that cannot be rehabilitated. Psychiatric terms should not be tossed around willy-nilly to label someone without proper diagnosis, but there are definite tendencies that apply to people who mob others.  The motivations may indicate any number of disorder styles, including narcissistic tendencies or retaliatory behaviors.

The mobber often is what might be described as a soup stirrer. That is, they point out other’s shortcomings and complain, from a position of assumed superiority, then step away. Those who mob take advantage of people with bullying or retaliatory tendencies. They may cozy up to supervisors who do not see that they are being used and may wind up being inconsistent in the treatment of other staff while responding to the mobbers’ statements. Complainers take time to look for anything upon which to manipulate being excused. Some coworkers may join in.  Others who recognize the aberrations may become disgusted and we see turnover as a result, which is one of the indicators of mobbing.

New employees that have mobbing tendencies determine who is in charge and maneuver themselves into positions in which they will be close to the decision makers. These are power oriented individuals with little regard for those with whom they interact unless they can be useful. This is a narcissistic trait. They may look for sympathy but have little empathy, and snub or pay little attention to coworkers, who they may view as just being in their way. A narcissistic type of mobber will be very friendly until they either get the information they want, or until the person is no longer useful. Then they may use the information to subtly undermine the person with whom they were friendly. Supervisors who have been sucked in may wind up being set up and eventually when they have served their purpose will be discarded as well.

One issue that comes up repeatedly is describing mobbers and bullies as psychopaths. Just because a person is mean or selfish does not mean they are psychopaths. Sometimes they are insecure or even fearful. People are very complicated. We are all mixed bags of baggage. All of us, however kind, even tempered, or generous we may be, have our moments of anger, frustration, speaking out of turn, and even nastiness or wanting to get even. We are human and so are mobbers and bullies, though they may act in very inhumane ways. The main concern for many of us having to deal with these behaviors is the lack of awareness on the part of the perpetrators or their lack of interest in doing anything about it if they are aware. The concept of “this is who I am, deal with it” or refusing to see any wrongdoing on their part, is definitely a red flag. Mobbers and bullies generally feel their actions are justified and have little or no remorse, which can be indicators of antisocial personality tendencies and difficult to address.

It is important to try to determine what the motivation may be when we step back to observe issues that occur within our workplaces. Is it a subtle grab for power?  Is it to remove or demote someone seen as a threat? Is it enjoying creating discomfort in others? Is it a warped attempt at acceptance? Is it jealousy? Is it a desire for retaliation after a conflict? Is it a perceived sense of superiority? All of these and more possibilities will lead you to how the dynamics situations are playing out and the potential damage they will cause to staff, teamwork, and above all trust, both short and long term. Awareness is the key to intercept and prevention when the goal is a respectful, supportive work environment where people can do their best and believe their efforts are wanted, needed, and appreciated.

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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 Gail 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. 

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Mobbing and Law Enforcement

©2020 Gail Pursell Elliott

On the sidewalk there was a fight between three sparrows. This was a mobbing as two birds ganged up on the third. It was difficult to resist the urge to break it up since bullying, even among other species upsets me, but I managed to control myself.  Two birds flew away and the third tentatively hopped out nursing its wounds and disappeared from view.

An odd noise, similar to the chatter of a flock of geese flying over, lasted longer than it should were it from geese.  The noise came from about twenty juveniles who were yelling and clustered in a group in front of an apartment.  Other kids ran toward the mob, perhaps curious.  One adult emerged from the crowd and pulled a youngster home. Another remarked her kids weren’t there, so she wasn’t going to get involved. A woman emerged from the apartment and tried to say something to the group and was ignored so gave up and watched. Another male adult paced back and forth; arms folded.  Eventually, a police car arrived, and the lone officer approached the group but also was ignored. When a second car showed up, about half of the group disappeared into the apartment. The officers talked with people, took down information, issued warnings. The situation was instigated by two ten-year-old girls that were arguing.

A consultation to review a deposition and legal filing on a workplace mobbing/bullying case involved a police officer in a large metro area police force, who claimed to be set up by her fellow officers and precinct administration. She believed that this was largely a result of her gender and wanted to fight legally but felt physically unsafe. Her attorney asked me if I’d heard of the thin blue line, which I had. The thin blue line is a term that traditionally refers to the police as the line that keeps our society from descending into chaos.  Since the1970’s the term has also been used with the blue wall of silence, an informal code to cover up police misconduct. (source: Wikipedia) One generally does not associate police misconduct with actions inside a department but more with possible misconduct in the community.  In this case, it involved one of their own. As my role was a consultant, I reviewed what the attorney sent me and made some observations and suggestions and we discussed possible courses of action with his client’s lawsuit and that was all.  I did not hear any more about this case, but it still comes to mind and is troubling.

Another case involved a state trooper assigned to patrolling an interstate. He had continuously been undermined by his supervisor.  The supervisor had taken a dislike to him the first day of training over a disagreement about a pair of shoes. She proceeded to pick on him during training and followed up by assigning him to the most difficult sections of highway, constantly reviewing and re-reviewing his reports to look for any error.  Her behavior did not go unnoticed by other officers who were privately supportive but concerned about speaking up.  When he left the force, he was asked if he had a gun and if he planned to return and shoot up the place. The trooper was appalled at the question as well as the behavior. It was clear that others in authority knew what was happening and had done nothing to stop it and now feared retaliation. 

Law enforcement officers like other professionals in high risk jobs involving traumatic situations have no idea what they are going to confront when sent out on a call.  They must be able to trust their team, their equipment, and their skills. When any of these are compromised tragic mistakes can happen. Within any group of people in high stress positions, issues, misunderstandings, and brief confrontations can occur.  Knowing when to step in and when to wait to see if those involved work out the situation for themselves requires insight, awareness, and whether this is a one-time situational issue or an ongoing one that resurfaces again and again.

Knowing when to step in and when to step back is a fine line. Being aware of the climate, personality interactions, and willingness to intervene when necessary in a proactive way is essential to keeping your workplace safe for everyone.  When tensions are high it is essential to be alert to outside situations that can impact staff working together well.

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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. 

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Listen for Trash Talk

©2020 Gail Pursell Elliott

With another presidential election looming, start listening to the language if you’ve not already.  Mobbing behavior is out in full force as candidates and their supporters try to bully, intimidate, ridicule, set up, lie, spread rumors, innuendoes, engage in any tactic that might work to swing votes away from their opponents.  While people look for truth, a haze of conspiracy theory and confusion steer attention away from the focus of the event.

Talking trash was a phrase originating in sports, meaning saying nasty, nonsensical things including name calling to instigate trouble. For some folks this was justification for physical conflict.  Regardless, it was taken as offense and had consequences. When I was in college, the behavior was laughable and called outrageous. Now it is referred to as trolling, not the cute ceramic garden ornament variety but the malevolent creatures from folklore.  Trolls like to start trouble on the internet by posting inflammatory statements. Mobbers do the same thing then back away and watch the show.  They may use a different communication tool but engage in the same type of behavior, also to create disruption, distract from the original purpose and get people worked up.  With the national election, prepare to see lots more of this and if possible, try not to get caught up in the emotional fiasco that will follow. We don’t laugh at the outrageousness of this any longer, people take it seriously, knowing that ridiculously stupid, inaccurate statements may start equally stupid rumors that will damage a person’s life and reputation.

When one of her children would torment the other by saying something ridiculous, my grandmother would punish both of them. The one got it for tormenting their sibling and the other for “believing nonsense.”  The more reactive people become, the more vulnerable they become to rumors. Being able to step back and evaluate with reason is critical, especially when dealing with new day to day issues caused by such things as the Covid-19 virus, and potential disruption by clients and staff having to adhere to new rules. Being upbeat, respectful, tuned in, and caring helps staff keep cool in situations in which they are periodically tormented by coworkers or customers. Between concerns about work, family, healthcare, and other issues, your employees will sometimes be on a raw edge. That is when supervisors should be watchful. One shift leader saw an employee getting close to the edge and not being able to give the person a short break, went over and said softly, “Remember to breathe, breathe through it, breathe through it, it will pass.”  It worked, saving a situation and staff that had reached critical mass.

In addition to all of the other challenges this year has presented, understanding that the ongoing widespread differences of opinion are going to present new challenges close to home and for which we can prepare without triggering spontaneous acts of bullying or nonsensical behavior.  In other words, our victories in creating a stable, respectful workplace are going to come moment to moment – short term rather than long term – even though we are setting the stage for the future. During times of chaos, small acts have a wider reach, so trash talk needs to go into the trash, trolling behavior has to be quelled quickly without a lot of fanfare or discussion:  not here, not now, enough. 

This is where we are in a culture in which reason and self-restraint have dissolved into a reactive environment rather than one based on thoughtful response.  Perhaps it is time to ask ourselves what we do want rather than emotionally stating what we don’t want, and we can all help each other with that.  Whether the culture is national or workplace, the same principles apply.

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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. 

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At the Roots

©2020 Gail Pursell Elliott

The past few months have been such that I don’t know where to begin to talk about Mobbing and Bullying. The news has inundated us with examples of both from many sources, so I will attempt in this short space to share my perceptions.

Mobbing is driven by fear, targeted by innuendo, instigated by rumor.

The target is viewed as a threat.

The target is victimized by scapegoating.

The target is the subject of unsubstantiated or overblown rumors.

The target is someone who is pushed out, isolated, ignored, or attacked.

The target is not seen as a human being.

People want some sort of explanation for things they don’t understand.  They tend to fill in the blanks for themselves to make sense of it all. They then began to draw conclusions based upon little concrete information and they can be easily manipulated by mobbers who will gladly supply fillers for the blanks in understanding. We see this in the aftermath of peaceful demonstration by sudden unexpected looting that has no point other than destruction of property and theft and more importantly, confusion and destabilization.  Mobbers take advantage of fear and uncertainty and whip groups whether large or small into a frenzy, unless level heads prevail.

The level-headed will look past the surface to the substance, from the branches to the roots. Mobbing simmers below the surface and can erupt seemingly without warning although the indicators are there and often ignored or downplayed or blamed on something else. The goal is power, defined as dominance and control, whether it be over people, economies, politics, or businesses.  Whether the circumstances exist within a department or a community, the human dynamics that contribute to the syndrome of mobbing remain the same. And a similar process must be employed to help get it under control, the first step of which is not to react and get sucked into the situation. This is not to say that in certain situations a quick response is necessary to prevent injury, for example let’s extinguish the fire before saying, “oh dear how did this get started?” Too often with mobbing, the underlying cause will still exist and persist regardless of what surface deterrents are employed.  Much of it has to do with attitudes, fears, ongoing resentments, and a desire for power regardless of the cost.

Politics is in warp drive during an election year and campaigning is rife with mobbing behaviors.  Unjustified accusations, questioning credentials, intimidation, all exacerbated by the rumor mill of media is quite a circus to watch. Unlike a circus, however, lives and futures are at stake. Just as in a workplace mobbing, it is difficult to dig deep enough to find the truth or to determine what is fabricated and what is embellished. Factionalism is rampant and there are those who will dismiss facts that are not supportive of their beliefs. It is important to take the time to think, discern, and verify information that grabs at one’s sense of outrage or seems to justify behavior that is inappropriate or unexpected. Taking a step back and looking at situations from an objective point of view is important, although initially it may seem to be more confusing than clarifying. The dust will begin setting and the view will clear so that patterns and processes are more apparent and easier to address.

In these times, treating all people with dignity and respect Is more critical than ever. We can do this by taking the time to look past the first impression, the label, the stereotype, and see each person as a human being with wants, hopes, needs, dreams, desires, people who love them and people they love. Then by acknowledging the person human to human beyond work and societal relationships, realizing that we are all connected by what makes us human at the root of our existence.

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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.

 

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Mobbing as a Pandemic

©2020 Gail Pursell Elliott

Mob rule takes over when people are in survival mode, just as it does in the animal kingdom with birds attacking others viewed as a threat. Lately we have seen bullies in action as people push others out of the way to grab all the toilet paper possible. You see, most of us have that potential within us.  It is only our self-awareness and self-restraint that keeps us from becoming poor examples of what we believe civilized should be.

You might not think of Mobbing as a pandemic, yet a workplace mobbing in progress, is similar to and often takes on those characteristics both in toxicity and the way it spreads. People do shift into survival mode. They may participate to ensure their own safety as a member of the group or to align themselves with those who seem to have the power, or they may do nothing, watching quietly and feeling helpless.  In the Mobbing book interviews one person reported saying, “this is wrong” while watching supervisors’ treatment of a coworker.  Another employee told them to keep quiet, “if you want to keep your job.” Another person reported a key staff member resigning, saying, “I don’t want to work for an organization that does this to people.”

When people feel threatened, they sometimes revert to deep-seated fears and prejudices. When these begin to surface, an organization that overlooks or ignores the outcroppings, or does not see them as indicators of a deeper issue that must be addressed quickly, is headed for trouble.  Take, for example, the workplace shooting that occurred not long ago involving someone who had had a noose placed on his locker five years prior. The reports stated that HR had let him know this had occurred and it had been removed.  Great. What happened after that we don’t know. Was there an investigation? Were there firings as a result of this? Were there educational programs? Was the person offered a different position? Was there follow-up? Did the person feel safe at work? Did the person feel supported by coworkers after the incident? Did the obvious racism become more subtle? The organization’s position was that this was an old issue and not indicative of what might have led up to the violence. But we all know that something did.

When people feel vulnerable, they are more easily whipped into a frenzy, however low keyed it may appear.  Fear and aggression become part of the standard operating procedure within a work area, sometimes masked by superficial pleasantries. Mobbing works beneath the surface for the most part, showing itself generally in singular but continuous pecks. Often participants will deny their involvement, stating that they might have laughed at a bad joke at the target’s expense, but certainly did not bully or go after the person. However, this behavior multiplied by half or more of a department, along with whispered rumors or rude comments take their toll on an individual.

Remembering that Mobbing is an organizational dynamic, rather than the intensely personal form that it takes, is important. Seeing the potential for similar issues cropping up again and again tells that the underlying cause has not been addressed, whether it is power, prejudice, or just basic survival.  Taking a hard look at your organization, from the vantage point of an objective rather than subjective view, can help.  Prevent the behavioral pandemic or organizational cancer as Mobbing has been called, by establishing behavioral protocols and seeing that these are followed by education, awareness, intercept, consequences, and consistent follow-up. Being proactive beyond your basic policy is good management.

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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.

 

 

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When the Target is a Mess

©2020 Gail Pursell Elliott

Often it is reported that the target of a mobbing is a talented individual who is resented by less talented coworkers or who is seen as a threat by supervisors. But this is not always the case.  It is not always possible to avoid what is simply a poor hire.  Other times, someone who needs structure and spelled out expectations or someone else who needs lots of freedom and mobility are placed in job situations that do not match those personal needs. We can lose potentially good staff by misplacing them especially when a department is in critical need for employees and people are placed there rather than a department where they will be more successful.

However, a person may know how to play the system pretty well and may be a professional victim who will share personal information that probably is best kept for close friends or counselors. This may be an effort to gain acceptance through sympathy.  Most staff are too busy to be playing social worker with a colleague, but many try to help.  While coworkers may be figuratively tearing their hair out trying to help the person feel comfortable and fit in, much of which is fruitless, morale suffers. This keeps coworkers and supervisors off balance, who may excuse childish or unprofessional conduct or marginal performance. It is important to remember that this person who is supposed to be a contributing member of the team is a user, just as much as a bully is but from the other end of the spectrum of narcissistic behavior.

While supervision attempts to assist the employee while maintaining department standards, the person lobbies for bending the rules using personal problems as justification and continues to push for special treatment. The old expression about turning up the heat so the person will just get out of the kitchen is tempting to some as a strategy for correcting a lapse in judgment or discernment, but it is still abusive and not an option.  It is difficult to keep from getting sucked in to creating a slope on which to slide the person out the door or accentuating the problem differently by putting them in a class by themselves.  The person may quietly share that they feel bullied, or that they “hate it here”, or ask other staff if they “like working here.” This is not to say that the issues the employee has are made up, but the stories may change like the weather, so documenting, as well as having the person document is important.  It is a standard investigative tool. If the person says that they feel bullied, be sure to investigate just in case this is indeed happening and intensifying the other problems. These people may be mobbers and victims simultaneously and can create real chaos if not addressed in some fashion.

What can be done when confronted with this type of dilemma after the usual good intentioned attempts to get the employee on board and functioning appropriately?  I recommend that the Employee Assistance Program be brought in, rather than just giving someone a card with information the person may or may not use.  Explain to the person that personal issues of the extreme nature being widely shared is not appropriate but also suggest that there is a place to share these issues. This shows the employee that the company is supportive. Making an appointment with a counselor and having one on site, even one day a week, is a plus. Having a consultant on call to assess the emotional risk management of the situation within the department is another option. The reason for doing this seemingly for just one person, is that these people generate a lot of negative energy and can impact the work environment and the performance of others. It can migrate. It may be surprising that others will appreciate having an employee assistance counselor on site as well.  Bear in mind that EAP professionals are expected to work confidentially with your employees, so don’t expect feedback.

Understand that this type of serial mobber/target, through happenstance, may leave on their own, usually after plenty of drama. They may point the finger at the organization and its rules, which is why the rules should not be toyed with when working with this person.  One must be careful that the rules are followed while not behaving in too harsh a manner.  The unnerving part of dealing with the victim mentality exhibited by the person is that when it is turned toward the organization, it can result in legal complications or worse, without real wrongdoing on the part of the company. The departmental employees may be left with a sense of sad relief and/or an unsettling sense of security-loss after working with this individual.

Obviously, someone with the victimization issues discussed will be poorly placed in a situation in which public contact and the accompanying stressors are the norm. This can be difficult to foresee especially when the employee gave a very different impression during the interview and orientation.  Sometimes there is a startling difference between the interviewee and who showed up for work.  It happens

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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

 

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The Second Degree

©2019 Gail Pursell Elliott

Second Degree Mobbing is like a second degree burn which creates a blister, is painful, and takes some time for recovery. When working on cases with this level of mobbing targets describe similar symptoms to those impacted by Third Degree mobbing, but they are not permanently disabled or unable to return to a work environment. They describe having flashbacks, anxiety, extreme anger, sadness, hyper-vigilance. One person described thinking of getting another job in the same field as feeling like screaming and running from the room.

Second Degree can be extreme and cause major difficulties but can be overcome depending upon the individual as well as the kind of support that is given. In one case, the target left the organization and got a position at another company. Someone at the new company approached HR with information about the target from the previous organization and was immediately shut down with, “we know about that and it makes no difference here. Do not repeat these statements to anyone.” This is the kind of HR department that can make a huge difference to a target who has had the courage to move on with his/her career. It is critical not only for the target, but also for intercepting mobbing before it begins, whether with that person or any other in the company.

This same approach can be used within the very organization in which the mobbing happened. That is, if the company has taken steps to ensure that the behavior is not acceptable and is able to relocate the target to a different environment with supports in place to rehabilitate the person. One target experienced this at a very large organization and was coping but not very well. When I saw her, she was subdued and sad, though still working. This is not rehabilitation but an effort to avoid litigation and is spirit-killing. If something like this is implemented it should emphasize the value of the individual and validate the person’s worth and work, rather than finding a spot away from the offenders who are still doing their dirty work perhaps on others.

Some second-degree targets may solve their dilemma by becoming entrepreneurs. Self-employment is a viable alternative for some.  For others, this option is a desperation move and for still others not feasible.  Just because the target finds other employment or goes on with life by returning to university for an advance degree or some other option does not mean that life has not changed dramatically for the individual. It does not mean that the company is not without responsibility for the lack of consequence or recourse. Employees are human beings, not objects or resources to be used up and discarded.

A recent case of mobbing/bullying based on race, described in the news on January 17th, happened to two supervisors at a GM plant in Ohio. According to the story, after over a year of behavior beyond being unsettling, such as bathrooms scrawled with “whites only” graffiti to nooses hung in work areas to veiled threats involving guns, the supervisors both left. They were well qualified, making excellent money and had grown in their field as a result.  One is now working elsewhere at a significantly lower salary while the other has returned to school to work on a Ph.D.  Two careers derailed by the inability or unwillingness of the company to curtail the behavior of employees who believe they are running the place rather than the company.

In cases of Second-Degree abuse, targets will go through the normal channels to get assistance and find that it is not forthcoming.  It can be through their superior, through HR, through the union if there is one, through upper management and all without action.  Sometimes the target will be told to handle it themselves which is preposterous.  Sometimes the target will be flatly ignored with no response. Some accumulate huge notebooks of documentation which are never addressed. Is it any wonder that some targets take years to recover? Second Degree mobbing leaves permanent scars.

In all cases, policies and laws do not change attitudes.  What they do is limit behavior and in today’s world it seems that limiting behavior to at least basic civility is more necessary than ever.  Plenty of organizations have policies. Following them is essential.  Laws are needed too, so that workers on all levels have recourse when they are mistreated in this way.