©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
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