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Fake News, Fallacies, and Mobbing

©2017 Gail Pursell Elliott

Ever have a series of confirming coincidences?  After writing last issue’s article about The Rumor Mill, a subsequent article inspired by the flurry of concerns about fake news in the media seemed like a good idea.  These mirror such goings on in a work environment on a smaller scale but are no less confusing. This morning I received a marketing email from the NY Times.  It said:  “Truth. It comes at a cost.”  Shortly after that, a friend shared a website on logic fallacies.  I will share some with you, simple definitions of terms, many of which have everything to do with mobbing tactics that are regularly used.  It begins with ad hominem.  Perfect.

Ad hominem – Ad hominem attacks can take the form of overtly attacking somebody, or more subtly casting doubt on their character or personal attributes as a way to discredit their argument. The result of an ad hominem attack can be to undermine someone’s case without actually having to engage with it.”

We see a lot of this type of attack in a mobbing situation.  Discrediting through disparaging innuendoes is a regular tool of mobbers. Side comments such as “he’s really dull” or “no wonder she’s single” that have nothing to do with the workplace, or passing remarks about a person’s appearance or clothing feed into this subtle attack strategy.

Tu quoque – Pronounced too-kwo-kwee. Literally translating as ‘you too’ this fallacy is also known as the appeal to hypocrisy. It is commonly employed as an effective red herring because it takes the heat off someone having to defend their argument, and instead shifts the focus back on to the person making the criticism.”

Not only do we see this in mobbing, we see it among arguing children.  “He did this,” “Well, yesterday you did that,” which has nothing to do with the issue at hand. People taking issue wind up being manipulated into defending something completely off topic which may be erroneous as well, unless, of course, a third party intercedes. This tactic also is part of the blame-the-victim strategy known as DARVO: deny, accuse, reverse, victim, offender.

Loaded question – asked a question that had a presumption built into it so that it couldn’t be answered without appearing guilty. Loaded question fallacies are particularly effective at derailing rational debates because of their inflammatory nature – the recipient of the loaded question is compelled to defend themselves and may appear flustered or on the back foot.”

A prime example of this fallacy is the classic Groucho Marx, “Have you stopped beating your wife? Answer yes or no.”

Burden of proof –   The burden of proof lies with someone who is making a claim, and is not upon anyone else to disprove. The inability, or disinclination, to disprove a claim does not render that claim valid, nor give it any credence whatsoever. However it is important to note that we can never be certain of anything, and so we must assign value to any claim based on the available evidence, and to dismiss something on the basis that it hasn’t been proven beyond all doubt is also fallacious reasoning.”

Defending oneself against a lie is a difficult task, as it begins with a falsehood. Addressing it with the truth should work but sometimes does not. It depends on the perception of others and what they choose to believe. Unfortunately, many are too willing to believe a negative inference before investigating further. Perception is as powerful as reality, for perception determines what is real to each person.

Ambiguity – a double meaning or language used to mislead or misrepresent the truth. Politicians are often guilty of using ambiguity to mislead and will later point to how they were technically not outright lying if they come under scrutiny.

The reason that it qualifies as a fallacy is that it is intrinsically misleading.”

Ambiguity can be used to make a person look indecisive or inconsistent. Being forced to make decisions without necessary or complete information is an example. Undercutting a person’s decisions arbitrarily is another.

https://yourlogicalfallacyis.com/ad-hominem

Becoming aware of some of these fallacies and how they are used can be helpful in getting to the truth of situations that come about as the result of mobbing in an organization.  To quote the Times email “Truth. It comes at a cost.”  The cost to organizations may be in time, manpower, outside consultants, sometimes legal fees and more to get to it.  The truth to targeted individuals is life itself in some cases and careers in others. The truth to coworkers and other staff members becomes freedom from fear, and the power to get back to business to the benefit of everyone, except, of course, to the mobbers.

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Gail Pursell Elliott is known as The Dignity and Respect Lady.  She 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. Her Food for Thought essays are read by people around the world.  She 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. She consults with organizations of all kinds, presents at conferences, and provides training 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.  Her website is www.innovations-training.com

 

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The Rumor Mill

from the Workplace Violence Prevention E-Report –

©2016 Gail Pursell Elliott

Does your organization have a rumor mill?  If you think not, then you are either in the minority or out of the loop. People love gossip.  “What’s the latest dirt?” There are websites, periodicals, and programs devoted to rumor and hearsay. Even some news media outlets report hearsay, which is rumor repeated as fact.  The issue is not the rumor as much as the willingness of many to take this misinformation to heart, repeat it, believe it, and wish to act upon it. Those who do feel justified in their actions, even believing they are acting on behalf of others or of the organization.  Unfortunately, this is how Mobbing takes hold, spreads, and destroys.

The problem with rumor mills is that the initial rumor may be based on a kernel of fact that is spun in a negative way, taken out of context, or expanded with inaccuracies as a “what if” scenario.  While fact checking has become more popular, it pales next to the plethora of inaccurate information that is circulated.  When it comes to the workplace, fact checking that is comprehensive is important. When Mobbing is in play, looking for patterns and origins can appear daunting.  Yet if not explored, the risk of further abusing a target and propagating a destructive organizational dynamic which will continue after the current situation is past is real.

The other issue is the impact upon the target.  Just how does someone defend oneself against a lie?  If someone is accused of some action which is later proved false, do people ever forget that the person was accused?  “Well, he was exonerated but …”  The psychological impact on someone subjected to mobbing can last for years as well as take physical form.

One case involved a target who worked for a large health care organization and was mobbed within her department.  Following an extensive investigation by Human Resources, it was determined that the person had indeed been targeted.  It also identified a larger dynamic in the department that made it impossible for the target to be able to be rehabilitated in that department.  The target had suffered a nervous breakdown as a result of the mobbing activity and received therapy and other supports from the employer as well as a transfer to another location.  However, even though it has been several years since the mobbing, the employee continues to have anxiety issues, tremors, and other physical issues as a result of the extreme psychological harassment. This also makes it difficult for the employee to seek work elsewhere.  Sometimes even when help comes from the organization, it is too late.  Whether faster intervention would have prevented the extent of the damage is unknown.

When first presenting informational programs on Mobbing, Human Resources professionals asked me for suggestions of things to say and things to do, which were added.  Like many suggestions of this type, some of them might be used to brush off serious concerns employees wish to reveal rather than using them to intercept a situation before it gets out of hand or becomes destructive.  So using these suggestions does not take the place of investigating, establishing patterns of behaviors and determining what conflict may have triggered the process.  Following are some things to say and do that may be of assistance.

“That doesn’t make sense. Is this a rumor?”

“This sounds like slander.”

“I wouldn’t repeat that to anyone else.”

“Did you actually see/hear this first-hand? What were the circumstances?”

“I think I should write down what you said.”
“Spreading malicious gossip might be construed as harassment.”

“How do you know that?  Do you have proof?”

“Sounds like you’re trying to gang up on him/her.”

When dealing with a negative rumor mill that seems to be targeting individuals, it is important to keep a diary or objective documentation so that patterns can be tracked.  Writing down such things as date, place, time, what was said or what happened, who was involved is helpful.  Memory is a poor record keeper and can be influenced by other factors. Staying objective, becoming an observer rather than an involved participant, can be difficult but is necessary.  Keeping a simple list like this can help with investigations, intercepts, or can provide useful information to a consultant,  if one is contacted for assistance with an escalating situation or to address morale or employee relations issues.  In addition, keep lines of communication open. Establish clear rules of conduct. Be consistent with enforcement. Use some type of counseling or mediation.  Be sure to follow up when addressing issues.

An article in Mental Floss, 50 Words That Sound Rude But Actually Aren’t 1, includes the word clatterfart.   According to a Tudor dictionary published in 1552, a clatterfart is someone who “wyl disclose anye light secreate”—in other words, it’s a gossip or blabbermouth.  Even though gossips have been around for centuries, we can still keep their rude noises to a minimum if we pay attention, track, and encourage others not to repeat them.  It is pointless to try to start rumors that don’t spread or are stopped before they get very far. If this becomes more of the norm, rumors won’t necessarily stop but they certainly will slow down and perhaps be more subject to verification before being repeated.  After all, a reputation for being open, honest, and fair is the type of rumor most of us would prefer.

1http://mentalfloss.com/article/58036/50-words-sound-rude-actually-arent

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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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A Can of Worms

©2016 Gail Pursell Elliott

When Mobbing and Bullying are already part of the organizational culture, an unsuspecting staff member can open a can of worms by questioning actions that seem unfair or unethical.  To open a can of worms is an idiom meaning to examine or attempt to solve some problem, only to inadvertently complicate it and create even more trouble.  A professional inquiry or suggestion of impropriety on the part of one person can expose a whole network of favors, deals, and promotions that were made behind the scenes to benefit individual agendas.  Those involved may feel that it is better to silence the person questioning the action by pushing them out of the workplace.  I have dealt with a number of cases in which the target inadvertently uncovered corruption within the organization and paid dearly for it.

One of these cases involved a talented individual working for an organization dealing with highly classified, sensitive information.  Over a number of years, this person researched, monitored and reported on important data.  The series was well done, accurate, and useful.  The credit for this person’s work went to someone unfamiliar with the process and the data, who then was promoted.  Upon discovering this, the individual wondered how this could happen and went to the appropriate people to resolve the situation.  The can was opened.  What ensued was a smear campaign that reads like a work of suspense fiction.  During the ordeal, a family member said to the target, “Why didn’t you just keep your mouth shut?” The fact is that many people do keep quiet when something like this happens out of fear of reprisal, even though they know that ethics have been breached and they have been treated unfairly.  Or they may watch and do nothing for the same reasons. People who keep their heads down and do their work suffer from the same anxiety that targets do for they know they might be next.

The problem with this type of situation is that the credibility of the organization as a whole comes into jeopardy and the rights of an individual staff member however talented and productive, become expendable. Settling a lawsuit out of court can be construed as an admission of guilt and the ramifications of what happens after the fact can be huge.  Remembering that Mobbing Is an organizational dynamic and generally more than one person may be targeted as part of the status quo, others may see a successful settlement as an opportunity to seek restitution as well.  While whistleblowers are supposedly protected by law, the laws are not always followed by the perpetrators or transgressions are hidden by seemingly coincidental events or others difficult to prove.  These targets, like many other mobbing targets, are under attack both in and out of the workplace to discredit them and event to attempt to compromise their very sanity.  The aftermath of mobbing often involves further harassment engineered to justify the actions taken against the target while in the workplace.

In this case, the individual approached me while still working at the organization, but the harassment was well under way.  Finding an attorney for her was difficult in itself and she had to go out of state to find one who would even take the case.  She was evaluated by psychiatrists, given lie detector tests, stopped by security for suspected firearms, followed everywhere she went, and other types of bizarre situations.  This is not new to me.  When someone works with sensitive information or even may be suspected of overhearing or discovering something they weren’t supposed to know, they become a potential threat.  When someone is viewed in this way, they can become targeted.  The original issue, in this case, getting credit for one’s own work, becomes lost in the discrediting campaign and it gains force all on its own as others are sucked in to a process in which they believe they are doing the right thing or have been paid or promised some sort of reward for participation.

While this type of situation is extreme, it happens frequently to a lesser degree in organizations of all kinds, not just those dealing with confidential information.  Some organizations have things going on behind the scenes that they would like to keep from employees and willfully distort the truth when sharing information.  Rumor mills are everywhere and pick up snippets of information from various sources that are then embellished. Has a can of worms been opened at your organization?  Here are some indicators:

Mobbing Indicators – Organizational Checklist *

  1. Sudden losses of key individuals.
  2. Unusually high staff turnover rate in one or more areas, or company-wide.
  3. Increased occurrences of sick leave
  4. Unexplainable low morale.
  5. Reduction in quality or quantity of work.
  6. Unpleasant employee relations.
  7. A breakdown of communications and teamwork.
  8. Factionalism
  9. Increased use of outside consultants.
  10. Increased unemployment insurance claims
  11. Increased workers’ compensation/disability/occupational stress claims
  12. A person now accused of substandard performance or some other unacceptable behavior is someone who’s work and behavior was previously above average.

 

*Mobbing:  Emotional Abuse In The American Workplace , 1999 Davenport, Schwartz, and Elliott    ISBN 0-9671803-0-9

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Gail Pursell Elliott is known as The Dignity and Respect Lady.  She 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. Her Food for Thought essays are read by people around the world.  She 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. She consults with organizations of all kinds, presents at conferences, and provides training 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.  Her website is innovations-training.com     She would love to work with you to help heal your organization with both insight and awareness.

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Fear Mongering

©2016 Gail Pursell Elliott

(Gail writes The Bully at Work Column for the Workplace Violence Prevention E-Report)

Each Spring I watch some classic mobbing on the front lawn as birds drive predators away from nesting areas.  They will attack other birds as well, ganging up on one bird even one of their own.  In the Midwest, this behavior can be seen in the barnyard as well as one chicken is targeted by the others who peck at it until it dies.  It is not one bully continuously pecking, but all the chickens isolate and peck once or twice and the pecks accumulate to kill the targeted bird. It is frightening to watch and the results are horrific.

In an election year we see a great deal of this type of behavior as candidates peck at each other with innuendoes, question work or credentials, dig up and spread rumors, speculate on myriad negative suppositions which detract from the business at hand.  All of this is done in an effort to drive the opponent out of the race or out of grace with voters.  Meanwhile some members of the media join in the rumors and speculation, sometimes coming up with possibilities of their own.  People who are watching either become confused or grab on to whatever resonates with their own prejudices or beliefs.  It is interesting to watch how pieces of information become blown out of proportion and others are downplayed.  Remembering that the candidates are competing for a job puts this into the arena of workplace mobbing and bullying.

On the smaller scale of the immediate workplace we see similar behaviors.  Again each person grabs onto whatever resonates with their own prejudices, beliefs, or how what is happening may potentially impact them.  When the behavior is emanating from a change in the overall approach to business by upper management and impacts services to customers or clients, I have seen gradual but continuous exits by quality staff that care about those services.  It is important to pay attention not only to turnover, but where the turnover is happening and who is leaving.  Regardless of the focus of an organization, whether it is service, product, or entertainment, the end user is the consumer.  When an organization begins to cut costs and quality in an effort to improve the bottom line, there are those who will look for other opportunities as a result of personal integrity.  When these changes impact an individual’s sense of safety in terms of their job, it becomes worse.  When the changes impact job security, the organization begins to operate on fear rather than forward thinking in the opinion of its employees.

Fear can be a powerful motivator, but it is a negative one.  When an individual is being mobbed the anxiety and confusion take a tremendous toll not only physically and emotionally but also on the person’s ability to work efficiently and well.  Coworkers who are watching may become just as anxious that they may be next.  If this can happen to one person it can happen to them as well.  Or because of their integrity, they may feel uncomfortable working for an organization that allows this to happen to anyone.

One organization with which I worked had an exodus of many individuals in supervision and middle management for this very reason.  They watched their boss become targeted and though they did not understand the process, their exit interviews stated that they did not want to work for an organization that allowed this to happen.  Quite a few of them had been with the organization for many years and were committed not as much to the individual as to the organization itself.  This became compromised by the behavior of those in authority and once lost was impossible to regain.   This is how targeting individuals or making changes without regard to the impact on individual lives or what motivates employees can impact the organization as a whole for years to come.  These ripple effects are well worth considering when looking at individual cases of mobbing or bullying within your organization.  Whatever your bottom line happens to be, whatever drama happens to be occurring in one or more areas eventually will not be lost on others and will impact the whole either positively or negatively. It is well worth considering that the health of your company is reflected in the wellbeing of employees in these complicated times.

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Gail Pursell Elliott is known as The Dignity and Respect Lady.  She 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. Her Food for Thought essays are read by people around the world.  She 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. She consults with organizations of all kinds, presents at conferences, and provides training 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.  Her website is www.tashidelay.innovations-training.com     She would love to work with you to help heal your organization with both insight and awareness.

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Psychoterror in the Workplace

©2016 Gail Pursell Elliott

Dr. Heinz Leymann first used the title of this article to describe Mobbing in the workplace. Dr. Leymann’s list of 45 behaviors that may surface during a mobbing is known as “LIPT,” the “Leymann Inventory of Psychological Terrorization,” and is regularly used in research.  With the escalating concerns about terrorist or terrorist like violence at work the term takes on different proportions and meanings.  Some workplaces include what to do if there is an active shooter on the premises as part of new employee training.  Certainly, the possibility of something like this happening can cause employees to become more alert to different situations that may arise, but anxiety and paranoia are not the general results of that training.  During mobbing awareness trainings, I have noted a variety of reactions on the part of participants.  They have varied from “thanks for giving this stuff a name” to “we did this to someone, it will never happen on my watch again” to obvious, but unvoiced discomfort.  Some even have snickered in amusement, usually from a small group in the back row.  The fact that some people actually find this topic amusing says volumes about what may be happening in that workplace, although there are some individuals who react to horrible circumstances with humor to make them more bearable.

Terror is defined as a state of intense fear.  Currently, terrorists create fear by acts of extreme violence, some of which have occurred in workplaces. Psychological terror is triggered by nonviolent behaviors and communication that threaten an individual in a variety of ways apart from bodily harm, although that may be included. The level of fear and the impact of it are as different as each person’s response. The correlation between mobbing and terrorism is specific as follows:

  • It gets others, through fear, to change their normal life patterns.
  • It creates confusion and mistrust.
  • It operates in secrecy or with a code of silence.
  • It causes participants, when confronted, to lie about their intentions and participation.
  • Participants believe any behavior is justified by their motives.
  • People who join in generally are convinced of this justification.
  • They are afraid of being targeted themselves.

With political candidates taking accusatory potshots at each other and the media grabbing hold of items to explore with supposition, it is no wonder that mobbing is still something that most people see every day but engage in inadvertently due to a lack of information.  Mobbing is surely a form of terrorism although using the term terrorist or even bully to identify someone is out of line without further investigation. We have seen these terms batted about in all sorts of situations in the workplace as well as in other venues in the past year and more.  A state legislator explained to me that they were having difficulty passing a bill addressing bullying because they were having trouble defining it.  When I present programs beginning with dignity and respect, one of the first exercises is to initially have participants define the terms individually, then in small groups, and finally share their definitions as a large group for discussion.  The same technique is important to consider when addressing bullying.  The definitions will vary depending upon each person’s experience, whether a target, a perpetrator, a witness, or a participant.  When mobbing is defined and explained to a group, it becomes apparent to people that they may have indeed experienced mobbing on some level.

It is important to have a proactive rather than a reactive approach to this issue. As we continue to see evidence of the less attractive aspects of human behavior and interaction, it is wise to make an assessment of what we believe and values for which we stand whether personally or professionally.  Too often compromise is asked in areas that are deal breakers for most of us.  Just as safety and security involve training on what to do in certain circumstances, whether fire, weather, blood borne pathogens, controlled substances, acts of terrorism or violence, mobbing is a safety issue to be addressed in a similar fashion.  A supportive environment free of intimidation, where it’s OK to make mistakes, greatly affects motivation and attitude. It addresses the basic human need for survival.  When our survival needs are met we are able to think and to concentrate.  Fearful or negative attitudes limit our ability to transfer knowledge to new situations. And of course this impacts the bottom line in myriad ways.

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Gail Pursell Elliott, “The Dignity and Respect Lady”, has over 20 years experience in middle and upper management, founded Innovations “Training With A Can-Do Attitude” in 1998, and is author of several books including School Mobbing and Emotional Abuse and is co-author of the book Mobbing: Emotional Abuse in the American Workplace.  Her Food for Thought articles are read by people around the world.   Gail has been a guest on such programs as MSNBC’s Deborah Norville Tonight, ABC World News NOW television programs and the Workplace Violence Today program on talk radio.  She loves what she does and believes that it matters

Human Relations Consulting – Soft Skills Training – Webinars, Teleconferences, or at Your Location
Mobbing, Bullying, and Harassment Expert, Professional Speaker​

For Consulting, Assistance and Training, contact Gail through her website:   http://www.tashidelay.innovations-training.com

For videos including the Five Phases of the Mobbing Process visit www.youtube.com/dignityrespectlady/videos

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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Toxic Work Environment

 Toxic Work Environment      ©2015 Gail Pursell Elliott

Toxic workplaces can be physically toxic or emotionally toxic.  Some are obvious and others more subtle. Most of us are familiar with physically toxic environments where asbestos or noxious odors are present.  OSHA regulations address this type of workplace safety.  An emotionally toxic workplace can have physical effects on people as well.  Employees have described entering certain work areas and getting headaches or feeling physically ill when there are no physical toxins present but the employees in that area are antagonistic toward each other.  Others who may not be aware of the human relations issues may describe the atmosphere as oppressive or like “hitting the wall” when entering the environment.

The elements that define a hostile work environment include mobbing behaviors.  Some of these include: “when an employee feels uncomfortable or scared to be in his or her work space due to offensive behavior, intimidation or abuse by a coworker or superior”. Whether or not the employee is the target of this behavior may be important to litigation, but even when the employee is not the target the impact of the aggression is felt.  It is especially important when the atmosphere affects the work that is done and the employees’ ability to focus. Mobbing is an organizational dynamic.  Elements within the organizational culture, along with the ways issues are addressed, allow it to exist and persist. These also damage the trust base and the willingness of employees to report misconduct.

Several recent Circuit Court rulings have addressed Title VII harassment and retaliation claims. Mobbing and bullying, which may target anyone regardless of whether they are included in a protected group, are not addressed by the act or similar legislation.  A workplace used to mobbing or bullying can easily exacerbate behaviors prohibited by law.   A culture grounded in dignity and respect principles can offset a lot of this type of abuse.

Case 1 – Involves a sexual harassment issue that was reported anonymously.  Three female employees had experienced remarks and other harassing behaviors by their supervisor.  They all told him to stop. A male employee in the department noticed the interactions and suggested to the supervisor that he stop the behavior.  Upon receiving the anonymous complaint, a human resources representative approached the supervisor, asked several questions without interviewing anyone else.  The complaint was closed as being unsubstantiated. All four of the employees were dismissed during the investigation.  The court awarded damages to all four employees, stating that telling the supervisor to “stop” the harassment satisfied Title VII due to the broadness of the opposition clause.

Case 2 – The Fourth Circuit Court ruled that a single incident can support Title VII harassment and retaliation claims, if extremely serious, that an employee can reasonably believe that a hostile work environment is occurring.  In this case, the employee was referred to with the same egregious epithet twice in a twenty-four hour period.  The employee found this to be both offensive and humiliating.

Harassment is harassment and abuse is abuse, whether or not it is covered by Title VII.  A status blind form of harassment, mobbing and bullying are often used to retaliate against an employee who reports an activity prohibited by law.  These are the tactics used to set up an employee to look incompetent or difficult or even mentally ill after reporting a complaint.  This is why employees may be reluctant to report misconduct.  Statistics from the Ethics Resource Center have indicated that employees who do not report misconduct, apart from resolving the situation themselves, either do not have faith in the disciplinary system or fear retaliation.  These are perceptions on the part of the employees.  Whether or not they reflect reality, they have a very real impact on resolving issues when they occur as well as overall morale.  These subtle behaviors set the stage for more incidents and put everyone at risk.

A general harassment policy attached to the company’s required policies that is consistently enforced can go a long way in creating a healthier work environment for everyone.  It also positively impacts the bottom line in more focused performance, teamwork and trust, and receiving information essential to intercept misconduct before it gets out of hand.

(From The Workplace Violence Prevention E-Report)

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For videos including the Five Phases of the Mobbing Process visit www.youtube.com/dignityrespectlady/videos

Gail Pursell Elliott, “The Dignity and Respect Lady”, has over 20 years experience in middle and upper management, founded Innovations “Training With A Can-Do Attitude” in 1998, and is author of several books including School Mobbing and Emotional Abuse and co-author of the book Mobbing: Emotional Abuse in the American Workplace.  Her Food for Thought articles are read by people around the world.   Gail has been a guest on such programs as MSNBC’s Deborah Norville Tonight, ABC World News NOW television programs and the Workplace Violence Today program on talk radio.

For Consulting, Assistance and Training, contact Gail through her website:

 http://www.innovations-training.com

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The Bully at Work – Mandatory Reporters

From the Workplace Violence Prevention E-Report                                                                           ©2014 Gail Pursell Elliott

In health care and human services organizations, professionals on all levels have to complete state mandated training in the area of reporting abuse and neglect.  These programs focus on the treatment of patients and consumers entrusted to the care of these agencies.  Workers completing this training become Mandatory Reporters, which means that they are obligated to report any instances of abuse or neglect that they witness or suspect.  If they do not, they are considered to be complicit in the offense.

In an environment in which workplace mobbing and bullying are rampant these same workers may still commit abusive acts toward coworkers.  The quality and integrity of services to their consumers easily can become compromised.  In these workplaces, the staff may be underpaid and over worked or less than adequately trained for their jobs.  Stress factors like these can create an environment in which a bullying situation both exists and persists.  The erosion of teamwork and trust on the part of staff as well as the nature of the work that is done leaves vulnerable individuals open to inadequate or untimely assistance which can border on abuse and neglect.  When staff members are watching their backs, gossiping, judging coworkers or thwarting the work of others they are not paying attention to the people entrusted to their care.  In other cases, the care of individuals becomes secondary to power plays on the part of staff.

Here are some case examples:

–  A resident in a long term care facility repeatedly calls for help while a group of staff are gossiping. The employees are either so engrossed in the conversation that they do not hear the person or are not paying attention. The matter is not addressed until a visitor brings the resident’s calls to the attention of someone in the group.

–  A manager, who has become accustomed to intimidating staff without intercept or oversight, begins to intimidate clients with veiled threats of withdrawn assistance.

–  An employee reports inadequate services necessary to meet the needs of a resident in a long term care facility.  Her supervisor brings the issue to the attention of the administrator.  The supervisor is fired for some other supposed issue.  The inadequate services remain unaddressed. Employees become reluctant to report variances in care.

These are just a few recent examples of situations I’ve encountered.  The list goes on, for many of the people who ultimately are impacted by these situations are unable to advocate for themselves, are not taken seriously, or are afraid of retaliatory repercussions.  Employees who witness these situations, despite their training, are fearful of reprisals up to and including losing their employment.  In a mobbing, people are often set up to appear to be in the wrong or are placed in untenable situations guaranteed to force them out, one way or another.

– For example, a number of years ago, a staff member at a human services agency was working with a combative consumer while co-workers stood and watched rather than helping.  When the worn out employee finally did something construed as inappropriate, co-workers immediately called in a report.

– In another instance, a staff member arrived late and then proceeded to use the agency phone to carry on an extended, emotional conversation with her boyfriend.  Her co-worker handled care for consumers assigned to both of them.  When the staff member finally got off the phone, her co-worker said that she had taken care of everyone but one consumer and the staff member could care for that one.  The response was that the consumer was assigned to her co-worker and she wouldn’t do it. While the argument ensued, the consumer was left alone in a bathroom rather than being monitored.  The staff member reported her co-worker for neglect.

Human Relations issues between employees cannot take precedence over the focus on the well being of the people being served.  When people are used as bargaining chips to serve some dominance or control agenda, or worse become collateral damage as a result of that agenda, everyone loses and everyone is at risk.  When policies and training designed to protect people are twisted in these ways they become treated as objects and opportunities rather than as human beings.  When employees are caught up in a mobbing or bullying situation they rarely see beyond the context of the situation to the larger picture of the implications and consequences of their actions.  That is why not only training but also follow up insights are important to maintain the level of service that is both expected and deserved by people being served in agencies and in facilities of all kinds.

Let me say definitively that this behavior is generally not the rule but the exception.  Most health care and human services professionals are well meaning and genuinely care about the work that they do, its value, and the importance of quality.  However, when mobbing behavior thwarts these intentions we see turnover, low morale, increased incidences of sick leave due to stress, and losses of key individuals who refuse to associate themselves with an organization that allows this type of conduct to go unchecked.  Standards must be set and then follow up must occur.  The philosophy must extend to all levels of the organization, not just to direct care workers. The most effective leadership is by example. People watch and learn in areas beyond the classroom or mandated training as to what is truly acceptable within an organization and what is not.

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Mobbing: Emotional Abuse in the American Workplace is now available as an E-book.  Download your copy today at www.mobbing-usa.com

“Since coauthoring Mobbing: Emotional Abuse in the American Workplace I have continued to write about mobbing and bullying in both workplaces and schools. My coauthors and I were not the first to address mobbing and bullying on an international basis but we were the first to present the concept of mobbing in the United States. Since our book was published in 1999, many others have jumped on the bandwagon with their own work and that is a good thing. The more people who become aware of this form of mental and emotional abuse and endeavor to educate and intercept it, the better. There is a long way to go but progress in such a worthwhile area is gratifying and I am grateful to be a part of it.”  Gail Pursell Elliott, The Dignity and Respect Lady        www.innovations-training.com