©2022 Gail Pursell Elliott
When I first learned about workplace Mobbing in 1997, one of the most striking statistics in Dr. Leymann’s research was that between ten and twenty percent of all the suicides in Sweden could be directly attributed to being mobbed at work. By 2019, the Bureau of Labor Statistics data reported that in the US, workplace suicides had reached an all time high. How many of these can be attributed to bullying or mobbing behavior is unknown. What is known is that mental health issues have increased in the following years during and after Covid.
Despite the need for employees in many companies, the proliferation of untenable work situations continues to be an issue. In some organizations there seems to be a disconnect between what the company says it offers in terms of work environment and employee supports and what employees say is the reality of their day to day experiences in the workplace. In some workplaces, employees experience increased pressure due to staffing shortages, additional responsibilities, deadline demands, and threats of termination if expectations are not met. Verbal and emotional abuse are almost a daily occurrence with staff sometimes leaving at the end of the day shaking and in tears. I have worked with organizations that have policies and guidelines that just are not followed but may be used as justification when asked about incidents of bullying in the workplace. To say that we have a policy addressing that does not mean it is not happening.
Last month a workplace suicide occurred when a young employee in her second trimester of pregnancy was fired when she fell asleep on the job. Instead of walking her out as was required, the manager told her to go to the restroom to collect herself and left her alone and did not check on her. Later her body was found in another area of the facility. After the announcement of her death, several employees spoke to the news outlet Guardian anonymously, fearing retaliation. They told of a stressful, overloaded work environment, verbal abuse by supervisors, and unsanitary working conditions.
Civility and treating people with dignity and respect are crucial in a pressured work environment. Remembering that employees are human beings first and deserve to be treated as such, without bullying or verbal and emotional abuse can alleviate even the trauma of termination. It also can improve productivity and teamwork when staff is short and expectations increase. The adversary is a situation to be solved by joining together, by listening and responding to concerns like sanitation, abusive communication, lack of appreciation, or being told that one is not good enough no matter how hard they try.
Ethical guidelines and codes of conduct often get lost or may be misinterpreted by supervisors who also are pressured by insufficient staff and what has to be accomplished. They may fall into autocratic habits of communication. I presented a program on Civility and Ethics recently and participants shared the need for civility and ethical conduct particularly since the attempt to return to normalcy after Covid. Attitudes on the part of returning staff and those who remained during the pandemic to keep things going were flashpoints in terms of communication, teamwork, and mutual appreciation. Factionalism was rampant. All of these set the stage for workplace mobbing, which can do damage not only to employees but the future of the organization as a whole.
In our fractured and complicated times, where violence has become more prevalent and reactionary, it is mandatory that we take a look at our own environments and how we respond to situations and others. Our survival depends upon it, both personally and professionally. There are many kind, caring, and generous people in our communities, workplaces, and our world. These behaviors are worth emulating in the workplace and elsewhere.
Gail Pursell Elliott is co-author of the book Mobbing: Emotional Abuse in the American Workplace which introduced the topic of workplace mobbing to the United States in 1999. Since then, she has written many articles about mobbing, bullying, and emotional abuse whether in workplaces or in schools. She has been a guest on national news, local news, and radio programs as an expert on mobbing, bullying, and violence. Gail has experience working with both for profit and not-for-profit organizations, cities, counties, state and federal government agencies, school districts, universities, and associations. She would be honored to work with your organization. Contact through her website: