©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.
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.