©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.