©2020 Gail Pursell Elliott
Mob rule takes over when people are in survival mode, just as it does in the animal kingdom with birds attacking others viewed as a threat. Lately we have seen bullies in action as people push others out of the way to grab all the toilet paper possible. You see, most of us have that potential within us. It is only our self-awareness and self-restraint that keeps us from becoming poor examples of what we believe civilized should be.
You might not think of Mobbing as a pandemic, yet a workplace mobbing in progress, is similar to and often takes on those characteristics both in toxicity and the way it spreads. People do shift into survival mode. They may participate to ensure their own safety as a member of the group or to align themselves with those who seem to have the power, or they may do nothing, watching quietly and feeling helpless. In the Mobbing book interviews one person reported saying, “this is wrong” while watching supervisors’ treatment of a coworker. Another employee told them to keep quiet, “if you want to keep your job.” Another person reported a key staff member resigning, saying, “I don’t want to work for an organization that does this to people.”
When people feel threatened, they sometimes revert to deep-seated fears and prejudices. When these begin to surface, an organization that overlooks or ignores the outcroppings, or does not see them as indicators of a deeper issue that must be addressed quickly, is headed for trouble. Take, for example, the workplace shooting that occurred not long ago involving someone who had had a noose placed on his locker five years prior. The reports stated that HR had let him know this had occurred and it had been removed. Great. What happened after that we don’t know. Was there an investigation? Were there firings as a result of this? Were there educational programs? Was the person offered a different position? Was there follow-up? Did the person feel safe at work? Did the person feel supported by coworkers after the incident? Did the obvious racism become more subtle? The organization’s position was that this was an old issue and not indicative of what might have led up to the violence. But we all know that something did.
When people feel vulnerable, they are more easily whipped into a frenzy, however low keyed it may appear. Fear and aggression become part of the standard operating procedure within a work area, sometimes masked by superficial pleasantries. Mobbing works beneath the surface for the most part, showing itself generally in singular but continuous pecks. Often participants will deny their involvement, stating that they might have laughed at a bad joke at the target’s expense, but certainly did not bully or go after the person. However, this behavior multiplied by half or more of a department, along with whispered rumors or rude comments take their toll on an individual.
Remembering that Mobbing is an organizational dynamic, rather than the intensely personal form that it takes, is important. Seeing the potential for similar issues cropping up again and again tells that the underlying cause has not been addressed, whether it is power, prejudice, or just basic survival. Taking a hard look at your organization, from the vantage point of an objective rather than subjective view, can help. Prevent the behavioral pandemic or organizational cancer as Mobbing has been called, by establishing behavioral protocols and seeing that these are followed by education, awareness, intercept, consequences, and consistent follow-up. Being proactive beyond your basic policy is good management.
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.