Bullying in the Workplace

One definition of workplace bullying states that it: “is a persistent pattern of mistreatment from others in the workplace that causes either physical or emotional harm. It can include such tactics as verbal, non-verbal, psychological, physical abuse and humiliation.”   (Wikipidea) When the bullying involves a group of individuals targeting an individual or individuals, it is called mobbing.  The leader—manager, co-worker, or subordinate—rallies others to engage in verbal and nonverbal aggression, personal attacks, social ostracism, isolation, humiliation, rumor, innuendo, and so on with the goal of getting rid of the targeted individual.  

Women are more likely to be bullied than men; according to the Workplace Bullying Institute (2007), women represented 57% of reported cases.  Men, it was noted, are more likely to engage in aggressive bullying behavior.  Cyberbullying, using the telephone or internet with the intent to shame, ridicule, or harm another, is a relatively new form of bullying brought to public attention by the shocking news of teen suicides attributed to peer cyberbullying.

According to psychologist Dr. Sophie Henshaw, “mobbing is ‘bullying on steroids,’ a horrifying new trend where a bully enlists co-workers to collude in a relentless campaign of psychological terror against a helpless target.”   She also stated that at least 30% of bullying is mobbing with a rising tendency. Fear of becoming a target causes many individuals to support bullying behavior. An Australian study completed by Faure-Brac (2012), claims that for every reported case as many as eight to 20 cases go unreported.

Certain workplace stresses can contribute to mobbing—increased financial pressure due to market demands; organizations driven by bureaucracy, such as government departments; beliefs that support bullying as “personality conflicts;” supervisors and managers lacking skills to deal with mobbing and bullying; values not centered on caring for others.  Witnesses of bullying or harassment who turn a blind eye are guilty of perpetuating the problem because if nothing changes, nothing changes, and the bullies move on to the next target.

What can you do if you are the target of mobbing?  Faure-Brac suggested a number of steps: first, practice good self-care and get out as soon as possible; document everything in case you decide to take legal action in the future; take the time you need to sort out future plans, and this could include having your doctor prescribe stress leave; find a therapist to help develop coping strategies, a lawyer who can advise of legal recourse, family physician who is informed of the work situation, supportive family and friends; practice good self-care; find activities that help diminish stress—exercise, creative pursuits like painting or coloring; try to find joy in every day or reasons to smile.

By: Judy Urquhart, MSW