Bullying has become a major issue recently causing a raised awareness of the frequency of this behavior. Schools have responded to what appears to be an increase in bullying by implementing punitive responses to bullying. What is often overlooked is bullying among adults, especially in the workplace. While it seems inconceivable to many that an adult would be guilty of bullying another adult it does occur.
There is a significant difference between children who bully and adults in the workplace who bully. While children may feel uncomfortable or uncertain about reporting bullying adults often don’t recognize that they are being bullied. Using terms like “She always picks on me”, “He treats me like I’m stupid”, and other remarks replace the obvious “I am being bullied”.
It was put best by Janice Harper, PhD in “Beyond Bullying”; “In bullying in schools, the instigators of the aggression are children, and the enforcers of policy are adults who are not under the authority of the children whose behaviors they control.” Workplace bullying is often done by other adults who are in positions of power or are supported by someone in a position of leadership. When the bully is a supervisor or manager it is often difficult to approach an authority over him/her without revealing action has been taken. Sadly the higher a bully is in leadership the more likely there will be few if any repercussions for bullying behavior. Fear of reprisal may prevent co-workers who have witnessed the behavior from stepping forward to confirm the accusations. Worse yet, co-workers may be encouraged or incited to take part in bullying, an escalation called “mobbing”.
When a group of people is influenced by a superior in the work environment becoming more aggressive and unpleasant over time it is called “mobbing”. The group may grow larger as more employees are encouraged to join in and the attacks may become more disturbing with the bullied individual either leaving the job or becoming so powerless it is impossible for him/her to do the job effectively. Very often as the group of bullies grows and the activity increases the instigator may back off secure in the belief the group will continue. This leaves the original bully to sit back and watch with the likelihood of penalties significantly reduced.
Mobbing should not be confused with an employee being disliked or unpopular. Mobbing is initiated usually by someone in a power position who makes it clear the bullied employee is undesirable and encourages other employees to isolate the individual and report any behavior that might be questionable such as arriving late or leaving early, unprofessional dress, or any other perceived infraction. This type of group targeting of an individual actually exacerbates the bullying. Encouraged by both their leader (supervisor) and others on the staff each employee feels justified in aggressive and unkind behavior. The targeted employee is then labeled as undesirable, possibly lazy or a poor team member.
Sadly this growing animosity leads to gossip, false reports, and has expanded to upper management. Even if the bullied employee recognizes the attacks were generated by a specific person it is no longer possible to point that out. When so many have joined in their attacks the instigator cannot easily be identified. In addition the mob believes they are justified in their actions even if the behavior they exhibit goes completely against their true natures. It often reaches the point where even if the identity of the primary bully can be identified and the bully removed the group has become so convinced their behavior is correct the bullying will continue. The victim is isolated, surrounded by co-workers who display their dislike freely. Without any social support the victim may elect to find another job rather than continue in what is surely a stressful situation.
Because mobbing is largely unrecognized it not addressed. Until we as a culture become more attuned to the subtleties of bullying, the differences in workplace and school bullying, and learn healthy ways to handle these actions the behavior will continue. With most employees spending around eight hours a day in the work environment it is vital to make certain they feel secure and able to perform their duties in a safe and non-threatening atmosphere.