Aggression is any behaviour performed with the intention to harm or injure another. The target of this behaviour is motivated to escape and avoid such treatment (Baron & Richardson 2004). As this definition implies, both intention to harm and execution of behaviour are required to classify an act as aggressive. The exact nature of the intention and behaviour are quite variable. While we commonly associate aggression with physically violent behaviour, this is only one of a variety of aggressive acts. Buss (1961) proposed a framework for classifying different aggressive acts: physical-verbal, active-passive, and direct-indirect behaviour.
The origins of human aggression are complex and have been the topic of heated debate for a number of years. In general, research finding have been inconclusive but it is generally understood that human aggression stems from a combination of biological and environmental factors (Geen 1990). Workplace mobbing can be seen as a form of aggression whereby a group of coworkers perform a number of aggressive acts intended to harm a targeted worker. Commonly, the overall goal is to drive the target out of the workplace.
Relevant Resources: Craig A. Anderson & Brad J. Bushman 2002."Human Aggression" Annual Review of Psychology. Vol.53:27-51.
Russell G. Geene 1990. Human Aggression: Second Edition. Philadelphia, PA: Open University Press.
Robert A. Baron & Deborah R. Richardson 2004.Human Aggression.New York, NY: Plenum Publishing.
2009 Conference: The Evolution of Human Aggression http://www.medicalnewstoday.com/articles/136717.php
The fundamental attribution error is a systematic cognitive bias in human person-perception. It is the tendency to overestimate dispositional causes (and to underestimate situational causes) for the observed behaviour of others (Jones and Nisbett 1971; Ross 1977).
In other words, there is a tendency to make internal attributions in judging the behaviour of others instead of recognizing the external factors that could have been contributing to the situation. A common explanation centers on the preservation of cognitive resources. The human mind tends to simplify information to make it easier to process. In observing the behaviour of others, the most easily accessible explanation is the internal one. Considering possible situational explanations requires more cognitive effort and resources (Forgas 1998).
The fundamental attribution error can have dangerous consequences in the context of workplace mobbing. For example, coworkers may attribute an employee's angry outburst to dispositional factors (he is a bully, he has anger management problems) instead of recognizing the situational factors that led to his outburst.
A"bystander" is a person present but not actively involved in an event or action. The related term"bystander effect" is accurately summarized by Carol Bly (1996) in her book Changing the Bully who Rules the World. As quoted by Kenneth Westhues in Eliminating Professors: A Guide to the Dismissal Process,Bly writes that"the bystander effect is watching some evil take place, but since we are watching with others who are watching, and no one seems to be doing anything about the evil, we go on watching and do nothing about it," (Bly 1996). In other words, the mere presence of other bystanders diffuses responsibility to the point where nothing is done, even if there is a great evil being committed. In workplace mobbing, bystanders serve an important role in the eliminative process. Bystanders witness the mobbing; they are not active in pushing the target out of the door but they see the process taking place. In order for a mobbing to continue and survive, an ample supply of silent bystanders is required. If an outsider is brave enough to step up and object to what is going on, there is a possibility that the horrific process will stop. If, on the other hand, there is a large and silent group of bystanders, the evil will continue.
Bullying is defined as"repeated, health-harming mistreatment of one or more persons (the targets) by one or more perpetrators" (Namie 1998). The mistreatment can be verbal or non-verbal behaviour that intimidates, threatens, or sabotages the target. From its definition, bullying would seem to be very similar to workplace mobbing. While the two have certain similarities, they are different in a number of important ways. In workplace bullying, the crux of the problem is understood as the toxic individual. The bully is guilty of intentional, planned abuse of others and is a danger in the workplace. In contrast, workplace mobbing sees the core problem as the ganging up of workers to demonize a single target. Instead of one toxic worker, the problem is the social process that occurs when one person is singled out as undesirable by a group. Bullying behaviours also tend to be more overt and include aggressive verbal and physical attacks. In workplace mobbing, the attacks are more insidious. Behaviours such as gossip, ostracism, exclusion, and shunning create a hostile work environment for the targeted worker. For more detailed information, please see the links below.
The term"chief eliminator" was introduced by Kenneth Westhues in his book Eliminating Professors: A Guide to the Dismissal Process (1999). As the mobbing process becomes more concrete and formal, one administrator adopts the leading role in the target's elimination. After the critical incident (event that confirms the target does not belong), the chief eliminator will go about detailing the event and determining disciplinary actions (Westhues 1998). The chief eliminator's duty is not to consult and accuse; his duty is to pronounce the target guilty and punish accordingly. According to Westhues, the chief eliminator will address the target formally in writing and impose punishments intended to humiliate and push the target toward the door. The chief eliminator is not a single-handed bully, but merely a leader in the collective campaign to eliminate the targeted worker.
Cohesion can be defined as the"level of interpersonal attraction among members of a group" (Hugg 1992). In a cohesive group, individual members experience a strong sense of belonging and pride in group solidarity. While belonging to the cohesive group is rewarding, it tends to come at a certain cost. According to sociologist George C. Homans's exchange model of informal social control, a cohesive group tends to function on a"cohesion-compliance" exchange system. The rewards of group acceptance and belonging are exchanged for compliance with group obligations. Accordingly,"some degree of ostracism is the penalty for failing to conform to a norm" (Homans 1974). Especially relevant to the study of workplace mobbing is the finding that group cohesion tends to increase when there is a"perceived existence of a common enemy" (Blake and Mouton 1961). While this may be advantageous in terms of productivity when the"common enemy" is a competitive company, when the enemy is an individual within the workplace it is a recipe for workplace mobbing.
Collective behaviour refers to the spontaneous actions of a group of people. These actions do not simply reflect a social norm, an external social structure or a law. Instead, they are unplanned behaviours that emerge without any formal structure. Because of the lack of structure, collective behaviour and movements tend be unpredictable.
The term"collective behaviour" was first used by American sociologist Robert Park and was later expanded by the work of Herbert Blumer. According to the work of Park and Blumer, collective behaviour can be divided into four main categories: the crowd (expressing common emotion), the public (discussing one topic), the mass and the social movement. These classifications are, however, not unanimously accepted among researchers. As explained by Gary Marx and James Wood, there is"no widely agreed upon generic classification scheme for collective behaviour phenomena" (Marx & Wood 1975). Workplace mobbing can be seen as a harmful form of collective behaviour. A group of workers band together in a collective attack.
Collegial mobbing (also known as horizontal or lateral mobbing) occurs when a worker is attacked by his or her colleagues. Instead of being instigated by a superior or a subordinate, the chief eliminator is on the same level in the hierarchy as the target. According to Noa Davenport, Ruth Distler Schwartz, and Gail Pursell Elliot in their book Mobbing: Emotional Abuse in the American Workplace, collegial mobbing is often sparked by jealousy and/or fear. In a competitive work environment, the target may be seen as a threat and eliminating him or her from the workplace may be seen as a way of securing the status quo. The direction of mobbing is correlated with the nature of the company culture and its preference of hierarchal structure (Davenport et al 1999).
Constructive dismissal is a legal term used to describe situations where an employee is forced to quit because the employer has either violated (or has shown intention to violate) the contract of employment in a major way, changing the terms of employment (Canada Labour Code). Although there has been no act of dismissal, the phenomenon is often described as"disguised dismissal" because the employee's position has been changed extensively due to the contract changes (CLC). Constructive dismissal is very different from voluntary resignation where the employer is not obligated to pay the employee compensation. Legally, constructive dismissal is treated in the same manner as is wrongful dismissal; the employer is held responsible and is required to pay compensation (Zvulony 2005). In determining whether or not a case qualifies as constructive dismissal, objective and observable evidence that the employer has violated the terms of employment must be provided. The task of compiling such data falls on the employee's shoulders. The employer's actions must also be deemed unilateral, meaning that the employee did not consent to the changes. Time is also a factor in considering the occurrence of constructive dismissal. The employee must leave within a fairly short period of time following the changed employment conditions. Not leaving is considered a form of acceptance of the new terms of employment (CLC).
The term"critical incident" was first used by Kenneth Westhues to describe an important event in the course of workplace mobbing. According to Westhues, the critical incident marks the beginning of Stage Three in the elimination of a targeted worker. The incident results from some action on the target's part that can be viewed as a deplorable offence. It is believed to be caused by some fundamental personality flaw of the target and, as such, cannot be ignored as an accidental error. It is an incident that"brings things out into the open" (Westhues 1998) and confirms that the target is a disruptive and unfit worker. As a result of the critical incident, the target is said to be"in deep trouble" (Westhues 1998) and office gossip begins circulates. Whether it is attributed to the target's alleged selfishness, greed, or psychopathic nature, the incident serves to confirm that eliminating the target is essential.
The term"crowd" has been defined in several different ways. Among the most influential theories is that of Gustave LeBon, a French social psychologist and sociologist whose famous book The Crowd was published in 1895. According to LeBon (1895), a crowd differs from a casual gathering of individuals; it emerges only under certain psychological condition. LeBon explains that"sentiment and ideas of all persons gathering take one and the same direction and their conscious personalities vanish," (LeBon 1895). In other words, the individual identities lose importance and a united, collective consciousness begins to take on a life of its own. This collective identity makes members"feel, think, and act in a manner quite different from that in which each individual of them would feel, think, and act where he in a state of isolation" (LeBon 1895). The concept of a crowd is important in the study of mobbing. A mob of workers can be understood as a crowd with a destructive goal: the elimination of one targeted co-worker. As LeBon explained, the actions of the mob may be something that individual members would not do on their own. However, under the new collective consciousness individual responsibilities, reactions, and concerns are ignored.
The term degradation ceremony was first introduced by Harold Garfinkel in his article"Conditions of Successful Degradation Ceremonies" published in 1956. Degradation ceremonies mark a change in an individual's social status. Unlike other kinds of ceremonies, however, in degradation ceremonies"the public identity of the actor is transformed into something looked on as lower in the local scheme of social types" (Garfinkel 1956). In other words, it is a ritual shaming of an individual. It is an ordered process whereby a person is stripped of their position of responsibility. In workplace mobbing, unfair judicial proceedings can be seen as ritual ceremonies of public shaming. As put by sociologist Kenneth Westhues in the concluding chapter of his book The Remedy and Prevention of Mobbing in Higher Education,“an adversarial, court-like proceeding wherein an accused person is indicted, tried, and judged" is a clear example of Garfinkel's degradation ceremony (Westhues 2005).
Harold Garfinkel, Professor Emeritus in sociology, introduced the concept of a social identity changing degradation ceremony whereby an individual is shamed. In his famous article"Conditions of Successful Degradation Ceremonies" Garfinkel specifies certain essential conditions of the ritual degradation: the denouncer (the person who denounces the perpetrator), the perpetrator, and a critical event (something the perpetrator is accused of doing). In order to ensure the success of ceremony, the denouncer must be regarded as a public (and not private) figure. Being regarded in this way, the denouncer draws upon a communal experience instead of a private one (Garfinkel 1956). During the degradation ceremony, the denouncer must appeal to the core values of the witnesses and cast the perpetrator as a violator of these core values. The denouncer must also be seen as a supporter of these core values, as having the right to speak up in their defence, and as a reasonable distance from the person being denounced. In workplace mobbing, denouncers play an important role in the degradation of mobbing targets. By appealing to witnesses' core values and describing the target as a violator of these values, the denouncers stir a collective resolve to punish a targeted worker.
Workplace mobbing shatters the emotional stability of a target. The collective cruelty of the workplace often drastically damages a target's self-esteem and feelings of self-worth. Over the course of a mobbing, the target often experiences various symptoms of depression. Symptoms of depression include feelings of helplessness, low mood, loss of interest, lack of pleasure, suicidal ideation, and diminished libido. Additionally, the depressed person will often experience insomnia, loss of appetite, poor memory, and excessive fatigue. If the mobbing occurs over a period of at least two to four years, these symptoms may become chronic in a major depressive disorder (Leymann 1992). Recent studies have found that work stress is a significant risk factor for the development of depression. According to researchers at the University of Rochester Medical School, stress and a lack of support from co-workers and supervisors is related to depression in both men and women. Workplace mobbing is an extreme form of stress where all social support at work is turned against the target, making depression even more likely. Heinz Leymann, the founding father of research on workplace mobbing, described permanent personality changes that commonly occur as a result of mobbing. The depressive changes include: a feeling of emptiness and hopelessness, a chronic inability to experience joy from ordinary events in life, and a constant risk of drug abuse (Leymann file 32170e).
When a baptised member of Jehovah's Witnesses violates certain religious beliefs and practices, he or she can be punished with disfellowshipping, a form of excommunication from the congregation. There are over 30 violations that can result in disfellowshipping including abortion, adultery, gambling, homosexual activity and drug abuse. When an individual is accused of a violation, it must first be substantiated by at least two witnesses. A tribunal of elders will congregate to determine guilt and apply sanctions. Once a guilty verdict has been reached, the disfellowshipping will be announced before the congregation and all members will be instructed to shun the individual completely. While contact with family members living in the same house may continue, all other family members and followers of Jehovah's Witness are instructed to cut off all contact. According to the Jehovah's Witnesses website, the firm cutting off is mandated by God's law and serves to protect followers from"critical, unappreciative, or even apostate views." While the shunning of family members is especially difficult, it is explained by stating that it is a test of followers'"loyalty to their righteous God before family affection." The process itself bears a striking resemblance to the process of social elimination recorded in cases of workplace mobbing.
Social elimination refers to the act of expelling an individual from a social group. According to Kenneth Westhues, all human beings possess an eliminative impulse, a basic drive to humiliate and knock out another person. This impulse is normally kept contained by social order and"allegiance to the brotherhood of man" (Westhues 2004). In certain conditions, however, the impulse to eliminate can begin to dictate irrational behaviour. As the target becomes an unforgivable wrongdoer in the eyes of eliminators, the social ties of commonality are broken. The impulse to push this individual out of the social circle by whatever means possible takes over. This is the exact process occurring in workplace mobbing. The target is transformed into an outsider and deemed a person who must be pushed out. There are a number of ways to push a target out of the workplace door. As detailed by Kenneth Westhues in Eliminating Professors: A Guide to the Dismissal Process elimination can be achieve by way of resignation, fabricated resignation, death, long-term disability for a physical or mental illness, early retirement, dismissal for cause, downsizing or financial exigency, and constructive dismissal (Westhues 1998).
Workplace mobbing has a number of consequences. Often times the target experiences a mental breakdown; he or she may fall into a deep depression, develop a debilitating anxiety disorder, or suffer post traumatic stress. In a very tiny fraction of cases, a target may retaliate violently. The term"going postal" can be understood as a violent retaliation whereby a person"openly and indiscriminately" (Westhues 2007) murders co-workers before committing suicide or being gunned down by police. Not all cases of"going postal" are linked to workplace mobbing (see for example Charles Whitman, Kimveer Gill). In cases where mobbing is involved, the target has likely been pushed to the edge of his or her sanity by extreme humiliation in the workplace (see for example Pierre Lebrun, Valery Fabrikant). According to Kenneth Westhues in his article"Mobbing and the Virginia Tech Massacre", going postal may represent a last ditch attempt at regaining control over a situation where the mobbed individual feels completely out of control. Being pushed out the door by workplace mobbing, the individual may decide to"take others with him" (Westhues 2007). For more detailed information see the resources below.
According to teacher trainer Lou Spaventa, gossip is more than simple distraction at work. It is a tool for controlling the behaviour of others in the workplace. In his insightful article"The Heart of the Matter: Mobbing" Spaventa explains that gossip is a way of asserting personal superiority in the workplace by diminishing another's worth. Gossip is a harmful and dangerous way of boosting self esteem. Impressions of employees derived from office gossip are often false and misleading. While it may not be intentional, gossip about a specific employee colours perception of the individual. False allegations against a target can be a consequence of relentless gossip. Whether or not they are true, the impressions and allegations can fuel a vicious campaign to oust a targeted worker.
When an employee files a complaint to be resolved by the organisation's formal channels for dealing with injustices, it is called a grievance. Brian Martin, Professor of Social Sciences at the University of Wollongong, expresses concern with trusting these formal channels to deal fairly with employee complaints and concerns. As he writes in The Whistleblower's Handbook,"in many cases, to stick to formal channels is to play the opponent's game largely by the opponent's rules," (Martin 1999). Because the organisation has much more money and time, it can stall, hire lawyers and mount attacks in retaliation toward whistleblowing employees. This can be observed in cases where employee complaints spark mobbing actions to eliminate the whistleblower (see cases of Hipolito Colon, Kathleen Kufeldt). Instead of filing grievances and working through official channels, Martin suggest taking informal methods such as talking to the attackers and sorting out and misunderstandings.
Irving Janis first introduced the term"groupthink" to describe a way of thinking in decision-making groups. According to Janis (1972, 1982), the pressure to agree with a group leader or other group members may cause a skewed appraisal of the alternatives and lead to poor decisions. Individuals are so motivated to reach an agreement that do not express any problems they may see. Because everybody is self-censoring, important flaws in the decision go unchecked. According to Janis, certain groups are at higher risk of engaging in groupthink. In highly cohesive groups, members are very motivated to remain part of the group. Disagreeing with the majority could result in exclusion. As such, highly cohesive groups are noticeably more likely to engage in groupthink. In addition, directive leaders (leaders who openly express their own opinions before group discussions) tend to encourage groupthink. Finally, the process is more likely when a group is under a stressful time constraint or pressure to reach a decision. In the context of workplace mobbing, collective self-censorship may be a large contributing factor to the irrational actions of mobbers. Individual members may experience remorse but their commitment to group solidarity overrides these feelings. Risking rejection from the group is more terrifying than silencing guilt.
The term herd mentality refers to the way that the collective influences the thoughts and behaviours of individuals. The impulse to join the majority is biologically driven. Similar to the instinctive behaviour of animals, humans in groups tend to conform and behave in a way that mirrors that of other group members. For fear of exclusion, individuals side with the majority and may act irrationally. The term"herd mentality" has been used in workplace mobbing literature to describe the unanimous campaign to eliminate a target. The collective aggression of a mob does not allow for any dissent. Because they fear exclusion, members will become caught up in the cruel actions of the majority despite any inklings of morality or guilt.
The term"humiliation" originated from the Latin word humilis meaning"low, lowly" and the word humus meaning"ground". Literally, the term humiliation means"reducing to dirt" (emotionalcompetency.com). In the more common sense, humiliation refers to a process whereby an individual's self-esteem, pride, and self-image are lowered. The humiliated individual will often experience a sense of shame, lowliness, and inferiority compared to a respected other; he is stripped of his status and respectability. Humiliation serves an important role in workplace mobbing. In order to set the eliminative wheels in motion, the target must be viewed as inferior; humiliation is a valuable tool in tainting the target's image and testing the limits of his sanity. A humiliated worker may voluntarily leave the workplace to salvage some form of dignity.
An industrial injury can be understood as any type of personal damage resulting from working. In workplace mobbing, the damage can range from physical consequences of long-term stress as well as psychological changes. In his book From Mobbing to Elimination, Heinz Leymann discusses the long term consequences of mobbing at work. According to Leymann when a target has suffered in the personnel administrative stage (see stages of mobbing) for between 2-4 years, he or she is at risk for chronic personality changes in obsessions and depressions (Leymann 1992). At this point, the chronic condition can be called an industrial injury. The obsessions and depressions are said to expand to different areas of the individual's life and are entirely attributable to"grossly incorrect personnel handling," (Leymann 1992).
The term"internal exile" can be understood at a very broad level as a symbolic"settling with one's feet tied together" (A.I. Solzhenitsyn, The Gulag Archipelago). In a traditional sense, it means banishment to a remote and isolated part of one's own country. The exiled individual is kept in the country, but is shut out of his community. The same symbolic process can be seen in cases of workplace mobbing. In the workplace, internal exile refers to a state of affairs whereby the individual remains employed with"retained salary, but the employee is not given any work assignments at all (or in the ‘best' case, meaningless ones far under his or her competence)" (Leymann From Mobbing to Elimination, Ch.1). This cruel process of isolation robs the individual of a sense of purpose in the workplace and often leaves him in depressed, bitter, and angry. A large scale example of this process can be observed in the Rubber Rooms of New York City. In these"temporary reassignment centers" teachers who have been deemed"unfit" sit, without any work, for seven hours a day while collecting a full salary.
The term"joy-stealing games" was used by Kathleen T. Heinrich to describe forms of incivility among nurse teaching staff. Heinrich collected data at the 2005 National League for Nursing where she asked a group of nurse teaching staff to describe a situation when the actions of a colleague, administrator, or subordinate resulted in a feeling of being "disrespected, devalued, and/or dismissed," (Heinrich 2005). The pattern that emerged was one of"joy stealing games" where mentoring behaviour was replaced with tormenting behaviour. In her article, Heinrich describes ten of these games: setting up (for embarrassment or potential failure), distorting (twisting assets and abilities), misrepresenting and lying, shaming (with words and actions), betraying (covert tactics), breaking (personal) boundaries, splitting (encouraging separation along certain criteria), mandating, blaming, and silencing.
Lateral violence is a form of peer-to-peer violence that occurs in situations where both parties involved are victims of an undesirable power structure. The oppressive system leads individuals to feel helpless, angry, and frustrated. Unable to address the power structure itself, people turn their frustrations inwards and attack each other by way of gossip, putdowns, and general hostility. Lateral violence is frequently seen in reports of nursing education and workplace practices. According to psychologist Dr. Barry Stein, nurses may be especially vulnerable to this type of violence because they are heavily overworked and given very little power. In their frustrated state they may be more like to displace feelings of stress and anger onto one another. Role issues between nurses and nurse educators are also related to lateral violence. A culture of"eating the young" is said to put new nurses at risk of abusive behaviour.
The term"mob" originates from an anti-predator behaviour observed in birds. When a threat to the flock is detected, an alarm signal is emitted. Birds respond to the alarm signal and swarm around the predator, at times swooping down to peck at the enemy. In the workplace, a mob consists of ordinary worker who, after deeming an individual worker a threat, collectively attack the perceived enemy. Like birds, the individual workers harm the target by collective and relentless small jabs. The mob of workers can be understood as an entity in and of itself. Once it is formed, it takes on a life of its own, even when members may question the benefit of continuing to punish the target. As an aggressive force, a mob is very different from the"toxic worker" described in bullying literature. The toxic worker is understood as an aggressive individual who wilfully attacks innocent others. By contrast, the mob is a collection of ordinary workers who collectively demonize an individual and destroy him or her.
Heinz Leymann, founding researcher in the study of workplace mobbing, analyzed the impact of mobbing on the target's psychological well-being and found severe anxiety reactions of either obsession or depression. Leymann defines obsession as the"opposite of depression" where instead of"pathological inactivity" the individual experiences"over-activity and dependency" as a consequence mobbing (Leymann 1992). Just like depressive symptoms, obsessive symptoms can become chronic after a prolonged period of abuse. Permanent personality changes that Leymann noted includes the following:"a hostile suspicious attitude toward the surroundings, a chronic feeling of nervousness that one is in constant danger, compulsory fixation on one's own fate to a degree that exceeds the limit of tolerance of people in one's surroundings (leading to isolation and loneliness), and hypersensitivity with respect to injustices and a constant identification with the suffering of others in an almost compulsory manner" (Leymann 1992).
The term"ostracism"stems from a democratic process known as ostrakismos used in Athens around 500 B.C. During this process, members of the community would vote on whether or not an individual citizen should be banished for the next ten years. Members of the community would cast their votes on shards of clay known as ostraca (Williams 2007). In a modern context, ostracism refers to a form of social influence whereby an individual is ignored and excluded. The target is often given no explanation for the sudden treatment. Instead of active aggression, ostracism represents a more passive social violence (Williams et al. 2000, 2001). The consequences of social ostracism have been investigated by a number of researchers. Laboratory studies have revealed increased blood pressure, increased cortisol levels (commonly known as"the stress hormone"), and reported increase in subjective tension after a social exclusion simulation (Stroud et al. 2000). Along similar lines, ostracism simulations have led to increased activation of the dorsal anterior cingulated cortex (dACC) which is the area of the brain active during exposure to physical pain (Einsenberger et al. 2003). Among self-reported consequences, researchers have found increased sadness and anger as well as a lowered feeling of belonging, self-esteem, personal control, and sense of a meaningful existence (reviewed by Williams and Zadro 2005).
The term"pecking order" refers to a hierarchy of dominance in birds, particularly noticeable in chickens. It plays out in a pattern of behaviour analogous to workplace mobbing. When a new member arrives or one of the existing members is injured, the other birds gang up and attack the individual bird. The birds peck the target, keeping it away from food and water. While the individual pecks do not kill the bird, the cumulative injury does. In workplace mobbing, workers gang up to injure one of their own. The individual aggressive acts may be small but put together they are enough to destroy the target mentally, emotionally, and physically.
In their book Mobbing: Emotional Abuse in the American Workplace, Noa Davenport, Ruth Distler Schwartz and Gail Pursell Elliot outline five major stages of workplace mobbing. Adapted from the list compiled by Heinz Leymann, the five phases of mobbing are a progression of abusive behaviours over time. The first phase is characterised by some sort of conflict or critical incident. In and of itself, this is not mobbing. The second phase is distinguished by a number of aggressive acts and psychological assaults. The mobbing begins to pick up momentum at this point. In the third phase, management becomes involved and plays a part in the process by misjudging the situation and joining the effort to eliminate the target. By the fourth stage, the target has been branded as difficult or mentally ill. This assessment may be formalized by misguided assessments by professionals. The fifth and final stage of mobbing is expulsion, and the target is pushed out of the workplace.
In his book Elimination Professors: A Guide to the Dismissal Process, Kenneth Westhues describes the prototypical target of workplace mobbing in academe and calls him (or her) Dr. PITA (acronym for Pain In The Ass). Dr. PITA is a professor identified as a destructive force in the department. Despite excellent student evaluations and his active involvement in research, Dr. PITA is a troublemaker. He is furiously committed to ideas or theories that clash with the overall views of the university or the department. He is not one to be keep quiet about his views either; he wants to"do something about it" (Westhues 1998). Additionally, this professor stands out as different in some way. It may be signalled by anything from a mode of dress to a foreign accent. Whatever the reasons, Dr. PITA is threatening is some way and is marked out as undesirable. Westhues goes on to describe the process of ousting the Pain In The Ass from the viewpoint of a chief eliminator.
Political psychology is a term used to describe the behaviour of psychologists who knowingly violate established codes of ethics in order to carry out political agendas (Friedenberg 2008). These political agendas are often handed to the psychologist by employers or superiors. In workplace mobbing, political psychology can be used as a tool to eliminate a target. Mental health professionals may be paid by an employer to make unsubstantiated assessments of the target. Because these assessments were delivered by a licensed psychologist, they are seen as valid proof that the target is either mentally disturbed or unfit to stay in the workplace.
The International Labour Organization (ILO) defines workplace violence as"incidents where employees are abused, threatened, assaulted or subjected to other offensive behaviour in circumstances related to their work," (Di Martino 2003). In the past there has been an emphasis on physical forms of violence at work. More recently, however, this emphasis has shifted and psychological violence has gained more attention. In contrast to physical violence, psychological violence often consists of repeated aggressive behaviours which have a cumulative effect on the target. Categories of violence in the workplace include the following: assault/attack, threat, abuse, harassment, sexual harassment, and bullying/mobbing. According to recent study entitled"Violence at Work, Third Edition" by Vittorio Di Martino and Duncan Chappell,"bullying, harassment, mobbing, and allied behaviours can be just as damaging as outright physical violence," (ILO Press release 2006). The emotional health of employees is just as important as their physical health and threats to either are undesirable in each and every workplace.
Psychopathy is a non-DSM (Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders) category that is similar to antisocial personality disorder. Whereas the diagnostic criteria for Antisocial Personality Disorder are based on observable behaviours, the criteria for psychopathy (as set out by psychologist Robert Hare) are based primarily on personality traits (pathologic egocentricity, superficial charm etc). The term"workplace psychopath" has recently gained a great deal of public attention. Robert Hare, an emeritus professor of psychology at UBC, is credited with creating the standard tool for diagnosing psychopathy. In 2006, alongside Paul Babiak, Hare published a book titled Snakes in Suits: When Psychopaths Go To Work. Detailing ways to spot the work of a psychopath in the office, the book was accompanied by extensive media coverage of psychopathic personalities in the workplace. As discussed by Carlo Caponecchia and Anne Wyatt in their editorial The Problem with ‘Workplace Psychopaths' there is considerable danger in using term"workplace psychopath" when dealing with behaviour at work. Encouraging workers to diagnose each other and providing a list of characteristics is fuel to the mobbing fire. The disorder is simplified in media reports and can only be properly diagnosed by a professional. Labelling an individual a"workplace psychopath" sets off mental alarms and can spark a campaign to oust the worker.
Posttraumatic stress disorder is an anxiety disorder that is brought on by exposure to a traumatic event where the individual experiences severe fear, helplessness, and/or horror. Afterwards, the person re-experiences the event through vivid memories, nightmares, and flashbacks. Because of these disturbing memories, the individual will often have a numbing of emotional responsiveness and avoidance of anything that may remind him or her of the trauma. The person is also in a heightened state of arousal and experiences difficulty falling asleep and hyper vigilance. Heinz Leymann discovered that targets of workplace mobbing are at risk of developing severe PTSD. Because mobbed employees suffer in a traumatic environment for comparatively long period of time, the continued state of anxiety is quite severe and requires professional intervention and treatment. Leymann notes that mobbing victims with PTSD show mental distress that is"fully comparable to with PTSD from war or prison camp experiences," (Leymann 1990).
The term"scapegoat" refers to an individual who has been singled out and blamed for the problems of an entire group. The scapegoat is often innocent and becomes demonized by the collective. In eliminating the scapegoat, the group feels cleansed of the negativity the he or she has come to embody. In the book The Scapegoat (1982) Stanford professor Rene Girard examines the role of the scapegoat in biblical, mythical, and historical societies. Girard calls the human impulse to collectively eliminate the"persecutory unconscious". While the form it takes and the way we rationalize it differs, the basic impulse remains unchanged. Scapegoating and mobbing share a number of commonalities but differ on a few points. Both explain the process of eliminative campaign and explain how it serves a purpose for the aggressors. According to Kenneth Westhues, scapegoating implies an irrationality that is far less prominent in mobbing. In scapegoating, the target is often not to blame for the problem heaped on him or her. Eliminating the scapegoat does not solve the problem at hand. In mobbing, while irrationality plays a part, there are rational motivations behind the elimination. Ousting an outspoken worker is a way for the authorities to establish power.
A sham peer review is an eliminative process disguised as a legitimate peer review. As neurologist Lawrence R. Huntoon describes, sham peer reviews are premeditated attacks that hospitals frequently use to eliminate certain physicians. Often times, these physicians are strong advocates for patient care and safety which makes them analogous to the"difficult professor" (Kenneth Westhues) in academic mobbing. Before the formal sham peer review, there is a series of small attacks on the targeted physician. The final attack in the bureaucratic hospital is carefully staged and choreographed. While it has the appearance of good faith, the proceeding is set up in such a way that the physician's elimination is unavoidable. The quasi-judicial review committee formally finds the physician unfit for the workplace and applies some sort of punishment.
A stigma is a negative association with certain behaviours, attributes, or beliefs. An individual performing the specific behaviour, having the certain attributes, or ascribing to the certain beliefs will be stigmatized in the minds of others. This means that he or she will be classified into an undesirable category or stereotype in the minds of others. The term"stigma" comes from a Greek word for the physical branding of criminals, traitors, and slaves so that they may be visibly identified and socially ostracized. Similarly, a stigma colours others' perception when interacting with an individual. The perceptions (stigma) can often translate into altered behaviours (discrimination). When a person is treated differently based on a stigma or stereotype, discrimination has occurred. In workplace mobbing, aggressors often stigmatize their target. Doing so changes the way neutral parties see him or her. By tainting the target's image, elimination is made justifiable.
In mobbing literature, a target is an individual worker deemed"undesirable" by coworkers and subsequently mobbed out of the workplace. Typically, the target is a productive and capable worker who, for whatever reason, stands out as different in workplace. The nature of this difference varies; the target may have a foreign accent, a mode of dress, or a political loyalty that differs from the majority. The target may also express opinions that differ from the accepted values of the work group. For whatever reason, the individual is marked out as a threat to group solidarity. To eliminate the perceived threat, coworkers collectively attack the target. To disguise real reasons for attack, the target may be falsely accused of various crimes all intended to smear his or her reputation.
Upward mobbing occurs when employees gang up to eliminate someone in a position of authority. Whereas bullying is often associated with an aggressive boss mistreating employees, upward mobbing is the very opposite; a group of employees collectively attack an individual higher up in the workplace hierarchy. The target of upward mobbing may be labelled a"bully boss" as a way of rationalizing the mobbing process. This is why increased focus on identifying toxic bosses in the workplace can be dangerous.
The term victim is sometimes used in mobbing literature to describe the individual mobbed out of the workplace. According to Kenneth Westhues, the term"target" is generally preferred. Labelling a person a victim implies that he or she is entirely powerless in the situation. It implies that the person is completely innocent, helpless, and in need of rescuing. While a target of mobbing is unfairly singled out and subjected to cruelty in the workplace, often times he or she is not passive in the process. The target will struggle to fight back, struggle to defend his or her innocence, and struggle to find solutions. Unlike a victim, the target may have expressed views, made comments, or published research that sparked the mobbing campaign. In this way, he or she had a part in the events that transpired and was targeted by the collective, not necessarily victimized.
A whistleblower is an individual who speaks out in public interest and exposes some form of wrongdoing within an organization. Examples of wrongdoings include health and safety violations, illegal activity, corruption, and a number of other legal/regulation violations. As put by Brain Martin,"whistleblowers are part of society's alarm and self-repair system" (Martin 2005); they direct attention to harmful acts which threaten the well-being of others. Although whistleblowers serve an important purpose in safeguarding public interest, they take on considerable risk in speaking out. Among common consequences are"ostracism, harassment, slander, reprimands, referral to psychiatrists, demotion, dismissal and blacklisting" (Martin 2005). Within the workplace mobbing literature, there are a number of examples of whistleblowers being mobbed out of the workplace (see cases of Aubrey Blumsohn, Nancy Olivieri, Hipolito Colon).
A"witch hunt" is a panic-ridden campaign to find and punish a person assumed guilty of some heinous offence. The accused is deemed a force of evil and any evidence supporting his innocence is ignored. Because his guilt is"known" evidence may be created to bring the individual to justice. Fear, panic, and mass hysteria fuel this process. The term"witch hunt" is often associated with the zealous witchcraft hunts trials that swept across Europe in the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries. This"witch craze" period, as some have called it, peaked between 1580 and 1650 and left thousands of innocent people dead (Rapley 2007).
As explained by retired civil servant Robert Rapley, at the core of the"witch craze" there is a basic mentality which is played out in many different forms in more modern contexts. As stated in his book Witch Hunts: From Salem to Guantanamo Bay,"witch hunting is not soley an activity, but also a state of mind that develops when a society is under great stress – and such a state of mind exists today," (Rapley 2007). This same state of mind can be observed in cases of workplace mobbing where a target is deemed evil and assumed guilty without a fair trial.