I would like to share with you an article from a newsletter that I receive at work on the topic of Mobbing. When you read it, think about the behaviours in a JW context, and the similarities between bullying, workplace mobbing and the practices of marking, shunning, disfellowshipping, calling someone an apostate, etc. among JWs.
Your comments are welcome.
Bullying/Mobbing – Implements for Social Control Kenneth Westhues, Professor of Sociology, University of Waterloo, Ontario, Canada © 2001
Name the process
Workplace mobbing is an impassioned, collective movement by managers and/or co-workers to exclude, punish, and humiliate a targeted worker. A desperate urge to crush and eliminate the target spreads through the work unit, infecting one person after another like a contagious disease. The target comes to be seen as absolutely abhorrent, outside the circle of respectability, deserving only of contempt. A steadily broader range of hostile ploys and communications toward the target comes to be seen as legitimate.
Overall, about 5 percent of workers are targets of mobbing sometime during their working lives. Most workers see the process from the other side – as instigator, chief eliminator, collaborator, or bystander – or as guardian or rescuer of the target. The same individual may play different roles in different cases. Mobbing is a drama performed on a real-life stage, in which workmates play their varied parts and make their respective exits and entrances.
Mobbing is distinct from penalizing or firing a worker who, on the basis of evidence, does not measure up to the requirements of the job. The latter is reasoned, routine managerial procedure, normally directed with regret at an underachiever. Mobbing is a furious collective attack made with undisguised glee on an overachiever or someone seen as threatening to all good and decent employees.
Workplace mobbing is like bullying, in that the object is to rob the target of dignity and self-respect. Here, however, it is not a single swaggering bully that the target is up against, but the juggernaut of collective will. The message to the target is that everybody wants you out of here. Bullies sometimes play leading roles in mobbing cases, whether as targets or perpetrators.
Understand the stages of the process
No two cases are alike, but mobbing typically proceeds from subtle, informal techniques of humiliation and exclusion to overt and formal measures. Five stages are commonly distinguished:
- Avoidance and ostracization of the target.
- Petty harassment: making the target’s life difficult.
- A critical incident that triggers formal sanctions: “something has to be done.”
- Aftermath of the incident: hearings, appeals, mediation.
- Elimination: the target quits, retires, is fired, goes on disability, dies of stress-induced illness, or commits suicide.
Recognize the signs of ganging up
The first step toward prevention and remedy of workplace mobbing is to recognize the behaviours that constitute it and call the process by its name. Here are signs to look for:
- By standard criteria of job performance, the target is at least average, probably above average.
- Rumours and gossip circulate about the target’s misdeeds: “Did you hear what she did last week?”
- The target is not invited to meetings or voted onto committees, is excluded or excludes self.
- Collective focus is on a critical incident that “shows what kind of man he really is.”
- Shared conviction that the target needs some kind of formal punishment, “needs to be taught a lesson.”
- Unusual timing of the decision to punish, e.g., apart from the annual performance review.
- Emotion-laden, defamatory rhetoric about the target in oral and written communications.
- Formal expressions of collective negative sentiment toward the target, e.g., a vote of censure, signatures on a petition, meeting to discuss what to do with the target.
- High value on secrecy, confidentiality, and collegial solidarity among the mobbers.
- Loss of diversity of argument, so that it becomes dangerous to “speak up for” or defend the target.
- The adding up of the target’s real or imagine venial sins to make a mortal sin that cries for action.
- The target is seen as personally abhorrent, with no redeeming qualitites; stigmatizing, exclusionary labels are applied.
- Disregard of established procedures, as mobbers take matters into their own hands.
- Resistance to independent, outside review of sanctions imposed on the target.
- Outraged response to any appeals for outside help the target may make.
- Mobbers’ fear of violence from the target, target’s fear of violence from mobbers, or both.
Question what is going on
“I’m not sure scapegoating these two nurses is the right thing to do…. ” – ONA Chief Executive Officer Lesley Bell, as quoted in the Toronto Star (26 October 2001).
Educate yourself about humans in mobs
Workplace mobbing springs from elemental impulses common to most mammals. The term pecking order comes from what chickens routinely do: gang up on one of their number (often a new arrival), each pecking the target and keeping it away from food and water. Although individual little pecks do little harm, their cumulative effect is to kill the targeted bird.
There is no quick fix for something so instinctive and primordial. Reducing the incidence of workplace mobbing and healing its effects require not just training but education: independent critical reflection on the human project, insight into the complexity of life, knowledge of right and wrong, self-knowledge above all.
Classic novels like these shed light on mobbing:
o Nathaniel Hawthorne, The Scarlet Letter (1850), The House of Seven Gables (1851). The hunt for witches, Hawthorne writes, “should teach us, among its other morals, that the influential classes, and those that take it upon themselves to be leaders of the people, are fully liable to all the passionate error that has ever characterized the maddest mob.”
o Herman Melville, Billy Bud, Foretopman (1924).
In many movies, ganging up is the basic theme. Five examples:
o The Crucible (Winona Ryder, Paul Scofield, 1996).
o Joan of Arc (Ingrid Bergman, 1948).
o Malena (Monica Belluci, 2000).
o The Insider (Al Pacino, Russell Crowe, 1998).
o Dead Poets Society (Robin Williams, 1989).
In the early 1980’s, the late Swedish psychologist Heinz Leymann set in motion the international research effort on psychological terror in the workplace. Here are three practical summaries:
o Noa Davenport et al., Mobbing: Emotional Abuse in the American Workplace (Ames, IA:Civil Society, 1999).
o Gary and Ruth Namie, The Bully at Work: What You Can Do to Stop the Hurt and Reclaim Your Dignity on the Job (Benicia, CA:DoubleDoc, 2000). Well researched, helpful.
o Judith Wyatt and Chauncey Hare, Work Abuse: How to Recognize It and Survive It (Rochester, VT:Schenkman, 1997). The key concept here is shame. Profound scholarship, yet easy to read.
Search the web for “workplace mobbing”or “bullying”. See:
Be at once kind and careful
Lying low, keeping your head down, following the crowd, and siding blindly with management are poor defenses against being mobbed. Nobody is safe in a workplace of chronic scapegoating, serial mobbing, and general nastiness. This year’s mobber may be next year’s target.
Practical suggestions researchers commonly offer for personal conduct include the following:
o Keep your mind on the job. Mobs form when people lose sight of the organization’s purposes, turn their attention inward, get caught up in power struggles and one-upmanship.
o Plan carefully before blowing the whistle on managerial misconduct. Bureaucrats attack whistleblowers aggressively. See Brian Martin, The Whistleblower’s Handbook (Annadale, NSW:Envirobook, 1999).
o Get a life away from work. Cultivate social relations in many different groups – family, school, church, community. If managers and workmates turn on a person who lacks alternative sources of social support, the target is easily destroyed.
o Show kindness to the targeted worker. When a mobbing is underway, people divide into bystanders on one side, guardians and rescuers on the other. Whoever befriends a pariah risks becoming one, but can literally save the pariah’s life.
o Nietzsche said it best: “Distrust all those in whom the impulse to punish is powerful.”
Promote workplace decency
Keeping a workplace free of scapegoating and terror takes more than good intentions on the part of managers and workers involved. It requires policies and procedures that effectively discourage people from ganging up. Here are the possibilities:
o Minimize quasi-judicial proceedings. Tribunals and formal hearings tend to be seized upon as instruments for humiliating people. The University of Waterloo abolished its ethics tribunal in 1998, and returned ethical disputes to the responsibility of line management. The campus climate improved.
o Discourage a culture of grievance and legalism. It is less costly and stressful to waste minutes in occasional loud arguments than to waste months or years in arbitrations. An effective mediator is not neutral, instead fully committed on the one hand to getting the work done well, and on the other hand to human decency and reconciliation.
o Provide opportunities for dialogue. If people have the chance to express concerns, air differences, listen to one another, and seek common ground, the threat of mobbing is reduced. An excellent practical guidebook is Daniel Yankelovich, The Magic of Dialogue (NY:Simon & Schuster, 1999).