What’s Going on with Mobbing, Bullying and Work Harassment Internationally

    June 10, 2003

Le mobbing est un poison lent – Mobbing ist ein leises Gift Zuletzt gendert The Germans and the French call it “the slow poison.”

“Mobbing can be understood as the stressor to beat all stressors,” says Dr. Kenneth Westhaus, U. of Waterloo, author of “Eliminating Professors.” According to him, the typical mob victim is a good-to-high achiever personally invested in a formally secure job who somehow threatens or shames co-workers or managers who then decide to get rid of him or her.


15% of workers in the European Union (EU) suffer psychological harassment or “mobbing” on the job [Study by University of Alcal de Henares, in Spain]. Last year, EU working groups failed to agree on adoption of an EU-wide statute against mobbing. Opposition came from business associations backed by governments of Spain, Britain and Italy. The bloc’s trade unions lobbied for anti-mobbing regulations, supported by the governments of Germany, France and the Netherlands. (COMTEX, 10/02)


A European conference, “Preventing Violence and Harassment in the Workplace” will be held April 29, organized by the Belgian Federal Ministry for Employment and the European Foundation for the Improvement of Living & Working Conditions. Concern about harassment and violence is growing, and Belgium has a law on harassment in the pipeline.

Foundation research indicates that in 2000 about 9% of EU workers experienced intimidation or harassment at work. Nearly 13% reported being aware of physical violence in their place of work. It’s believed the problem is on the rise throughout all EU Member States.


1 out of 3 employees has suffered psychological aggression or emotional violence in the workplace at some time, says sociologist Angel Crcova, appointed to the EU group by one of Spain’s central trade unions. In July, Spain’s Supreme Court ordered the municipal government of Coria to pay 4,500 euros to compensate an employee who was forced to work in a basement with neither daylight nor ventilation. The judges called it “moral harassment.” In Gerona, a tool company was sentenced to pay 14,000 euros for “biased psychological pressure” and another 30,000 euros in compensation for psychological damages to an employee forced to do work outside his job description and below his qualifications.

“Mobbing is the number one work-related threat faced by workers,” noted Inaki Pinuel, a professor of psychology at the University at Alcal.

Tierno Jimenez, a psychologist, educator and winner of the UNESCO Medal of Honor, explained that article four of Spain’s “workers’ statute” states that businesses “ensure the physical and psychological integrity of workers, and respect for their privacy, dignity, and emotional well-being. Now the question, he said, is to get Spain and the rest of the EU to adopt regulations against mobbing which could be enforced by labor ministries in the bloc without having to wait for legal rulings, and to raise workers’ awareness of their right to fight psychological harassment and bullying. (COMTEX)


In Dr. Westhues’ summary of mobbing for OHS Canada, Canada’s Occupational Health & Safety Magazine, published on the web 1/03, he states mobbing “appears to be more common in the professional service sector – such as education and health care – where work is complex, goals ambiguous, best practices debatable, and market discipline far away.”


38% of 1,580 surveyed health employees experienced harassment the year before – changing rules or objectives, not providing critical information, isolation, stress to perform, and being excluded. The study concluded that workplace harassment resulted in “severe psychological distress and reduced job satisfaction.” [Quine]

42% of participants reported having witnessed others being targeted. The study concluded, therefore, that harassment wasn’t an illusion of the targets.


Bullying at work is more widespread in Germany than in other European countries, according to a report by Germany’s Ministry of Labour. There have been several suicides; most of the victims are women; the worst bullies are men; and it’s found in all sectors, factories as well as offices. The problem costs the state 100 million a year in medical costs, plus lost working days. The Mobbing Report, a survey of 4,400 workers, estimated that 800,000 people were suffering “intolerable” abuse every day and that 1.5 million workers suffered sickness caused by bullying. The Government is considering legislating to tackle the problem.

Civil servants are 7x as likely to report workplace impropriety. “These bullies have a lot to lose in their jobs-for-life mindset if they feel threatened by newcomers,” reported Allan Hall, Berlin. IRELAND Michael Smith, TD, Minister for Defence, Dublin, has ordered a committee set up to review the extent of harassment, bullying, discrimination and sexual harassment throughout the Irish Defence Forces. NIOSH “Sensational acts of co-worker violence,” says the National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health, “are only a small part of the problem.” An average of 20 US workers are murdered and 18,000 assaulted each week at work-and this doesn’t include bullying, threats, and other forms of verbal, physical and sexual harassment.


“Preventing on-the-job violence is difficult,” says Peter Freiberg, writing on bullying in the APA Monitor, (American Psychological Association) “because it often involves changing the very culture of the workplaces.” There are no statistics on the extent of workplace bullying, but Mark Braverman, Ph.D., who consults on workplace issues, says the behavior is ‘endemic’ in some organizations.

“Bullying and intimidation can’t happen unless there is a climate that allows it,” says Braverman. “And that climate discourages employees from reporting potentially violent behavior that may be ‘early warning signs’ of individual breakdown and severe workplace stress.”

Braverman and other psychologists feel the reality is even worse than the headlines make it appear.


In Norway, the daily VG reported that Jarle Skjrberg, 34, suffering from post-traumatic stress syndrome, which “arises from a delayed or protracted reaction to unusually threatening or catastrophic events,” was awarded a record NOK 3.2 million (USD 383,000) in compensation for being bullied at Hyenhall School in Oslo. The court ruled the school’s failure to intervene was beyond a doubt responsible for the scope and duration of the bullying, and ordered the Oslo municipality to pay damages.


The Workplace Bullying and Harassment Management & Prevention Programme of the Australian Nursing Federation was awarded the Australian Crime & Violence Prevention Award by the Minister for Justice and Customs. They place direct responsibility for preventing and eradicating abusive behaviours on managers and supervisors, and stress targets of bullying are often unable to come forward and advocate on their own behalf.

The effects of bullying they say are “increased sick leave, increased compensation claims, absenteeism, low morale, reduced productivity, and low retention. In one study, 80% of nurses reported having been harassed the year prior.


Julian Barling, Ph.D., professor of organizational behavior at Queen’s University, Kingston, says aggression in the workplace is more likely when 2 factors are present: psychologically unhealthy people and psychologically unhealthy organizations. Since it’s difficult to weed out psychologically unhealthy people, he advocates trying to ensure healthy organizations.

“Unfortunately, few workplaces can be called psychologically healthy,” says Maury Lieberman, Ph.D., former chief of the special programs branch at the US Center for Mental Health Services. “In low-morale organizations, people complain they want to be treated with a sense of dignity and respect. We get our identity from the workplace.”


-Hundreds of millions of dollars a year in absenteeism, employee satisfaction, customer satisfaction, product quality and productivity. [Joel Neuman, director of the Center for Applied Management, SUNY] -“We don’t see $8 billion worth of antidepressants in this country for nothing,” says Jim Landgraf, president of Educational Testing Service. “The corporate culture is so accepting of these kinds of aggressive
-actions, it’s not going to go away.”
-Karl Aquino, Ph.D., associate professor of management at U. of Delaware thinks it’s the increasing number of young managers. “With age, people are better able to handle stress or mistreatment without passing
-it down,” he says.
-The US is behind other countries. The UK has a workplace bullying law.
-75% of the time, women are victims. But females target other women 84% of the time. [US Hostile Workplace Survey, 2000] -Gary Namie has counseled 4,300 targets of abuse. His research shows that in less than 10% of the abuse cases were the bullies punished, transferred or terminated. “Bullying usually stops when the target leaves
-their job,” he said. “Companies will never say they have a problem.”


-More often women
-Don’t fight back
-Are focused on their work
-Not political animals, think they can rise above the fray
-Usually not confrontational
-Competent people who become a threat
-Independent people who are well-liked [Source: Maureen Milford]


-50% of bully bosses are men, 50% women
-96% of co-workers are aware of the bullying
-Psychological violence lasts 16.5 months on average
-Most bullying isn’t illegal conduct. In only 8% of cases was victim in legally protected employee classification (disabled or minority).
-67% of victims report having no prior history of being bullied
-41% of victims are diagnosed with depression
-31% of women victims experience post-traumatic stress disorder
-Bullies rarely suffer career consequences because in 42 percent of cases the bully’s supervisor helped the bad boss or punished the victim.
-11% of co-workers side with the bully [US Hostile Workplace Survey, 2000]


Gary Namie, author of “The Bully at Work” offers these suggestions:
1. Name it – mobbing, bullying. Know it isn’t your fault.
2. Bully-proof yourself. Tell your co-workers. Never go into a meeting alone. Get medical or psychological support outside the organization.
3. Get away from the bully. Get your resume ready.
4. Expose the bully. Try to build a rational case that shows the negative impact they have on the workplace.


Quit ignoring the presence
Establish an EQ Culture where this kind of behavior is not tolerated
And on an even sadder note, the world’s first clinic to treat psychologically damaged victims of workplace bullying opened this year in Germany. Patients can receive treatment free from the state or through private insurance policies. At the Berus Clinic in Saarbrcken, 200 patients are under treatment for “reactive depression through workplace conflict”. One in four is an in-patient: the rest receive therapy and counselling.

There are 30 doctors at the clinic. Classes cover conflict management and dealing with hostility. Therapy includes role-play sessions where patients take the part of victim or bully. The patients include typists, an electrician, a car salesman, computer specialists and a mobile telephone salesman. “The patients learn how to cope and stand up for themselves,” said the director, Joseph Schwickerath, a psychologist. [Times newspapers]


-Temper tantrums
-Withholding of information and resources
-Public humiliation
-Refusal to delegate work
-Arbitrary removal of responsibilities
-Unrealistic work demands
-Physical aggression
-Consistent over time
-Designed to humiliate and intimidate the target

RESOURCE: National Prevention of Violence in the Workplace website.

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