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Feature Articles : Mobbing - Part 1

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Three Part Series on Mobbing Overview Profiles Effects Mandate


Workplace Bullying - An Overview

Jacinta Kitt has completed a Masters Thesis on the subject of bullying in the workplace. In the first of three articles for Mandate Trade Union News, Jacinta points out that 'criticism is one of the most preferred forms of bullying'.


The bullying of adults in the workplace, although it is a phenomenon that has been with us for many years, has only recently been recognised as a problem of significance. With this recognition comes an awareness of the prevalence and seriousness of the problem. Workplace bullying causes great pain and hurt to its victims. Anyone, irrespective of personality or ability can be bullied. Reasoning with the bully, attempting to please them, exhibiting distress or anger are all frequently used but are inadequate victim responses to bullying. Victims may take a long time to realise that they are dealing with totally irrational, unjust and unjustified behaviour. They have not contributed to it and they have no control over it. They are unlucky enough to be in the wrong place at the wrong time encountering the absolute wrong person. Effective responses to workplace bullying have to be two fold. Employers and managers need to take the problem seriously. They must be aware of the devastating effects of bullying on individuals and on the workplace generally. No one has anything to fear from exposing bullying except the bullies and they contribute nothing constructive, positive or productive to the workplace. Individuals subjected to bullying need to use learned and practiced strategies to confront the problem. They require enormous courage to implement these strategies such is the power and control of the bully. Workplace bullying is often euphemistically called intimidation, rudeness, bad attitude, conflict, tough management, personality clash or just two people who do not get on together. These are inadequate labels that can contribute to the conditions under which bullying thrives. It is important to recognise the problem for what it is and to name it appropriately.

A definition of workplace bullying common to all literature and research on the subject does not appear to exist. However, from the many and varied definitions offered, a clear picture of the phenomenon emerges. The terms consistent, relentless, continual and systematic are inferred in relation to bullying behaviour that undermines, insults, devalues, demeans and intimidates another. Bullying is a process. Rarely is it an isolated incident or a cathartic outburst produced by tension, stress or anger, although a single incident may have a dramatic, long-lasting effect. The underlying assumption in most definitions of bullying is that typically a victim would feel unable to defend him or herself. They are pushed into a position of helplessness.

It is difficult to identify primarily because of its
secretive nature but also as many of its characteristics
are disguised as legitimate behaviour.

A consensus emerging from those involved in researching the subject is that workplace bullying is a widespread and enormous problem. It is on the increase, wreaking havoc on personal lives and organisational effectiveness. The most common forms of bullying are subtle and devious. The people responsible for these most inappropriate and manipulative of behaviours are masters at disguising their actions and the effects on victims are difficult to detect or to isolate. A central component of this type of abuse is its ability to deeply hurt and demean the victim, while remaining well obscured from the onlookers. It is difficult to identify primarily because of its secretive nature but also as many of its characteristics are disguised as legitimate behaviour.

The psychological nature of bullying makes it difficult to document and almost impossible to prove. The individual incidents that make up the abuse very often seem trivial, innocuous and even pathetic. Notwithstanding this, bullying creates an environment in the workplace that is exploitative, unhealthy and destructive. Victims are thrown into a downward spiral, shattering their own beliefs about their worth and abilities. Their motivation and loyalty are eroded and their level of trust is completely diminished. Telling a bullied victim to stand up to the bully is like telling a person with depression to snap out of it. The qualities that would have enabled this response in other situations become redundant and impotent in the face of bullying.

The Manifestations of Bullying

The most obvious and visible manifestation of bullying at work involves overt aggression such as physical violence and angry verbal outbursts. Less obvious, more prevalent and equally, if not more devastating are the insidious and more subtle forms of abuse. These include, criticism, isolation, exclusion, discrimination, humiliation, obstruction, invasion of privacy, surveillance and slander. In effect bullies make it difficult if not impossible for victims to do their jobs. They attack and damage the self-esteem, self respect, dignity, relationships, reputation and health of their victims. They lie, manipulate, control and destroy and make it appear like the victim is mad.

Criticism is one of the most preferred methods of bullying. Criticism in the context of bullying is never about creating awareness or addressing a professional or personal shortcoming. It is simply about undermining and hurting. Many bullied victims become perfectionist in an attempt to avert the criticism. This is a futile exercise in the context of the bully scrutinizing work with the sole intention of finding fault.

Bullying is progressive and escalating.
It is coercive, insensitive and cruel...
It takes laughter and fun out of lives and work ...

Criticism may be the most prevalent form of bullying, but exclusion, isolation and/or ostracism are certainly the most devastating. When someone is singled out to be snubbed, ignored, left out, given a nothing job or never afforded an ounce of recognition or praise, it can produce feelings of total despair. While it is the bully who orchestrates the isolation, it is a strategy that will not work without the involvement of others. Some work colleagues act as accomplices to the bully while others, through apathy, fear or disbelief that an injustice is being perpetrated, fail to support the victim and become co-conspirators. This lack of support complicates the victims' situation and exacerbates their suffering. Lack of support prevents victims from putting the bullying into perspective and makes them vulnerable to self-doubt, self-blame and to being completely controlled.

Bullying is progressive and escalating. It is coercive, insensitive and cruel. It communicates disrespect through words and actions. It takes laughter and fun out of lives and work and it diminishes the 'feel good factors' in the workplace.

1  2  3

(Note: Bolding has been added in this series of articles for emphasis.)


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The glory of great men should always be measured
by the means they have used to acquire it.

~ Francois de La Rochefoucauld


We must always seek to ally ourselves with
that part of the enemy that knows what is right.

~ Mahatma Gandhi

Interview with a Target of
Workplace Bullying

by John Peel
on Home Truths,
BBC Radio 4

Courtesy BullyEQ


Calgary Herald
"...grossly unacceptable employer behaviour."
"There was a lot of bullying in the newsroom and it was a gift to be able to stand up and say we are prepared to do something about it."

Canwest Global
"The CanWest corporation is showing the ugly and intolerant face of modern media," ... "While openly interfering in editorial content it cravenly punishes those journalists who have the courage to protest."
"Many journalists left CanWest, deciding to quit or take disability leave after the frigid mood of their newsrooms made them ill."
> Canwest Watch

Imperial Parking
"Timothy Lloyd decided he had had enough of "going in to war every day." ... I was very unhappy in my work -- burned out, stressed out ... There were constant threats of dismissal, constant invading of my personal space, and use of profanity that was personally directed at me."
> HealthSmith

Annuity Research & Marketing Service Ltd.
"Every employer, said Justice Dambrot, owes a contractual duty to its employees to “treat them fairly, with civility, decency, respect, and dignity.” By failing to protect Ms. Stamos from Mr. Hammami’s harassment, the court concluded that the employer had breached this contractual duty."
> Labor Relations Consultants

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