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Feature Articles : Mobbing - A Familiar Pattern

Mobbing: A Familiar Pattern


Stories of the Holocaust fill most of us with shock and horror. To think of fellow human beings in such a degraded state evokes deep emotions of sadness, anger, and shame for the human race for what we have wrought. It is painful to contemplate the suffering these people endured. What is even more difficult to comprehend - is that this was done to them by other human beings, and worse - that it was done willfully.

This was no accident, no anomally, it was the end result of a systematic eliminative process. A process which was necessary to create the conditions where such a thing was even possible. It did not start here. Hatred against these people was carefully nurtured, by which their identity, ethics, sanity and humanity were denied, by which permission to abuse them was granted, then encouraged, then demanded.

I swore never to be silent whenever and wherever
human beings endure suffering and humiliation.
We must always take sides.
Neutrality helps the oppressor, never the victim.
Silence encourages the tormentor, never the tormented.

~ Elie Wiesel

The tried-and-true method of elimination known as mobbing has been with us for a long time. It is simple, efficient and scalable. It is insidious and pernicious as it hides behind a veil of lies and justifications. It is designed to be difficult to detect or prove. Those that do see it are terrified and are too intimidated to speak out. This silence emboldens the bullies and the mobbing process continues and escalates to its predictable, stereotypical and inevitable result. The elimination of the targeted individual, group or race.

Mobbing - its Course Over Time
© Heinz Leymann

The course of mobbing changes its character over time as the social setting changes. Research thus far reveals very stereotypical courses (Leymann, e. g. 1990b).

1. Critical incidents: The triggering situation is always one that can be described as a conflict. Mobbing can, therefore, be seen as an escalated conflict. So far, not much is known about what details transform the development of a conflict into a mobbing situation. Hypothetically, this first mobbing phase (which, to be exact, is not yet mobbing!) may be very short while the next phase reveals stigmatizing actions by colleges, shop-floor management or top management.

2. Mobbing and stigmatizing: As stated above, mobbing activities may contain quite a number of behaviors which, in normal interaction, do not necessarily indicate aggression, any attempts to expel or exclude anyone. However, being subjected to these behaviors on an almost daily basis, for a very long period of time and for hostile purposes, the activity can change in context and may be used in stigmatizing someone in the group. In fact, all of the observed behaviors, regardless of their meaning in normal daily communication, have the common denominator of being based on the intent to "get at a person" or punish him or her. Thus, aggressive manipulation is the main characteristic of these activities.

3. Personnel management: When management eventually steps in, the case becomes officially "a case". Due to previous stigmatization, it is very easy to misjudge the situation and place the blame on the mobbed person. Management tends to accept and take over the prejudices produced during previous stages. This very often seems to bring about the desire to do something in order to "get rid of the problem", i. e. the mobbed person. This most often results in serious violations of the individual´s civil rights. In this phase, the mobbed person ultimately becomes marked/stigmatized. Because of fundamental attribution errors, colleges and management tend to create explanations based on personal characteristics rather than on environmental factors (Jones, 1984). This may be the case particularly when management is responsible for the psychosocial work environment and may refuse to accept this responsibility.

4. Incorrect diagnoses: If the mobbed person seeks contact with psychiatrists or psychologists, there is a great risk that these professionals will misinterpret the situation, as they very often lack sufficient training in investigating social situations in the workplace. Therefore, they also tend to judge the person due to some incorrect personality concepts. The risk is that the subjected person will be labeled with an incorrect diagnosis such as "paranoia", "querulous paranoia", "manic-depressive illness", "adjustment disorder" or "character disorder". This judgment can destroy the person´s chances of gaining anything from vocational rehabilitation in order to return to the labor market, or from occupational rehabilitation in order to be able to return to the previous occupation.

5. Expulsion: As far as the mobbing scenario at the workplace is concerned, the social consequences for people who have been expelled from the labor market long before retirement are well known. This situation is probably responsible for the development of serious illnesses (Groeblinghoff & Becker, 1996; or also Leymann, 1996) that cause the victim to seek medical or psychological help. However, as has been argued, the subjected person can very easily be incorrectly diagnosed by professionals, namely when they do not want to believe the person´s story or when they do not bother to look into the triggering social events, as stated above.

Even though this list relates to mobbing in the workplace, it describes the same process used by the Nazis against their scapegoats, primarily the Jews.

1. Critical incidents:
Long before the war, resentment toward the Jewish population was brewing. Longstanding grievances fuelled hatred and a racist mindset that reached the highest levels of European power. At this stage it is not yet a mobbing, not yet a Holocaust, but it has begun.

2. Mobbing and stigmatizing:
Anti-semitism is rampant and promoted openly. Slander, derision and baiting is the order of the day. A prime example indicative of the level to which this vitriol reached can be found in Julius Streicher, the Nazi newspaper publisher of, the aptly named, "Der Stuermer" (The Attacker). Streicher used his newspaper to further his rabidly anti-semitic views by spreading venemous stories and calling for the destruction of the Jewish people. Bullies like Streicher paved the road to destruction with incitement and propaganda. At the same time as these tactics erode support for the target, they also make it socially acceptable, even benefitial, to participate in the attacks. Ironically the targets of this abuse are made out the be the "real" troublemakers. In the case of the Jews, Streicher blamed them for all of Germany's, Europe's and the World's woes.
>>> More about Julius Streicher

3. Personnel management:
Once bullies like Striecher have stirred up enough trouble it becomes a problem for those in authority. The Nazi Party was the legal governing authority to which Jewish people were expected to appeal to for justice. When those in authority have a vested interest in silencing and destroying the target the outcome is sadly predictable. Lives are destroyed with the full legal sanction of the state (or corporation, in the case of workplace mobbing targets).

4. Incorrect diagnoses:
What is the Final Solution to the Mobbing Question? As bullies never accept responsibility for their crimes, it is the disenfranchised, helpless target who is branded as the "real" problem - for which a final solution must be found.

5. Expulsion:
The Solution? Eliminate them!!!

Professor Kenneth Westhues of the University of Waterloo describes the mobbing process to which workers are subjected. One can readily see the same process at work in Nazi Germany in the campaign against the Jews.

Mobbing can be understood as the stressor to beat all stressors. It is an impassioned, collective campaign by co-workers to exclude, punish, and humiliate a targeted worker. Initiated most often by a person in a position of power or influence, mobbing is a desperate urge to crush and eliminate the target. The urge travels through the workplace like a virus, infecting one person after another. The target comes to be viewed as absolutely abhorrent, with no redeeming qualities, outside the circle of acceptance and respectability, deserving only of contempt. As the campaign proceeds, a steadily larger range of hostile ploys and communications comes to be seen as legitimate.

In spite of the hopeful words "Never Again" this insidious process has never stopped. It has relentlessly continued to play itself out around the world to this very day - with no end in sight. Bullies of every stripe, military, political and corporate, continue to profit by trading in misery and death. Each of them uses this process to justify their crimes to make them palatable to themselves and to bystanders who might otherwise object. They use this slow, methodical approach to creep up on thier victims. Victims who do not want to believe what is happening, that a poison is taking hold of them, that a noose is tightening around their necks, that thier neighbours, coworkers or countrymen would ever perpetrate such crimes against them.

As the Nazis advanced and consolidated their power many didn't want to believe the reports they were hearing of mass killings. They delayed going into hiding and held out faint hope that maybe things would be alright after all.

They learned too late that the mobbing process had already gone too far. Too far for hope, too far for reason, too far for mercy.

There may be times when we are
powerless to prevent injustice,
but there must never be a time
when we fail to protest.

~ Elie Wiesel

More dangerous than ignoring the end result of this process is the failure to recognize the process itself, failure to understand how it starts, how it is perpetuated and takes on a life of its own, how it savages its victims and how it kills them.

Brutal military, political and corporate regimes, target those who challenge them in any way or those who make convenient victims. Those targeted are then systematically maligned, segregated, dehumanized, viciously abused, scapegoated and finally, are eliminated - without mercy.



We ignore mobbing at our own peril. Inhumanity is so commonplace in our world that many have simply accepted it or have been beaten down for so long they no longer have the strength to stand up to it. It is incumbent on those who still can to speak up while there is still time. Many are too intimidated and afraid and console themselves that others have suffered even more than they have, that they are "lucky" because things could be much worse. They witness abuses against others but say nothing, do nothing, because they are afraid that they would be next. Their credo is "Better them than me."

First they came for the communists,
and I did not speak out -
because I was not a communist;

Then they came for the socialists,
and I did not speak out -
because I was not a socialist;

Then they came for the trade unionists,
and I did not speak out -
because I was not a trade unionist;

Then they came for the Jews,
and I did not speak out -
because I was not a Jew;

Then they came for me -
and there was no one left to speak out for me.

~ Martin Niemoller


You're Next!


As bullies eliminate their targets fresh victims are needed. Only those who prove their fealty to the bully by also participating in the abuse are spared. All others are suspect. Those who protested move to the top of the bully's list and the machinery of mobbing begins another cycle of fear and death. It's easy to ignore until one day - it's your turn.

Some may feel it is not fair to compare the wholesale murder of millions committed by the Nazis to workplace mobbing, which is generally considered to be an assault on the emotional and mental well being rather than outright physical violence.

However, this does not take into account the collateral damage done to the lives of mobbing targets and their families. That the mobbing process can end in direct physical violence has been demonstrated time and time again, but other more subtle approaches are just as lethal and are happening right now on a massive scale.

According to Dr. Catherine Le Galès-Camus, WHO Assistant-Director General, Noncommunicable Diseases and Mental Health, in a Sept 2004 article:

“For every suicide death there are scores of family and friends whose lives are devastated emotionally, socially and economically,“

“Suicide is a tragic global public health problem.
Worldwide, more people die from suicide than from
all homicides and wars combined."

Suicide is a huge but largely preventable public health problem, causing almost half of all violent deaths and resulting in almost one million fatalities every year, as well as economic costs in the billions of dollars, says the World Health Organization (WHO). Estimates suggest fatalities could rise to 1.5 million by 2020.*

Whether someone is killed by another or driven to suicide makes little difference to the victims or their families. In a study done in Sweden, Dr. Heinz Leymann estimated that about twelve percent of suicides were related to workplace mobbing. For many companies these are acceptable losses, the cost of doing business, for others a calculated means to a profitable end.

In the societies of the highly industrialized western world, the workplace is the only remaining "battlefield" where people can "kill" each other without running the risk of being taken to court.

~ Professor Heinz Leyman

The mobbing process has parallels to some of the most horrific human rights violations in history. Ethnic "cleansing", lynching, and other forms of systematic murder, torture and rape continue unabated.

Those who support or participate in workplace mobbing are no better or different than those who support it in concentration camps or killing fields. The consequences of all mobbing is the same. Intolerable suffering and despair, humiliation and death.

- Anton Hout

* Bolding added for emphasis.


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Indifference, to me, is the epitome of evil.

~ Elie Wiesel


Nearly all men can stand adversity, but if you want to test a man's character, give him power.

~ Francois Duc de la Rochefoucauld

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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