As previously mentioned, mobbing can take many forms, and not all of them are the aggressive, yelling, in your face conflict that most of us associate with unhealthy workplaces. I’ve mentioned some malicious practices in Part 1. Part 2 mentions a few more, and a couple of things that can be done to protect and prevent mobbing from happening to you or other people in the organization.
People naturally want to take credit for the good work they’ve done, and sometimes knowingly or unknowingly, they take more credit than it’s due. But if your contribution is never recognized, if your good ideas are always discredited, and a short span later, presented as brilliant innovation by somebody else, if praise sent down the management communication channels never reaches you, if your ideas and proposals are consistently brought up in discussions at which you are not present (and I do not mean at superior levels, but on your own tier), and then shot down or sent for implementation without your contribution, if the rewards always seem to go to someone else who did a lesser part of the work, or to all others who were responsible for other processes that contributed to the overall result, but not to you, then you are being mobbed.
The reverse of attention whoring (who wants negative attention, after all) is blame-gaming. Somehow, whatever is right is never your merit, but whatever goes wrong is always your fault. Mobbed employees do err, the other behaviors regarding resources and information can and will set you up for failure, but the blame game goes beyond that. In the blame game, your bosses always hear about issues before you do, because your peers, rather than raising them up with you, skip you and take them up with supervisors in an attempt to discredit you. (I was told of one guy who would get up in the middle of the night and write e-mails to his bosses across the pond to make sure that they would be reading his complaints hours before the colleague accused of mistakes could respond in any way, either by looking into the situation or telling his side of the story). CYA behavior, so common in organizations, is not impersonal (I was not informed, this report was ambiguous) , instead, people cover up their own mistakes by assigning them directly to you (I did this, but X did not follow-up). Somehow, you are always in a position where you have to explain your actions and prove your innocence. Most times you will probably be able to, but blame-gamers don’t really need to prove you incompetent, they just need to raise enough suspiciousness and controversy around you to impair your performance and credibility.
Many shady dealings
Then there are the liars, who will deliberately distort or obscure the truth (I never told you to do that, you did not send me any e-mail, etc.), the abusers (who will raise their voice, be discourteous or downright rude), the mimosas (who will take or pretend to take everything as a personal affront and call you out on small glitches as if they are major issues), thetwo-faced, who will bad-mouth you informally behind your back, while presenting a charming front, the threateners (who will threaten termination, demotion etc. at every opportunity) and many many other individuals and behaviors that taken together create an environment where the victim feels consistently undervalued and stressed.
DO NOTE that we are are talking about systemic behavior directed at one or few individuals who are by objective standards, competent and perform well, not at sanctions against or delimitation from bad performers and incompetent individuals. We are not talking a toxic organization where all or most employees are subjected to hight levels of undue stress due to behavior, or the inter-office personality conflicts and accompanying politics. We are talking about specific people or groups perverting a relatively sane system in order to act against specific people or groups.
So then, what can you do?
As a victim, not much. Legislation does not protect you against it, and if the organization is allowing these practices, it is clear that they are not recognized as bad. So, in my book, you have 3 actions available:
1. Document everything – first, so that you can escape blame-gaming, second, so that you can track patterns of behavior in the hope of showing them to someone who can act against them.
2. Subtly educate about mobbing – as the phenomenon has limited recognition, managers, HR professionals, peers have no knowledge of how incidents that they see (and consider inappropriate) could fit into a larger pattern of bad behavior. So share articles, books, talk about it in your retreats and meetings, but as information regarding a phenomenon, not office gossip and whining about specific behaviors.
3. Inform – once awareness has been created, point out the problem (with evidence of the patterns, as per point 1) and perhaps even suggest solutions.
But have a back-up plan. Your health is important, your professional “equity” is as well. Be ready to leave if nothing is changing. Unpopular advice, I know, but organizations are large animals that evolve slowly, sometimes too slowly, and if your loyalty injures you and affects your performance, it’s not good for the company either. Better go somewhere where you are a better fit. And do look at yourself. Are you enabling bad behavior? Is your avoidance of conflicts such that you never call people out on inappropriate behavior? Do you went at home, rather than raise issues where they belong? Do you fall into the traps that others lay out because you are impulsive and angry? I’m not saying anyone deserves to be mobbed, I am saying that mobbing takes place on an escalating curve, and you can, if you analyze your own responses to the early instances, do something to prevent it from reaching full-scale.
As managers, the first step is awareness of the phenomenon.
The second is reading through the lines of complaints, errors and failures that are brought to you, to see if they are genuine or tendentious.
The third is discouraging bullies, who tend to take advantage of some weakness within the system or yourself. For example if someone brings to you an issue that should have been raised with your subordinate, don’t be tempted to solve the problem because you want things done, ask whether the issue was raised at the appropriate level and there was no answer/solution, and if it wasn’t, instruct people to go through the proper channels. (do not send it back the channel yourself, by the way). If there are no procedures for escalation, create them, etc.) Also, be quick to sanction or cut off behavior that seems inappropriate to you . Tolerating it gives the signal that it is OK to engage in it in the future.
Fourth is communicated with everyone, meaning that you set up communication plans and structures that insure that you are getting information in multiple ways, to avoid one-sided, self-serving, blame-assigning reports. Protect genuine whistle-blowers.
Fifth and finally, be smart and don’t think that you yourself can be immune.