Wednesday, 01 July 2015 12:54

Abusive People in an Organisation

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What is the impact of conflict in an organisation when it rises to the level of emotional abuse? Highly significant of course. But do we realise how often it occurs and know what do to about it when it does?

Based on research at Columbia Univeristy Teachers College, there is a finding that shows 20,000,000 Americans are subjected to this type of abuse every day. That is 14% of the workforce. Similar research in Europe shows a lower percentage but clear evidence that it occurs and has just the same, frightening consequences. In medical terms, these percentages are an epidemic.

Bullying or Mobbing
Bullying is described by psychologists as hositle and unethical communication directed in a systematic way by one, or a few, individuals against another individual or individuals. To the extent that the organisation permits it - through inaction, uncaring, accepting (even temporarily) or even condoning - the behavior is described as "mobbing" as if the individual is being attacked by a mob. Mobbing or bullying are illegal as there is always injury as a result, and whichever you choose to name, both are unacceptable.

Common Impact
Most of the behaviours within "mobbing" are easy to recognise. They include withholding needed information, isolation, badmouthing, constant criticism, circulation of unfounded rumour, setting rumours supposedly from the person in question, ridicule, yelling, questionning character, persistent humiliation. Any reasonable person in an organisation can identify it, name it and deal with it. But how many do? There are usually two results from mobbing - either the person is forced out of their job (their choice or the organisations choice), or they stay and lose self-esteem, ending up with nervous problems and some extreme cases result in suicide. It is the high performers who usually end up leaving because they will rise above it or be fired, but those less able to rise above, or those living in a culture where mental stress is considered somewhat taboo, feel trapped and even less able to leave than they would if the behaviour was not targetting them.

What Leaders Do
Anyone leading an organisation where this type of behaviour is allowed, through ignorance, inaction or condoning needs to make a serious change to the culture. This can lead to some very prominent people being ushered out. A significant stand needs to be taken, especially when the abuse is common knowledge (as it will become so quickly, if not tackled).

What do leaders do that others won't?
  • set clear expectations on what is an acceptable communication style and what is not
  • listen and watch for employees who might be subjected to this type of behaviour
  • don't wait for employees to complain, but actively seek out such behaviour when it is suspected
  • identify perpetrators and give stern warning
  • follow up warning with sanctions if the behaviour does not cease (hit commissions, salary, force unpaid time off for them to consider their actions - something that will get their attention)
  • if sanctions do not work, let the perpetrator or perpetrators go
  • provide empathetic and real support as needed for those who have been targets
Leadership requires us to make tough choices from time to time. The cost of not making these choices for bullying or mobbing is significant legal and criminal liability exposure, determined resistance to change, active resistance to following procedures, significant hits on customer service and very poor productivity. A good book on the topic from research in America is "Mobbing: Emotional Abuse in the American Workplace" by Noa Zanolli, PhD et. al..

If you have examples you would like to share, please comment below.

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