Prevention of workplace mobbing

Prevention is always better than cure, so the first approach to rehabilitation of workplace mobbing is to take a public health perspective and to try to prevent it from happening in the first place. Gallant (2012) makes four recommendations to prevent workplace bullying in higher education, and these recommendations could equally be applied to mobbing behaviours.

Recommendation 1: Conduct an ethical audit. This would include a benchmarking exercise to understand what policies are in place. It would also survey to benchmark the nature and prevalence of particular behaviours. These audits should be conducted every 2-5 years to see whether cultural and systemic changes are making a difference.

Recommendation 2: Create an integrated, caring and cooperative culture. The organisation needs to model that it lives in accordance with its espoused values.

Recommendation 3: The creation of an ethical code or set of values that reflects the caring environment in recommendation 2. This is helpful in creating a climate where students, staff and faculty know what is expected. A good example of how this has been done is the academic integrity policy, which is based on the virtue of honesty. If there is a bullying/mobbing policy, then it needs to demonstrate what value is being enacted.

Recommendation 4: Create ethical infrastructures. It is important to have places that people can turn to when they experience bullying/mobbing, if they observe these behaviours, or if they feel that they are being drawn into these behaviours. In creating a policy it is important to start with defining the behaviours that are not accepted (including, but not limited to these behaviours); the process for addressing behavours and the process for appealing decisions needs to be outlined. It needs to be clear who the people are who are involved in the process, how long the process takes on average and how people are notified of the outcomes. These ethical infrastructures are meaningless if they are done by HR as a way of protecting the organisation, without demonstrating a connection with the values espoused. This process should use constructive conflict resolution, for example a ‘no blame approach’. Another strategy can be using ‘the power of the peer’, where witnesses step in to limit the behaviours and act as sounding boards. This requires training and support in recognising the mobbing process, especially when it is being led by managers and those in leadership positions.

There are three interacting sets of dynamics underpinning the mobbing phenomenon (Duffy, 2014), and how it occurs. This includes: (1) the individual dynamics, or “bad apple” view, (2) the work group dynamics, or the “some bad apples” view, and (3) the organizational dynamics, or the “bad barrel” view. Understanding this dynamic means that it may be possible to find ways to reduce the possibility of mobbing in the workplace. For the target of mobbing this may be a small comfort, but it would be so much better if there never was a target in the first place.

The bad barrel

One of the first things that any organisation can do is to take a long hard look at itself as an organisation. Leaderships needs to ask about the relationship between the organisation and society. To what extent does the organisation reproduce the behaviours of an unequal society? Does it espouse aggression as a virtue? How can an organisation know the values that it has published in the annual report bear any resemblance to what happens on the floor? Is there any space in the workplace for cooperation, humility and compassion? What safeguards are there for the altruistic worker, particularly the whistleblower?

The work that we engage in is characterized by unique forms of social organisation and hierarchies. Workers compete with one another for resources, power and rank. Most workplaces these days have a value statement, but on many occasions these values run directly counter to the culture of the organisation. There is no point in saying the organisation values collegiality and sustainability if what it actually values is power inequality, spectacularly bad behaviour and patterned aggression.

The best organisations will work to ask employees what they currently value. They will give them a voice, and trust the process of dialogue. Some possibilities for increasing levels of trust include using processes such ‘employer net promoter scorer, that asks employees how likely they are to recommend this particular workplace to someone new. Of course, the organisation needs to keep on asking to track progress and it needs to be willing to act on feedback.

There are small things that an organisation can do to promote trust. For example, I worked in a place where it was possible to donate sick leave anonymously to colleagues who might be needing it. This resulted in a hu

Ethical leadership is a possibility. For example, something like the Baldridge award provides a form of audit that can give some hope that the organisation is committed to more than giving lip service to values.

‘Some bad apples’
Groups of people need to hold themselves accountable for the culture that grows up around them. This does not happen by magic or overnight. However, if there is a strong organisational commitment to values-based practice, then groups within that organisation should be held accountable for reflecting those values. There are choices to be made about group culture and these choices are best addressed by the group itself.

The ‘bad apple’

People tend to believe that the individual ‘bad apple’ can be addressed by the bullying policy. The more that I read the less I feel that this is helpful. One thing that the organisation can do is to reward individuals who embody the values of the workplace, and not reward bad behaviour. The individual who takes part in bullying is using this as a survival strategy, and this will only work if the organisation supports this as a survival strategy.