October 14, 2008

Why Does [ACADEMIC] Mobbing Take Place?

Why do mobbing processes develop in the first place? Widely spread prejudices maintain that the problem arises once an employee with character difficulties enters the work force. Research so far has never been able in any way to validate this hypothesis, either with respect to mobbed employees at the workplace, or mobbed children in school. Thus, personality theories are not very valid for analyzing the reasons behind mobbing. What then does research show as its probable causes?

The Work Organization as a Factor: Analyses of approximately 800 case studies show an almost stereotypical pattern (Becker 1995; Kihle 1990; Leymann 1992b; Niedl 1995). In all these cases, extremely poorly organized production and/or working methods and an almost helpless or uninterested management were found. This is not surprising keeping in mind the poor organizational conditions revealed at most of the workplaces at which I found (1992b, 1995c) mobbed employees from hospitals, schools and religious organizations were overrepresented in these studies. Lets take the work organization at a certain hospital as an example (see also Leymann´s and Gustafsson´s suicide study). Quite a few nurses, whom we interviewed, did not really know who their boss was. A hospital has at least two parallel hierarchies: one, represented by doctors responsible for diagnosing and determining treatments, and one represented by a hierarchy of nurses responsible for carrying out the treatment. Both hierarchies have management that gives orders and bosses the nurses, both kinds of bosses have the authority to tell a nurse what to do or what not to do.

The work load may increase either because of a shortage in the work force or due to poor work organization on a daily basis. Often, the unofficial institution of spontaneous leadership (often stigmatized as dangerous in the literature on management and organization) is required to get things accomplished at all. This commonly results in a situation where a nurse occasionally can assume command of a group of nurses without having the authority to do so, in order to accomplish the work. Clear-cut rules for this unofficial procedure, or knowledge of whether fellow nurses will accept this or not, do not exist. All of these situations are in fact high-risk situations and can very easily result in conflicts. When this happens, whether the conflict will be prolonged or can be easily settled, depends very often on the existing type of group dynamics and not on (as it should be) whether management has the training and motivation to solve conflicts or not. Especially in a working world where almost only women are employed, conflicts tend to become harsher, as women are more dependent on socially, supportive group dynamics (Björkqvist, Österman & Hjelt-Bäck, 1994).

Poor Conflict Management as a Second Source: The situation gets far more dangerous if the manager of one of these hierarchies wants to be part of the social setting. If the supervisor, instead of sorting out the problem, is actively taking part in the harassment, he or she also has to choose sides. As I have seen in very many cases, this stirs up the situation and makes it worse (Leymann, 1992b). In addition to this management reaction, it has been found to a high degree that, when a manager simply neglects the "quarrel", the conflict is thus given time to deepen and escalate. Poor managerial performance thus entails either (a) getting involved in the group dynamics on an equal basis and thereby heating it up further (which I have seen more often with female managers), or (b) denying that a conflict exists (which I have seen more often with male managers). Both types of behaviors are quite dangerous and, together with poor work organization, are the main causes for the development of a mobbing process at the workplace (Adams, 1992; or Kihle, 1990).

Again, it must be underlined, that research concerning causes of mobbing behavior, is still in its beginning; in particular the difference in behavior between male and female managers is still poorly understood. Research in this area has been carried out in Finland, demonstrating that women choose mobbing activities that affect the victim more indirectly (gossip, slander, encouraging other individuals to carry out mobbing activities etc.). Björkqvist, Lagerspetz and Kaukianinen (1992) state that female aggressiveness has been widely overlooked in earlier research because variables in the data collecting were mainly oriented towards male standards. Björkqvist et al. argue that this might be the reason behind the false impression that women score lower on questionnaires measuring aggressiveness. Even here, future research will eventually focus in more detail on the causes.

What about the personality of the subjected person? As mentioned earlier, research so far has not revealed the importance particular of personality traits either with respect to adults in workplaces or children at school. It must not be forgotten that the workplace should not be confused with other situations in life. A workplace is always regulated by behavioral rules. One of these rules calls for effective co-operation, controlled by the supervisor. Conflicts can always arise, but, according to these behavioral rules, they must be settled in order to promote efficient productivity. One of the supervisor´s obligations is to manage this kind of situation. By neglecting this obligation (and supervisors as well as top management often do so as a consequence of shortcomings in conflict management), a supervisor then - instead - promotes the escalation of the conflict into a mobbing process.

In its early stages, mobbing is most often a sign that a conflict concerning the organization of work tasks has taken on a private touch. When a conflict is "privatized", or if the motive behind its further development begins to develop into a deeper dislike between two individuals, then the conflict concerning work tasks has created a situation that an employer has the obligation to stop. Once a conflict has reached this stage in its escalation, it is meaningless to blame someone's "personality" for it. If a conflict has developed into a mobbing process, the responsibility lies primarily with management, either because conflict management has not been brought to bear on the situation, or because there is a lack of organizational policies with respect to handling conflict situations (Leymann, 1993b).

Another argument against regarding an individual´s personality as a cause of mobbing processes is that when a post-traumatic stress syndrome develops, the individual can undergo major personality changes that are indicative of a major mental disorder brought on by the mobbing process. As the symptoms of this changed personality are quite typical and distinct, it is understandable that even psychiatrists who lack knowledge about PTSD as a typical victim disorder, misinterpret these symptoms as being something that the individual brought into the company in the first place (Leymann & Gustafsson, 1996).

From: http://www.leymann.se/English/frame.html

1 comment:

John Towler said...

This is a good review of the topic and I'm sure others will find it useful. I was mobbed twice at Renison College, University of Waterloo and managed to survive both attempts. It can be devastating, debilitating and unexpected. I knew it was going to happen the first time, but not the second.
Now many years later I have written an account of my experiences, naming names and telling all. It was a cathartic exercise. Ken Westhues suggested I make my experience known to others so I published it online and it is available at http://www.amazon.com/Chaos-Academic-Mobbing-Renison-ebook/dp/B004MDLKNW for anyone who cares to see it.
John Towler