How to detect and prevent workplace bullying or mobbing

Acoso laboral o mobbing

According to a study published by the Workplace Bullying Institut , 37% of US employees have experienced workplace bullying. In Spain, this percentage stands at 16%, a level much higher than the average for European countries.

These continuous acts of hostility and vexation towards team members have a very negative impact that, beyond affecting productivity and performance, pose a threat to victim’s health and psychological well-being.

At this situation, companies cannot remain silent and it’s their obligation to detect and prevent these reprehensible acts and ensure a safe environment and decent working conditions for any employee.

What is workplace bullying or mobbing?

The World Health Organization (WHO) defines workplace bullying as the aggressive and threatening behavior of one or more members of a team towards an individual in the work environment with the aim of undermining the victim’s morale until leave the company or be fired.

At a psychological level, this behavior affects employees by inducing stress, discouragement, low self-esteem, sleep disorders, somatization, anxiety and even depression. Consequently, labor performance experiences a downgrade, because the victim cannot concentrate on their usual tasks.

Although the effects are similar, mobbing should not be confused with Burnout Syndrome. While the first is related to deliberate acts of violence with the intention of harming an employee, Burnout depends on the general work environment.

To be considered workplace bullying, the following criteria must be met:

  • It is not an occasional event, such as a conflict during a meeting, and the hostile behavior continues for at least 6 months.
  • The events are frequent and occur at least once a week.
  • There is a specific person who suffers the harassment.
  • The harassment is not a consequence of a conduct derived from the victim.
  • The harassed person does not show a previous personality disorder with a history of conflict.

Despite the obvious discomfort caused by workplace bullying, many employees are not aware that they suffer from it since, in most cases (80%), those affected do not have the information and adequate tools to detect it.

How to detect if an employee is suffering workplace harassment?

Mobbing can be present in different ways depending on the variation in the hierarchical level of the victim and the harasser:

Ascending: workplace bullying suffered by managers caused by employees of a lower hierarchical level and represents 9% of cases of workplace harassment.

Descending: this is the opposite case, higher-ranking employees harassing their junior colleagues. It is the most typical scenario, and the one that occurs 70% of the time.

Horizontal: here bullying occurs between teammates, and occupies 20% of all registered cases.

Regardless of the type of bullying we are facing, it is the company’s responsibility to detect and stop these behaviors, as well as to have all the necessary tools to prevent their recurrence. Identifying the most common signs will help prevent bullying and be able to act before it’s too late.

Here are the red flags to watch out for.

Systematic humiliation

A judgment of the Superior Court of Justice of Madrid ruled that workplace bullying implies a continuous psychological pressure in which the victim is ignored, harassed, intimidated, crushed, whipped, frightened, besieged, vexed, humiliated or chased in any way, either gesturally or verbally.

It is possible that these signs go unnoticed because harassers tend to use their power of manipulation in a stealthy and subtle way not to be accused. Even so, we must always be eye watching for any unfortunate words or malicious gestures.

Sudden variations in labor performance

The incessant attacks on the dignity of employees translate into emotional problems that affect their work performance. At any sudden change in employee behavior, it is important that we worry and try to find out if it is due to problems arising from his personal life (the death of a family member, problems with the children…), to changes in strategic decisions that modify the usual routines and there is a problem of adaptation, or because the person is being harassed.

In any case, open and fluid communication is a key element in solving any disruptive and anomalous situation that affects the psychosocial health of our collaborators.

Employee isolation

In a healthy work environment, no one is isolated, no matter how shy the person is.

If you notice that one of your team members is always alone, avoids large groups, never finds out about changes, is not included in Team Building activities … most likely that employee is being harassed by someone in the company.

The objective is to make the victims believe that they are alone and that what began as forced isolation by others, ends in a voluntary act due to low self-esteem and a feeling of defeat.

Whether it’s fear of losing their job, or embarrassment to admit their situation, victims of bullying withdraw into themselves. Again, communication becomes a cornerstone: you can openly ask, or probe employees for answers that explain this behavior and act in consequence.

Rumors and Defamations

This kind on workplace bullying currently represents one of the most common forms of violence against workers. The Internet and the Social Networks have provided the perfect setting for those who want to submit and humiliate one of their peers, to do so anonymously.

Dissemination of false messages, compromising photographs, manipulations and texts taken out of context spread like wildfire and create tension and deep psychological discomfort for the victim.

In no case this type of content can be tolerated within the organization and from management, together with Human Resources, need to nip the problem in the bud, taking measures immediately.

Prevention is the best solution

If an employee suffers workplace harassment, apart from the emotional damage and loss of trust, the business is also affected. Studies suggest that mobbing is one of the main causes of work absenteeism.

Therefore, when the company does not act, not only the victim suffers, but also the profits of the company.

In this sense, the main course of action is prevention. It is necessary to provide the workforce with all the necessary information through awareness programs on workplace harassment, helping them to identify those behaviors that interfere with the health and well-being of employees.

Likewise, the company itself should be in charge of drafting a guide for proper conduct and imposing sanctions on all those who fail to comply with the regulations, as well as offering support and psychological help to those who need it.

Prevention also implies the use of tools that serve to assess the state of the teams. In this regard, the use of surveys is a very effective resource. In fact, the Leymann Inventory of Psychological Terror Scale (LIPT-60), is a 60-question survey that serves to report on the presence and intensity of bullying behaviors and to be able to differentiate them from the usual disagreements that inevitably occur within the work environment.

The questions used to find out if there is mobbing are such:

  • Your superior restricts the opportunity for you to express yourself.
  • You are constantly interrupted.
  • Colleagues restrict your opportunity to express yourself.
  • You are yelled at and loudly scolded.

You can include this survey in Team Insights through its survey designer, and send it to all your collaborators in a single click upon suspicion of any anomaly. The People Analytics and Big Data system will analyze the results and give you back the insights so you can see the big picture of the state of your employees and make the right decisions based on objective and quality information.

Discover all the potential that Team Insights can offer you. Request a DEMO!

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