At the mercy of the mob

Gary and Ruth Namie's book, The Bully At Work provides guidance for victims of workplace bullying and/or mobbing. (Photograph from, which is where you will find the book too.)

DO you recognise the plaintive childhood cry: “Everybody is picking on me”? Often, when you hear the call on the playground, it is an unfounded call for attention and one that is easily soothed. In the case of “mobbing” however, where the scenario is the workplace, the ganging up of colleagues or superiors to force someone out through rumour, innuendo, intimidation, humiliation, discrediting and isolation is not that easily resolved.

In fact, according to Claudia Rhode, director of the Association of Best Employment Solutions and Preventative Dismissals, a significant percentage of cases dealt with by the Commission for Conciliation, Mediation and Arbitration (CCMA) can be linked to incidents of mobbing.

“Mobbing is repeated, malicious, non-sexual, non-racial general workplace harassment,” explains Rhode. “It is a form of collective bullying or emotional abuse that was first identified and named by a Swedish researcher in the 1980s. It has become more of an issue in recent years and is frequently identified in cases of workplace violence in South Africa.”

Research conducted in Germany indicates that one in every nine workers (11,3%) is affected by mobbing. Those who had been mobbed reported feeling demotivated, suspicious, nervous, insecure or forced into social retreat. Many of them became ill, left their jobs or changed their place of work.

According to industrial psychologist, the late Dr Heinz Leymann, approximately 15% of suicides in Sweden during the late 1980s could be attributed to workplace mobbing. Legislation and occupational safety statutes were subsequently passed to counter mobbing that country.

“It is a serious, widespread phenomenon,” says Rhode. “In fact, the prevalence of mobbing in Cape Town led to the recent establishment the Association of Best Employment Solutions and Preventative Dismissals. Our primary activity is to counsel and advise victims of mobbing. In many cases, the effects are so demoralising that the victim internalises the problem and begins to believe that he or she deserves the assault. There is no specific South African law on this issue and it is difficult for people to prove their case. The association provides support and assistance to those who are being mobbed. We also offer advice to organisations on how to reduce incidences of mobbing.”

According to Rhode, mobbing can be a serious management issue for organisations. It can result in decreased productivity, high turnover, increased absenteeism, low morale and a loss of key individuals. It also undermines teamwork, trust and a sense of a shared vision.

If you are being bullied and/or mobbed at work, go to for more information and advice.

(First published in Business Day.)

About Administrator

Author and freelance writer based in Hout Bay near Cape Town in South Africa.
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