Workplace bullying and mobbing: Individual vs. organizational accountability

image courtesy of

image courtesy of

So here’s my question for today: When you think about accountability for workplace bullying and mobbing, do you think more about individual aggressors or about the organizations that hire and keep them on the payroll?

Of course, the pat response — in fact, the right one, I’d argue — is both. But I’d submit that the calculus is not uniform, and that the perch from where we sit may determine our personal answers. Here are a few of my observations on this question:

  • Bullying and mobbing behaviors are typically targeted and personalized. Sometimes the motivations for the abuse are transparent. But often they are not. Furthermore, they may not be rational, in that the underlying reason(s) for the abuse can be explained in a way that easily makes sense. Figuring out motivations sometimes can be a challenge for a targeted worker, adding to the confusion and bewilderment of the experience and sharpening the focus on specific aggressor(s).
  • Nevertheless, as intensely interpersonal as these behaviors may become, they usually cannot flourish without organizational sponsorship, enabling, or, at the very least, indifference. This applies specially to mobbing, which requires multiple players, often aided by institutional mechanisms.
  • For an individual targeted by bullying or mobbing, the natural focus is on the closest abusers and tormenters. However, the target often recognizes the organizational dynamic when reaching out for help and finding that little or no genuine assistance is available.
  • If we want to prevent and stop bullying and mobbing at work, the first view should be organizational and systems-based, looking especially at top leadership and workplace culture. Bullying and mobbing rarely thrive at organizations committed to treating their employees with a baseline of dignity and to hiring workers who share that commitment.

For those interested in the legal side, the anti-bullying Healthy Workplace Bill that I’ve authored recognizes both organizational and individual responsibility for creating abusive work environments. Under my template version of the legislation, those who have been subjected to severe workplace bullying may pursue claims against both their employer and the individual tormenters. Furthermore, in recognition of the overall role played by employers, the legislation includes liability-reducing incentives for employers that act preventively and responsively toward bullying behaviors.

9 responses

  1. The situation at Hunter is complex. Bullying is a clear management tool used by the College Administration to force out people, especially staff, and to harass and intimidate particular faculty. I believe I have really good corroboration of that but it’s only about me and another professor in another department that Administration wants to leave.

    The mobbing and bullying in my department, which is supported by the Administration, is especially fierce, primarily, I think, because of my going public, especially about complaints I’ve successfully filed (like one against a dean) and prevailed on and numerous memos (for documentation purposes) and posts on the main college listserve. I’ve been banned from posting for more than a year. The first tenured professor at Hunter College to be banned from posting. There was suppose to be some discussion about an appeal of the decision and then the head of the College Senate and the Faculty Delegate Assembly, the later a very weak institution without much support, refused.

  2. Pingback: Conagra Foods will not tolerate harrassment…! First and foremost, we must do what is right. CEO Gary Rodkin: Oh yeah, except when we feel like firing an injured worker. – cornerstone of commitment

  3. This article definitely speaks to the truth of what supports and perpetuates workplace cultures. If leadership and oversight CHOOSE to ignore multiple complaints about workplace bullying, the individuals involved in this type of abusive conduct continue their toxic conduct which negatively impacts the environment and company for which they work for. My experience was in a smaller group of less than 30 employees where micromanagement, hiring of relatives, lack of accountability to established personnel and company policies, lack of an official HR department (the manager was the HR representative), weak and ineffective oversight (no one would hold anyone accountable for egregious violations (alcohol consumption on the job allowed by the manager), excessive profanity, mobbing, sabotage and work interference, including pornnography downloaded on my computer, my office desk tampered with, years of rude, insulting and inflammatory statements by the manager and a coworker which violated discourtesy policies but nothing done, a coworker fabricating lies about my work and no action taken when reported to an oversight committee and two company attorneys). I resigned as a result but learned so much from the process. I hope to educate and help others about workplace bullying and write a book about my personal experience which definitely could be a case study. It is amazing to me that employees and employers allow this type of hostile and toxic abuse within their doors which leads to such great loss of productivity, good employees, healthy office morale and feeds those who choose to act with such a lack of professional, ethical, civil and honorable conduct. A bully is the weakest link on the chain – a heavy anchor holding back and down a company that wishes to propel themselves forward to success and growth.

  4. The first Board of Nursing response to a complaint filed by a front line nurse during Covid has come in. The news is not good. The BON is taking the stance that the ever-changing CDC standards covers management not giving nurses N95. Nursing judgement and the best available scientific data guiding our practice has now been deemed irrelevant. They also ruled that the termination of the nurse, with a letter showing it was for demanding N95, supplied as evidence, is an employee/employer issue. Not in their purvue. The complaint cited very relavent NPA statutes as well as Codes of Ethics. These were ignored by the BON. How is this in the interest of public safety? With these type rulings, hospitals will be emboldened to operate with impunity on a level that will result in hundreds of Nurse deaths in the second wave. Sixty one percent of nurses polled have said they will either not return to these employers or they will leave the profession, altogether. Like the whistleblower who testified yesterday, ” We are in deep sh-t.” If only the media would expose this? Our only chance at survival.

    • Very disappointing. The virus offers a pretext for dismissing all manner of bad behavior, but I’d have thought common-sense practices in support of hygiene stood at least a fighting chance. Please tell me the Board of Nursing’s ruling doesn’t constitute binding arbitration… By the way, is this a state or national board? (I assume it’s in the U.S.)

      • It is a state board of nursing with statutes I thought most favorable to the complaint. I hope I am proven wrong but I suspect the National Council of State Boards of Nursing was consulted by all the states and this may be an agreed to strategy that they all are going to stick to. If these complaints aren’t moved forward to the investigative phase and a hearing scheduled, they will not be subject to public record laws. In essence, covered up. Only if individual nurses step forward will we know of the complaints and rulings.

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