Virulent instances of workplace mistreatment often involve an eliminationist intention on the part of the chief aggressor(s). Two years ago I wrote that the eliminationist instinct may express itself in several ways, including workplace bullying and mobbing behaviors. It often reflects a desire not only to eliminate an employee from the workplace, but also to undermine the individual’s livelihood and health even after departure from the organization.
This year I’ve also been thinking a lot about the roles of lead aggressors vs. roles played by other organizational actors in work abuse situations, especially from a systems theory perspective that examines how human roles and interactions culminate in systems that produce certain results. In May I wrote:
Thus, a typical campaign of severe bullying or mobbing at work involves multiple players, including but hardly limited to:
- The main aggressor(s);
- The supervisor or boss of the main aggressor(s), in order to ratify and sometimes further the abuse;
- On frequent occasion, peers recruited/pressured/incentivized to join in on the abuse;
- Human resources personnel to bureaucratically process the abuse through review and discipline of the target;
- Legal counsel to provide cover for the organization and sometimes direct additional intimidation toward the target.
These players join to create systems of abuse, sometimes tightly coordinated, other times acting in a sort of auto-pilot mode. Not infrequently, players outside of the workplace are enlisted to help out as well, thereby extending the system beyond the office or plant.
Recently I also speculated whether work abusers represented a “few bad apples” or a terribly bad harvest, suggesting that “(b)ad behaviors are typically enabled, endorsed, and/or empowered by bad organizations.”
So here are my questions for today: When does a whole system basically internalize the eliminationist mindset? When does the organizational toxicity metastasize to the point where most, if not all, relevant actors are now emotionally committed to eliminating the target? What factors and influences create this dynamic, which at this juncture is usually a full-on mobbing? As I wrote in April, such abuse can take on a multi-directional, blitzkrieg approach designed “to disorient, confuse, frighten, weaken, and ultimately disable the target.”
These thoughts hopefully further the conversation about individual vs. organizational accountability for bullying and mobbing behaviors. As I suggested in February, it really should be about both. In the worst situations that I’ve become familiar with, the net must be cast widely in terms of identifying responsible players, typically implicating the organization as a whole.