Confront Mob Rule; Contribute to Community

Michael Carroll and Janice Marturano answer your workplace questions

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Q: There’s a group of people at work who make fun of coworkers and use company email to circulate gossip. I’m sick of their bullying behavior. How should I handle this?

Aggression, bullying, and abuse are unfortunately common in today’s workplace with over 72% of Americans reporting they have witnessed or are aware of workplace bullying.

One insidious form of this is “mobbing”*: concerted attacks on an individual employee by a group of employees in order to undermine the individual’s confidence and have him or her fail. Mobbing relies on gossiping, belittlement, lies, and rumors and takes tremendous emotional toll on all involved. Typically such destructive social behavior flourishes in work environments where leaders tolerate such toxicity or display it themselves.

Confronting mobbing is not easy because bullies attack those who challenge them. Therefore, action takes courage and political skill. Here are a few steps to consider:

  1. Build a confidential file. Take 30 days to collect as many facts and observations on the mob’s behavior as you can, including the “what, who, when, and how”—as well as the offending emails.
  2. Observe your coworkers. Inevitably, you will notice who else is appalled by the bullying. Make mental note of who they are and listen to their concerns if they raise the topic.
  3. Contact Human Resources. Meet confidentially with a senior HR leader. Be prepared to ask questions rather than simply “tell your story.” For example, instead of “Bob continues to be bullied by the folks in IT,” ask “are you aware of the difficulties Bob is having with the folks in IT?” Gain a commitment from HR to confront the issue while keeping your confidence.

Cleaning up toxic workplaces is tough and often distasteful work. But if we can relieve the suffering of both the victims and victimizers, it’s well worth the time and risk.

* See Mobbing: Emotional Abuse in the American Workplace by Noa Davenport, Ruth D. Schwartz and Gail Pursell Elliott.

Michael Carroll in the author of Fearless at Work.

72% of Americans have witnessed or are aware of workplace bullying.

Q: As a business owner, I feel obligated to step up my company’s role from one of just profit to include purpose. How can I determine what is the best way to go about redefining our corporate role?

First, congratulations on making a choice to find what I call the “win-win-win”! As explained in my book Finding the Space to Lead, when an organization is able to find a way to do business that is 1. Good for the organization, 2. Good for its employees, 3. Good for the community, it’s a win-win-win. The most creative and courageous leaders are recognizing more and more that when their organizations play a positive role in the community, it benefits the business and its employees as well. One way to start is to look for an intersecting point between what your organization does well and a need in the community. The possibilities are endless.

Don’t limit your thinking to what you produce or the services you provide. Look at the skill sets and passions of your employees as well. For example, if your workforce is predominantly young with families, you may develop a partnership with local schools to become reading tutors or help rehabilitate a playground. Or, you may look at sustainability or environmental impact goals that will benefit everyone. One caution, be sure to stand behind whatever purpose you choose with encouragement, recognition, and resources. When setting this kind of goal for your organization, it is imperative that you, as the CEO, walk the walk. Authentic leadership is the standard for purpose-driven businesses. Enjoy the new journey!

Janice Marturano is the author of Finding the Space to Lead and is the Executive Director, Institute for Mindful Leadership.

This article also appeared in the August 2014 issue of Mindful magazine.