Once conflict in the office escalates to emotional and physical abuse

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Millions of men and women of all ages, ethnic, and racial backgrounds all across the world hate going to work, gradually fall into despair and often become gravely ill. Some flee from jobs they used to love, others endure the situation unable to figure a way out as expressed by Dr. Zanolli.

"Every day was like going into battle. I never knew when the next bomb would be dropped. I was afraid to trust anyone for fear they were the enemy. My physical and mental reserves were depleted. I knew I had to have relief soon. But there was no letup," said Diana when asked how she felt each day. What is going on? Why is this happening? How prevalent is this? What can be done?

Co-workers, superiors or subordinates, attack a person's dignity, integrity, and competence, repeatedly, over a number of weeks, months or even years. A person is being subjected to emotional and physical abuse, subtly or bluntly, often falsely accused of wrongdoing, and is persistently humiliated, this has been identified as "mobbing" and "bullying" at the workplace, this remind me of experience which someone shared with me, when we have people in charge of multinational organizations, however, their leadership attitude and approach is tantamount to my village rules and attitude.

Because the organization ignores, condones or even instigates the behavior, it can be said that the victim, seemingly helpless against the powerful and many, is indeed "mobbed." The result is always injury -- physical or mental distress or illness, social misery, and often, but not always, expulsion from the workplace. And sadly, the victims did not have a reputation of not performing well, not meeting organizational standards, or who could not get along with others, to begin with. Quite the contrary, more often than not, the targets had been esteemed members of the organization to borrow the words of Dr. Zanolli again.

She continues by saying although mobbing and bullying behaviors overlap, mobbing denotes a "ganging up" by the leader--organization, superior, co-worker, or subordinate--who rallies others into systematic and frequent "mob-like" behavior. In contrast to bullying, mobbing is clearly a group behavior. Bullying, on the other hand, denotes a one-on-one harassment. In a mobbing, management is often tacitly involved. This is why, in such a case, a victim rarely can find recourse. Mobbing can happen to anyone. It is not aggression against someone who belongs to a protected class, i.e. discrimination based on age, gender, race, creed, nationality, disability or pregnancy. It is therefore that bullying/mobbing behaviors have been termed general or "status-blind" harassment by Prof. David Yamada.

Mobbing - the emotional abuse is a form of violence. In fact, in the book Violence at Work, published by the International Labor Office (ILO) in 1998, mobbing and bullying are mentioned in the same list as homicide, rape, or robbery.

Conflict in the workplace can have different effects depending on how it is managed. A good manager can identify positive conflict and will encourage that kind of employee interaction. Supervisors must identify negative conflict immediately and eliminate it as soon as possible. Understanding positive and negative conflicts in the workplace is an important part of being an efficient manager George N. Root III wrote.


Competition can be a positive or negative conflict in the workplace, depending on the situation. Two peers trying to outdo the other in the pursuit of a goal that benefits the company is healthy competition. For example, two of the top sales people in the company competing to win a bonus for highest monthly revenue will inspire higher productivity and some bad feelings. But the confidence of each sales representative helps to turn those bad feelings into even more motivation. A competition between the least productive sales associate and the most productive sales associate can result in workplace conflicts based on frustration. Managers who choose to spur competition to motivate employees must be certain that the conflict can be contained.

Spurring Creativity

Positive conflicts can be difficult to determine, but when you see your more creative employees arguing about the good ideas they have to help the company, you have positive competition. Proactive people tend to motivate each other to perform at a higher level. Sometimes that motivation can come in the form of arguing or confrontation, but the end result is that both parties are pushed to their maximum productivity levels. As long as management can find a way to keep the conflict healthy, everyone will benefit.

Personal Conflict

Bringing personal feelings and issues to the workplace always creates a situation of negative conflict. Personal issues in the workplace have nothing to do with employee efficiency or company productivity. The company becomes caught in the crossfire of a personal confrontation that is only looking for a battleground. Management needs to step into situations in which an employee threatens another worker or his job and remind the parties that personal conflict is not tolerated in the workplace. Human Resources needs to log the issue, and managers should consider severe steps such as employee termination if the pattern persists.


Harassment in the workplace is monitored under labour laws and is something every company should be sensitive to. Sexual, physical and verbal harassment sometimes are hidden from management, but supervisors need to look for signs -- such as an employee becoming more introspective, evidence of physical abuse or persistent arguing, persons may suffer from a whole range of psychological and physical symptoms: from occasional sleep difficulties to nervous breakdowns, from irritability to depression, from difficulties to concentrate, to panic- or even to heart attacks. What are occasional absences may become frequent and extended sick leaves. Superiors need to act on them immediately to stop harassment in the workplace and end the damaging conflict.

Many persons who have become a target of a mobbing are damaged to such an extent that they can no longer accomplish their tasks. At the end, they resign--voluntarily or involuntarily -- are terminated, or forced into early retirement. Ironically, the victims are portrayed as the ones at fault, as the ones who brought about their own downfalls. And in numerous instances, the symptoms after a person has been terminated or has resigned can continue and intensify and have led to the diagnosis of post-traumatic stress disorder, PTSD according to Dr. Noa Zanolli.

And it is not only a person's health and sense of well-being that is seriously affected. Their families and their organizations are gravely impacted as well. Relationships suffer, and company productivity is impacted as energies revolve around the mobbing and divert attention from important and significant tasks at hand.

What Can Be Done

Let me share the same view with Dr. Zanolli; persons who have been mobbed or become targets of bullies have several options. Most importantly, they need to understand that there is a name for what they are experiencing, that the phenomenon is well known and is increasingly being researched. They need to understand that they have become victimized and that there is very little that they could have done differently. Secondly, they need to assess all their options in the short, medium, and long run: Is there any way to gain recourse that they haven't tried yet? Is finding another job within the company a possibility? Are they prepared to look for another job? What do they need to do to prepare for the transition? Do they need a edical or therapeutic intervention? Employees need to weigh all their options carefully, to be assertive and most importantly, to take control of their situation. And, to leave their workplace sooner rather than later and accept temporary sacrifices rather than to endure ongoing humiliation that could have much more serious health effects later.

Management too, needs to be vigilant and spot any early signals of mobbing. A company policy that enforces respectful treatment of employees and rewards civility at the workplace can go a long way in preventing mobbing from occurring. Because of the extensive media coverage in Ghana like the allegedMarwakorestaurant assault, the awareness of mobbing in the workplace has become very widespread. The institutions mandated by the state ought to help victims of mobbing all across the country not just in the cities and towns tohelp victims and help prevent further mobbing from occurring. For example, telephone hot lines ought to bededicatedfor this purpose and contact addresses for receiving counseling or advice.

In concluding with Zanolli thought, mobbing can only persist as long as it is allowed to persist. Organizational leadership plays the most important part in its prevention. By enforcing decency, civility, and high ethical standards in the workplace and by creating a nourishing environment, bullying and mobbing will not surface. There are thousands of enlightened managers and leaders and many companies that do just that. They serve as good examples and places of refuge. It’s never too late to make your company and human resource anything but above the usual from now. The power is yours.